Butcher Babies Interview, Rise Above Fest, May 9th 2015

Butcher Babies took the stage early in the lineup at Rise Above Fest and put the security team through their paces. This band knows what metal fans want and fifty or so crowd surfers were willing to oblige! One longtime heavy metal fan told us that while he wasn’t familiar with their music, their performance was so strong, so captivating, that it stood out among the many sets for that day. That is a substantial compliment, and we have to agree. Butcher Babies know metal.

Maine Music News caught up with Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey of Butcher Babies after their performance at Rise Above Fest for an intimate and inspiring conversation.

MMN – Thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you again. We met you at Mayhem a couple of years ago and would like to welcome you back to Bangor. We want to talk a little bit about the tour and the new album. I’d really rather have a conversation than an actual interview so jump in with anything you’d like to add. Your band is doing amazing things in music and in your lyrics, in what you are trying to do for women.

BB – Wait until you hear the new album, it is even better than Goliath. It is so emotional and so deep.

MMN – Everything about the new release sounds fantastic, and it is scheduled to be out in late summer. What is going on for the band earlier in the summer?

Heidi Shepherd – Cool. We are on tour right now with In This Moment, which is amazing. We went on tour with In This Moment a year ago and we saw immediately that it was a really great fit because we share the same fan base, which is a good thing for everybody. Maria is a strong woman, too. We never set out to do tours with other female-fronted bands, we just wanted to tour with great metal bands, but it really is a great fit and we are having a great time.

The thing is, we are out to kind of set a precedence where it stops being “female-fronted” and it is just about being metal. You can have females on the tour, but the whole term “female-fronted” – I think it bothers all girls in the industry. I think we are just here doing the same thing the boys are doing. The exact same thing. So to have it gender-based is not really something that we look at as an advantage. Hopefully over the years things will change to where it is just a metal band or a rock band regardless of the gender of the singer.

MMN – You don’t see it as an advantage. Was it ever a disadvantage for the Butcher Babies?

Shepherd – Oh, naturally. I mean in this world, in the metal world, it seems like men still don’t think that women belong. We completely disagree. It seems like the fan base is starting to disagree as well. You see more females on stage and more females in the crowd. This isn’t a gender-based thing, it really is an emotion-based thing, a lifestyle thing. It shouldn’t be about how you look, what your sex is, what your orientation is, or ethnicity. It is about what you feel on the inside. I think all of us are out to prove that, to bring it back to that where it used to be in metal, where it used to be just about your emotion. We are hoping to bring that back.

MMN – At Mayhem, you said that you hadn’t felt that gender was ever an issue from other artists, other metal artists. Is that still the case?

Carla Harvey – I’m sure that there are a lot of people who are curious before they see us play, but they see us on the side stage and gain an enormous amount of respect for us right away. They see what we are doing and that it is not a joke. We are dead set on making this happen. We are all metal kids. We all grew up in pits. We aren’t just a couple of broads who wanted to be in a metal band so we started one and blah, blah, blah. We are the real deal – you see a live show and you know it. The artists we’ve toured with who have seen us play know that.

Shepherd – Even word of mouth gets around to other artists. Just in the past four years of touring, even artists we haven’t played with, it is just word of mouth. It promotes the fact that it isn’t two girls up there and they think this is going to be fun. As Carla said, we are kids who grew up in the pit, we have a passion for this, kids who really feel what metal heads feel. The artist comradery has been incredible over the past couple of years, and we see it growing.

MMN – As you said, you don’t want this to always be about gender, but for so many young women just knowing that it doesn’t have to be about gender – that somebody says this isn’t about gender – is such an important message to get out there. Young women suddenly know that they don’t have to be confined, defined, by their gender.

Harvey – It is an amazing thing. We do have girls who come up to us every single night and say that because of us they know that they can start their own band. They know that is okay for them to want to scream or do this or that. We also have young boys who come up to us. We had a young boy come up to us at the merch booth just two nights ago who said that he had been bullied in school. He wore his Butcher Babies shirt to class and all the sudden he started making friends

Shepherd – That was unreal. We started crying.

Harvey – I pulled the young man aside and told him to keep being strong. High school is bullshit. It is bullshit. You don’t know how great life gets in your twenties and your thirties. Life just gets more and more amazing.

Shepherd – I have to tell my little brothers that. I have little brothers who have dealt with bullying as well. I’m the oldest of six kids, and we’ve all dealt with that. Every single one of us. It is something that is hard to overcome, but if you have someone to look towards, not so much a role model but someone who has been there, done that, I think it helps you in a sense. I have a little brother who overcame it. He saw everything that we were doing, and it helped him as well.

Harvey – Even us. I look back at being eleven and twelve and being completely disconnected and unhappy. I wish I could go back in time and show myself what I’m doing now. But I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today if I hadn’t gone through that stuff. And neither would Heidi.

Shepherd – That subject right there is a lot of the new album.

MMN – This is a direct parallel with why we are here, with the Rise Above Fest, and suicide prevention, suicide awareness. What you just described, a lot of kids will take a tragic step after that. They have been bullied, they have a rough time, and we have young kids taking their own lives because they have been bullied.

Harvey – I had three friends commit suicide in high school.

MMN – Three?

Harvey – Three friends. It is awful to me that people don’t know, as I said before, how amazing life gets beyond high school.

Shepherd – It’s unreal. I think any kid in high school can relate to that. You have these friends who just don’t think that it’s worth it. I grew up in a Mormon in Provo, Utah. We see all these kids – “oh, I looked at a naked picture and my parents caught me” and that’s the end of it.

Harvey – Or my grades weren’t good enough…

Shepherd – Exactly. I really, truly believe that music saves. I really believe that music can speak to these kids, as it spoke to us as children, the way it helped us through what we went through. And not just metal, music in general, but metal for us. I have such a passion for that. I saw it in my own family, I saw it with me, I saw it with friends. It is something we live by. We aren’t just doing this for us – we realize that Butcher Babies is now bigger than us. Our music speaks to kids, adults, and as long as we can keep doing that then our career is worthwhile. Regardless of what any asshole says on the internet, we know that we are doing something right because there are kids out there living their lives and happy because of what we are doing and giving them. That is what we live for.

MMN – You said you were kids who grew up in the pit, and this fascinates me. What is it that metal speaks to? Some people are just into pop music or what have you, but others are metal. What’s going on in metal music that isn’t happening in other music?

Harvey – Pop is just that, popular culture. I was an unpopular kid. I was upset. My parents were divorcing, I felt alienated, I felt alone, and there was something in metal music that drew me to it. It was the alienation that I felt in the screams of the people I was listening to. It is raw, it is honest.   The people who listened to it were also like me. They were disconnected, they were the misfit kids, and I connected to the crowd. The sound of the singers’ voices, the wails, the screams, the guitars, everything about it. It wasn’t like the happy pop stuff. I couldn’t connect to that. I wasn’t happy.

Shepherd – Pop just doesn’t feel honest. Maybe to some people, but to us, growing up, those songs didn’t feel honest. They didn’t feel like there was a lot of real emotion evoked in it. But there is no denying the passion and the freedom that a metal artist has to write down their real feelings. For us, writing is therapy. In this new album we pulled so many emotions from our childhood, young adulthood, everything, things that could have crippled us. We turned the negatives into a positive through the music. And hopefully it will reach someone else and do the same thing. One thing we always talk about is that humans experience the same emotion, it is just how we interpret it. Through our music, especially with this new album, we are hoping that people can feel those emotions. Every time we are onstage and play these songs, we are turning those negative feelings inside of ourselves into positives because we are touching other people.

MMN – I like that. Last night we were at the event with Seether and also spoke to a representative with SAVE. No one is clearly saying what kids who are desperate and feeling awful can do. There are very few proactive message, nudges to help move them along. Maybe that is what metal music does.

Shepherd – I think what is proactive is instilling art in children. Not just drawing, but writing down emotions. When I was a kid I would pop in a Korn or a Limp Bizkit album. My mom, she hated it – she broke it in front of my face (laughs) – but I would put it in. I was just so angry. I was an angry teenager. I didn’t fit in with society. I didn’t fit in with my family. I would hold a notebook – I remember going camping with my family at Yellowstone, and I held my notebook like this (she showed us how she curled up and guarded the pages) and I was just so pissed off. I would listen to certain lyrics, and I would take my anger out on the note pad instead of on other people. I’d take it out on the notepad and then it evolved into me writing my own stuff, not just copying down the lyrics but writing my own stuff to show my emotion. I think with kids that is a beautiful thing to be able to do, just writing it out. I think that is what helped me.

Harvey – Definitely. Journaling. Drawing. Getting all those emotions out on paper kind of releases the demons and makes it a cathartic experience and makes you heal yourself.

Shepherd – Even talking about it.

Harvey – It is really important to talk about it and to have someone to listen to you. People don’t take the time to listen to anyone. Even parents these days are so busy, mom and dad both work so they are both out of the household and the kids are walking around with no one to turn to. Even your friends – there is too much social media. You don’t sit with your best friend anymore and just say hey, I’m having a bad day and I need to talk to somebody, I need a hug. Heidi and I make sure that if we need a hug, we are there to give each other a hug. That is a huge thing – human touch.

Shepherd – We are just girls. We are girls with emotion. We can tell when we are having a bad day – Do you need a hug? Come get a hug?

Harvey – It may sound really cheesy, but we are missing a lot of that connection these days. We are very connected socially on the internet but very disconnected as human beings. It is hurting us.

MMN – Carla, I want to get this in. You are writing and drawing, and that is all connecting with the kids too. I’m seeing that online. You are having success with your book and with your images.

Harvey. Definitely. But it all starts with music and people hearing that, that is where it started with me.

Shepherd – I think it is also an influence thing. Carla can influence kids to just take it out on paper, whether it is art or writing. Her book has a lot to do with the way she grew up, and I’ve noticed a huge change in her over the past couple of years while writing the book. It is a cathartic experience when you get these things on paper, myself included. Getting these emotions on paper somehow takes them out of you. It’s a relief. I think kids now don’t understand that sort of therapy. It is always go talk to this person – believe me, talking to someone is a great idea – go do this, go take this pill, but a lot of it starts in yourself.

MNN – You have to look at yourself, and everyone around you, and find the courage to start expressing how they feel.

Harvey – People think they are so alone in the world, and we all go through the same stuff. We need to be more open about it and admit that we are going through the same things. We can all help each other.

MNN – We can’t keep you all, and I have to get this question in. When I read the lyrics to this song, “Jesus Needs More Babies For His War Machine,” it brought tears to my eyes – I was so proud of you. Are you saying, what I think you are saying?

Butcher Babies – What do you think we are saying?

MNN – Safe answer. It appears you are talking to the Christian Conservatives who want to ban reproductive choice but who want to live their American dream on the backs of our children, on the backs of everyone else.

Harvey – One of the things about that song is that they want women to not have the right to choose if they want to have an abortion or not, but they’ll take their firstborn son overseas to fight a war that is not even their war. And they’ll die there. Actually, my husband said that line. We were in San Francisco and saw a sign about abortion, an anti-abortion sign, and he goes “Jesus needs more babies for his war machine.” I was like, I’m using that.

Shepherd – The second she said that, we were like – yes, done!

MMN – This is a pretty big deal to me. Butcher Babies had the strength to write that down, to publish it, and to sing it from the stage. That is courageous.

Harvey – Because we believe in what we do. The thing is that for kids, no one trusts politicians anymore, they trust musicians, they trust artists, they want to know what we have to say, what we are feeling. I think it is important to talk about the things that are actually important.

MMN – And the kids get it.

Shepherd – They do get it. Regardless of anyone’s beliefs, that song isn’t necessarily against Christians by any means, I grew up a Mormon kid, I respect it, I really do, I don’t believe in it, but I respect it. It is about self-choice and about how the government will just take your life and turn it in to what they want. It is a very political song, one of the first songs we ever wrote as a band, but it is one of our favorites. Glad you like it.

MMN – That is pretty much sums up my view on the world, but I don’t have the opportunity to express that.

Shepherd – We were able to put it into different words and express it metaphorically, to expel it that way. That is an accepted thing. Whereas if we were to go on stage and be like “screw you guys for telling us what we need to do as women and taking our children and killing them in a war that you started…” that wouldn’t be accepted.

Harvey – It’s all in the way that you say things.

MMN – You have to sneak up on it and go around it a little bit, let people figure it out.

Shepherd – A lot of bands have done a great job at that, like Green Day. There are so many political bands who have done such a great job at that. A lot of metal bands as well.

Harvey – Someone once wrote on my Facebook page that politics don’t belong in metal and he was no longer a fan. I was like – Bye! What are you talking about? Politics are huge in music, always have been, always will be. Primarily we are a party metal band, and we usually don’t get very political. Usually Heidi and I write from our hearts and souls and talk about our experiences growing up and being young women, but politics definitely have a place in music, and they always will. If they are not expressed in music, then where are they going to be expressed?

MMN – This has been fantastic, I just want to get a little bit more about the tour before we wrap up. Are you excited for this summer?

Shepherd – Yes. We are heading out. We’ll be at Download, Hellfest Graspop, all over Europe at the beginning of June. Then in July we will be over there with Fear Factory – they are good friends of ours and a very political band. We are out with them for a little bit. That takes care of two months, and then we are back with Gwar, along with Battlecross, here in the US. We are really excited.

MMN – The new album is coming in August, and we have talked quite a bit about it so far, but you are withholding the title until it is released. So is the title “naughty?”

Harvey – It’s not naughty. It comes from a lyric that is very personal to Heidi and me, from one of our songs.

Shepherd – I think you guys will understand when it comes out. Take this into consideration, okay? We are kids who grew up in a man’s world. Every career path we’ve had as women has always been in a man’s world – whether a mortician (Carla), I was a radio DJ, I was a professional athlete… Always a man’s world. We’ve grown up in that and taken it upon ourselves to make it our own. So take that into consideration when the album comes out. It is very personal to us, it means a lot to us, and we had to fight for it.   It was a battle.

MMN – I loved a line from another interview. You said “We are really excited for our fans to hear it. We’re a little nervous for our parents to hear it…” I thought to myself, I guess you have a mom like mine.

Shepherd – It is more so just telling the truth about how we felt about our childhood.   It’s not even about the F-word, they’ve heard it a million times. We took emotions we had as kids and really dove into them for this album. It is very emotional and very honest. The honesty is what I’m afraid of for my dad so… It will be great. It is worth it. He’ll love it. In the end, he’ll have to love it. Parents have to grow up. Take it like a man, Dad.

Harvey – My relationship with my dad has actually gotten a lot better. I wrote a book about how he treated me growing up and the feelings of alienation I had. We actually talked for the first time in my whole entire life about those feelings and our relationship is probably better now today. So hopefully it will be a good thing.

MMN – It is a lot to grow up and have children and do all of the things parents have to do, and then eventually be honest about it. That is a big step.

Shepherd – My mom and dad always told me that this was their first time being a parent because I was the oldest. They didn’t know what they are doing. I’m not going to have kids, I’m thirty years old – I’m not going to have kids, but I will be the best aunt ever. Maybe I’ll adopt a child. I just can’t imagine the things my parents went through at twenty years old when I came around.

Harvey – Both our parents had us when they were very young, nineteen, twenty years old. We wouldn’t know what to do with kids right now. You have to look back and understand that your parents were children themselves, and they did struggle.

Maine Music News would like to thank Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, and all the Butcher Babies members, for their candor and honesty and courage in everything they do. Metal kids get it. We wish you the best on the summer tour schedule and the new release coming soon. Come back to Bangor soon.

About the author

Ann James Joles

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You’ll know her when you see her – Ann is probably the only person at a live show scribbling down notes and guarding a camera case. With a long time career in higher education behind her, she is more at home at a rock show with screaming fans than in an office.