Inquiring Minds

Butcher Babies Slice and Dice Old Metal Stereotypes

Speaking with Heidi Shepherd, vocalist for the five-piece Los Angeles-based heavy-metal ensemble Butcher Babies, from the road is no easy task — especially when flu strikes. Yet this hardworking crew does not stop working no matter the diagnosis. Ever the soldier for her band, Shepherd not only took the call but elaborated during the interview about the band's amazing trajectory into the spotlight. Touring with such acts as Danzig, GWAR and now Amaranthe, Butcher Babies continue to gain footing in the heavily competitive world of metal.

While much of their media coverage has revolved around their beginning concepts such as their homage to Wendy O. Williams and performing in nipple tape, the Butcher Babies have more to offer than just their influences. With their 2015 release, Take It Like a Man, Butcher Babies bring the live sound for which they’re famous into a studio album.

And with that, they stake their claim among not only other talented women in metal but within the whole genre. Don’t be fooled by their seemingly easy climb to fame, Shepherd makes it very clear that they’ve earned every accolade, every fan and every snippet of good press.

Houston Press: Hello, Heidi!
Heidi Shepherd: Hello, so great to talk to you!

Oh, no. You sound under the weather. Will you have to cancel shows?
No, never. We do not do that [Laughs]. After this, I’m taking medicine and probably off to bed. Thank goodness it’s our day off.

Yes, hope you get well soon! So, how’s the tour with Amaranthe so far?
It’s great! We’ve been on the road for three months now. And it’s just been so much fun. We started out with GWAR, we finished that, then did a little of a headliner tour. Finished that, now we’re with Amaranthe and the shows have been incredible. Metal fans are metal fans through and through. The crowds have been incredible, and I know the crowds in Houston get crazy. We’re happy to be back at Scout Bar.

What was it like to be on tour with GWAR? Because, well, you know. It’s GWAR.
It was incredible. Full of crazy kids ready to throw down in the pit. It was a great package with Battlecross got into the show. I loved seeing people exit the show just covered in goo; it’s just so funny.

Let’s talk about Take It Like a Man. What’s the reaction been so far?
First off, the fans have been super-excited for something to come out. And as soon as the record came out, it was incredible to look out into the crowd and seeing everyone singing along to all the songs. We were at a show last night and we look out, and everyone was singing “The Cleansing." We’re just blown away that these songs mean so much to them. Of course, that means so much to us, too. It’s incredible to share that emotion onstage. We open with “Monster’s Ball” even before the show starts, our intro leads into can’t stop, moving, people are already screaming it before we take the stage.

Anytime an artist sees their fan base singing along, I think that [gives] a great sense of accomplishment that any of us could ever have.

You guys have had incredible success. You’ve toured with the biggest names in metal, and so hardworking..speak to what makes you so successful.
It’s hard for us to even sit back and realize that we’re even perceived that way, because we are out here grinding every day. We are pushing so hard for success. There are moments when Carla and I just look at each other and go, "Wow, this is nuts." There was a moment in France at Hellfest when we were playing the main stage for 50,000, maybe even more people. We all just kind of looked at each other just in awe of what we’ve accomplished.

When we started this, we had no idea what it would become. We were just getting together and trying to get a message out, and it has evolved since. It’s a beautiful thing. All five of us have been together since the beginning. We’ve worked our butts off for this. I think the key to our success has been perseverance and, of course, hard work. Every single one of us have sacrificed everything. Whether it be relationships, houses, family stuff. I’ve missed weddings. I missed my sister’s…

Oh no!
[We've all missed] all sorts of different things. Yeah, Carla just missed her sister’s wedding. It’s all because we have this dream and this drive and every single person in this band has sacrificed everything to be here. You know, Jason [Klein] has a daughter. And he leaves her nine months out of the year. She loves it; she comes to practice and sits there with her little headphones on. [Laughs] We sacrifice all these moments with our families and our friends to follow a dream. And, I think if you don’t do that wholeheartedly then, success will never come.

Did I see you on your Facebook page customizing shirts for fans?
Oh, yes! I love customizing shirts [and] shoes. Sometimes I’ll customize just one shirt and put it at the merch table for one lucky fan. That one lucky person can pick it up. I like to do that when I have time. When I’m at home, I customize shoes and sell them online. It’s really fun and in fact, after this [interview], I’m going to go work on a purse. Little things like that to supplement our income, because at this point, there’s just not a ton of money in what we do.

So, just yesterday, I read an interview where you guys said you were sick of talking about nipple tape. It seems like every interview I’ve ever read with you guys mentions it.

Do you ever feel like the media just focuses on your sexuality and not your music?
[Laughs] Yeah. [Nipple tape] has been pounded into everyone’s head. The thing is, it wasn’t part of who we are. It was only for like, six months. Most journalists have dropped it, but every now and then it pops back up. It’s just beating a dead horse, you know? There are just so many more exciting things you can ask. It will always come up. I completely agree [that media focuses on our sexuality]. We were approached just a little while ago by this outlet...they were doing this YouTube TV thing and they wanted us to do an entire sex-ed thing for their little show. We [Carla] responded immediately with, "Absolutely fucking no." [Laughs] WE were like, a) we’re not even experts in that; and b) why would I go on TV talking about that? I have so much more to talk about and I have so much more [to offer], so many more things to say, you know? That really did bother us. Carla and I were like, we don’t even want to interview with you guys if you guys just want to air all this kind of bullshit.

Good for you, rock on.
[Laughs] We all have to take a stand at some point, right?

Yes, you do. I once read that when you were younger, you didn’t feel like you fit in and you found a connection with the metal crowd. Can you speak to that for your younger fans out there?
Yeah, absolutely. When I was a kid, I was picked on for how I looked. I was different. I grew up in a very Mormon society and I was not the typical Mormon kid. I didn’t abide by their rules and I didn’t even like how they spoke. You know, I swore a lot. [Laughs] No one really took me in. I found acceptance with the metal kids. And my parents did not let me listen to metal or rock and roll or whatever back in the day.

So, I would tell my parents I was going out to run, and I would go to this skate park and meet up with the metal kids and hang out with them. And, it was really where I felt accepted. I felt so shunned from the mainstream world, and I was really brought in by the metal kids — who didn’t care what I looked like or what kind of clothes I wore, or how I spoke or what my parents did for a living. They didn’t care about any of that. And it’s really interesting to see how much that’s shifted in metal now. The group that accepted me back in the day as a kid is the same group that shuns me today because of the way I look. Isn’t that really bizarre to think about?

What do you mean by "shunned now"? Speak to that…
Well, you know a lot of metal elitists, if you will say stuff like, "Look at her. She doesn’t belong in metal. Look at her. She didn’t grow up on metal." [They say] she couldn’t possibly like metal because of the way she looks. That’s interesting now, currently, because this was the exact same people who accepted me now. I really think it’s just these elitists. You know, this attitude, "If you don’t have a ton of tattoos, you don’t belong in metal, or if you’re a girl, you don’t belong in metal." I don’t know what girls are supposed to look like in metal, but I guess I don’t care what they’re supposed to look like either [laughs]. It’s just really interesting to me that the same people who took me in are trying to push me out.

Why do you think women in metal have to constantly prove they’re not posers?
[Laughs] Yeah, we did this interview yesterday, it was a radio interviewer, and we sit down and the first thing he says is, "All right, so judging from how you look, you must be manufactured."

[Laughs] Yeah. I almost got up and walked out. We were like, ‘Uh, well, absolutely not.’ I grew up in the pit. I’ve crowd-surfed since I was a kid in the pit, you know? You’ll see me in my own show jump in the pit. When we saw Lamb of God, I got in the pit. I still live in it. I try not to let that bother me. I’m out here trying to reach fans. Or just reach people who are passionate about metal. I try not to think about it. I won’t let them define me or my future, you know? Don’t let anyone else steal that from you.

That’s great advice for your fans, especially your younger ones.
Yeah, and that’s who we’re thinking about, too.

Butcher Babies perform alongside Amaranthe, Lullwater, Black Market Tragedy and Apothica Thursday night at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Boulevard in Clear Lake. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.