Metal Chick of the Month – Wanda Ortiz

I’ve been looking so long for you now… You won’t get away from my grasp…

As 2019 promises to be another memorable year for Maidenmaniacs from all over the world, especially for the ones that reside in the United States, Canada, Mexico and South America who will have the utmost pleasure of seeing Steve, Bruce & Co. live during their upcoming Legacy of the Beast Tour 2019, there’s nothing better than kicking off our Metal Chick of the Month section with an amazing bass player that truly understands what it means to be part of the legacy (and also continuing our tradition of starting the year with a badass girl on bass guitar, of course). I’m talking about Wanda Ortiz (or Wanda A. Ortiz), the skillful bass player for the all-female tribute band The Iron Maidens (billed as the “World’s Only Female Tribute to Iron Maiden”) under the brilliant stage name of Steph Harris, who’s ready to crush your skull in half to the sound of her thunderous, galloping bass allied to her endless stamina when performing live.

Born on March 27, 1968 in Huntington Beach, a California city southeast of Los Angeles, Wanda first learned to play bass at the early age of nine years old, when the elementary school she attended had a music program that enabled students to sign up and choose an instrument. When she arrived late on the first day of music class, she wound up with a junior-sized double bass, and from that moment on we can say it was “love at first gallop”. In addition to that, while she took lessons on the double bass, also known as an upright bass, Wanda also taught herself how to play electric bass when she was 11 years old in order to play in the school jazz band, and she continued playing bass throughout her school years, eventually earning a Bachelor of Music in Performance (BMus) degree from UCI – University of California, Irvine. One funny thing about Wanda and her relationship with the bass guitar is that, according to Wanda herself, she felt a little sad about her instrument when in high school because she could rarely play the melody, which were the fun parts for her, as she got stuck with simpler lines meant to hold down the beat (in other words, a typical bass line), which despite being very important could get really boring at times. Luckily, she had a friend who told her about bands like Iron Maiden and Rush that really featured bass in their music and, after listening to them, she felt a lot better.

Moving on to her career as a musician, our dauntless bassist, who plays a variety of styles such as Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Blues and classical music armed with her glitter blue G&L SB-2 bass guitar and her black SB-2 bass guitar on select shows, started playing in a more professional way in 1997, when she joined a California-based Punk Rock/Rock N’ Roll band named Rotten Rod & The Warheads. She was their bassist from 1997 to 2002, having recorded with the band a demo in 1998 titled Practice Bomb (under the eccentric moniker of “Wanda Smart Bomb”), containing songs like Germs and Cruel World. I don’t know about you, but I would love to listen to the music by this fun and electrifying band on any rock n’ roll radio out there. Anyway, while still playing for Rotten Rod & The Warheads, she was also the bassist for Heartache City from 1999 to 2001, with whom she recorded the band’s self-titled album in 2001. I couldn’t find anything online form this band, but if Wanda was their bass player I’m sure their music was at least fun to listen to, right? Furthermore, Wanda was also the bassist for a Huntington Beach-based Rock/Blues band named Field of Vision in 2004, having recorded with them the six-track album FOV that same year, highly influenced by renowned acts such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground. Once again, there’s nothing online about this specific album, but as aforementioned we know from the bottom of our hearts it’s good music we’re talking about. As a matter of fact, in 1998 and 2004, she won the Best Female Bassist award at the Rock City News Awards and, in 2003, she also won the best bassist award at The All Access Music Magazine Awards, proving how talented and focused she has always been as a musician.

In addition to those previous acts and to The Iron Maidens, our ass-kicking bassist also works as a freelance musician in various groups and orchestras in the Southern California area, including The South Coast Symphony as principal bassist since 1996. When asked about how different it is playing for The South Coast Symphony and for The Iron Maidens, if that’s the type of diversity she needs in her playing style, Wanda said that she likes to play classical music just as much as metal, and after playing an upright bass she thinks it keeps her chops up, also saying that it’s like someone who enjoys playing basketball and baseball, two different sports but both fun, which is the same with classical music and metal for her. Moreover, her talent is also recognized by several important brands and companies, being endorsed by BBE Sound, Digitech, Dunlop Manufacturing, G&L Musical Instruments, RotoSound Strings, Schroeder Superior Sound Cabinets, Coffin Case and Monster Energy Drink, and she’s also been in a couple of interesting documentaries recently, those being Hair I Go Again (2016) and the upcoming Rock Is Dead? (2019).

It was in September 2002 when Wanda finally joined The Iron Maidens, remaining with the band ever since and adopting her stage name “Steph Harris” as an obvious reference to Iron Maiden’s iconic bassist and founder Mr. Steve Harris. So far, she has recorded with the band the albums World’s Only Female Tribute to Iron Maiden (2005), Route 666 (2007), The Root of All Evil (2008) and the video Metal Gathering Tour Live in Japan (2010), trying to be as loyal as possible to Iron Maiden’s original sound. In one of her interviews, Wanda said that when she joined the band everyone was just looking for a fun and original side project (there were already several all-female tribute acts for bands like AC/DC in the area), as they all had their own bands and projects, with a goal of playing maybe once or twice a month at some local pubs. However, after the first few shows a lot of people started calling them, with things really kicking off after the band had been together for about a year despite the fact they never took themselves too seriously at that time. As a matter of fact, if there’s one thing they always took very seriously was the music, always trying to replicate the original tones from Iron Maiden the best possible way even with the different instruments they use like Wanda’s bass, which is technically a Fender bass but not the same one used by Steve. If you want to take a good listen at how amazing Wanda and the girls from The Iron Maidens are, simply search for them on YouTube, as there are countless fantastic videos of their live performances such as The Trooper and Die With Your Boots On in California in 2014, or these two full concerts recorded in New York in 2018 and in California in 2013. Also, how about a nice and relaxed interview with the entire band conducted by Grasser Production in 2017 called “15 questions with The Iron Maidens”?

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Regarding the songs she likes to play the most from the Iron Maiden vast and rich discography, she said her all-time favorite are Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), Phantom of the Opera, Powerslave and Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and when questioned if it’s hard for The Iron Maidens to come up with a setlist to please all fans she said it’s not difficult at all because it’s drummer Linda McDonald who keeps track of all places the band plays and what songs they played before, also taking into account her own endurance and the timing for their lead singer to do a costume change, for example, and always focusing on old songs not usually played by Iron Maiden during their current concerts and tours. She was also questioned if she ever struggles with identity, wanting to do her own original material and showcasing it, and she said she doesn’t really have any issues with that, stating that she actually enjoys playing music written by a wide variety of different composers, either metal or orchestral music, and that it doesn’t stop her from writing her own music which she has done before in original bands. Also, when asked if the band has ever had to deal with any issues related to artwork, royalties, cease-and-desists from lawyers or anything like that, she said the band does everything they can to avoid that, but that they were asked to change their logo many years ago (and they did). She complemented by saying that wasn’t a big deal, and she doesn’t think the guys from Iron Maiden were even aware of it; they simply have a good team of people who help look after everything.

Of course, it’s impossible not to talk about her “relationship” with Mr. Steve Harris and his two-fingered galloping bass method. In one of her interviews, Wanda talked about how much Steve Harris and his bass have influenced her taste for music and her playing style, talking about the aforementioned story of her playing only the basic notes while her friends would play the melodies with their violins and violas in high school, but that after listening to the all-time classic Piece of Mind she fell in love with her bass guitar again and never stopped listening to the music by Iron Maiden ever since. Apart from Steve Harris, she also cites Geddy Lee, lead vocalist, bassist, and keyboardist for Canadian Rock titans Rush, and Chris Squire, bassist and founding member of English Progressive Rock band Yes, among her influences, once again showing how much she loves the most intricate, unique and vibrant sounds anyone can extract from a bass guitar. There’s also a price to pay for having Steve Harris as her major influence, and especially for playing Iron Maiden’s music, which comes in the form of fans who believe they can offer her advice on how to perform that material beyond her considerable talent. “Every once in a while, there will be a bass player in the audience. There’s a couple songs that I’ve gotten used to playing it a certain way or maybe a different position, but they’re the same notes, but it’s not the same position (Harris) plays it in. Sometimes I’ll get that, or sometimes I’ll get like, ‘Well, Steve uses two fingers’. Well, okay. Sometimes I’ll hear that. Very rarely though,” said our talented bassist.

Wanda’s first ever Iron Maiden concert happened many years ago during the World Slavery Tour, when according to Wanda herself she didn’t drink anything to avoid having to leave to use the bathroom, as she didn’t want to miss any part of the show (well, it’s the same for me). Years later, Wanda was even able to get to know Iron Maiden in person when Michael Kenney, Steve’s long-time bass tech and the band’s onstage keyboard player, introduced the whole band to them at a concert in Irvine, California. Wanda and the other girls were obviously nervous at first for meeting their idols, but the guys were really friendly to them and down to earth, making the whole experience very pleasant. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was that they weren’t able to give them cookies that they baked specially for them, as their singer left them in her car. I’m pretty sure those cookies were delicious, but you know what was even better than that? The fact that The Iron Maidens were not only able to meet their icons in person for the first time ever, but also that the band led by Mr. Steve Harris supports them, acknowledging their undisputed talent, their passion for metal and their hard work, and that they can rest assured “Steph Harris” and the girls will always represent this more “feminine” and “delicate” side of Eddie with a lot of energy, respect and admiration. Having said that, don’t forget to check Wanda and the girls live whenever they take your city by storm, and of course, as usual… UP THE IRONS!

The Iron Maiden’s Official Facebook page
The Iron Maiden’s Official Instagram
The Iron Maiden’s Official Twitter

“As a bass player, of course, you’re going to be drawn to music more challenging, interesting and fun. I’ve always been an Iron Maiden fan since I was very young. When the band first formed everybody wanted to do something different, something more challenging. Since we all wanted something unique that nobody else was really doing, we thought Iron Maiden would be a good fit. We are all coincidentally huge Iron Maiden fans, so that made it better.” – Wanda Ortiz

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Metal Chick of the Month – Sasha Zagorc

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Heavy metal lives in me!

If one day you have the pleasure of visiting the stunning country of Slovenia (in case you haven’t done so already), you’ll be able to admire several distinguished attractions such as the unique Postojna Cave, the awe-inspiring Lake Bled and the Bled Castle, the Škocjan Caves and, in case you have just one single day in the capital Ljubljana, you can have a relaxing walk through the city’s charming streets and savor the exquisite tastes offered by all of its fancy restaurants. Hence, as a tribute to this wonderful country, to its culture and its people, there’s nothing better than kicking off another year at The Headbanging Moose than with the gorgeous and “louder than hell” Slovenian bassist Sasha Zagorc (or Saša Zagorc in proper Slovene), the songwriter, manager and leader of Slovenia’s own all-female Heavy Metal band Hellcats.

Born on July 22, 1986 in the city of Ljubljana, Sasha started playing classical guitar at a very early age in music school together with her sister Sonja Zagorc, the drummer for Hellcats, who at that time was studying flute. When they finished music school, Sasha switched from classical guitar to bass guitar (also playing in a few local bands) and her sister from flute to drums (quite a change in terms of noise and impact), and then they decided to form their own all-female band. Well, I guess you know what happened next, and that’s where our tribute to this blonde bombshell will be focused on through the next few lines. Are you ready to rumble to the sound of the Heavy Metal by our headbanging diva Sasha and her kick-ass bandmates?

Apart from Sasha on bass guitar and backing vocals, and her sister Sonja on drums, the first all-female metal band from Slovenia is also formed by Katja Mavec on guitars and Dasha Makuc on vocals. The name of the band, which combines femininity with a strong Heavy Metal attitude, was suggested by a friend of Sasha who’s also a musician and an airplane aficionado. He named the band after the Grumman F6F Hellcat, a carrier-based fighter aircraft. Formed in their hometown Ljubljana in 2003, it wasn’t easy for the Hellcats to find many female musicians due to the small size of the Slovenian music scene, a country of only 2 million habitants. However, due to Slovenia’s high level of development, even metal music (a genre usually relegated to the underground as opposed to pop and folk music) has its space in the country’s rich culture, with MetalDays (formerly known as Metalcamp), a huge festival held annually in the city of Tolmin, being the driving force of Heavy Metal in Slovenian soil.

Despite being on the road for over 10 years, Sasha and the Hellcats have only recorded two albums so far, the first being their self-titled EP Hellcats, in 2011, followed by the full-length album Divja Pot (named Warrior Princess in the English version) in 2013. That doesn’t mean they don’t have enough material already for a powerful live concert, which seems to be the thing they love the most in life. The band has already performed in several festivals such as Metalcamp in Slovenia, Viva la Pola festival in Croatia, Metal Franconia in Germany, and several TV and radio shows. For instance, in 2012 the Hellcats were invited to tour Russia, where among all the cities they played their most memorable moments were being one of the main attractions at the female bands rock festival named Zheleznye Devy (or “Iron Girls”), in the city of Kaluga, and performing at the music festival named Jelen Demofest, in Banja Luka. Hellcats achieved 4th place among more than 400 groups, becoming the highest placed foreign band ever at the festival.

If you want to see the lovely Sasha in action together with the Hellcats, there are a few official videos on YouTube in both Slovene and English, those being the Power Metal tune Steelrider (or Divja Pot in Slovene), the sexy Demons Dreams (or Sanjam Demone), the high-octane song Now Is My Time (or Prerojena), and the kick-ass hymn I Am (or Naprej). As a huge admirer of old school Heavy Metal, I personally prefer their more straightforward compositions, which emanate electricity, blood and passion. How not to get thrilled to the sound of Proud To Be Loud or Hellcats, or even better, to their first ever single and best song to date, the awe-inspiring Heavy Metal? The song’s Manowar-inspired lyrics (“Heavy metal lives in me / The hell between will set me free / Heavy metal lives in me / The ones who fake it can just leave”) are a thing of beauty. In addition, there are even a few live videos of those awesome songs online, as for example these live versions of Hellcats and Heavy Metal, recorded in 2013, and if you want to have a delicious overdose of Sasha you can take a look at this YouTube playlist, where you’ll find all official videos, some live performances, interviews, and special covers by Hellcats of icons such as Judas Priest, Doro and AC/DC.

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Perhaps the most organic and crisp performance available online by the Hellcats is their participation in a radio show called Metalmorfoza on November 15, 2014 at the Studio Hendrix for a radio station named Radio Koper. In case you do not have enough time to watch the full show, you can get a taste of the amazing rumbling bass lines by Sasha in the song Vladar Noči, live at that same program. An alternative way to enjoy the music by the Hellcats is on a program called Na Sceni, recorded on October 29, 2013 at the Slovenian channel RTV 4, but let me warn you that if you do not speak Slovene the only thing you’ll be able to understand is the music and nothing else.

Our unstoppable bass player has always been a metalhead, always wearing her own black leather clothes anywhere she goes, being highly influenced by heavy, thrash and hard rock behemoths like Pantera, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica and AC/DC, among others. Shasa mentioned in one of her interviews that she and her sister grew up listening to those bands, helping them to become who they are today. She also mentioned her biggest motivation to write music is life itself, with their compositions being filled with optimism, energy, love, passion and strength. When asked about which language she prefers singing, if English or Slovene, Sasha said they let their emotions lead them, it doesn’t matter if it’s in one language or another, all depending on which one better suits the message and feeling of the music. As an example, she cited the single Heavy Metal, sung entirely in Slovene and being a big success among metalheads all over the world.

Having a band provides our blonde metaller some well-deserved relaxation, and she loves going on tour with her best friends. Sasha said it’s not hard for them to keep the band going forward, as they love what they do. That’s the main reason why during the auditions for the missing band members when the band started, she and Sonja were not only trying to find the right musicians, but they were also looking for good personalities to get along with and to become friends with as well. In her own words, she thinks this is very important for female bands, because “girls like to chat more than guys”. You can take a listen at a short clip with Sasha HERE, where she talks to BBC about how challenging it is to maintain an all-girl metal band, and if you want to know more about her role in the band and how she learned to headbang, among other topics, click HERE for a 30-minute interview with Sasha and the unparalleled bassist Doris Yeh (Chthonic). For instance, did you know Sasha is a professional architect and graphic designer, as at least for now Hellcats cannot make a living out of music itself?

When asked about how she envisions her career with the Hellcats in the next five to ten years, Sasha provided an answer that, albeit a little cliché, is exactly everything we want to hear from a true Heavy Metal band anytime, anywhere. “In the next five to ten years from now we see Hellcats touring and performing on big stages and to be more and more successful every year and to have more and more fans. Our biggest wish is to tour the Europe first and then go to the USA”, said our metal diva. Let’s hope her dreams come true, and that she includes Canada on her tour when the Hellcats come to North America, or we will riot.

Sasha Zagorc’s Official Facebook page
Hellcats’ Official Facebook page
Hellcats’ Official Twitter
Hellcats’ Official Instagram

“Our music is about love, desires, passion and strength. Our songs are filled with optimism and energy. We have a lot to tell and we want people to feel good when they listen to our music.” – Sasha Zagorc

Metal Chick of the Month – Doris Yeh

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Set Fire to the Island, Doris!

There’s nothing better than starting this year with a special post about the charming musician and activist Doris Yeh. Born in Taipei (or Taipei City), Taiwan on September 19, 1976 (at least, this is the date I found after a lot of effort!) and nicknamed “Thunder Tears” in her band Chthonic, this Taiwanese beauty is a good example of how music and imagery walk hand in hand on the path to success nowadays. Her exotic Asian traces, together with the powerful heavy music played by Chthonic, are leading her and the band to stardom not only in the East, but in the whole world of music.

Doris herself doesn’t like to define Chthonic’s music style as Extreme, Death or Black Metal. In fact, she prefers calling what their band does as “Orient Metal”, especially because the Western definition of heavy music is not the same as the one in Asian countries. We have to agree with her and the rest of the band that what Chthonic do is totally different from the traditional North American and European Thrash/Death Metal, because despite being heavy music they add many different elements (like the interesting instrument Erhu) and have a unique way to express themselves visually.

In one of her interviews, Doris said she used to play the piano when she was a child, and kept playing it for about 10 years before starting playing bass. She then joined Chthonic in 1999, replacing bassist Xiao-Yu, recording her first album with the band, 9th Empyrean. After that, she recorded the albums Relentless Recurrence (2002), Seediq Bale (2005) and Mirror of Retribution (2009), but her best albums with Chthonic are without any doubt Takasago Army (2011) and their most recent album, Bú-Tik (2013), where it’s easy to notice her improvement as a musican and her growing importance to the band’s current success.

Giants like Iron Maiden, Nine Inch Nails and Slayer, and more obscure bands such as Emperor and At The Gates, are among her biggest influences in music, and when asked about a great female bass player she enjoys, Doris mentioned the American alternative rock musician Kim Gordon, showing she’s not only connected to heavy music in her life.

Doris Yeh’s onstage performance is always amazing, not only due to her talent as a musician but also because of her beauty and energy. I had the privilege to see Chthonic live in Toronto during Arch Enemy’s North American Khaos Tour 2011, which also had DevilDriver and Skeletonwitch as opening acts, and I was impressed by her nonstop headbanging and total commitment to the band’s music and to the fans.

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After a couple of years with Chthonic, Doris became the band’s official spokesperson and business manager, taking over the responsibilities from the band’s founder and lead singer Freddy Lim. She is also seen as a sex symbol (surprise, surprise!) and often works as a top model too, appearing on the cover of different magazines in Taiwan and in the rest of the world, like Body Magazine, Revolver Magazine and FHM Magazine. Not only that, Doris also joins her Metal friends Angela Gossow and Alissa White-Gluz in the world of activism by supporting the Awakening Foundation, a Taiwanese organization founded in 1982 which main goal is promoting women’s rights and self-awareness.

In October 2012, Chthonic released a very special 96-page book of sexy photos of Doris taken at the Green Island in Taiwan, entitled Set Fire to the Island, which also includes a single that according to the band is a “symphony with piano, strings, and wind music, so that you may enjoy it not only with your eyes, but also with your ears.” Well, I still prefer Chthonic’s regular music, but I must admit that those astonishing pictures of Doris together with some good symphonic music are a delight for any fan of Chthonic’s unique bassist.

Equipment
Bass: ESP – Andromeda (5-string signature bass)
Amp – head : Ampeg SVT 450
Amp – cab : Ampeg SVT 410HLF
Effects: MXR M80 BASS DI

Doris Yeh’s Official Facebook page
Doris Yeh’s Official Twitter

“‘Dream big’ won’t make you a great person, ‘Do it’ will.” – Doris Yeh