Interview with Mary Zimmer from Luna Mortis

One of the most promising bands that I’ve ever encountered in my time in the underground has been Luna Mortis. Within the scene that they were surrounded by, it was basically taken for granted that if someone from the scene was going to take off it would be them (at the time called The Ottoman Empire). To no one’s surprise they got bigger, got better management, got a better band together and continued developing. To no one’s surprise they started getting good press and good reviews and making contacts. To, I think, a lot of people’s surprise they ended up getting signed by Century Media. Not that they didn’t deserve it, but just to think that a group of local kids were getting picked up by the label that had shepherded so many of us into the extreme metal scene was pretty astounding.

It was with some disappointment and, frankly, a little bit of bitterness that I heard that they had been dropped. Having spoken with Mary Zimmer (the vocalist) around the time that they had been signed, it sounded like they had been given a a hard sell: “we will let you develop.” That, obviously, didn’t happen. I caught up with Mary and got it on the record. Here’s the transcript of that encounter.

AMG: Yeah, well the last time we talked you guys had just gotten signed and the album was on its way and everything was hunky dorey, and yeah.. when did you guys find out that you were getting dropped by Century Media?

Mary Z.: Well, there’d been talk bopping around about what we were going to do for the next thing, you always have to talk to the label about what’s going to happen. You know, for your next album what are you going to do. And when are you going in and when are you going to start. Actually, technically, I don’t think our option period has technically arrived yet, but the owner got together with a bunch of staff and he cleaned house. I mean, that’s basically it, and they decided that due to whatever reasons certain bands they weren’t going to reinvest in. So, we’re not the only ones. But we are the only ones who just came out and said “we’re getting dropped,” and that was admittedly on me, but I figure why should we have to sugar coat this shit? It’s metal, let’s just fucking say what it is. Everybody wants to spin everything and say “parted ways” and blah, blah, blah it’s like no, they’re dropping us. It doesn’t mean that we failed or something or that we’re not going to go to another label or put out another label, it just is what happened and I’d rather just say what happened.

AMG: Yeah, I think one of the things we’d talked about was that you were confident that they were going to let you guys develop.

Mary Z.: Yeah, well, that’s what we were told. That’s not what happened, but that’s what we were told. We were going to be able to develop over a few albums. They told us that they thought we were a career band, you know. Suddenly, though the economic crash made everybody start thinking completely differently, and I think their mind changed about business in a lot of ways in a short amount of time.

AMG: So you don’t think that they were just blowing sunshine up your ass when you guys got signed…

Mary Z.: I don’t know, dude, to be honest. I don’t know, I really like a lot of the people from Century and a lot of these people are still my friends. I think what happened is that Century Media has a lot of successful, very big bands right now and if you get down to the basic numbers of it we’re a small fish in a very big pond. So they still have a small staff even though they have the “big pond” and they don’t have a lot of time to develop new artists as much as they did, so if it doesn’t hit on your own, you’re kinda left… they did a lot for us as far as publicity goes, and that was great and I am thankful for them for that, but again like I said, there’s a lot of big bands and when you only deal with such a small staff of people there’s only so much they can do. So, we’ve got interest from other labels and things, and I’m hoping that we will find the right one that will have more time to invest in us.

AMG: So do you think you guys went too big too soon?

Mary Z.: No, I don’t think we jumped into anything too big too early. I think being on Century Media really helped us a lot. Like I said, they did do a lot for us, getting the name out and everything so we got a lot out of it. We got an album out in Japan. It’s not that it was a bad thing or too much too soon it’s just that you’re talking about a label thats size doesn’t match the success of some of their bands, you know. They need more people and it’s hard to make your label bigger when the record industry is in flux. I’m not trying to say that I’m not perturbed that we were dropped, don’t get me wrong, I am not happy about it one bit. Because I think people should invest in artists and I think that’s the problem right now is that people want “instant instant instant” and throughout history all of the big bands weren’t “instant instant instant.” So the thing is that we were a small fish in a big pond, you know, and so getting the attention and the focus and the clout and the pull that the big bands get is hard to do. We were not the number one priority because we weren’t selling 100,000 records immediately. But at the same time when all the attention is on the band selling all those records it’s hard for people to focus on artist development. I’m not trying to say that’s good or bad, I’m just trying to say how it is. Take it for what you will.

AMG: Are you guys still working with the same management group, though? I mean, you haven’t had a major shakeup have you?

Mary Z.: We haven’t had the same management for a long time but we still have the same booking agent and everything. In general everything is cool, we’re all going to do Luna Mortis we’re going to do it all the way still. Some of us are also going to pursue other projects in addition to Luna Mortis. Audition for other things and kinda expand our musical endeavors that way, if you would. Which is something that for the last 10 years, at least Brian [Koenig] and I, we’ve been like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam with only this band and neither one of us have ever really looked at anything else. So, we’re going to keep doing Luna Mortis and we’re going to keep doing it like we are now, like the full deal but we’re also going to make other music and work on other things a lot of us. Because it’s just that time, if we’re going to do that, we should do it.

AMG: Do you see how that could look a little defeatist?

Mary Z.: Oh yeah, it does look defeatist, I mean.. The thing is we have other label interests and we’re pursuing it. Like, me personally, I wanna try and do other things in addition to Luna Mortis, you know, there’s a lot of musical stuff I’ve always put on the back burner and when you sign with a record label they always get first dibs on whatever project you’re doing. So if I’m going to do that it’s a good time if we’re in flux with who we’re signed with. It’s a good time for me to try and see what I can do elsewise and there are other projects that I’m going to do vocals on. But this side stuff isn’t going to be full time like Luna Mortis.

AMG: Yeah, I see, it’s just that in some ways it could be see as “Ah, well, we had the shot and it went to hell, so.. time to move on.”

Mary Z.: Yeah. I mean, sometimes it feels that way but now that people are coming out of the woodwork a little bit more it feels less that way.

AMG: What happened with your management? I don’t know if you want to get into that or not. I know that other bands that I know had issues with the very same management company that you guys had.

Mary Z.: Yeah, that was so long ago already. We just decided that our old manager was not the manager for us. That’s not something that we talk about publicly that much because it would just sound like shit-talking. It’s not shit-talking it’s just about the fact that business-wise and goal-wise and things like that it just didn’t jive. We’ll just put it that way. It did not jive. So… So we just have been without a manager for a long time, since the album came out.. Since before the album came out.

AMG: And does self-managing work for you? Are you guys able to multitask that kind of stuff?

Mary Z.: Well we were always putting out indie releases and doing stuff before on our own, before we had label and management, agents, any of that kind of stuff. We did everything ourselves. So when we decided not to have management anymore we kinda thought “well, back to the same old.” The thing is that we’ve got very good relationships with a lot of people we work with in the music industry. So, there’s really no need for a manager at this point. There’s really no need for a liaison. We’ve been looking for other management but the thing is that until a manager can really show us that there’s something that they can offer us that we can’t do ourselves or that they’re going to put in as much effort as we’re going to put in, we’re not interested. Because a lot of people who want to manage bands want to just like say they manage a band and reply to a couple e-mails once in a while they’re not proactive. And we’re a proactive band always. So we need a manager who is as proactive and finding that is really hard. Until we find that we’re just going to do what we do.

AMG: But what does a manager offer a band that’s proactive aside from contacts?

Mary Z.: That’s there, too. But we don’t really have a need for that right now. We have those. There’s contacts but there’s also like, if you can get a good manager that has a good business sense, that’s rooted in the genre that you’re playing and they have contacts and connections they can work on your behalf to work with publicists, tour planners, other things and just sort of be the mouth for you. And make stuff happen. Also, it’s always good to have a neutral face when you’re dealing with people because the one thing that makes not having a manager hard is when you have to throw down and be like “No, this is not how we’re going to do it.” Then it’s the band that’s telling people, so it is good to have that buffer. There are some really good managers out there who can make shit happen. We’re just waiting to see. We’re not really actively pursuing it, you know if someone comes out of the wood work and they’re like “I’d like to manage your band.” We’ll consider it, see what’s going on. But we’re not actively looking because it’s really not needed at this point.

AMG: Are you guys going to be recording anything? Pumping out a demo for shopping or anything?

Mary Z.: Brian has been writing for months and we are going to be rehearsing. The people who have been pursuing us label-wise have been popping up and talking to us haven’t been asking for any demos at this point. I think what we have out there is enough to tell people what it’s like. But I think we want to record another album no matter what, like, Brian and I and everyone else are pretty much ready to get rehearsing again and get another album out. And whether that.. you know if a label wants to pick us up and put the money into it, great! If not, then we’re doing it ourselves like we did before and we’re just going to hire some people to help us with it and work with it and so it’s going to come out. We’d really like to this time around, no matter what the situation, no matter who we’re signed with or not signed with. We really want to put the album out in Europe which did not happen this last time.

AMG: What?! You guys didn’t get a European release!?

Mary Z.: Yeah, it never got released in Europe. It got released in North America and Japan.

AMG: How the hell did that happen? I would think that Europe would be priority?

Mary Z.: The rationale that I was told was that they were afraid that if they released it overseas and it didn’t catch on then people wouldn’t want order it on the second album. I don’t know if I agree with 100%, I can see where the logic comes from, but it doesn’t really matter at this point because it’s over. But now we have the freedom to either negotiate with a label and say “look, really want to focus on Europe and Japan and not focus on the United States.” That was a big part of the problem with this last album, a lot of the focus was pushed to the Americans, for advertising the press everything. The release. It’s just the wrong audience. The Canadians dig us, the Americans not so much. So only a certain percentage of North America is really willing to get on board with a new metal band, you know? And the Japanese are much more friendly. I’m very glad that we got released in Japan. I think that if we would’ve had a European shot it would’ve done a lot better.

AMG: Not to dwell on this but isn’t that what they did with Iced Earth, I mean that was the big deal, they took Iced Earth to Germany. Then they let the Germans go nuts over them and then they gave them four albums before they even produced a quality CD. And then they finally got good and then their cool vocalist quit…

Mary Z.: That’s the thing, Century Media has historically been very good with developing artists. Iced Earth is a great example of a time when they did that. I love a lot of the people that work there very dearly and a lot of them really put their best effort into the band, but the higher ups were not willing to reinvest. And it sucks. And I’m a little perturbed that it never got a European release. A great deal of our orders that would ship prior to signing go to Europe. I mean, a majority of them. Europe and Japan. To not be released in Europe at all really I don’t think ultimately helped us and with the ordering thing I can understand the logic but I think now that everything is more digital I don’t think that would matter. I don’t think it’s that much of a risk and wherever we go this next time or whatever we do. Europe is our focus, we’re going to push it hard over there, because that is where I think our audience is.

AMG: Sorry, I was really taken aback because I always assumed that if you guys were going to be marked anywhere it was going to be Germany, it was just the logical assumption… huh. Well, but personally do you have another projects in the works or are you just exploring stuff?

Mary Z.: I’m exploring stuff. I have a good friend of mine who wants to do an industrial project and help me do some vocals on that. The music is really terrific and I’m going to do that. It’s a project, a studio thing it’s one guy. It’s not like a touring thing. It’ll be cool to do that because I’ve never done an industrial project and there’s a lot of not-metal music that I’m really, really into. As far as like gothic, industrial music goes. That should be cool. I don’t know about everybody else in the band, what’s going on as far as their other projects. That’s all I have going on at the moment. There’s a couple female musicians, actually, my sister is an excellent guitarist and a female drummer that I met. I’d like to put something together with all women, not because of the cliche, but there are not a lot of metal bands that can play, besides the Iron Maidens [laughs] and Kittie, I think they can play pretty good whether you like them or not, I think you have to give them their props, where the bulk of the musicians are women. That might be an interesting experiment. But again, this is all secondary to Luna Mortis. I just want to like use some of the connections and things that I’ve been able to do as our careers develop. And Luna Mortis is still going to continue touring and everything as well, we’ve got this Primal Fear tour in May and we’re going to keep booking. I’m hoping that if we put something out overseas, again, I’m hoping that the majority of that will happen off the North American continent.

AMG: I’m assuming you saw Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. The whole thing on women in metal, I guess I should ask you this, what do you think of his conclusion about women getting more into metal and being more considered as equals in metal? Do you think that’s actually true as a female vocalist in a metal band who, for example, ended up in a calender?

Mary Z.: Well I think Sam Dunn should do a documentary on women in metal [laughs]. I love his documentaries, I love that and Flight 666. Here’s the thing man, I always pretty much get my respect as a musician. I very rarely get the “you’re a chick in a band, you’re a novelty” type of treatment. Most of the people in the metal scene, especially the people that have seen our live shows and seen that yes this does work live and we are a band and I can pull this shit off live. Especially those people, they treat me with all the respect in the world. I don’t think that metal is an intentionally sexist genre, I think metalheads are pretty broad thinking people and I think that most of them will give you a shot. If you can play you can play if you can sing you can sing. And it doesn’t really matter to a lot of them if you’re a woman or a man. Some people prefer listening to one or the other and that’s just an aural aesthetic type of thing. I get that. But I think that if you can do it you can do it. And people in the metal scene just respect musicianship and that’s the most important part. There are some exceptions, right. I think some people use it as a gimmick. Bands that use it as a gimmick where the chick sucks at what she’s doing kind of ruin it for some of us that kinda take it back a couple steps. I think that as long as you get up there and have confidence and you are good at what you do and you are serious about it and you can get up there and contend with any of the guys in the scene than you should not have a problem. Look at Doro, people don’t think of Doro as a gimmick even though she was one of the very first people to do it because Doro kicks ass.

AMG: What do you think about the double standard that women in metal must be attractive, particularly women in bands? I mean, metal dudes aren’t exactly the most attractive men out there if you’re outside of Sweden where they’re incredibly pretty. But if you’re anywhere else they tend to be paunchy, bearded, balding. I mean think about Devin Townsend for example…

Mary Z.: I think Devin Townsend is sexy, but not because of the way he looks, because of his music.

AMG: It’s the skullet that does it for me.. [laughs]

Mary Z.: He shaved that off now.

AMG: Oh did he? I saw SYL open for Meshuggah a few years back and I was duly impressed with his skullet.

Mary Z.: Dude, he’s like one of my all-time favorite musicians.

AMG: But the double-standard though, don’t you think there’s a pretty major double standard there?

Mary Z.: I would agree with that for sure. I like to be feminine, I mean, unfortunately my genetics are my genetics and I’m hardwired to like dudes, so I like being feminine. And I like being sexy at times so I try to keep a little bit of that when I’m playing and I understand that there is that double standard. Because you can be like the fattest, ugliest dude and get up there and nobody cares. But if you’re a chick you’d better not be a fat, ugly chick, I mean yeah I get that. And that does suck. But I think that is not necessarily a metal standard for women, I think that’s a societal standard for women because I can’t think.. The only band I know of any genre that has any success with a pretty stereotypically unnatractive woman, meaning like what society is unattractive is Gossip and she’s like enormous, she’s like 400 pounds. She’s very beautiful in the face but, it’s hard to break out of what society should be beautiful for all women. Not just in metal. I think that pressure falls on all women and you need to meet a certain aesthetic. I mean, people, plastic surgery everything. It’s just a world standard, I think dudes in any band can probably be somewhat ugly and get away with it. Does that make sense?

AMG: Yeah, yeah, I think you’re probably right. But you don’t think that the standard gets sort of.. becomes a bit more extreme in what could be seen as the very hyper-masculine aspects of heavy metal?

Mary Z: No, I mean, no I don’t think so. I actually think it’s more lenient in metal. I think that people are willing to accept a little bit more dirt and grime. Like on tour when I haven’t changed my clothes for three days because I’ve just kept playing shows and passing out in the van and playing shows again, and my hair is greasy and even though I still have makeup on and I still look like me, I’m not a super model. [laughs] So, I think they’re willing to accept that, I think that might even be more badass. I think there are a lot of particularly glamorous metal sings, I think.. Simone Simons [Epica], Tarja Turunen [ex-Nightwish], there is a lot of glamorous metal singers but then you also have your ones that just came in their t-shirt and jeans like Anneke [van Giersbergen] from The Gathering you know?

AMG: It’s interesting to think about, though, because either you put chicks on a pedestal in metal ’cause they’re a chick in metal, or you accept them as one of the dudes. And then in that sense then you de-sexualize them.

Mary Z.: Right, I mean, I get both reactions from people.

AMG: But how do you deal with it? I mean, in a lot of people’s minds metal is still a masculine thing. So there’s almost no way to deal with it…

Mary Z.: Well, sometimes I think it’s humorous. [Laughs] Sometimes I laugh and think “man I scream into a microphone for a living.” Sometimes it’s just funny. Not because it’s masculine or feminine but just ’cause it’s ridiculous to scream into a microphone sometimes. All metal is funny, like.. all the time. Anyway, some days it is hard, I mean some days you just wanna punch people. I mean, when you’re out on the road and stuff and security dudes, people who aren’t in the know, just people at the venues who won’t let you in because they think you’re just a roadie, or that you’re not with the band because it’s a metal show. You just get so fucking tired of it. I’ve fucking elbowed security guards and pushed through ’em, it’s not a good thing.. but I get really tired of it. That gets old.. that does get old. You feel like sometimes you constantly have to be asserting yourself like with this badass “get the fuck out of my way” type of attitude. Some days it gets a little salty because you’ve gotta put that on a lot. Everyone thinks that you’re a groupy. But little do people know that if metalheads could get laid they would have groupies.. [laughs] but since they can’t… the girl is most likely a musician. I’m just being funny.. or maybe I’m not.

AMG: No, no, you’re not.

And that was about it. A little small-talk, but I concluded the interview there because of the long and tedious task of transcribing these things. I, of course, wish the band best of luck in the future and recommend that everyone go and check out their debut CD from their former label: The Absence and hopefully it’ll get a European release at some point.

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