Some days I wake up before a review comes out and think, ‘Oh God, what are they going to say?’” admits Phoebe Pinnock, bombshell vocalist of Melbourne rock and metal band Heaven the Axe. “Putting it out there, your first record as an independent band is quite scary really. You don’t know how reviewers and journalists are gonna take it.”
She need not worry. Since her band first hit the scene, the reviews have almost always been positive. Formed as a duo in their hometown of Wagga Wagga by Pinnock and her husband Steve Watts – once the frontman of 90s thrash band Manticore – Heaven the Axe developed into a band when the couple moved to Melbourne and Watts got old buddies like ex-Damaged guitarist Mat Silcock and Tim Aldridge from Abramelin and The Berzerker involved. Some tweaking of the line-up (Aldridge and House of Thumbs drummer Tom Rossell have since made way for Trav Price and Aramis Pitrinec) and plenty of live work later and the band’s debut EP ‘Sex, Chugs and Rock N Roll’ has arrived. Loud previewed it earlier this year with a solid review and it seems we weren’t the only ones enamoured of their sweet n’ savage sound. During November Heaven the Axe played a series of shows in suburban Melbourne with Rose Tattoo at the personal invitation of Angry Anderson.
“It was great,” Pinnock recalls with enthusiasm, something she seems to have in unlimited supply. “We got some fantastic new fans and friends from it. We actually met some diehards from that. It’s just been super. For people to not know who we are to, by the end of the night, we’re selling out of t-shirts and things like that and signing a million CDs and just handing them out… It’s just been really humbling and we’re really grateful to have had the opportunity with the invitation from Angry to get out there to all his crowd that he’s developed. He’s shared his audience with us and we were so grateful to get out to different areas and play our music and share our heart with these people and connect to them in a really powerful way.”
The two bands came away from the shows as good friends. Phoebe and Angry became particularly close, with the Tatts leader taking her under his wing and offering the kernels of knowledge and nuggets of wisdom that could only come from forty years on the road.
“Angry’s become a bit of a mentor to me,” she says. “He’s certainly got a lot of advice for me on all sorts of different levels. And I have met Angry’s manager Ted who has run bands such as Jane’s Addiction and the Lollapalooza Festival and things like that, and I’m really learning that the greatest thing is for me to connect to who I am, and just be that person in every way. Whether it comes to business or performing or song writing or anything, it’s really very much about getting rid of any bullshit and connecting exactly with your heart and really taking a stand on who you are and putting it out there and not apologising.”
Pinnock also finds inspiration for honesty and frankness in the work of one of the world’s most successful female singer/songwriters, Dolly Parton. The night before this interview, she went along to see Parton perform at Rod Laver Arena and “just sat there in awe of her.”
“She’s such a superstar. She really is amazing. She really took the time to speak about where the songs came from, her family and her twelve brothers and sisters and growing up in the hills… it was just profoundly beautiful. I’m still recovering from the emotions that I had there, sitting in this room, a stadium, just full of people and many people bawling their eyes out as I was,” Pinnock says. “And I really appreciated her sharing her soul and her heart and her history and who she was and where the songs came from. And that’s definitely something that I like to bring to the stage.”
Parton’s music is reknown for its storytelling, and Pinnock hopes that her own songs are similarly able to convey feelings and thoughts to her audience. She wants them to understand Heaven the Axe on a personal level.
“When people come to see us they really get to know us because we’ve got a helluva lot of stories to bring up”, she says. “What it’s like to be brought up in Australia and what it’s like to be a woman surrounded by metalheads and also come from a situation where you would be surrounded by that crowd as well. When people come to my shows, I really want them to get to know me and where the songs come from and know about the victories in the battles from situations in the past of myself and my bandmates, and just walk away feeling inspired and empowered, because the music is definitely heavy and the sound that you want to run and lift weights to.”
Pinnock’s punchy delivery and the high-octane roar of the band means it’s also the sort of music to blast out while tooling about in stupidly over-powered custom cars and street machines. So it probably isn’t that surprising that one of the group’s biggest engagements up to this point was performing at the Summernats in Canberra at the start of this year.
Phoebe first laid eyes on her future husband and bandmate when she saw him hooning about in a Torana in their hometown of Wagga Wagga. Given that connection to their genesis as a band, playing the Summernats seems like the most obvious thing in the world for them to do. For the singer, it was an environment that really allowed her to bond to her role in Heaven the Axe and it led to a modicum of national exposure.
“I really came into my own as a frontwoman there, getting out of the city venues and the dressed-up hard rockers that you have in the city to the real true blue Aussie hoon crowd,” Pinnock says. “I really got to understand who I was as the frontwoman of this particular band at the Summernats. That led me to develop further as a live performance artist. And the sound of the music’s definitely suited to that. From that we’ve had fair bit of airplay on television on Channel 7, Channel 10 and lots of car-racing TV shows.”
She was also able to take home a piece of the event and use it on ‘Sex, Chugs and Rock n Roll’: a loud-as-fuck sample from a supercharged Ford dropping a massive burn out.
“We’ve got a live recording from Summernats because I got to go into the Burn-Out Competition,” the singer explains. “On YouTube you can watch me going into John Taverna’s supercharged XD Falcon on the track, we came second overall and it was pouring rain when he had to do it, so you can imagine the ferocity. He set the track on fire. It was pissing down! It was sensational. You can’t see anything but this black smoke everywhere you look. But I managed to sample the sound of his supercharger from inside the car on the track at Summernats and that is on our CD.”
If the EP’s savage rock and pop-laced hooks aren’t enough to win over listeners, then Pinnock reckons the noise of Taverna’s stunt should give guys an added incentive to get a copy.
“I always tell people they need this CD, because if they’ve got a Datsun or a shitbox you can crank the beginning of track number four when you take off from the lights and chicks will just drop dead all around,” she says, then explodes into a peal of laughter. “They’ll be falling at your feet.”