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The Story of White Crone- All Hail Traditional Metal!

Lisa Mann’s heavy metal passion project, White Crone has released a collaborative cover of Rainbow’s ‘Stargazer’, as a tribute to Ronnie James Dio, on the back of her acclaimed debut album ‘The Poisoner’. but where did this love of metal start? and is there more to come in the future?

Welcome to Metal Digest!

First of all, what a fine way to pay tribute to such a wonderful man. when did your love of heavy metal begin to form? and why move towards bringing out your own interpretation now?

Well first, thank you for this interview, I appreciate it!  I started playing bass guitar at a very early age and discovered metal way back in the ’80s as a teenager.  I loved bands like Sabbath, Dio, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, and also Bay Area Thrash bands, which I had the pleasure of seeing live in small nightclubs back in the day.  I spent a lot of time getting pummeled in mosh pits.  I played in a few crossover and metal bands, like Dead Conspiracy, but once I was old enough to work in bars, I became a nightclub musician.  Over the years I played every style of music, and when I returned to Portland OR after working in Seattle for a while, I discovered a vibrant blues scene.  I have been working in the blues scene ever since and made a name for myself there.  However, I never lost my love of metal, and I was inspired a few years ago to finally write a metal album.  I basically wrote, arranged, and recorded my debut White Crone album in my spare time.  I just kept hearing these melodies in my head and had to get them out.  The debut album The Poisoner was released last year, so I needed to put out something new.  My friend, blues-rock guitarist Alastair Greene wanted to collaborate with me, and I thought Stargazer was a perfect opportunity.  I just love the song so very much, it’s an absolute joy to sing!

It must have been quite the experience, working with Vinny Appice. what was it like to be able to work with someone so influential?

I actually collaborated with Vinny remotely, he has a killer tracking setup at home.  He first recorded for me some years ago on a blues-rock song called “Judge a Man Forever” on my Hard Times, Bad Decisions album.  It’s about the prison system and has this really slow chain-gang kind of beat.  I heard him in my head when I wrote it, so I thought, what the hell, I should just ask him to play on it.  So I cold-called him, and he said yes!  Later he tracked a song for my debut album, The Poisoner, called Under Hag Stones.  It’s also another slow, super heavy beat, around 60bpm, so his Black Sabbath chops served the song beautifully.  Of course, he was the drummer of choice for Stargazer. 

It is quite the experience to turn something over to him and to know he’s in his studio cooking up some magic.  He’ll send you a track and ask you to collaborate and give direction- he really wants clear direction, as all drummers do, and deservedly so.  Then after a few edits (or in Stargazer’s case, an entire re-take due to a technical issue), he sends these incredible drum tracks that make your spine tingle.  He is very thorough, even adds in ambient room mics- even a mic from the adjacent bathroom.  Uh-oh, now I’m giving away his secrets!

I make a point to tell other underground artists that they shouldn’t be afraid to try and hire someone of Vinny’s caliber for a project, especially now.  The pandemic has been very hard on musicians of all levels.  Fretless bassist Tony Franklin, you might remember him from The Firm or Whitesnake, he has been advertising himself on social media as being happy to work on smaller artist’s project.  I say as long as you are confident that you have high-quality material and a recording studio, don’t be afraid to reach out to your heroes and ask them to lay down some tracks.  You may be helping them pay the rent.

Based on this cover version and your first album as White Crone, you seem to genuinely enjoy playing heavy metal. is there more to come? maybe even more covers?

There is definitely more to come, from White Crone as well as a killer band I joined called Splintered Throne.  We’ve had myriad delays in recording an album, mainly pandemic-related.  But we are determined to deliver a kick-ass traditional metal album soon, the songs are written and they’re incredible.  I also have a few White Crone tracks in skeletal form, and I will flesh them out at some point this year.  But as for covers, I may not do any more of them, either in blues or metal.  The issue is with the new licensing legislation in the US, which Bandcamp is not a part of.  It is cost-prohibitive at this point to get licensed to stream a cover song on Bandcamp, which is my platform of choice. 

As someone who is primarily a bassist, would you say that your music often has a focus on the rhythmic side? if so, how did that change the way you approached covering ‘Stargazer’?

Interesting questions you have!  Yes, it’s usually the bass that drives my songwriting and arranging, no matter the genre.  In the case of Stargazer, mostly I followed in Jimmy Bain’s powerful footsteps.  The song was recorded as much in honor of Bain’s memory as Dio’s, and I should not neglect to mention the incredible Cozy Powell, who died tragically in a car crash at age 50. 

As a bass player, I am always paying attention to drummers.  I listened to Dio’s Holy Diver a gazillion times, and know every single drum fill on that album.  It’s the same with most of the albums I ate up as a youth- I could air drum every part.  That’s why in recording Stargazer, I knew it had to be Vinny.

When I was recording pre-production at home for The Poisoner, I bought a set of e-drums and taught myself to play.  I already had some rudimentary experience, from being married to a drummer in years past.  I wrote all of the drum parts for the album and recorded them as best I could so the real drummer (Larry London) could execute my ideas.  He took the parts I wrote and of course improved upon them greatly.

My love for the drums is why my version of Stargazer is longer than the original.  When Vinny sent me his final track, he played over the end of it, and did some killer fills at the very end.  I played a meaty bass line to accompany it and did NOT want to leave that on the cutting room floor!  I do hope people will listen to the entire 9-minute track in its entirety, it gets really deep and intense at the end.

Would you say you’re someone who needs far more gear than you can ever use, like a Steve Vai type, or are you more of a Stevie Ray Vaughan ‘this one will do for my entire career’ kind of musician?

Oh, I am definitely more in the SRV camp in that regard.  My husband Allen is a bass player (with Grammy nominee Sugaray Rayford, if I may brag) and he is the gear head of the family.  Always a new bass being delivered.  But for me, I have used one bass primarily for decades, my Tobias Killer B six-string.  If you listen to my blues and Americana material and compare it to my metal material, you would swear you are listening to several different basses. 

I also have a Warwick Thumb bass, which used to be my primary instrument, but at 14 pounds in weight, became ridiculous to gig with.  But I use it to record when I want a real midrangey, grunty tone.  I also have a Kramer 8-string from the ’80s, which I used on the song “Broken.”  It chimes like a bell, and adds a lushness to the track.  But it sits in the case most of the time, so I will have to create more opportunities to record with it.

Your cover of ‘Stargazer’ is a fitting tribute and a real credit to the original. how did you approach the challenge of taking such a well-loved classic and giving it your own personal sound without losing the feel of the original?

Thank you so very much!  It was indeed a challenge to approach the song, and I knew I would face some criticism for even attempting to do it.  I faced criticism for covering Etta James “At Last” for similar reasons.  “How dare you try and fill those shoes?”

The bottom line is, I truly enjoy singing that song.  When tracking the vocals, I relied on my memory of Dio’s performance, but also let my own voice and approach guide me.  There are certain phrases that I simply wouldn’t deliver like he would have, there was no point in trying to copy him. 

Musically I stayed fairly true to the original.  I had Vinny track to the original recording, as I did not have a scratch track for him, so it is the same tempo.  But I changed a few things harmonically, like going to the A minor sooner at the top of the chorus.  Some of my changes are based on my past mishearings of the song, but I liked them so I kept them. 

I think what really gave my version a personal sound was my reliance on the musicians themselves to bring their creative ideas to the table.  That’s how I typically approach my blues albums, and with my metal tracks I am more “here, do exactly THIS.”  With Stargazer I just turned it over to guitarist Alastair Greene without giving him any direction whatsoever.  He delivered extra tracks, like an e-bow track that wound up in the outro– super tasty shit!  And for the keyboardist Eric Lawrence, I sent him the original track, as well as Dream Theater’s version. Other than that, no direction. Then he came over and tracked his parts and brought his own delicious voice to the project. 

would you say the seemingly slight increase in presence of keyboard / synthesizer in the mix was intentional?

It really was Eric’s delivery that drove that decision, as well as the mixing expertise of Opal Studio’s Kevin Hahn.  In the original song, there is an orchestra, but it is so blended in it is hard to decipher.  Eric’s parts are mimicking the orchestral parts, without being too literal, and reflective of Dream Theater’s deft cover of the song as well.

Finally, how important would you say your experience as a blues/americana musician is when writing and playing heavy metal?

I have a friend named David Vest, a boogie woogie piano player from the deep south that I admire greatly.  He once complimented me on a song I wrote, and I said, “thank you because I wrote that song in about 20 minutes.”  He said, “no, it took you your entire life to write that song.”  I really took that to heart. 

Every experience we have as musical artists adds up to the thing we are doing in the here and now.  I sometimes reflect on the years I spent playing cover songs in bars, as if that time were wasted, but those years served me well when I finally started tracking my own original songs.  It was how I learned how songs WORK.  Similarly, all my years of making my own original blues albums, added up to learning how recording and song arranging works.  When writing and recording metal, I draw upon all that knowledge, as well as the knowledge that preceded it, the knowledge I gained from cramming Dio, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and King Diamond albums into my ears year after year.

thank you for the interview

Thank you for these insightful questions!

Sam | metal digest

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