The siren wails of ascending notes, the speedy electro hammering of programmed drums and a fat and sinister guitar riff open Blackheart Revolution. And then the bestial growl of Genitorturers frontwoman/namesake Gen aggro blasts onto the track and demands your undivided attention: "Well no one cares about the rock star illusion / No one cares because the mystery is gone / Well, I know it's time for evolution / Now I'm a savior and I've got a solution / I've whipped the masses and my legion's grown strong / So I'm here to lead the revolution now."
"It gets you, it grabs you," Gen says about "Revolution," the first song on her band's fifth and latest studio release, which was co-produced by Genitorturers bassist David "Evil D" Vincent (Morbid Angel) and Scott Humphrey (Motley Crue, Rob Zombie, Ozzy Osbourne). "That's definitely one of my favorites because it was a challenge trying to figure out how I was going to approach the vocals — the song needed to have a lot of attitude and it needed to be seething and powerful. David actually tracked a lot of the vocals on the record, and man, he just kept pushing me. He'd say, 'Nope, not good enough. Nope, not good enough. Do it again.' To the point where he got me so pissed off ... there's a scream on there that's very heartfelt."
Gen is a versatile singer — she can hit high notes, turn on the sweet croon, the sexy snarl, the commanding roar, the ferocious howl, the playful purr. Her vocals are set against big, ballsy industrial rock and electro-metal. The result is brutally seductive mayhem.
Gen and I met for drinks last week while she was taking a break between dates in her Tampa hometown. She's a petite woman, with long icy-blonde hair and translucent pale skin, rose-tinted sunglasses, a warm and open smile.
We discuss her upbringing in the vibrant arts community of Albuquerque, where she became immersed in hardcore punk rock while in high school; her move to Orlando to study medicine at Rollins College; her culture shock at what she called "this plastic, really pretty glossed-over world of Mickey Mouse that was staring me in the face. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my huge blonde Mohawk and combat boots." Gen toiled away as a pre-med student for four years, but "music was always a part of my life." So she formed a hardcore punk band with her best friend, Marisa Demeio, the only other "freak" at the school. But right before their first big gig, Marisa bowed out. "I had to learn how to sing and play bass at the same time in a weekend. Thus, I took over."
By the early '90s, a new crop of nonconformist hardcore acts was transforming the Florida metal scene, led by Marilyn Manson and to a lesser but no less important degree, the Genitorturers.
Gen and her band redefined the idea of shock rock with erotic stage shows that were the stuff of fetish legend, from blindfolded submissives getting flogged to Gen's onstage piercing rituals. Because she was both pre-med and really interested in piercing, "I got more knowledge about the human body and I started researching how to do piercings correctly. At the time, there was nobody doing body piercings. So I just started incorporating that into the show as part of a theatrical element." Gen says she grew up listening to the Plasmatics, Alice Cooper and KISS, and was always drawn to the theatrical side of music. So she inevitably put down the bass and brought on other musicians so she could fully focus on being a frontwoman.
The band's biggest turning point was when IRS Records rep Nick Turner came to see them play. "He recognized our uniqueness and wasn't scared by it like most other people were. And for me, it was a decision-making turning point as well, because I was going into medical school, and I had to make a decision. Okay, what am I going to do? Am I going to continue following the path that I'm on, and finish an MD PhD in forensic pathology? Or do I cast everything to the wind and go with this rock and roll thing? All the work I'd done as a pre-med student — it wasn't easy, and I was doing the band the whole time, too. And I put a lot of effort into both. But then I just thought to myself, you know, I've got my education, no one can ever take my education away from me, and if it's something I want to come back to, I know I can. So I went down the path of rock."
The Genitorturers' full-length 1993 debut, 120 Days of Genitorture (IRS), was inspired by the Marquis de Sade and produced by members of Skinny Puppy. The album introduced Gen's other persona, a dominatrix who brought a female perspective to the sensual themes explored in de Sade's male-dominated stories, and added her own taste of biting satire. "Dealing with taboos, and society taboos, and the backlash — that's a lot of the conceptual imagery that goes into a Genitorturers show. It is provoking, and it's provocative, 'cause we're dealing with these type of issues on each record and playing them out on stage."
Gen likens the release of a new album to a new chapter in her character's book. "Blackheart Revolution has a kind of a Joan of Arc symbology," Gen explains, telling me her character is leading a revolution and dealing with the backlash of the powers-that-be. "But again, it's told from a female perspective because I like duality, so I like presenting the idea of strength and femininity. I mean, Joan of Arc led the troops but she had to don male clothing and hide the fact that she was a woman and was obviously imprisoned and burned at the stake. Then she was labeled a heretic, and years later, the church finally recognized her as a martyr and a saint. So things come back and change over time."
Blackheart Revolution took a little more than five years to come to fruition. "We are a live band — this is what we do. First and foremost, we go out and we kick ass live. And so taking time away from live shows is hard because there's always a demand for them, and David is still playing in Morbid Angel. So we'd just tried to find the time to get it in between shows and it ended up being a lengthy process."
But Gen always has a good time with it. "It's more tongue-in-cheek than people ever probably give us credit for, or understand, because we have a hell of a lot of fun with this band. That's the purpose — the whole purpose is to entertain people. I realized a long time ago that, as a frontperson, when I'm entertained, the audience is entertained. So if I do everything in my power to make the show fun, weird, exciting, strange, odd, whatever it is to me, so that I'm like, 'I can't wait to do this,' then that energy always comes across — on the record, live, whatever it is. And us challenging ourselves as a band to make a damn good rock record — I think they're getting that energy."