New Music To Know: Butcher Babies Bring Diversity & Fierce Femininity to Metal
Heidi Shepherd – one of the two frontwomen for the Butcher Babies – is emphatic in her opinion that heavy metal should be a little bit more open minded and accepting. ”We’re trying to start a movement where it’s back to where it used to be,” Shepherd told Radio.com. “It didn’t matter what you looked like, what your gender is, where you’re from, what you do for a living. It’s an emotion. It’s about rocking the f*** out!”
Rocking out is something that both Shepherd and fellow Butcher Baby Carla Harvey know a lot about. They also know a little something about having to explain their love for the overtly masculine genre. Harvey said she was teased, threatened, chased home from school, and had her hair pulled for loving metal music. ”I’m half black, I grew up in a black neighborhood, I wasn’t supposed to like heavy metal,” Harvey explained. “At all!”
“And to make matters worse, of course, I was a girl,” she said. “Everything about it was wrong. I had to fight for the right to love my metal.”
Because of that, whenever someone makes comments about her and Shepherd being women in metal, she just turns the other cheek. “You have no idea what I went through,” Harvey said. “I’m from Detroit. I got beat up for this. Your words can’t hurt me.”
Similarly, Shepherd grew up in an environment that was not quite metal friendly.
“I grew up in a very large Mormon family, in Provo, Utah, where this music is not accepted,” she said. “And I wasn’t accepted either because I wasn’t like the Mormon kids who went to church. I wasn’t like that at all.”
Shepherd used to hide in her closet and listen to metal. Though she would be in there listening by herself, the music made her feel less alone. “Carla has said this many times, and I feel the same way, we felt almost like the musicians were speaking to us,” Shepherd said. “Like, ‘It’s okay! You’re not the only one! There’s more of you out there!’ And I really think that that saved both of our lives.”
The band was influenced by the Plasmatics, who were fronted by the late Wendy O. Williams. They actually named themselves after their song “Butcher Baby.” Another voice that influenced both of the women was that of Phil Anselmo, then of Pantera. “I just remember being so angry, and hearing Phil Anselmo sing, it kind of put a voice to my anger,” Harvey recalls. “When I heard that, and saw that, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ And now, when we look into the crowd and we see young girls and young guys…they have that look in their eye like I had in my eye and she had in her eye…Whatever their situation is, you know that they need this, and it’s so important for them to be in the front row and to make that connection with them. It’s the most important thing in the world at that moment.”
After listening to a few seconds of the Butcher Babies, one can hear the influences of Anselmo and Pantera, but there are some less obvious influences as well.
“I was a huge Everclear fan,” Harvey said. “Say what you want, but I think Art Alexakis is an absolutely genius songwriter. And I got a chance to go backstage [at an Everclear show], and I was a kid, a dopey kid. I asked Art about the music business. And instead of dismissing me, he pulled me aside. He wanted nothing to do with me sexually, I was a kid. He talked to me for a good 20, 30, minutes about the music industry and about what I should do. And you know what? A couple of years later, I packed up and I moved to L.A.”
She added, “He took the time to acknowledge me, and to fuel my fire. I’ll never forget that experience. And if I can do that for one person, that would make me extremely proud.”
Shepherd has her own unlikely influence as well: Gwen Stefani. “She came out with a couple of pop [solo] albums, but whatever,” she said. “The passion that that woman has on stage, and the inspiration she gave to me, that made me who I am today.”
Carla continued, finishing Shepherd’s thoughts, something they do often. “Passion is the one thing that metal is all about. That’s where the screams come from, that’s where the growls come from.”
But despite the screams and the growls, one thing that makes them stand out from other metal bands (besides their genitalia) is the fact that they smile on stage.
“We’re doing what we’ve wanted to do since we were kids,” Shepherd said. ”I was an 11-year-old girl and I remember listening to my Walkman in my bed, listening to these bands, and imagining that I was a singer on stage and wondering what would I do at that part of the song. [Now] we’re doing it! We’ve worked so hard. We’ve worked our asses off to get to this point. The feeling that we have onstage is unlike anything I’ve felt in my life. I am having the time of my life. We are having the times of our lives. Every single show is a huge blessing. We worked our butts off, we appreciate it.”
Butcher Babies are currently on tour and will play Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare festival later this month.
Want to read more about metal? You’re in luck, October is Metal Month at Radio.com. Throughout the month, we’ll have artist interviews as well as mini-documentaries about metal, metal fans and the birthplace of the genre. And book reports: reading is fundamental, even for headbangers, and we’ll have reviews of some of the best recent books about metal.