We recently announced that Cutting Room Music would be kicking off a series of Q&As with female composers who are making a difference in the music industry today. It’s time to officially start the series and get to know our first artist, Militia Vox.
Militia Vox is a one-of-a-kind artist whose skill goes way beyond just music composition. You could say she has it all: talent, stage presence, charisma, and last but not least, an amazingly strong voice. She’s a fierce artist who has worked with names like Nancy Sinatra, Cyndi Lauper, John Petrucci (Dream Theater), and Twisted Sister, among many others. Vox has worked on many different and diverse projects, and is an experienced singer, writer, producer, composer, actor, and director. There’s basically nothing she can’t do once she decides she wants to do it. But let’s hear more from Militia Vox herself.
Can you offer some perspective on the current state of the music industry? Are there enough female writers/composers out there, or is it a male-driven industry, in your opinion?
The music industry is kind of “The Wild West” at the moment. It’s anyone’s game who chooses to play. You can study music or not study music, and still have a career. You can build a following without leaving your home. It’s somewhat shocking at times. All that matters is the result: can you reach and connect with an audience? Can you get paid for your work? There’s a vast range of creatives out there that are truly making it on their own terms. I believe that there are lots of female writers/composers; they are more visible now than ever before. But, for some reason, the guys are still in the lead, getting better opportunities and taking home the big checks. That needs to change. We get a rare breakthrough sometimes, such as Hildur Guðnadóttir. But you know it’s bad when you can point to one lone female that manages to rise to the top…
How hard was it for you to break through into this industry and achieve success? Can you tell us a bit about your professional journey?
I’m still trying to break on through! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a great career so far, but I’m still so hungry for more. I’m lucky that I get to make 100% of my living from music and performing. Real success to me is when your reputation precedes you. I want a hit song. I want to score a horror movie. I want more fun and unusual collabs. I want to continue to make music and visuals that take risks and are acknowledged in my lifetime. I want to front a major band, like Soundgarden! That’s my dream bucket list. It’s scary fun to type that out and admit publicly!
As far as my journey goes, I started taking piano lessons at around age 9 and quickly accelerated to becoming a competitive pianist. I placed in several county and state competitions, all while singing in choirs and doing theater. I went to Boston Conservatory at Berklee and was kicked out for “insubordination” right before graduation. But it was in college that I joined my first band; it was an industrial band called Disciples of Astaroth. We had a lone release on Cleopatra Records.
I moved to NYC to do everything raw and real in music and theater that I could. I was in bands, started singing solo, did theater and quickly got on the European Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was my first real pro gig, a dream come true. After the tour, I came back to NY and toured as the lead soloist with Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) in a horror-themed orchestra called “Van Helsing’s Curse.” Soon after, I met Sandra Bernhard and she hired me to be her backing vocalist and soloist. I toured with her for years, and from those shows I got poached to sing with other artists: Ana Gasteyer, Nancy Sinatra, Taylor Dayne and Cyndi Lauper. I learned a lot from those gigs, but had a bit of an identity crisis. The role of “blackground singer” [you know what that means!], as I often call it, was too limiting for me. I’m a frontwoman.
Eventually, I had to start turning down those gigs. It was more interesting, exciting and gratifying for me to write songs, create video art and produce events. So, I wrote songs for my band Swear On Your Life and eventually got the guts to go solo. I even created an immersive experience of my work – which has been kicking ass on the film festival circuit and has evolved into an AR/VR/XR experience. During the pandemic quarantine, I finally had the time to truly build up my home studio, learn to engineer, mix and master. Now, I’m getting hired to score and compose for multimedia and film. I’m excited to do even more. I’m insatiable.
Did you have any female musicians or composers to look up to growing up? Who were your biggest influences?
The female musicians I looked up to growing up were Tori Amos, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Donita Sparks of L7, Courtney Love of Hole, Kat Bjelland of Babes in Toyland, Janis Joplin…My biggest influences overall were and still are: Trent Reznor, Martin L Gore, Robert Smith, Danny Elfman, James Maynard Keenan, Chino Moreno, Freddie Mercury, and various spooky scores and soundtracks that I played so much I still have them committed to memory.
Do you think it’s important for aspiring young musicians to have a mentor? Did you have a mentor in your early days as a musician?
I think it can be vital if you’re lucky enough to get one. I did not formally have a mentor. But I had a few teachers that acknowledged the drive and potential in me enough to point me in certain directions.
What do you want young female composers to know as they try to build a career in the music business? What advice would you give them?
My advice is to always experiment. Say yes to new opportunities and figure it out along the way. Don’t wait for “inspiration,” a mood, or the ideal situation. That’s a trap. You’ll discover way more ideas and get more done if you stay open, carve out creative practice for yourself and keep making cool stuff that you like. Even if you have to work a job that is not in the music industry to keep fed, you need your creative time. I’ve seen a lot of talent waste years of life and wreck themselves because of this.
How did the pandemic affect the music industry, as far as you’re concerned? Are you noticing any huge shifts or changes in the way things are done now, compared to 2 years ago?
The pandemic forced everyone to reassess themselves and how they use their time, the things they prioritize, work-life balance, goals, needs, sanity. The ways and means that we accept stress in our lives is now a real issue. Life on the hamster wheel has changed because now we’re more self-aware. Also, I’d like to say that there is more of a focus on diversity and inclusion for women and people of color, but I don’t have any real evidence to support that, myself. I see the same select few faces on repeat.
Can you name the most challenging or most exciting project you’ve worked on so far? Or is there a project that holds a special place in your heart?
Each new project is the most exciting project! So right now, I’m working on a new progressive doom metal project. I’m writing in a very different way than I usually do and experimenting with different themes that tie in with revelations, overwhelm and existential crisis – all things that are experienced during times of difficult transition. It’s a very meaningful project to me because I am collaborating with two musicians that I’ve known since college. I’ve always admired their skills and have always wanted to work with them. Now’s finally the time. They are guitar gods in the making.
The project that holds a special place in my heart is THE VILLAINESS. It’s been my dream project, my first original solo album, it made me a filmmaker and now I’m doing immersive installations and AR/VR/XR experiences of the work. My dream for it is to be a cult phenomenon, like DARK SIDE OF THE RAINBOW or Pink Floyd’s THE WALL. Something that high school and college kids gather and trip out to for years and years…
You are such a well-versed artist, with experience in singing, writing, composing, producing, directing, acting…you name it. You’ve also worked with some legendary artists like Nancy Sinatra, Cyndi Lauper, Dream Theater, and Twisted Sister – just to name a few. How do you manage to balance all these artistic venues without feeling pressure or burnout?
I know that my job at all times is to show up and give my best. I am always aware that I am only competing with myself. The show, the art, the recording, these are the most important things; more important than me and my ego or my feelings. Because of the range and variety of things that I do, it’s kept me from burnout. I’m forever curious and daring.
Last but not last, what were the biggest challenges you’ve had to face throughout your career? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges I’ve faced are mostly other people’s narrow-mindedness on what I can or can’t do. I’ve gotten a lot of bad advice over the years; everything from “you can’t be a musician AND do theater, to “pick a lane” or “your music has too many genres, like one minute it’s industrial and then there’s a grunge sounding guitar solo, and then it goes metal” or “you need to look more white to make rock music.” I firmly believe that the only limitation I have is my own imagination. I’m always actively eradicating boundaries and blending elements that are as mixed as I am by nature. As a multi-ethnic person, it makes sense for me to mix styles, mediums, etc…I am the genre.