Of all the Canadian heavy metal classics, none comes from such a surprising place as “Metal Queen.” Lee Aaron was not long out of high school jazz band when she co-wrote this hard-rocking ode to a female warrior. A music video featuring Aaron in a fur outfit and chains hit MuchMusic, the record took off in Europe, and suddenly the singer was a metal queen herself – during the genre’s mainstream heyday. Since then, Aaron has focused on performing jazz and theatre, writing new material and dusting off her metal material for festivals. She spoke to SOCAN from her home in Vancouver.
How did someone from a jazz background come to write a heavy metal anthem?
My scene was musical theatre. I had played sax in my school jazz band and I was very involved in singing old Tin Pan Alley tunes. I was attracted to hard rock eventually because I loved the power. Female artists seemed to be relegated to the confines of folk and pop music. I was a fan of Anne and Nancy Wilson [of Heart] and felt they were charting new territory for women to have a powerful voice in rock music, and I wanted to take that one step further.
How did you come up with “Metal Queen” with your guitarist?
George and I had played together since I was 15 years old, and written a lot together. We were playing some dumpy hotel bar on the outskirts of Edmonton. It was a tough scene, but the nice thing was that this bar was not open during the day, so they let us go down and rehearse. We were trying to prepare material for our second album. I remember that George had come up with this riff and we were jamming on it. He kept singing “Me-tal!” And I’m like, “Right, that’s so original.” Eventually I came up with “Me-tal que-en!” and we both agreed – that’s the chorus.
Who was the Metal Queen? I heard you were inspired by the animated film Heavy Metal.
Yeah. It’s all about this female heroine character who destroys a war through self-sacrifice.
Why did people think it was autobiographical?
Well, the outfit [in the music video] didn’t help, let’s be honest! The song was all about, “let’s be powerful, let’s have equality.” That was my intention. MuchMusic was in its infancy and looking for big production videos and ours went into heavy rotation. It was totally fun, I embraced it as theatre. But the public will cast you.
You stopped performing the song for a long time? Why?
I had written many songs. I had had bigger hits. Yet bookers would ask me to play it and the fans would scream for it. I started to feel angry. I wanted to be recognized as a singer and a writer, not the girl in a fur bikini. So I felt I needed to go in a different direction. I stopped performing rock at all and went back to my roots.
Looking back now how do you feel about having written heavy metal classic?
It is a bit weird. I was such a young girl, 19 or 20 years old, I had no idea it would become such an iconic song and image in the hard rock world. The nice thing is that metal fans are very passionate and extremely loyal. Two years ago I played the Sweden Rock Festival and I was shocked to find that people were waiting 30 years for me to come there. Wow! I embrace it now, all the kitsch and the nostalgia. I’m happy to get on stage and wear the metal queen crown. We’re all in on the joke.