Barring the presence of some prominent ladies fronting hard rock bands, the heavy music world seems to be a man’s game. Conquer Divide, a metal band not only with female vocalists but a full female lineup, is something of a unique breed. After spending a couple years focused on writing and recording to recently sign with a major label, Conquer Divide is ready to make a name for themselves in a genre that is largely uncharted territory for female musicians. I had the privilege of speaking with guitarist Izzy Johnson, who was discovered through her metal guitar covers on YouTube and made the move to America to complete the band.
When exactly did the band form? It was about 2012 you started playing together?
Yes. 2012. We were a few different members from what it is now but, yeah, from 2012. We grouped together and started writing together.
And as I understand, you’re all kind of from different places?
Yes. I’m from England, but, the others, they were from Michigan.
Were you living in England when you were approached in being a band? Or how did that come about?
Well, I was pretty much on my own because I have a YouTube channel.
Yes, I’ve seen some of your covers.
Yeah. It’s kind of hard to find people who were interested, you know, passionate about playing the music. It can be difficult.
Certainly. And so was that kind of a goal of the band that it was to be an all-female band or is that just how it happened?
It was just kind of how it happened. We saw things a bit different, but, again, it is a lot harder to find people that passionate. Having to find a girl who was also passionate about this kind of music is even that more difficult, you won’t believe it (laughs).
What kind of response have you gotten from fans or people just coming across your band?
When we play on stage, a lot of people afterwards, they come up to us and say, “Oh, we weren’t expecting that. We really were enjoying it. We weren’t really sure what to think of it.” They think, “Oh, are they actually good? Are they actually bad? I have no idea.” I think a lot of people, when they see girls on stage, they think, “Oh, it’s just okay,” like they don’t know what to think about it. It’s like they’re not sure whether to give it a chance or not.
Then it seems like the people that do stick around and see what you are all about, end up enjoying the show then?
Yes, well… I don’t know what to say to that. They didn’t expect a team of girls to come up and sing, and then they think, “I can perhaps do it as well.”
That was something I was going to ask about, if there’s younger women that are interested in this kind of music. Some female-fronted bands are getting pretty big, but you do it all, and might step in as role models for doing more. Some girls can shred and some girls can play guitar, too. Play drums.
We certainly want to be some form of role model for girls. We want to show that you can be a female musician in rock music and not necessarily have to know someone. You can be a fighter.
I see YouTube comment that will say, “Honestly, I’m only here because I saw it was an all-girl metalcore band.” Do you think some people think it’s gimmicky to get you some attention, or does that still work in your favor in anyway, that more people are checking you out because you are something so different?
I don’t think so, but I try to think like separate entity. But I mean, when has a band not come up in some kind of gimmick? I mean, Marilyn Manson did it. I think, in this day and age, to me, there are so many people playing music, and it is very difficult for bands to breakthrough and do what they want to do. You do have to have your own unique angle, away from anything. We certainly realize that we did acquire a lot of attention because of the fact that we are all girls, but we don’t want people to always focus on that.
You really want people to put their focus on the music first.
Yes. We think it is an advantage promotional-wise, even though that is not necessarily what we focus on. A lot of the titles we get at the moment are “all-female band!” and, eventually, you get away from that. But we don’t see other bands labeled as all-male bands (laughs). It’s something we would like to maybe change. I think it’s time.
Conquer Divide is the first of its kind. We have the Butcher Babies with the female vocalists, with the clean vocalist and the screamer. There are plenty of female-fronted bands but not where the whole band is women. Why do you think we don’t see many, or even just many women in metal in general?
I certainly think it’s because there aren’t many people to look up. There are not many influences. I mean, it’s still quite a male-dominated genre. There is not a lot of girls that like metal music, but when we play our music, we received tons and tons of girls in the audience. I think it is a lack of role model.
Some girls feel like they can’t do it or it’s not always alright for them to do it because the comments they’ll receieve. They are scared about it all. Back in England, I was cut down from auditions for bands because they found out that I’m a girl and, “Oh, I’m sorry. We are not that really interested in you anymore.”
Wow, that’s crazy.
Yeah, my name is Izzy and so I guess some people think it’s a guy’s name until they hear my voice and they were like, “Oh, yeah, about that…”
So you’ve probably seen, online, people (Photoshopping) those images for festival line-ups where they black out all the bands that aren’t female or don’t have a female in them, and it turns out that maybe 20 out of a 100 and some bands that will only involve women. Maybe there are some outsiders being overlooked, or is there just not enough women in rock?
I think there should be more women in rock, but, in an ideal world, at least, it’s just the way that rock is. It’s aggressive. It’s masculine, you know, so I think it will never be completely get 50-50. We just can’t allow (the negative) influence to not get the girls involved. Unfortunately, this is what comes out because of the nature of it. Nature, you know, how it fits into gender norm.
I promise we will talk about the music, since you always said that’s what we want Conquer Divide to be known by. When did you start writing for this album? Is that actually quite a while ago?
Yeah it started in, like, 2011, 2012. It’s been a long process. Like 2011, the girls were already writing it before I joined the band, and it has been a long process. Finally, it’s come out.
What does that process looks like? Does one of the girls bring lyrics and people contribute more to the different aspects of the instruments, or is it more collaborative?
People will come up with new ideas and they bring them to the table, but (on this release), there were some lyrics and the vocals were added last. We were going to try to maybe do lyrics first and then vocals and we’ll see how that gets us, but for this second album it was music and then lyrics and vocals.
One of your videos on your YouTube channel, somebody was explaining that all the songs come from a real life experience and that you all want the songs to be open to an interpretation to people’s own lives. So what do you want people to take away from this album when it comes out?
The album itself is totally varied — it kind of proves what we can do — but not all of the songs have the same sound. Some are heavier, some are a lot softer. Some of our songs sound more new style, breakdowns and stuff, and other songs are more like a 2005-vibe, that kind of stuff. We mixed it up a little bit from our first album.
Cool. I like that when there is a little bit of variety within on album. If you have to use a couple of words as an umbrella to describe this album, what would you say?
A lot of songs in the new album are heavy and badass (laughs). Can I say that about our album?
I love our album, and I’m really happy with it.
What is your favorite part of your live performance? Is that it? Just bringing in fresh material and seeing the crowds?
I love seeing people singing along. I just love seeing how people react. I love the fast songs we play because people feel a little bit confused, they get into the songs and then they’re like, “This is kind of a weird singing experience.” I love a lot of aspects of our live performance. I mean, we have fun on stage. Well, performing is a lot of fun, I guess.
That’s usually one of the things that really makes it an experience for the audience, seeing their performers, their artists love what they are doing.
I mean, we are still a relatively new live band because we did our first tour in February and before that we were just doing writing and practicing, kind of find the songs and work out what we want to undertake live. We’re pretty new, so that’s exciting as well because we’re trying out new things.
Fairly recently you were signed to a label, so what is it like now being backed by Artery instead of just going out being independent?
It’s pretty good. We actually have that extra little help from people who know what they are doing, regular things that you need to do on the road and how to approach situations that are not so easy. A lot of organizing and a lot of… We are always on a strict timeline. When we are on tour, they help us stick to that. They help us a lot, and it’s just good to have that professional insight.
Are you one of the bands that writes on the go, or are you going to tour this for a while see what comes up after?
Ideally, we would like to put out an album and have a little bit of time off from writing to work on our performances and do other things. We will write in the van when we can. These are kind of a small stages, you know, with time limits; we get tired, too. But the ideal way doesn’t always happen (laughs).
Okay, fair enough.
I’m going to wake up every day and start to jog around and then write lyrics. We had a low profile week from touring, recently, and, on the tour, we’ve been writing for the new album.
Oh, right on.
So we have a little bit of time to do that. I would like to find the time on the road as well because it is a good time. A lot of time, we are pretty tired. We get pretty stressed out. You know, when you are stressed out, when you are upset, then you want to do some writing.
Oh yeah, no kidding.
I know it isn’t mentally healthy, but that’s what we signed up for (laughs).
So where would you like to see this band be in three, five or ten years?
Well, I thought England. I would like England to be able to take us. That’s my kind of thing.
Absolutely. Place of home.
I like to see it take a U.K. tour because I’ll be playing home. At least we are having fun. But I like to see us franchising in different countries and seeing all of this get bigger. I’m excited. I’m ready to push ourselves to go far and see what it becomes.
Conquer Divide was posted on August 5, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by Darcy Rumble.