- - Thursday, June 29, 2017

The petite woman with model-quality looks and a huge smile doesn’t appear to have the edge you’d expect from a metal singer, but the minute she opens her mouth and unleashes the raw power of a hard-rock scream on “Pocket Full of Nails,” you know she is the real deal.

Miss Harley was also the late metal god Lemmy’s one and only protege. She discussed this backstage at Ride for Ronnie, as well as how a nice Southern church girl became a heavy metal heathen.

Question: What were the first rock records you loved?

Answer: I grew up in church, so I couldn’t really listen to rock music other than the stuff my dad played [which was] a lot of Jimi Hendrix.

I grew up the only black girl in a white neighborhood. My friends would play rock; their parents would play rock. I discovered bands like Rage Against the Machine and Queen through them [and] AC/DC. But I would go home to gospel.

Q: Since you grew up in a house full of gospel, how do your parents react to you being a rocker?

A: My dad still doesn’t listen to my music. But he’s starting to get that this is who I am and what I do.

Q: How does it feel to be only one of a few African-American women to play metal?

A: It hasn’t been easy. It’s still not easy. But I’m not gonna stop.

I feel like I always belonged in this community in my spirit. People have said to me, “Why don’t you just play R&B? Isn’t that up your alley?” Lemmy told me this, so I’ll stand behind it. He said, “You guys started rock ‘n’ roll, so take it back.” He said, “Without Chuck Berry, you have no rock ‘n’ roll or heavy metal. So take it back.”

I’m not so much trying to take it back but just live in that space with everybody else. Breaking barriers and breaking ground is cool.

Q: Where did you song “Pocket Full of Nails” come from?

A: I was literally running after spending the night at Lemmy’s old apartment. I went for a run and the lyrics came to me. I had no phone, no pen to write it down. They just started coming to me: “Out for a run and I found my bitch. Now I’m ready to thrash. Pocket full of nails.”

I remembered the hook, and when I got back, I wrote all the verses because to me music is a ministry for the soul. It’s supposed to move you and allow you to feel better and know you can achieve.

Q: How did you first meet Lemmy and become his protege?

A: I was singing at The Rainbow [in Los Angeles] on a Wednesday night with this really cool guy named Paul Killian. The next thing I know, the night kept getting bigger. Lots of people coming up. This woman Cheryl was in the bar before a show. She was Lemmy’s girlfriend. I said, “You should come hear me sing. She said, “Hell, no, I’m not going to hear you sing!” She had no time for me. Next thing I know, I was on stage singing and she was standing there with her arms folded shaking her head.

After the show, she said, “Do you know who my boyfriend is? He’s Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead.” She said, “He will love you. And do you know [Motorhead manager] Todd Singerman?”

She called Todd right then and there, and said, “Todd, there is this girl. I’m listening to her and she f****** rocks. You have to meet her.”

It took a little while, but he finally came to see and meet me at a showcase. Then he invited me to play Motorhead’s Motorboat heavy metal cruise with Anthrax and Slayer. I became part of that world.

After that cruise I would hang out with Lemmy at his apartment when he was working on the last album. He would ask me, “What do you think about this?”  and let me read lyrics. A couple times I said, “Well, that word would sing better than what you wrote.” He would sing it out loud in front of me, then say, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Q: Did you freak out because you were in the presence of a rock icon?

A: I never realized what was really happening because I was just there having fun and learning. I didn’t know about how cool it was to really be there. I was just hanging out with Lemmy [and] watching him dye his hair.

Q: Were you a Motorhead fan?

A: Not a hard-core Motorhead fan, but a rock fan for sure. Not so much metal but classic rock.

Q: Do you consider the music you make to be metal or rock?

A: I call my music SMR, which stands for “soul metal rock.” That’s kind of what it is.

Q: Why do you think Lemmy picked you as his protege?

A: He said he liked where I came from musically.  He told me, “You’re not jaded and you have something special. … Music is supposed to stay around. It’s not supposed to be songs that happen for the moment and then they’re gone. You have an energy about you. What you have can be here 20 or 30 years from now.”

Q: What did he teach you?

A: He taught me that music is everything. From the moment you wake up until the time you go to sleep. You don’t wake up and put on who you are, you wake up who you are.

Q: What do you miss most about Lemmy?

A: The truth. That’s what I miss. He never beat around the bush about anything. Either he liked you or he didn’t.

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