Rooowwwrrraaaarrrrrooowwwwrrrrr!" A guttural growl straight from the deepest pits of Hell has just emanated from the throat of Melissa Cross, who follows it up with a giggle.
"See, that didn't hurt at all," she says. "But you should see the looks I just got!"
That's because the chipper, red-tressed, late-fortysomething voice instructor is screaming er, speaking via cell phone from a train between her native Manhattan and Long Island. She's trying to illustrate that there's a right way and a wrong way to howl, a lesson she attempts to impart to the dozens of extreme metalcore, screamo, punk and hard-rock singers who come to her studio looking for ways to bellow bloody murder without shredding their vocal cords.
Trained in London as a classical singer, Cross was drawn to punk rock in the late '70s and began fronting a string of bands, opening for the likes of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. In the mid-'90s, a friend in Connecticut who was producing a number of underground metal acts implored Cross to teach her pioneering techniques to some of the singers he was working with who were destroying their larynxes. Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta was slated to be her first student. He didn't show up, but once word got out that Cross was the guru of growling, members of Slipknot, Sick of It All, Thursday, Shadows Fall and even Andrew W.K. and Melissa Auf der Maur eventually showed up at her door.
Cross is one of a small handful of vocal coaches in America working with this kind of clientele, and by far the most prominent and sought-after. "In the beginning I was a little frightened," she admits with a laugh. "I felt like a little old high school teacher around a bunch of hoodlums, and I thought they were gonna make fun of me, but it was never like that. They're absolutely the nicest guys I've ever met they're pussycats."
Her myriad vocal and breathing techniques (which bear names like "The Dump," "Strapless Bra" and "Over the Pencil") appear on her new, self-produced DVD, The Zen of Screaming, which is entertaining as hell, especially if you wanna see the burly dudes from the hardcore band Madball doing "Eee-e-e-e-yah" warmups while seated alongside the piano, or Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe doing tongue exercises that might make any potential groupie wriggle with excitement.
"Most of her clients are roughneck, tattooed metalcore dudes like me," says Blythe, who began working with Cross two years ago to expand his range and protect a scream he once figured was indestructible. "But she has this very nurturing thing that sets you at ease."
"Some of them walk in and they're kinda scared, because they're afraid I'm gonna be a stuffy voice teacher that's gonna tell them not to do what they're doing or to get rid of their vices," Cross says. "But I'm not a Nazi about their lifestyle. I don't care what they drink, eat, smoke, whatever. I say, 'You wanna scream? Here's how you do it.'"
A Tribeautiful Mind
The Rock Show a devil-horn-worthy Indiana quartet specializing in all the best hairspray metal, from Faster Pussycat to Def Leppard is coming to town, but if you're expecting some lame cover band, think again: On Pop's Web site, it's billed as the "Ultimate '80s Tribute."
Go ahead, roll your eyes. It's an understandable reaction, not because tribute bands are a bad idea, per se, but who can top the sick shtick of Mini-KISS, the band of little people doing KISS songs (and last year's RFT Music Awards house band)? And let's not forget the Misfats, a group of heifers that turns Misfits screamers into cream-filled gags. To further blur the line between tribute and parody, we at B-Sides have a few ideas of our own.
Hans and Franz Ferdinand: Remember those Saturday Night Live muscleheads Hans and Franz? This band does, and it's here to give all you rock & roll girly-men a workout. Huh! Just like the album says, You Could Have It So Much Bigger. Listen to them now and hear them later: You can't pump up the volume until you pump up your pecs.
Cochise and Cambria: While the prog-fueled emo boys in Coheed and Cambria are the reigning champions of modern sci-fi rock, Cochise and Cambria is all about Indie-an rock. Named after the nineteenth-century Chiricahua Apache leader, these guys could be the house band at the Seminole Hard Rock.
Passing Stones: You're probably not old enough to remember it, but there was a time when the Rolling Stones were virile young men and roughly the same age as the groupies they shagged. Nowadays, the only action Sir Mick and company are getting is from the cold hands of a urologist.
Skamones: We all know how eager ska bands are to engage in a little word play (the Skalers, Skalcoholiks, Skalett Letter, Skabba the Hut, Skalapeños, ad infinitum). So why the Skamones isn't a band already remains a mystery. Come on, guys; this one's a no-brainer! "Blitzkrieg Skank," "Rudie Is a Punk" what are you waiting for?
Doors of the 21st Century: Imagine if the Doors re-formed and found a new singer it'd be the best thing since David Lee Roth teamed up with Sammy Hagar! Oh, wait...someone already tried that. The Rock Show at Pops, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. Show starts at 8 p.m. Saturday, February 4. Tickets are $10; call 618-274-6720 for more information.