Metal—thrash and speed metal, in particular—has always maintained a special interplay between fashion; tight clothes, torn jeans and tops emblazoned with band logos, and the similarly tight, ripping, attitude-driven music. No modern artist combines those two passions better than Tanza Speed. Her speed metal band, Demona, has been kicking out quick riffs since 2007. Demona operates in several modes: sometimes it’s Speed alone, sometimes she has a band; sometimes she records in her home country of Chile or her new home in the United States. But there’s one thing that remains consistent throughout each iteration of Demona: Speed is not one to suffer bullies or scene politics. Instead, she works tirelessly to hone her vision and craft.
When she’s not busy breaking necks with her high-octane brand of speed/thrash metal, Tanza is busy designing some of the more forward-thinking, female-friendly clothing on the market. Her company, Speed Clothes, combines classic metal imagery with a unique, modern take on fashion sensibilities.
Before she hits the studio to record some new tracks, we had a chance to chat with Speed about metal, fashion, and her path from Chile to North America.
So, for the past few years you’ve been building quite the reputation for yourself as both a fashion designer and a metal musician. Which one came first in your life?
Definitely heavy metal. I grew up in a working class family, and my grandmother sewed dresses and my mom sewed dresses. She wasn’t a seamstress, but from time to time she would do it to make some extra money. So, I always saw that happening in my house, but it wasn’t, like, a fashion thing, you know? It wasn’t like a ‘red carpet’ kind of thing. My grandmother was more professional—she had clients and stuff. One of the earliest memories I have, I was like five, my grandmother was in her workshop and a client came in, and she was talking with her while I sewed a handbag. It wasn’t really a handbag, but it was a fabric square. I went to the lady and I wanted to sell it to her for like 50 cents.
Metal, though, that’s much different. Both my parents were metal heads, you know? I grew up with metal in our home. When I was 13, I decided—or realized—that metal was what I really liked. The clothing started when I moved to Canada and I didn’t have a job, and I was like ‘Dammit, I need to do something.’ And I had a sewing machine, and I thought back to my grandmother and mother and I decided to sew some skulls on clothes. It was like mixing metal and fashion. Maybe I always liked the selling and merchandising and the business end, but I didn’t realize until I was much older really.
When Demona first became a project, you were pretty young. What was your fashion sense like then, and how important is the aesthetic of metal fashion?
When I started Demona, I was just a 17-year-old metal girl. I was one of the few girls who had a denim vest all of patches, and who wore crop tops and stuff. I always tried to be feminine as much as I could. It was hard, because I didn’t have so many options. I would just wear black spandex leggings and a crop top and my denim vest or leather jacket. Pretty “metal” standard. And, yeah, looks have always been important—whoever says looks aren’t important in metal is just out of their mind. It’s super important to the culture. Everything enters the body through the eyes. Like, you would never date somebody if you didn’t find them attractive in a certain way. It’s like a band, you know? You would never listen if they didn’t look cool and have a stage presence. But back then, when I was 17, it was more like a hobby—I never really worried a lot about aesthetics.
Can you talk about what you think the key points of metal fashion are? I’d like to know what you think of mainstream artists taking on metal signifiers.
Personally, I believe in freedom and creativity. I believe in freedom of expression over all. If anyone wants to express themselves that way, then let’s do that. I don’t really know how to explain it. If a pop artist wants a logo that looks like a Black Witchery logo, then go ahead and do it, OK? But don’t complain if I do the same by appropriating. Metal wouldn’t be what it is now without innovation, and innovation comes with trying new things. Whether you want it or not, it implies that you have to mix and try and invent things. Mainstream artists wear a lot of leather with studs and stuff and, if that’s what you mean then, I think that’s great. The metal and leather and chains and boots—it actually makes it easier for people like us to find that stuff and, indirectly, we all get a bit more accepted into society.
A whole bunch of your designs feature older bands, primarily foundational bands from the ‘80s, but on really updated designs. Can you explain why that is, and what your thinking is behind the blend?
Well, times are progressing. Maybe before, the fashion was to use t-shirts with printing and color all over them, because it was new and fresh. That passed from hand-painted to machine-printed shirts, and plenty of people were upset about that change. And I remember that, at one time it was a ‘poser’ thing to sell spaghetti strap t-shirts and other ‘girly’ stuff, so most companies didn’t make or sell them—or the designs that they did have were horrible. Everything was just for men. Always for men. [Bands like] Sodom, Destruction—to me, they are the parents of metal, and there’s not much choice for girls in metal regarding the older imagery. Those are the bands that founded metal and it’s important to provide those kinds of fashion options for young girls.
You cannot pretend you are still in the ‘80s when you are using the internet, you know? Even in metal, we can’t keep it squarely in the ‘80s. I understand the tendency, but the 17-year-old girls of today simply do not care about the ‘80s anymore. They want cool things. And why shouldn’t there be cool things for metal, as there are for everything else in life?
I read that you actually studied photojournalism at one point. How has that background affected your travels and your impressions of the different cultures you’ve encountered?
I studied a full year of photojournalism. I studied to be a teacher first, but I quit that as a career. I decided to study photojournalism because I’m a bit of an adventurer, and I thought that career would be exciting. And it was! I had to go to protests and riots and breathe in tear gas. Chile is pretty violent, so I did some photography there, but after I moved to Canada, I just had to leave it behind. I still take pictures. Actually, many of the pictures that you see on my website. I took at home in my studio. I studied photography for indoor studios as well as photojournalism, and the rest was kind of DIY education.
I consider myself a person that likes to learn and study and observe. Sometimes I notice the differences between cultures. I’ve lived in Chile, Canada, and the US, but I’ve also traveled to Brazil and Japan and other places, and I just love seeing the contrasts in people. It’s exciting to see how people do things because of the ways their society taught them. It’s a combination of society and their personality. Each culture is very different from the other ones. If I could travel to every country in the world, I would do it.
I’d love to know a bit about the music scene in Chile when you were growing up. Was it receptive to a powerful woman who wanted to step forward and be progressive culturally, musically, and fashionably?
I always say that the scene in Chile is super passionate. They love metal with their soul. But as much as they love, they can be hateful and bully. I haven’t been there in seven years, so I can’t speak for the present but, when I was there, they did not accept women. Girls were not well-received. No one took you seriously in metal. You were more there for their fun. Like anywhere though, it was gossipy and kind of stuck inside itself at the time.
Not long ago my husband and I went to Chile, and he was shocked how many metal heads there were just hanging out in the street. Like, a bunch of bald old men rocking a Ride the Lightning t-shirt. That’s pretty common in Chile.
I grew up in the years when the internet was just beginning, and anyone who was using the internet to obtain music looked a bit like a poser. Everyone was using it to get their music, but they were hiding it. So, people got music off the internet and traded mix CDs that way, and that helped the scene get a lot of music from abroad. The first download program was Soulseek, and that was actually how I met my Canadian friends way back when I was 14. That was my very first international contact, along with a few friends from the States. So that really helped.
I assume that’s how you ended up leaving Chile for Canada, right? What prompted that decision, and what was it like when you got there?
I was being bullied in Chile. The scene didn’t really love me. I was a girl and, worse, I was a young girl. And I started a band with some friends, but I ended up [continuing it] by myself, because I couldn’t find musicians who could keep up. It became chaotic. A lot of people made up lies and smeared my reputation. I started getting threats—including death threats—that I was going to be pushed out of metal. I became so sad that I decided to quit my band, and my Canadian friends cheered me on and helped me keep going. They invited me to Canada to play some shows. I saved a bunch of money, made a plan, and headed up there to play my songs. That’s why I ended up leaving and seeking a community elsewhere.
Now you’re settled down in the United States, and Demona is about to head back into the studio. What made you choose America?
I live here because I got married to Chase [who runs the label Hell’s Headbangers]. But it also helped for both my band and my fashion stuff. The band is now just me and Mike, who also plays in Hammer. We kind of want to keep the band just the two of us with some mixed in live members. We actually need a bass player and a drummer!