Blog: The colour of metal

As a journalist, I’m not often offered whiskey by musicians I’m interviewing at 6 a.m. in hotel hallways after heavy metal shows. But on this story, that actually happened.

I don’t work for Rolling Stone. I’m a news guy. I admit it: I don’t live the metal lifestyle. Y’know, leather, ear-crunching decibel levels and late nights.

But MilitiA Vox does.

All-girl Judas Priest tribute band Judas Priestess. Frontwoman Militia Vox with guitarists Josette, Gyda Gash and Rena Petrucci.
All-girl Judas Priest tribute band Judas Priestess. Frontwoman Militia Vox with guitarists Josette, Gyda Gash and Rena Petrucci. 16x9

We had just seen the New York City metal goddess perform at a club near Buffalo. There are many ways to describe her. Brash, foul-mouthed, cocky…but also, there’s this: She is a sincerely energetic, talented ball of charisma who loves what she’s doing, and happens to be a ton of fun to watch.

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She tells me music execs often say they love her act too. The only problem is, she has caramel-coloured skin in a music scene that is lily-white. The industry doesn’t know what to do with her, so they try to cast her in roles they’re comfortable with.

READ MORE: What are you doing here? A black woman’s love affair with heavy metal

“If you’re going to do rock and roll you’ve got to look more white,” she says, recounting the litany of “helpful” suggestions she’s been given over the years.

“’You should be in heels, always. Try to do the Tina thing, she always wore wigs. So you should probably get a straight wig to cover … because if it’s too wild, if it’s too ethnic … people will turn away.’ And is it unfortunate? Yeah. Does it cost me work? Jobs? Experiences? Opportunities? Absolutely.”

In fact, she’s always been stuck between worlds: Too black for the metal scene she loves, too white for some in her ethnic community. Some of her friends tried to get her into “black music.” It didn’t interest her.

“Just so you know, I f***ing hate reggae so much. I can’t even tell you. I hear it and I want to like dig out my f***ing ear drums with ice picks. F***ing. Hate. Reggae.”

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Got that? She doesn’t like reggae. And why should she have to? Because, to paraphrase Plato, music is the language of the soul. Which means we should be able to listen to and play the music that makes us happy.

Metal has been making MilitiA happy ever since she was seven years old, when she was driving with her mom and happened to look over at the vehicle beside them.

“This guy was like, in a pickup truck with his shirt off and like, a hat on and he was blasting heavy metal. And he was air drumming and was just f***ing going crazy. And I was just looking at him and I was like, that’s the coolest thing I have ever seen! Look how free he is right now. And I was like, I need that music.”

Her mother, raised in segregated North Carolina, wasn’t happy.

“My mom was like, ‘Please don’t be into that. That’s, like, redneck music. Stop listening to it.’ And I’m like ‘I don’t give a f*** I love it.’ Like, it’s so exciting to me.”

There was a time when the looks, the comments and the perceptions that her taste in music defined her blackness bothered her, when she longed to straighten her big, curly hair to fit in.

Not anymore.

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“Why should I rip my hair out so you’re more comfortable with how I look? I don’t care. I used to care. It might be easier if I did care about fitting in. I don’t care about fitting in anymore, I’m a f***ing rebel. I’m a badass, it’s in my blood.”

She is not a race warrior, she simply loves heavy metal, and wants to be known as a great singer, not a black singer.

“The whole roles and everything about this being more white or this being less black … I just laugh because I go, ‘You know what? I’m mixed.’ My father is white and my mother is black. And you know what, one day, everyone is going to look like me. So in a way I’m a prophet of your goddamned future.”

Colour shouldn’t matter, but for now, all too often, it does, imposing a glass ceiling on performers a lot of people would love to hear from. I ask MilitiA, wouldn’t it be easier to just do something else? Doesn’t it hurt to always struggle against racism and ignorance?

Her response is perfect:

“Doesn’t it hurt to have to pretend to be something that you’re not every day?”

With the interview over, we pack up our gear, and get ready to drive the two hours back to Toronto. I turned down the offer of whiskey, by the way. We were at the end of an 18-hour day, and I was tired.

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But MilitiA and her band kept on partying. To me, that’s rock n’ roll, whatever colour you happen to be.

Don’t miss “Black Metal” this Saturday at 7pm on 16×9.

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