Hell’s Belles toll for thee
AC/DC cover band’s lead singer talks about her group and playing Chico
Om Johari, lead singer for the Seattle-based, all-female AC/DC cover band Hell’s Belles, is on the phone. Her band is due to play Chico soon, and she’s describing what inspired her to sing in the first place, let alone interpret songs by the Australian metal group.
She grew up in a musical family, she says, and her classical-violinist mother “had a huge, incredible record collection.” As a teenager, Johari leaned toward jazz-influenced material, later gravitating to blues and rock. So, what was it about AC/DC’s music?
“AC/DC just has these crazy, blues-based rhythms,” Johari pleasantly growls. “Blues-based rock ‘n’ roll is where it’s at. Some of the new stuff [by younger artists] really doesn’t come from anything.”
Johari is a Seattle native. When asked if she was part of the grunge scene during the ‘90s, she states she was performing “R&B-style stuff, more like funk-metal. You had to be able to incorporate different styles into one thing. And grunge just wasn’t like that.”
Whose idea was it to start Hell’s Belles?
“Amy Stolzenbach, our ‘Angus’ [Young—kinetic, British-schoolboy-uniformed lead guitarist with AC/DC]. She came up with the idea about three years ago. She was listening to the radio and heard ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You.’ And there’s a line in there that goes something like ‘Venus with arms.’ She thought that would be a great name for an all-female AC/DC cover group.”
Initial indifference from other musicians led Stolzenbach to put her idea on a backburner. It wasn’t until Johari approached Stolzenbach about starting a band that the AC/DC angle was reintroduced. “And I was like, ‘That’s an awesome idea!'”
Hell’s Belles’ first gig was at the legendary OK Hotel, in Pioneer Square, Seattle. “It was totally packed,” claims Johari, “and from there word spread like wildfire.” The band has since opened for such “names” as Megadeath, Pat Benatar, .38 Special, and more.
From Canada to San Diego, Hell’s Belles has played the Coast three times now and has recently undergone personnel changes. Replacing rhythm guitarist Sylvia Wiedermann and bassist Heather Madden are Adrian Conner and Mandy Reed, respectively.
“Adrian is a little young,” says Johari. “She’s kind of the baby of the band. She’s still processing all the big bands like The Doors and the Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and all that. Mandy was in a band called Hafacat. When Heather left, we called Mandy.”
Reed’s husband is engineering Hell’s Belles’ first CD, to be released in a few months. In the meantime, the group will embark on another West Coast tour, with an eye toward a national tour.
When asked why it would book a night in seemingly out-of-way Chico, Johari explains that she has many friends who attended Chico State, recommending the town as a good place to play. “I tried to get us there on our last tour,” she says, “but I really didn’t have a contact. So I just insisted this time, ‘Make sure Chico’s on the list.'”
Is she worried the band will be viewed as merely a novelty act? Johari laughs, "I love that! That’s my favorite part. I’d say 83 percent of the crowd comes just to see us try to pull it off. Because we live in a totally sexist society, they don’t think girls can do it. But by the time we’re done, they know better."