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It's a mighty long way from the Royal Ballet School to the noisesome halls of rock 'n' roll, but Maleficent Martini, singer and performance artist with London-based industrial metal band Maleficent has made exactly that journey. Here she tells us how she got there from here - and where the band might be going next.

 

MaleficentOriginally you trained in classical ballet - so why did you decide to go in a different direction? You could've had a whole career as a ballet dancer...

I did start out on that career, when I was younger. But it wasn't really my thing. I love ballet - don't take me wrong - that's why I came to London. I had a scholarship at the Royal Ballet School, and up to then I was going to be a ballet dancer full stop.

When I came to London I was fully dedicated to the ballet. I learned a lot - the training was amazing - I would never change anything about that part of my life. It's true that if I had carried on for a little bit longer that could have been my career, but I don't think I would go back now. No, I wouldn't go back to being a ballet dancer. It's very restrictive, the ballets are always the same. All you do is basically learn the roles. It's very repetitive.

When I was doing ballet I never had friends in the ballet environment. I always went out with musicians, went out to gigs. When I was living in Rome I started working with this contemporary choreographer who showed me a way of moving your body, of dancing, completely different from the normal ballet. So that fascinated me, seeing that there was something else out there - but when you're doing ballet full time you don't have time to do anything else.

Since I was a little girl I've been interested in alternative music, and obscure and obscene things. Even when I was eight years old I loved horror stuff. My dad was a big influence on me musically - even when I was doing ballet I'd have his Led Zeppelin records on. I've always been fascinated by that world.

Classical ballet can be restrictive - the same ballets, the same roles - but if you put the dance element in the middle of a band you can effectively write a new role for yourself.

And sometimes that's the way that we write our music! I come up with a dance piece and we make music that follows my moves - we create based on that, it gives me the freedom to be more creative.

Oviously it's difficult for us to put on a real show, because usually when you're a band at our level you don't get a big enough space on stage. When out name gets bigger we'll be able to do better performances on bigger stages - then I can show what I can do. When you're playing the Fly or something like that - it's a nice venue but at the same time you can't really do a performance there. I think Maleficent can only get better once we can perform on a proper stages.

Maleficent in RigaWhere was that place you played recently - was it in Riga? I saw the photos of that gig and it looked huge.

It was huge. The stage wasn't very deep, but it was really wide. It was a really nice venue. Then again, there was this huge venue but the place wasn't full...

The photos seemed to show that you had room to do all the movements there.

Yes, that was really good, the sound was good as well. It was a nice experience. The space made such a difference for me, I could do all my dance moves. But it was a funny experience as well - we had a hotel room each -

Really?

Yeah! There was loads of nice food and drink - they treated us like proper rock stars. But I think they spent too much money on the whole hotel room thing, and not enough on promotion.

So, how did Maleficent originally start? You're in London, thinking about making that move from ballet to rock 'n' roll...

Mortimer Cain and I originally formed Maleficent in 2005. I wasn't happy in the band I was in before, because I couldn't express myself as I wanted - I always wanted to be in a band where I could put some ballet into it, some performance...

You were in another band before Maleficent, where you were just a conventional vocalist?

I'd always wanted to be in a band, so I started playing a bit of bass, and taking lessons, I didn't know then that I could actually become a vocalist. My bass guitar teacher at the time told me that the voice is like a muscle, you have to train it if you want to become a singer - and I thought, well, I'd rather be a singer than a bass player, so I started taking singing lessons. Playing an instrument doesn't give you the freedom of movement - you can't do exactly what you want to do. Then I met somebody in the street that needed a vocalist for their band. I didn't particularly like the band, but as a first experience it was good for me to do some gigs and practice my singing.

I joined another few bands but I always had problems. When I wanted to create what I wanted to do they were like [shakes head] so after a few breakdowns in communication I thought I'd form my own band with Mortimer Cain.

We thought, what about if we do a double-vocalist band? We found musicians - that was the end of 2005, 2006. The first line-up of Maleficent. We only lasted about a year, because everyone had different views about the music style. The band wanted to play really aggressive metal - only growling vocals - and they didn't like the performance aspect of it. We were just arguing all the time, and in the end they all decided to leave!

Mortimer Cain and I wanted to carry on. We put some adverts out but nobody replied. Until, all of a sudden, Dr Sickx wrote me an email on MySpace because he'd heard - I think through the Mab girls - that we needed musicians. He just wanted to join as guitarist, but we told him we were looking for a brand new bunch of people.

So now there are five people in Maleficent. I am the main vocalist and performer in the band - then we have Mortimer Cain, the second vocalist. Dr Vincent M Sickx is on bass, and now we've got Pete Turner on guitar and Al on the drums. Al is our friend from Italy - at the moment he's just coming to play the gigs. If we have a new song we send him the CD to learn it. If we've got a gig we just get him here a few days before to rehearse.

  Maleficent  

So that means your drummer has to come all the way from Italy every time you get a gig?

At the moment, at the moment! It's just because....we did have some problems in the past with drummers...

Drummers are always a problem!

...personality-wise - I don't know, maybe they weren't into the band so much. So at the moment we just have our friend who comes and plays. Ideally we'd like to find a drummer in London but we haven't found one yet

It's a very twenty-first century way of running a band - everybody lives in different places...

It's also very difficult! But Al is really the right drummer for us, sound-wise. I don't know - when we tried out other drummers it didn't feel right. We've finally found the right one for us, but ideally we'd want to find someone over here. He's actually the best friend of our bass player, Dr Sickx - they come from the same town, from Modena in Italy.

But Dr Sickx isn't just the bass player - he's the one writing all the music at the moment, and doing all the programming. He plays the bass live, but he writes the guitar parts as well. Pete was in a different kind of band, it was like an indie band, and he wasn't actually into that kind of music at all. He joined us just to have fun. After a few months he was really enjoying it and decided to stay.

  Dr Sickx, Pete Turner  

So that was the start of the proper Maleficent?

Yes, that's how it started. We started writing songs, we had gigs straight away. We had a good chance in 2007 to do a performance at the Download Festival. I also work in dance and acting - I was in a horror show at the time - and they asked me at Download just to do a show in the MySpace tent. I started thinking maybe there's a possibility for me to sing a couple of songs. And that's what we did - we just did some of the most electronic songs, but it was a really good opportunity, with five thousand people watching.

So how do you see the band moving forward? You're not a straightforward rock band - do you have any idea who the Maleficent fans are going to be?

It's very difficult to say at this stage, because we're finding we attract a very different variety of people - I actually noticed that when we did the EP release party in March. We had everyone from the teenagers to the older kind of guy that looks totally ordinary - you'd never think he would like the band. Some metalheads, some goth people, some indie people. Some more into body art. A real variety of different people.

There were some people there who looked like they'd come straight out of the Torture Garden - there's that element to the audience that you don't get at a normal rock gig. They must be picking up on the performance stuff.

Some people like the music, some people like the whole art thing behind it. Or they like the fact that this is a band fronted by a ballet dancer. Or maybe they like the different characters in the band. Because we each have roles, characters, on stage.

MaleficentMaleficent is a kind of personality inside me, it's my other side. That's why I use the mask most of the time, because my mask-face is my old ballerina life. When I take the mask off that's when I become Maleficent - the other side of me, the more evil and aggressive personality. Dr Sickx wears this strange Japanese geisha mask which doesn't really show what he is underneath. It gives a bit of mystery - and sometimes he wears a little Japanese dress...

There's something quite disturbing about that - you're standing there watching him on stage thinking, I hope he doesn't come towards me!

He told me that when he was stll in Italy he used to wear this kind of mask just to drive around, and he'd get stopped - the police would think he was crazy, or taking drugs, but no, he was just driving around in his mask!

It's amazing how much power there is in a mask. Just to hide your face - that's actually quite a powerful statement.

It is a powerful statement. At the same time it's quite nice because when he takes the mask off after the show, nobody knows who Dr Sickx is. There's this mystery about his identity - his real self, he doesn't show that to the crowd. So, yes, we do attract different people - even some of my parents' friends love the band. You would never see them at a rock gig, but they find something interesting in it.

But I think maybe that's why we can't get anybody to say, OK, I'm investing money in the band...

Have you approached record labels, and they've said no? But is it even worth going to labels these days? The days when getting a record deal was the ultimate goal of every band are probably over now. The music business as we've known it over the years seems to be in a state of flux...

Well, it's falling apart, isn't it? Maybe we could get a distribution deal, not a normal label deal, but something that gives us funding. We do need someone to invest in the band. We don't have regular jobs - if we run out of money, everything stops. That's why it took us so long to release the EP. If we found someone to invest a few thousand pounds in the band we could do it all in a week!

MaleficentBut now the EP is out, we've finally got PR, and we've got an agent in Sweden. She's going to sort out the Scandinavian part, get us a tour out there. We're just starting to get radio interviews - we're on Total Rock this week. We're getting reviews in different magazines. I'm hoping that we're going to get more exposure now we've got someone sending our material to press and record companies, but we really need to find a manager.

Up to this stage we've done everything ourselves. Even our videos - we managed to find friends to help us with costumes and the actual filming. I was lucky enough to have people like Natacha Marro who made my shoes, Natanya who made my clothes, Bea Sweet who did my make-up, and the video director, Sash, who did filming and editing for us.

I think the web has been a quiet revolution when it comes to videos. Thse days bands can put a video on the web, on YouTube or elsewhere, and get an instant audience. You don't have to wait for MTV to run your clip, or hope that some TV music show gives the band a few minutes of air time. But still, so few bands seem to do this. It's unusual to see a band going so heavily into the visual side of things without having some sort of music business backing, the funding, a whole crew.

We're lucky that we have these people who believe in the band and wanted to help us out.

And video is such a good way of establishing the identity of the band...

Our 'Malice and Desire' video - that was more of an underground look. It's got the whole blood thing, and the vampire, freaky people in it. But with our cover of Nick Cave's 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' - that video is going to come out soon. The video has been done, we're just working on the special effects. I think that's going to be what might help us break through, because it's just a bit more mainstream.

 

Maleficent: gore and graveyards a-go-go.
The 'Malice And Desire' video, directed by Shash.

 

Because people know Nick Cave, they know the song...

But we really did our own version, even for the video. I'm really proud of how it all came together. I think people will see a different aspect of us.

After the 'Malice And Desire' video people saw us as a gory band, but we were playing up the Halloween aspect. For a Halloween theme I like to bring on some horror - scary images. But we're trying to get out of just being in that underground thing.

You can get locked into it - just playing the same venues, the same gigs. There are bands - good bands - I've known over the years that never got out of that little circle.

I really don't want to stay like that. I want Maleficent to be something bigger than that. I'm not saying I want us to become more poppy, but we definitely want to go in a direction where we can appeal to more people.

 

Behind the scenes: Maleficent and director David Kenny
shooting the video for 'Where The Wild Roses Grow' on location in Italy.

 

A lot of bands say these things- I've spoken to bands over the years and they say things like, 'We want to move on, appeal to a broad audience' - but they never actually do anything to make that happen. It's as if they think 'sooner or later somebody will come along and make it happen for us'. But Maleficent haven't waited for someone to give you a video budget!

You came to one of our earlier gigs, with the old line-up at the Underworld a couple of years ago. We were a very different band then, music-wise, but we had the whole performance element - it was more like a kind of an experiment to see what works.

When we started with Dr Sickx it was a new beginning. It's all progression. When we look back at the early video we thought it would work, but looking at it now I'm thinking it's crap, I want to improve it. I'm not going to think 'That's it!' We're always thinking about how to make things better. Even at gigs, whether we get criticism or compliments, we just take it on board.

So, what was the best gig you've ever played...and the worst?

I think the best gig we've ever played was maybe the Gotham Festival just recently in London. It was quite a big stage, the sound was good - we just had a line check just before we went on, but the sound engineer had worked with us before so she knew the songs. We didn't have to worry about effects for the vocals or anything. We were all confident - we had a new ballet bondage performance incorporated into the show, and that was went really well.

How did the bongage performance integrate in to the music? Because I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and he said, 'Oh I've seen bands do that sort of thing before, it's always so awkward, everyone just stands around, nobody knows quite what to do on stage' - but I thought if any band is going to get this stuff right, it's going to be Maleficent.

It was very different. What I did was fuse ballet elements with the bondage, but at the same time we made it look really pretty. It wasn't a bondage suspension, it was more like me becoming a puppet - the rope was attached to a harness, and to my feet, so when I was pulled up I ended up doing the splits in mid-air. It was more like an acrobatic thing. Eventually I want to actually sing while I'm doing it, but we just used it on the very last song. I came on stage as a ballet dancer. Esinem, the suspension guy, was dressed up as a ninja so you couldn't see his face, it was all blacked out. We had a few rehearsals, we thought, OK, we've got a big enough stage, let's do it!

 

Maleficent live at the Gotham Festival, London, 2009. Ropework by Esinem.

 

And any horror stories from the gig circuit?

Our first gig with the new Maleficent line up at the Dome at the end of 2006 was pretty awful. The sound was terrible. All the other bands were goth, but that Slimelight type of goth - uv light kind of thing. The crowd ended up liking us anyway, but it didn't feel right.

But overall I think we've been quite lucky. We've never played to an empty room!

Are you building up a fanbase now? Do you look out from the stage and you see the same people there every time?

Yes, we do have some familiar faces, people who have been following us for a while. At the EP release party I managed to see who was into the band, because I didn't see many of my friends out there. I think we'll get a few more fans, now, after the Gotham Festival. People were coming up to me, saying they liked what we did, so I do think we have a little following now.

And what are the future plans for the band? More gigs, more everything?

Now we really want to focus on the promotion side of it - make sure our name gets out there, in all the magazines. Try to get some interest from management or a record company, or just more distribution. We'll try to get more gigs in Europe too, America. Japan would be good for us.

We're writing more songs, we're planning a full album, now that we've just done an EP. Dr Sickx is doing all the production, the mixing - without him the band wouldn't exist! He really looks after the technology part. Hopefully, either our drummer comes over here, or we find somebody who can work with us full-time. Maybe we'd like to get someone else on board to play the electronic parts on stage.

We'd like to expand a bit more music wise - just see where we can go. Push as much as we can. I always want to be better. I always want to improve. I never get to the stage where I think, 'This it it.'

   

 

Essential Links:

Maleficent: Website | MySpace

 

Read reviews of Maleficent live in London here; photos from the gigs are here.

The new EP by Maleficent is reviewed here.

 

Some of Maleficent's friends and fellow-conspirators:

Natacha Marro, footwear: MySpace
Clothes by Natanya Bryant at Flutterby Daisy: Website | MySpace
Clothes by Pinkindus at Freyagushi:
MySpace
Clothes by Zoe Dorman at FreakyZdesigns: MySpace
Robert Masciave, hair: Website
Bea Sweet, makeup: MySpace
Esinem, rope bondage: Website
Shash, video director: MySpace
The Royal Ballet School: Website

Photo credits:

Maleficent band shot by Regis Hertrich. Maleficent Martini by LittleLibertyPhoto. Maleficent live in Riga by Juris Lacis. Maleficent Martini in her mask by Victoria Shash. 'Blue' shot of Mortimer Cain and Maleficent Martini on stage by Tusk. Other live shots from London gigs by Uncle N.

 

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