Melissa Harding: My Conversation with a Strutter Extraordinare

Music has always been my go-to for everything, to heal, to move, it’s been my everything. Recently, due to a roller coaster of events, this has held a true tone, especially after losing a dear friend.  And it also brought me an incredible blessing, which is this amazing interview I am about to bring you.  I decided to start doing my interviews again and I thought, Ok ill reach out again, see who would like to do an interview with me.

Never in my wildest dreams, would I imagine I would get a response from one of the ladies who sings with my absolute favorite band, SIXX: A.M.  If anybody knows me, they know how much it means to me and when Melissa Harding agreed to an interview, I was Flabbergasted.  Stunned.  Shocked.  Humbled.

I was more than happy to be able to sit down and ask her some questions and find out some things that she likes when she’s off the road with one of the greatest bands in history, learns she LOVES herself an adorable puppy (who doesn’t, puppies are GREAT! I love our dog Spike!)  and just really get to know Melissa, like she was an old friend I’ve known for years.  And I hope you get that from this interview, like I have.

I would like to dedicate this interview to Tom Spadafora…  You sir, you were a rockstar in your own right and you are truly missed.  This one’s for you Tom!  I only wish you were here to read it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you….. Melissa Harding!

 

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(header and above photo, credit to Monika Greenaway Photography)

 

Have you always wanted to perform? Was music your first love in the performing arts?

MH–I think I always knew I wanted to perform. My mom put me into voice lessons when I was 9 because I wouldn’t stop singing! When I was 10 years old, I joined “Belasco Theatre Company” which was a children’s theater company in the Bay Area run by the amazing Eddie Belasco – that company changed my life. Musical Theatre became by home – I did show after show after show, never growing tired of being up on stage, learning the script, the blocking, the choreography, the vocal parts. I loved creating characters. I really love live theater. Belasco gave me a safe place to explore my love of performing, and it gave me a place to develop my voice.

I love to sing, but I also have a deep love of acting that developed during that time. Acting has always been incredibly important to me, and it plays a huge part in my understanding of songwriting and interpretation of music – understanding the words and the story, how we talk to each other, how we express emotion and connect to another person through song. The process of discovering those connections is very moving to me, and its something I am always looking to learn more about. I have a successful voice teaching business in LA, and it’s amazing how much time I spend in those lessons talking about acting. I believe they are connected in the most wonderful way.

Looking back as far as you can, what is one of your most treasured memories of music?

MH–The first concert I ever went to was Neil Diamond. My mom and dad were both fans, and I grew up listening to his “Hot August Nights” concert over and over again on vinyl. I think I was about 7, and I remember that night: I remember his sequins, his big band so full of energy, the audience responding to “Sweet Caroline,” full of passion singing back to him. Neil writes really wonderful lyrics. I have always loved the stories he created in his songs. “Solitary Man” will always be one of my favorite songs about heartache, so simple and so honest. He was one of the first artists that made me fall in love with songwriting. I never thought he was a brilliant singer per-say, but it doesn’t matter. His voice has character, and he uses it to tell his stories. I say that to my students a lot – no one cares if your voice is perfect or if you’re the “prettiest” singer, they care if you have something to say.  

 

Growing up, did you have any big influences in your life personal and musically to fuel your passion to sing and create music? How did they help you grow as an artist?

MH–I was always inspired by James, ever since I was a kid. We met when I was 10 years old, and I grew up knowing his music (this was well before the Sixx:A.M. years). He was the first person I knew that was an active musician, writing and creating his own albums. That was incredibly inspiring for a kid to watch. I was so fascinated by the fact that he had a studio in his house, and he had made that music in that room. He was on the radio. It really blew my mind.

He was the first person to ever put me behind a mic in the studio in fact, the first person ever to record my voice in a professional setting. We stayed connected through the years, and he always encouraged me, told me to keep writing and exploring who I could be as an artist. He believed in me enough to give me my first professional touring job singing with Sixx:A.M. and being his on the road vocal coach. He has changed my life and believed in me since the beginning. I could never thank him enough for all he’s done for me, for every opportunity he’s given me, and for every piece of advice when the road got rocky or I lost my way. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today without his influence and his friendship.

 

You have such a powerhouse voice, you are part of the tag team crew that sing backing vocals for the kick ass band Sixx: A.M. along side Amber Van B. (who by the way also kicks a ton of ass). What is it like stepping out on the stage and singing with some of the most talented musicians this world has ever seen?

MH–It has been a dream come true singing with Sixx:A.M. I love rock music of all kinds, but given that my background was in classical voice and musical theater, I never thought I’d be given the opportunity to sing with a band like this. I have a lot of friends that say, “Melissa… I never thought I’d see you touring with metal bands!” and it’s amazing that it’s true – it’s been an incredibly unique experience. I’m not sure there are many other female backup singers in the heavy rock world, but Sixx:A.M. is a uniquely theatrical band, we do all kinds of singing, and we are having a blast!

I love the moments before we walk out onstage. We have our individual warm up routines, and we have our own moments together between band members, pumping each other up. Walking out and seeing the audience for the first time is always a rush, seeing the whole room, finding the different personalities in the crowd, seeing which fans are new, which ones we’ve seen before. We have a job to do when we get up there – we have to give as much energy as possible to reach each and every one of those people, and we have to work together to do that. That relationship with my band mates on stage is really incredible. I am inspired by their musicianship every day, and we really do have fun performing as a team.

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Melissa with her bandmates of SIXX: A.M Amber Van B, Dustin Steinke, Nikki Sixx, James Michael, DJ Ashba and Melissa Harding

(photo credit given to Jennifer, Instagram nyr1023)

 

Do you have any Pre-show warmups that get you ready before each show to get your voice into top notch shape? What do you know you CANNOT do if you know you’ll be singing a hefty set?

MH–I LOVE this question! One of my main jobs on the road is being James’s voice coach, so his voice being in tip top shape is always priority #1. So we always check in during the day pre-show to see where his voice is at. If sickness is going around, we work to deal with that as best we can too! It’s hard when you’re living on the bus!

Generally, our pre-show warm up consists of a few exercises, but we don’t spend too much time warming up. You always want to warm up in relation to how much work you have ahead. You warm up a little naturally by talking during the day – you just don’t want to overuse it. Our 45 minute set on the last few tours was intense – lots of intense singing back to back. For that set (which moved pretty quickly), no huge warm up required – just enough to make sure the muscles are ready for that!

Post show, we have a warm down routine that is even more important! That is a technique I learned from my brilliant voice coach, Mary Jo Duprey in Los Angeles. We always make sure to do the warm down. It’s important after singing a heavy set to give the vocal chords some TLC, and calm them back down before you go to bed. It is such a valuable part of maintaining your voice!

 

Traveling the world, you all get to see some amazing cities, and beautiful countries. Where have you been that has been some of your favorite places to be?

 

MH–I traveled a lot as a kid, so being on long plane rides is nothing new to me – but touring with Sixx:A.M. gave me the opportunity to go to so many places I might never have had the chance to go. My favorite place I have been on tour with Sixx:A.M. is Japan. Maybe Japan holds a special place in my heart because it was the first big show I played with the band, the first show we ever traveled to play – but it is a magical country that really had an affect on me. The people are so wonderfully kind and gracious, and the culture is so respectful and welcoming. I really love it there. I can’t wait to go back for a real vacation!

I also loved our time in Europe and Canada. I have done a lot more traveling in Europe, and our tours took us to so many new, amazing cities. I have specific memories I will never let go of… Falling in love with Sweden, discovering Quebec City (AMAZING!), eating sushi in Frankfurt on a super rainy day, and watching Rammstein in Italy in a crowd of 30,000, feeling so inspired by their creativity. We have had some amazing opportunities, discovering new cultures and listening to all kinds of music in some of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

 

When you aren’t traveling with the band, you have an online social media segment you do called “Strutter Song Saturdays” where you do a cover of some of your fan requested favorite songs, what made you want to start this? (Which by the way is one of my favorite things)

MH–I’m so glad you enjoy it! I love doing Strutter Song Saturdays! I wanted to do it because I wanted to sing something new every week for fun – I love to work my singing brain, and I love to challenge myself to try new things. I thought that would be a really unique way to do that, asking anyone out there to send me a request, lets see what I can make happen with the songs you choose!

Strutter Song Saturdays is an opportunity for me to show the world that I am a singer who will sing live anytime, any sort of song, any sort of style. Throw it at me, lets see what I can do! I have over 50 song requests written down, so I work through the list and pick at random every week based on how I’m feeling! Thanks to everyone out there who has sent in a request – it’s so much fun!

 

Not sure if you agree, but the state of the country right now can be kind of scary at times. I find my way to escape the “crazy” of it at times is through music and writing. Do you think music can be a healing device when times get tough?

MH–Absolutely. Music heals – it truly does. ART heals. Through all sorts of art, we find ways to relate to each other on a human level. The world is a heated place right now, there is conflict and sadness all around us – but through music we find common ground. We can reach out with our words and melodies and touch people, relate to someone else without judgment. Music can provide a place of understanding, and it can open our hearts to emotion – it can break through tough exteriors and present another way of experiencing love, anger, grief, acceptance, etc. Through a song, we can be transported, and that is a truly beautiful gift. When an artist touches us, it can be life changing.

 

Who are some of your go to artists when you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and just slide into a new groove?

MH–I listen to all kinds of music. I’ve been using my record player a lot – been listening to some Elvis, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Steely Dan, Billie Holiday, The Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Glenn Miller, Michael Jackson, Judy Garland, Simon and Garfunkle… I love all of those musicians so much! I have my favorites that I listen to over and over for sure.

I am a fan of so much music, but since we’ve been home, I have been on a real jazz kick lately! I have been listening to Melody Gardot – love the vibe of her music, what a voice! I’ve also been listening to Leslie Odom Jr’s album (Leslie is a friend, and watching his work has inspired me greatly – he is a TRUE talent). I also occasionally throw on a Dixieland playlist! Last year, Dixieland Christmas was my JAM… I love instrumental stuff, just good musicians doing there thang!

 

How does the onstage Melissa differ from the offstage Melissa?

MH–I gotta tell ya, offstage Melissa is a real homebody! I love my room, I love my space, and I love spending time alone in sweat pants binge watching Netflix. As I’ve gotten older, a few things have happened: I am not a party animal anymore (I rarely have more than 2 glasses of wine, and those are few and far between as well), and I really value my space and my solitude! Offstage, I am known to crack lots of jokes… I may or may not talk in funny voices to make my friends laugh, and I lose my mind around puppies. I am a loyal friend, I LOVE good conversation over good food, and I love being busy and having lots of projects going on at once.

(first photo credit Monika Greenaway Photography, second photo sixxammusic.com)

When I first started this blog, it started as a dream. I wanted to be a writer and I love music and I wanted to mesh them all together and one day I want to do it for a living but at times I have doubters and people who shun me out. What do you say to those types of people when they spill negativity over someone’s creativity?

 

MH–I always try to respond to that sort of stuff with humor… I guess thats just my personality: I’m not good at keeping my mouth shut sometimes. So I go to my humor, I find other ways to respond. I don’t take myself that seriously… so why are they responding so seriously? I’ve had people leave me rude comments on youtube videos or over twitter… I always think to myself, “Man, they must have a lot of time on their hands.” It always seems a bit silly to me… What’s the point? Why does slamming others make people feel good? So my response is usually something like “I always appreciate constructive criticism – I will keep your thoughts in mind as I’m always looking to get better!” – I figure a little sarcasm never hurt no one.

I think engaging in negativity just creates more negativity. I think learning to laugh at yourself is super important, especially if you’re in entertainment or in some way, putting your creativity into the world. I know there are people out there that are going to try to hate on me, make me feel bad about myself, unimportant, stupid and untalented… But they don’t know me. They don’t know my story, how hard I’ve worked, the way I was raised, who I truly am as a person. Thats just one opinion that I can live without. I have no reason to take on their sadness, anger, or judgement!

 

Do you have any comforts of home you bring with you when you go out on tour? Besides your awesome Converse.. (i have 5 pair so welcome to the club)

MH–It’s strange that I’m so new to converse… Just got my first pair last year. And now I have 5. I LOVE THEM! I don’t know why I’m so late to the party!

I always bring DVD’s on the road – Some of my feel good favorites, guilty pleasures… And I also always have candy in my bunk. I have a bedside table at home that always has sweets in it, little treats that I have before bed. So I keep that routine going on the road. I always get a little candy crazy. I also started bringing travel candles this last tour – I find that having that for my hotel room always makes me feel more cozy away from home. We always have candles on the bus as well!

 

Music business can be scary at times, I have seen some of my friends hit highs and lows and I’ve seen them go through some really rough times. What kind of advice do you have for someone who’s trying to get a start in a segment of the music business?

 

MH–I love this question, and the advice I would give (that I have heard from other trusted friends before) is this: work with people you LIKE. Work with GOOD PEOPLE. Keep close the people that you feel you really connect with and can trust. If you want to continue feeling inspired and driven, you need to find like minded people. There are so many personalities in the entertainment business, and people are in it for different reasons. Don’t forget who your friends are: there are people all around who will want a piece of what you have, who will try to manipulate you because of their own motives. Trust your gut and surround yourself with people that don’t make you question your talent or your work. Work with people who see your visions and help you carry them farther – who support your creativity and encourage you constructively.

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Melissa during one of SIXX: A.M. stellar performances!

(photo credit given to NYR1023, Jennifer)

 

When you aren’t performing or traveling, what do you like to do in your downtime?

MH–My days in LA are pretty busy! When I’m not on tour, I do some sort of work 7 days a week. I’m always running around doing something productive (I love to-do lists way too much!) I try to make time for exercise every day – I attempt to work out 6 days a week, even if its just a quick 10 minutes of cardio. I love to go to dance classes and yoga classes. I also have a spin bike in my room, and I love hiking. (I will be doing a lot more hiking when my puppy comes home March 13th! Buckley is gonna come with Mama and get a workout!) I haven’t quite figured out how to be that active on the road!

I am usually in the middle of a book, and I’m an avid cook! I really value my health, and I love being in the kitchen cooking fresh meals at home. When I’m not working, I love to keep up with various TV shows, and I always follow movies and go out of my way to watch the most raved about acting performances of the year! I’m a member of SAG – Aftra, and although I’m not auditioning for acting work regularly right now, I love being a part of the community. I hope to have time for more acting at some point!

 

What would be your absolute dream collaboration?

 

MH–Singing with Tony Bennett has always been a dream. When I saw that Lady Gaga was doing a tour with him, I thought to myself, “Damn… Gaga… you so LUCKY!” Haha! I just LOVE him! He is a real singer, a true vocal artist. I used to listen to the Tony Unplugged album over and over again when I was young – I would study the way he used his voice to tell a story. His phrasing is effortless, and his voice has aged so beautifully. Every time I see him sing live, I am reminded of what it means to really value your voice and what a gift it is to sing and connect to people. He always does great collaborations with amazing singers, and I hope he continues to sing another hundred years so I will have a chance to share a stage with him and live out that fantasy. And if it stays a fantasy forever, thats okay too. He’s taught me so much!

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(photo credit to Monika Greenaway Photography, from Melissa’s official Instagram)

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There you have it!  Thank you so much again Melissa for allowing me a moment into your busy life, it was a true honor and blessing to be allowed to include you along side the other amazing artists in my blog.  You keep kicking some serious ass girl, I cannot wait to see Buckley posts when you finally get him!

If you would like to find out more about Melissa and all her adventures, you can find her at the following social media platforms:

Instagram: @MelissaKHarding

Twitter: @MelissaKHarding

Facebook  www.facebook.com/melissahardingmusic

Youtube you can search for her under Melissa Harding and check out her awesome videos for Strutter Song Saturdays!

I am Stacie, this is Stack Attacks Music!

If you’d like to leave a comment, please do.  Let me know what you think, let Melissa know as well.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to contact me, shoot me an email stackattacksmusic@gmail.com

or you can reach me on Instagram or Twitter, both LifeOfStackie

ROCK ON!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Gary Friedman · February 26, 2017

    Melissa is such an amazing talent… THANK YOU for this wonderful and insightful interview!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen · March 1, 2017

    The questions were really thoughtful and allowed Melissa to share herself with us! I’ve got to check out that Strutter Song Saturday.

    Liked by 1 person

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