DORO with SISTER SIN and DIEMONDS at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club (722 College), tonight (Thursday, February 7), doors 7:30 pm. $23.50. RT, TM.
When I reach heavy metal singer/songwriter Doro Pesch by telephone in Germany, she's just returned from Switzerland, where filming recently wrapped on the second of Luke Gasser's prehistoric action films centred around the character Anuk. Pesch plays the warrior Meha. Making the movie, she says, was like being at boot camp.
"Everything is underwater or in water, and we'd work for almost 24 hours straight," she says in an excited whisper. "Some people quit, it was so hard. At one point I thought, ‘Oh god, I hope I survive it.' It was such an adventure."
While Pesch says the experience was excellent training for the North American tour she's embarking on in support of her 12th album, Raise Your Fist (Nuclear Blast), it's undoubtedly the 30 years she's spent as a pioneering female musician in heavy metal that prepared her to play an actual warrior onscreen.
Pesch got her start in the 80s as frontwoman for the German metal band Warlock, who toured with Judas Priest and Dio. She was the only constant in the ever-changing lineup, and by the time she relocated to New York City in the late 80s in hopes of a breakthrough in America, she'd lost a legal battle to retain rights to the name. (In 2011, she won it back but is still using her own name.)
The battles didn't stop there. A chart-topping single eluded her, and then the 90s hit.
"When we started in the 80s, metal was huge, and it was so exciting to witness and be a part of," the singer recalls. "We thought it would go up and up and up. And then when grunge made it big in the 90s, it was a shock to everybody. It was like, ‘What? Metal's not so important any more?'"
What about the genre's machismo and misogyny, I wonder. How did she handle that?
"I think people could see that I was totally dedicated to the music and the fans, and maybe respected me for that. I'm pretty small, just 5-foot-2, and there were always all these big, huge guys in the other bands. For example, [Type O Negative's] Pete Steele, who was the biggest man I'd ever seen. But we got along great. I never felt like being a girl made me so different. I was always treated very well."
Even by Gene Simmons, who produced Doro's self-titled second album in 1990?
"He was super-nice," she insists. "I remember once there were a lot of guys in the studio, and Gene said, ‘I want to tell you all a dirty joke.' He said, ‘Doro, come here.' Then he put both of his fingers in my ears so I wouldn't hear. He told the joke, everybody laughed, and when it was over he took his fingers out."
Pesch's glass-half-full optimism is all over Raise Your Fist, a classic-sounding big-emotion metal album that swings between anthemic rockers and introspective ballads, including a surprisingly emotive duet with Motörhead's Lemmy. She says she realizes ballads get a bad rap, but feels they often connect deepest with fans, and across all languages. (Pesch has a large European fan base.)
"I love emotions," she says. "I love to head-bang, stage-dive, crowd-surf and all that, but mostly I love to touch people's hearts."