As seen in
Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 22 – Winter 2022
Jackson Guitars artist Vixen is a metal guitarist whose technical skills blow people away. As a musician, Vixen uses the guitar as a form of self-expression and empowerment. She finds just as much value in making music as she does seeing people embrace her sound and style. As a trans activist, Vixen uses music to communicate the need for diversity, representation, and inclusion for trans musicians in the industry. Between her phenomenal guitar playing, flawless makeup, and extraordinary performance outfits, Vixen is an inspiration for many out there. In this interview, Vixen discusses the importance of building a relationship with guitar, music education, and the courage she has developed along her journey.
How did you start playing?
I was 12 or 13 when I started playing. I had some fundamental lessons in school and took classical lessons, but I didn’t enjoy them. I didn’t think music wasn’t my thing. I picked up on Fleetwood Mac, trying to work out the songs, but one of the first songs I worked out on guitar was “The Unforgiven” by Metallica.
From there, I kept using Ultimate Guitar, trying to figure stuff out. I eventually got into a band with some of my friends, and that was when it clicked for me. The glitch was the love for music and the relationship you can form by playing music with other people. I love playing music on my own, and that’s what I do every day, but just having fun with your mates and playing takes things to the next level. That’s when the spark was ignited.
Let’s talk about representation in the music industry. How do you feel about the music industry’s lack of representation, and how has that impacted your journey so far?
Great question. All of my guitar heroes are primarily cis white men, and I think that is just because of the sheer number of female musicians. Do you know what I mean? And I have a huge following now, particularly on TikTok, which has been a massive form of motivation for me. I want folks to see me and be inspired to pick up something they are passionate about.
Growing up playing, I remember feeling so alone; I thought I was different and didn’t want other people to feel like that. The older I got, the more I realized that I fit in right where I needed to. I want to do everything I can to make people feel like others like them who are succeeding and living happy healthy lives.
I want to talk about the courage necessary to push boundaries in the music industry. Growing up, did you ever feel like not seeing people that looked like you doing things you wanted to do hindered you from finding the courage you now wear proudly in your journey to push the status quo in music?
Experiencing what I did gave me the courage to stand firm in my activism, being less of a decision like that and more of a path where I feel I can’t do anything else. I love this instrument so much, and I am who I am. Do you know what I mean? It’s completely natural how I’ve gotten to this point. I’ve developed courage in the gigging world, especially if you are in a band where everyone is white, cis, straight, and male, which is a considerable amount of musicians in the U.K., where I am originally from. But then when you finally get in those spaces where it’s not that, it’s like, “Wow.” Is this what those other people feel? They just feel like they can relax when they’re just in those spaces. But yeah, with my sort of journey, I just don’t feel like there were any other options for me. You know what I mean? I’m trans, a person of color, I love guitar, and I exist.
Going back a little bit to how you started playing, were there any bands that inspired you to pick up a guitar and learn it as well as you know and now? Where did that inspiration come from?
So yeah, it’s kind of like the CDs from my dad’s car that would just stay in the car for months. Some of my favorite music from his collection were Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Appetite for Destruction by Gun N’ Roses; he had Lenny Kravitz and Queen’s greatest hits, and more. These songs were my entry points to picking up the guitar. And then, as I got into my teenage years, I went into my pop-punk and emo era, of which I am so glad that I was a part of that movement. What a time in music.
Green Day, Metallica, Machine Head, and other bands are what got me into metal. I was really into Machine Head and Killswitch Engage at that time, so I just built from there. Alter Bridge, as well, was quite a big influence on me. Those were my sort of guitar, rocky things. Then I actually went to a music university, and I got exposed to loads of different music. So it kind of went all crazy for a few years, and then it sort of came back down into certain lanes, which I’m pursuing again.
How important do you think it is to expose not just kids but us as humans, guitarists and creatives to expose people to different genres that might not immediately be a genre that you like playing or that you like listening to?
It’s fundamental, especially in this day and age. It’s quite nice compared to maybe 15 years ago when you were a rocker or an R&B person. I think it is more common to listen to more styles of music now because access to music is easier. So I want to take you back to when I was 16 when I was in music college in the U.K. One afternoon, my teacher had us listen to a ton of gigging guitarists; some we were aware of and some we weren’t aware of. We just sat for the whole afternoon and watched YouTube videos where he just educated us, and it was not a lazy YouTube lesson. This is what Jeff Beck sounds like. This is what Joe Satriani sounds like, etc. And the right videos as well — not just any album or whatever — he pulled defining moments from each of those musicians’ careers and extracted the technique for us to learn. It was an incredible lesson that set me up for life, really. I even teach that lesson now with my students on Zoom. I’m so passionate about knowing about all of it. And yeah, I want to give people my greatest hits, basically. It’s really, really important. I’m really a big fan of weird techniques and want to bring aspects of that to young folks learning how to play.
Why is music education important to you? And when I say music education, I’m not just talking about guitar instruction, but just any aspect of education that you have learned is useful so far on your trajectory in the music industry.
I’ve taught guitar to students of all ages. And when I taught younger kids, the thing I didn’t try and teach them was perfection in technique. I mean, I taught them decent techniques, but I just wanted them to have fun and learn how to first express themselves. It felt like there’s a lot you can learn; It felt like a break for them, but in a healthy way. And I was just trying to teach them that music equals fun and music equals expression. That’s what I was trying to work on. So I think it can just be a really nice way of balancing out other subjects. I think this is really important for kids to be exposed to self-expression from a young age, and music can help them learn to do that.
What are some ways that you perhaps have been creative in finding your own access to learn things that you really wanted to learn, whether it’s guitar-related, business, or other subject matter? How did you create a way for you to find access to those things?
I think a really organic way to learn is through your friends. With guitar, I was teaching myself. Teaching yourself, especially in guitar, doesn’t always just mean you’re teaching yourself. It means that you’re finding resources by yourself. My friends had learned some new Guns N’ Roses thing, and they were showing it to me. It was cool, and I wanted to try it, you know? I really valued learning things and growing as a person. And it can really sometimes just be rubbing shoulders with people that inspire you, and you pick up things along the way.
I think just allow yourself to be drawn to what inspires you. That might be some TikTok makeup person or something, or it might just be your friend that’s a really good singer. I used to do a lot of the percussive tappy-type stuff that I learned all from somebody that I lived with for two years. But he never gave me a lesson. I just saw him doing it and was like, “Oh, that’s how you… I see what you’re doing there.” You know? Up close on repeat. And it’s like, “Yeah, okay, I kind of get it.” And my playing always ended up being a bit of a watered-down version of his. But I picked up a lot from just the vicinity.
So I think if you do know anyone or know of any spaces that inspire you, just hang out and watch and just try and pick up or figure it out at home after you’ve seen them do it in your life.
How important do you think it is to learn other things outside of just that one thing that you might be passionate about? For example, one might be really interested in wanting to learn how to play the guitar, but do you think it’s important to learn how to play other instruments or to learn how to play the guitar through different ways just to make you a more well-rounded musician?
I think there are benefits to both, but there’s nothing wrong with being specialized. I think if you’re specialized, there will probably be fewer opportunities for you initially, but once you find your lane, you’ll be irreplaceable. An example of that, as a session player, if out of ten genres I am solid with six or seven, I will probably get gigs. I’m probably going to be able to say yes to most gigs as they get offered my way, and I will feel good about playing those genres. But, if I only specialize in country guitar, but I’m one of the best ones around because I’ve put all my energy into it, then I’m going to get fewer gigs. I really think there’s a lot of value in specializing, but there is also value in being well-rounded.
One last fun question for you: If you were a rock ‘n’ roll instructor and you could only teach one specialty course for a ten-year period at the school, what would you teach?
I would say tapping, for sure. Tapping is one of these weird things that I picked up kind of fast and had fun with it. I’m not always quick at picking anything up with guitar, which I know is hard to believe now, but it’s very true. My friends learned stuff faster than me, but the one thing I’ve always been able to do is tap quite fast, so that is what I would teach for sure.
~ By Guitar Gabby, Jennale Adams, and Fayola Waithe