Since moving to New York, Vox has taken center stage as the front woman of Judas Priestess, an all-girl tribute to Judas Priest, the leading lady of Dee Snider’s heavy metal horror orchestra “Van Helsing’s Curse,” and most recently taken on a residency performing her own music at “Times Scare.”
While she has previously performed on Broadway, taken numerous modeling gigs and was a professional backup singer for Taylor Dayne, Cyndi Lauper and Nancy Sinatra, it has been her solo career that she has found most rewarding.
From her childhood days in Maryland as a classically trained pianist, to her teen years as an industrial rocker, one thing she has taken pride in is her versatility and ability to play at just about any type of musical venue.
Today with her name in lights in Times Square, Vox said she could now die a happy woman, however she notes that the road to this success has not been easy.
I met up with Vox at The Charleston, located at 174 Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg, to talk about music, influences and her new album “Bait,” just released on Oct. 31.
What was your musical upbringing like in the suburbs of Maryland?
Well I was raised in Columbia – that’s between Baltimore and D.C. – and my parents moved there because they were an interracial couple that married in the 70’s and they needed a safe haven. It was a weird evolution. My father was a very avid record collector. His vinyl is pristine in cases with itemized legends in the front of it telling you what’s in each box. He was doing this before it was trendy.
Because of that – he was like, you’re my daughter and you need to know to this music. He would send me to my room and give me Iron Butterfly and I would have to listen to that album. I was listening to King Crimson when I was like four years old, and all my classmates would ask me why I was into all that “old music.” And I just didn’t know. That’s what I was listening to. He liked a lot of doo-wop and he liked a lot of classic rock. He was very much into Led Zeppelin, so that was just part of my life.
Did the music you listened to have an effect your social life growing up?
It made me feel like an outsider because I just didn’t understand it. That, plus I was playing classical piano since I was like seven. I was playing malls and stuff doing all of these competitions and winning. So really, pop music didn’t speak to me. When my friends were getting into boy bands and stuff, I was like, I don’t really care about this, but the competitive side of me wanted to see if I could make them jealous.
I’d try to get that rare tour jacket and they’d be like 'oh, that bitch.' It’s just because I was always striving to outdo myself and the people around me because I felt like I had to work harder to get any kind of respect or recognition. I went to an all-white private school that was very rigid. We didn’t have a principal we had a headmaster, if that tells you anything.
It was like Dead Poets Society on acid. It wasn’t a boarding school, but it was this huge mansion out in the middle of a field in Maryland. I was the only person of color for grades and grades and grades. I didn’t notice a difference in myself until they started pointing a finger at me. Like, 'oh, you’re darker than us,' or 'why does your hair look like that?' My whole youth was constantly defending myself.
Is that what got you into music?
Yeah, because I needed an outlet or I would have ended up in juvie. I got really defensive and had a real violent streak as a kid. I was in a school with these really wealthy kids and my parents were struggling to keep me in there to get a better education. The kids I was in school with had these huge sprawling properties and my parents were both teachers at one point.
Nobody around me was in bands, nobody around me even cared about music. I was the only one. I was taking private piano lessons and excelling at a fast pace. I was at the Peabody Conservatory and winning competitions. It was really my only musical outlet, but that was when I started calming down. I got into music and changed everything. I stopped fighting and attacking people – not that it was unprovoked.
Did this inspire you to write your own music?
Not at that point. I didn’t start writing because I didn’t know how to put the pieces together. I just knew that I really liked music and no one around me did. But I remember watching the Grammy Awards and American Music Awards and seeing Cyndi Lauper and Prince and saying, 'I know that I speak their language, but I don’t know how to get from point A to point B to point C where they are.' It just seemed like a far-off thing that other people were able to do. but I didn’t know how because I just wasn’t there.
My mom dragged me to see Tina Turner when I was a kid. That changed everything. It was just like, wow, here is this powerful black woman and her fans are multicultural and she’s up there with her leather and skin and she’s just screaming and it was amazing. I remembered telling myself whatever that is, I have got to do that. That was like seeing God. I just didn’t know how to get there. I tried going into whatever outlet that I could.
Did your parents support you when you wanted to get into rock music?
I was supposed to be a pianist. I would just get criticized for playing too loudly, banging on the piano or whatever it could be. I just felt so locked in and it was so rigid. I felt like I needed to do something that helped me feel more free. I joined theater, like most high school kids do that are desperately seeking an outlet. I started getting leads after a while and that was fun, but there were just not enough roles for someone like me.
When you came to New York were you still on your theater kick?
Not really. While I was at school (Boston Conservatory), my boyfriend, who went to Berkley, was working with this industrial band and they had a female singer they were looking to get rid of. I was 16 at this time and I ended up replacing her. We were only band doing this in Boston. College kids were coming, we used to have trannies open for us and they would dance to DSI and people would pay them to get away from them. It was literally the school of hard knocks. We did the whole typical band thing. It was sex, drugs and industrial rock and roll.
What did you learn when you came New York?
You have to have an agenda. I came here with an agenda even though my agenda changed. I came and wanted to do Broadway to check it off a list, but I was dismayed because I realized there were no roles for me. What were they going to do with a bi-racial female that sings rock and roll? Unless I play a lion or a hooker with aids in Rent, there were no roles for me. I looked too modern to play someone that was old school.
I already knew that I needed to do music because I was unsatisfied. I started a couple side projects. My boyfriend at the time and I were doing a different project called Living in Sin. And I just wanted something with live instruments. I joined a shock rock band called Vulgaris, and it was really aggressive and graphic and over the top. I just wanted to push the boundaries.
Your music doesn’t have a lot of digital sounds. Was that purposefully done?
It was. I had been doing industrial for so long and that first band didn’t have a drummer. There was a drum machine and I wasn’t feeling the energy of live instruments. It was probably the piano background in me. I moved away from tracks and programmed things because there is a certain rigidness to it. Some people need that, but I came off being too raw for most ears. But I didn’t really care, it was something that I needed to do.
Is that why you went on to start a solo career?
I finally did the solo thing because I spent a number of years as a backup singer. I saw how these people do it. So many people wanted me to go solo, but I just couldn’t afford it. Well, yeah. There is a certain degree of nervousness when I book a larger venue under my own name. Especially now that I’m doing a residency at Times Scare, and it’s not at a typical venue, but it’s at a theater that they tricked out just for me.
Is it realistic to think you can make money doing this?
You can, but there’s a certain amount of accommodating an audience. I set up my solo act in a way where I can play a cabaret room or something that is completely stripped down and do an in-studio performance. For instance, I did this show at Duane Park called Milita’s Heavy Metal House of Vudu last year where I added a horn section to my metal band and made it more of a variety show.
I mean, Trent Reznor can go into a venue as Nine Inch Nails and not have to worry about accommodating a venue because they’re just going to love whatever he does. For someone like me, I don’t have the fan base that he does. My fan base is very divided. There are some supporters of mine that only want to see me acoustically because they don’t like the noise.
What has this gig at Times Scare meant to you?
I have two shows under my belt there. I have my album release there and I will probably do more shows after my residency. They’re talking about New Year's Eve there, but this is the first time that they have done this sort of thing for a band. They want me to bring new life and energy to this spot and that’s my dream come true. My name is on the marquee in Times Square and I didn’t have to play a hooker or a lion to get there.
I got to be myself and they really give me the freedom. I’m doing originals there and whatever I really want. They let me sell my merch and it’s really been amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Look for Militia Vox’s new album Bait and catch her live at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St., on Friday, November 21, with Year of the Dragon and The Dust Rays.