We all need oxygen to survive. But since a few weeks, I also need a dose of the band OXYGEN. This band has really rocked my world. After listening to their music (see our CD reviews of Spring/Summer 2007) and the connection to VIRGIN STEELE members David DeFeis and Frank Gilchrist, and former RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH, BLUE OYSTER CULT drummer Bobby Rondinelli, this sure gave me another boost to get in touch with OXYGEN’ frontlady Melissa D. Brown and find out everything about the past, present and future of this band. OXYGEN sticks to the music of yesterday, with the sound of today. So, open your eyes and get addicted to OXYGEN as well, after reading the following interview....
Melissa, first of all we want to thank you for cooperating on this interview with Metal Maidens. When exactly did you start your musical career?
Melissa D. Brown: “You’re welcome, Toine. It’s an honor. I first started my musical career singing door to door, when I was eight years old.”
Do you also play any instruments?
Melissa: “Yes, some guitar for writing purposes.”
Did you have any singing lessons or are you self-taught?
Melissa: “I am mostly self-taught. I did take opera lessons from Michael Signiorelli (R.I.P.) briefly as a teenager.”
When did you realise that you had a good singing voice and that you actually wanted to do more with that and start a musical career?
Melissa: “My best friend, Danny, told me that I was going to be a singer, when I was little. I loved to sing, so I went for it.”
Who are some of your influences?
Melissa: “Gee, let me try to keep this short. Phil Spector, Les Paul, Sam Cooke, Mick Jagger, David DeFeis, LED ZEPPELIN, Grace Slick, Chris Youldon, Otis Redding, Neil Young and many more.”
Is OXYGEN your first band, or did you sing in other bands before that?
Melissa: “OXYGEN is my first real band. It was formed in the nineties. Prior to that, just garage bands in high school. Nothing worth mentioning.”
If you sang in other bands before OXYGEN, could you please give us an update about your musical career before you started OXYGEN?
Melissa: “Again, not much worth mentioning. I used to sneak into blues jams and sit in with the band. A guitarist named Willie Steele used to run the show. He used to let me sing with him. I learned a lot.”
Who were in the first line up of OXYGEN, and how did you select the band members?
Melissa: “The first line-up of OXYGEN was myself on vocals, Jack DiFiore on bass, Jack Starr on guitar and Bobby Rondinelli on drums. The core of the band already existed. Jack DiFiore and I were looking for musicians. We asked Jack Starr, because he was looking for a band. Then we hired Bobby Rondinelli and hit the studio.”
Do you write the lyrics for OXYGEN yourself, and can you tell us what they are about?
Melissa: “Yes. I do write the lyrics myself. They are about different subjects. “Figure It Out” is about the constant pressure and demands put on people in this day and age. People are so worried about work, taxes, deadlines, etc. They obsess over jobs they hate, and it enrages me. “A Lot On My Mind” was written, when I was a teenager. It was about someone I loved, but could not get up the nerve to tell him. A very simple song. Almost childlike. “A Case Of The Blues” and “Easy” were written around the time my parents died. Honestly, I was so screwed up at the time, I don’t even know what they are about!”
What’s the natural process, when writing new material? Do you start with the lyrics first or the music, or do you work on new songs while jamming? In other words, can you tell us how a new OXYGEN song develops?
Melissa: “Well, the most natural way for me to write is by jamming. That’s what I prefer. Then I write the lyrics after the melody is established.”
Did you record anything before “Easy”/“A Case Of The Blues” with OXYGEN?
Melissa: “Yes, we did. We recorded a whole albums worth of material in 1994/1995. After the recording was finished, our guitarist, Jack Starr, sent it to Germany with the vocals removed and tried to pass it off as an instrumental album. He failed.”
What was the reaction of the press towards this single in general? We fell in love with the song “A Case Of The Blues” after visiting your MySpace site, remember?
Melissa: “Mixed! The reviews we usually get are love or hate. Rarely anything in the middle. I have been called a blues belter, compared to Paul Rogers and Janis Joplin. And I have also gotten reviews saying OXYGEN would be great, if they fired me. I don’t care. As long as they spell my name right! Ha, Ha! The last review we got, the critic compared us to pudding!”
When we look at the CD cover of this single, one name caught my attention immediately. The name of Bobby Rondinelli, the former drummer of RAINBOW, and member of RONDINELLI. How did you get in touch with Bobby, who is a true hero in our opinion?
Melissa: “Bobby Rondinelli is a true hero in my opinion, too. We were lucky to have him on our recording. We rehearsed in the same studio and decided he was the best guy for the job. Then we hired him. I learned a lot!”
Did the other band members on this single play in other bands, before they joined OXYGEN?
Melissa: “Yes. The background singer, Jason Alburez was the lead singer of RISING SUN, a great jam band. The guitarist, Stevie Cochran is a well-known blues guitarist and works regularly.”
Did you also get any negative reactions and how do you deal with that in general? Do you try ‘to learn’ from it, or do you want to forget about it as quickly as possible?
Melissa: “Yes, we got some negative reactions. A lot of people didn’t think OXYGEN should have a female singer. I deal with criticism by considering the source. If Clive Davis had some words of wisdom, I would take it to heart. If a drunk in a bar or a critic does not like it, I am amused but I don’t care. Everyone has an opinion!”
How were the press reactions on this recently released promo single “A Lot On My Mind”?
Melissa: “So far, so good! We have been getting a lot of positive reaction from this one. Radio play, too! We got a bad review from Brazil last week. Other than that, People seem to dig it.”
I was very positive about your single and rather surprised to see members of BONHAM and VIRGIN STEEL back in the line up of your band. Maybe you can tell us a bit more how you actually got in touch with people like David DeFeis and Frank Gilchriest?
Melissa: “This one is easy. They are my friends. I met David, when I was a teenager. He is now one of my dearest friends. I don’t know what I would do without him. Frank Gilchriest, we know thru David. We got along right away. And last but not least, Tony Catania. I used to go see his band, RISING SUN, when I was younger. We called him, because we wanted someone as good as Jimmy Page. I think he delivered!”
Who is in your band right now?
Melissa: “Yours truly on vocals, Jack DiFiore on bass, Chris Wider on guitar and Matt Rebar on drums.“
Is this the same band as your 'recording' band?
Melissa: “No, with the exception of Jack DiFiore. We hope to record more with Tony Catania and some of our other musician friends for the next project.”
Recently, you received accupuncture treatment for some problems with your voice. Please tell us a bit more about this?
Melissa: “Actually, I had problems with my adrenal glands. I was sick all the time. I went to an acupuncturist, named Dr. Decheng Chen. He saved my life. Now I go every week to strengthen my voice and body. Bruce Lee was addicted to acupuncture, too! It’s my thing.”
Let’s have a short look at your live shows as well, if we may. Do you play live on a regular base (How many shows average per year?
Melissa: “Yes, we play on a regular basis. The live band has been together less then a year, so we just started playing gigs in the winter. Now we play a show about once a week.”
You play rock covers next to your own penned material. Which covers do you play live and maybe you can also tell us what’s your favorite cover to play?
Melissa: “The covers we play include: “The Immigrant Song” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by LED ZEPPELIN; some JANIS JOPLIN; AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Dirty Deeds”; old blues; “Backdoor Man” by THE DOORS and lots of ROLLING STONES tunes. My two personal favorite cover songs to sing are “Sympathy For The Devil” by THE STONES and “Tenderness” by OTIS REDDING.”
Do you also add any show elements to your performances?
Melissa: “Oh yeah. We do a tribute to the Rock-N-Roll Circus. And Chris, our guitarist, can play slide on ANYTHING! Even belt buckles and belly rings. I like to throw flower petals on the audience.”
With which bands did you share the stage already?
Melissa: “Not anyone really famous. We usually play the whole night ourselves. No opening acts.”
Did you also play outside of the USA, and if yes, where was that?
Melissa: “No. Not yet! We are hoping to play Canada soon. They like us there.”
What was your biggest gig so far?
Melissa: “I’d have to say The Stephen Talk House in Amagansett, New York. It’s not the largest venue, but the place has history. Some of my favorite acts have played there. Mick Jagger, JOHNNY WINTER, HOT TUNA, and so many more.”
With which bands would you like to go on tour, if you had the chance?
Melissa: “THE ROLLING STONES, NEIL YOUNG, and VIRGIN STEELE.”
Are there any important gigs on the calendar for you right now?
Melissa: “Yes. We are excited about a gig in August with a band, called IMMORTALLY COMMITTED. They are a tight metal band from Long Island.”
I guess, that you must have some nice stories about life on the road? There must have been some hilarious or funny things happening that are nice to share with our readers.
Melissa: “Here is a funny studio story. A studio owner had a broken analog machine that I wanted to use to record Frank Gilchriest’s drums. Even though it could not be fixed, they tried to charge us for the wasted time. I then chased him all around the studio with my staff ( I used to need help walking). I held it like a spear and he gave in, apologized, and was banned from the studio by the other owner. Another time, we were playing upstate New York, near Woodstock. We stopped at a gas station and an old man in overalls came running out with a shotgun! He screamed “We don’t want none of your kind around here.” We ran into the van and started driving and he was still waving the gun in the street. I gave him the finger, but he didn’t shoot!”
Have you ever witnessed something like a male groupie scene? Were there ever any male fans, who wanted more from you than an autograph or a short chat after the show?
Melissa: “Oh yeah. Females, too. Some of that was great! I enjoyed myself very much. My house was like “Sodom and Gommorah”. There have been a few freaks though. I usually call security and have them thrown out. A few years back there was a stalker problem. I had to involve the police.”
What’s the scene like, where you live? Are there any good clubs where you can play live, or is it difficult to find any suitable places to play live shows?
Melissa: “We live by the water on Long Island, near NYC. There is a lot of work around for tribute bands, blues bands, wedding bands and pop cover bands. We play hard and loud! It’s a little harder for us to get work in some venues.”
Which other bands come from the area where you come from?
Melissa: “As far as famous bands there’s BLUE OYSTER CULT, BILLY JOEL, VIRGIN STEELE, PAT BENATAR, TAKING BACK SUNDAY, TWISTED SISTER and THE STRAY CATS, to name a few. There are some amazing acts from this area that are not famous but should be. Like Jim Moran, Sam Taylor, Jason Alburez and THE EDEN PROJECT.”
Are you preparing any new material right now? And if yes, what can people expect and in which way will it differ from the previous released single?
Melissa: “Yes. We have been working on a song, called “Break You” and a song, called “Sleeper”. “Sleeper” is a re-creation of a panic attack and will most likely be less commercial. We have some other songs in the works as well. Until production, I don’t even know how new songs will differ from the past. I think, a little darker.”
What are the future plans for OXYGEN?
Melissa: “Keep working, keep writing, staying healthy and getting our music out there!”
Metal Maidens is an on-line ‘zine that is dedicated to the female musicians in the hard rock and heavy metal scene. Do you think that women still need this kind of attention or do you feel that women in rock & metal already receive the recognition they deserve so much?
Melissa: “I think some women do get the recognition they deserve. But they have to work twice as hard. I’ve been rejected for being female. Even if I was more qualified then a lot of guys. So the stupid myth that woman can’t rock is still around. Sites and zines like Metal Maidens help level the playing field.”
We are based in Holland. What else do you know about our country, except the fact that we have colourful tulips, and beautiful windmills here?
Melissa: “I know that Holland is leading the way in combating costal flooding. I also know that American scientists are studying Holland’s example. Holland has a more humane social policy then The United States, in my humble opinion. The Court of International Law is located at The Hague. Oh, and I hear Amsterdam is a good place for musicians and artists.”
Is there still a certain goal, that you’d like to archieve with OXYGEN?
Melissa: “Yes. I want to write, produce and perform with OXYGEN, till the day I die.”
Can people buy your single somewhere? And if yes, please advertise here how they can order your single(s). It’s for free.
Melissa: “No. Not yet. E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for info about CDs, bookings or anything else.”
Where can people find your website, and how important is the internet for an independent artist/bands like OXYGEN?
Melissa: “We don’t have a regular website anymore. More people responded to the MySpace site. Now we can be reached at http://myspace.com/oxygenrox as well as our e-mail address. The internet is great for bands and artists. We have made some great contacts and friends through the internet. We have even gotten good radio play. But the internet can be a double-edged sword. Someone hacked our site recently and it caused some problems, until it was fixed.”
How come that OXYGEN doesn’t have a recording contract at the moment? Is there nobody out there in the USA, that has good taste in music and some ears on their head?
Melissa: “Thank you for the compliment, Toine. For a while I was not putting myself out there because of my illness. Now that we are back and working, more people in the business have taken notice. We’ve received lots of free radio play and have gotten some offers. Just not the right one. Yet!”
What’s your favorite OXYGEN song and why?
Melissa: “Hmm... “A Lot On My Mind”, because it is pure.”
Is there something you’d like to add to this interview? Maybe we forgot to mention something that is essential for the story of OXYGEN so far?
Melissa: “Well, the story of OXYGEN is, whatever happens, this band will play until my heart stops beating!”
Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
Melissa: “OXYGEN loves You!!”
The famous last words of this interview are for you, Melissa....
Melissa: “Hail, Hail, Rock-N- Roll and thank you for the interview. It was a blast!”
Visit their website at: www.myspace.com/oxygenrox