‘Lightning’ Strikes: Guitarist Brittany Denaro Takes the Lead with Vixen

Photo by Jack Lue
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 9 – Autumn 2019 – Ladies of Metal

Brittany Denaro — professionally known as Britt Lightning — lead guitarist for Vixen, grew up in Boston, where she began her musical journey as a flute player, moving on to guitar as a high school freshman after discovering Van Halen and Metallica. She graduated from Northeastern University with a Music Business degree.

In Boston, she launched her professional career with a band called Jaded. Over the course of seven years, the women released two albums — a self-titled debut and Higher, which featured tracks produced by Gary Katz (Steely Dan). The group performed at area festivals, New Jersey KISS Expos, and toured Europe in 2007 as the support band for W.A.S.P. In 2011, Denaro was a cast member in the New York-based rock musical Chix6. This was followed by three years on the road with Latin music sensation and multiple Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz, playing stadiums on his world tours. After that came a year with pop artist Rachel Platten (“Fight Song”), with whom she performed at festivals and on national television programs.

In 2017, she joined Vixen, which includes vocalist Lorraine Lewis of Femme Fatale, and original members Share Pederson Ross – bass and Roxy Petrucci – drums. The group remains active on the road and released a live album, Live Fire, last year. They are currently working on material for a new studio album. 

Guitar Girl Magazine connected with Britt Lightning via e-mail during a short break in Vixen’s busy touring schedule. 

Vixen just came off the Monsters of Rock cruise, you have some select dates through the summer, and pick up again in September. What else is on your calendar? 

We have some awesome shows coming up this summer, mostly in the U.S., lots of cool casinos and festivals, and we hope to return to Europe for some dates this fall. We are also in the writing process for a new album, so we are setting up dates to get together and write since we all live all over the country.

Are you working in other bands or doing session work between Vixen dates and recording sessions?

Yes. I can’t wait to start recording the new Vixen studio album; it’s gonna rock! And I occasionally do other sessions in-between Vixen dates. I most recently played on a live album/DVD with Mexican pop goddess Alejandra Guzman, which was a great experience.

You’re currently out with an Epiphone Les Paul. Is that your main guitar? How long have you had it, and what makes it the right guitar for you as a member of Vixen?

Yes, I am. I just started working with Epiphone this year and am hoping to come out with a Britt Lightning signature model soon. The guitar I am currently playing is a gold SG with a Floyd Rose bridge. The hot pickups and floating bridge, mixed with its edgy look, are perfect for Vixen and me.

What else is in your rig?

I use GHS Boomers 9-46, and they are best. I am playing Hughes and Kettner amps, which I have fallen so in love with for their clarity and diversity. I am playing through the GrandMeister 40 on tour. It is compact, and I bring it as a carry-on on the plane.

Why GHS and how long have you used them?

I have always used and loved GHS strings, but I just started working with them within the last year or two. They have great people on their team. I love my GHS family and highly recommend their products. They’ve been around since 1964 for a reason.

You’ve spoken about the convenience of Mooer Audio pedals — a flyboard and their smaller size. Which pedals are you using, and when and how did you discover Mooer gear?

The Mooer pedals are super-convenient and sound great. Alex Grossi from Quiet Riot turned me on to them. I have a pretty simple pedal setup due to all the flying. I just use a boost, an analog delay, and am using a Morley wah pedal.

You also play a Taylor acoustic guitar. Which model? Are you incorporating it into your work with Vixen?

I absolutely love Taylor guitars. My main one that I play is a 514 cutaway. I do write a lot on acoustic, and when I do, it’s more for the songwriting rather than the riffs. I feel like any great song can sound great on an acoustic without any other bells and whistles. Playing acoustic inspires me to write more chord-based rather than single-note rock riffs. With Vixen, I recorded an acoustic version of “Edge of Broken Heart,” and to me, it sounds really open and different than the original or what I would have created on an electric.

With the four of you living in different states, how do you collaborate on material? Do you use files? Share demos? 

We do live all over the place. We try to fly out and write together when we have time off between shows. My friend Doug has a great studio called The Den that we like to jam at and will be returning to in August, when we have a weekend off, to hopefully get the last few songs we need written so that we can start recording.

Of course, we want to know about working with Michael Wagener — the legend of metal production. What is he bringing to Vixen and to you as a guitarist?

Michael is the best! He is so kind and easygoing and has a great sense of humor, so there is never any tension when we work together. He has so many cool guitars and effects and tricks to use in his studio — it’s really like being a kid in a candy store. I love working with him and can’t wait to make more music with him soon. In me, he brings out experimentation and creativity, and that happens when I feel comfortable and can joke around and be goofy. I never take myself too seriously.

Are there certain techniques you swear by in the studio as far as how you like to mic and record your guitars?

Not really. The stage is where things have to sound right, and I experiment less because it is live, you have a set amount of time, and there are people watching with a certain expectation. I feel like the studio environment allows you to be more experimental and free and try new things. I love using different amps and tones and having the diversity that I can’t accomplish live, due to more compact touring rigs, etc. Also, when you are playing live, the band sound overall can be compensated for various reasons, including the acoustics of the venue, the way it is mixed out front, etc. In the studio, you can control all the elements and create cool soundscapes that can really shape a song.

Prior to Vixen, you had quite a diverse resume: rock, Latin, and pop — different sounds, styles, entourages, and audiences. How did each of those gigs help prepare you for Vixen? Do you still draw from them, even though you now play a completely different style of music? 

Playing different styles of music, especially live with a band, helped broaden my musical horizons so much. It introduced me to playing different chords and harmonies and understanding different song structures that I otherwise may not have ever realized. Learning and having new experiences in any capacity helps you with future gigs. I definitely still draw on the things I have learned from different genres, and it helps me to feel more versatile as a player and comfortable in different settings.

You have partnered with The Guitar Wrist to create jewelry made from your guitar strings to support the Wounded Warrior Project and Afterschool Alliance. How did that partnership come about, and why those particular organizations?

The Guitar Wrist is great, and they create beautiful pieces for great causes. We started working together because we connected on social media. I chose the Afterschool Alliance because when you are growing up and in school, you are very impressionable, and it’s an important time in a person’s development. If you have parents that aren’t around most of the day, like a lot of kids do, there’s a lot of extra time after school that could be spent in a fun learning environment that fuels creativity and provides encouragement.

I attended an after-school program because my parents worked late and having mentors and a place to inspire and pursue my interests was invaluable. If I had gone home and watched TV by myself, or something else, I would be a different person today. Also, for kids who have parents that are not so encouraging or helpful, these types of programs are very important in shaping a person’s beliefs about themselves and their capabilities.

I chose the Wounded Warrior Project because I have a lot of family and friends in the military and always will be supportive of the U.S. troops and their families. They sacrifice so much for our country; it’s the least I can do.

Finally, again drawing upon your experiences in so many different realms and tours, what has all of this taught you about yourself, and from those lessons, what words of wisdom and/or advice can you share with young women who aspire to work in the music industry?

Never, ever give up, no matter how many times someone puts you down or tries to make you feel like you are not capable of success. If it is in your heart, it is true, and therefore you continue on. If you want to do something because of your passion, and not for superficial reasons like money or fame, it will be worth it in the long run. And ladies, if you are in a relationship and your man is not 150 percent supportive of you following your dreams, leave the guy and stick with your dreams! You can find love again, but you may not find another dream you feel so strongly about. At the end of the day, just be true to yourself.

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