Hellion's Ann Boleyn
By Jay Oakley
Thank you so much for taking time out to talk to me. How's your day been?
My day's awesome, it's beautiful out here, a great spring day in sunny California.
You're out in California, is that where you live currently?
That's where I live. I live in Studio City which is a suburb of Los Angeles.
I wanted to start everything off by talking about your upcoming anthology record you have coming out, To Hellion and Back. The record comes out in about two weeks now doesn't it?
How did everything go with it? Were you happy with the finished product, the final result?
Absolutely. It was a labor of love to get that together and it took a long time. You wouldn't think that putting something like that together that it would take a long time but when your dealing with as many years of music and as many eras and things like that in order to be respectful of all the musicians that have played with Hellion and all the people that have contributed to it, it was a big job.
In a few weeks you're playing the Rockers Against Trafficking benefit, are you excited for that?
I am. It's not a Hellion show, it's myself and Scott Warren and Maxxxwell Carlisle. We'll be joining Matt Duncan and Shawn Duncan on stage. It's going to be great, we're actually going to try to do some Hellion tunes on there.
I also understand that you're playing Rocklahoma as well?
Is that one a regular Hellion set?
It is a regular Hellion set, now considering March, April and May which Rocklahoma falls in as pretty much warming up and getting musicians used to playing with each other. During this time period, Simon Wright who is our drummer is out doing some different dates that he had contractual obligations to do with Queensrÿche, and Project Rock and Dio Disciples shows as well, so he will be joining us after he is released to do the full shows and the full tour. So we're trying to take advantage of this down time to get tight with the band so when he returns we can go out and do shows with the full band that it's all ready to go and everyone's on point.
After everything's done with Rocklahoma and the release of the record are you planning to do any kind of full tour, like club touring or is it mostly going to be festivals?
We're going to do anyplace we can play that makes sense to fill the tanks of gas or whatever it is we're flying in or the buses whatever it be to get us there. To me there is something very special about playing live. If you're a member of the audience you've got a special feeling when you're together with a few people, or a room of a hundred people or even an arena of lots of thousands of people. It's so special to get together with a bunch of people who are all enjoying a type of music or a band. When you're on stage and you're connecting to the audience in that same manner being the people on stage that are participating in that viewing there's nothing like it in the world. You can't do that when you're sitting in a recording studio, or talking in interviews or anything like that.
When you started Hellion what got you into that sound and wanting to create a metal band versus going any other kind of musical direction?
Well, when I started playing music it was quite a few years before Hellion was ever founded. I started out playing mainly Hammond organ and occasionally I'd play bass in a high school band or something. I was influenced by bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and things like that. Alice Cooper, I'd have to add in there with David Bowie and Pink Floyd. When Hellion started we started out as a cover band and we had problems with, in our various other bands, with lead singers developing what I call "LSD" which is Lead Singer Disease. What would always happen is you'd get a great band together ready to go out and play some shows and either your singer disappears or starts acting really stupid and gets thrown out of the band. It's always the singers. So I was sick of my career being depended on by singers, I hated them. So we decided, let's just get out and play music. We'll do some covers and we can all take turns singing the songs and we don't have to worry about writing. The support that we got right off the bat was really remarkable and at that time it was just the early 80s and it was obviously more important to have a singer than a keyboard player so I took on the role of lead singer and we were influenced by the bands whose music we played originally when we were a cover band.
And in those early years you had the great fortune to be involved with Ronnie James Dio and Wendy Dio. I have to ask how was it getting to work with them, learn from them?
I've gotta tell you, I was very intimidated getting to work with Ronnie for a number of different reasons. First of all, I had just started singing not to long before and there was a lot of pressure on me especially form a couple people in the band that wanted a male lead singer. Had it not been for Ronnie coming in and getting involved with the band when he did I probably would have gotten thrown out very soon there after because there was such a pressure on the band in those days if you're fighting to have this girl singer and it's a heavy band. We were heavier than most of the bands in LA and what I mean by most of the bands in LA were bands like Dokken and Ratt and Great White a lot of those band were like that. So it was a situation where the bands that were getting signed out of Los Angeles, and there were a lot of them, were mainly playing hard rock ballads when you get down to it there really wasn't much metal. A lot of the really metal bands, Metallica comes to mind, they moved out of the area. It didn't make much sense for them to live in LA. So with that in mind there was great pressure on me from the industry to do sort of the rock ballad thing, ya know, be more commercial and things like that. There was a lot of conflict at that time between all parties involved. Ronnie ultimately was my coach, he was our producer and I continued to be a friend with him for many years but it was a very, very tough time in the music business because of the demands that were being placed on bands to conform to certain expectations of the industry. Quite frankly, a lot of people have very conflicting ideas about what a female singer should be and do and say and look like in the early 80s. But with that said Ronnie was absolutely the best guy to work with from my perspective, it was a tremendous honor and I still think that some of the recordings we did with him were the best I've done and that's not demeaning the brand new stuff which I feel is excellent but it was a tremendous experience.
That's excellent and partly leads into the next question I wanted to ask you. Being that you really were the first woman features on music channels as well as being partially credited with creating speed metal, did you ever really have a problem sticking to you guns? Or was it more about just taking your lumps and sticking with it?
You've got to take your lumps first of all. No matter what you do, whether it's a car salesman or a nurse, a doctor, or a parent that's dealing with their kids your always going to have lumps. There's a pretty famous example that I give sometimes and that's in the early 80s people just didn't know what to do because I sang in a way that they weren't used to hearing from a female. So that was one aspect, my sound. Another aspect was what I looked like. A lot of people believed that I needed to have blonde hair and big boobs and have my teeth fixed, my nose fixed and all of those other kind of things. Ray needed to be kicked out of the band because he was to tall, just ridiculous ideas that had nothing to do with music and everything about putting a cute little picture together to market a record. To me that stuff was offensive because my favorite musicians you wouldn't see them in a porno or playgirl or something like that. It's not so much unrealistic because those expectations go on today but those things had nothing to do with music. I found a lot of it offensive I just wanted to play and I think that the audience that liked Hellion like Hellion because of who we were. We were an honest band and wanted our music to come off as honest as we could. I think they would have had less respect if I went out and got big boobs and tried to be someone I wasn't.
I have one other small question when it came to Ronnie I wanted to ask. My understanding is you were offered and had the opportunity to do some Ronnie tribute things that you decided weren't really for you, is there anything you can say about that?
Absolutely, Absolutely. I was devastated first of all when I even found out that Ronnie was sick. I found out what type of cancer he had and the chances of survival and was just devastated and even more so after he pasted. After that had happened I had been to Japan and done some shows there, there was a well known promoter in Japan who was trying to organize a tribute to Ronnie and also live albums and things like that to do in Japan and possibly take it to Europe. It was good money, it was really good money and would have paid off my student loans and more but it was to emotional. It just felt wrong and when something feels wrong it just would have been bad.
With the success you had touring the club circuit from the earlier days did you ever find yourself getting frustrated when it came to trying to get signed to major labels? Where there unnecessary challenges and did your frustration peak at any point?
It probably got worse and worse over the years because there was a time especially during the 2000s and such. Here it is from my perspective. I've worked with Ronnie James Dio who to me was one of the greatest voices and talented people not just as a singer but also a person who had the ability to put together some tremendous music. Ken Scott who is a legend, I don't know the stats I don't have them in front of me but around 30-60 gold albums, many many platinum for some of the best recordings in the world. Working with those two people and not get a record deal at some time made me sit back and go, "Man, I must have really sucked! My band must have really sucked to work with." Ronnie and worked with Ken Scott and not get a major record deal considering some of the crap that got signed during the 1980s. So that became very, very depressing. In about 2012 or 2013 I had a revelation and in Ken Scott's book called From Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust and he talks about Hellion in his book and we were the only metal band he'd ever worked with. But it was the first time I really realized what was happening and why things didn't work out and that was because after working on these wonderful demos with Ken at Total Access Studios Ken's marriage started to fall apart. Ken Scott's wife was intending to manage Hellion and it became impossible for him and his wife to work together so he chose to back out of it. Recently when we were recording at Total Access Studios I was talking to Ken and I said, "I wonder if those demos were ever shopped?" I've had the same question and he'd had the same question for a long time. Then over the internet I'd had the opportunity to connect with a number of people I've run into over the years a couple of them have worked for Capital and a couple have worked for Geffen asked why then had never heard the Ronnie James Dio demos because their labels would have been interested and others said that they thought Hellion was already signed and the reason you were working with Dio was because you already had major label support. In the recent couple years I don't know how much focus was ever really given on those two sets of demos as far as getting them shopped properly to the proper people because of what was going on in that time period. There was so much focus on Ronnie doing The Last In Line which was a tremendously successful album for him and also our management had another band called Rough Cutt that already had a record deal so hearing some of these things made me think that maybe Hellion and maybe myself didn't suck so bad. Maybe the stacks were just what they were during that time period and peoples lives and other things just got in the way. I've come to believe that, especially in the last year or two that that's really what happened, people were just so busy with things in their lives personally and business wise that those things didn't ever get to the right people.
Are there any bands that have come out recently that you are fond of?
I like System Of A Down, I think they're great. I don't think they're a new band anymore but I primarily listen to really old stuff, classical music as well. I have my hands full with the new Hellion especially right now that if I'm listening I'm listening to the tracks that we've been recording in the studio so most of what I'm listening to is trying to improve the Hellion material.
That's great. A couple of non-music related things I understand that you have obtained a degree in German language as well as a law degree and that you are an active marathon runner.
I've done approximately 30 marathons. I've lost count and I'm not sure if that would count ultra-marathons which are longer and kinda brutal. I also coach and am the pace-leader for the LA Roadrunners and I've done that for the last ten years which is the group that trains the runners for the LA marathon. I have a degree in Germanic language and linguistics from UCLA and that was really enjoyable and a great experience too.
Ann, thank you so much. Everything was great and your time has been very much appreciated.
I tell ya, I'm so thankful for all the people who has supported myself and Hellion on social media especially on Facebook and Twitter and things like that I wanted to give a shout-out to that because that all helps. That support really helped to ensure the record deal we have overseas with Cherry Red. I want to thank all the people that have been really supportive over all the years of the band and even when we weren't in existence.