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215 OR DIE: An interview with Sonja's Melissa Moore

Melissa Moore is a Philadelphia-based guitarist who currently leads the classic metal band Sonja. Previously, she's shredded on ax duty in bands like Rumplestiltskin Grinder and Absu. Moore also runs Toxic Femme, a clothing and apparel company that brings light to trans, non-binary and LGBT+ people via heavy metal fashion. On the musical front, Sonja released a promising two-song digital album Nylon Nights/Wanting Me Dead last year, which will win over fans of Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

I present to you, a dark transmission with the voice of Sonja, Melissa Moore. 

Hell-O Melissa (in my best King Diamond voice). How the hell are YOU?

Not bad. Thank you for realizing the Mercyful Fate reference in my name.

How do you describe the musical experience that is Sonja, in your own words? What can someone expect at a Sonja concert?  
Trans femme fronted dark heavy metal that wishes it was death rock. If Lana Del Rey was the singer of Manowar, I think it would be similar. Or maybe if Debbie Harry was in Judas Priest.  We aren't retro or anything whack like that, just classic.

Tell me about the moment you picked up a guitar and realized you wanted to do it for the long haul?
Somehow I saved up like $160 bucks when I was like 11 or 12 and bought my first guitar. Life seemed pretty simple from that point on for me as I was 666% full on locked in to be a rocker for eternity. I was like fuck it, I'm all in for rock n roll and I'm ready to die on the road. I think anyone who met me from that point on knew that I was a child of heavy metal destiny simply by the determined look in my eyes and singular focus.  

Here is the same story for a lot of trans people my age who didn't hatch until adulthood: there wasn't the language at that time to describe what I was, even to myself. As a girl in a fucked situation (our society), it was not safe to do anything outside of the gender rules they gave you. Mastery of guitar was a way to soothe the perpetual dysphoric torment...eventually it wasn't enough and my egg cracked despite my resistance, but at least I got good at playing. Now, the true witchery of my riff wielding hands causes great suffering to the patriarchy with each note. 

Who are your musical heroes?
Bruce Dickinson - The fact that he is so restless and such a doer of things at the top level. Hendrix - Best guitarist who ever lived and he busted great shapes. Andy LaRoque -  I generally skip guitar solos but I love his. Honorable mention: Uli Jon Roth

 What's one heavy metal record that changed your life forever? 
Cradle of Filth - The Principle of Evil Made Flesh. Older black metal people will cringe at that, but the riffs you've enjoyed from me would not have existed if not for this release.  Femme 4 OG symphonic BM.

You put out a killer two-song Sonja release last October. What's in store for Sonja in the future?
A cool underground tape label asked to put these recordings out so look for that in the fall as we finalize. We are recording our first full length this year.  It's a culmination of a lot of craft over a long period of time. I just wanna play gigs so bad so once this perfected and done I'll be extremely excited. We've been saying no to live offers so we can put all of our energy into the album but that kills me inside. All hell is about to break loose....

How did Sonja come to be? 

I was flying home from an Australian tour with my old band, extremely strung out and hungover from great experiences with the babes from that land...but I had a foreboding realization that there was a hollowness and emptiness in Absu that would lead to its failure. A lack of grit. On that flight I resolved to call Grzesiek Czapla, my musical soulmate, to start our own band. He was being phased in as the live Absu drummer and we were the ones booking the tours and creating whatever good vibes so it seemed only natural to start a band together. I sucked as a vocalist, so we covered Manowar, Priest, Venom, Witchfinder General, and Mercyful Fate songs to get my vocal chops up as well as delve into the songwriting processes of the old masters.

Let me be real here: Sonja has not REALLY started yet. We've played a few shows that I consider to be sort of testing the waters. Our focus has been on creating masterpiece songs. The two songs that we released online weren't even intended to be put out that way...I just saw a ton of traffic mentioning Sonja after I urged people to vote in October 2018, so I hastily threw them up.

What's the creative process like in Sonja, both for the lyrics and music composition? 
We write together in the practice room. It can start on any instrument from Ben, G, or Myself and we refine and perfect. Some songs had lyrics first and the music was crafted around them like "Wanting Me Dead" or "Fuck, Then Die." The only reason I'm the vocalist in this band is because I don't trust anyone else to be attuned with the spirits in the same way.  

You also launched the Toxic Femme apparel line. Tell me how this idea came to fruition?
Basically, fuck a rainbow is what I say. I prefer death, darkness, and witchcraft to be surrounding me. Transitioning is the most intense thing imaginable and it deserves the proper apparel which reflects this. Black shirts with white print. Living as visibly trans requires infinite times more willpower than anything else I've ever fathomed in life and my partner and I hadn't seen apparel that communicated that so we started making it ourselves. The world does a lot to try to beat down trans/nb people,and the world picked the wrong people to fuck with.

What's your favorite Toxic Femme design, if you had to choose one? 

I really like the classic Baphomet pentagram with pronouns. We do shirts that declare pronouns along with different imagery such as pentagrams, goats, etc. I'm the metal one and my partner Mattie is more punk so it's a good balance. We do custom orders with any pronouns for no extra charge. My favorite to personally throw on is the moon phases with the trans symbol in the center. We were selling Toxic Femme stuff at the Sonja merch table and G commented that a lot of it looks like band shirts which is totally the idea. People seems to enjoy ZZ Bottom and Tranzig designs.

Your Toxic Femme apparel helps make trans and LGBT+ people (and allies) more visible, are there any other organizations you recommend looking into to support?I don't have anything specific to recommend but definitely focus on getting help to trans people in countries where their lives are in danger. Do everything you can to destroy religion and its influence, wealth, and power. Anything that hurts republicans helps trans people.

What's your "ace in the hole" underground band that you like to show people who haven't heard it before? 
It used to be Brainbombs but now I really dig this new Philly band Control Top.  Neither of those bands are metal.

Philly's got a great metal scene! What are your favorite bands at the moment, locally or otherwise? 

This is what I've listened to in the past few days: Sepultura - Arise, The Crown - Hell is Here, Siouxsie and the Banshees - Juju, Boy Harsher - Lesser Man EP, God Dethroned - Bloody Blasphemy, Timelost - Don't Remember Me for This, Control Top - Covert Contracts, L7 - Smell the Magic, Amorphis - Elegy, Celestial Season - Solar Lovers, Beastmilk - Climax, Devil Master - Satan Spits on Children of Light, also Drab Majesty, True Moon, random King Diamond/Mercyful Fate Tracks.  Only Devil Master, Timelost, and Control Top are Philly bands from that list.  

Anything you'd like to say to the metal maniacs who read this?

If Udo ever comes back around doing Accept songs again and you don't go, you are a poser.

THANK YOU for going one on one with the GRIM1
Only death is real...

I will definitely stay tuned for the sound and the fury that is sure to come with Sonja's new album. As for Melissa, she has my respect for diving straight into singing Manowar and Judas Priest songs to improve her vocal range, instead of being a lazy schmuck like me and avoiding clean vocals all together. Follow Melissa via Sonja and Toxic Femme at the links below: Sonja on Bandcamp


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