This is the first interview that I’m conducting and it is with an awesome lady called Tanya Venom. She is a kick-ass guitarist that I met through Nita Strauss’s Body Shred program. Tanya is in her own band called Stormstress together with her sister Tia Mayhem.
I hope you learn something new from our conversation!
N: It’s so exciting to chat with a fellow female guitarist!
Yeah, and it’s exciting to chat to you!
N: How would you describe your journey as a musician so far? Where it started and how you got to where you are now.
This is a bit of a broad one. A lot of it involves my twin sister, Tia Mayhem. She plays bass in the band.
When we were in elementary school, we used to sing little songs all the time, but we were very, very shy. We did not like talking to other people, but at home we would sing and dance and do all that stuff.
When we were in the fifth grade and we had the ability to choose an instrument to play in the school band, I chose the flute and she chose the clarinet. But she ended up switching to bass clarinet and I moved over to Piccolo. But when I was about 13, it feels like this idea just dropped into my head out of the sky, but I was just like, “I wanna play a more modern instrument, like guitar, so I can play along with songs on the radio.” And then my sister followed suit.
We were presented the options of guitar and bass guitar. So she was like, “Ooh, bass guitar, I like that.” And I of course was like, “Guitar, yes, the star of the show, the rock and roll.”
And from there, we just kinda fell in love with it.
When we were 16 we would perform around bars and there was no greater feeling that I had ever felt than performing live for a bunch of people. We both independently had the realization, “I wanna do this forever all the time.”
We both applied to Berklee College of Music, and we made a pact that if one of us didn’t make it, neither of us would go. Thankfully, both of us got in!
There we started our own original all-female rock band called Flight of Fire, and then when that band broke up, we realized we can’t live without having our own band. Thats how the power trio Stormstress was created.
You co-founded the band shortly before the pandemic, is that right?
Yes, we formed the band right before the pandemic. It was so frustrating! We actually had our debut show in February 2020, which was right before all the rest of our shows lined up got canceled because of the pandemic.
How did you still manage to set up the band for success and seemingly go through the pandemic unbothered?
We had one single that we recorded before the pandemic and then we did that debut show. The great thing about having at least one show before the pandemic, we were able to create some content to carry us through.
We put out a couple live videos, we would slowly post the photos, and try and do some online stuff in the meantime. My sister and I also did some acoustic live streams.
As stressful as the pandemic was for the outside world, for the inside world, it was actually kind of helpful. I found myself having more time to practice than ever, and work on my vocal techniques. We really utilized that time to improve ourselves.
A very special thing about the Stormstress – except the awesome sound – is the unique dual front-woman experience with your twin sister Tia. How does that work?
A lot of our songs, one of us will write primarily, bring it to the group and we’ll all work on it together. And whoever usually is the originator of the songwriting is usually the primary singer of the song. There are also songs that we write together at the same time and split up the vocals evenly.
Last spring, you released the anticipated “Silver Lining” debut album as well, full-length on top of that. How did the album come together?
For the album, we were working with producers Liz Borden from Lizzie Borden and the Axes, another kick-ass all-female rock band, and Sarah Fitzpatrick.
Originally it was just gonna be a couple singles, and then we were like, “Oh maybe we could do an EP.” Then we talked about it and we thought it would be really professional and really badass if we could come out with a full-length album, even if it’s just like the minimum possible full-length album.
Because of the pandemic, the recording of the album was very spread out. So on “Paint the Mask,” our debut single, my vocal sound is a little different than on “Corpses Don’t Cry,” which was the last song recorded on the album.
My sister and I are very prolific when it comes to songwriting. A few years ago when I was on a huge songwriting kick, I would go to practice my guitar and just end up writing a song instead. And I kept writing and writing. We have kind of a huge log of songs that we’re excited to get out there.
If you were given the opportunity, would you do a Frank Zappa type thing where you record just everything?
Yes, definitely! That would be amazing.
There were so many times where I’d go to practice and I honestly had to really make myself focus on actually practicing guitar and not just writing.
But writing is a lot like practicing guitar – if you practice songwriting, you get better and better at it. It all good practice until you really, really start writing the stuff that makes your heart sing.
I have something kind of more serious to ask also. Last year, you went through a very unsettling experience – discovering a polyp on your vocal cord, followed by an operation and injections. Seeing your recovery experience has been truly eye-opening we should be conscious about our health at all times. Could you point out some key aspects about keeping your voice healthy that you now have incorporated maybe into your daily life?
I have learned so much about vocal health in this experience. There are so many obvious things that you might not know or might not think about until someone tells you.
Staying hydrated is so important. Drinking on show days is very tempting to get the nerves down, but it can also dry out your throat and it can also inhibit your ability to use proper technique. You might start shouting and oversinging.
A major tip that I learned that personally helped me a lot was paying attention to your speaking as well. Speaking incorrectly can use your vocal folds in an inappropriate way where they lose steam before you’ve even started singing. It’s important to speak from the front of your mouth and sing from the front of your mouth.
Of course, getting sleep is really important, and to be conscious of dry environments. Humidifiers dry mouth sprays and such things can play a role.
And most importantly, if you are sick, especially with an upper respiratory infection or you have any sort of laryngitis, do not sing. That’s how you get injuries – when you sing with swollen vocal chords forcing them to do work. I’s okay to cancel or bring the melody down. Take it easy on yourself.
Performing vocals is like an athletic activity just like anything else. You’re engaging your vocal chords in a specific way. So it’s very important to practice because you’re more prone to injury just like if you were playing a hockey game and you didn’t practice, you might twist your ankle or break something.
What is something that you would like to experiment with in music?
As you may have seen, I love pushing the envelope when it comes to stage performance.
Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, my first musical love, uses the cello bow on the guitar in some songs, and I have adapted that into my live show where I took a cello bow and I actually stuck LEDs on it so it glows red. Now that LED technology has been advancing, I’m curious about upgrading my little cello bow and adding some new kinds of lights on there maybe that can change colors.
And I also have a theremin which I’ve been really excited to try out out that thing with my sister because there are two controls and we can do some cool twin stuff.
Do you have a release date for your new music or do you know if you’re doing an album or if you’re single?
We just put out a new single with a music video on March 3rd for a song called “Buried You in the Snow”! I originally wrote this song on the acoustic guitar. I played it and my sister in my side project, Venom and Mayhem, and she kept saying we should bring it to Stormstress. So we dropped it down to the seven-string guitar drop and brought the heaviness in the song. I like to think it’s a more mature sound of ours, and hopefully other people will agree.
And I have just one last question, because we touched on your inspirations and your music loves – who are some of the guitarists you are most inspired by?
Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin is my number one. He will always rule my heart. Neal Schon from Journey is another huge influence of mine, his solo playing really inspired me. Oh, I love so many guitarists. Gojira – I love them so much, all of them are are insanity.
Now that I’ve become a singer as well, I’ve been more inspired by bands as a whole, like Ghost and Halestorm. I feel like they’re the whole picture – they’ve got a great performance, great songs, great skill.
Thank you so much for being our guitarist of the month!
Yeah, it was a great experience to meet you! Thank you so much for having me.
Watch the whole video interview here: