METAL PULP AND PAPER: Hello Melissa. So glad to be catching up with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with Metal Pulp And Paper. We appreciate it.
When talking with you before this interview, you mentioned that you were crazy busy. So, what’s been going on with you lately that you’re so busy? What have you been up to lately?
MELISSA CROSS: Aside from teaching an ever-growing roster of amazing people, I am finishing a revolutionary subscription website. The website part is not revolutionary, but the content is. Or maybe not. I had a similar feeling before releasing The Zen of Screaming. I thought, “Everyone is going to think I have lost my marbles or they will find it useful.” That was 13 years ago. DVD players are disappearing, time for delivery update!
MPAP: Other than the busy chaos of life, how else is everything for you been lately? Staying happy, enjoying life to the fullest? Have you had any time to relax, or that just doesn’t fit into your schedule as of right now?
MELISSA: I love my job. Because I am fortunate enough to have that blessed privilege. Work is more than relaxing, however, very occasionally, I binge on tv with snack therapy. My son is off to college soon, so I will prolly be taking up Mahjong or Canasta (not!).
MPAP: You have been called the 'Queen of the Scream,' but for those that might not know who you are, or what you even do, let’s get everyone on the on the same page. And what better way to inform everyone is this taken from an Alternative Press interview, done by Taylor Markarian. 'Name a band you love. Any band at all. More than likely, they’ve worked with Melissa Cross. She’s the vocal coach anyone who’s anyone goes to when they need to improve their aggressive vocals. Underoath? Yup. Cradle Of Filth? You got it. Halestorm, A Day To Remember, Bullet For My Valentine, Coheed And Cambria, August Burns Red — the list never ends. And it all started when she caught a Slayer, Megadeth and BadBrains show back when New York City’s famed Webster Hall was called The Ritz. Moved by the solidarity of the metal and hardcore communities, she decided to take a job a producer friend had offered her: coach Jesse Leach. Killswitch Engage later got signed and became the massive force they are today. So, when she gives you a piece of advice, you’d better follow it.'
So, primarily, in a nutshell, you are the creator of the Zen of Screaming, and developed a vocal training method that can enhance range and increase endurance without sacrificing intensity and individuality? Pretty much you are saving the life of their vocal cords correct?
MELISSA: They are no longer referred by that name. The new name is 'folds' because diagnostic technology has enabled the medical/ vocology community to see that is a more apt label by virtue of how they function. All the things that happened in my own journey prepared and aligned for me to take on this job. Having tremendous respect for the community and wanting to prevent its demise from vocal unsustainability, I figured out a way to do it, teach it and most challenging of all, to get truth warriors with pride of a rite of passage involving spitting up blood to accept it!
MPAP: Recently on The Howard Stern Show, a Sirius XM channel, one of Howard’s staff members, Brent Hatley, showed off his most recent tattoo to Howard. His fresh ink was paying homage to the Richmond, Virginia metal band Lamb of God, for whom you have some close ties with. For those that didn’t hear the show that day, the story of how Lamb of God and the Zen of Screaming all came about was because Brent had made a vow that he wants to get a tattoo every month for the next year, he explained on the show. In talking, Brent then mentioned his all-in new-found love for LOG, and he gave Howard and all the listeners a taste of his attempt at mimicking LOG’s lead singer Randy Blythe’s vocal style and that he was learning the Zen of Screaming to help him out. After he did it, he said, "every time I try to do it, it makes me choke almost." Did your phone immediately blow up with text messages once everyone heard this? What did you feel when you found out?
MELISSA: Friends called and told me. I reached out to Brent on Twitter and offered to help. Being protective of the metal community and its reputation, I wanted to make sure the Stern audience would treat it seriously like Brent does and not undermine with their usual kind of sarcasm. That makes metal peeps angry when that happens- so I was delighted to step up to the plate!
MPAP: After listening to that show, later that day I caught up with Brent on his Instagram page and told him that I was working on an interview, and I wanted to know if he’d be interested in asking you a question since during that show he had mentioned that he was watching your DVD, The Zen of Screaming. He replied, 'the interesting thing is how she uses visuals to teach sound. He said it’s amazing. Ask her about that?'
MELISSA: The vocology community has been moving towards a more somatic, kinesthetic delivery of teachings of good technique. It’s based on neuroscience and suggests that because of the brain pathways involved in singing, speaking and screaming- retaining the information delivered through the visual imagination (as opposed to aural imitation in more traditional pedagogy). This trend began decades ago, through pioneering vocal instructors such as the late Arthur Lessac, Jo Estill and more. My own guru, Joan Lader of NYC was someone who took it a step further. The problem with some training is it fixates ideas on a static moment of vocalization. Good vocalization is always moving, always morphing, otherwise, a human will interrupt the chain with left brain self-consciousness and hold the breath. The breath must not be held, or it will mess up the sound! That is the revolutionary stuff I was talking about before. I’m using abstract animation to invoke imagery, so performers stop listening in the attempt to sound like they think they are supposed to sound. People should not 'sound like' anything. They need 'to be' as what has never happened before! The new technique is called ZOS3: See the Sound!
MPAP: Then on your Instagram, you recently posted a picture of a couple of your ID badges you had gotten from being at the Sirius XM Radio building. How was that experience? Had you ever been there before this?
MELISSA: I had been to Sirius, but I can’t remember what for right now- or maybe I dreamed that I did? But I remember decades ago, Howard had convinced a couple of my more attractive female vocalists to remove their clothes, despite the fact that I warned them both NOT to! They were so convinced that their talent would be recognized through their appearance. Howard is not a dick anymore like before. He has always been a genius, though.
MPAP: How was it meeting Brent Hatley? Anything you can tell us that went on during your time there with him?
MELISSA: Brent is the real deal metal kid in his very soul. He is very authentic and wicked intelligent- super down to earth. He really will be able to use this training to avoid future vocal problems in all of his endeavors- even beyond the metal thing. If I see Howard, I will threaten to remove my clothes for pure revenge- HA!
MPAP: Let’s talk more about your background? You have built quite the list of clients over the years. There are far too many to mention, but here are just a few for examples; Andrew W.K., Hellyeah, and Killswitch Engage, but you’re best known for working with vocalists Matthew Tuck from Bullet For My Valentine, Oliver ‘Oli’ Sykes from Bring Me The Horizon, and Corey Taylor from Slipknot/Stone Sour, along with the before mentioned, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God. That’s impressive that so many have wanted and needed your help to make them grow stronger as a singer. For this interview, I reached out to Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage, and he had this to say about you, "love her, she saved my career." How does it make you feel when you read something like this?
MELISSA: Well, it certainly does not suck when I hear Jesse say that! At the end of the first DVD, I thank the almighty Whatever for making me useful and I meant that!
MPAP: In 2011, Machine Head front man Robert Flynn studied with you in preparation for his upcoming album Unto TheLocust. Flynn said it was an intense session of unlearning seventeen years of bad habits. Can you describe any of the details of what happened during this session that might be useful for others?
MELISSA: It was mostly about replacing the emotional impetus that the genre infers with solid vocal technique- that’s what it is usually about for everyone. What a talent is Rob Flynn! Both he and Matt Tuck are so amazing how they can play very complex guitar parts and sing at the same time!
MPAP: Like mentioned, there are so many bands that you have worked with, do you have to write them down, or do you remember each person you’ve worked with, along with the experiences you had with them?
MELISSA: I try my very best. I’m getting old, so I slip sometimes. Most of my clients are not egotistical enough to be offended by my senile moments!
MPAP: Another part taken from the Alternative Press interview, done by Taylor Markarian, reads; Balance your emotions, don’t imitate someone else, screaming should never hurt, bypass your throat, use your imagination, learn to sing, stay healthy, vocal rehab, and when to scream. Out of those nine tips you gave, which one would you say vocalists have the most trouble with when they first start out training with you?
MELISSA: Letting go of imitating sound and emanating something brand new straight from creative spontaneity is the usual big challenge.
MPAP: Is the progress for learning the Zen of Screaming shorter than for some others? With some vocalists does it just take more time than others? Is there any reason for that, or it’s just a natural process that takes time, and you can’t rush it?
MELISSA: It depends. Traditionally trained vocalists are the most challenging to teach vocal distortion. Also, some people are more in touch with their body- that is called proprioception. Matching pitch can be more challenging for some. Not because they are tone deaf. That is super rare. But many are discouraged by monstrous early childhood music teachers that discourage children to discover because it doesn’t come as easily. I want to personally put those teachers in a vat of gasoline and light a match!
MPAP: You’ve worked on three DVD’s now over the years, The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed, and the second titled The Zen Of Screaming 2, and then more recently ZOS3- See the Sound which was released in 2012. Any plans for another video any time soon, or as mentioned earlier in the interview, or are you just too damn crazy even to imagine that right now?
MELISSA:See the Sound is finally coming out in 2018, it’s a massive endeavor!
MPAP: Is there anyone out there you’d love to work with someday? Maybe give their clean vocals a bit of spice?
MELISSA: When I figure out time travel, I want to work with Cornell and Bennington so they can teach me.
MPAP: Ayron Braz, a fan of yours for over ten years now from Portland, Oregon had this to say: 'She's a great lady! She has inspired tons of people. If it weren't for her, I would've ruined my cords when learning. Brook Reeves, from Impending Doom, showed me the Zen of Screaming, and I don't think I would've ever really learned without it.
He also had a couple of questions.
AYRON BRAZ: What are some the effects of low versus high as far as vocal strain?
MELISSA: In my world, there is no more high and low. Spatial reasoning is a bad definition and fosters bad habits. Resonance strategies that are free of these old ideas will bring better health and performance.
AYRON: And what about the benefits of body health using positive energy instead of anger as far as projection goes?
MELISSA: Body health is a concept. Concepts do not translate to execution of good technique. But good health is a great foundation to vocal excellence, no doubt about that. But good technique can transcend a great deal of unfortunate health issues!
MPAP: Before we bring this interview to a close, I’d like to add this one last bit of advice for anyone out there that’s already singing and is maybe having troubles singing. This was taken from your website that all should read. Here it is, some free vocal wisdom: 'Avoid sprays and lozenges that have a numbing effect on your throat. Avoid sprays and lozenges that contain alcohol which have a dehydrating effect. Remember that nothing you eat, or drink will actually reach your vocal cords. If it did, you would choke to death! Don't waste your money. Learn how to use your voice properly. The best thing for your throat is a good night's sleep and a few glasses of water!'
Should this be stapled to every vocalist’s shirt, or even have it tattooed on their forehead? Do you ever hear someone sing, and you then cringe because you know in a matter of time you know they will have no vocals left?
MPAP: On behalf of Metal Pulp And Paper, I’d like to thank you, Melissa, for doing this interview. We look forward to what you do next to finish out 2018 and beyond.
Any last words for everyone out there you’d like to say?
MELISSA: Do what you love and do it only for that reason. Thanks for the great questions, Geoff!
Brent Hatley's Lamb of God Tattoo (Photo courtesy of The Howard Stern Show)
Brent Hatley attempting his Randy Blythe scream. (Photo courtesy of The Howard Stern Show)