Crystal Viper founder and front woman Marta Gabriel has just released her debut solo project “Metal Queens” which is a tribute to some of her favorite female hard rockers of the 80’s. Besides the title track, a cover of Lee Aaron’s mega hit, there are covers of songs by Wendy O. Williams, Chastain and Hellion to name a few. The Polish metal goddess took time from her busy schedule to talk to us about the new release.
You have a new album that came out July 30, “Metal Queen”? Tell us a little bit about that and how it came about.
Well, after we finished working on the latest Crystal Viper album, “The Cult”, we knew that we won’t be able to play live shows and tour because of the pandemic situation, so we decided to start working on the next project and I came up with this idea to record a solo album of cover songs.
Everyone immediately loved this idea and first of all, we stayed busy as musicians. So instead of sitting and complaining and doing nothing, we were busy with another project. I love music, I love to compose and record and to record cover songs is a way to show my musical DNA, where I’m coming from musically.
It’s a way to pay tribute to my favorite artists as well as my favorite female artists in heavy metal music.
Yeah, I think it’s great. I love the album. Doing covers isn’t new; you did covers with Crystal Viper as well. This has been called a solo album but in a way it’s not because you actually have members of your band on this album as well.
Yes, that’s true, and I also believe it’s a good start for me to release my own music as a solo artist in the future, who knows? For now I’m focusing only on the “Metal Queens” album and working on this album in general was fantastic. First of all, I was recording some of my favorite tracks. This is the music that I listen to on a daily basis, these are some of my favorite bands and I was recording my favorite songs with my favorite band mates so that was amazing for me. The entire aura around creating this album was so nice and it didn’t take us very long from the very first idea to getting it done completely.
The title comes from the Lee Aaron song Metal Queen and she’s a rock goddess here in Canada. Is she one of your favorites?
I believe she’s a rock goddess everywhere.
Yeah, for sure. How did you decide on which songs to cover? These are all very strong women.
When I came up with this idea, I created a list of my favorite heavy metal bands, and hard rock bands and then the song titles came to me very naturally. When I thought about Lee Aaron, Metal Queen was the first choice. Everybody has their own favorite band, and when you have your favorite band, someone asks you, what is your favorite song from this band?
There is one second and you can give an answer and this is exactly the same with me and the Metal Queen album. The other thing is that this list was very long and I had to limit myself to record 10 or 11 songs only because we wanted to get this album released on vinyl as well so there are still songs on the list that I didn’t record this time. There might be an opportunity for me in the future to record “Metal Queen Part Two” and I would love to do that.
I can see it happening because I really love the album. You mentioned vinyl, it’s so popular now there’s actually a bit of a wait time to have music printed on vinyl isn’t there?
I was born in the 80s but when I was a child I remember my father bringing home huge packages packed with vinyl. There were a lot of records at home and people were keeping music from this format and then we had CDs and now everything is kind of online.
You can listen to music on Spotify and I noticed that people are buying less CDs and more vinyl. For me, it looks like if someone is a fan of a band they can listen to music from Spotify, but when you want to have a physical copy, many people are choosing vinyl. The cover art looks beautiful and very often you can find in vinyl nice books, posters, photos, and vinyl looks amazing and there are many colors. So this is a kind of gadget, something very cool that fans of music want to have and to be honest, it’s the same way for me.
Some of the songs that you’ve covered on this record, the singers are amazing people. I really enjoyed researching, I knew a lot of the names but some of them I had to listen to the songs and to compare and you did a fantastic job. You made it your own sound and it was interesting. Ann Boleyn, what a strong woman she was and they call her the female Dio and that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I started listening to your music. You have a strong voice that transcends gender. You said yourself that you don’t like that people consider female fronted metal bands a genre; it’s just what they are. They’re still metal bands. Do you think there are too many genres in music now?
No, I don’t think there are too many genres because I think that when someone is creating something original, he has his own right to name it and sometimes it’s pretty helpful.
For example, if you read a review of an album and it says that it’s symphonic gothic metal or something like that and you read another review which says it’s a classical heavy metal album, which sounds like something from the 80s, I will certainly choose to take a listen to the second one because this is the music that I like.
So names or genres are sometimes pretty helpful and regarding this female fronted metal, sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes it’s not. I am a fan of female voices in classic heavy metal and so for me it’s a kind of hint, but for sure it’s not the name of a genre.
Let’s just take two bands for example, Nightwish and Hellion. One person could say, okay, they’re female fronted metal, but those two bands are completely different. They’re even different genres of music there, everything is different. So we can use it as a kind of a hint for sure, not as a name of genre, because it’s not.
When did you start singing, what first got you into music?
Wow, it was very long ago and actually this year I have my 30 year anniversary in music because I’m 37 and when I was seven years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a musician and they sent me to music school. I started playing piano and so on but I wasn’t singing, I was a pianist, and I was growing up listening to a lot of classical music or other music.
I wasn’t a singer but I always liked to sing. I’ve always liked playing piano and singing along. I remember I was even composing music when I was a child. Of course I was singing about butterflies and birds, just like children do, but music was always my whole life, you know? And I liked to sing but I wasn’t a trained vocalist.
I started to sing when I was in high school, and started to dream about my own band. We were playing in our school’s basement, that was my very first band, and I started learning to listen to many different vocalists. I remember my metal heroes when it came to vocals. Tony Martin from Black Sabbath, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, David DeFeis from Virgin Steele, and these are actually the first bands that I started my heavy metal journey with.
Later, I discovered bands like Warlock and Hellion and I remember I was so amazed by Doro’s voice when I heard Warlock for the first. I was so amazed that women can sing like that. That was totally new to me. And that was a message that women can kick ass because I was already singing in this kind of metal style with all those vocal effects but I didn’t know all the other female singers who were singing like that. So when I heard them for the first time, I was like, oh wow!
But I’m a self taught vocalist. I’m trying to be honest, but vocals, guitar, bass guitar, these are all instruments that I self taught.
When you first started your band, Crystal Viper, you had an unusual way of creating that band. The first three years it was more of a project, right? Are you a bit of a perfectionist? You were looking for a band that was going to stick together and work over the long run. Was that the thinking?
First of all, I was looking for musicians that would listen to the music that I want to play. I cannot imagine being a musician in a band which plays music that I don’t like, because that would be completely horrible and classic heavy metal is not very popular in Poland and has never been popular in Poland.
It was kind of difficult.
The other thing was that there were many people I met on my way which were more interested in drinking or taking drugs than playing. Also personality, can you imagine going on tour with a bunch of people that don’t like each other? Of course the lineup changed over the years, but it was never like that.
There wasn’t any drama or fights. Most musicians left the band because of jobs, family issues and so on and you never know what life will bring you, right? I’m actually friends with previous Crystal Viper members. The very first Crystal Viper member was Andy in 2006 and he’s still in the band until now. We are actually very good friends and we’ve known each other for 15 years. He listens to very similar music to what I do and we understand each other without words.
Crystal Viper has released 8 albums now. You just released a new one back in January.
Yes, “The Cult” was released in January or February, I’m horrible with dates.
So you’ve been very busy then because you’ve done all this recording during the pandemic, haven’t you?
Yes, that’s true, the Crystal Viper album and Metal Queens were not the only musical projects that we were working on because even now we are working on something new. And also during that time I joined Blazon Stone, a band from Sweden.
They play music which reminds me of the band Running Wild and it’s the band of Crystal Viper’s drummer Cederick Forsberg. He formed Blazon Stone many years ago and he asked me if I would join on bass guitar.
So I already recorded an album with the bass tracks. So it’s another album that will be released this year which you can hear me but not singing, playing bass guitar
That’s actually pretty cool you’re playing bass on that album. What brought you to playing guitar? Because originally you didn’t play guitar when you started Crystal Viper?
No I didn’t, I started playing guitar pretty late. I was in my mid-20’s I believe, or even later, I don’t really remember what brought me to play guitar. Most of Crystal Viper songs are created and composed on piano, that’s the truth.
I have all the arrangement of the song in my head, but the first version is always a piano version. In Crystal Viper when we were working on the first album, it was very difficult for me to explain to my guitarists how to play riffs that I composed on piano.
I knew how I would like them to sound but I couldn’t explain to them how I could play guitar riffs on piano.
One day I just made up my mind and decided to learn to play guitar to be able to record songs and arrange them in the way that I want them to sound and to be able to work on a better level with my band mates or to be a better composer.
The truth is, the more instruments you play, the more possibilities you have when it comes to composing and arranging music and I was composing on piano, arranging on guitar, so I was actually learning playing guitar while composing my own songs.
It was always a challenge for me because sometimes I had in my head some nice riffs or melodies that I couldn’t play. So I was sitting for hours and I was practicing a three or four second guitar harmony because I had to record this for my band and this is how I learned to play guitar.
With bass guitar the situation is very similar, but a little bit different. When I was recording demo songs for Crystal Viper albums, the songs that I was later sending to my band mates to learn, the bass tracks were missing.
So when I was composing songs, I was programming drums with the software, I was recording vocals, recording guitars, but there was no bass. I thought that it would be cool to be able to record demo songs as they should really sound so then I got my first bass guitar and started playing bass recording my own demo songs and this is how I learned to play bass guitar.
Another story is how I started to play guitar as a member in the band because this is something that I didn’t plan. I never saw myself on stage with a guitar, I’ve always seen myself as a vocalist.
I remember it was this period of time when Crystal Viper were in the recording studio and I had just bought a new guitar. My husband came up with an idea to take this guitar to the recording studio just to check how it sounds with studio gear. I said yes, let’s take this guitar to the studio and I will play something and we will listen to how it sounds.
That was the very first time when my band mates heard me playing guitar, because everything they got from me in the past were just tracks that I had recorded at home and sent over.
This was also a period of time when we were looking for a guitarist because our previous guitarist had to quit because of his job, and after they saw me playing guitar in the studio they said, Okay, so we have a guitarist, we don’t need to look any longer. I was like, “No, no way, I’m not going to play!”.
I didn’t feel confident to go on stage with a guitar. I was thinking that I’m not good enough. Eventually I said okay, I just need to try. This was also new for me to play guitar standing because when I was recording songs I was always sitting, and when you play guitar, standing and singing at the same time are completely different. On the same day I also recorded guitar parts for the game Stronghold and that was my first studio recording ever on guitar.
Well, that’s amazing. You know, it seems like there isn’t anything that you can’t do if you put your mind to it.
I hope so because there are many things that I want to try in life, but I don’t think that I will be that good in all of them because it’s simply not possible. I believe that each of us is good at different things. For example, if I ever offer you a meal, please don’t accept because I’m a horrible, horrible cook.
We can’t be good at everything like you said, but you don’t know until you try. Your husband Bart is also your producer. How is that relationship?
I think it’s the best combination ever. First of all, we both work with music. He knows me as a person and as a musician so when he’s producing Crystal Viper albums and my albums, he can connect those two things. He’s also this kind of producer who always expects the best from me.
He knows what I’m able to do and sometimes he needs to push me a little bit to get the best result from me as a musician. I love to work with him. I know also in this way that he’s this kind of producer who never wants to change the musician or the band to sound like something or someone else.
He always remembers what the roots of the band are and he’s working around that. In this case, we are a couple and this works perfectly for both of us. Sometimes we understand each other without words. This is another huge, huge pro.
It sounds like a great relationship, for sure. What do we have to look forward to over the next few months? Are there any live shows planned?
We received some offers but for sure it’s too early to confirm anything because the situation is changing from one week to another. It looks like I will see my band mates next month. We planned this out because we haven’t seen each other since March of last year. We live in different countries and here in Europe the regulations regarding COVID were different in every country so it was impossible to meet.
Actually during COVID I learned to work remotely on music with the guys from Crystal Viper and I had had to learn to become my own sound engineer.
These are the first two albums in my life that I haven’t recorded in the recording studio, but we made it and I think we will continue working like that in the future because it was comfortable in many ways to be honest.
Of course, I missed the magic of the studio when you are sitting together with your band mates and you are working on music, you can focus on music and the outside world doesn’t exist at all, you can focus on music only and that was beautiful.
When I was working in my home studio there was always something in the back of my head that when I finished the song, I need to do this, do that, go there, and I couldn’t focus sometimes one hundred percent.
I’m also this kind of a person who has a problem with focusing on something at all. So in some ways it was difficult, but in many ways it was very cool. I think we will keep on recording that way because we know it’s possible.
Of course I’m not saying that we will never enter the studio because working in a recording studio is an amazing thing. I think we will do both.
Keep up-to-date with Marta Gabriel here.