If you love Metal, and all those amazing bands from the ‘80s, then Judas Priest comes to the forefront of your memories. Well, they’re back, sort of, at least their reincarnation is back in the form of Judas Priestess, the all-female tribute band to Judas Priest fronted by MilitiA Vox, their lead singer who has performed with Dee Snider’s heavy metal orchestra Van Helsing’s Curse, and in other musicals including Sins of a Scarecrow and Jesus Christ Superstar. The band is tight and brave, because not just anyone could pull off these amazing covers, but they jump up on stage and they do it!
MilitiA is not just a cover artist, she is an energetic and creative singer who has been busy creating her own work which is a two part project starting with BAIT, a collection of covers (selected by her followers) with a modern, less traditional influence on heavy music using unconventional sounds like a distorted harp and Japanese Taiko Drums. The second album, Villainess is an original album, due out in late 2015, with songs by Ozzi, BJ Harvey, and the likes, a display of musical references “thrown into a blender…for a sound that is heavy, dark, and mischievous, all of the things I am.”
Guitar Girl Magazine caught up with Militia at the 2015 NAMM Show and enjoyed a great conversation about her influences, persona, and goals as an artist.
GGM: Let’s start with the beginning, you have quite a diverse background. Not only are you an accomplished vocalist, pianist, keyboard/synth player, songwriter, and guitarist, you’ve also done quite a bit of television work. First, let’s talk about your musical background. I read that you are a classically trained pianist and choral director. Wow! How does that square with the path your professional music career took?
MilitiA: It definitely shaped who I am professionally and how I hear and interpret music. I was immersed in classical music at a young age by choice. I wanted to make beautiful and dramatic sounds. I’ve always loved the range that piano has to offer as an instrument and the voicings it provides. I advanced at it quickly and won many awards in my regional and state competitions at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.
Technically voice was my second professional instrument. However, I sang when I was a toddler. I sang before I spoke. (My parents were shocked.) Even when I was an infant I was always enthralled by people singing. When I went to catholic school, I sang in choirs and truly loved the exhilarating sound of multiple voices and how they can move around each other. So in high school I arranged and directed several choirs, mostly for women’s voices since I went to all-girls school. Sometimes, I would pick material that was considered by the nuns as being “too provocative” or “offensive.” I have a long history of ruffling feathers in this way!
GGM: I love that about you – you are who you are – and that’s a good thing! How about musical influences…who where they, how did you evolve musically, and is there any one person or act that changed your world?
MilitiA: At first my main musical influences were Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Rachmaninov. Then I discovered Tori Amos. She has this way of making the piano so sexy, dark and cool in ways that I had never thought of before. I used to play her music on the piano constantly. By then the old dead composers weren’t so thrilling for me.
As a kid I was listening to my father’s music- he would essentially force feed me albums – mostly doowop- boy and girl groups of the ‘50s, and psychedelic rock- King Crimson, Traffic, Iron Butterfly, The Beatles. Queen, Zeppelin, Janis… I was really heavily into Janis Joplin and Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix.
Around middle school I got really into melancholy music (naturally). I deeply love Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and The Smiths and Morrissey which spun into grunge- L7, Babes in a Toyland, Nirvana, Hole and the like.
Early teens I met a guy who was teaching himself to play Metallica songs on the guitar. He introduced me to “Battery” on Master of Puppets and I officially fell for metal.
But If I had to pin it on one person that was the biggest influence on me musically, it’s definitely my dad.
GGM: Quite a diverse set of influences for sure. Not only a musician, you were also involved in television appearing on networks like FUSE, Much Music USA, MTV2, and VH1. How did those gigs come about and what exactly did you do on those networks?
MilitiA: I auditioned for a “new network” that was in the works and when I got there I found out it was for Much Music- they were Canadian based and starting to expand into the USA which later became Fuse music television. First show I did was called Soundtrack For Your Life as a VJ/Host. Next I did a show called Tastemaker where I’d talk about my favorite bands and videos. I went on to be a guest on iMix, as well as working on Lunchbox and eventually went on to host Fuse’s 1st reality show Heavy Metal Makeover.
MTV 2 I was a guest music expect brought in for All Things Rock and on VH1 I guest starred on a show called A Night With.
GGM: What an experience! You’re the lead singer of Judas Priestess – the all-girl Judas Priest tribute band. While all of your members have a diverse background, they all have a common thread; love of rock, punk, and heavy metal…but what brought you together? Why a cover band and how did you land on Judas Priest?
MilitiA: Likeminded people usually find each other. And we were lucky to come together in this musical scenario. I never thought I’d do a cover or tribute band but when I heard that the band was forming I sent them my info- and a picture of me with Rob Halford so they’d know I was serious. Gyda (bass) and our former guitarist D came up with the idea to do an all-girl Priest tribute. They were both in other girl trib bands and wanted to really come out kicking and make a statement as women- that they could do balls to the wall music and do it damn good. When I came in to try out and they started playing, I knew I had found sisters.
GGM: Besides playing with Judas Priestess, you’ve also worked with other bands and artists with a diverse musical genre like Swear on Your Life, Disciples of Astaroth, Dee Snider, and Cyndi Lauper – just to name a few!! How have those experiences helped you grow as an artist?
MilitiaA: All of those experiences add up to who I am now. I had to go thru them. I had to learn something from all of them or else I may have crashed and burned early. Who knows. DOA taught me how to perform onstage. SOYL taught me I could write. Dee Snider taught me about touring and how not to settle for peanuts. Cyndi Lauper taught me that bullsh*t happens on every level and quite often where you least expect it.
GGM: Good experiences for sure…especially in the music business. Let’s talk a little about your solo career. Last fall you released your new EP BAIT, as a lead-up to a new album you’re going to release later this year called The Villainess.Can you tell us about BAIT, what fans can expect to hear on The Villainess, and do you have a release date yet?
MilitiA: BAIT is a platter of songs that represent my style, energy, personality and sexuality as an artist. I wanted to create dark moody music that also showcased me vocally. The songs are somewhat of a splay of musical tastes but they are all my tastes. It’s kind of a “for fans of” as well. To prep people for my new dark original songs while having something to relate them to. All the while under the umbrella of the concept of THE VILLIANESS. THE VILLIANESS is born out of frustration. Being bitter and fed up with the entertainment industry and it’s types and roles that are delegated for women and particularly black/mixed race women. I’m used to not fitting in. I’m used to being the .5% that doesn’t like what everyone else likes. I can’t help it. I’m just that way. So Im turning that bitter jaded darkness into art.
BAIT is the lure, the shiny red apple to get people hooked, because every good villain uses bait to reel in their victims. I’m taking songs you already know and love and coating it with my brand of poison.
THE VILLAINESS is my middle finger to the socially acceptable, the pop princesses that dominate the media, and of course anyone that’s ever told me I “can’t don’t or shouldn’t.” THE VILLAINESS is the intrusion, antihero and in many ways- my salvation. It’ll be out at the end of 2015.
GGM: What musicians were you able to pull together for that album and how did you pull that off?
MilitiA: It came down to finding the right producer first and foremost. I’ve been screwed by many producers in the past (not literally!!) and used to have a real aversion to the recording process. In walks Mike Wolpe. We met thru mutual friends (shoutout to Shay and Alyssa!) and we worked on a track for fun in early 2014. I couldn’t stop listening to it… To how well it was crafted. Mike is so freggin’ talented as an artist and sound crafter. So I asked him to make BAIT with me. Best choice I ever made. Next I brought in friends to play guitar- Doc Coyle (formerly of God Forbid) who really impressed me in the studio by tying so many different ways to get the sound I wanted and then some) and Omar Gusmao (The Lonely Drunks, Divinity Roxx) who I’d played with on several gigs at The Viper Room and more. He can play anything and he was a one take wonder when tracking in the studio. Mike Wolpe also played bass on the album.
Then it really came down to scheduling and using the time wisely… Which Mike is a whiz at, Good thing too, because I like to work and work and work til I burn out, then do it again the next day. This way proved to be smarter.
GGM: It’s hard enough to be a minority based on gender in the male-dominated field of heavy metal music, but you’re also faced with the unique distinction of being billed as one of the “Ten Fiercest Black Female Rockers” by The Huffington Post. So how do you deal with these labels and how have you overcome such perceptions?
MilitiA: Honestly I’m tired of the labels. It doesn’t do anything for me other than remind me and everyone else that I don’t fit in based on something trivial. I mean, the black rock female pool is small. So why even make a list? Lol. Whatever. If I wasn’t included on the list I’d probably be annoyed about that too, so ultimately there’s no winning. I haven’t overcome anything because the lists and comments keep coming. But at least it opens the dialogue up and is shedding light on a type rarely celebrated in the media. I think people have looked at me and thought I was bold for being so bombastic and forward about my love and expression of heavy music. Like it’s not my place and I’m fighting a good fight or some kinda sh*t like that. But I don’t harp on it. I can’t harp on it. Because I love what I love. I don’t live my life to gratify narrow minded strangers.
GGM: And that’s what we love about you! It was great meeting you at NAMM in Anaheim last month. What’s your biggest take away from your attendance at NAMM?
MilitiaA: Essentially NAMM is all about networking. Making new friends and hanging with old ones. But my favorite part of it is hearing all the different music from a variety of artists that come out to love their craft. I also dig checking out all the latest cutting edge products. the convention center becomes a Shangri-La for working professional musicians that never ceases to amaze me. It’s like this magical musical fun town that convinces you that rock is king again, it appears out of nowhere like Brigadoon and then disappears into the mist.
5 Fun Facts about MilitiA:
My guilty musical pleasure is: I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.
The top 3 songs on my playlist today are:
This Will Do the Job… Car Bomb
Mothers Talk… Tears For Fears
Burn… King Woman
One person I would love to perform with is: Ozzy Osbourne.
One thing people don’t know about me is: Which hand I use.
My biggest pet peeve is: People that refer to me as “girl” as in “hey girl!” Or “wuz up girl” or some such sh*t. I hate that.
For more on VilitiA, visit her site www.militiaismyname.com