Laurie Es (Lynette Skynyrd, Black Sabbitch, Hallowed Engine) interview

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Your music resume is quite impressive to say the very least. I guess my first question to you would be what got you into music in the first place?

Growing up, I would always make mix tapes for my friends. In High School, I never hung around the other kids. The group I found was much older and were already driving into NYC and going to CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and The Mudd Club. The minute I got into college, I started doing a radio show. Simultaneously, I began playing music in bands. Ultimately, I got a regular spot on WFMU because my dad was an alumni at Upsala College.

What made you decide to go from being a fan of music to picking up an instrument and starting a band?

My initial rock experience was going to large concerts at Madison Square Garden, The Meadowlands and Nassau Coliseum to see Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Aerosmith. Once I started going to see New York bands play in small clubs, I realized that this was something I could do too. Although I prefer to listen to the classic rock bands from the seventies, it was the punk movement that demonstrated to me that playing in a band was within my reach. Punk took rock from behind the plate glass of the museum showcase and shoved it right in your face.

As both a musician and a singer, who/what are some of your influences and why?

As a bass player, obviously Geezer Butler is a huge influence. No one comes close to his ingenuity. The fact that he wrote all those Sabbath songs is incredible. I love Lemmy from Motorhead’s rhythm guitar approach to bass playing – especially the grooves he laid down in Hawkwind. Lemmy is in a class by himself. When it comes to tone and attack, JJ Burnell from The Stranglers is the king. Burke Shelley from Budgie gets my vote for best bass playing lead vocalist. His songwriting on those first two albums is some of my favorite music ever.

As far as my influences as a singer, clearly Ronnie Van Zant is a big vocal influence. Skynyrd music is the perfect key for my voice. I also love Ruby Starr – she was the background vocalist for Black Oak Arkansas. Her voice was amazing, but it was her stage presence that sold me. She was the first female performer I ever saw who personified the strong, sexy rock chick. So many women forget that you can get out there with attitude and still be a female.

Briefly discuss each of your bands that are currently active.

Starting with Black Sabbitch: This is my newest venture. Angie invited me to play bass in the band and there was no way I would or could refuse. The opportunity to play Ozzy era Sabbath in a band of ultra-talented women? Sign me up! So far, it’s been a blast. Everyone is on their game. It makes me strive to be a better bass player.

I am also the lead singer in Lynette Skynyrd (the world’s only all-female Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute). When I formed Lynette, I was going to be the bass player but we couldn’t find a girl who could nail those low notes. Finally, it became obvious that I had to step up and be Ronnie Van Zant. It’s not always easy to make shows and rehearsals happen when there are 6 busy girls involved. Since I’m the founding member, that task falls to me. Fortunately, I have a great group of musicians who are all team players.

I also sing and play bass in Hallowed Engine, which is my all original stoner rock band. It’s kind of a cross between Budgie, Electric Wizard and Grand Funk Railroad. This one is my labor of love. Moving a band like this forward behind the Hollywood curtain has been a challenge. Clearly, there is limited
commercial potential for this kind of music, so I always need to maintain a realistic perspective. I play music because I love it. If money comes out of it, that’s icing on the cake. Playing heavy rock is therapy for me. It keeps me sane.

Generally speaking, how has Lynette Skynyrd been received by the audiences that you’ve played for?

The latest audience Lynette played to was Lynyrd Skynyrd themselves for the opening of Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer in Las Vegas. The fact that we got the thumbs up from the original confirmed the incredible potential Lynette has for the future. I’ve had people come up to me after a gig and admit that when they heard that there was an all-female Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute, they assumed we would suck. By the end of the show, all the pretenses are gone and we’ve won them over. I’ve heard reactions like “I’ve never really liked Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I love Lynette” or “I wasn’t that familiar with these songs, but now that I’ve heard your band, I’m gonna revisit Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

Being as how Black Sabbath is my favorite metal band of all time, I’m very glad that there is an all female tribute to them in the form of your band Black Sabbitch. How has that band been received by the audiences that you’ve played for?
The reaction has been amazing. Black Sabbath fans are the most genuine in their love for the music. I think the reason the fans have embraced us is because Sabbath is so much a part of us as musicians. To play these songs, it requires more than just a casual familiarity with the material. Black Sabbitch reaches the real fans because we ourselves love these songs as much as they do. It means as much to us as it does to them.

Do you happen to know if any of the current or former members of Sabbath are aware of Black Sabbitch?

Angie has connections into Sharon Osbourne’s office, so it is very possible that they are aware of us. I think they would dig us.

What are your opinions of the non-Ozzy Sabbath albums/songs?

I love Born Again. Ian Gillan is one of my favorite vocalists, especially the work he did in Deep Purple. I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Dio era Sabbath. There is no denying his talent and vocal range but his delivery is over dramatic. With all due respect, Black Sabbath is Geezer, Tony, Bill and Ozzy.

What are your opinions of the bassists in Sabbath that joined after Geezer Butler’s departures from the band?

That ain’t Sabbath. It has to be Geezer on bass or forget it.

Discuss your experiences (good and/or bad) being a woman and working in the entertainment industry.

The most harshly judged bands I have been in have been the all-female tribute bands. Since this is music that was originally written and performed by men, there is already a set standard. Not only are we expected to deliver the goods but we have to look good doing it. This standard of judgment is probably worse in Los Angeles because we are the center of that showbiz culture that perpetuates image over everything else. But reality is a harsh mistress. The truth is, the same people that are paying to see us perform could just as easily put on the album. It’s our j
ob to give them something more. So besides the musical integrity and the rock-n-roll authority, we also need to look great. I don’t necessarily like that reality but that’s the way it is.

We get a good amount of male musicians “volunteering” to guest on our stage. The underlying innuendo is that somehow they’re gonna “show us how it’s done”. If the tables were turned, would they want us guesting on their stage? The whole thing just reeks of egoism. The reality is that it’s an opportunistic attempt at gaining attention. If we did that, the assumption would be that we’re groupies trying to get in bed with the big bad rock dude.

Feel free to shamelessly plug any of your other endeavors not mentioned above.

After I got my Bachelor of Arts degree, I got a job at The Village Voice in the production department. Some of the music editors had heard my radio show on WFMU and asked me if I wanted to write about some of the bands that I had championed. I was the first rock journalist to write about Soundgarden in a national publication. Besides the Village Voice, my work has appeared in Album Network Magazine, The Austin Chronical, Flipside and Seconds Magazine. Recently, Steve Blush from Seconds contacted me for a phone interview. He’s currently writing a book about the New York punk scene, spanning from the time Andy Warhol introduced the world to the Velvet Underground to the closing of CBGB.

I am also an artist/designer. Mostly, I design rock posters: https://www.gigposters.com/designer/2132_Laurie_Es.html

Most of the posters I’ve done are from shows that I put together myself. I promote shows out of necessity. There are just too many talent buyers that are merely keepers of the calendar. They have no idea how to put together a good bill. When I put together a show, it’s an event with a theme. www.armadillicious.com/music

Some of my graphics appear in some online comedy webisodes called ‘Rude Crew’. I also act in some of the skits. https://www.youtube.com/user/rudecrewtube

I also make jewelry, collect armadillos and play a mean game of pinball. There are so many different things that I do. If you’re bored, you’re boring. Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride!

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