Interview by Thom Hawk
Though it has always been, these days more than ever it is becoming the norm to see female musicians absolutely kicking arse. When I think of a group of amazing women who are brilliant musicians, my mind instantly thinks about the power group that are The Iron Maidens; an amazing tribute band to the legends that are Iron Maiden. With Kirsten Rosenberg aka “Bruce Chickinson” (lead vocals), Courtney Cox aka “Adriana Smith” (guitar, vocals), Nikki Stringfield aka “Davina Murray” (guitar, vocals), Wanda Ortiz aka “Steph Harris” (bass, vocals) and Linda McDonald aka “Nikki McBurrain” (drums, vocals).
I was fortunate enough to have an interview with one of the shred Queens of heavy music today, Courtney Cox.
Going into this I was pretty nervous as this was one of my first interviews. Courtney instantly put me at ease when I told her and she said “We’ll get through this together” This set for an interesting interview that went from talking about being a female in the music industry today all the way to the Corona virus and how its affected people in the entertainment industry and their upcoming tour of Australia.
My partner is a guitarist in bands and we frequently have conversations about how often she gets labelled as a “female” musician, not just a “musician”. Although it is becoming more common for women to be recognized based on their talents, not their gender, are you finding that the comments and criticism regarding being in an all-female metal band have decreased since joining The Iron Maidens in 2008?
“I started playing guitar at 15 and touring at 16, I’ve experienced the whole female/male thing my entire life so far. You just learn to live with it and you know the way we live now it’s hard for both sides of the spectrum both male and female or you know, anything. Music is just a hard business, you need to learn to survive and take criticism and the PR that you get, you just don’t know what’s going to come your way and just live with it. Not everyone’s going to like you and you’ve got to accept that.”
I guess you’ve just got to be strong and not let anyone get under your skin?
“Yeah, that’s easier said than done *laughs*. You need thick skin for this business.”
On that note, what would be your top tips for any musician or guitarist starting out today?
“Do it because you love it, not because you want the house in Hollywood and 1 million records sold. It just doesn’t happen anymore. You really have to be in this business because you love it and the other thing especially for beginners is, do not to compare yourself to anyone else. Because with the world and with YouTube now you know, that whole thing about people speeding up their videos which is so funny, you know you just can’t build to it. You have kids watching these people on YouTube , you don’t know how many times they’ve shot that video, and now you have these kids thinking that they’ll never be that good or this and that. Do it because you love it. Comparing yourself to anyone will just destroy any dreams, just do it if you want to. Gosh, these questions are the hardest to answer by the way *laughs*.”
Would you say it’s harder to start out with social media these days?
“It’s a double edged sword, because when I was growing up YouTube really wasn’t a thing. I learnt to play by ear, it was just me putting on cassettes and I mean I’m not that old but I had cassettes and CD’s and just rewinding it until the notes sounded close or exact. But I didn’t know if I was playing it the way whoever I was trying to learn from played it like that. But my own way, I actually think that benefited me now, because even some of my friends who went to Austin Music school or studied somewhere on YouTube may end up sounding like them. My philosophy is if you’re in a hurt and reach out for people like that or tab books or if you read notation. But for me having a strong ear is the best thing to get you through hands down. Well, unless you want to be a studio musician and the obviously you have to sight read. It’s a double edged sword with that.”
How do you handle the nerves before stepping on stage, do you have a pre-show routine that you normally do?
“When I started touring at 16 I was really nervous and needed the pep talk and all. Over the years you start to realise, you know you might be on stage and if I wasn’t I’d be like that person in the crowd rocking out. I’m there to have a good time. Over the years I stopped focusing on being perfect and stopped hating myself because I missed a note. Its music, its passion, you know what some of the best notes are the wrong ones. I think what I’ve noticed today with certain players and especially the YouTube people is they’re so focused on being perfect, I think they’re so focused on learning they have to be perfect. Like no, you have to realise its kinda 50/50, you want the music to come first which it should always do and make it sound good, but you know if you mess up because you’re entertaining the crowd, that’s fine because you’re an entertainer too and a lot of people forget about that. Do you think Eddie van Halen is perfect or Maiden is perfect? No; they’re putting on a show, so and if you want to be in this touring music world then you know you have to do that as well. Even now I’ll have some bad shows and mess up from time to time and completely feel wrecked inside and we’ll go to the meet and greet after and they won’t be like “oh you messed up a note back there” and in the back of my head I’m like yeah I did but I was running around and putting on a show. They’re not really focused on you being perfect, they just want to have a good time.”
I saw footage of you shredding up a storm at Dimebash last year and absolutely nailing his guitar parts, other than heavy music what else do you enjoy playing?
“I mean playing for me it…. I only really enjoy listening to 80s music. Listening and playing well for guitar only usually 80s hard rock, metal, thrash and all that stuff. Very classical, sight reading music classical music is ugh, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried but yeah it’s something else!”
I’ve tried but it didn’t really last long!
“Yeah I mean, I listen to everything, a good song is a good song, and I’ll play for anyone as long as my hearts in it. My heart is metal! But I listen to everything if I’m not playing.”
With your Australian tour coming up, do you think there is a difference between Aussie crowds and US or Californian crowds?
“Uhh yes, and I’m not bashing where I live and all but, especially LA and stuff you really have to prove yourself cause obviously everyone is out here doing the same thing. So you’ll have people crossing their arms and staring at you and all that, you know it’s the constant prove to me that you’re good and all. But that’s not all the time, I’ve seen a lot of it but it depends on the show. When we’re in Australia everyone is rocking out, freaking out, you know drunk *laughs*and that’s what you got, it’s one big party you know.”
I guess it’s also that there is more competition in the US with the amount of bands that are constantly touring?
“Yeah, we get to see everything every day of the week. I think musicians get jaded by the amount of shows that we are fortunate to have.”
So, with the whole Corona Virus thing that’s going around, I was meant to be reviewing a Hard Rock festival today that my partner was going to be playing at. Seeming you’re a touring musician and shows are what you rely on, are you just playing each day by ear?
“Pretty much, like even with our Australia tour we’re hoping that the light is still green to go. But you know, we’re not stupid to put our own health at risk or our fans. We’ll go if we have the safe green light. But you know we’re all just waiting. I think every musician right now is in limbo. It’s terrifying!”
What repercussions do you think it will all have on the entertainment industry in general?
“Oh, it will definitely go into recession for all of us. I mean for a good majority of us we live off tours, music shows all that stuff and now corona is kicking us where the sun doesn’t shine. But we knew this going into this business, it is a risk but we always find a way to get through it.”
I also think the Industry will come out stronger at the end of this cause everyone will band together I guess?
“Not even that because what is everyone going to do? Go into the studio and record! I mean bands are constantly on tour, if they’re not promoting an album that was just released that’s the hard thing. If your agent has you on the road so much when do you actually have the time at home to write new music? It’s always a gamble.”
It’s kinda like a blessing in disguise then?
“Yeah, it’s a blessing and a curse!”
I love guitars and with your custom guitars, why did you go with the configuration and style?
“Well, you know I used to be a Jackson girl. I heard about Caparison guitars through Andy LaRocque from King Diamond. And then actually their Luthier is the old Jackson Luthier from Japan. So I was like oh this is great, and I just love that old 80s body shape. I picked the colours that I did because I’m completely obsessed with the 80s even though I’m born ’89 which is funny. But even with the pickup configuration, I’m not a gear nerd, I just need what I need and what I use, and that’s pretty much all I use. I don’t need all the fancy bells and whistles.”
If you love the sound and tone then it doesn’t really matter.
“Yeah that’s all I care about, is the tone. It’s the best wood, Japanese quality for any musician that’s what I need. You don’t need the bells and whistles. It’s all your fingers at the end of the day.”
It’s not the equipment; it’s the operator I guess.
So to wrap things up I have one last question to ask you, what are your favourite places to see here? You were last here in 2018, what were you favourite places you visited or places that you’d love to still visit?
“Well that’s the thing about being on tour, you don’t really get to see much because well last tour we pretty much had a flight every day. And you see the airports, planes, the hotel and sound check you know that kind thing. But last time I know some of the girls went out early like out to New Zealand and saw the Lord of the Rings stuff. I actually stayed after and had like a week there. It’s gorgeous and nice. It was very cool I got to see like Mr Big out there and was like hey! You know, hopefully we get there! It’s still cutting teeth right now and we’re ready to go.”
Safety comes first and everyone is really understanding of that. Just whenever thigs are happy and good to go, Australia will be happy!
“And if it doesn’t happen, we’ll be back as soon as we can get there!”
Here’s to hoping the light stays green and we will be able to see The Iron Maidens in April. Tickets can be found here. Their official Facebook and Instagram accounts are the best way to keep up to date with news regarding their upcoming tour.
With thanks to Silverback Touring