In this exclusive Music Matters interview, we catch up with Nancy Mounir and Cherine Amr of the unstoppable Massive Scar Era, AKA Mascara, to talk about their climb to the top, playing at the biggest music festivals in the world and Avril Lavigne...
Alexandrian Metal band Massive Scar Era, AKA Mascara, have been rocking out for over eight years now, getting gigs at some of the world’s biggest music festivals including SXSW this year and Sweden Rock Festival in 2009 where they played alongside the like of Dream Theatre, In Flames, Immortal and the legendary ZZ Top. It hasn’t been an easy climb to the top of Egypt’s Metal scene, though, as lead guitarist and singer Cherine Amr and violinist Nancy Mounir explain in this exclusive edition of Music Matters. We talk to the ladies about not being allowed to play with boys, sexism in the music scene and the preconception that Metal bands have to eat live animals on stage…
So, how did you girls get together?
Cherine: We met at a Jazz concert in Alexandria, actually. I’m not really into Jazz at all but one of my friends was playing so I went and there was on empty seat between me and Nancy. She was really excited and kept clapping and stuff, so I noticed her. She looked like a child, she was tiny! After a while I was backstage with my friend and I saw her holding a violin. I was the type of person that listened to Doom Metal, that REALLY heavy stuff, but I was really into violins. So I asked her “You play the violin?!” she replied “Yeah.” And then I asked her if she wanted to join a Metal band and she just drew a blank…
Were you the only member of the band at the time?
Cherine: No. It was me, a bassist and a drummer. But we didn’t have any gigs back then. So I asked her if she was into Metal and she gave me a confused look. I then asked her if she was into Rock, and she was even more confused. I was like, “Metallica? No? nothing?” so I started to dumb it down more and more, to the point where I asked her if she knew about Avril Lavigne and she still had no clue!
Nancy: I used to listen to something completely different! I’m a Classical, Baroque kind of person. The really old stuff!
Cherine: But we had one thing in common – the gloomy, depressed, ka2aba! Anyway, we had our first gig coming up and I asked her to come jam with us and try it out. She brought her violin along and was shocked – she didn’t know if we meant to distort our guitar sounds or if they were broken! Then when I began singing…
Nancy: That wasn’t singing, it was screaming!
Cherine: That’s when I started thinking to myself “Oh it’s just one gig, we’ll just get past this one…”
Nancy: I was also thinking “What the hell have I done to myself! She’s yelling and scratching on the guitar! What the hell happened?”
So what got you into Heavy Metal and Rock in the first place, Cherine?
Cherine: Metallica. That was Metal for me. And when they did Fade to Black, I remember thinking it wasn’t really Metal, more Rock.
And Nancy, how did you get into Classical music?
Nancy: I really don’t know how but I used to watch concerts and performances on VHS tapes, while completely HATING Pop music. I couldn’t stand those songs that would have the same four boring chords that they keep repeating over and over …
Cherine: Oh please! What do you know about ‘N Sync? What do you know about that genius!?
So how did they convince you, Nancy?
Nancy: I thought I’d just play one gig and see what happens…
Cherine: She did a really good job that day! The thing is, I sucked at playing the guitar back then. I was shit… I mean if I’d remember to even tune my guitar, it would be a great day for me! So I sucked really bad and I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted with it, but when I’d explain it to Nancy, she’d do it with her violin. And I was like, “Wait, you already know how to do these things!” and so she started filling in for the parts I wasn’t technically able to do with my guitar. I think if we had met later on, when I was a good guitarist, she wouldn’t have taken as much of a spot as she has. Now we’ve been playing for about eight years, we automatically know what part of a song I’m going to handle and what she is going to handle as soon as we write something new.
Nancy: I mean if a person doesn’t want to do something they’re not going to. I was only planning to play one gig and try to see if I would fit in different situations as a session musician. It went well and I liked it, and the rest is history!
We heard that there were some family problems regarding you starting a band…
Cherine: We were in a Catholic school, so the idea of doing anything other than the ordinary isn’t even an option; it’s not allowed. So there was always the “You want to sing!?” and “People are going to call you a singer?!” And that was one thing. The other issue was that we would be a mixed band of guys and girls. I was in an all girls school so guys were like the boogie monster to us, we didn’t have any guy friends.
Nancy: Talk about yourself!
Cherine: Yeah, she was a different situation. So, having guys in the band was a major problem to my family. Me being in an isolated studio with a guy where even if I screamed no one would hear me, wasn’t cool with them so I started to look for girls to join. Since then, things have changed though and now we have guys in the band.
What’s the most negative reaction you’ve faced from the public?
Cherine: Just trash-talk... People would say stuff like “Check out the girl with a violin! What is she doing up there? Doesn’t she know this is a Metal Concert?” and stuff like that. Also, the scene is mostly guys and so when a girl gets in they think you’re only being heard because you’re a girl. People don’t want to recognise you as a person that accomplished something.
Does it ever get frustrating to be typecast only as a girl band?
Cherine: We wrote a song about that already! The last song we recorded addressed that specific situation because it’s really annoying. For instance, at the Alexandria Library music competition, we were really shocked because the guys we know on the music scene were being really friendly to us, I couldn’t believe how sweet they were and then…
Nancy: Perhaps they were trying to hook up with us?
Cherine: Hook up with who, Nancy?! For the love of God! So anyway, in that competition we were playing our own music and we didn’t want to play something difficult. Just something tight that would do the trick, that’s all. Other bands were all over the place rocking out and getting on the floor and whatnot, while we barely moved. There were lots of big bands in the competition like Masar Egbari and Eftekasat, and loads of genres. They went ahead and named Masar EgbariBest Band and some Jazz band got second place, and then they came to us and gave Nancy Best Violinist and they gave me a vocal prize. In the background you would hear all these noises from the Metal bands screaming “It’s just because they’re girls!!!” You’d have thought we were some hotties prancing around on stage in short skirts… But the judges were like, “they kept a good tune, made no mistakes and they’re original.”
After that came the straw that broke the camel’s back – when we played the Sweden Rock Festival. These guys seriously lost their manhood over it. We came up out of nowhere and said “Guys, we have a gig with Dream Theatre.” And they would be like “WHAT?!” or we would say “We only mentioned Dream Theatre? We didn’t mention In Flames?” and we get another “WHAAAT?!” We couldn’t even tell that that ZZ Top was going to be there! The funny thing is that when we applied, we never even mentioned that we were girls. We got the gig fair and square.
Nancy: We got A LOT of :“Oh yeah, it’s just because they’re girls,” which is ridiculous! It’s not possible that we’re getting every gig we do here and abroad only because were girls! Same with SXSW this year. We just applied, guys, relax! We don’t have any mystical woman powers…
Why do you guys keep changing drummers?
Nancy: Because all other bands do that!
Cherine: Well, not just drummers, we change band members all the time!
Who’s in the band now?
Cherine: It’s Maged Faltas on drums, Seif El-Bayoki on bass, and Nancy and I.
What’s the long term plan for you? Do you imagine yourself still doing this at 35 years old or with a kid at home?
Cherine: We’ll have to find men that can handle us before we start thinking of kids! I was personally engaged twice. First one was envious of the band and the other one hated it. So there’s that. The latter was really supportive and liked what I was doing, then, just before we got hitched he started being like “No, you need to get rid of so and so from the band,” and stuff like that so I ended up breaking it off. I really don’t know if I’m going to find someone who would accept it as it is, but I think the right thing to do is for us to leave this country.
So you’re working on being signed?
Cherine: Well not exactly. I mean, we’re technically signed. Not to what we REALLY want though. Like there’s this foreign record label that we just released a single with, but that’s not how it works. We need to be in a specific location where we can tour a lot and the record label can always have their eyes on us.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the world dead or alive, who would it be?
Cherine: I’d say Adam, the guitarist from Kill Switch Engage. Not only because he’s hot, but because he’s a drummer and a guitarist so he could compose both.
What if Adam from Kill Switch Engage told you he would marry you but…?
Cherine: OH!!! I had that dream like three times already!
Who are your favourite Egyptian bands?
Cherine: We used to like them but they weren’t so nice to us so we stopped liking them all! I think the artist Nancy and I have in common would be Dina El Wadidi.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you whilst you were performing?
Nancy: There was this one weird Egyptian guy in a gig abroad, he was an old guy. Apparently he heard that there was an Egyptian band that’s going to be playing so he came to check it out. He was absolutely shocked at our Heavy Metal of course, and had these random requests for old Arabic songs...
Nancy: There was also another time when I didn’t know what to do when the crowd started doing the Wall of Death. I just stopped playing, totally freaked out!
What’s a Wall of Death?!
Cherine: In the middle of a song, the crowd splits in half and then just slams into each other! Nancy was standing there like, “A3mel ehh!!!”
How does the typical Egyptian press deal with you?
Nancy: “Do you murder cats?”
Cherine: “How does the society look at you? Are you suppressed?”
If, like Ozzy Osbourne, you had to eat one live animal on stage, which animal would it be?
Nancy: Eww. I wouldn’t.
Cherine: A sea urchin.
Where’s your next big gig?
Cherine: Were trying to go to Germany for a festival, but that’s pending one of the guy’s Army situation.
Nancy: Germans make the greatest audience!
Cherine: We also have a gig with an orchestra on the 4th of July at the Azhar Park.
Do you have anything more you would like to say?
Cherine: I just want to tell anyone who hates on us and has nothing better to do: “7el 3an tezna!” You can either accept the fact that we’re making music … Or just die.