DATE OF INTERVIEW:
10th August 2012
At just 22 years of age, The Commander-In-Chief, a Norwegian seven-string guitarist/singer/songwriter, has already amassed a number of endorsement deals from such prestigious companies as Ibanez, Seymour Duncan, Ernie Ball, Jim Dunlop, Laney and PreSonus as well as recording her debut EP, 'Evolution', with famed metal producer Sterling Winfield and garnering the interest of Metal Hammer UK in a list of top 10 "Modern Guitar Gods". It's testament to her undeniable talents both as a performer and composer of some seriously infectious metal tunes which are loaded with fretboard wizardry and a wide-ranging voice that reaches glass-shattering tones at its high end. It's also the result of a professional, assiduous work ethic with an unremitting desire to succeed in her ambition. Remarkably, she remains unsigned so her rise to prominence thus far has been largely an autonomous one although this is one lady surely destined for great things in the years to come. Booked to perform at Bloodstock 2012 on the Sophie Lancaster stage for her debut festival appearance, playing to a packed tent, her half-hour set was a resounding success. Metal Discovery met up with The Commander a few hours later to talk guitars, singing, songwriting...and Hank Marvin!
METAL DISCOVERY: How was the show from your perspective this morning because it was pretty damn good from out front?
(The Commander-In-Chief on the inherent emotions in her compositions and playing)
"...as a musician, thatís your ultimate goal; that you can write a piece of music that says a lot without saying anything."
The Commander-In-Chief backstage at Bloodstock Open Air, UK, 10th August 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
THE COMMANDER: Well, I thought it was awesome because I didnít expect that many people to show up. So there were lots of people there and the crowd responded very well to the music. I thought it was cool to see the air guitar playing and the headbanging and stuff. It was really cool.
MD: There was air guitar playing too?
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, I saw loads of people playing air guitar, it was cool!
MD: Was it seven-string air guitar playing?!
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, yeah, it was probably seven-string!
MD: So do you always go through a warm-up routine for both your voice and guitar playing before you hit the stage?
THE COMMANDER: Yep, I do that actually. I go through all my vocalises and then I warm up my hands by playing certain exercises. So, yeah, I do that.
MD: How long is the routineÖhalf an hourÖan hourÖ?
THE COMMANDER: When it comes to my voice, I usually sing for one hour every day and my warm-up routine is probably half an hour. Obviously with the guitar, I play all the time but before I go on stage itís probably thirty minutes.
MD: Why did you decide to adopt the name The Commander-In-Chief as an artist rather than use your own name; did you think it would have more impact?
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, I wanted to have an artistís name that was really big sounding and really badass sounding. I was in the US at the point I picked that nameÖso I knew what I wanted as a solo artist and I found what I was looking for.
MD: What is your actual name, out of interest?
THE COMMANDER: No, thatís a secret!
MD: Ah, you want to keep the mystique!
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, I think thatís cool.
MD: The Ibanez you play is an X Series FalchionÖ
THE COMMANDER: Öthatís right, yes.
MD: I gather itís a one-off so was that custom-built for you or how did you acquire a one-off model?
THE COMMANDER: Well, that was a prototype guitar that they had built and made for the Musik MesseÖ and I was lucky because I already played their guitars and the guitar was introduced to me by the marketing guy who was pushing the new model that they were launching and they only had one seven-string guitar and that was the one that I got. So thatís pretty much how I came across it. I got my guitar last year when they had that specific model. People can get a six-string but I had the seven-string Falchion and thatís when I got my first endorsement.
MD: Itís quite unique having that guitar then if itís a one-off.
THE COMMANDER: Yes, thatís why I asked them if they could make another one and they kept on telling me itís a one-of-a-kind.
MD: What originally attracted you to playing seven-string guitars and was it a fairly natural transition from six-strings?
THE COMMANDER: I wanted to try something that was a bit different and wanted to find something that could counterbalance my vocals. Thatís why I decided to try the seven-string guitar.
MD: To give yourself a wider range on guitar to match your wide ranging vocals?
THE COMMANDER: Yes.
MD: I gather you started singing lessons in 2009?
THE COMMANDER: Thatís right. Thatís when I started singing lessons and, basically, I started out singing just because I wrote my own songs. I started off a songwriter and then the guitar playing and singing has developed along with that. So I started singing lessons in 2009 because after I discovered my vocal range, thatís when I became really serious about it.
MD: So whatís been your greatest challenge Ė improving your vocal technique or improving your fretboard technique?
THE COMMANDER: Hey, well, Iíd say itís the vocal technique because it has a lot to do with motivation and my motivation when it comes to the guitar is always there; when it comes to the voiceÖit has been an interesting process nowÖwhen I went into the studio with Sterling Winfield for the ĎEvolutioní EP, what I liked the most was to record the vocals.
MD: But your true passion is guitar?
THE COMMANDER: Thatís right, yes.
MD: What continues to be the biggest challenge?
THE COMMANDER: I donít know, good question. I think that you should always challenge yourself as a guitar playerÖitís interesting because I think the ĎEvolutioní EP that Iíve just done, thatís the first time my guitar playing was exactly how I wanted it, meaning that a lot of the guitar solos were improvised in the studio. I was trying out a lot of things that I hadnít tried before. And when Iíve been doing these gigs that Iíve been doing around the UK, Iíve been doing a lot of improvisation, something that Iíve never been doing before. So, I think, when it comes to the guitar playing itís really kind of starting to go into a proper mental level in the sense that Iíve been working on things that are eight minutes long with sweep picking and all this stuff all over the strings, so the creativity is always going somewhere. The challenge? I donít really knowÖ
MD: But youíre always trying to push yourself and improve your technique?
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, it just happens naturally.
MD: Cool, the best way, of course.
THE COMMANDER: The biggest challenge is when you first start playing.
MD: Definitely, yeah. Your lead playing is very emotionally expressive Ė thereís a lot of feeling in your lead work so do you actually feel the emotions of what youíre playing or do you have to think about it and concentrate on playing the right notes?
THE COMMANDER: For lead guitar, itís mostly done by ear and I follow the ear more than just exercises. With a lot of these guitar solos, I hear a melody and if it comes across with a lot of emotions I think thatís really cool because I think, as a musician, thatís your ultimate goal; that you can write a piece of music that says a lot without saying anything.
MD: Exactly, yeahÖspeaking through your guitar.
THE COMMANDER: Thatís right, yes.
MD: And if youíre improvising a lot anyway, thatís more about feelings than technique and thinking about doing it.
THE COMMANDER: Yeah.
MD: The passages of music over which you sing, do you make it deliberately easier for yourself and write more straightforward guitar parts for those or do you like the challenge of singing simultaneously over more technical playing?
THE COMMANDER: I donít really think too much about these things. Basically, what happens is I come up with a riff and then I sit and play the riff and then, simultaneously, as I come up with the riff, I always have a vocal line. So the two things happen simultaneously. In the songwriting process, the last thing I always do are the guitar solos. Itís always something that gets pushed down the line but, when I start working on the guitar solos, something good always comes out of it. The two new songs I played today Ė ĎGreedy Bitchí and ĎEverything is All So Toxicí Ė and ĎEverything is All So Toxicí has a lot of guitar solos in it, a lot of harmonies in it and a whole lot of stuff I didnít play today because itís not all worked out yet. For me, the whole solo thing, itís something I can take some time with because I try out different ideas. I use the [Zoom] H4 to record all these different ideas and then I delete everything when I finally get to the point that I want to get to. Itís an interesting process.
MD: In terms of the songwriting process, thereís your first video interview on YouTube where you said you start with the guitar but the lyrics are reflected in the musicÖ
THE COMMANDER: Thatís right, yeah.
MD: So do the guitar parts inspire particular ideas for lyrics or do you have a particular subject in mind, or an emotion youíre feeling, when youíre writing the guitar parts?
THE COMMANDER: Iím really into movie soundtracks and I think itís really cool when you hear a note or something and it kind of sets the tone for where everything is going. I think the second that I started playing the ĎEvolutioní riff, I just had in mind a crazy scientist because it was a really dark sounding riff, and I imagined something dark and twisted. Whereas a song like ĎFamousí might be a little more upbeat, a little more happy sounding so that became about super-commercial reality shows. I think instantly, when I play the riff, I hear something and I know in what direction it will eventually end.
MD: So you use images in your head to compose music?
THE COMMANDER: Yeah, thatís exactly what I have; I visualise the music video.
MD: So youíre seeing your own movie?
THE COMMANDER: Yes I am, and I visualise the artwork and everything. Thatís what I kind of did when I first started my MySpace page which was in 2008. It was creative ideas because I did visual arts so the first thing I put up was an animated thing that I had created where I had incorporated pictures that I had manipulated with Photoshop combined with visual arts that I had scanned in and illustrations that Iíd been making. So it was different types of mediums all mashed up together and with the lyric and the song, it was all like an integrated message.