Butcher Babies, Huntress Bring Girl Power to the Metal Masses

An opera singer and two devotees of late Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O. Williams prove how the testosterone-fueled scene at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival is not always what it seems.
Tim Becker
Butcher Babies' Heidi Shepherd.

With the rare exception, heavy metal has long been known as a boys club -- especially onstage. But at this year's Rockstar Mayhem Festival, two female-fronted acts are bringing girl power to the metal masses. 

Los Angeles-based Huntress and Butcher Babies stick out amongst the sea of bearded and tattooed male metalheads (on the lineup: Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie), but as they tell it, what looks from the outside like a gender marginalized tells a different story when you're at the microphone.

“The more that you’re in it, the more you realize that doesn’t matter," says Huntress' lead vocalist Jill Janus, a trained opera singer whose band released their second full-length album, Starbound Beast, earlier this year. "You almost become sexless.”

Butcher Babies singers Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey (pictured below) see it a little bit differently. Both grew up in musical families -- Shepherd a member of a large Mormon family in Utah and Harvey in Detroit where she was surrounded by jazz musicians. After playing in a punk-metal cover band for several years, the girls were inspired to start a metal band in tribute to late Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O. Williams.

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At first, no one had faith in the two, and, according to Shepherd, they were constantly asked, “What do you know about metal?” 

Four years later, Butcher Babies found support -- and bandmates -- in guitarist Henry Flury, bassist Jason Klein and drummer Chris Warner, all who believed in the project. “That was key -- for them to believe in us," says Harvey. "Because a lot of guys raise their eyebrows and are, like, whatever."

Seeing their pummeling stage show, it's clear the band wants to finish what Wendy O. started, and both vocalists believe that closing the gender gap begins with an end -- to labeling bands as female-fronted.

That's not to say they don't embrace their own womanhood. In earlier shows, both singers would sometimes perform topless with nipple tape covering their areolas. The intent wasn’t to make the guys ogle: rather, it was a show of empowerment.

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Says Shepherd: “We definitely weren’t going up there trying to be sexy girls with it -- it’s something I believed in, and it was something that I wanted to proceed with as a movement."

Of course, not everyone got the message. As Harvey explains: “My dad told me one time that he saw Heidi and I on the Internet with ‘tape on our tits.’ He said, ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ And I love rubbing it in his face now.”

Both Huntress and Butcher Babies will finish out the Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour, which ends on Aug. 4. Huntress then hits the road with metal giants Lamb of God, Testament and Killswitch Engage this fall. Butcher Babies -- whose new album, Goliath, was released on July 9 -- will perform at Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare event with Motionless in White on Oct. 26 in Pomona, Calif.

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