Alexa from Shear surprised me as being the most talkative Finn I’ve ever had the pleasure to discuss with. It must be that her half Ecuadorian roots were showing in our conversation. That is a good thing, it allowed me to get to know her better and I discovered a very lovely and easy to talk to person, apart from her having an absolutely killer voice! I’ll let you read all about her below and feel free to also check out the link with my favourite song from Shear which will be posted under the interview.
Alexandra: I understood you joined the band last in 2008. How did you get picked and how has the experience been so far with Shear?
Alexa: Well, I was living in Stockholm before 2008 because I was studying there, and when I came back to Finland I had a few friends in the metal scene. I actually asked around my friends to see if they knew any bands that were looking for a vocalist, and then I saw this ad for this band called Crystal Blaze that was looking for a male vocalist. I listened to some of their demos, they already had a previous vocalist who was a guy, and I didn’t think I could sing exactly like him but I thought maybe I could change it a little bit. Then I asked my friends if anyone knew any of the band members and we actually had mutual connections and I was told that these guys are technically good players so I contacted them and told them that ‘I know you’re looking for a male vocalist but I think that I could be pretty good’. Then we arranged a try-out, we played a couple of covers from bands like Dream Theater and Iron Maiden..and then it just happened that after a while they said ‘well okay I think we’re not looking for a singer anymore’!
And not a guy either!
Yes, they just decided that it’s okay and we’ll just try it out and see how it goes. And pretty soon after joining the band we started writing songs because I didn’t find that the material written before was something that represented me, and because I knew they were technically capable players and they also wanted to evolve and do something different. We dumped the name, so we had no name for a while, and we started writing and everything happened quite fast. I think less than a year after I joined the band we released the first EP ‘In solitude’ that had 4 songs that were done with me. Everything has been very natural and easy with the guys, it just has evolved very smoothly.
So your new band members didn’t have any problems with your notes and suggestions about changes, right?
No, not at all! Basically we weren’t changing anything that they have done before, because for example we haven’t at any point used any material written before I joined. And since I joined, just a couple of songs have not been co-written by me so it hasn’t been like changes, but rather from the start a new project with me. And I’m an equal member so it’s not like they listened to my notes and stuff but rather that my opinion matters as much as anybody else’s.
Absolutely! I was wondering before that, where did you grow up and how did your journey with music start?
Well I’m half Finnish half Ecuadorian, so I grew up in Latin America. I was born in Finland but I moved out of the country already when I was 1 year old and I moved back to Finland when I was 14. Therefore, I spent 14 years in Ecuador and basically since I was a kid I was interested in music and my education in music has been very classical. I started opera singing when I was 9, so my education has been very old-school classical. Very boring, yes I know, but my likes in music have always been very broad and MTV was a huge part of my childhood. When I was little one of my skills was to sing the guitar solos of songs from bands like Aerosmith when they were on TV, because I couldn’t speak English and all the lyrics were nonsense so I could just do the guitar solos. My first connection with rock music have been me singing the parts that have no lyrics! We were listening to a lot of music in my house, so I think that my parents contributed to this and they made it so that there was never a quiet moment at home, especially my dad has always been like ‘the more chaos and noise, the better’. And you know, Queen and all that old-school stuff we had all their LP’s at home, I have listened to all of that, but until I was 16 or 17 I never really thought about it. I never started getting into rock’n’roll because we always had that.
So when did you do the cross from the opera singing to the rock stuff?
Well basically there is this musical called ‘Queen Musical: We will rock you’ and when they did it in Finland I was in the main role, and I was 16 back then. That was the first time that I performed many nights in a row doing rock music. 17 approximately is when I realised that I can actually do this stuff. The musical stuff was really fun to do and I was very happy that I could finally do something that wasn’t fucking controlled (like the opera music) and could enjoy myself! Obviously when you’re older if you’ve been classically trained once you’ve reached a certain age you can also enjoy yourself with that, but at that particular point I felt like it held me back and it was a relief to do something a little bit more rock. That was the first time when I considered that I could do this stuff. When I applied to study in Sweden, I applied to both the rock side and the opera side, and this school is called ‘Kulturama’ and they are specialised in vocalists. I got accepted to both but I picked the opera side because they chose to put me through directly to the second year. I was really proud of myself, so I went there, ended up studying for 3 years, then I think I had like this personality crisis or something, and didn’t feel like this is something I could do for the rest of my life. Every time I would go to Finland, meet up with my friends, get shitfaced in a bar and sing karaoke I was like ‘Oh my god, guys! This is me!’, because it felt much more like myself than the opera singing. So I just decided to come back to Finland without finishing my studies in Sweden and join a band.
But wasn’t there like an option to sort of switch halfway through or something?
There was but it was more like, it was still school, you know, I still would’ve had to sit there for a couple more years, do the theory and just study. And what I wanted was just to maybe live a little and join a band and do a little bit of music and not just have all my life so exact, as it is in classical music. Because in classical music you have to take so much care of yourself, and of course that it’s true also in the rock side but it’s a completely different world. I could do it, but I would’ve felt restrained the whole time.
I totally understand where you’re coming from, as I’ve done 5 years of piano and classical training and started when I was 5 so I know what you mean with discipline and whatnot, especially when you’re just a child.
Apart from this, you are a female vocalist in a male dominated business. I’ve heard about a couple of situations where women in this business have been sexually harassed and they were speaking up against it. Were you ever mistreated due to your gender? What are the biggest challenges a female faces especially in this genre?
I haven’t been in that situation or faced anything like harassment, but what I have had was that: every single time I step into a place where somebody doesn’t know me, like the fact that I’m a vocalist and whatever, it’s like every single time I have to prove myself. And in general I feel that it’s sort of a bit of a macho culture. You don’t really get respect, you’re either supposed to be the rock bitch, you know, the fucking gorgeous girl at the bar with no talent or just like, you’re just invisible. And there’s no options in between. You can’t be a talented, normal person and be here because you’re part of the band. I always have to explain myself and have a reason. In a way, in the scene I feel a lot like it would be easier to just be a dude because it’s okay you have long hair, so you’re probably here for a reason but they see me and they’re like ‘whose girlfriend are you?’ . And it’s so annoying, because I am nobody’s girlfriend and not a fucking groupie. I’m here because somebody paid me to play a gig here. It’s also part of the fact that we’re a small band but I think part of the mistreatment is because I’m a girl and therefore, by default, I’m just a hang-around.
It seems that, although the rock scene promotes itself as an open minded culture, there’s room to grow, especially from that point of view. And I was wondering is it any different when you’re on tour or more like are there any differences between how you’re treated in Finland vs outside of Finland?
Definitely, I agree. I think in general outside of Finland, because we’re discussing touring, the only places where I need for people to know I’m part of the band is in the venues. That’s where I need people to know who I am especially if something is missing so they can ask me and stuff. In general, when we travel and tour I feel that the people working at the venues are very aware of who is who, because generally they have the local crew, and anyone who is not in the crew is probably someone from the band. So, in general, the treatment during tours it has been more clear. Usually if you’re in a smaller band you have a small budget so there’s no money to carry extra people with you, therefore the only people walking from the bus to the venue have to be there. Unfortunately, we can’t always tour and I think the problem is more of a local problem and in general in Finland also. When we travel inside Finland we seem like Finnish people inside a bar and we can’t be separated from other people.
Since we’re talking about Finland, do you find that is it easy making friends with other fellow musicians?
Definitely, yes! It really depends on the band because people are different. Last winter we did a European tour with 2 other bands, and we got super well along with everybody, we were friends the minute we got in the bus. We were together 24/7 so there’s no room to not get to know someone. It’s different when you’re playing a venue for one night and there’s more than 2 bands, there’s no time to get to know people due to different schedules. I think everybody is very open minded to getting to know other bands, especially bands that still want to get to know people in the scene, because if you’re touring with a band that has been around and touring for a really long time, they’re probably a little bit tired and they don’t need new friends anymore. The only talking done in those situations is about gear and schedules and stuff, and nothing more is needed.
Did you ever consider any collaborations with other fellow musicians?
Yes! I mean, we have done collaborations. Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) has played a keyboard solo on Katharsis, for example. We have thought of some sort of collaboration but it would probably have to start with the idea before the song is written. That’s one of the reasons why we haven’t had any collaborations although I have spoken up about it, even before Katharsis, I introduced the idea with maybe a duet with a male vocalist but then we wrote the songs and forgot about that. The closest that we got was for Katharsis was that I wanted to have Tommy from myGRAIN sing some of the background vocals and he did that, so that’s something!
I think it’s really good that you’re considering the person before creating the song because then it’s especially tailored for them.
Yes, exactly! And one of my friends who is a killer vocalist, and I would love to do a collaboration with, but our music as a genre doesn’t really match that well, so it hasn’t gotten further, is Frans Aalto who sings in Medeia nowadays. He’s a dude who also has a Youtube channel and he’s probably one of the best vocalists in Finland and he’s a genius. But he does hardcore growling. I’ve personally never been into growling and there’s the pretty female vocalist and growling and so on, I’ve never been into that, I don’t listen to that kind of stuff, so basically that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t recorded anything together.
It sounds like it’s only going to work if you create something really amazing that will work for both!
Yes, I think this is what we’re going to have to do!
You were mentioning your record, Katharsis, which was recorded in 2014. Any new singles/EP’s/albums in the work nowadays?
We actually started working on demos for a new album, however we don’t have a release date yet. There has been a lot of change in the band during the last year, we changed drummer for example and that’s a big change because Petri, our new drummer, wants to have more of an input into the song-writing than before. That also takes time because now we’ll have a bit more than half of the band writing the songs, so we must adjust. We’re still in the process of doing the demos, and to be honest right now, I think the sound will change quite a lot but I still don’t know how.
That’s good, it’s a surprise! But do you have any videos planned from Katharsis?
Indeed, we’ll all be surprised! Well there have been talks..a lot of them, for a year or so. However, we ended our contract with our record label for Katharsis so we’re not completely sure if it’s a clever idea to keep doing PR for that record. Also, with the drummer changed, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to release new songs from an old album. If we feel like it, it will happen! But we have a new band now and even though we love the songs and we feel like there’s a lot of people who were not exposed to all of them, so a video would be a good idea, we also have to think about what we want to give to people in the future. Therefore, it’s better to focus on that!
So maybe write new stuff, do a video for that and this way introduce the new band? I was also wondering, if you guys have any rituals before going on stage?
Yes, actually that’s sort of part of the plan right now! Well, not really rituals, but everybody is a lot in their own space. For example Silver does a lot of push-ups. I just jump around every single place that I’m allowed to outside of stage and I shout a lot. To be quite honest, I don’t really know what the other guys do because I just run off to all places to shout and jump. Right before the intro goes off, Mikael is putting my ear monitors on, and all the guys are helping and trying to plug in inside the shirt and we high-five eachother. We don’t have a crazy ritual. We like to be by ourselves before going on stage.
How do you challenge yourself? With your music, life, generally, how do you keep going artistically?
The lyrics come from personal life experiences, and that’s how I challenge myself: by living! That’s where I write stuff from. In general, I don’t like to think of myself as a difficult person, but I feel like my biggest challenges are just facing people on a daily basis so that’s something that frustrates and inspires me at the same time, because I’m sort of an awkward person. So, I challenge myself by going out and being with people. That’s one of the reasons why some people think of me as a little bit of a bitch. I talk a lot when I feel comfortable, or I know the people around me, but I rarely go and say hi to someone who I’m not sure 100% what I’m going to talk to them. It’s just uncomfortable to meet people. So for sure, this is how I challenge myself because I try to go out when I actually do not want to meet new people.
You’re lucky that the Finns are not that talkative!
Absolutely! That’s one of the things that I’m thankful for, that I live in Finland because if I lived in Ecuador being the kind of person I am, they would’ve locked me in thinking that I’m a serial killer.
Is there a band of artist that you dislike the most? This is not an invitation to trash talk anyone!
On a personal level, nobody, but musically..it’s really hard you can’t really discuss tastes..buuut I’m not crazy about Scooter, you know.
The German guy?
Last time I visited Petri, our new drummer, our keyboard player, Lari, was hanging there and I was like ‘hey guys are we going to a bar?’ and they were like ‘yeah, yeah, in a while, just grab a beer!’ and then I had to sit down a drink a beer for 79 minutes while watching a live show by Scooter. I’m like ‘I’m totally hating my life right now!’ So I would say that Scooter is not among my favourites. That’s probably the last artist that made me feel pretty negative at a point.
That’s ironic considering his music is so positive!
Yes but that’s the creepy part about it don’t you think? It’s like why do you hell do you constantly have to be like ‘yeah, go, go, go!’ like why? I don’t wanna go, I wanna sit and be quiet, don’t talk to me!
Thanks so much for your time! And last words for our readers?
Absolutely! I think everyone should check out our albums, and have a listen on Spotify, both albums are there and come to our shows! If somebody is around in Tokyo, we’ll be playing there on the 21st of November. And also we’re playing in December in Helsinki. So we’re starting to book more shows that we have a drummer so come and see us play!