Photo: Nick Pickles/WireImage.com
Skin, Lzzy Hale, Reba Meyers On Women Rocking The Metal World
In the mid-1960s, Janis Joplin broke the mold of what people thought a female singer was supposed to be. By 1969 the David Bowie-endorsed Fanny came on the scene and became the first all-female rock group to score a major label album release. The Runaways, another all-female band active in the late '70s, further turned the rock scene on its head.
Jump decades ahead and women have been making waves — and continue to do so — in the heavier genres of hard rock and metal.
As today's women blaze new trails, there's one unfortunate, bothersome question that continues to rear its head: Is rock and roll dead? According to Lita Ford, former guitarist for the Runaways who continues to successfully tour as a solo artist, this question just needs to go away already.
"I hate that saying more than anything," Ford says. "I heard Gene Simmons say it but he says things for attention. It sucks. It's not dead. You don't hear people walking around going, 'Jazz is dead!' or 'Piano's dead!' It's just ridiculous. Rock has never been more alive."
Ford is also confident that female artists are doing a good job of carrying the torch for women in rock and roll today, ensuring the longevity of the genre. Take, for example, lead singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale of Halestorm, who became the first female-fronted band to earn a GRAMMY for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance at the 55th GRAMMY Awards.
"For me, I joke about how rock and roll chooses you, you don't choose it. That feeling hasn't gone away," says Hale.
The Pennsylvania native grew up with her dad's music, including a lot of Alice Cooper and Ronnie James Dio. But it was her mom who bought her a Heart album, which led her to discover Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Joplin, who she refers to as the "foremothers of rock."
Halestorm will be part of a much-anticipated summer 2018 tour package, including her good friend Maria Brink of In This Moment and newer female-led bands Stitched Up Heart and New Year's Day.
"It's so much more than a career choice or a dream or a life goal — it's an extension of me and my personality. I don't think I would be me without rock and roll," says Hale.
From Amy Lee of Evanescence to Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, Hale named many women who are making a current mark in the genre. Hale gave a special shout-out to Reba Meyers of Code Orange.
"I love her on guitar and I love the fact that she is literally anti-trend. She gets up there in a black T-shirt, no makeup, rocking in her own corner of the world," Hale says. "I've never seen a band live that attacks a crowd like that."
Code Orange, who earned their first career nomination for the 60th GRAMMY Awards, aren't typical rock or metal — they have a sound and energy completely their own. Guitarist Meyers is a force of her own, headbanging relentlessly onstage at any given moment. She credits her influences outside of music, including her mother, with helping her become the strong woman she is.
"As a kid, I was treated the exact same and, for the most part, I never had any doubts about it and I didn't really have any female role models in heavy music. I wasn't searching for it," says Meyers. "I just liked the bands that I liked."
One thing she doesn't like is seeing women in bands just for the sake of it.
"I just hope that people don't force this kind of a thing — I see bands with girls in them and I get the wrong vibe from the men. I meet a lot of men who put women in bands for the sake of putting a woman in their band and that makes me furious."
"We're just voicing what we have to say and I think if you do that you become equal." — Floor Jansen
Onstage and off, Meyers is the epitome of authenticity when it comes to passion for music.
"There's no other genre of music that has a community and that's also what pulled me in," says Meyers. "You get hooked immediately and you can't really turn away once you're into it when you are young."
Despite a diversity of sounds, ethnic diversity among women in heavier sub-genres has proved elusive. However, guitarist Diamond Rowe of Tetrarch, Jada Pinkett-Smith of Wicked Wisdom and Alexis Brown of Straight Line Stitch are flying the flag, specifically for black women. So why aren't there more women of color in heavier genres of music?
"I feel the progression is not in the favor of minorities, in general, and they probably don't seek it out. I got the tip of the iceberg with my friend who was into Nirvana but I liked it so much that I explored more," says Rowe, who adds that her race and gender are blessings in disguise.
"I know that maybe I do have to work a little harder and be better and that's fine but I haven't seen any kind of negative responses. It's been nothing but positive vibes. I just like playing guitar and I want to be the best at it and, if not, better than these boys."
For singer Skin, an open woman of Jamaican heritage with a penchant for screaming her head off, it's a different story. Growing up in Brixton, London, Skin had no support from her family to pursue her passion for rock music. Though she got flak from fellow women of color, she didn't let that deter her.
"I don't care what people think, I really honestly don't care. They might say, 'She's a black girl playing rock music, that's not cool,' or 'She's not black enough'," says Skin, the voice and vibrance of the British punk-rock band Skunk Anansie. "I was told once by a black woman, 'I don't like the fact that you don't play the music of your people.'"
Sending love to all my favorite Women on International Women’s Day! (sorry don’t have pics of everyone- @slaxxmax @dellatobias ) More than ever we need to keep fighting and supporting Women and Girls around the world living in dire circumstances! Stand your ground then fight for others! Onwards and upwards! #imafeminist #internationalwomensday #festadelladonna
Skin is also one of the few artists who represent the LGBTQ community in punk, rock and metal along with musician, writer and activist Otep Shamaya. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and Mina Caputo of Life Of Agony have also been influential women in the transgender community.
"My focus is just [to] give each other a break and let each other be who we are. Don't judge one another or be catty or competitive. It's not a competition," says singer/bassist Mlny Parsonz of Atlanta rock band Royal Thunder, whose message of being nonjudgmental is crystal clear. "We're making art, we're expressing ourselves, so just do your thing and be happy for people."
From Royal Thunder down to South America, where Brazilian thrash metal band Nervosa are battering eardrums, bassist/vocalist Fernanda Lira can speak to the good, bad and the ugly about being one of the few Latinas in metal.
"I always felt like whenever I got onstage I had to prove something but with time it got better. You go to a venue and people don't believe you're in a band. They think you are groupies trying to get into the venue and stuff like that," says Lira, who is surprised there aren't more women part of the metal scene in the States and Europe.
"Before I played in the U.S. or in Europe I thought because Brazil is a third-world country and [the U.S. and Europe are] first-world countries and there are more feminists, there would be more girls in metal. I was surprised that there weren't more women at shows and there weren't more women in metal playing in bands."
As for the rest of the Latinas in metal? Lira says there are plenty in South America.
"Latin girls, we've got a lot of attitude and it's difficult to make a living. Every country down here [in South America] is very sexist so I think we're kind of used to being against the system. That's why I think there are more girls playing in bands in Latin America [than in the states and Europe]. We just want to prove people wrong."
Floor Jansen, Nightwish's new lead singer, grew up in the Netherlands and currently resides in Sweden. She is optimistic the #MeToo movement will make the entertainment industry more level and equal for the next generation of women, which includes her own daughter. But it won't happen with silence.
"We [as women have] … been too sweet, we've been too cute, we've been run over. It's time to change that and I think it's happening," says Jansen. "Strong women in the past started this a long time ago, but maybe we got a little bit too comfortable.
"We are strong and that's OK. You're not a b**** if you're a strong woman or you can call yourself a b**** and just be fine with it. Often times, strong women are seen as that and we're not. We're just voicing what we have to say and I think if you do that you become equal. I've always felt equal with the guys in my band and the people I work with."
While rock and metal are still male-dominated, the growing number of women in the genres are present and powerful. These women are true to themselves and they do exactly what they want — which is the spirit of rock and roll. For Ford and Hale to Meyers, Jansen, Skin, and more, every month is Women's History Month. And every time they hit the stage is an opportunity to carry the torch for the societal and sonic movement of women in music.
Foremother of rock and roll Joplin said it best: "Don't compromise yourself, you're all you've got."
(Elizabeth Ramanand is an arts and entertainment journalist who has a passion for music, especially hard rock and heavy metal. With over 2,000 published articles under her belt, she has written for publications like Billboard, Loudwire, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Boombox, PopCrush, Taste Of Country, and many more.)