An Interview with Nikki Stringfield of The Iron Maidens

Header image credit: Joe Schaeffer Photography

In an age where guitar heroes and guitar gods are increasingly replaced by synthesized, auto-tuned machinery, Nikki Stringfield finds herself amongst a class of musicians who are harkening back to the days of yesteryear.

Stringfield cut her teeth from an early age in Red Oak, Texas, before heading west to Los Angeles, California as so many did before her, in hopes of harnessing her burgeoning talent, and parlaying a career in rock and metal music across the biggest, and grandest stages.

It wasn’t long before Stringfield found herself both a member of Before the Mourning, Femme Fatale, and the Iron Maidens, and as Stringfield’s experience grew, as did her stature amongst her peers as a reliable, melodic, and capable lead player, with a flair for dramatic, inventive, and rhythmic flourishes.

Stringfield still holds down the Iron Maidens duel lead guitar role, with her cohort, Courtney Cox, and these days, she’s also a member of Heaven Below, alongside Patrick Kennison. Most impressively, given her talent and prowess, Stringfield has finally embarked on a solo career. With the EP (Harmonies For The Haunted) already in the bank, Stringfield is hard at work on her debut full-length affair, an album that is sure to dazzle Stringfield’s fans around the world, while also pushing her career forward at rocket speed.

I recently sat down with the dazzling six-stringer for the second time, and among other things, Nikki and I touch on her development as a songwriter, the recording of her debut full-length, her partnership with Patrick Kennison, what’s next for the Iron Maidens, and a whole lot more.

Andrew:
Nikki, thank you for taking the time to dig in with us again. How have you been holding up since the last time we chatted?

Nikki:
It’s great to be here catching up again! It’s definitely been an interesting time like no other due to the pandemic, but thankfully, the world seems to be slowly opening up again. Since the music industry basically got shut down, and everyone was unable to tour, I shifted my focus to working on other things to keep me growing artistically. I’ve been working on acoustic material, as well as an upcoming full-length album. Now, touring has picked back up and it’s great to be back on the road again! 

Andrew:
The last time we talked, we dug in regarding your debut EP, Harmonies for the Haunted, and as you’ve just mentioned, you’re working on your full-length. Give us the rundown.

Nikki:
Absolutely! We’re actually starting drum production this week, so the recording process has officially begun. I have ten to twelve demos, with one cover song that I think will be unexpected. I’ve been working on some of these songs for years now, so I’m so excited to finally get this album going, and see where the journey takes it! If all goes according to plan, I should have everything fully recorded by May. 

Andrew:
Having been with the Iron Maidens for as long as you have, which deals in mostly covers, why was it important to you to strike out on your own as you have?

Nikki:
I’ve always loved playing my favorite band’s songs, and that’s how I learned how to actually play guitar. But I’ve always wanted to write and play my own music. There’s just no other feeling like hearing what you’ve created coming through the speakers. It’s scary at first, but then so fulfilling. Music has always gotten me through whatever situation I’m in, whether it be good, bad, sad, etc. I just hope my music can be there to help someone as well.

Andrew:
Walk me through your process as a songwriter. Lyrically, what wells do you draw from for inspiration?

Nikki:
So far, I’ve drawn from many things, and I don’t have a set style or process for writing. Sometimes, guitar riffs come first; other times, I hear the vocal melodies along with the lyrics, and then I’ll build the music around that. I guess that’s the main reason I decided against going instrumental – I seem to have an easier time building the song around vocal melodies that I hear in my head. I’ve drawn lyrics from things that I’ve gone through in my life, and others I’ve drawn from movies, TV shows, books. A lot of my lyrics are on the darker side but that’s just because I enjoy creepy things and horror movies. My song “As Chaos Consumes” was written after watching The Walking Dead. “Haunted” came about from vampires. It’s really whatever hits me at the moment. 

Andrew:
From an instrumental standpoint, it must be less restrictive to spread your wings in this way. Musically, what can fans expect on your debut?

Nikki:
I think if you liked Harmonies For The Haunted, you’ll love this album. I feel like I’ve really expanded and found myself as an artist. It’s got a lot of guitar harmonies everywhere, catchy choruses, and a variety of songs. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone from wanting to be more of a shred guitarist to wanting to be more of a songwriter. I’ve really tried to focus on what’s best for the songs and being able to express myself through lyrics and guitar notes make the possibilities endless. I wanted to have one instrumental song on this album, but I just kept hearing vocals. Maybe on the next album, I’ll finally do an instrumental. 

Andrew:
Who’s backing you up on this album? Any familiar faces or voices that we might recognize?

Nikki:
I’ll have Patrick Kennison on this album again. Last time he produced and recorded my vocals, but this time he’ll be helping with the entire process. He’ll be recording and producing the entire thing. Shad Wilhelm, who’s the drummer for our band Heaven Below, will be playing drums this time, so I’m thrilled to see what he adds to the songs! He’s incredible. I’ve been thinking about having a few guests on this album, but I can’t say anything just yet! On “Harmonies,” I really wanted to make a point to prove that I could write and do things on my own, to show what I sound like. For this album, I have written everything so far. But I’d like to bring some friends in this time to collaborate, and make things fun on top of what I’ve already got.

Andrew:
From a production standpoint, what sort of sounds are you hoping to garner with this release? What influences and inspirations do you see bleeding through in that respect?

Nikki:
I love old and new music. I was born in 1990, so I grew up with 80s and 90s rock and metal thanks to my parents, and then I also loved the newer rock and hardcore music that came out in the 2000s and 2010s. I have such a huge variety of influences, and I try to keep up and listen to current music to see how everything sounds. We’ll be using my Kemper again to record and get guitar tones. So, I think this album will have a huge mix of old and new rock and metal. Half of the album is in standard tuning, and the other half is in Drop C. Some songs sound like they’re more arena rock with the solos and intros that I have, and others sound like they’re more current with the heavier chugs. So, anything from Iron Maiden, The Scorpions, Avenged Sevenfold, Evanescence, Nirvana, Bullet For My Valentine. There’s a little bit of everything I think. 

Andrew:
Just a few weeks ago, your residency at the Hard Rock Cafe with Patrick Kennison was announced. What set those wheels in motion?

Nikki:
When the pandemic hit and all touring stopped, Patrick and I decided to start working on acoustic sets because we didn’t know when bigger concerts would be a reality again. We figured smaller acoustic shows might be the first thing back, so that’s when we switched gears and gave that a shot. We started making videos of songs that aren’t usually acoustic, such as “Aces High” and “Chop Suey,” and people really loved them! Shane Tucker, who’s the manager at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, asked us to play a residency there in the month of February, and we had a blast. It’s a nice change to play unplugged and really helps get your chops up, both vocally and instrumentally. 

Andrew:
As for Patrick, how far back does your working relationship date back to? I know both you and Patrick were releasing music through your “Unplugged” series via YouTube. Was that the genesis?

Nikki:
Patrick and I have known each other for a long time, and I always loved his band, Heaven Below. I guess our working relationship really started when I started filling in as a guitarist for the band. That was actually around the same time that I started recording “Harmonies,” and he stepped in to help with the production. So, I’d say both of those were the genesis. We had actually talked about starting the acoustic shows a few years ago, probably in 2019, but we were both too busy at the time. Having the time off during the pandemic helped us get that off the ground, and we’ve been working on music together ever since!

Andrew:
On the Iron Maidens front, where do things stand with the band currently? Are you guys hitting the road anytime soon, if so, what’s planned in terms of a tour?

Nikki:
Right now, we’ve got a little time off, but in May things get busy! We’ll be going on a two or three-week tour with Burning Witches called “Hell Hath No Fury.” Hopefully, the rest of the year will be rocking as well with lots of shows! 

Andrew:
In the past, the Maidens would hit the studio to record, but it’s been a while. In that vein, are the Iron Maidens planning on releasing any studio material anytime soon?

Nikki:
I’m not sure. I hope so! I think having a live album would be the best thing for us since that would really capture our vibe, and take on the songs. Anything’s possible! 

Andrew:
What sort of gear, amps, and guitars are you using these days in the studio, vs the live setting?

Nikki:
Right now, I’m just using my signature Schecters and my Kemper Profiler on the road, and in the studio! If I’m playing local shows, I bring out my Marshall Silver Jubilee 212 cab, which sounds amazing. I love having a simple setup, especially on the road. You can’t beat the sound, and it makes life so much easier!

Andrew:
As I’m sure you know, some guitarists use copper picks as opposed to plastic as copper grants a certain versatility. Which do you use, and why?

Nikki:
I just use the tiny Jazz III 1.14 mm picks from Pick Guy. A lot of people hate how small they are, but I feel that they help with agility, and accuracy when picking. 

Andrew:
How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist over these past few years as you’ve begun to branch out on your own? What goals have to set for yourself going forward, and how do you keep yourself from feeling stagnant?

Nikki:
I feel like I’ve grown more over the past few years than the entire time since I’ve started playing in a way. Putting out my solo material was a huge step out of my comfort zone, and now that I’ve been playing these acoustic shows, and singing more in a live setting that has helped tremendously. I also played my first solo acoustic show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood, so it’s been a year of a lot of firsts already. Writing my own music has helped me express myself, and find myself as an artist, and I think as I move forward it can only keep evolving as I push myself to keep expanding and learning new things.

Andrew:
Recently, there has been an increasing push to do away with the term “female-fronted metal,” as the signifier does seem rather pointless. From your perspective, is the term empowering to women in a male-dominated genre, or does it have the opposite effect?

Nikki:
Honestly, I’d be happy to see that term go away. But that’s just me. I just want to be seen as an artist, regardless of my gender. I tell people that if you close your eyes while listening to the Iron Maidens play an instrumental song, would you know we’re all women? I’d say no. You’d think we sound like Iron Maiden. I always see the “Top Female Guitarist” lists, and I just can’t get into it, especially because sometimes it’s used to put women in competition with each other. We’re all in this together, and it’s difficult enough to be trying to make it in the music world. When I’m asked what it’s like to be a “female guitarist,” I simply reply, “I don’t know. I’ve always been this way, so I don’t know anything otherwise.” I’m fine with being treated like anyone else, simply as just a musician. 

Andrew:
Last one, Nikki. Your career is moving forward faster than ever. This said, what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Nikki:
I will say that time seems to be flying by! This year, I’ll be releasing my full-length album; Patrick and I will be releasing an acoustic album; Heaven Below will start recording an album as soon as I’m finished recording mine. Lots of new music coming up! Hopefully, I’ll be able to play some solo shows after everything is released. In five years, if I’m still here enjoying playing, and recording music, I’ll be happy with that.

Interested in learning more about Nikki Stringfield? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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