Singers Sound-Off 2023

Well, it’s that time again, time for our annual array of vocal artists from across the musical and multi-generational spectrum. And this year is our most action-packed and diverse to date. Please join us in welcoming shared experiences and insight from Stormstress guitarist-vocalist Tanya Venom, singer-songwriter and educator Florence Dore, active rock- and country-charting singer-songwriter HARDY, Larkin Poe lead vocalist Rebecca Lovell, and Motown living legend Martha Reeves.

 Tanya Venom

Contact: [email protected] stormstressband.com 

Tanya Venom is the guitarist and vocalist for heavy metal power trio Stormstress. The Detroit native, along with twin sister and bassist-vocalist Tia Mayhem and drummer-vocalist Maddie May Scott, has been steadily building a national following since her formation of the group in 2019. Venom is featured on the band’s 2022 full-length indie release Silver Lining and is also active as a session guitarist-vocalist, songwriter, arranger and educator.  


It was an all-female classic rock band called 4D. Our mom’s friend from work was a drummer in the band and she told her about my sister Tia and I. We were both 16 and just starting out. They invited us to play with them and we were making money in clubs playing all over the metro Detroit area. It was pretty cool.


My first big influences were Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Freddie Mercury of Queen. I liked that high range, epic rock & roll type of singing. Later, I turned to Lizzy Hale of Halestorm and heavier bands, like Butcher Babies.


Berklee College of Music was awesome! I majored in film scoring and my principle instrument was guitar. And through that school I met so many amazing people and made connections I still keep in contact with today. Berklee was like a Hogwarts wizarding school for music.


At Berklee my twin sister Tia and I started a band called Flight of Fire. We had a great lead singer in that band and I was starting to sing more complicated harmonies. Toward the end of that band, in 2017, I really liked singing, but I needed to improve my pitch and timbre. We then started a duo, Venom and Mayhem, where I did more lead vocals and expressive melodies.    
   When Stormstress started in 2019, I began to apply lead singing, harmonies and guitar together. I learned to write less complicated parts while I was playing riffs and singing over chords. Now I’m getting really good at playing riffs and chords simultaneously. You have to trust what one thing is doing to focus on the other.


I had never been properly trained as a vocalist, which is where I think these problems were rooted. In 2022 we were doing a ton of gigs—post COVID—and I was finally confident in my voice and working it a lot. I got really sick with an upper respiratory infection around Halloween. And Stormstress had a show that, even though I was wildly sick, I did anyway. I performed full blast and made it through the show. But my voice never fully came back after that. My voice was giving out after only an hour of singing and I started to panic. I tried to get more sleep and tried eating different foods, but nothing was helping. 

After a few months I saw an ENT doctor. He stuck a camera up my nose and saw a polyp right away on my right vocal cord. I was scared when he recommended surgery, but he assured it was pretty common. He said it looked like I had good singing technique, but that I’d injured myself. I cancelled a lot of gigs and was not singing as much. When I finally got the surgery at the beginning of August the polyp had shrunk considerably. After a month my voice started coming back really gravelly at first. I started seeing a speech therapist who helped me in many ways from a singing and medical perspective.”


Hydrate the day before you sing, because it takes time for water to be absorbed by your vocal cords. Coughing and constantly clearing your throat can scratch your vocal cords as well. Try to speak light and gently from the front of your mouth and, by all means, don’t sing when you’re sick! •


Contact: Chris Roe, [email protected] • marthareeves.net 

Martha Reeves is a bonafide Motown superstar who, with her group The Vandellas, garnered a string of hits for that storied label in the early ‘60s. “Dancing In The Street,” “Heat Wave,” “Jimmy Mack,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Come and Get These Memories” are just some of the chart-topping gems that put Reeves and company on the legendary musical map. In the ensuing years, the Detroit Diva has been an actor, film narrator and solo artist, but these days she is actively campaigning for a well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. With a hefty price tag attached, June 2023 is the final month of eligibility for this esteemed honor.


When I was three years old we sang in my grandfather’s church. It was in Detroit at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church. One Saturday evening my brothers Benny and Thomas let me sing with them and we sang a song called “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well.” We won this singing contest and we were the only talented kids of all my dad’s siblings. That made me professional.


I had operatic training in high school with Abraham Silver. He was one of the finest teachers I ever had. Music was in the schools then. But he picked me out of 11 girls in the choir to sing Bach’s aria “Alleluia.” And we sang it before 4500 people at Detroit’s Ford Auditorium. I’ve always felt that our musical instructions for life came from school. And we’ve gotta make it more important for our youngsters. Education is the key.


My dad played blues guitar and, when he wasn’t listening to spiritual music, woodshedded with John Lee Hooker. He never went professional, but he was one of my biggest influences. Mom sang Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and those ladies. They were both talented.


Music is supposed to soothe the soul. And I’ve only sang songs that I could put my faith in. But at Motown it wasn’t so much about us choosing material. It was the producers there who were writing the songs. I worked in the A&R department and I helped them write songs. But I was never given credit for being a writer, producer or anything. And there was no chance of getting any publishing. But I helped them write and sing on demos. And I couldn’t sing a song unless I could put my heart in it. I helped choose the words and made them spiritual. People could tell they were from my heart.


I lived in Los Angeles for 14 years. When Motown left Detroit, so did I for a while. I had no other choice if I was gonna continue my career. I was also on the MCA label and had an album recorded by Richard Perry—one of the best producers for Universal Music. I’ve been in movies and I’ve done narration for documentaries in the U.S. and for the BBC. To be honest, we’re more famous in the U.K. than America.


Here comes this Hollywood star project that I didn’t ask for, but I feel I deserve it! Someone started this issue and I have to continue with it. So, I’m here in Detroit famous as I can be, but not rich.


Well, I’ve been singing since I was a baby. I sing every day, praising the Lord. I’m the product of public school teachers. I was already singing when I started working as a receptionist at Motown. All I had to do was just apply what I had learned about my voice. And it was my determination to sing songs that I could honor God in.


People are opening doors and we are coming back with gigs in July and August, going into the Fall. So, things are looking up. People have shown me love that I didn’t know existed. •

Larkin Poe Variety Playhouse 2023


Contact: Emily Ginsberg, ginsberg@bighassle.com  larkinpoe.com 

Rebecca Lovell is lead vocalist-guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and half of the duo-led blues-based roots rock band Larkin Poe. Along with her harmony vocalist-guitarist sister Megan, Lovell has been gradually building their southern-flavored brand of Americana since backing such luminaries as Elvis Costello, Conor Oberst and Keith Urban. Larkin Poe’s latest album is called Blood
(Tricki Woo Records). 


In 2004, my two elder sisters and I started a band called The Lovell Sisters that transitioned almost imperceptibly from hobby into a professional gig over the course of five years. We disbanded in 2009.


Chris Whitley has been, and continues to be, one of my biggest influences. As a triple threat singer, songwriter and guitarist Whitley ticks all the boxes for me. I feel incredibly grateful to have had an extensive list of mentors who invested a great deal of faith and attention into my musical growth over the years. I am particularly indebted to Elvis Costello for sharing his wisdom and perspective to my writing ventures from the ground up.


I started classical violin and piano lessons at four years old and continued in the Suzuki method for almost 10 years. In our preteens, my sisters and I dropped our classical lessons and fell headlong into bluegrass music. Ever since then I have been predominantly self-taught.


Coming up in tight rock clubs, I routinely used to sing my voice out trying to sing over the cymbals. We transitioned to in-ear monitors six or seven years ago and it has made all the difference.


Songwriting is an ever-evolving practice for me. As my capacity for vulnerability in the creative process continues to increase, I find that my toolbox gets bigger. Simply continuing to remain open to new ways of thinking and feeling about songwriting is the biggest goal.


Being put in challenging or adverse circumstances on the live stage is a huge opportunity for growth as a musician and performer. I look back over the past 18 years of touring with gratitude for the countless times I’ve fallen onstage, struggled to hear myself or played to the bar staff. Until you’ve truly hit the ground hard and tested your own mettle, you won’t know what you’re fully capable of.


Starting our own record label in 2017 and committing to self-production.


Before and after shows I religiously follow a vocal warm-up and cool-down routine. At this point there are so many great resources available on YouTube. There’s absolutely no reason that a singer shouldn’t be experimenting with this aspect of vocal caretaking. I don’t drink on tour. And pending how my voice is feeling on any given day, I will limit my talking as well. Prioritizing vocal rest and hydration is always a focus for me. •


Contact: Jess Anderson, [email protected]


The pride of Philadelphia, Mississippi, HARDY is an artist who’s really difficult to pin down. To a great degree, he’s a jack of all trades, and a master of many, as well. His latest critically acclaimed album titled The Mockingbird & The Crow (Big Loud Records) successfully drives home his diverse writing and production style. His half-country, half-hard rocking approach is multi-laterally straddling the charts at active rock radio, pop and modern country combined. He’s previously toured with Thomas Rhett, Morgan Wallen, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean and has amassed numerous accolades, including the CMA Triple Play, ACM “Songwriter of the Year Award” and the 2022 BMI “Songwriter of the Year Award,” to name a few.


I started writing my own songs as a teenager. My sister is a couple years older than me, and she went to Belmont in Nashville for college. Eventually I ended up in town there, too, at MTSU. Right after I moved to Nashville, my sister encouraged me to sign with a PRO. She interned at BMI, so I signed with them. Shortly thereafter, I was lucky to have a meeting with Leslie Roberts where I played her the five or six songs that I had to my name at the time. She told me that, on the whole, the songs were okay, but there was one in particular that was pretty good. She said I was on to something with what I had to say as a songwriter. That was one of my first meetings in Nashville and that one comment that she made validated something in me and made me believe that I could make it as a songwriter.


As a songwriter the rule is always the same—best idea wins. It doesn’t matter what genre or idea. We just wanna write the best song we can. As an artist, especially with the last album, the split between rock and country happened organically, basically by accident. For this last album I had about 16 songs—8 songs each genre. Things just kind of happened on their own.


I started implementing some, like, nu metal and scream vocals on the rock half of my record, and that’s been really cool to learn about. I’ve formed some friendships with some guys in that world, like Jeremy McKinnon, who’s on “Radio Song” with me, and Caleb Shomo from Beartooth. I’ve learned a lot from them about how to protect your voice as much as you can while still getting to have fun with it.


I love our headline set on this current tour. We start off pretty rock-heavy and then throw in a good mix of country songs from my first album. I play “God’s Country” and am always proud to play it and its message. Another song “Wait in the Truck” has been really powerful live. And every time I get to sing it with Lainey (Wilson) it means a lot.


Because of songwriting and our HIXTAPE collaborations, I’ve gotten to work with so many of my favorite artists and a lot of my friends. I’m excited to collaborate with some people in the rock world as a writer. I’ve never had a Tim McGraw cut or a Kenny Chesney cut, so those are definitely on the bucket list. •


Contact: Wendy Brynford-Jones, wendy@hel lowendy.com • florencedoremusic.com 

Florence Dore is a North Carolina-based singer-songwriter, as well as a Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is author and editor of the new book The Ink in the Grooves: Conversations on Literature and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Cornell University Press) and, also just released her second album, and debut for Propeller Records, called Highways and Rocketships


I would say The Rathskellar or The Middle East Café in Boston. There was kind of an anti-frat house in college called Eclectic House where I played some early shows too.


Warren Zevon and Steve Earle come to mind, for sure. When I was little it was The Beatles and The Band. When I was eight years old I wrote a fan letter to Joan Baez and her mother wrote me back. I also love Crystal Gayle, Bonnie Raitt and Loretta Lynn too.


The record took a really long time to come out because of the pandemic. We recorded the first single “Rebel Debutante” in March 2020. I also made a benefit record for the popular venue Cat’s Cradle during the pandemic as well. We recorded some things remotely until vaccines happened. We were the last people to record in Mitch Easter’s studio before the pandemic and the first people back in after vaccines. The record came out in June 2022 and my book came out in October. The timing worked out great for both.


I was working on a book about Southern fiction in the 1950s. And then I put on a conference at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Steve Earle. Steve had just put out a novel and a record called I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. We brought all these scholars and musicians together and I noticed all these novelists, like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and Dana Spiotta, were writing about and referencing rock & roll songs. There was this interaction with music and literature that was evident in a lot of their work.


I try not to talk too much on singing days. When I was younger I never took lessons and I sang right from my throat. But I eventually did take some lessons from someone who helped me. I’m singing every night, so I try to use my head voice, even when I’m singing low. I also drink a lot of water.


There are all types of tools you can use to write songs. It happens all kinds of ways. It’s a lot of rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in words. I like to use a thesaurus. There is a great book by a guy named Pat Pattison called Writing Better Lyrics. I try to write for 10 minutes every morning and do object deep dives to just get you thinking about the world in a real and sensory way. I also think about how to make cool metaphors. Sometimes it may go nowhere or it may just get you thinking about things in a songwriter way. Sometimes things come to you and sometimes you have to produce conditions for things to come to you. The more we do that as songwriters the more you lay the groundwork for a song to hit you. And then you’ll be able to receive it when it arrives. •