Those of you who know me personally will know that the roles of women in music are exceptionally important to me, but I’ve never had the opportunity to properly write something for A Study in Audiosynthesis focusing on the hard hitting subject of gender equality in music. And also because I could never do the subject as much justice as so many women musicians and music scholars have done before me. Also, as a male musician, even as attentive as I try to make myself, I will never fully understand or experience the problems faced by women in the world of music on a first hand basis.
I met and befriended Martyna Halas-Yeates during my diploma year in college; as the vocalist of Xerosun, women’s rights activist, and honourable ambassador for women in music who best is there to talk about this subject?
I caught up with Martyna to talk about her music, what’s on the horizon for Xerosun, women in the metal scene and her involvement in Rock 4 Choice.
What lead you to a life of music? What got you into metal vocals?
I was always surrounded by music at home as my dad is a huge music nerd. He also used to sing in a heavy metal band in the 80s. They’re a bit of a legend in Poland and still have a loyal following. This passion was passed on to me naturally, and ever since I learned how to speak, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to become when I grow up, the answer was always the same… and still is 3 decades later. It was never a ‘decision’ or a discovery of any kind – music is a part of me and has always been.
My dad was a rock singer, so of course this was my preferred style, although I did struggle with finding my identity and the right techniques. My voice is naturally quite ‘clean’ and delicate sounding, I’m not a belter at all. It worked well in some non metal projects I have done in the past, but it didn’t suit the genre I really wanted to create. I wanted to achieve harshness and brutality, but I didn’t know how. So I started to experiment.
It might sound like a total cliche, but it was Angela Gossow’s joining Arch Enemy that opened my eyes to a whole new array of possibilities. I had no idea a woman could be capable of producing such sounds, but then it hit me: why was it so hard to believe? Growl is a vocal technique like any other. If men can learn falsetto, why can’t women learn to growl? And so I started exploring it and I quickly became fascinated with being able to mix and contrast different singing styles.
Tell us about Xerosun, where did this project start and what was the inspiration behind its creation?
Xerosun existed long before I joined in 2013. It was a completely different band then. Once the line-up changed, and the guys discovered I’m able to do both extreme and soft vocals (which I demonstrated at a rehearsal as a joke), the music quickly transitioned from heavy rock to prog death metal. The inspiration behind the name is the complete apocalypse. If suddenly there was no sun, all life would be completely wiped off.
This Dark Rage is just over a year old now, Tell us about the EP and how has it been received by listeners in the past year?
This Dark Rage EP is a concept based on the American ‘Craigslist killer’ Miranda Barbour. The press described her as the ‘female Dexter’, as according to her, she only killed people who abused children or assaulted women. She lured her victims via Craigslist and pretended she was underage. She experienced some terrible trauma in childhood herself and reading her story resonated with me in some way. Most of her claims were never proven, and she may well be just a cold blooded, deluded killer, but it led me to question morality and justice.
The title track is almost word by word based on her confession. It is accompanied by an award winning video by Olga Kuzmenko.
The EP got some great reviews, with many not being able to attach us to one particular genre and praising our eclectic sound, which I think is great. There will always be the inevitable comparison to Arch Enemy (which is probably only based on the obvious gender element. Musically I think we are very different), though some reviewers also heard elements of Meshuggah, Gojira, Scar Symmetry, even Paradise Lost – so quite a mixture indeed.
Have you guys any new material in the works?
We have recently joined forces with a producer Kris Norris who is known from bands such as Scar The Martyr or Threat Signal. We’re currently working on a new EP under his direction, and eventually, a full album. We’ve got a few new tracks in pre-production currently which are shaping up nicely. You can hear some of them live – next one being Rock 4 Choice!
We’ve talked about this at length before Martyna, and that conversation was the reason I felt that an interview with you as both an advocate of women in music and women’s rights was a super important voice to speak with on this matter.
What are the biggest roadblocks you face as a woman in the music business? What do you think makes it so hard for women to start careers in music?
Sadly women have to prove themselves twice as hard in many aspects of life, not just music. There is always some sort of doubt following them and their expertise in a given subject, and it’s anything from not being taken seriously, to being seen as inferior.
Women in music are usually not seen as equally skilled or as talented as men, and those who can do their craft well – whether they’re singers or instrumentalists – are seen as ‘unicorns’, an exception to the rule. There is also serious sexualisation of women in music who have to look a certain way, preferably wear little to no clothes, and god forbid, be above a certain weight or age naturally.
If you look at a random video on youtube where the woman is in the forefront, you will find a plethora of comments saying how hot / not hot she is, often accompanied by some graphic description of what they would do to her.
Now, men don’t get such comments to the same extent, and also nobody really gives a shit about what they look like. They’re artists not models, so why is it expected of women to look like one? The answer in my opinion ties in with what I said at the beginning; that women have to try twice as hard. A vicious circle.
As a woman in music I wish I could say my gender never made a difference to how my band is perceived or what opportunities we get, but unfortunately this is not always the case.
With regards to the metal community specifically, would you say that Metal listeners are better or worse at accepting and welcoming women musicians?
The metal scene is no longer a ‘boys only’ playground, and many things have changed since the 90’s. Nowadays there are more and more women in metal – though it’s still a very male dominated genre. The fact that there is even a genre called female-fronted metal is ridiculous. My band was once dismissed by someone who said they’re not into Evanescence and the whole female-fronted thing. It makes as much sense as saying you won’t listen to Slayer because you’re not into Pearl Jam.
That being said, I know people like using ‘female-fronted’ as a tag or a theme because they simply like the aesthetics of a female voice against heavy music. You would question how this applies to extreme vocalists though where this contrast is gone.
Speaking of extreme vocals, I have also heard comments that only male growls can be brutal enough, and that they can tell whether the singer is a woman or a man. As if the purpose of growling was to pretend to be male!
Another problem with the ‘female-fronted’ tag is that there is an expectation that if you play metal and your singer is a girl; it must mean you play symphonic metal with operatic vocals or Goth metal. In fact, that’s where I experienced a lot of prejudice in the past, back when I first started looking for a band: some wouldn’t consider me at all as they didn’t want any connotation with those genres.
Another sad bit of discrimination I have experienced was being declined to play a festival, because the organiser was not into female singers. How very sad that this would in any way be a factor.
All in all, the metal scene is becoming more accepting of women recently, though there is still a long way to go.
On the topic of Women’s rights, I know you’re heavily involved in Rock 4 Choice, Tell us about it. What is it and when is it happening?
Rock 4 Choice Ireland is my brain child and a fundraiser event I organise for the Abortion Rights Campaign. I always wanted to do something active to help the cause, instead of just arguing with people on Facebook. Music can be a powerful carrier for change, and who could be a better ambassador if not women in rock? We are the ones affected by the medieval laws ruling Ireland and treating our bodies like incubators, but what they may not realise is: we can scream!
I really wanted a theme of female fronted (ha!!) bands across all genres of punk, rock and metal to really reinforce the message that women should be trusted to choose for themselves. I also wanted to create a platform where women are finally heard without discrimination and prejudice. I was surprised to discover so many cool bands on both sides of the border – and I hope this trend will continue! I would absolutely love to see this event grow in the future as I’m sure many out there support the cause, and would love some more variety to Dublin’s music scene.
The festival is taking place this Saturday 29th July at the Grand Social. Tickets are €15 and all will proceed to the Abortion Rights Campaign. We are all volunteers, believe it or not, and need funds to be able to continue with educational projects around the country.
Let’s rock the system & Rock for choice!
If you wish to hear more from Xerosun and Martyna you can do so on their official website and social media links below:
And of course, you can find Rock 4 Choice Ireland here and this Saturday’s event here. Head down to the Grand Social, show support to this important campaign and enjoy a whole day filled with some of Ireland’s strongest female fronted acts.