Détente can be considered as the earliest female-fronted thrash metal band. Tiina Teal the current vocalist of Détente shares her story.
Hello Tiina! Just banged my head out with Détente’s music haha! I Could you tell me how did you come across with extreme metal, especially punk and thrash metal? And how did you become a vocalist?
Wow, thank you – that is the ultimate compliment! As far as how I came to have a relationship with extreme or just ‘aggressive’ music of any kind, it was very much a gradual process. I grew up an only child of an immigrant (my mother is from Finland) in America, with no siblings and my father died when I was a baby. I had no other family either that I knew, and we moved at least every two years, so I didn’t have many friends. I’m only explaining that because it took me a VERY long to time to be exposed to or to find music that just wasn’t the mainstream, pop-type music. However, because I was always alone, I was always obsessed with music and listening to it and playing it (I started out playing clarinet and drums as a kid in school band). I always had this huge, inward hunger and need to hear music that was far more deeper and heavier than what I heard around me.
So eventually I was in a couple punk bands as a drummer, then I took up guitar for a while, but eventually ended up singing because I’ve always written down my feelings and thoughts in notebooks since I was a kid, because I was bullied a lot as an outsider who didn’t fit in at school and I was also abused at home. So writing and music were my only outlets for my feelings. I had a desperate need to get those feelings out somehow and to connect with other people who felt similarly about the world. I found that people in metal, punk, and other more non-mainstream types of genres were open to the kinds of things I wrote or sang about.
But, I was extremely shy so never wanted to really be a singer, initially! I had to force myself to just try…and when I finally moved to Los Angeles by myself I started putting out ads to find other people to play music with and I made myself sing in front of others even though I was terrified and also never had any vocal training or experience. I love that about punk and metal: as long as you have passion, attitude, and a desire to do the best you can – people will accept you just as you are and support you as long as you are honest in your music and present a real image that isn’t all about trying to be someone you’re not. I really am grateful for people who are like that. There are so many in the underground music cultures around the world who know what it means to not fit in and to have had bad or depressive times in life. Those are my kinds of humans! We understand each other and I think that we all form an invisible alliance across the planet.
I am impressed so much with your voice in Decline- passionate but with a sense of insane. How did you find your way to growl/scream? For your singing way, have you been inspired by certain artists, especially female artists/vocalists?
I’m so humbled by your words, thank you!!! Honestly, I never thought that I would ever be a singer, let alone be able to do the types of vocals I do! It’s been a real crazy dream to end up like this, but in a good way!
Generally speaking, I think that you have to have a very strong passion (and maybe a little bit of insanity!) to be a good metal musician. If you don’t have that energy, it just won’t work. You HAVE to have attitude and also a reason WHY you have that attitude. You have to be very in touch and comfortable with your feelings, your anger, your fears, your depression – otherwise, you’ll come across as fake and people will see right through you. This genre of music is pretty much only for people who are strong enough to show all of their emotions. Not just the cute, pretty, gentle little emotions of romantic love or sadness and all of that. Which I suppose is why I was attracted to extreme metal music, because the things that I have on the inside of me and that I wanted to say were not what ‘normal’ people want to hear or talk about. The artists that I’m attracted to always have a sense of tragedy and depth, but also TRUTH - even if they are not metal or harder types of music. I mean, so much of jazz music, for example, and even my main hero – Nina Simone, who inspired me to sing – is totally rebellious and very anti-authority, anti-establishment. And that’s what inspires me, no matter what kind of music it is.
I ended up doing the extreme metal type of vocals and screaming, growling, etc. because I was never a ‘trained’ singer and I was doing shows with my female metal band and blowing my voice out. And I was just using my ‘regular’ voice, which is already quite low for a woman, but I didn’t’ really scream or growl that much, however I would end up not being able to talk for a day or two after each performance. So, I found an amazing vocal teacher in Los Angeles who specialized in teaching only extreme vocals and he encourage and guided me to be able to do very harsh things with my voice that I thought I could never do while being in total control of my voice. That’s the only ‘real’ vocal training I have had, actually.
This was also around the time that I started discovering other very heavy female vocalists like Angela Gossow (formerly of Arch Enemy), Sabina Classen (Holy Moses), Tairrie B (My Ruin) and Otep. My vocal heroes have usually been men because my voice is around the same registers as a lot of male singers, but I started learning about all of these incredible women doing these same things and vocally blowing the men away! I also randomly discovered the great Dawn Crosby (the original singer for Détente) through a friend of mine who one day brought me a CD to listen to, because he thought that our voices sounded similar. I had never even heard of Détente at that point, so I was shocked because I thought I knew most women in metal and punk. But since that day I heard her, Dawn has been my #1 female metal music inspiration, because she is still the only female vocalist I’ve heard that has incredibly complex and intelligent political lyrics that are paired with an almost heartbreaking pain and intensity in her delivery. You feel her every hurt and all of her anger and rage in your bones. There is absolute truth in Dawn’s vocals because she lived it. She had a very harsh and short life on this Earth and you can hear it in every word and emotion. And even though she wrote those songs in the 80’s, the politics and social messages are still relevant, sadly. She is also one of the very few women that didn’t use her sexuality or body/looks to sell her music and I just have so much respect for that on every single level.
I just dug in Détente’s histories… I have noticed you mentioned in an interview back 2009 that, Dawn Crosby (R.I.P.) means a lot to Détente, and to you too. Since you have been seen as replacement of Dawn, would you consider her as a shadow? Would you consider getting rid of her at some point?
That’s such an interesting question and I’m so glad that you read about Dawn, too. Yes, when I was initially recording and touring with Détente, Dawn was very much in my head and around my spirit. It sounds ridiculous, but I felt her talking to me all of the time in my head. And I’m a pretty logical person, but at the same time I feel that to do any kind of art you really do have to be open to some kind of ‘magic’, or whatever one might want to call it, and also willing to explore the unknown…so I just accepted her and what she was telling me, which was quite encouraging and supportive because I was incredibly insecure and stressed out during the initial process because it all happened so fast!
I’m not sure if she was exactly a shadow, maybe I would call her more of a guide or an invisible avatar. She has faded from me over time since the guys in the band broke up, so – perhaps her purpose was served and she just visited me during the time that she was needed so that she could make sure her legacy was carried out properly. And I hope it was, at least through what I did with her incredible work. She deserves to be far more recognized as one of the first, great, metal female vocalists and songwriters in music history and I hope she gets the recognition someday that should be hers.
Could you tell more about the connection between you and Dawn? I believe you share many common things with each other, which can be heard from the passionate vocals in Détente’s songs. Could you tell me what these things are?
The very first time I heard Détente’s album, “Recognize No Authority” was around 2008 – over 20 years after it was released. I had already been in a couple of female metal bands and could not believe that I had never heard of Dawn Crosby before. Our lyrics, in particular, were so alike, I was in shock. And not to flatter myself at all (I don’t mean it like that), but I felt like I was hearing my long lost soul-sister, because I had never encountered anyone else who wrote in quite the same way and also had a ‘rough’ kind of voice like that, which is what others have also said when hearing us both, too. I’ll never forget, there were multiple times after discovering Dawn and Détente, that I would have her music playing in my car and a friend driving with me would ask ‘is that new music you’re working on?’, thinking it was me singing, when it was Dawn. Although our voices do have different qualities overall, we still have so much in common it’s a bit eerie. When I toured in Europe, where Détente is most popular, many of the fans had never seen the original band with Dawn so they were very hesitant to accept me as the singer because they worshipped Dawn and wanted to hear those original versions of the songs. But show after show, many surprised and excited people would come up to me and say that it was almost as if Dawn was in the room and they were hearing her, and that it was surreal for them. It was SUCH a humbling, touching thing to experience and I have such immense respect for those feelings, beyond words. Even Steve (Hochheiser, bassist and main songwriter for Détente) told me that the first time we recorded together, he went home and had a dream where Dawn came to him and kind of ‘approved’ of me to be in the band. And Steve is definitely not the type of person who believes in that stuff, so for him to have that experience and even believe it, says a lot!
Being an experienced female musician in such a men-dominated field (extreme metal), what was the biggest difficulties for you? What strategies have you adopted?
Believe it or not, I haven’t had too many sexist experiences in music – the bad stuff has happened more on the business end than with artists or fans themselves! I think the biggest difficulties for me personally, though, were overcoming my own insecurities about being on stage and my lack of formal training or school. I’m very socially anxious and shy and I didn’t go to college or have much training at all. I started out mainly as a drummer, both in school and in bands early on, so it was easy for me to hide back there so nobody would look at me! I don’t generally like a lot of attention so it was hard for me to be up front, knowing that there is a mostly male audience who might judge me much harsher than if it was a man up front singing. That also drove me to become a FAR better vocalist than any guy because almost any man could get up there on stage and get tons of fame or fans just by being average, which sucks.
I also knew that the sexuality aspect would sometimes be in there too, with guys being rude or sexual towards me. Fortunately, that’s only happened a couple of times, but it was a struggle to also put aside my gentleness and give voice to my aggressive, dominant side of myself while doing shows and recording. What helped a lot was finally doing a bit of the extreme metal vocal training so that I would be more confident and in control of my vocals, and to keep practicing every day so that I knew that I could go up in front of an audience or up against any guy and slaughter him, vocally. Not that I need to do that, of course, I don’t care about competition at all. But for my own inner self. I also rarely turn down any opportunity to sing or do music of ANY kind (even non-metal/punk)! I feel that it only helps me grow as both an artist and as a person, as well as meet more interesting people. Keeping an open mind and an open heart to all sorts of music and people is something that has not only increased my confidence but also has helped me conquer many fears.
You mentioned to me that you have lived for a long time in Washington State and Pacific Northwest in the US. Are there still many punk/Riot Grrrl bands here these days? What is the connection between you and Riot Grrrl movement?
Yes! I lived in Washington State for much of my teen years and 20’s, as well as in Oregon state too and California. I always wished that I knew more about the Riot Grrrl bands when I lived there, but unfortunately, I lived in smaller, conservative towns where that scene (and most original music) was non-existent. And the few people I knew who were connected to the Riot Grrrl movement, well – I hate to say this, but quite honestly they were a bit snobbish. If you weren’t cool enough and didn’t dress like them, listen to the same music they did, and grow up in Seattle and go to the same clubs they did…they didn’t really want to know you, or have you in their scene. Even though I loved the Riot Grrrl concept, that was the one thing that I did not like about the Seattle music scene and some of those groups. It was a very closed environment that wasn’t open to outsiders. And I DEFINITELY was not very cool back then, haha! So although I always supported the women and their music in my heart, I was a bit disappointed that there was this ‘exclusive’ atmosphere in the scene that only the cool kids could be in. Earlier or underground punk I think might have been different, but a lot of modern punk became to be so fashion-oriented and watered-down, which killed a lot of the original spirit and rebellion. And I love fashion too, but not when it excludes others! I think that’s why I started leaning towards metal music, because the people in metal were WAY more friendly, open, and didn’t really care what you wore or what magazines you read or how vintage your clothes were – if you kicked ass, you were OK by them! And I love that, metal is very inclusive and you don’t have to be a popular, attractive, cool kid to be a metalhead.
Regard to handling gender issues, do you have any ideas about the differences between punk and extreme metal? Both genres are essentially rebellious. In the punk scene, we got Riot Grrrl movement here, while in the extreme metal scene, there are only a few feminist bands. Why does the gap exist?
GREAT question, and something that I’ve continuously thought about in my own mind over the years too. I think one of the greatest things about punk is that you don’t have to be some technical wizard to play it: you can just get in there and do it, because your attitude and heart is what matters most, not your technical skill. Which is incredibly encouraging for anyone, but especially for women. Because we have been left out of music and so many other things in society for SO many millennia, as these things have been considered only for men to do. Punk music is also a bit simpler and more immediate in many ways (not always, but just as a genre) so therefore more women can more easily be welcomed to play without having to have a ton of lessons or money. But with metal, there is a certain technicality that is a standard, which does take money, time, and practice, etc. Not that punk doesn’t too, of course, but metal demands it as a standard, and if you don’t meet some of that criteria – especially as a woman in metal – then the mostly male audience is going to be extremely critical and very condescending (“she can’t play because she’s a GIRL”). UGH. That’s where punk is way better than metal, because there isn’t that kind of bullshit. And also why there are more women doing punk or punk-based music because it gives them a supportive, open space for them to start out and learn, which is important.
But even more important than just the different music genres, I think that the roots of the entire thing are based in our patriarchal societies. Our current world does not, as a whole, encourage girls to aspire to be technical, top-level guitarists, drummers, bassists, or instrumentalists. It’s not seen as ‘feminine’. Only singing is more commonly encouraged for women, and I think it’s because female singers are traditionally supposed to just stand there and sing and look pretty or sexy. I think there are elements of both the patriarchy still dominating and controlling the way women are taught/raised to be, as well as the different musical expectations in both metal and punk.
However, I do think that challenging oneself to be better and be skillful at any genre is important overall, and since the world is changing so fast (thankfully!) we’re going to be seeing even more amazing female metal shredders and bad asses on every instrument because the boundaries of what women can or cannot do are being erased!
Generally speaking, since the underground extreme metal is masculine, female musicians normally find themselves in these two positions: standing out from the ocean which is helpful to get more attention (for example, utilize the feminine traits on appearance but still skillful enough), or fitting in the masculine convention of this subculture (for example, pretend to be a boy). Regard to your own representation, which one, or neither are you? Why? Do you think are there any other possibilities beyond these polarized options in the future?
I have also thought about these questions, I love that you are bringing these issues to light, thank you! Although I’ve understood in the past when women have utilized their looks or sexuality to stand out (or, more likely, have been forced to by record companies or marketing executives) it’s disappointing in one way because it doesn’t really feel authentic. But: it’s been survival for women, too – they’ve had to do those things to survive, to prove themselves, to have a career and to help pave the way until women don’t have to do that anymore. I have so much admiration for that, as well as tons of reverence for women who have just done their own thing without maybe getting as much popularity or fame.
Personally, I do not care about gender at all, I just care about the person inside. I’m very comfortable with my masculine side yet I have a very gentle, almost motherly, feminine side that I’m equally OK with. I’ve worn both dresses and torn up men’s clothes on stage (and in regular life!) and feel good in both. I believe that these old, tired, polarized versions of gender are being blown apart in the current world and I love it so much! I’m such a big supporter of how many people are rebelling against conservative gender identities and truly redefining the old stereotypes and many other ‘traditional’ things in the world. We are all creating a new vocabulary and a new world where all of those conventional rules will no longer matter, which will also hopefully make it much easier and more fair for women or female-identifying persons to gain equal status for their accomplishments, even in traditionally male dominated fields like metal or punk music. It just won’t matter anymore, I hope, in the near future.
You have been in the scene for years. Has the situation of women in extreme metal changed?
It seems that it started to change quite a bit in the mid-to-late 2000’s when a lot of female metal vocalists and more all-female metal bands, even, started popping up. But from what I have seen (and I am not an expert, so I hope I am wrong!) it doesn’t seem to have changed very much since then. Perhaps because metal sort of ‘fell out of fashion’ a bit and women started playing indie or pop music more, especially because pop/indie is a more acceptable therefore an easier genre to pursue. I know that there are still a lot of women in the underground scenes playing metal out there, but as far as seeing lots of women in the more popular metal scenes – it seems to be about the same as it’s been for about a decade. But music and culture move in cycles, so perhaps because the world is in need of more rebellion, there will be more women starting to want to express their anger and disgust at society through metal and punk and aggressive music I hope so – bring it on, ladies! We need you!
Détente got a side project Falke last year. But is Détente still active? If it is, could you tell me what is your next plan with Détente?
Unfortunately, there are no future plans for Détente at the moment. We were going to play a female music festival in Cleveland, Ohio two years ago but the festival got cancelled. It is always a dream of ours to eventually play Wacken someday, but…for some reason it has not happened yet. I am still friendly with the guys and keep in contact with Steve (the main songwriter) especially, so hopefully someday we will be in a good position to record and release new music. I. always had the idea to do some songs in Spanish (the last song on “Decline” has some Spanish lyrics that wrote/sang) so maybe that will happen too!
Thank you so much for the interview. At last, have you got any words for readers and the girls who want to live a metal life?
Your anger and aggression are GOOD and we NEED it! It is the best release in the world, better than an orgasm, to play metal or punk or aggressive music. You feel powerful, strong, and will find an incredible connection with yourself that most other music genres can’t give you. Scream out what you want and demand change through your words and your music, because music is a direct connection to the divine – it touches something inside of us that is beyond human form and it’s one of the only artforms that does it.
Release your passion, take control of your soul, and fight the oppressive powers with your own mind and art. Because nothing changes by asking for permission or staying silent.
Thanks for answering these. Take care!