Hottest Names in Metal

The Butcher Babies are the hottest thing in metal, and for once it’s not about their gender. David Stagg sets out to discover more about the one-two-punch of Butcher Babies’ frontwomen, a duo who just so happen to love wearing spikes, drinking beer and raising hell

Photo by Brooke Long

Carla Coates and Heidi Shepherd, respectively, in the picture spread on the previous two pages. You just see those two pictures and it’s love at first sight. They’re metal’s dream gods: powerful, self-confident, feminine intelligent and pretty — and they love cold beer and getting into trouble.

They and are better known as the babies of a butcher but not because they can dress down a hog or were in a mid-19th century gang in Lower Manhattan. They were adopted in after touring the country as the Butcher Babies, named for a song by their collective idol, the widely-known troublemaker, law breaker and free spirit, Wendy o. Williams.

Williams is best known as the singer for the Plasmatics, a band that, even by today’s standards, had a riot of a live show. She wouldn’t just smash guitars; she would gash them into chunks with a chainsaw. She would set fire to and explode equipment on stage. She performed topless, save for black electrical tape stretched over her nipples in an ‘X.’

Probably most remembered for her onstage antics (and the nipple tape), she’s little remembered for her entertainment skills, having been a cook, a gypsy dancer, an actress and more, not only flirting with X-rated acts on stage, but even performing solo on film in a pornographic party stunt.

The point for them isn’t to exploit the extreme. The point is the heart, and that’s the liberated spirit Coates and Shepherd are both preaching and living out. Here, they talk more about their place in metal, and talk track-by-track about the songs on their latest covers EP, ‘Uncovered.’

As females in rock, what do you feel like is the biggest thing you overcame to get to where you guys are today? Would one still have to qualify ‘female’?
Carla Coates, vocalist, Butcher Babies: I think the stigma of being females in metal, and especially starting out like we did, wearing nipple tape as an ode to Wendy Williams. People thought we were a gimmick band because of that. Unfortunately, a lot of people perceive women vocalists in metal as gimmicks, and it’s really sad people feel that way.
Heidi Shepherd, vocalist, Butcher Babies: A lot of people didn’t realize that whole look was in honor of Wendy O. Williams, the first female to really break the mold of being a girl in rock, of how you’re supposed to do it. She didn’t care about “you have to look this way, you have to sound this way, you’re supposed to act this way and how dare you be different.” She really broke that mold, and she was a hero to both of us. As far as overcoming Goliaths, that was a big villain for us.

What we perceived as Goliath, specifically in regards to our first album, was anything in your life that you overcame. It could be growing up with a bully or you had bad parents or a bad home life or something. Unfortunately, you see so many times kids getting bullied at school and they think, “Oh, I’ll turn around and be the big bully and then my life is better.”

They go get a gun…
Shepherd: Yes, exactly. We wrote a song called “I Smell a Massacre” immediately after the Sandy Hook (school shooting) incident. We believe it stemmed from the home; he probably didn’t receive the love he needed from his parents growing up. He didn’t take it and become a better person. He took it and used it as revenge.
For us, we’ve all had the opportunity to be like our Goliaths, like the villains in our lives, but we changed our lives for the better and became better people because of the things we lived through.

Coates: There’s a famous quote that says, “When fighting monsters, be careful that you don’t become a monster yourself.”

There’s also a famous quote that says to beat your enemy, you have to become your enemy. It’s a fine line. How do you distinguish between the two?
Shepherd: I don’t believe in that.

Coates: I don’t believe that either. I think that’s a really terrible way to look at it.

Shepherd: I think understanding your enemy, sure.

Coates: I think that’s the key word, understanding. What happened to them understanding people as basic level human being along the way? I don’t believe people are inherently bad.

There are a lot of things that happen to people that can make them go astray, and if you really understand that, it’s a great way to forgive people in your own life who’ve hurt you. Put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge the pain they had to go through and why they, perhaps, gave you pain in return.
Shepherd: We have both gone through something very similar to that lately. Growing up as children in the households that we did.

Carla, I know you grew up in Detroit. I’m sorry, Heidi, I thought you—
Shepherd: Utah.

You grew up in Utah.
Shepherd: Yeah. Yeah. I grew up in Provo, Utah, Mormon Central. Happy Mormon life. That was my life growing up. I was the oldest of six kids in a very religious and strict family. I was the first, my parents were 20 when they had me, and I resented them my entire life.

Now I’m almost 30 and I’m looking back at what my parents went through. They were kids raising a kid. To me, being an adult now looking back, I feel for them. What would I have done at 20 years old raising a child?

I know what I was doing at 20 and it’s not raising a child, I’ll say that much.
Shepherd: (Carla) went through the same thing just recently in writing her book and putting those emotions on the paper.

You mentioned Wendy, and I’d like to talk a little more about her. To a lot of people in Wendy’s time, they called her and her band “shock rock.” At times, you guys have been classified as shock rock. How do you guys deal with that term?
Coates: I don’t mind “shock rock.” To me, shock rock is a simple way of saying, “These people put on a show.” When we first started this band, that was one of the intentions we had: to put on a show. A lot of people just go up there and stare at the floor while they’re playing. We put all of our emotions, all of our energy and give everything we have on stage. It’s not necessarily a shocking thing anymore. To some, it is.

Shepherd: I don’t find anything offensive by that. Alice Cooper’s still shock rock and he’s one of the greats. Marilyn Manson.

Great entertainers, too.
Coates: Kiss. Kiss is still shock rock. We just saw Kiss.

Shepherd: That’s the thing: it’s entertainment. Maybe I’d be offended by a different term. But shock rock is — by all means, thank you, thank you for that, because putting us in a category with the greats like that… (laughs).

I gave your EP to somebody I didn’t know, asked them to listen to it and tell me what they thought about it. They said: “I couldn’t believe how good it was.”
Shepherd: That’s great.

I think they really liked the covers, but I also think a bit of bias was in there, in that they prejudged it to be poor because there were two female singers.
Shepherd: Of course. Naturally.

Coates: A lot of people have that first impression. They think we’re going to suck because we’re women. That goes back to what we talked about earlier. It’s unfortunate that people still have that bias in metal music. It’s pretty silly.

Shepherd: Sucking is sucking (laughs). Male or female.

Coates: Yeah. It’s always going to be there.

Shepherd: But being good is being good, male or female, too. You can’t determine that based on gender. We’ve definitely set out to prove that, and a lot of other females in this genre at the moment have also set out to prove it.

Recently, there has been a small backlash from all of the girls in metal, like, “Quit calling us female-fronted. We’re just a metal band.” I get it. It’s an easy way for people to classify things in their heads. Sure. But that doesn’t define us, the fact that we’re girls in our band. That doesn’t define our music and, by all means, doesn’t make it bad. It would only make it bad if it was bad.

Your act can only continue so far before talent has to keep carrying you.
Coates: Yeah, absolutely.

Shepherd: Exactly.

Clearly you guys are talented enough to put out more records, with a new one coming up. The thing I noticed on your covers EP was that there was less singing, almost none, especially compared to Goliath. Is more the direction you two are heading with this album you’re writing?
Shepherd: Very interesting observation.

Or was it an unconscious decision?
Coates: I don’t think we really thought about that. I think the songs we chose called for that. There is singing on “They’re Coming To Take Me Away.” It’s a little bit different, though.

Shepherd: I sing a tiny bit on “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.”

I don’t think that was intentional by any means. We went in with only one rule: nothing people would expect.

For the EP?
Shepherd: For the EP, correct. We picked these songs, songs people would never expect to be redone as cover songs, that were originally sung beautifully or done in a different genre. We wanted to make them metal. We wanted to make them Butcher Babies.

I think that’s just naturally who we are. We love to sing when it’s called for. When that emotion is evoked, but with those songs?

You love the songs, you stick with them, and if the screaming works…
Shepherd: Singing did not fit on the EP. I was prepared to.

Heavier music is becoming more accepted among the general public. I don’t know if you guys thought, “Hey, look, now we can get away with a lot of these things…”
Coates: No. We don’t write music like that. Even on our new album, when we’re writing stuff, if we want to sing a melody together, we’ll sing a melody. If the song doesn’t need a melody, we won’t do it. I don’t think we’re going to think about things like that. We’re just going to write, see what happens.

I thought it was different; I listened to them back and forth and back and forth.
Shepherd: No, I never even noticed that! Good observation, because it didn’t really cross my mind.

For what it’s worth, Goliath was good, but Uncovered is a much better album, especially musically.
Shepherd: It’s fun, because the way we write, we sit in a room together.

Did you do that for the first album, as well?
Shepherd: Absolutely.

When you do a cover song, you have to make sure it’s not note-for-note. Yours are all worth the listen. A lot of the reviews I’ve read, before I even listened to it, said the same thing.
Coates: Thank you.

Shepherd: Thank you. I haven’t read any reviews. That’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t read the reviews.

Do you want to know? Do you want me to share that?
Shepherd: No, it’s OK. I don’t care. I just don’t read them.

‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers’

Butcher Babies’ guitarist, Henry Flury, joins the conversation.

The first song, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” was done by ZZ Top, from the album Tres Hombres in 1973. “La Grange” was also on that album.
Coates: Yes, we listened to that. We can sing to that one.

Why not “La Grange”?
Flury: It’s too popular. We wanted to go with something a little more obscure, and the title itself made it pretty obvious.

Shepherd: It makes for a great anthem.

Flury: Right.

Shepherd: It fits right in with our crowd, and we’ve made it into a pretty cool part of the show.

Flury: “La Grange” has been done so many times. It’s so common. We were just like, “Eh.”

Shepherd: There was another one, (singing) “Every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.”

Coates: We considered that. One funny thing we do when we’re picking songs or writing songs, we always make up the music videos in our heads.

Shepherd: Always.

You must be visual people, then.
Coates: These are million dollar videos that we’re never going to make. I think we had made a cool video for “Sharp-Dressed Man” in our head. In the end, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” is a great anthem; it’s great live.

Shepherd: It almost actually didn’t make it. We were having a really hard making it a metal song. It was very difficult.

The way you pulled off the guitar work was great.
Flury: I couldn’t really do a Billy Gibbs solo over that music.

No. He’s got his own style, and every one (in Texas) is going to know how he plays.
Flury: Thanks for reminding me (laughs).

‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away’

This is the most obscure song I’ve ever seen covered in my entire life. First of all, who knows that song?
Coates: My stepdad used to listen to it in the car.

That’s crazy.
Coates: My stepdad is crazy. He was mentally ill. For real. He used to listen to that song all the time. He’d be singing along to it. As a kid, I knew there was something wrong with the guy. I love him to death.

Listening to him sing to the song about being taken away to the mental institution just struck me as very odd. I told them about that song. I’m like, “What about this one? We got to do this one.”

Shepherd: She mentioned it; I had always heard it around Halloween time. My mom is from that same era. For me, when she said that, I went, “Yes, we’re doing it!” There’s nothing to the song.

Flury: It’s just that simple cadence… We just tossed that right out of the car.

Coates: I knew it would be really dynamic for me and Heidi to sing that song, pretending to be two psycho chicks.

Flury: You could make it super creepy.

The music video would be great for that one.
Coates: The bridge to that song was probably my favorite thing on the whole album. It’s different parts. It’s amazing.

Do you know much about behind the song? I didn’t either, until I looked it up. Do you know about the B-side of that record?
Shepherd: No.

The artist released this 7” with the single — that became popular — but the B-side was the exact same song played in reverse. In fact, everything on the B-side was reversed, even the Warner Brothers Bros. titles.
Flury: He’s out of his mind, basically?

Apparently he was known as a novelty act, kind of a comedian. Part of the joke of the song was whether he misses his dog, which passes away, because there’s a line in there: “I’m going to take you to the ASPCA, you mutt.”
Shepherd: It’s “mangy mutt,” but we changed it to “f-cking mutt.”

‘Crazy Horses’

“Crazy Horses” I oddly didn’t have to do any research on because it was made Internet famous for a hot minute and is, apparently, one of the most popular of obscurely covered songs. The Osmonds basically ripped off Zeppelin and were known to be very inspired by them. If you could rip off another band’s or person’s style, who it would be ?
Shepherd: First off, I chose that song because, you know, (points at self) Utah, Provo, Utah obviously grew up a Osmond fan, and I did know they went through a small “metalish” phase. Donny Osmond actually did a quote for a press-release for that song. He said they were trying to do something off the cuff, and I thought that was really neat. That’s how they wrote “Crazy Horses,” which ended up as one of their biggest hits.

I thought that was really neat because they took a huge risk, and I’ve always thought that without risk there’s no reward. Hence Butcher Babies.

Flury: I had heard the song, and when she had shown it to me, I couldn’t believe how awesome it was.

Shepherd: I showed it to our manager, and he was like, “Yeah!” I’m like, “It’s the Osmonds!” and he’s like, “Huh?” (laughs).

Flury: Yeah, it was just crazy to hear that. We don’t even have to venture that far from it. It’s just awesome as is.

Shepherd (to Flury): What would you rip off?

Flury: Oh, No Doubt.

Shepherd: Oh, yeah. Totally.

That’s awesome!
Flury: I think No Doubt is one of those band who just had… They had such a hidden, heavy influence and were inspired by a lot of the heavy bands I listened to. No Doubt was all friends with them, but they were just a ska and punk band back then. They would sneak in their little influences in their music.

I think that’s a cool answer. What song would you play if you were going to play No Doubt live?
Flury: You know what’s funny? I just heard “Sixteen” off Tragic Kingdom. I was at the mall, and I’m like, “I love this song!”

Shepherd: That was a heavy song. But my answer is obvious. To rip off an exact sound would be Slipknot, but it’s been done a million times. The same with Korn. It’s been done so many times, but those are my favorites. Those are my influences. I love that sound. Now throwing it back old days? Geez, I don’t know.

Flury: Pick something random. Opposite genre.

Country music.
Shepherd: I love Garth Brooks.

Garth Brooks. There you go.
Shepherd: Alanis Morissette!

That’d be perfect for you guys.
Shepherd: Sh-t. I made her listen to it the other day. I pick the music when we’re getting ready, then I’m like cranking it as much as I can and annoying everybody with it.

I think Alanis Morissette would be a good one. Carla?
Coates: I love Pantera. If I could mimic any sound, it would probably be Pantera. We tried to work with “Down,” and it’s just like…

‘Pussy Whipped’

It’s funny you mention Pantera, because I wrote down, for “Pussy Whipped”: “originally a thrash punk song,” eventually giving way to bands like Pantera. I was going to ask you if you could cover a Pantera song, which one you would cover.
Coates: We did “F-cking Hostile,” way back.

It’s not on record, though.
Shepherd: Oh, no. Jesus Christ, it is the worst video.

Coates: I remember that night, it was horrible.

Shepherd: Let me tell you a story about this one. We used to cover “F-cking Hostile” because when Carla and I were in an old cover band together, we always tried to get the band to cover “F-cking Hostile.” The musicians couldn’t do it — they just weren’t up to par, I’ll just say that. They were like, “Oh, it’s too this; it’s too that. We can’t do it.”
When we put this band together, we were like, “Alright guys, here’s the one question: Can you do ‘F-cking Hostile’?”

And we did it. It was so fun, and we played it on tour. It was one of our very first shows as a band. We were playing at a band party in Duke Dwayne, Anaheim, California. This tiny little box of a room, the PA went out in the band before us, so it was a nightmare of a show.

How into your career was this, like a year?
Coates: Six months.

Shepherd: Yeah, like six months.

OK, so we’re talking early in your short career.
Shepherd: I had short hair, it was very early on. We still wore the tape — we stopped wearing it pretty much immediately after that video. We were still wearing the tape, and somebody got a video from in the crowd on a sh-tty little cell phone. That sh-t went viral. But that’s how everything started evolving.

Honestly, it’s, like, the worst double-edged sword you can think of. They were like, “Oh, wow, two bitches in Wendy O. attire covering Pantera.”

Flury: That’s why I watched two seconds and thought, “Oh no, I’m never watching it again.”

Seriously? I want to know what it sounds like.
Shepherd: There are a lot of videos of it now because we’ve played it a couple times since, here and there.

But there isn’t an O.G. version out somewhere?
Shepherd: There is an O.G. version, but we’re trying to get them to take it down because it’s so embarrassing.

I’m going to find that.
Shepherd: Yes, find it, give yourself a laugh.

If people had video of me when I was learning to play music…
Shepherd: If I would have watched this band five years ago as a spectator, I never would have thought that we would end up here.

Butcher Babies was posted on November 21, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .