INTERVIEW DEBORAH LEVINE
By: Kira L. Schlechter
Bands big and small came up with new game plans this year as touring remained restricted due to the Covid pandemic. Shorter EPs popped up all over the place as everyone tried to keep their place in fans’ minds. In keeping with the trend, Pittsburgh traditional metal band LADY BEAST offers the new five-track effort “Omens” after a run of five full albums, a ‘greatest hits’ and a live album over the past nine years.
“You have to stay current”, singer Deborah Levine says in a phone interview. “We weren’t playing shows, so we had all the time in the world to write. We thought, hey we didn’t get to tour on “The Vulture’s Amulet” (2020) album, how about we just put out another EP so that maybe when we start playing shows again, we have something even newer to be able to play and sell. It worked to our benefit — we actually had to re-press the CDs already. That’s exciting, and people really seem to be liking it and looking forward to the future”.
But the EP is also, in a strange way “Inspired by the pandemic. There were a lot of emotions of seeing so much selfishness and revenge being such a human hunger. That’s what “Reaper” is about — in my mind, it’s kind of about people that didn’t want to wear their mask. I was like, you will be punished, all of these selfish ignorant people will be punished BY MY HAND!”, she laughs.
The band — which includes guitarists Andy Ramage (Deborah’s partner) and Christopher Tritschler, bassist Amy Bianco and drummer Adam Ramage (Andy’s brother) — are from the myriad neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. It’s not a metal hotbed, but there are a few of quality, including LADY BEAST’s buddies Legendry and Icarus Witch. “I wouldn’t say metal has ever been one of the biggest genres of the city, but there are a handful of bands that are in the metal genre. There’s some death metal, some doom. As far as traditional or thrash, the kind of metal that I’m more into, it’s pretty limited. The only other band like that just came out recently and they’re called Vicious Blade. My dear friend Clarissa is the vocalist. I think they have just a demo out right now. It’s on Bandcamp, so definitely keep an eye out for them”, she recommends.
Deborah’s day job is in keeping with her DIY — and metal — aesthetic. “For the last 15 or 16 years, I’ve had my own house cleaning company. In the beginning, it was just a friend and I — she showed me the ropes and then I continued on and hired some employees. We called ourselves the Metal Maids because we’re all singers in bands as well and I wanted people to know what to expect when we showed up. I had dreads at the time, we all had tattoos, we smell bad — not any more, but we did. My hygiene is much better — as I age I just get cleaner and cleaner”, Deborah adds with a laugh. “Now I’m just a solo artist. Adam is my partner in crime and also my partner in music, AND he cleans as well. We’ve been entrepreneurs for many years”.
The EP’s tracks are multi-faceted, one thing at first blush, but at their hearts, arising from more internal places. “The Poisoned Path”, for instance, is about a woman being led into the dark by a spirit voice and daring to escape by trying poisonous plants. Some of my really close lady friends are herbalists and crafters and are very into poisonous plants. Hearing their connections and their relationships with them just got me inspired.” But it goes deeper than that! “I associate with pagan witchcraft and I practice herbalism. I study plants and their magic lore and their medicinal properties”, Deborah says. “I love making medicine and talking to plants. Over the past year, plants have just opened up this whole world of excitement for me, especially being so isolated from Covid.”
She points out that the entire catalog of LADY BEAST‘s music reflects “What period of my life I’m going through and what I’m into and what I’m being drawn to by the content of my songs. It all started with “Bind The Runes” (from “Lady Beast II”) — runes were the first thing I got into in 2016 — and that just led me down a path of like what is witchcraft, what is appreciating the earth and learning from it and speaking to it and listening to it”, she remembers. “And then “The Vulture’s Amulet” (2020) was a whole transformation for me. Even just reaching out to Goddess with “Lady Of The Battle” from the “Metal Immortal” (2017) EP. These are fucking spells, and people were singing them and giving them energy and power and it’s all positive”.
The vengeance tale “Blood For Blood” also serves as an emotional release. “It’s definitely not in my character — I’m definitely not a revenge person — but that’s one of the fun things about writing songs, you can be someone else”, Deborah explains. “And I also wanted a song that the crowd could sing. Who doesn’t wanna scream ‘BLOOD FOR BLOOD!!’? Someone that had a shitty day at work, they can just scream it and get it out so they’re not going to be shitty to their partner when they get home”.
The cover of Rainbow’s “Kill The King” morphed into political commentary. “It was like the river is poisonous — we need to take down the man”, she admits. “I only want to say so much, because the people that know, know, and the people that don’t know are too stupid to understand. That was just how I was feeling, I was just like, burn it down, off with his head”.
And the closer “The Fool’s Journey” is personal at the outset — learning to accept change and break away from old thought patterns. Beneath that, though, it’s a reference to another of Deborah’s passions — Tarot, also known as ‘the fool’s journey’. “You start off with the fool — he’s the first card”, she notes. “And as the cards progress, that’s the journey that he takes and who he meets and what he sees — the stability and the crumbling, the whole lesson — until you get to the end. I’ve always been really inspired by that.”
And it too refers to the pandemic. “A lot of people’s lives changed. A lot of people’s towers crumbled”, Deborah says. “I love leaving people with hope when they listen to an album. We all had to pick up pieces last year. Forget those old structures that you had, you’re on to new and better things. Rebuild, grow strong. We’re all on this journey together. We’re all the fool in the beginning, but it’s how you choose to move forward that allows you to become the magician and use your tools to live life to the fullest”.
She references the Hierophant, known in ancient Greece as ‘an interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles’ in the song, and that’s an important personal touchstone as well. “Everyone has a karmic challenge (themes and situations we didn’t learn from or mishandled in the past) that happens throughout your life every number of years. The Hierophant is my karmic challenge and it wasn’t until this past year that I felt like I truly understood how I related to the card and that part of the journey, she reminisces. I feel like in many ways, I am the Hierophant. I think through my experiences, it’s led me to be a person that really wants to guide people with the truest of intentions. And whether you see my ways or not is up to you”.
LADY BEAST has a few new songs written, Deborah reveals, and a few shows planned in Ohio and the Pittsburgh area, as 2021 comes to a close. “Just trying to dip our toes back again — I’m still having a hard time being in big groups of people. Next year, hopefully things are going to start being even more normal, so we’re going to be heading to Houston in April to play a festival there.”
And in keeping with our mission here at FFP, the second edition of Deborah’s own festival, Metal Immortal, is coming soon; the first happened back in 2019. “It was nine bands, two stages, in this old church that’s this really cool venue, tons of vendors”, she remembers. “A lot of female-fronted bands too — I made it a point to have just as many or more women-driven bands, because no one does that. I don’t want it to be an all-female thing, because I don’t like that either. I don’t like when it’s pointed out, but I also don’t like when it’s ignored. I haven’t released any details yet because I’m waiting for the headliner to confirm. When the headliner confirms, I know the fest will be kickass. It’s on the back burner at the moment, but it would be in the last weekend in June,” Deborah adds.