The first thing Every Time I Die singer Keith Buckley learned at voice lessons: It's all about confidence. Second thing he learned: Smoking and singing at the same time is totally fine.
"She taught me that you can smoke and it doesn't affect your voice as long as you stay hydrated," says Buckley. "Yeah, I was actually smoking cigarettes with my vocal instructor as we did the lessons."
Obviously, Buckley wasn't studying at Julliard. He was studying and smoking with Melissa Cross, his "screaming coach" (yes, that's right, Buckley paid someone to help him scream louder, longer and with more ferocity). While Cross does teach traditional students, her claim to fame is tapping the market of head-banging lead singers. She's the Vasco da Gama of shriek.
Cross made the jump from standard voice lessons to screaming lessons when a Connecticut hardcore producer came to her in the late '80s, looking for a way to keep his young bands from losing their voices in the studio. Cross taught the kids how to get more volume and emotion without blowing out their vocal cords, and when her pupils went on to front metal's biggest new bands-most notably Hatebreed and Shadows Fall-everything snowballed. She now has a client roster that includes Slipknot, Andrew W.K., Lamb of God and Melissa Auf der Maur.
"It's such a tight community and everybody knows everybody," Cross says. "So when Toby from H2O tells Andrew W.K., and he tells Roadrunner Records, and they tell Killswitch, and they bring on Lamb of God, then everybody knows about me. It's a loyal community. That, and I think I'm the only person doing this."
Cross just released her first DVD, The Zen of Screaming , which is half instructional video, half metal yearbook. On it she shows viewers the tips, techniques and vocal exercises she uses to get the stars' guttural bawls in shape. She says it's all about proper visualization and coordinating breath pressure on specific parts of the larynx. Also on the DVD are some peculiar testimonials, with her pupils literally screaming her praises from tour buses or backstage.
If all this seems bizarre and totally un-metal-if it seems lame that guys with ass-long dreadlocks and tattoos inked up to their earlobes have become teacher's pets doing breathing and visualization exercises-you're not alone. Cross says a lot of the guys sent to her by their record labels are initially worried about being de-metaled. Yet once they see what Cross can do for their banshee wail, they usually come around.
"They fear I'm going to make them [sound] contrived or that they are going to lose their passion. But what I do is free them," she says. "If you have command of your craft, you don't have any limitations."
Certainly, Buckley-who Cross says was having trouble transitioning from singing to screaming-doesn't care what people think of the fact that he's hip to a little education.
"I'm at the point in my life where the more un-metal, the better for me," he says. "I do things for myself, and I just didn't want to get sick anymore from shouting so loud. It's better for my voice and my fans and my band."
Every Time I Die plays with Between the Buried and Me, Bleeding Through and Haste the Day at Soma on March 31. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $16. 619-226-7662.