[Editor’s Note: Our own Scott Drebit hosted panels last weekend at the sixth annual Calgary Horror Con. At the three-day event, Scott caught up with Ari Lehman, the first actor to ever play Jason Voorhees, to discuss his years in the ’80s New York City music scene, performing onstage in Africa, and singing and playing the keytar in his punk rock/heavy metal band First Jason.]

Congratulations on melting everyone’s faces off Friday night with your solo performance as First Jason.

Ari Lehman: Thank you! That’s why we’re there, to melt faces, to melt brains. That’s kind of you to say. I love playing First Jason’s songs on the electric keytar; it has a certain kind of sound, it’s very loud. But usually I have the emotional and musical support of my bandmates; my drummer, whose name ironically is Bass Amp, and our guitarist, Eddie Machete—they give me so much support, and it just makes me feel great having them there. So I felt that it came off well; but it was an adjustment. The audience was so receptive and it was a great experience for me, too, playing that way.

I was there with my niece, and I knew of the band, but I assumed it was just you. And the reason I say that is because the songs and performance came off so strong, that we just assumed they were constructed that way. We adored it.

Ari Lehman: Well that means everything to me, Scott. You know, one always wants to do one’s best. And sometimes it’s hard to tell with monitors and whatnot. But I felt great about the performance in the end. In the beginning—yikes [laughs]! You know, it was like jumping out of the–


Ari Lehman: [Laughs] Yeah, or jumping out of a plane like a skydiver, there’s that initial fear, but I worked with that energy.

Well, you wouldn’t have known. And judging by your skills on the keytar, I wanted to ask you: is it true that you had a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music?

Ari Lehman: Yes, I did! Little Ari was a jazz piano kid; I thought I was going to be a jazz guy like Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett—those musicians were my inspiration. But ultimately, I ended going to New York University instead of Boston. New York was where it was happening. I met all these hip hop people like Rick Rubin, and Grandmaster Flash—I even worked for Afrika Bambaataa and those people. And then, on the other hand, there was the punk scene; my friend (who’s no longer with us) Dave Insurgent from Reagan Youth [an ’80s hardcore punk band], he helped me learn so much about that scene. I learned about Reggae music and African music; it was just all there. And then I ultimately ended up on the world music scene, working for Tuff Gong Records, and Interscope Records.

Tuff Gong ended up sending me to West Africa, to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for the first Reggae Sunsplash there. Steel Pulse, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, and many more were on the bill. I was playing with Sister Carol and Ijahman Levi. I can’t begin to explain what it was like to sit there in Palais des Sports, which is a big soccer stadium in the tough part of Abidjan, and it was totally packed. In Africa, they do these concerts that are seven hours long, so it’s band after band after band. And as soon as Ijahman took the stage, this mist came down on the audience. If I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have believed it. In Africa, when any rain comes, they call that the rainmaker. It’s a very spiritual thing; it’s a big deal in Africa. And I saw it, and they all went nuts, oh my god. It was crazy. It was an honor and a great thing.

But when I returned, I came back onto the horror scene, and people were nice about me being a jazz guy and a Reggae musician. But people were like, “Dude, this is a good album, but I’m not really into Reggae.” So I thought, why don’t I hit them where they live, get out of my comfort zone,” and that’s what led to the creation of First Jason.

Macabre [a Chicago metal band] were on a hiatus, and I benefitted greatly from the help of their bass player, Nefarious, who said, “Ari, you gotta get a keyboard.” So I said, “fine,” and as a joke I duct taped a synthesizer to a cosplay sword, threw a guitar strap on, and thought that was kind of cool. One time, the bass player didn’t show up, and that’s how that sound developed. And First Jason came about as an effort to reach the horror fans. So there are songs like “Jason Never Dies”, “Machete is my Friend”, and “Jason’s Bride”, and even though it has a novelty-esque kind of feel, I put a spin on it and try to put some real poetry in it.

The sincerity is there, though. You can feel it. It’s not someone slumming in another genre. You can tell you really like this music, and appreciate it. It comes through.

Ari Lehman: Thank you! One band that really affected me in a way that I can relate to is Motörhead.

There’s a poet.

Ari Lehman: Oh, it’s so true. The way Lemmy played bass, too, and his lyrics and the way he sang, I thought, “That’s a leader I can listen to.” You know so many of the bands I listen to—Sepultura, Macabre—are great. And so many of the bands from Chicago I want to mention, like Johnny Vomit, The Ugly, bands like that, that just said, “Oh man, you’re fucking nuts!” Bands like Maggot Twat, that said, “Come open for us.” They all gave me a leg up, and recently, bless his heart, Bill Manspeaker from Green Jellÿ, he’s been very kind and helpful—and I hope I’ve helped him, too—getting us bookings with them, and that’s had a snowball effect. We’re going to be playing at the Gothic Theatre up in Denver for Halloween, and just so many good things are ahead. And personally, I’m very grateful to my band members; Bass Amp, Eddie Machete, and Gabe, the Cosmic Warrior, who’s our guitar sub when we need him. Those guys are the best.

Well, on behalf of the entire horror community here in Calgary and abroad, I would like to thank you for keeping the horror alive, keeping the rock alive, and I wish you all the success with First Jason.

Ari Lehman: Thank you, Scott. I appreciate it.

To check out more of Ari and First Jason, head on over to their website:

  • Scott Drebit
    About the Author - Scott Drebit

    Scott Drebit lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is happily married (back off ladies) with 2 grown kids. He has had a life-long, torrid, love affair with Horror films. He grew up watching Horror on VHS, and still tries to rewind his Blu-rays. Some of his favourite horror films include Phantasm, Alien, Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Zombie, Halloween, and Black Christmas. Oh, and Phantasm.