heavy metal guitarist/performer/producer Vennessa St. John
Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Tampa Bay, Florida based Vennessa is a no-op transexual, dark, gothic, fetish performer/producer/musician specializing in punk and metal influenced guitar instrumentals. Her CD releases include Dark Embrace and her current Love To Hate Me - an aptly self-described grungy, seedy, old school punk/metal assault. Vennessa St. John's influences include 80's rock/metal, Zepplin, Danzig, AC/DC, Megadeth, Divynls, The Motels, Joan Jett, Slayer, Anthrax, SOD, Celtic Frost .. .. and all things dark, evil, sinister, heavy, melodic & gothic.
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
I generally prefer Gibson Les Paul guitars. I have Three of them now, I used to have four. But not long ago I tried out a new ESP and just fell in love with the action, tone and massive heavy metal crunch that I was getting out of it so I used that to record the entire “Love To Hate Me” CD that I am hoping to release soon. “The Dark Embrace” CD I recorded using my 1980 Gibson Les Paul Standard “Heritage 80’s”. Both were run through a Peavy Transtube EFX amp which I loop through two vintage Yamaha G100 heads hooked to Roland and custom built 4x12 cabs when playing live.
- What brand/model/year amps & effects (if any) do you use?
As far as amps I really like Peavy, especially the tones and effects that I can get out of a Les Paul or my ESP with the Transtube, but Marshall and Carvin heads and stacks are nice too when playing live and loud. As far as techniques or approaches that I have discovered that I really like, I guess I would have to say being able to loop the modeling effects from the 56 watt Peavy amp through the big stacks so that I can get the exact same tone and crunch live that I get in the studio.
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
I guess my main influences as far as guitar playing would have to be Brian Setzer, Slash, Joe Perry, Al DiMeola and Brian May to keep it short. As far as influences on my style or sound I would have to say a lot of it comes from listening to; Rob Zombie, Guns n’ Roses, Led Zepplin, Danzig, Divynls, Megadeth, Slayer, Zodiac Mindwarp, Ramones, Motorhead, Rammstein, and of course Queen. My favorite bands when I was younger were Aerosmith, Boston, AC/DC, Led Zepplin and Queen.
Then when I really got into playing the guitar in high school I was really into the 80’s rock/metal hair bands that took over, like; Savatage, Roxx Gang, Faster Pussycat, Bullet Boys, LA Guns, Dangerous Toys, etc. After a while though the flashy commercialism of that whole scene made me lose interest and I started getting into more underground rebellious punk style metal like SOD, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Fear, Danzig, Misfits, Slayer, Anthrax and of course Zodiac Mindwarp and The Love Reaction.
- Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style of rock, etc
I don’t think I ever really stopped to think about why I like the whole goth/punk/metal guitar sound before but if I had to venture a guess I would say probably the energy of it. Its fun to play. For me its more fun to play than to listen to. I love all kinds of music and play all kinds from southern/classic rock to blues, funk, soft jazz, jazz fusion, latin, industrial, goth, punk and metal. Usually it just depends on my mood.
When I’m in a mellow mood I like to play slow bluesy or jazzy low tone leads and when I’m in an aggressive mood (good or bad) I love to just crank it up and shred! I think my favorite thing to do regardless of mood or style though is to improv. I love having a rhythm section lay down something that I can just crank out melodies and solos to on the spot.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
I like to play with other people whenever I get the chance (which isn’t very often these days) but other than giving guitar lessons and filling in for someone live occasionally I pretty much just work on my own stuff these days. I don’t think any of the session work I ever did for anyone else has ever been published anywhere and even if it was they probably wouldn’t give me credit for it anyway.
I love the idea of doing the “guest guitarist” thing though like Slash used to do all the time. Its fun to just show up and be given the opportunity to just cut loose and add your own little bit of style to someone else’s work.
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
It would be hard to pick just one song or one collection of songs because I tend to put different elements into different works so no one work really has all the elements of my playing style in it. But one of the songs I really do like is “Fetish Party Massacre”. I did everything on all of the songs on that CD (Love To Hate Me) and I was really a little astounded when I finally finished all the tracks for that one, mixed it down and really listened to it. Its really fast and really tight and full of energy.
Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
It’s basically been my main creative outlet. Its allowed me to express my artistic side and to really excel at something that a lot of people appreciate. It always amazes me how many people honestly appreciate my playing and truly respect me for it. I guess I’ve gotten used to people feigning appreciation for everything else in life, like people telling you “good job” at work just to suck up or complimenting you because they want something. When people are paying to hear your music if its awful they have a tendency to let you know!
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
I don’t know. The two have been pretty much mutually exclusive most of my life but I can say that I have done music as both a man and a TG and I have gone further as a TG. So far I have found the music world to be far more accepting of my gender “issues” than the rest of the straight world but I have yet to get to the level where I am going to be dealing with major labels, producers, executives, etc, so that could change.
- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today
from years ago?
Its hard to say. In the 80’s Boy George and Dead or Alive hit it really big but today you really only hear about Marilyn Manson in the mainstream news and I wouldn’t really say he’s trans.
- How is the overall music scene in your locale?
The overall music scene here is generally really awesome but it has its dry spells. Right now for example its booming but in three or four months a lot of the venues may stop having live original music for a year or two. Right now there are literally hundreds of bars, clubs, theatres and café/coffee houses around the Tampa Bay area that are booking live bands at least three or four nights a week. Pretty much everyone has live bands on weekends now.
- Any advice for young glbt players?
Yes, research the marketing, business and distribution end of the music industry as much as possible if you are planning to make it big. There are a lot of myths flying around out there about how to promote and how to get airplay. Do yourself a favor and look up resources online about the proper ways to get commercial radio airplay, submit demos etc. You’ll get a lot farther and when you do you will have a better idea of what to expect and what to look out for.
- What are your current and future musical projects?
My current project is my latest CD “Love To Hate Me” which is a pretyy hardcore goth/metal/punk high energy raw power compilation that I hope to get released soon at least through CD Baby. As for the future I really don’t plan that far ahead. I usually just get in this mood where I have few ideas and have this compulsion to just write and record a bunch of stuff and bang it all out in a few sessions!
More on VENNESSA ST. JOHN at: http://www.angelfire.com/vamp2/vennessa/
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