3.31.2013

From the Vault: Interview with Urith Myree of Dormitory Effect

Excerpt from the very first interview I ever conducted:

What drew you to metal?

I started off listening to Classic Rock. I was in grammar school and a classmate had a boom box that  was playing "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin. I had never heard that before but I totally loved it, and it just got heavier from there. Later on, I feel in love with Thrash  Metal when a classmate in high school gave me a cassette tape (ha - dating myself here) that had early Metallica, Slayer, Venom and other Thrash bands. I was hooked by the raw power and speed.

And how did your family react to your decision to involve yourself in metal?

It ended up being a family meeting one afternoon! I didn't understand what the big deal was, especially since my family listened to everything inclusive of rock and fusion, but there is a big leap from Santana to Hendrix to Slayer and it was a bit much for them at first. But in the end I guess it's no different than any other family whose kid is listening to music they didn't understand. As I bought more of the records they got used to the sound and some of the music my mom and grandma actually ended up liking. They weren't always comfortable with some of the imagery (some album covers I could not leave out on display, such as Celtic Frost's "To MegaTherion" and Exodus' "Bonded By Blood"), but they came around, and I'd like to think that I broadened their musical palette just as they had broadened mine as I was growing up. They were very supportive of me when I began jamming with bands and gigging, and proud of the many things I have done over the years.

When did you start playing bass?

I was 7 years old. One of my uncles had a bunch of musical instruments and I wanted to actually play something, not just be a backup singer, which is what he was steering me towards. This uncle is an electrical whiz, and made a grid of different colored lights that he installed on our ceiling.  He had it rigged so that different lights responded to different frequencies/instruments in the music, and I noticed that every time the deep purple lights would go on, everything in the house would shake. I said, "I want to do THAT." It turned out to be the bass. I had him tell me which instrument in his room was the bass, and when he wasn't around I would sneak into his room and try to teach myself how to play it. I was born left-handed, and taught myself to play that way. Since no one was around to tell me that it was right-handed bass and the strings were upside-down, I was unaware that it was wrong. By the time I did find out, I didn't want to change it up.

What other instruments do you play, and if any, when do you start them?

My first instrument was actually the organ, and I did not enjoy it. I began to use it as a piggy bank and would put pennies in between the keys. My Mom was not happy. Sadly, I have not tried to return to it even though I have a great keyboard at home now - I really would like formal lessons and see if I have any kind of knack for it. I learned how to play acoustic guitar probably around 11 years old. I was able to play a guitar regardless if it was left-handed or right-handed, and I had progressed enough to where I could play solos from classic songs on acoustic. It was at this point I realized that guitar was alright; but I actually found it kinda boring. I like the responsibilities and power of being a bassist. I do actually have a natural talent for drums. I have always been able to get behind a kit and play entire songs, even with some double-bass patterns, without ever actually owning a drumkit. I love to play drums when the occasion presents itself, and would love to get a complete kit, get some lessons and really develop those skills because I believe I could be a really good drummer.

What hurdles have you faced in the music industry?

Being in New York. You get so much flak for being a New York band. People think that you're spoiled, have all this opportunity, have an attitude, etc. None of that is true - it's tougher to have any sort of success as an indie band in NY. There really isn't an NYC scene anymore. I had the opportunity to gig in NYC when the Hard Rock/Metal scene was as hot as it was going to get, and having to slog through what little is left of it now is a definitely a bummer. Hopefully things will improve, but it's happening in Brooklyn, NY not even in New York City. Also, back in the day it was a musician's goal to "get signed", but that doesn't have the same meaning it used to. My old band wasn't signed partially because we were a risk with two women in the band, and because we were too heavy for some labels and too light for others. We were in the middle sonically, so we were told we were very good and signable...just not by that particular label. We got the respect and the kudos but not the deal, and it was frustrating.

Now, with the music industry changing as it has, there is a lot of uncertainty with the labels; there just isn't the same security. Musicians are more savvy about the the deal itself these days, and it's great that you can pretty much guide your own path without being a slave to a label. But you still need the promotion, you still need the good tours and networking opportunities that a label can provide, and unless you're living off of someone, you have to hold down a full-time job to pay for the expenses of being a working musician in an active band. It's just a tougher road now. Before you got signed and everything ran like a machine. Now, being signed isn't a be-all-end-all, but the musicians are saddled with even more responsibilities in getting their name out there. It sucks because at least back in the day, you had to be a great musician and have the goods live in order to get a crowd and get noticed. Now, musicians like me that paid our dues and worked so hard to establish ourselves have to compete with bands that may not be nearly as good or experienced, but are computer-savvy and have Protools. Now there is this glut of music on the Internet, and any A&R rep, even with the best intentions, has to sort the wheat from the chaff, and it's just a monumental chore. So we have to work as hard as ever to stand out from all of this. DE has done well, but it's tiring, and we're still unsigned and broke.

Lastly,  just being women playing heavy music is a challenge in itself. People blow you off, they don't want to give you a chance. They just want to assume that you suck and move on with their lives. Then, for those that give it whirl they get wrapped up in what we look like. Why aren't we taller? Skinnier? Why don't we show more skin? Why don't we dress more alike? Why don't we all look alike in general? Women are so often thought as ornamental, especially in music, there is this obsession about having to be 'hot', and that's a double-edged sword. When you don't look like a stripper you'll have to hear how fat and ugly you are, but if you're model-gorgeous you're accused of using your looks to get ahead, and people take you less seriously as a musician. Your skin needs to be very thick if you're a female musician trying to get ahead while reminding people that they hear with their ears, not their eyes. It's amazing to me that someone like Janis Joplin wouldn't be signed today because she would be considered 'too homely'! It's just absurd, and it can get to you sometimes, but that comes with it. You have to just be the best musician you can be, and be yourself. Once you lose sight of what it is you're trying to accomplish musically and begin chasing ideals and trends, you forget about what drew you to making music in the first place.

I want to commend DE for being so thick and talented.  There are plenty of female rock & pseudo-rock musicians out today who shall remain nameless, and they suck.  I think the women of DE are utterly gorgeous, and I’ll be honest with you: your looks caught my attention.  Long before I ever heard your music (which is friggin’ awesome by the way; I’m a proud owner of your whole first album and “Bide My Time” is my favorite song and DAMN...Sue can sing!), long before I even knew what genre you ladies catered to, I was in sheer awe of your looks.  I saw a woman as brown as me and I saw women shaped like the ones I see every day.  That’s what drew me to your music.  How ironic is that?

I think that's great! It's nice to be seen as attractive without having to look like a whore or a stripper, or some rendition of what "a rock chick" is "supposed" to look like. Metalheads come in all types, and I think the bands that are out now pretty much represent that. Regular looking chicks like us up onstage...not so much. So if we can bring that to the table and be respected and appreciated for that as well as our musical abilities, then that's awesome. And we totally appreciate the fact that you bought our CD. It's folks like you that have given that EP such an amazing shelf-life! And of course I appreciate you wanting to feature me. It was really very flattering, and a nice little birthday present since my b-day is tomorrow (I'm the Taurus LOL).

You’re also a really beautiful black woman; how has that factored into your work in metal music?

Awww, thank you. I guess it's made me more memorable. I became "that little Black chick with the upside-down bass", and that made me and my band more interesting. When Susan and I were in OSB, we went to a Conference that had Courtney Love as a speaker. She pulled out our CD while she was on a panel and announced to everyone in the packed room, "This is something that would make a band stand out - one Black chick and one White chick playing Metal. That is cool and people are going to remember that." I know a few Black women that play heavy music that are beautiful and ridiculously talented, and since it's still an anomaly, it's something else that makes a band stand out. A band needs every angle possible in order to get people's attention these days!

See Also

Dormitory Effect
Dormitory Effect...Back in Effect

9 comments:

  1. She reminds of Earth Kitt a little far as her looks.

    I grew up listening to KISS, Queen , Iron Maiden, ACDC or Poison. Even to some of Adam Lambert's stuff, but I liked it when Lenny Kravitz( yes..yes!) came out. I just love his sometimes nostalgic, dreamy way of singing rock. Just to think, he's a Black man who sung rock and he became a megastar because of it.

    I remembered when Jada Pickett-Smith said she was going to sing rock music and the death threats she received because of it. I would have liked to hear her singing it. Im like this: if you like Rock music and you want to sing, don't let it stop you. There is nowhere in the books where it said that people have to sing/play music according to their race. Its about enjoying what you like to do and entertaining your fans.

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    Replies
    1. Hold up she got death threats?!?!?!? For singing rock music? I mean if her voice is bad!?!?! Seriously though this is just too stupid. Nothing can keep you down like your own.

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    2. Not surprised Jada got death threats - and I doubt most of the hue and cry came from black people. All Alisha Tyler had to do was pose with a gaming weapon, and let it be known that she was a gamer, for all the racist/misogynist cretins to pounce. Nigrah wimmins in MY space? HELL NAH!

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    3. @ M

      You can still hear Jada singing rock/metal with her group Wicked Wisdom has a couple of albums. I have the first one self titled Wicked Wisdom.

      Amazon- http://www.amazon.com/Wicked-Wisdom/dp/B000E8JO1E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1364826070&sr=8-1&keywords=wicked+wisdom

      Youtube MV Forgiven- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apLShiqjLmg

      Wicked Wisdom - Bleed All Over Me- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=regofIzNFvE


      I haven't read this interview before it was good, thanks for re-posting Ank.

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    4. Meanie, do you like Wicked Wisdom's music?

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    5. I like a few songs off the album... Forgiven & Reckoning are my favorite.

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    6. To all,

      I remembered reading about Jada bought with racism about her singing career in Essence..I forgot which issue, but I got to read about the interview almost 3 years ago. I didn't know that she went ahead with it.I will certainly check it out.

      Delete

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