Attention ladies and gentlemen! Stay focused, for I am going to introduce to you Alessia – half human, half hurricane, who is setting the stage on fire with her demonic vocals. She’s blasting her violent growls in a death metal band Murge and in a noise project Tzitzimime. If you are a fan of energetic performances, she will knock your socks off. Keep a close eye on Alessia and you’ll get thrilled and amused, I promise. She has a lot of interesting things to say, so grab your coffee or a beer or warm milk or even a fancy cocktail (Rocktato doesn’t judge you). In this exclusive interview, Alessia talks about the challenges of being a female vocalist in a metal band and her views on the metal community and music.
Hey Alessia, I am very happy to open this new series about local female performers with your interview. Tell me, how did you get interested in metal music?
I wouldn’t say it came right away, it was kind of a process. My dad made me listen to a lot of good old-fashioned rock’n’roll like bands Creedence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. He was a guitarist and singer in the 80’s and he had a rock band in Mexico named Oxtock. His band was the only rock band in the region back in those days, and you have to imagine that it was not very common. People preferred to dance on cumbia or reggaeton and foremost Latin American countries are deeply catholic. There’s crosses and portraits of Virgin Mary in every house. People used to complain to my grandfather about his son being possessed by the devil. All that to say that my dad was really transgressive but passionate by his music, it became his job actually. I think that I inherit that attitude from him and his love and taste in music. But rock wasn’t enough for me. I needed something harder and I discovered bands like Lamb of God, Arch Enemy, Slayer and other mainstream bands at the age of fifteen, and went to my first metal gig. My taste has changed a lot since then, I started playing the guitar and singing in various projects. While we had rehearsals, I discovered that I could growl so I started training. Then my mother suddenly went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a genetic dysfunction that impacted her heart. Her stay lasted quite a long time, so since she entered the emergencies, I stopped playing, listening to music and going out for almost 2 years. She struggled a lot but finally she could go back home, my mom is a survivor one! And, 3 years ago, I started again to play music, but this time I needed something really brutal and somehow I found my way out to Murge. Besides, I listen to different metal genres, especially death, black, grind, and stoner/psychedelic metal. I like bands like: Oranssi Pazuzu, Suffocation, Ritualization, Triumvir Foul, Krypts, Cryptopsy, Wet Cactus, Brujeria, OSDM bands, Zhrine, Cerebral Bore, Cattle Decapitation, Electric Wizard, Blaspherian and others.
You sing in Murge – a death metal band. This type of extreme metal is known to be dominated by men. Why did you choose this genre instead of something more female-friendly?
I chose it, because I like the music, it fits me. It’s brutal, deep, fast, full of hate, great riffs and blast beats. I honestly don’t see myself singing with a lyrical voice wearing a dress and corset and talking about fairies… I sang and played the guitar once in a heavy metal band but the band collapsed after 2 years of existence. At least there was beer at the rehearsals haha.
“I would not sing as passionately with fake anger or hate, it has to come from something real, something that would make me feel mad and violent.”
Death metal is considered as one of the most misogynic metal genres. As a female fan, how do you react to the lyrics, which are, more than often, depicting violence on usually defenseless women?
There are a few songs whose lyrics I know, but yeah, I am sure there are some with insulting lyrics for women that I listen to without knowing. When I notice that the lyrics are sexist I don’t want to listen to the album and the band anymore, but nothing is that simple. Sometimes, songs that have sexist content are a representation of the thoughts and actions of a serial killer or a pervert. It is not the singer or the band who mean those words, it’s an artistic interpretation or often a parody. But sometimes people take it seriously and believe the artists’ sayings or are offended… It’s a long debate… In art, should we support or even listen to controversial bands that are sexists, NSBMs, appealing to violence or racists? Personally, when I am aware that a band has true sexist ideologies or assaulted girls, I won’t buy their merchandising. I don’t want to support them but I won’t stop listening to the music if I found some interest in the melodies or emotions that overcome my distaste and anger for their lyrics. I support the music and people have the right to say what they want; you don’t have to agree with the lyrics to appreciate an album.
You are an author of the lyrics in Murge. Do you somehow avoid this common for death metal sexist topics in your texts?
I would never write something about objectifying women or lyrics that encourages violence against women. But I won’t censor myself about those topics. I would rather denounce them, and I do in several songs. I would not sing as passionately with fake anger or hate, it has to come from something real, something that would make me feel mad and violent.
There is a dichotomic stereotype of the female death metal fan and performer: either masculine tomboy or, on the contrary, hyper sexualized vamp. Can you agree with this stereotype? Where would you put yourself in this bimodal group?
It is only stereotypes. For example, the chicks from Mythic, Sisters of Suffocation, Mallika from Abnormality, Onielar from Darkened Slaugthercult don’t fit in those categories in my opinion. I think there’s nothing wrong with being a masculine tomboy or a sexualized vamp, people have to express the way they feel truly themselves.
I don’t like bands who use their female member’s sexiness to sell their album, because in my opinion, music is the most important thing and everything else is “decoration”. But I don’t like either the girls who willingly dress like men and mimic masculine gestures to gain respect and credibility to their peers… In both cases, I think we all can feel when it’s exaggerated one way or another.
I think I don’t belong to any of those categories, I don’t want to be dressed like a vamp or like a tomboy. I like to feel confortable in my clothes on stage so I will never wear heels or mini-skirt but I don’t want to shut down my femininity and dress or “act like a man”.
We do not see many female performers in death metal. Also, the main part of the audience is men. Do you have some ideas about the reason? Do you think death metal is sexist?
I think it’s the same observations you get for work in general. There’s not many females in science, engineering or in jobs that require physical work like lumberjacks or building workers… The education we receive from our parents and society teaches girls to be pretty, passive, calm and caring and death metal is the total opposite of this. I would say that there are less women in metal because of social determinism. They lack also some role models or diversity of female musicians; someone they can see themselves through. I think it would encourage girls to play if they see more females playing drums, bass or anything. That was the case for me and also for some girls in Murge’s public. Some women came directly to me to say that it gave them the motivation to start practicing vocals or a band, and that’s wonderful!
But I hope that, in the future, girls will be more keen on metal, because death metal does not make you less of a girl, on the contrary.
How people react on you being a vocalist for the death metal band? Do you feel like you need to be twice as good as any guy? Or on the contrary, the band members and the audience go easier on you?
Generally, they are surprised, sometimes shocked and others are used to see a female vocalist in that genre. Honestly, I would like to say no, but yeah, as any women in a male environment, I feel the need to prove myself. Even if Murge’s members never pressured me or treat me differently because of my gender. In front of an audience, I have to admit I pressure myself to do more. But it doesn’t bother me so much, it helps me to push my boundaries and to prove to myself that I am able to do the job, to be more confident.
Do you also push yourself in the communication with the audience? You are the one who talks to people during the gig, so you are the “face” of the band. How do you cope with the pressure from the male dominated audience? Is it challenging more because you are a girl?
I don’t know. I try to be energetic, brutal and not acting like I have a stick in the ass. I like to go into the pit during the concert or throw things at the public haha. I get insults and some pervs telling me “à poil, la gonzesse” (get naked, chick) or “T’es bonne”. Sometimes there are jerks coming on stage to mess around but it happens with male performers too. We just kick them out and that’s it. Very recently, a girl came on stage drunk and high as fuck telling me that I ain’t a real girl with that voice. She was calling me a slut and etc., while pulling my bra down… Fortunately the public and the staff kicked her out. She made an apology to me afterwards but I was really furious and sad that it happened. My friends and the staff were really supportive and made me forget about it quickly.
You said before that you feel welcome and equal in the band. How the audition looked like? Were they surprised to hear you? Was there any discussion about having a girl in the band?
Well, I met Yannick, the bass player first in a gig where I was a barmaid. We talked a bit and then I met the whole band in the rehearsal place in Versoix. I noticed that they were at least 10 years older than me and that freaked me out haha. I was tense of course, because I have been looking at their other projects online and the level was way higher than all my other past projects. Especially the Sedative one. I thought, I will never sing as nicely as their singer because for example I can’t do pig squeal like him. The songs that Murge wrote also stressed me out, because they were really fast and technical in comparison to everything I’ve done before. Anyway, I learned songs before coming to the audition and I improvise something on it. The guys from the band didn’t look surprised that I am a girl who can growl. They asked me some questions about my musical background, what are my favorite bands, they asked what experience I have. Nothing unusual. There was no discussion about me being a girl… I remember saying that I am here for the music and nothing will happen between me and any of the band members, or I will leave the band. I have seen some bands splitting up because the couple in it broke up and I don’t want it to happen to Murge. I also said, that I don’t want to be treated differently or having more attention because I am a girl.
“Some women came directly to me to say that it gave them the motivation to start practicing vocals or a band, and that’s wonderful!”
You also perform in Tzitzimime which is a noise band. Can you compare the advantages and disadvantages of being a female performer in the both genres– death metal and noise?
It’s a difficult question… I can’t really compare them because I think the public in the noise concerts doesn’t have the same musical approach to metal and cultural references. They don’t seek for the same sounds, ambiance and performances. They don’t have the same codes and it is an environment less dominated by males. I have to admit I know really little of noise music and I follow my friend, Andrea (Tzitzimime) wherever she takes me. Even the music has less codes, so people don’t really expect anything. Our music is purely improvisation, but the atmosphere and sounds we are playing are violent and apocalyptic and those feelings I get, could be compared to metal. So basically, I have the same brutal attitude in both bands, but definitely more freedom of movement and singing in Tzitzimime. I have to say that performing with my friend, Andrea, makes the performance really special because I finally found a girl who shares the same taste in music and brutality, but also who is proud and embraces the fact that we are females playing extreme music.
Even if the noise audience is more used to see female performers, they are impressed by the fact that we are girls doing massive and destructive music. An advantage here would be that we don’t get questions from elitists like “You listen to Blasphemy? Name 5 songs, and all the albums in chronological order…” or “Who’s your boyfriend there?”. Instead we hear “How do you sing that way? It is amazing I never heard that technique before!”, “How did you met each other?” (speaking of Andrea and I) or “You girls rule”.
So to sum up, noise environment is more underground and free of sexism in my experience. Maybe because people tend to be more aware about equality, sexism, gender fluidity etc. There were definitely more women in the noise environment when I performed, whether it is as a public or a performer. So I think their presence enhance the construction of a less masculine subculture than metal.
Do you feel like giving up sometimes? What motivates you to continue making your music?
No. I am impatient to see Murge grow, I hope one day we could play in a big festival. My dream would be to play in Brutal assault, Netherland Deathfest or Metaldays… but hey… there is still a lot of work to do if we want to achieve this. What motivates me is to go to the rehearsal and make new songs. The guys taught me a lot of things about music because they have so much experience. I really admire the music they did before in Sedative and in their side projects like Agonir or Nansis. I am always excited to perform in concerts too and meet the audience. Since Murge begun, I made new friendships that are really valuable to me and some Murge members even met their girlfriends at some of our gigs haha.
What are your plans for the future?
Register the EP, make more gigs and improve my vocals! I also hope one day we will go on tour, that would be awesome.
Is there anything else you would like to tell to the readers? Some personal message to the “metal girls”?
Go listen to Murge, it kicks ass!
Girls!! Where are you? When are you gonna wake up and fucking do some extreme music?