Beauty and the Bass
Female vocalists are becoming ubiquitous in heavy music, which is a wonderful thing. Even more exciting is seeing the many who are picking up instruments and proving their abilities are every bit as powerful as their male counterparts.
Recently Metalholic looked at some of hard rock and metals best shred divas. This time we look at the girls that got rhythm. The low end Queens of shuddering mean. Some of the early protagonists of hard and heavy bass from the fairer sex include Sean Yseult who spent more than a decade thrumming the strings for White Zombie, and Quebec native Melissa Auf Der Maur who spent five years with Hole and another with Smashing Pumpkins before going solo. Let us not forget Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Jennifer Finch of L7, Kira Roessler of Black Flag, or D’Arcy Wretzky of Smashing Pumpkins.
Those listed below span the diversity of heavy music from alternative hard rock to extreme metal. They are not ranked for in rock and roll style and presence count as much as technical precision. They are all worthy of note and dynamic performers.
Lena Abé – My Dying Bride
Abé is the 5-string strummer for English doom metal masters, My Dying Bride. The 30-year-old joined the band in 2007, replacing Adrian Jackson. They released their eleventh studio album, “A Map of All Our Failures” last year. She said of the new record, “We set out to make the most sorrowful music we could and I reckon we achieved that.”
When she’s not spreading the gloom, she also finds time to play guitar for Severed Heaven which is in a similar death and doom vein but with more of a black metal feel.
Lena got the music bug from watching her father play guitar. She comes from a musical family and began playing at 10. Early alternative music leanings eventually led to a darker and heavier path.
She is endorsed by and plays almost exclusively Mayones basses and guitars along with a Trace Elliot AH600-12 Head amp head, 1518 + 1048H cabinets. She does not feel the need for pedals with her basses.
On her touring bucket list are: Japan, Australia and Central and South America. She’s an admitted fantasy geek and X-box junky, and has a passion for fitness as well.
Emma Anzai – Sick Puppies
Emma Anzai is probably the most readily known name on this list and a founding member and bassist for the Australian alternative rock trio Sick Puppies. The band celebrated its 15th year of existence in 2012 and is currently in the studio working on its fourth album tentatively titled “Connect”. The record is set for July 16, 2013 release.
Anzai’s unique bass style has earned her the nickname “the female Flea”; a nod to Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (Michael Peter Balzary). A complement she holds in high regard as she lists Flea as her primary inspiration due to his versatility. She also throws inspirational nods to Les Claypool and Victor Wooten.
The relatively quiet, 30-year-old often finds her musical prowess overlooked by her stunning physical beauty. But it is with four strings under her fingers that she makes the world truly take notice.
Emma began her musical journey as a bored teenager living in Japan who began learning how to play guitar to fill her time. Upon meeting future Sick Puppies partner, Shimon Moore, she switched the bass and has never looked back.
While she has been known to use her fingers or occasionally play some slap bass, Anzai primarily uses a pick when she performs. Emma admits she used more slap and funk in her playing early on as she was learning different techniques, but over the years has become more focused and consistent. She has often said that it is her job to serve the song and be complementary to it.
Anzai confides that her playing style is more about melody and rhythm, and driven by emotion that it is technical expertise. She channels that emotion and energy on stage and has said that she is more comfortable playing her instrument as she moves around rather than standing still as so many bass players do.
Doris Yeh – Chthonic
The Taiwanese thunder goddess Doris Yeh aka Thunder Tears, man-handles the bass for extreme metal horde, Chthonic. The band is about to release its seventh studio album “Bú-Tik“. Yeh has been with the band since 1999 when they released their debut album.
Yeah admits that bass was a convenient choice rather than one of design:
“My dad is a bass player, he collected some basses for years. When I formed my first band at high school, I choose to play bass because I can get one from home for free.”
On who influenced her style of play, or whose style she emulates she offered:
“Actually none. I have no attempt to follow anyone’s style, it’ not quite right to my personality, I think the Experiences are the only teacher for me. ”
What is your particular set up? Bass(es), Amp(s), effects?
Bass: ESP – Andromeda (5-string signature bass)
Amp – head : Ampeg SVT 450
Amp – cab : Ampeg SVT 410HLF
Effects – MXR M80 BASS DI
Do you play any other instruments?
“I played piano when I was 5. I played it for 10 years.”
Check out our recent interview with Doris Yeh.
Wanda Ortiz – The Iron Maidens
You may be thinking, “a tribute band”, seriously? Hey, you don’t play Steve Harris’ riffs night after night without being a bassist of extraordinary talent in your own right. Ortiz has incredible chops which have earned her best bassist nods from the Rock City News Awards in 2003, and The All Access Music Magazine Awards.
Wanda began playing bass in school at nine and by 11 she was teaching herself electric bass for jazz band. After playing bass all through school she eventually went on to earn a music degree.
Prior to her longstanding gig as “Steph Harris” for the Iron Maidens (she joined in 2002), Ortiz was in Rotten Rod & The Warheads, Heartache City, Field of Vision and has been the bassist for The South Coast Symphony Orchestra for 17 years.
She hails Geddy Lee (Rush) and Chris Squire (Yes) among her bass heroes, along with, of course, Steve Harris. Her weapon of choice is a glitter blue G&L SB-2 and she is endorsed by BBE Sound, Digitech, Dunlop Manufacturing, G&L Musical Instruments, RotoSound Strings, Schroeder Superior Sound Cabinets, Coffin Case and Monster Energy Drink.
Jeanne Sagan – All That Remains, Blood Has Been Shed
Sagan, who from hails from Springfield, Massachusetts, began her journey as a merch girl for Prosthetic Records. She has been the bassist and backing vocalist for All That Remains since 2006 first appearing on the band’s third album, “The Fall of Ideals”. She is also the former bassist for The Acacia Strain. As of November 2012, Jeanne plays a black cherry Spector Legend 4 Classic 4-string bass with EMG 35DC active pickups, and Ampeg SVT bass amplifiers. She is a former Ibanez player, using both Soundgear 4-strings and an ARTB100 4-string, the latter of which can be seen in the music video for the song “Hold On” from the album “For We Are Many“. In 2012 she joined mathcore band Blood Has Been Shed. Offered All That Remains frontman Phil Labonte about Sagan joining the band:
“Initially she was just like a fill in because as I initially said I didn’t want to be that band with a girl bass player. But then after like two weeks of playing with her, we were just like…we have to be like fucking idiots not to hire her because she brings it on stage. She’s fucking awesome to be around, she’s super cool. So we were like, “Wanna job?”[Chuckles] “Yep!” “Cool!” “Awesome!”
Vanja Slajh – Triptykon
When Tom G. Warrior, he of Celtic Frost fame and earlier purveyor of black metal, decided to launch Triptykon, he had only one person in mind to handle bass duties. Warrior met Slajh when he was going to do some production for her previous band, and the two became fast friends. The 29-year-old Vanja abuses Ibanez basses to attain her dark, throbbing, low end rumble. Little is known about this diva of the deep end, but anyone who has seen Triptykon perform can attest to Vanja’s skill and stage presence.
Mlny Parsonz – Royal Thunder
Parsonz is something of a reticent rockstar. As the face, voice and bass of Atlanta’s notable up-and-coming metal quartet Royal Thunder, Mlny eschews the spotlight. She wants the band to be seen as whole rather than a female-fronted group. Husband Josh Weaver is the band’s guitarist. Parsonz vibe and outlook are a throwback: “I’m not old, but I’m old school. Don’t even have an iPod. Ha. I still listen to my tapes and I love CDs and vinyl!” The band’s 2012 debut album “CVI” received broad critical acclaim and Mlny’s throbbing bass and deep, raspy, and moody vocals are a large part of that. She has taken her spin as a death metal keyboardist, angsty singer/songwriter, etc… but it was not until she connected with Weaver that things began to come into focus. Royal Thunder may be hailed as metal but the band prefers to see themselves as, “post-apocalyptic blues.” In an interview with The Austin Chronicle Parsonz said of her influences:
“I grew up playing piano, and I was in dance. I listened to a lot of R&B – Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Prince, George Michael, Mariah Carey. All that stuff. Stuff my mom was listening to. My dad listened to a lot of rock & roll, but I didn’t really hear a lot of that from him growing up. I later found out that he was into it, but I never really saw that side of him when I was younger.
“I think growing up with that and then growing up in the metal scene, I was never really concerned with what females were doing. The music that they were listening to just wasn’t my thing – the things that they liked. I spent a lot of my time with guys, and by default, a lot of time with metal heads, getting exposed to metal and rock.”
Chela Rhea Harper – Coal Chamber
When Dez Fafara (DeveilDriver), Meegs Rascón, and Mike Cox decided to reconvene Coal Chamber they reached out to Harper as the replacement for original bassist Rayna Foss. It was a brilliant choice as Harper has music in her genes. Her father Carl Harvey is an amazing guitar player and singer-songwriter who is best known for his work as a member of legendary reggae band Toots & the Maytals. Surrounded by music her entire life, her early tastes found her gravitating toward dark and heavy bands like Tool, System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. However, Harper has her own unique project called Sarasvati which blends hard rock with Eastern influences. Chela?s bass of choice is a black 5-string ESP LTD B-335. Offered Chela in a 2012 interview with G33KPRON on her musical projects:
“I try to keep myself busy and have as much fun as possible. I don’t plan to do anything serious aside from Coal Chamber, but writing many styles is an important outlet for me. Everything from melodic doom metal to upbeat progressive groove metal.”
Ida Evileye – Crucified Barbara
Evileye (born Ida Stenbacka) formed Crucified Barbara with guitarist Klara Force (Klara Rönnqvist Fors) in 1998 in Stockholm, Sweden. The 32-year-old bassist primarily uses a Sandberg bass with Rotosound strings and an Ampeg V4 amp with an Ampeg 4×12 cabinet. She married Meshuggah drummer Tomas Haake on January 16, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Check out our recent interview with Ida Evileye for more about her gear and life with Crucified Barbara, including their first U.S. tour this spring.
Jo Bench – Bolt Thrower
Bench has been the four-string fretress for legendary death metal contingent, Bolt Thrower for over 25 years. She is among the first women to play in an extreme metal band. The longtime vegetarian hails from Leamington Spa, England. Among her arsenal, her weapons of choice are her BC Rich Ironbird, Peavey T-Max, Ibanez Tube Screamer, and 2 x Laney 2×15. In a 2005 interview with Global Domination Bench talked about her influences:
“I’m still a fan of the same bassists I liked when I started – Cronos from Venom, Rainy from Discharge, and Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath.The band that influenced me most was probably Sacrilege from the UK – a killer but really underrated band, they were totally ahead of their time. Musician-wise, amongst other memorable moments, I remember being totally blown away by Dark Angel ‘Darkness Descends’ and decided I wanted to be a drummer! Obviously due to the fact I couldn’t play drums for shit, that was never going to happen… Then I saw a video of Venom on their ‘Seven Dates of Hell’ tour and then I wanted to be Cronos.. I already had the boots, so I was nearly there… ha,ha..”
Miranda Wolfe – Mortillery
Edmonton, Alberta’s thrash metal rumble mistress, Wolfe prowls the stage with her weapon of choice, a Gibson Thunderbird at the ready. Certainly one of the coolest looking bass models ever devised. As to the rest of her gear Miranda offers: “My head is a SWR Workingman 4004. My cab is a Yorkville 115/210 speaker combo, and I use a Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive.”
According to Wolfe she got started at 13:
“I just thought the bass players in the bands were the coolest and decided I wanted to play. I always dreamed of being in a band and made the decision to get into lessons and get serious about it. I made a promise to myself that I would be successful through music, no matter what. My mom was mad, she wanted me to be a drummer. Ha ha.”
She found her influences in old 80’s Thrash, Black Metal, and D-Beat Punk primarily. While she doesn’t have any particular influence to her style, she does like to play hard and heavy. “I just play how I feel comfortable and with lots of energy.” She hails Lemmy Kilmister’s sound as her favorite. When she takes the stage with Mortillery that energy is contagious. The Canadian thrash bastards released their second album for Naplam Records, “Origin of Extinction” earlier this year.
Alanna Vilane – Queen Dementia
Vilane, aka Queen Lana, is the face, voice, bass, and keys for Fort Lauderdale’s modern goth metal trio, Queen Dementia. The band was founded in 2009 with husband/guitarist Joseph Vilane. Drummer Jav fills out the powerful unit. Vilane’s path to music began at the age of six when she discovered her voice. That led to guitar and eventually bass. She hails Justin Chancellor (Tool), Jeff Walker (Carcass) and Robert Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica among her influences.
Offers Queen Lana:
“What I love about bass is that throbbing bottom end that makes everything in a room vibrate and as a listener at a live show, makes one’s insides shake. I love that! I liken it to the human heartbeat. Additionally, I find so much pleasure in creating harmonies with the guitar melody. As a vocalist, melodies and harmonies come easy to me. That’s how my mind works. This makes writing bass lines very enjoyable and playing a creative experience.”
Any other female bassists that impress you?
“I always thought that Sean Yseult, White Zombie’s bassist was bad-ass. I like her style and she has attitude.”
What equipment, set up do you use?
“I have several basses and often enjoy utilizing different basses for different songs since they all have a unique sound of their own. My main electric basses are a 4 string ESP F-414 FM, 5 string Schechter Diamond Series Damien-5, and for 6 string, I use an Ibanez SR706 with Bartolini pickups. For amplification, I use a SVT-7 Pro Ampeg head accompanied by an Ampeg Classic cab. I love Ampeg’s sound and quality. For wireless transmission, I use a Line 6 G30 relay system.”
You can learn more about Alanna and Queen Dementia here.
Honorable Mention: Trish Doan and Ivy Vujic Jenkins of Kittie. The band has been off the radar this year and Doan recently returned to the band replacing Ivy who left to get married and start a business.
So who haven’t we heard of, who did we forget, leave off the list, or simply disrespect in our abysmal ignorance? Sound off below!