Christian Mistress's Christine Davis is Searching for Ultimate Freedom
The powerhouse heavy metal singer gets real about Satan, goat stew, and acoustic black metal.
Photo by Marit Schmidt
When I call Christine Davis, she's running around taking care of business before she and her bandmates in Christian Mistress roll out and hit the road for their next show. They're currently on tour with High Spirits, with whom they'll be traversing the country over the next couple of weeks. It's a match made in heavy metal heaven, with Davis's throaty pipes and High Spirits singer Chris Black's joyous wail taking center stage amidst the galloping riffs and catchy hooks (they'll storm Brooklyn's Saint Vitus Bar later this week, for any locals who are interested).
A coffee machine burbled in the background as Davis murmers into the phone, gamely answering my list of queries while she goes about her day. This impressive ability to multitask comes up several times during the interview; whether she's painting her nails or taking the reins on band business, Davis's description of herself as a take-charge individual is spot-on. Her commanding presence onstage is a direct extension of her own take-no-shit personality (and as I discover, owes a lot to Hawkwind) but there's a lot of kindness and spirituality, there, too; she speaks fondly of her "lady crew," and of her band's best buddies dynamic. She's a complex person, fronting a complex band with more than a little magic simmering below the surface; armed with an iron will and a voice like thunder, she's a legend in the making—though she's far too humble to cop to knowing it.Christian Mistress will release their third album, To Your Death, via Relapse on September 18; crank up the whole thing right here, and read the transcript of my conversation with Christine Davis below.
Noisey: So how's your day going?
Christine Davis: It's kind of crazy. We just played Chicago with High Spirits, starting our tour with them.We’re still in Chicago, and it's really hot and muggy. If I was planning on going to the tropics, I would have felt prepared, but I'm not. I'm wearing heavy boots and black jeans, and feeling kind of crazy mentally.
We metalheads can't do summer.
We can't do summer. I usually do summer just fine, but I'm just not used to how muggy it is here. I've been living in Portland, and the band pretty much relocated there again. We're kind of like Northwest nomads, we just go wherever. It's kinda all the same, it kinda all feels like one big place. Especially how connected the metal scene is; there's one highway, I-5, that's goes among all the cities. It just feels really simple and connected.
Christian Mistress took a break after the last record, and I read an interview that said you guys had gotten a little burned out on all the extra bullshit—doing interviews, dealing with social media, the label, all of that. What's your game plan this time to avoid getting overwhelmed?
Oh, no, it's cool. I'm totally painting my nails while we talk, just multitasking! Basically, we didn't realize Possession was a big record.We had no idea.We were blindsided by all the attention and interviews—we thought we were just gonna be doing what we always do, which is not talk to anybody [laughs]. It's not like we were upset, we were totally grateful and excited about it all, we just were overwhelmed and didn't know how to manage our time, basically. So now we know what's going on, and we're able to support each other, you know, so I don't have to do everything. The guys help me. That was a part of it last time. I tend to just take charge and get things done. That's my personality—it's not because anyone's forcing that on me, it's just the way I am. But then I can take on too much, so we figured out how to give everyone in the band things to do. We're managing it better by ourselves, and figuring out how to do everything we want to do to put out great records and go on tour but also be really dynamic in vision at the same time. It's a learning process.
It sounds like getting this record together was more of a chilled out process than last time.
It was a lot more chilled out. Relapse has just been totally supportive of however, whatever kind of working pattern we need, and that's been surprising and great. So we asked them for a little more time to really shape the songs into a cohesive record that we could be totally proud of, and that's exactly what happened. We spent time in different cities over the course of writing songs, and traveled to each other to practice. We just shaped the whole vibe of the record in a certain way and took our time doing it, and we're happy with the way it turned out.
Right on. One of the things that really struck me on this album is how there's such a heavy focus on the idea of motion—”Open Road,” “Walking Around,” “Ultimate Freedom”. It's such a classic metal theme, and you don't get too many of those heavy metal road songs anymore. Like you said, you've been traveling a ton just to make this record happen. Is that idea of the wanderer and the open road a metaphor for the band’s own forward motion?
Yeah, it's more of a metaphor. The whole idea for the record was taking the image of a diamond with many facets and using that imagery mentally as a place to reflect. And I'm reflecting on what we have as musicians together, moving forward. So that's where that comes from: It starts with reflection, like in a bright, shiny place, and then it moves forward. And it's not so much a highway more as like a letting go of things that hold you back, it's more like all the songs have a theme that work together. So "Ultimate Freedom" is about moving beyond society's idea of freedom. It's not a patriotic or unpatriotic song, it's a metaphor of the mind. And "Seeking," it's about being a seeker and moving past things that hold you back, that's all it is—just letting go, and being totally free.
I get the feeling that your lyrics come from a personal place, but you use that Rob Halford trick where you write about them in these bigger, broader terms, so people don't always know what you're talking about.
Right. To me, I'm glad to hear that they're perceived as straightforward, because I don't see that. I'm like, god, these are so confusing and esoteric and annoying, probably. Nobody knows what the hell's going on [laughs]. But I want it to be more universal, so that's great to hear that.
And you guys are all about the esoteric stuff. Earlier this year, there was a situation in which Kanye West released artwork for his "All Day" single that was very, very similar to the cover of your last album, Agony & Opium, featuring an esoteric religious symbol that's been a part of your artwork for years. The cover for this new album is rich, bold, and complex, depicting Lucifer's fall. Did that Kanye flare-up influence any of your decisions about the new album cover?
Not at all, and we were never irritated by that. We definitely didn't care. It was mildly annoying that the press thought it was so interesting, and that was about it. It's just media—the crazier the story, the bigger the paycheck.
That makes more sense.
It's definitely a feeding frenzy. The main thing is if it was the image of a cross or something people have used a lot, that makes more sense, you know. The only irritating thing is if you completely scan someone's album artwork and use it for your own, that's pretty bold [laughs]. I was just like, wow, OK.
Yeah, so for this album, with the artwork, we wanted to go in a totally different direction than Possession—we wanted to represent brightness. We had a Brazilian artist/illustrator draw the cover image to represent the fall of Lucifer under an eclipse, and it has to do with the lyrics for the song "Eclipse" on the record. His name is Pedro Filipe, and he approached us while we were in the recording studio—and we were actually using down time at the studio to draw our own album artwork, because our drummer is an illustrator too, but everything we were doing, we hated it—then all of the sudden we get this email from Pedro, and he's like, Hey, you want me to draw something for you?” And we're like, well, we'll pay you 100 bucks to try, and if we like it, we'll pay you more to use it. You know, we don't want to waste your time. So he went for it, and we were just like, “Oh, you did it. You made our album cover.” And it was just this really great segue into what the record became, and we were just really fortunate that he contacted us. I was just amazed that that worked. I mean, we get contacted by artists all the time, and we never even respond, but his art really spoke to me. I don't know how we got so lucky, he's just an amazing artist.
It's interesting to see how you flirt with these religious elements all the time, form literally illustrating the fall of Lucifer on the new record to the band name itself. I'm sure you confuse people a lot. Have you ever had anyone mistake you for an actual Christian band?
All the time. I don't think about it until it comes up, but I'm always just like, “Oh, that's funny!” Because I was raised Christian, and I think it's all just kind of hilarious. Satan is a concept of Christianity too, so why wouldn't bands that sing about Satan also be considered Christian? That's my thinking in all that. It's all from the church, it’s not real. Sorry [laughs]. I'm a very spiritual person; I believe in super-heavy stuff, but I'm not going to go around and say that Satan is something that's like sitting on my shoulder and God's on the other side. I don't believe that shit [laughs]. And all the flirting with religious stuff it's supposed to be a little bit rude, and it's also metaphors for things people actually deal with day to day, like the concept of sin. As the lyrics on “Eclipse” say, "the fall of Lucifer goes on,” and were totally inspired by Roky Erikson, who's one of my favorite artists. You know, just that general rock vibe of invoking religious elements is super interesting to me, because we deal with these ideas of sin and doing something wrong all the time, even if we aren't religious.
I’ve seen you describe Christian Mistress as a punk band in interviews, and I think that's so cool. Were you involved in the punk scene before you started playing in heavy metal bands? People often don't realize how close those two worlds are.
Well, I've always been in heavy metal bands, but played within the punk scene because that's all there was. I didn't change, the world around me changed—metal became cool again. It became very supportive. In the beginning, it wasn't that way. There's a metal scene again, whereas before there were just a few bands of older guys who were in remnants of heavy bands from the 90s in Portland. There were like two metal bands to play with, so we played punk shows, and it was great. I grew up in that young, early 20s DIY punk culture, but I was always doing metal bands, because that's the music I liked—I grew up on Judas Priest. I like punk music too, but I love heavy metal.
So when metal started bleeding into Portland, were people unsupportive of what you were doing, or sort of in a broader sense?
People were supportive of what we were doing. My other bands were more thrash, and I was really into Hawkwind at the time, so I was playing distorted clarinet onstage, and just getting really wild and having a lot of fun. And that's where my whole stage vibe kind of formed, just really having a cathartic, atavistic experience onstage as an emotional outlet. It's really good, really healthy. Live, we generally have a pretty heavy, fast set. It's hard for us to slow down and play our slower songs live, even though we should be doing that more. We just have fun shaking it out, you know?
It seems like Christian Mistress has escaped a lot of the “female-fronted band” talk that follows so many projects with women involved, and your case is really interesting because you play this really classic heavy metal sound, which has traditionally featured huge, soaring clean vocals from men and women. Do you think people are less likely to fixate on your gender because they're more accustomed to hearing this kind of androgynous vocal style?
I mean, the first thing I thought of when you asked this was that I get so annoyed when I hear people say, “Oh my god, did you hear that chick growl?” Not talking about me, but other people. People do sensationalize that. Maybe my voice does make people comfortable. I know that there's power in my voice, and I have a lot to say in general as a person, but I'm really soft-spoken. I just think the whole gender thing in music is ridiculous, you know. It's mostly because I really believe that the reason there's more men in the music scene in general is that men need this bonding—they need a third element to hang out together. It's so much easier for women to just approach each other and say what's up, let's hang out, let's talk, let's do something. Men have a harder time, and they need a third element. I mean, take sports for example. And this music thing is such an awesome, creative place for men and women to bond and create something, you know? The men in my music world are really supportive anyways, they always have, but what I'm not fine with is when people are like, “Oh my god, I can't believe you're a woman doing this.” Like, what are you talking about? Let's reassess this and just talk about how men need to bond.
That’s an intriguing way to look at it. Speaking of classic metal, it’s no secret that lots of those bands are getting older. If you look far ahead into the future, 20, 30 years from now, do you see yourself ever retiring from music? Or would you rather keel over onstage?
One foot on the monitor, one foot in the grave [laughs]. I'm definitely realizing that music will always be a part of my life. I don't know if it will always be onstage, though; I've been teaching myself guitar lately and just writing songs on my own as a way to have a creative outlet that's not depending on other people, that's purely my own. And I have an acoustic black metal band with three of my girlfriends that's really fun.
Whoa, an acoustic black metal band?
It's called Vradiezei. We have a record out on this label called Pesanta Urfolk. It's just a side project, but it's viola, guitar and banjo, and vocals; I'm the main singer, but we all sing. It's really just a way for us to hang out together. I could totally see myself doing that until I keel over. I don't know about doing Christian Mistress until I'm 70, but I'm really enjoying the ride right now.
What's your goal for the band? If you could pull every string and call in every favor in the world, what would you love to do? Touring with Judas Priest, having a drink with Bruce Dickinson—what would be the ultimate?
If I could do anything? Good question. I would travel back in time and sing for Lucifer's Friend [laughs]. No. I mean, there's so many cool things.. I would love to go play some farm in the Carpathian mountains, where they're roasting goat stew and they have a bunch of homebrew. That would be really great. I want to go to Eastern Europe, I want to go to the mountains, I'd like to go to Japan. I'd like to find another singer to do a lot of crazy minor harmonies with. I'd like to do more vocal stuff.
Well, you do have a big European tour coming up. You just might end up in a hut in the mountains, and touring Japan isn't that far out of your reach anymore...
That's true. I don't know what the band's goals are, what our whole as-a-group ideal would be. I know my idea would be totally different, because I'm just a weirdo. Those guys, I don't know. If we could all have dinner with the Scorpions we'd probably all die. That would be amazing.
How do you guys all get along?
We are just really goofy. We get along great. I wouldn't do any band if I wasn't close friends with the people in the band. We've been through a lot together, and we're best friends, basically. Maybe I don't tell them all my deepest stuff, I tell that to my best girlfriend, but that's because it's not always appropriate. But in the van, day to day, it's total silliness. We just take stupid pictures of each other and laugh at each other and entertain each other.
Metal doesn't have to be serious all the time.
We're not serious at all. We're total shitheads. We're just trying to have a good time. The music's on another plane of existence. As people, we're just goofy. We don't take ourselves seriously. The music is something that comes from the guts, and the music is where we can be serious and get all that important stuff out. That is the avenue to express those dark places, and the light places. And the other day to day is just trying to keep it light and get through life, you know, and have a good time.
So what's next after the two tours?
We have more tours coming up in December, but they haven't been announced yet.
Secret tours. I'm not allowed to announce them yet, but it's very exciting. Good stuff happening. I think we would really like to go back to Europe next spring again, but I don't know, we don't have anything started for that yet.. After Europe I'm going to stay in Berlin and work on a folk music project with my friend Marit who plays viola in Vradiezei.
Yeah, we're going to stay at an artists' residency in Berlin and work on a project where we're learning Eastern European folk songs and using the Jodorowsky tarot to create a visual story and make a short film. Marit is my friend who helped me direct the Christian Mistress video for "Open Road." She's like my creative muse and vice versa. She's really involved in a lot of Christian Mistress artwork, photography and videos. Like, all the stuff we do. She and I are a little team. She's always in the background, holding my coat, holding a mirror, making me laugh, hanging out. So I'm definitely in this boys club of Christian Mistress, but I've got a great lady crew.
Christian Mistress tourdates:
September 8 Pittsburgh, PA @ Smiling Moose ^
September 9 Brooklyn, NY @ St. Vitus ^
September 10 Worcester, MA @ Ralph’s ^
September 11 Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie
September 12 Montreal, QC @ Wings of Metal Festival
September 13 Toronto, ON @ Coalition ^
September 14 Hamtramck, MI @ Smalls’ ^
September 15 St. Louis, MO @ Fubar
September 16 Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive
September 17 Boise, ID @ Neurolux
September 18 Portland, OR @ The Know
October 2 Tilburg @ Little Devil
October 3 Belgium TBA %
October 4 France TBA %
October 5 Munich @ Garage Deluxe %
October 6 Innsbruck @ TPMK %
October 7 Berlin %
October 8 Erfurt @ Tyrants %
October 9 Olten @ Cod D'orsat %
October 10 Milan @ Lo Fi %
October 11 Bologna @ Freak Out %
October 12 Vienna @ Arena %
October 13 Germany TBA %
October 14 Hamburg %
October 15 Copenhagen @ Beta %
October 16 Goteborg @ Truckstop Alaska %
October 17 Oslo @ Vulkan Arena %
October 18 Helsingborg @ Rebus %
October 20 Cologne %
October 21 London @ Black Heart %
October 22 France TBA %
October 23 Antwerp @ Music City %
October 24 Leeuwarden @ Into The Void %
^ w/ High Spirits and Savage Master
% w/ Magister Templi