There’s a sea change happening over here at Girls Don’t Like Metal, a slight shift on focus that began with the last couple of interviews and will continue for several interviews to come. While we’ve always looked at women who occupy a wide range of positions in the heavy music industry, we nonetheless fell into a pattern, reviewing many vocalists and performers, writers and editors, PRs and label representatives. At this point in the series, we thought it was high time that we started looking at women who work in the more technical areas of heavy metal. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be interviewing producers and engineers, sound and lighting techs, guitar techs and roadies!
Wendi Freeman has a background as a recording engineer for the respected Chicago Trax Recording Studio, where she worked with many a metal band (not to mention had to deal with R. Kelly!). She also drums and performs vocals in the power-pop band Daemon Familiar.
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How did you first become interested in heavy music? What is your heavy metal love story? You mentioned that your brother’s hair metal career had a great influence over what you do.
My heavy metal love story definitely started in the mid ’80s, when I was about 10 or 12. I just loved driving around with my older brother in his bad sports car while he blasted bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. He sang in a hair metal band called Hit ‘N’ Run, and I started taking drum lessons when I was 12.
What made you decide to pursue a career in music? How did you know that the recording studio was the place for you?
I had been playing drums all through high school and saved up for a double bass kit, playing in every context I could: with the metal kids, jazz ensemble, punk bands. I auditioned and got accepted to my dream college for music, but then I got shot down on financing in the first week. I was absolutely dejected and depressed, and didn’t know what to do.
So, I started hanging out with some friends who were recording an album and became fascinated with the whole process of how engineering worked. I called and called studios until I was allowed to intern. From there, I hung out as much as I possibly could and asked a lot of questions. Eventually, I was allowed to assist and then take on clients of my own.
What are some of the joys and challenges of working in the studio with heavy bands?
Metal bands are great to work with because they’re generally very concerned with technical polish. Metal guitarists don’t want to sound sloppy! They have a keen sense of the sound they’re really going for.
Does capturing the sound of heavy metal bands require any special consideration?
Absolutely. It’s so tricky to capture the live energy and loud crunchiness. You have to have a bag full of tricks to distort and make things sound “thicker.” With drums in particular, it’s easy for bass and toms to sound muddy; you need to have good definition but still keeping the “boominess.”
What are some of your favourite bands that you have worked with? What are some of your best studio stories?
Oh gosh, I worked with so many bands on so many demos and projects that I barely remember any of the names. (D’oh!) I remember twice getting to work with black metal bands from Norway, and they were always the kindest, most polite people! They were very fascinated to work with a woman and always asked questions about me, but not in a demeaning way. They were very chivalrous and never let me lift anything!
When you are working, do you try and let the band speak entirely for themselves, or do you strive to add your own signature or stamp to their sound as well?
I firmly believe I’m just a tool for the band to help them achieve their goal. I don’t have enough of an ego to feel I have a signature stamp I’m giving anything.
Do you use specific equipment when working with heavy music?
I might try different mic types and placement for scenarios, for example, if the singer is very raspy or wants to scream a lot more. I tend to double mic amps a lot more for a metal session.
Have you ever experienced any challenges specifically related to being a woman and working in the studio?
After I had been working for a few years, I moved to Chicago and worked at Chicago Trax, which was owned by R. Kelly at the time. Despite my experience, they put me on phone duty and making coffee all the time, as well as having to wake R. and his “posse.” It was the first time I had felt blatant sexism. I didn’t last long there and I wasn’t sad to see it shut down.
What advice would you have for anyone, and especially a young woman, who wanted to pursue a similar career path to yours?
Don’t be discouraged! Never be afraid to ask a lot of questions and show initiative. Always be curious about how things work, people really respect that.
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Wendi Freeman lives in Chicago where she plays drums with garage pop band, Daemon Familiar. She still believes her hair is never big enough and her favorite drumming ever is on Motley Crue’s “Too Fast for Love” album. Follow her on twitter.