Voices of Metal: Mary Zimmer
A veteran metal vocalist from the United States, Mary Zimmer has seen the ups and downs of the music industry, faced the trials of getting signed and dropped, and even considered giving up music all together. So how did her journey begin and where is it heading?
Tracing her singing back to when she was just a kid, Mary says she wasn’t so much into singing as much as she was into playing an instrument. Thanks to a “big voice” she often attracted a lot of attention in her teen years, though she admits that she had no control of her voice. Despite this, she took part in some contests and did rather well. By the end of high school she decided that she wanted to make music her career and was pleasantly surprised that music was an option for a major.
“I was like, ‘you can do that? You can go to college for music?’” she says with a laugh, for at just eighteen years old such a path in college seemed outlandish.
Studying music at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she dropped out after her first semester. Then after a semester off she returned and took college and singing a little more seriously by returning to Whitewater and enrolling in a classical singing course.
“It was a really rude awakening. In college it’s very formal and classical,” she says. “I had a 72-year-old opera coach who basically kicked my ass, but I needed it. I was a punk ass.”
Like any college kid, Mary took a liking to staying out late and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. As a result, she missed her lessons on occasion, but that didn’t stop her teacher from whipping her into shape.
“She would literally like call my dorm at 9 in the morning and holler at me for not going to my lesson because I was hung over,” she recalls with a laugh. “That really helped having that kind of coach ….it was all in the name of construction. There’s a big difference between telling someone that they have a lot of work to do or that they’re acting like a punk, or whatever, or that they suck.”
While still in her first year of college, Mary got linked up with her first band, A Touch of Evil. Much more a punk rock girl, spiky hair and all, she wasn’t so sure what the band was talking about when they explained the style they were shooting for.
“So these guys came to me and they were a little bit older of me, and they were like ‘we want to be like Nightwish and The Gathering.’ I was like ‘who the hell is that?’” Mary says with a laugh, for at the time she wasn’t much into metal. Regardless, she soon wrote back and told them that the most metal she knew was Dream Theater and Tool. This didn’t matter, for she was soon recruited as the band’s singer and to get her into the metal mindset, the band supplied her with a plethora of metal albums that she soon fell in love with.
Establishing herself as a metal vocalist through shows big and small such as Milwaukee Metal Fest, Mary was eventually contacted by Zack Zweifel, the then current drummer of The Ottoman Empire, and asked to join as their vocalist due to their vocalist/guitarist, Brian Koenig, wishing to focus more on his instrument.
Though unsure if she could meet the expectations of Ottoman Empire, Mary went down and jammed with the band. Being that they were all classically trained musicians she got fairly comfortable rather quickly and recalls with a laugh that Brian Koenig would come to practice with a score for each member. Of course, she was happy to have Brian doing the writing, for she wanted to focus on singing.
A progressive metal band known for their unique sound, especially Koenig’s guitar playing, the Ottoman Empire released two extended plays and a full length album between 2004 and 2008. Their hardworking attitude and powerful sound attracted the attention of Century Media who then signed the band as Luna Mortis. The band would release one album with the label in 2009 before being released from their contract. A year later the band officially disbanded.
“Being signed is a load a crap. In 2016 I would frankly discourage anyone from doing so. I don’t think label attention is a good thing anymore,” Mary says with little love for the traditional way of getting music to the masses. “We were doing, quite frankly, a lot better before we were signed. Yeah, we were getting a lot of press, but we were getting a lot of press before we got signed.”
Following the dissolution of Luna Mortis, Mary walked away from the music scene feeling jaded.
“I just quit. I didn’t even try to do anything. I said ‘fuck it.’ I was out and I disappeared for a few years.”
Fortunately, by 2011 she realized that maybe she should try to restart her music career, so she made an artist page on Facebook. She began getting offers to join various projects, but nothing really caught her eye.
“Then Paul came out of the woodwork,” she says of Paul Allender, who had asked her to join Cradle of Filth as a singer and keyboardist sometime between late 2012 and early 2013. “I turned him down because I was finishing my second set of college degrees…it wasn’t a priority to me. A lot of people think I’m crazy, like ‘you turned down Cradle of Filth!?’ but I couldn’t do it. I also learned that not every opportunity is a good opportunity.”
Despite turning down the offer to join Cradle of Filth she stayed in contact with Allender and was later recruited for his then new project, White Empress.
Spending the next three years as the lead vocalist of White Empress, Mary parted ways with the band in 2016 due to an assortment reasons that were laid out in a video put out by Mary herself. She has since formed Santa Marta with multi-instrumentalist, Erik Tyler.
Taking a single by single approach with her new band, Mary is dedicated to remaining an independent artist from this point on. And though her new band is just a two person band in the studio, they’ve since put together a touring lineup and will be hitting the road shortly. To support her endeavors she also gives vocal lessons via Skype and has been making singing tutorials for YouTube. Least to say, Mary may have thought to call it a day on music at one point, but that’s all in the past.
Editor’s note – Cover Photo by Mary Sweeney
Hear the evolution of Mary’s vocals in these videos from her time in Luna Mortis, White Empress, and her current band, Santa Marta