Bow Down To the Altar of Heidi Shepherd
Interview by Ryan M. Andrews
The rumblings of the introduction waft through the blackened arena and three men, prepped for battle, position themselves at the ready, armed with their instruments of destruction. From the shadows surrounding the stage, the long (then) blonde hair appears first, almost levitating, as the petite frame of Heidi Shepherd materializes and glides angelically onto the stage. By her side is her exotic co singer Carla Harvey, both with their game faces on and ready to jump into the trenches for another night of beer drinking and hell raising.
The intro ends and the onslaught of ear shredding metal begins. Heidi's blonde locks, having gracefully hugged her face only moments before now, spin relentlessly as she and Carla head-bang in unison with ruthless aggression. Then Shepherd's lips part as she releases a guttural scream that is so full of strength that it seems impossible to be coming from the goddess on stage.
This was my first introduction to the band known as Butcher Babies. It was a cold winter night in January of 2013, on the outskirts of Toronto, Ontario, in a small town known as Oshawa, where the Butcher Babies were on tour supporting the iconic Marilyn Manson.
It was only a few short years prior to this that the band got its start in the Mecca of the American music scene, Los Angeles, California. An EP, a music video, festival dates and opening for some amazing artists filled their calendar for the first few years, forcing anyone who saw them to stand up and take notice. But 2013 was the year of the "Butcher." Their tour with Manson wrapped up and was followed by the recording and releasing of their debut album Goliath with the label Century Media and a spot on the Mayhem Festival.
Showing no signs of slowing, Butcher Babies jumped from tour to tour and still found time to release a cover album (entitled "Uncovered") while working on their sophomore album; "Take It Like A Man." (Released August 21st 2015 - read the review for the album here)
So if you've been living under a rock in the metal community, you are now up to date on one of the hardest working bands today. Their albums are solid from start to finish, showcasing flawless musicianship mixed with guttural and raw vocals and their live shows are high-energy excitement celebrating what makes this kind of music fun to listen to.
It is an honor and a privilege to be able to interview Heidi for Horror Metal Sounds. And hopefully I'll avoid asking the usual questions that have been asked and answered a million times before.
HMS: Aside from the obvious Wendy O Williams influence, what other bands helped develop the look and sound that Butcher Babies is known for?
HEIDI SHEPHERD: There are so many. I would say the two that stick out for us every single time we ever think about it … Slipknot of course, their raw energy on stage with them all bouncing around and they've just got this 'don't give a fuck attitude.' We take a lot of our stage energy from that, but also Pantera. Every time they stepped on the stage it was just a big ass party. And that's how we look at our shows as well. We definitely want the crowd to have fun and feel like they are a part of the party.
HMS: There are shades of a horror influence as well.
HEIDI: Absolutely. Of course there was the weirdness of Marilyn Manson, but that has sort of fallen away. My natural personality is super dorky and I love to laugh and I love to have fun. So when it came to being serious on stage, I kind of had a hard time with it. So I'm like okay, I'm gonna be myself and just go up there and have a party and have a lot of fun. And (Slipknot and Pantera) are the two bands that I saw do that.
HMS: So you're from Utah. How did you make that transition out to LA where you eventually started the band?
HEIDI: I was a radio DJ for FM radio out in Salt Lake City on a morning show for all of five years. I got a job here in Los Angeles at a morning show and I made my way to LA because of that. I ended up hating the radio station I worked for. It was terrible. So I got a job at another one. It was a hip hop station, and I could not live working at a hip hop station (laugh). So I gave up radio at that time and I decided to pursue my one true love, music.
HMS: So how did the Butcher Babies come to be?
HEIDI: I joined a punk metal cover band in like 2007. It was all girls and we had to fire one of the girls because she was doing drugs, which we don't appreciate nor condone. We were trying to find another girl and Carla auditioned. She obviously made it right away. After a while she and I just bonded and we became best friends. We decided, hey, let's quit this. We wanted to do something original and do something heavy. We were both metal. The other girls in the band were more punk. I love punk too, but my heart is with metal. My passion is with metal. So we quit that band and we created Butcher Babies. And we found the perfect five - we're all just friends of friends of friends. We got in a room together one day we just knew that what we had was something worth fighting for. The five of us are still here from the beginning and I love my Butcher Babies family.
HMS: Going back to your live shows, everybody takes something different from the experience, but what do you hope people will take from seeing you live?
HEIDI: It's just a giant party to us and I want the whole entire audience to feel like they paid money to come to the show and be involved in the party. When I go to shows, I want to be entertained. Visually, I want to be entertained sonically, I wanna laugh, I wanna dance. When we perform we definitely put all of our passion and all of our energy into it because we want people to feel like they got what they paid for.
"I never thought that I would be someone that young girls would look up to."
HMS: Talk about the writing process. Do you and Carla work together on the lyrics? Does everyone contribute?
HEIDI: Everyone does everything. Everyone is open to and able to do everything. Chris Warner (the drummer) has lyrical ideas that are just amazing. And Henry Flury (guitars) actually helped me write "The Deathsurround". And when the boys write music, I'm not going to pick up their guitar like, 'play it like this,' but I might say I wanna hear more staccato or open. We're all just really open with our creativity and with each other.
HMS: Content wise, you guys sing a lot about stuff within the realm of horror. Does it just end up that way, or is this a specific choice?
HEIDI: The way we write our music is we write about things that scare us. We have two songs about serial killers. I actually wrote 'Grim Sleeper' or well, I was taking notes while watching The Human Centipede 1 and 2. We are a very horror influenced band and we will say that 'til the day we end.
HMS: Getting a little deeper with the questions, since Metal has always been predominantly a male dominated genre, has it made it hard for you guys being a group that is fronted by two women?
HEIDI: It's a double edge sword, it really is. Some people love us for that reason and some people hate us for that reason. So a lot of people won't even give our music a chance, for that reason. I think that I wouldn't have it any other way. For us, it has lit a fire under our asses to prove something. It doesn't matter what you look like, what gender you are. Hell, I was a blonde cheerleader for 100 years, in college, professionally, everything, and that doesn't mean that I can't love metal. Or that I can't get up and scream like the boys. It's about the passion and the art, and we're really trying to get it back to that.
HMS: So as a strong woman fronting a band, do you see yourself as a role model to other women out there and does that influence what you do in terms of lyrics or performance?
HEIDI: Absolutely. I never expected it to be a part of me. I never thought that I would be someone that young girls would look up to. When I was a kid there were no real women to look up to in metal. Wendy Williams was in punk. We took that look and we realized in this day and age that that's not gonna work. You can't play in front of young girls. Now I'm proud to be someone that young girls can look up to. It doesn't matter what you look like, it doesn't matter who tells you no - 'cause everyone told me no. You can go and do whatever you want.
There was a point in my life where my dreams were very different. I got married at a young age and realized very soon after I got married, this is not my dream. I have dreams, and I took a step back and kind of re-assessed my life; and anyone can do that at any age. I hope I can be an influence to show that anyone can do whatever they want, when they want. I want to be a positive influence on people.
HMS: Does Butcher Babies embrace social media as a means to promote the art?
HEIDI: I do love social media. With MTV gone and VH1 basically not doing anything, the only way to really do it is through social media. Our band would not be anywhere if not for social media. It's important to connect and talk to our fan base. I use social media constantly. It's the only way to really promote yourself.
HMS: A lot has changed in the industry over the years, not only how music is promoted, ie: social media, but also how people get music. Is this something you guys embrace?
HEIDI: Yes, iTunes, we embrace everything. Really, the way I see it is that we don't care how you get the music, just get it and come to a show. That is what's important to us. The music is promotion for the show and the show is promotion for our music. I want to share our art with anybody. Share our art and see our shows.
Find out where the Butcher Babies are playing next at butcherbabies.com!
Ryan M. Andrews, HMS