Holding her own in the midst of what statistically is a predominantly male-dominated genre is something Jessie Cochran holds up as a badge of honor.
“Being able to run with the big dogs has never been an issue with me, male or female,” says Cochran, who, with her band Mantra, will play her first big Indianapolis show as the opening act for Butcher Babies at the 5th Quarter Lounge on Thursday. “I’ve always just been myself no matter what anyone has said. I learned early from the very first time I heard Otep that the gender gap is an illusion. Women can bring the ‘grrr’ just as much as men, while maintaining their femininity. Once the music starts there’s no question of my ability.”
In a way, she says, being a woman becomes an advantage in the genre. “I can do all these things the men can do while also having a clean vocal range that not many can touch. The music we create speaks for itself without having to rely on sex appeal. That’s what I love about Mantra. We just make music, and give zero fucks.”
Three years ago, before she was brought into the fold as the band’s lead singer, Mantra was at a crossroads, trying to find a way for its dueling vocalists to stand out amid a crowded sea of like-minded bands.
“It started to get weird,” says guitarist Thomas Duvall of the situation. “So me and the band were thinking about how we could do things differently. Once we got Jessie in the band, the rate we blew up was exponential. Her stage presence and her talent, it did a lot for us.”
The band has been working on a new EP for the better part of a year, which they hope to release later this summer. It highlights their ability to meld genres within the world of metal while maintaining a strong melodic presence amid their signature layers.
“That’s what I like about our music so much, is that you can never tell which direction the song’s gonna go,” says Cochran. “We have ‘Cheyenne,’ where the beginning of it is this beautiful melody with crescendos and decrescendos, so much build-up, and by the end of the song you’ve had your ass kicked. It starts out so beautiful and intricate and then becomes so raw. A lot of our songs will do that. You never know how it will start or how it will end. There’s just a lot of emotion in it.”
The melding of influences has its advantages, allowing each member to contribute to the writing process while creating a sound that is their own, even if it’s tough to pin down.
“I think that’s the thing that separates Mantra from what you’re hearing nowadays,” says J Mantra, who shares vocal duties with Cochran. “We don’t just set out and say, ‘This song’s gonna sound like this band’ ... Everybody has different influences, with some overlap, but everybody likes different stuff. And we bring everything we can from different genres.”
“We got told once when we played Pierre’s in Fort Wayne that we were a mix of Kittie and Cradle of Filth, so that was kind of interesting!” Cochran laughs. “I took it as a compliment, but you don’t want to get stuck in one genre. There’s so much beauty in what we do because it’s so layered, which gives a lot of freedom to develop interesting vocal shifts. All the harmonies in there, that’s my favorite thing to do, finding the vocal patterns that don’t just stick with the melody.”
As the first band to take the stage on a night with an ever-burgeoning group of performers, Mantra (pronounced MON-tra — “because we’re not all men anymore!” Cochran reminds fans) will have the chance to set the tone for the entire night. Not that their leader is worried about the pressure that might entail.
“You hit it, and fuckin’ hit it hard!” she says of the opportunity. “It’ll be good, a great show to open up for. A lot of people have confirmed they’re super excited to be there. And people have been very receptive to our stage shows in the past. The last time we played at Pierre’s there were like a thousand people there, and not many had heard of us before the show. But once we started playing everyone was getting into it. And nobody threw anything! Nothing has been thrown at me yet.”
If you go:
Butcher Babies with Mantra, 9Electric, Danny Greene, Hell Came Home, Westfield Massacre
Thursday, May 19, 6:30 p.m.
5th Quarter Lounge, 306 Prospect St.
$15 in advance, $18 at door, 21+