“.bipolar.” Interview by Christina Thompson
Is there any such thing as a “typical day” for you? It seems you wear so many hats…there’s the band, jobs, family—even being entrepreneurs! Aside from secretly harboring the ability to be in two places at once, how do you balance all of this? Scheduling must be crazy! Does being involved in so many activities come from an innate need to create? What do you find the hardest to edit when you just can’t fit it all in?
Scheduling is pretty locked in with the band and jobs. We have our schedules set and usually know what it looks like before we start the week. Music is our passion, jobs help pay for the passion and our families are the support system that keep us going. For me personally I like to keep busy so I don’t feel like I am wasting any time for opportunity and yes what is probably deep down an innate need to create stuff. When it comes to editing, really what ever needs the most attention at the time is what takes priority. Even though on paper it looks like I may not have enough free time, it’s actually not the case and I spend too much time playing video games and trying my hand at making a youtube show.
You have said you work hard to establish yourselves as a DIY metal band. So, I am not even going to ask you the ubiquitous “define your genre” question. Instead, will you please share with the fans your definition of DIY Metal?
We’ve become our own little machine and very self reliant over the years. We print our own merch, produce and market our own albums, book our own shows and network with out of town bands, We recently started working with a team to make our videos, design all our own artwork for the merch, flyers and albums and submit our music for digital distribution. We have times when finances are low and we aren’t able to do everything we’d like but for the most part we set our own goals and work to accomplish them. We’ve watched bands similar to ours get signed, get ripped off and let down by labels so in turn we learned to be as self sufficient as possible. In this climate within the music industry big paychecks from big labels are rare and bands need to learn to do it all ourselves or they’ll never succeed.
While we are on the subject of .bipolar. doing metal the DIY way, let’s talk about Mrs. Charlie Hanks also doing things her own way by taking her Baroque- period opera training and transforming it into raw, emotion-filled, ruthless sound for today’s metal scene. How long had you been classically training before you decided to take that training and head in a completely different direction with it? What influenced this decision? Was it a natural progression?
I went to a performing arts high school here in Las Vegas for two years. We studied all kinds of operatic and choral styles there but our instructor was a fan of baroque period pieces. While I was learning Handel’s Messiah in school I was attending punk and metal shows at The Huntridge theater. Even though I had always wanted to be a signer, opera wasn’t going to be a career path for me. At the time I only saw being a choir teacher as an option for that path and that didn’t feel like the dream job. At the same time I was publishing an underground zine interviewing my favorite bands and hoping eventually that would turn into a career. Fast forward two years later while working as a graphic designer at a newspaper in Northern California I met this guy Brian who plays drums and used to be in a bunch of bands. We instantly hit it off, started dating a few months later and he was trying to form a new metal/hard rock band. He knew my background but didn’t really take me serious when I said I wanted to try out as a vocalist in his band. He ended up finding a band that already had a singer, so I had to sit back and watch this guy who wasn’t that great every time I drove him to practice. Eventually the singer started flaking on practice and the guys let me take the mic and ad lib jam with them. I had never really sang with a band but we had a blast. One day the guitarist calls Brian and says he’d prefer to play with me as the singer and not the other lame guy. So that was how we started our first band together. It was a natural progression in the development of finding my sound/voice that it went to where it is now after 16 years. It took a few years to get comfortable in my own skin and with my style but I’m constantly evolving and growing as I should to not be stagnant.
Following that, the fact that you sing beautifully is a given. In our MHF community, we have had several members who are budding musicians that will post, asking advice about how to achieve the types magnificent and brutal growls and screams (which you brilliantly execute!), without damaging one’s vocal chords. Can you tell us how you take care of those bad-ass pipes? As a pro, do you have any advice on exercises to help a “Charlie Hanks in training” that you care to share? Or maybe warnings about what NOT to do so they won’t hurt themselves?
Well first thank you for the awesome compliments.
My advice for vocalists are: Invest is a good humidifier and put it on your nightstand or next to your bed. Sleep with it on all night. Keeping hydrated is key. Practice as much as you can, learning how to properly scream takes time much like training to run a marathon. It’s not going to happen overnight and it may take a while before you find your scream. Get Melissa Cross’ Zen of Screaming one and two she teaches the same breathing techniques that are used in opera and she’s pretty amazing. She’s one of the only coaches that teaches the correct way to scream.
DON’T SMOKE. It’s not only horribly bad for your health but it permanently damages your vocal chords. Don’t sit around in smoky bars or clubs either. Being in Vegas this is a constant battle for me, I’m allergic to cigarettes and they have smoking in every club here.
Currently, .bipolar. is out of Las Vegas. How would you describe the metal scene there right now? What is the top roadblock you face in that environment? Do you perhaps foresee another move for fresh venues in the future just as you felt the need to make the move to Las Vegas from Northern California? Or do you feel like that is home now?
Las Vegas has a great scene right now. We’ve built a solid group of bands who work well together and for the most part look out for each other. The venue selection has gotten slim and we lost some great places to play over the last couple years. The biggest roadblock here is getting the crowd to show up. The metal crowd is decent sized but there’s so much going on in Las Vegas it’s hard to get them out to particular shows. It takes a lot of marketing, text messaging, advertising and good bands to get the crowd out. If you have two shows going on in the same night or the same weekend the crowd can get split or uneven and one of those shows is going to suffer. Vegas is definitely home. We’ve been here almost as long as we were in Sacramento and we’ve been able to do much more here. We’re close to LA and all of us have decent lives built here.
In August of 2016, you created a Gofundme account to help out with recording costs and a promotional package for Seven (their aptly named 7th album). Was this successful for you? Do you feel like it was a way to give fans a level of involvement in your music making process, thereby maybe creating more of a connection to them or them to you? Any drawbacks that you experienced?
We had hoped it would be a way to get the fans and friends involved but unfortunately it wasn’t successful for us. We were only able to raise about $250 and we’re grateful for those who were able to donate but overall it didn’t end up as we had hoped. But we learned that crowd funding wasn’t for us.
In an August 2016 interview, you said that .bipolar. is a “culmination of five different musicians’ inspirations, backgrounds, and talents”. Seven is to be released January 28, 2017. It was self produced and recorded at Hideout Studios. Obviously this “culmination of five” is really working. “Ernest” (the new single from the upcoming Seven EP), has received positive reviews. What can the fans expect next from .bipolar. ?
The five of us are working on new songs and another new EP with around four or five songs probably around Summer. We’re planning some mini-tours and hoping to knock out another video soon.
And finally, you have played countless shows all over the West Coast with beyond-numerous national and local bands (Fear Factory, Death Valley High, and The Defiled to name a few). Do you have a show in particular that just really stands out to you, where it was either the chemistry was just spot on or some kind of hilarity ensued, etc. that you are willing to share with us?
We’ve been really fortunate to get to open for quite a few bands we’ve admired over the years. We got to play with Wayne Static at the Whisky A Go Go in 2013. We got to play with 36 Crazyfists twice who I admired a lot when I first started singing in a metal band. Hemlock were actually the first band I ever interviewed when I was 17 and had a zine here in Vegas. They came through town about 6 years ago and we got offered to be on the show. I walked up to the singer Chad nervous about sharing the story and thinking he definitely wouldn’t remember me after so many years but we chatted and he totally remembered. So it was like my music journey had come full circle and I got to share the stage with a band I had admired and wrote about in high school. We’ve since played with them a bunch of times and had a blast playing House of Blues with them a couple years ago. Thanks!!
Christina Thompson / MHF