Gary James' Interview With Mandy Reed Of
They've played shows all around the world - Japan, Canada and the U.S. Endorsed by Angus Young of AC/DC, Hell's Belles are the closest you're going to get to AC/DC without actually moving to Australia and joining AC/DC's road crew. Here is the incredible fact about Hell's Belles: They're an all female tribute act!
Mandy Reed talked with us about her group.
Q - I have to say Mandy, you and Hell's Belles are the first AC/DC tribute group I've spotlighted.
A - Oh, well that's awesome, considering there's hundreds out there. So, thank-you. I appreciate that.
Q - But not like Hell's Belles.
A - (laughs) Well, I think everybody has their own twist to whatever. I'd like to think that we're doing what we do well. We're thankful for that. We share in common with any other AC/DC Tribute band, the love for AC/DC. So, we have a camaraderie in a sense.
Q - Who's idea was it to put this group together? It's an absolutely brilliant marketing concept.
A - It was actually the idea of our former "Angus", Amy Stolzenbach. It's kind of a long story, but she got together with Om Johari, who was our former lead singer "Bon / Brian". She approached Om and asked what she thought about starting an all-female AC/DC Tribute with her being the singer. Everyone thought it was a fantastic idea. Together, through the Seattle music scene, seeing other players, they sort of built the band and had auditions with female musicians they knew. And there you have it. Hell's Belles started.
Q - Did you think there would be a worldwide market place for the group?
A - Well, I thought AC/DC is really universal and timeless. They're still selling out arenas out there. Having an all female band do it, I mean nowadays you're seeing it more and more. But back then I had never heard of anyone doing an all-female tribute. So, I was sure that it was gonna get some attention. I'm not the original bass player. There was a bass player in Hell's Belles about six months before I joined. And I joined ten years ago (2000). When I got the phone call from Om to ask me if I would be interested in playing bass, they were already getting some notoriety, at least in the Seattle area. They were already selling out shows. I believe the very first show they did was a packed house. And back then the sheer curiosity of seeing females pull this off was what was bringing people in at first.
Q - What is the reaction of the crowd when you hit the stage, the spotlight falls on you, and you start playing that first song?
A - Oh, people love it. They go crazy. But again, I think it's how much people really love AC/DC. I'd like to think ten years later, people are still coming out because we play the music well. I think in the beginning, being female helped with the numbers, so to speak, again coming in with the curiosity of it all. But I don't think we'd still be around, doing what we're doing if we weren't decent musicians and gave it justice. I think it's important and all of us feel the same way, in trying to be authentic and trying to play the music the way it should be played. It has a lot to do with it. AC/DC's music just kind of does something to you. You're forgetting about your everyday strife, you job, your work, any other problems. Any other problems you may be having. If you're into music and you're seeing a 'live' band playing AC/DC music 'live', it's not hard to get wrapped up into it and just rock your ass off. That's just what it does to you. (laughs)
Q - What kind of a band were in before this?
A - Before this, I was in a band that was predominantly female. We had a male drummer, but it was a female Rock band out here in Seattle called Halfacat. We didn't do any touring, but we were starting to build up a following in Seattle. It was more straight-forward Rock with some Pop overtones. It was pretty Pop(py) too. But it was so much fun to play. I was also doing another band. I was playing guitar in Halfacat and playing bass in another band called Neutralboy, which is a Punk band.
Q - Does AC/DC know about Hell's Belles?
A - Yes. We've met them twice, first with the Stiff Upper Lip Tour up here in Tacoma, at the Tacoma Dome. We went to their concert and got to go backstage and meet them. We actually gave them a video DVD of us playing 'live'. They watched it. There was talk after that of us maybe opening up for them for a couple of dates in Europe, which would be awesome. I think it's kind of weird having a tribute act opening with AC/DC songs and then have AC/DC come out. But I'm not going to complain. That was a fantastic offer. Unfortunately, we would have to have been out of the country in like two weeks, I think. There were passport issues. A few of us didn't have our passports and there was no time to expedite everything, so we weren't able to do it. It didn't end up working out. The fact that they even asked was definitely something to be proud of for sure.
Q - They wouldn't extend that offer to say a year or two years?
A - Well, two years later they weren't touring. They just toured for that record and went on hiatus for quite a while, until "Black Ice" came out and then obviously they toured for just that record. But no, we didn't get asked again. I can't tell you why. Maybe it was just that one opportunity they thought for those particular cities in Europe would be fun. That's just speculation though. And then the second time we met them was again at the Tacoma Dome with this last tour, the Black Ice Tour. We got the chance to meet them again. This time it wasn't the whole band. This time we met Malcolm and Brian.
Q - So, what's it like meeting the guys whose music you're playing onstage? What's it like meeting, I guess I can say, your idols?
A - They're most definitely our heroes. It's very surreal. Me, when I meet someone that means something like that to me, it's hard to speak. I get sort of tongue-tied. (laughs) It was definitely a surreal experience and one that I am certain, and I can speak for the whole band on this, none of us are going to forget. And the guys are just down-to-earth and very gracious and nice. Brian Johnson is hilarious. I mean, he's just very, very animated and just happy all the time to see you. Throws his arm around you like you've known him for twenty years. He's very easy to be comfortable around. It was a lot of fun. I think we just collapsed to the floor after they left the room from the sheer adrenalin and excitement. Definitely one of the highlights of my musical endeavors, being able to meet them. So, we're definitely thankful.
Q - You say there are hundreds of AC/DC Tribute acts out there. I wonder how many of them have gotten the opportunity to meet the guys in AC/DC not once, but twice!
A - Yes. I'm not sure. I wish I had an answer for you on that. I know it's really hard to do. We definitely had to go through someone who knew them personally. We're thankful. I don't think it happens too often. I can't say we're the only ones. It was real tough to get in there, but we're very, very thankful that we got a chance to speak with them and thank them for all the years of good music and just sit down and bullshit for a little while.
Q - How many people does it take to put Hell's Belles on the road?
A - Surprisingly, our booking agent, and it's usually us girls, and we fly a Merch (Merchandiser) person with us. Basically Hell's Belles is run by seven people, including us. Our booking agent, Julianna Anderson, is definitely a God-Sent. She works her butt off for us. We haven't really had the need to hire anybody else. She's been amazing.
Q - You don't have a Road Manager or roadies?
A - Nope. (laughs) We used to have kind of a Stage Manager that we used to bring with us, but for the most part we fly into our gigs. Unless we're doing a regional show, we're not hauling our gear. So when we're flying, we're just taking our instruments and usually it's just backline. Usually there's not much to do. We tune our own guitars. We don't have somebody doing that for us. So most of it is just done ourselves. When we have to take our gear, we load it up in our car and go to the venue and unload just like any other band.
Q - How many gigs a year do you play?
A - We do roughly around four to six gigs a month. We used to do van tours where we'd tour in a van and be on the road for a month and a half at a time, home for a couple of days and back out for two weeks. We used to do it that way. But we've gotten to the point now where we're able and lucky enough to fly to most of our gigs and spend a lot of time home because two of us are mothers. So it's important to us as well to be here for our kids. We really do have a lucky situation. I wake up every day counting my blessings about that, 'cause I don't have to be on the road like I used to be and I can actually spend time with my son.
Q - Did you like being on the road?
A - Of course. On the road I've had some of the best times in my life. It can be grueling. It takes a unique person or somebody that definitely has their heart in the right place as far as music goes to be able to endure. Often times you're sleeping in the van or you're driving all night. Then you do a gig, leave the stage, get back in the van and you drive all night again. Night after night of that, it gets pretty tiring. If you love something enough, you're willing to sacrifice sleep and energy for it. I think any musician out there that tours knows what I'm talking about.
Q - So, there was enough money for Hell's Belles to sustain a tour of six weeks on the road? I always think a band needs tour support from somewhere.
A - Right. I think for original bands that's definitely true. I can speak from experience, touring in an original band, depending on our t-shirts and merchandise to get us to the next city, it's definitely true, because the guarantees from the venues aren't a whole lot. It's not enough to get you to the next city and so we relied heavily on selling t-shirts, CDs and all of that to get us to the next town. Fortunately with a tribute band, the guarantees tend to be a little higher because you're playing music that people are already familiar with and they go out to see it. Everyone loves AC/DC, so that was a big help. It was a little bit easier being in a tribute band for sure.
Q - Do you get male "groupies" come on to you after the shows?
A - On a few occasions. It's happened. Generally we don't get that. We're actually a pretty, really, really mellow band. Usually after we're done with a set, we go out to greet everybody at the t-shirt table and sign stuff if they want us to sign stuff. The AC/DC fans and the Hell's Belles fans, we just get to know them. Usually we pack up our stuff, go back to our hotel and go to sleep. I can't say there's never been an occasion, but there has. And we've had female "groupies" as well. Sometimes the girls get more excited than the guys do. (laughs) But they're all out there, especially nowadays. People are definitely much more comfortable in what they like. We've gotten both sides of the table for sure. But most of us are in relationships or married. We hang out, but not like that. (laughs)
Q - How disappointed some fans will be!
A - No. No. No. (laughs) Usually, for the most part I can tell you 99.9% of the time the fans are just happy to hang out and talk about how much they love AC/DC and how much they enjoy the show. That's one of our points, to spread the awesome music of AC/DC around. We've even converted a few fans that have never liked AC/DC before. After seeing our show, they end up becoming an AC/DC fan. So that definitely makes us happy when that happens. Most of the time people are pretty respectful.
Q - Have you put out a CD or DVD of Hell's Belles?
A - We have. We have recorded one studio record. Gosh, it's probably been out five years. So we're talking about maybe goin' in and doing another CD or record. We'll see. It wasn't even something that we ever, ever planned. That was like the number one request from people who came to our shows, that we should do a CD. We were a band for a good six years before we went into the studio and just did it, and of course with permission from AC/DC's publishing company. Then we finally did it and people love it.
Q - I've often wondered how it works with a tribute band. You're saying you need permission from these artists?
A - Well, if you want to put out a CD, yes. You're going to have to get permission and pay royalties. Absolutely. I mean, it's their music.
Q - How does that work? You need to have some kind of accounting system in place?
A - Yeah. It depends on how many CDs you're selling. It even goes down to the length of the song, per song. There's a few factors that go into it. But you just get a hold of the bands. In our case, we had to get a hold of AC/DC's publishing company and go through them and tell them how many CDs we were making and then we went from there. Then you end up paying one lump sum per how many CDs. Obviously it's gonna be different if you're making five hundred CDs verses one thousand CDs and how many songs you're doing.
Q - You have to be a business person as well as a musician to succeed in today's market place.