WANDA ‘STEPH HARRIS’ ORTIZ: THE IRON MAIDENS TOUR INTERVIEW
Ahead of The Iron Maidens’ first ever tour of Australia, AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with bass player Wanda “Steph Harris” Ortiz for a chat.
Hi Wanda, you’ll be in Australia very soon. Have you or anyone from the band been to Australia?
No none of us have been to Australia before. It’s going to be everyone’s first time and we are so looking forward to it.
Tell me about the early days of The Iron Maidens.
I joined maybe 16 or 17 years ago. At the time everyone was just looking for a fun side project. Everyone had other bands, other projects. Since it was meant to be a fun side project, the idea was that we would play some local bars maybe once or twice a month at most. You know, we’d dress like them, do all the moves, just have fun. Honestly it was supposed to be like a hobby but after the first few shows, everybody started calling. Probably after the band was together for a year, things really started to kick off. We never thought it would be a touring project but sometimes you just don’t know what people are going to like. People would call and we’d be like … you know we are not the real Iron Maiden right? It was supposed to be like a cute, funny thing, we didn’t take ourselves seriously. I mean we took the music seriously, we all love to play it and love the challenge of the music but we did it for fun. We feminised the mascot and also the little yellow pacman face that Iron Maiden have, we adapted that and gave it some lipstick, eyelashes, put a beauty mark on it and a bow. So it was meant to be funny and for people to get a kick of and not be too serious but here we are now! It’s been such a fun ride. It’s like when you do something by accident, like if you enjoy making baskets for fun and then all of a sudden everyone wants to buy your basket and you’re surprised. What? You want this old thing?
Were you always a major Steve Harris fan?
Oh big time, are you kidding me? I started on upright bass when I was really young and when I hit junior high, I kind of got a bit bummed out about the instrument because the violins and violas etc were playing the melodies and I was playing the bread and butter notes. A friend of mine said you should listen to this band Iron Maiden because the bass player gets to do all sorts of things. So I listened to Piece of Mind and that was it. Then I became excited about my instrument again and that’s how I come to like Iron Maiden.
How much does the band worry about replicating the Iron Maiden guitar tones?
I know we are really concerned about getting the music right. As far as tones are concerned our guitarists use different guitars. Courtney has a Caparison and Nikki has a Schecter, so they are not the same guitars but I believe they replicate the sounds close enough for everything to be Ok with the fans. I don’t play a Fender (like Steve), I play a G&L, which is a Leo Fender guitar … the company he formed before he passed away. I think I can get away with it because technically it’s still a Fender bass!
What amp do you play through?
We don’t really have a huge crew, we have a couple of guys that help but the prerequisite for me with cabs is that I need to be able to lift and carry it myself. I use Schroeder cabs, they pack a punch but only weigh 40 to 50 pounds, depending on what you get. They have a huge sound, super loud. The guitar players can’t really be louder than me! (laughs). I use Gallien Kruger heads and we also have some BBE stuff.
I spoke Nicko McBrain at NAMM in January and he said Where Eagles Dare and Empire of the Clouds are songs he’s really proud of. Which songs do you most enjoy playing the most?
I like playing Lost for Words, Phantom of the Opera, Powerslave. As a bass player .. you know, it is a band for bass players pretty much.
Is it difficult coming up with a set list to please everyone?
Not really. Essentially everyone in the band has a job to do. With the setlist, the drummer Linda keeps track of places we have played and what songs we played there before. So she handles that and she’s more likely to get tired, so she’ll pace it and figure out where our singer can do a costume change for The Trooper and stuff like that.
Obviously Iron Maiden have played some massive gigs, what’s the biggest audience your band has played to?
The largest audience we have ever played to was in Venezuela at Gillmanfest. We were the first all-girl heavy metal band to play a festival there and there was 40,000 people in the crowd. I’d like to say it was all for us but it wasn’t, there were a lot of great bands there but still we got to play in front of that crowd and that was cool.
Iron Maiden are very strict on quality and ownership of their merch. Do you guys have to run your merch ideas by the band’s management each time you come up with something new?
Oh no, I mean our monster looks different to their monster. We’re not on that big of a level. We all have day jobs and other things going on. I don’t think we’re at a level where they even worry about us or need to worry about us. They did ask us to change up our logo a little bit because … I don’t know, I guess some people were getting confused. We made the O bigger and made it into a female sign. We just figured, well there’s a picture there of an all female band, who can be confused about that? So we said Ok we’ll change the logo just in case they don’t see the picture of an all-girl band and in case they don’t see the part that says all-female tribute band. (laughs)
Not very many, just a few. The first time we met them was at a theatre. We know the bass tech Michael Kenny, he is such a sweetheart and he arranged a meeting for us. We were nervous, we baked cookies, so we brought them gift bags and tried not to geek out too much. They were all super nice and this was before they’d heard us play. At another gig in Mexico City, Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson were in the audience because we were on the same bill as Steve’s daughter Lauren, so Steve comes to support his daughter but he stayed for our set too. We were saying, ok we are not going to bug them, we’ll give them their space but he ended up coming to us after our set and letting us know he liked the show, so you can’t get much better than that. Even more funny was that Steve’s band British Lion were on the Monsters of Rock cruise we were on. Despite of our efforts saying we are not going to bother him, every time a few of us got seated for dinner it was like, oh no he is sitting right there and I am wearing my British Lion t-shirt like a big geek and the other guys are wearing Iron Maiden shirts. It happened two or three times, they seated us right near the poor guy and I hoped he didn’t think we were stalking him. We just happened to get seated there. The only time I bothered him, when it was acceptable, I stood in line with all the other fans. With the Monsters of Rock cruises, you get an opportunity to meet the artists. You stand in line and then you get your picture taken and say a few words and you go, so that was the only time I went to say hello on purpose.
The Iron Maidens and the South Coast Symphony that you also play with are polar opposites in terms of the music and I guess the people you are playing to. Do you find that you need that diversity in your playing?
I like to play classical music too and after playing an upright bass, I think it keeps my chops up. I just enjoy both. It’s like someone who enjoys playing basketball and baseball, two different sports but both fun… same with classical music and metal.
How many songs have you rehearsed up for this tour?
We have been together so long that we really don’t rehearse anymore, except maybe at soundcheck. We all live maybe an hour or more apart, so we rely more on people learning their parts at home and then pull it together at soundcheck. The repertoire is probably over 50 songs now. They are songs we already know and have been playing them forever.
What are you looking forward to most about coming to Australia?
Just seeing it. I’m hoping we’ll have a chance to look around a little bit. A couple of the girls are going earlier but I couldn’t because I have an orchestra concert. I have a friend in Sydney, so hope to see her and look around. I’m hoping to pat a koala bear, I know that sounds kind of goofy but they are so cute.
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