To non-believers, hard rock and heavy metal will eternally be an ear-grinding, devil-evoking genre of music with zero value or legitimacy. It’s the dark silhouette of an unknown evil at the end of a dimly-lit street, or the Bringer of Societal Woes with as much of a chance of transforming itself into something good as AC/DC has of learning a fourth chord.
Those with a grasp of reality, however, know this as complete and utter bunk. Some of the best musicians on the planet have come from — and still reside in — hard rock and heavy metal. Unlike sugar-coated pop music or today’s “new” country, the heavier side of music is in full evolution mode, and has been for the better part of two decades, reaching more people than ever with bands featuring twin lead guitars, singers, screamers, stunning percussionists, and yes, even female vocalists.
Look no further than Amy Lee (Evanescence), Lizzy Hale (Halestorm), Maria Brink (In This Moment) or the great Doro Pesch. These talented women didn’t just jump the male-only hard rock barrier — they crushed it, and the beneficiaries have been many. Success is there for the taking with the right mix of strong music, a willingness to work hard and sprinkle of luck, too.
Enter Madame Mayhem.
The Manhattan-born, golden-piped vocalist has two full length albums under her belt (2012’s “White Noise” and 2015’s “Now You Know”), a new release ready to unleash on the world in October (“Ready For Me”), and a hunger and passion to carry the torch and show everyone — naysayers included — that she and her brand of music are the real deal.
“It’s been incredible what we’ve been able to do so far, but this is just the start,” she said. “Everything is going great, we’re touring, working and have a new album coming out.
Despite being in her 20s, Mayhem sports a veritable Who’s Who list of collaborators that she’s worked with thus far, including the likes of her friend and mentor, Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big, Winery Dogs); Ray Luzier (KoRn, KXM); Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses); Russ Parrish (“Satchel” from Steel Panther); Earl Slick (David Bowie, John Lennon), Rudy Sarzo (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Whitesnake, Dio); Clint Lowery (Sevendust), and more.
Mayhem and her band are currently on the road with former Hinder vocalist Austin John Winkler and Smile Empty Soul on the Love Sick Radio Tour in the U.S. before heading over to Europe and the UK for dates with Fozzy and Hardcore Superstar.
Mayhem sat down with ListenIowa to talk about a number of things, including her passion for her art, her view on where females stand today in the male dominated hard rock genre, and the ever-moving target called “making it” in the industry.
Give me some background on how and when this path toward a career in music started for you.
I’ve been doing music my entire life for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I went to singing classes, to dance classes, to acting classes. I was always listening to hard rock and heavy metal, and my tastes just got heavier and heavier as I grew up. When it came to take a career path, I knew it would be music, in the genre I love.
Where do your musical influences come from?
I’m a grunge baby. My mom got sick of playing the Barney and Sesame Street tapes in the car, so she just put on the radio instead, which exposed me to grunge. (laughs) Then the nu-metal happened, and from there I kind of went backward and listened to the older stuff. But I love it all.
When you put together Madame Mayhem, was it as a solo act or as a band?
That’s interesting because it’s a little bit of both. I’m Madame Mayhem, but the band is Madame Mayhem, too. I think that’s kind of cool. I started this thing by myself and found the right people to perform with me, and that’s how it came to be.
You’ve got some heavy hitters as far as the collaborators you’ve worked with. How did you get Billy Sheehan, Ray Luzier and Rudy Sarzo, to name a few, on board, especially being a relative newcomer?
I still can’t believe it is happening! They’re all fantastic humans as well as great musicians. Billy has been a mentor of mine for years and years. When I was at a turning point in my career, where I had been at this and was wondering what to do, I confided in him, and he said, “Let’s just write some music and hash things out.” I was dealing with some things at the time that turned into really great songs. That’s how “Now You Know” came to be. He called Ray to play on it. Being out there, being where these people were, and showing them what I could do was important. Luckily I didn’t mess up. (laughs) This industry isn’t that big. Everyone knows someone else. I’m just lucky that the people I knew in the beginning were willing to reach out their friends and say, “Hey, check this girl out.”
Did you and Billy get connected because of your East Coast ties?
No, we got connected in L.A., and I was working with my producer, Mark Hudson. He and Billy were doing rehearsals for a fantasy camp they were doing, so I came along and met him there. We just hit it off so well. I like collaborating with people, but it’s cool to have the input of others to be able to really make it great.
I also see Russ Parrish, aka “Satchel” in Steel Panther, in the album credits.
Yes, he played some of the solos on “Now You Know.” He just came down to the studio and nailed them. It was SUCH a good time.
I’ve seen him perform live, and in addition to being a great guitar player, he’s an absolute riot.
I had seen Steel Panther play, but I hadn’t met him before. Billy knew him, so I was expecting Russ to be in full costume. (laughs) And he walked in, and he was normal looking! (laughs) I was like, “Awww. Where’s the leopard spandex?” (laughs) But he came in and nailed it. It doesn’t matter whether he’s rocking out on stage or sitting on a stool in the studio, his playing is captivating. He’s just the coolest.
Stylistically your music runs the gamut from hard rock to acoustic ballads to even some pop sensibilities at times. How would you describe your music from the inside looking out?
I like to say it’s hard rock music. Heavy, hard hitting music with singing and vocals and melody. I don’t scream. I tend to get the aggression out in the instrumentals of the songs.
Does having that much diversity help, or can it hurt at times?
It’s a curse and a blessing when it can’t be categorized. The industry at times doesn’t know what to do with us, but that’s fine. One song may lean toward pop and another toward the heavier, but whatever the song needs, we’ll do it.
Vocally, who are some of your influences?
Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) was one of my favorites. I never had the chance to see him live, so I’m devastated. His voice was so haunting and amazing. There’s Pat Benatar, David Draiman (Disturbed) has a great voice. There are a lot of great vocalists out there. I don’t mimic anything, although my producer likes to make fun of me because I sometimes do the “ah!” at the end of everything like James Hetfield of Metallica. (laughs)
That’s not a bad comparison.
(laughs) No. Not at all. That’s where I took my mom for Mother’s Day, to a Metallica show. (laughs)
Speaking of great vocalists, you’ve toured with Doro Pesch. What did you learn from her?
I just saw her again actually, and it reminded me how much I learned from her, besides her performance and how she keeps her voice intact. We shared a bus together, and seeing how she was with the fans is what impacted me the most. When she says she loves her fans, she truly does. She takes the time to meet and speak with them and communicates with them. It’s an energy that was so inspiring. It still sticks to me to this day. And you’re talking to Doro, too! (laughs)
She’s done some duets here and there in her career. Did she offer to get together and do something with you?
We totally should! (laughs) She hasn’t yet, but if you ever talk to her, let her know! (laughs)
Do you think female artists in the hard rock genre are held to a different standard, maybe under the microscope a bit more because females are a minority in a predominantly male-driven brand of music?
I used to not feel it. I thought it didn’t matter whether you’re male or female. If the music is good, it’s good; it doesn’t matter. That’s how I felt about it until recently, when we were trying to get out there and tour. There are festivals specifically for female-fronted bands, then there are the other festivals where I’ve been told, “Oh, we already have two females,” so they wouldn’t even look at us. It’s like, “Wait a minute!” And that was weird. I don’t think it should be like that. There can be 20 dudes on a festival, and you’ll never hear a “We’ve got too many dudes in the festival.” (laughs)
You had three years between your first two albums, and there was a marked improvement across the board in sound and songwriting. What lessons did you take from those experiences into the creation of your third and forthcoming album, “Ready For Me”?
I’m always growing as a writer and experiment with new things. With this one, even though it’s in a shorter amount of time than the first two, I think we really tried to make it a current, hard-hitting, hard rock album. I’ve had a lot of experiences to draw from. I’m in my 20s, but have had a lot of things happen to me. I’ve lived a full life. I have things to say that people can relate to. There’s a lot of me spilling my guts out on “Ready For Me.” Everyone is going to get the “dirt” on me with this new album.
Care to elaborate on the “dirt”?
Well, there’s nothing specifically that triggered the album to be made, but I’ve heard from some of my buddies who were in the music industry before, and they tell me how the industry is changing. I have this frustration of figuring out what “making it” is. There’s so much frustration and so many roadblocks now. You can do everything right, have the talent, hone your craft, and at the end of the day, it’s still not up to you. Personally, I won’t name names, because that’s giving away too much. I’m currently in a relationship with my music. But that causes problems with human relationships, too, when your one true love is your art.
So what is your definition of making it, then?
Being able to make music and share it for the rest of my life. My favorite thing other than creating music is being onstage and performing. Ever since I can remember, that has been my true passion. I feel the most comfortable there. If I can sustain that and keep people listening and be on the road forever, that, for me, is making it. We shall see. (laughs)
Madame Mayhem Tour Dates:
Love Sick Radio Tour (w/Austin John Winkler, Smile Empty Soul)
Sept. 27 Rockhouse Live Memphis, TN
Sept. 29 9 Muses Tyler, TX
Sept. 30 Hideaway Jackson, MS
Oct. 3 Still Bar Gadsden, AL
Oct. 5 Captain Hiram’s Sebastian, FL
Oct. 6 State Theatre St Petersburg, FL
Oct. 7 1904 Music Hall Jacksonville, FL
Oct. 8 CLUB LA Destin, FL
Oct. 11 Poseidon Rooftop Hilton Head Island, SC
Oct. 12 Carolina Nightlight Darlington, SC
Oct. 13 Hogtails Pendleton, SC
Oct. 14 Johnny and Junes Winston-Salem, NC
Oct. 15 Open Chord Knoxville, TN
European Tour (w/ Fozzy, Hardcore Superstar)
Oct. 27 O2 Academy 2 Birmingham, United Kingdom
Oct. 28 Tivoli Dublin, Ireland
Oct. 29 Limelight 2 Belfast, United Kingdom
Oct. 31 Live Rooms Chester-Le-Street, United Kingdom
Nov. 1 Waterfront Manchester, United Kingdom
Nov. 2 Islington Academy London, United Kingdom
Nov. 3 Corporation Sheffield, United Kingdom
Nov. 4 The Garage Glasgow, United Kingdom
Nov. 5 Riverside Newcastle, United Kingdom
Nov. 7 Q Factory Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nov. 8 Colas Saal Aschaffenburg, Germany
Nov. 9 Z7 Pratteln, Switzerland
Nov. 10 Live Club Trezzo Sull’adda, Italy
Nov. 11 New Age Club Roncade, Italy
Nov. 12 Kimera Rock Rome, Italy
Nov. 14 Flex Wien, Austria
Nov. 15 TECHNIKUM Munich, Germany
Nov. 16 Turock Essen, Germany
Nov. 17 Grunespan Hamburg, Germany
Nov. 18 CPG Genk, Belgium
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