I WAS A BIT nervous about heading to metal screaming lessons because (a) I know nothing about metal or screaming and (b) the guy teaching the lessons is named Wolf.
But when I turn up at his door bright and early one Monday, I immediately recognize Wolf Carr as "that nice guy" who works at Stumptown on SE Belmont. Three days a week, he serves coffee. The other days, he teaches local musicians how to scream death metal lyrics without blowing their throats out.
Wolf's screaming studio is an adorable cottage in the backyard of a Southeast Portland home with a luscious garden. He has long, blond, Robert Plant-style locks, a quick smile, and a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. above his piano. He politely offers me a cup of throat-coat tea, sits on the piano bench, takes a breath, and then bellows, "BAHHDDAAAGRAAZZZZZGGRRRAAGGG!!!"
Or something along those lines. Sometimes he hears the neighbor kids in the next yard shouting, copying his roars. That, too, is adorable.
For seven years, since his graduation from Berklee College of Music, Wolf has been teaching singers all about the larynx, diaphragm, and proper breathing. Members of YOB, YACHT, Akron/Family, From Ashes Rise, and Guidance Counselor, to name a few, have passed through Wolf's cottage studio.
But his heart is always with the metalheads.
"A lot of people try to emulate a sound they hear on records, but their technique is bad," says Wolf. "They can wind up with vocal nodules and having to take a lot of rest." The metal lifestyle, too, is hell on throats—all those late nights and cigarettes.
Is there really a "proper" way to scream, I ask. Don't metal singers just, you know, have a whiskey or seven, get on stage, and belt their angry hearts out?
"Metal singers have to have more of a connection with support and strength, since the tones are louder," says Wolf. "More than any other genre, people need to really be in touch with their bodies."
Screaming, it turns out, isn't supposed to happen in the throat. It's more of a belly action, coming from your diaphragm and sustained with deep breaths. With a practiced, patient air, Wolf places his hands just above his hipbones to show where the sound is coming from before ripping into a low death screech that seems to issue from Satan's voice box.
I give it a try and sound like, well, a total wuss. It's embarrassing to be screaming at nothing in a garden cottage.
"If you're going for a higher register, try to scream from your head," says Wolf, touching his temples.
"HEEEEEEEEY!" I shout, sounding more like someone who's, maybe, mad at a puppy.
Wolf tries to shut off throat thoughts when he attends shows for fun, but it's tough—he can hear when singers are screaming properly, based on the way they're breathing and the tone of the scream itself.
"Metal, as a genre, is definitely very technical," he says. "Metal singers tend to have a very intense focus and think about the quality of the scream."
Wolf started singing young. His mom, Susan Carr, is an opera singer in Seattle who taught bands like Alice in Chains and Mastodon how to shriek with technique.
"I remember, as a kid, you'd just hear this huge, loud scream through the house," says Wolf. "I'd sit by her door and mimic people."
Together, they're publishing a mother/son book, The Art of Screaming, due out in July. Really, it doesn't get more metal than a mother/son duo, screaming together.