In This Moment singer Maria Brink rocks, spits, screams, and sweats. Meet the new face of metal.
A couple of years after moving from Albany, New York, to Los Angeles, In This Moment frontwoman Maria Brink almost gave up on her dream. It was mid-2004 and she was living alone, had no friends, hated her day job, and none of the groups she called to audition for would call her back. But instead of following her judgment, packing up her car and heading back east, the singer drove to a local tattoo shop and had the words “We Will” inked on the underside of her left wrist and “Overcome” on her right one. The phrase, once the slogan for the civil rights movement, became a mission statement for the tenacious singer. “Another time when I was down and frustrated, I had the word ‘Believe’ tattooed over my knuckles, which was the most painful thing ever,” she says from the table of a cozy coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, between sips of a soy latte. “I did it for the same reason; to give myself motivation. It’s visually in front of me all the time, pushing me on.”For Brink, a self-admitted romantic and fan of The Secret, “belief” isn’t a marketing slogan to spit out between royalty checks. It’s a means of survival, a force that has sustained her through childhood abuse, teenage pregnancy, severe depression, and frustrations as a musician. It has also given her the strength to persevere.
Today, after a half-decade of pavement pounding, she’s one of the most charismatic and endearing singers in heavy metal and the primary reason for her band’s success. In This Moment’s debut, Beautiful Tragedy, came out in 2007, and the title track peaked at number three on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. The band was one of the highlights on last year’s Ozzfest, and the Osbournes were so impressed they invited In This Moment to join Ozzy’s winter tour, which ended in early 2008 with a string of dates in Japan and China. “The shows over there were amazing, but the food was so crazy,” says Brink with characteristic fervor. “In China, I had a bowl of soup that I thought was going to have an arm floating in it. We went to a restaurant where they served raw horse—and I’m a vegetarian. But it’s a different culture, and you gotta accept it I guess. I mean, they probably think the stuff we eat is weird.”Sitting across the table from Brink, it’s easy to see how she has charmed everyone from Sharon Osbourne to her current boyfriend, DevilDriver bassist Jonathan Miller, who recently moved with her back to Albany to live with her son and mom. Spirited, quirky, and spontaneous, Brink is also a mass of contradictions. Today, she wears a pink knit sweater and a purple daisy in her hair, and carries a frumpy handbag that makes her look more like a Phish fan than a metalhead. But the full-sleeve of tattoos on her right arm and the tattoos of sad children with bleeding eyes (from a Mark Ryden painting) reveal a darker side. Onstage, she often wears an ornate flowing dress with a studded wristband, carrying herself with the grace of her hero Sarah McLachlan one minute and banging her head like another of her inspirations, Pantera’s Phil Anselmo, the next. Her singing encapsulates both of these influences. Throughout Beautiful Tragedy, Brink whispers, coos, groans, shouts, and growls, expressing a range of emotion from tender vulnerability to raw-throated rage. Her schizophrenic style complements the band’s music, which combines elements of thrash, numetal, and anthemic rock. As seamless and natural as the amalgam sounds, it was achieved only after hours of begrudging compromise between Brink and chief songwriter and guitarist Chris Howorth.
“Me and Chris are so brutal and we fight so bad we sometimes want to kill each other,” Brink says, hands clasped like a child in prayer. “We’re both Sagittarius and we’re really stubborn. He’s the metal crazy dude, and I love all the heavy stuff, but I also love U2, Ani DiFranco, and Death Cab for Cutie. So when we write, there’s some intense, psycho shit going down with all this yelling and throwing things. And, neither of us get what we originally wanted. But in the end, that’s what makes our music different.”The only child of a hippie mom who raised her on Black Sabbath, Patti Smith, and Rolling Stones, Brink first showed an interest in performing at age 5, when she would recruit local kids from her trailer park to act in versions of Annie and The Wizard of Oz. But that was the end of the “good times.” Her father bailed on the family, she was sexually abused “a few times,” and her mother became heavily addicted to drugs. In response, Brink became surly and rebellious, severely depressed, even suicidal. Then, at 15, she became pregnant with her son, Davion.
“Getting pregnant gave my life a whole new meaning,” she declares. “There was suddenly this bright light where there had only been darkness. I really think my son saved my life. I couldn’t feel sorry for myself anymore because I had to take care of this baby.”Brink moved out of her mom’s place and got her own apartment. She worked in a laundromat to pay the rent and was too occupied with raising a child to think about her career. Then, when Davion got older, Brink was consumed with her mom’s ever-worsening drug habit. Eventually, Brink was forced to check her mom into rehab. However, as with most of her past traumas, the singer looks back at the ordeal as a learning experience, and her mother’s struggle with drugs (which she’s since kicked) as her motivation not to use.
When her mom had finally detoxed, Brink suddenly had more time to worry about herself. She went into therapy, then embarked on a motivational book and video kick that helped boost her confidence and gave her the strength to follow her dreams. She turned 18, decided she wanted to be a singer, and formed a band called Pulse with some musicians in Albany. The group opened local shows for Coal Chamber and Sevendust, then broke up. Convinced she would have better luck in Los Angeles, she packed up her belongings in a UHaul, towed her car behind her, and spent four days driving to Los Angeles. “I was terrifi ed, but at the same time, it was liberating,” she says of the 2002 pilgrimage. “I got there on the Fourth of July, and there were all these fi reworks going off, which was amazing. And then suddenly I was like, ‘Okay, what the hell do I do now?’”
For six weeks, Brink crashed at the homes of various people she met before getting her own apartment. Then she flew out her son, who had been in Albany with her mom. To support the family, Brink worked in clothing stores on Melrose, walked dogs, and tended bar, all the while searching for a band. Unable to find one, she tried to teach herself keyboard and sang at coffee shops and upstairs for free at the Rainbow, but nobody seemed too impressed. Rejection seemed to be following her like a stalker. Even her current bandmate Howorth, who first met her in 2004, wouldn’t audition her because she was a woman. Refusing to be dismissed so easily, Brink snuck into one of his jam sessions two weeks later, grabbed the mic, and started to sing a cappella.
“The second I started letting it out, he looked at me like, ‘Oh, my God,’ and immediately apologized for underestimating or stereotyping me,” Brink says. “That felt so good.”
The two formed the hard rock band Dying Star with drummer Jeff Fabb, but Howorth’s heart wasn’t in it, and after just two gigs he quit to focus on another project. “He just called me up and said, ‘I don’t think I can work with you anymore,’” recalls Brink with a hint of resentment in her tone. “And I said, ‘No way. I can’t take that for an answer. I don’t have a band. I’ve been here for years. We have to try this.’ And he said, ‘Okay, well then let’s do something completely new.’”
Embracing his metal roots and her whisper-to-a-scream dynamics, Howorth and Brink quickly wrote six songs that capitalized on their individual strengths, then brought in Fabb, guitarist Blake Bunzel, and bassist Josh Newell to record the band’s first demo. But before they got a chance to start touring, Newell left the band. “He didn’t want to give up everything as far as finances go,” Brink recalls. “He wanted to keep his apartment. You can’t pay bills if you go on the road. You have to basically throw everything into the wind.”
In This Moment quickly replaced Newell with Jesse Landry, then piled in a van and toured the country with just their MySpace site to promote them. “We’d book our own shows anywhere we could get them,” says Brink. “We’d end up driving eight hours to get $50 and play in front of one person and a bartender. One time we broke down by the side of the road and didn’t have enough money to get the van fixed.”
Undaunted, In This Moment kept touring and gradually created a buzz. They received an email from Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson, who offered to manage them. At first, they thought a friend was playing a joke, but Blasko was persistent, so they wrote him back and scheduled an impromptu showcase at the apartment where they used to jam. Though the performance was rusty, Blasko signed on, and with his name behind them, In This Moment suddenly had more leverage. After fielding several label offers, they eventually signed with indie metal powerhouse Century Media, which achieved success with Lacuna Coil, whose contrast between celestial pop and crashing metal is vaguely similar to that of In This Moment.
The band spent 18 months writing and fi ne-tuning Beautiful Tragedy before entering the studio with producer Eric Rachel (Atreyu, God Forbid), who worked with them to create an album heavy enough for diehard metal fans, but melodic enough to appeal to those who favor groups like Evanescence and Linkin Park. The band’s first two singles, the piledriving “Prayers” and the metalcore-thrash attack “Daddy’s Falling Angel,” were well received. But it was the softer, more dynamic title track, with its blatant hooks and pretty, yearning vocal harmonies that broke In This Moment into the mainstream.
“I always knew that was a special song,” Brink says. “When I fi rst heard them play that at practice it gave me goosebumps, without having lyrics or anything.” Brink originally wrote lyrics about feeling betrayed by a boyfriend who cheated on her, but then she decided to make the song more about how things are often taken for granted until they’re lost. “I kept thinking of these funerals where there are family members who haven’t talked to each other for years,” Brink says. “And then, when they lose someone, suddenly everyone loves each other. Sometimes, something dark brings out something beautiful.”
Since Brink draws from her past tragedies in her lyrics, including being abandoned by her father (“Daddy’s Falling Angel”) and the death of her best friend (“Legacy of Odio”), the band’s music tends to attract listeners who have suffered similar ordeals. Rather than being content to know her words are helping to soothe and heal, Brink takes an active role with her fans, talking to them after shows and carrying around the numbers of crisis hotlines to hand out to those in need.
“Sometimes, teenagers who are going through a hard time just need to know that people like me care and that they’re not alone,” Brink explains, adding that she plans to help set up a center for abused children when she’s in the position to do so.
For now it will have to wait. In this particular moment, Brink and her bandmates are preoccupied with the follow-up to Beautiful Tragedy, which she and Howorth started writing in the back of their bus while on tour last August. The band is currently fi ne-tuning the songs before they enter the studio later this year with a yet-to-be-determined producer. Brink says the record will be even more atmospheric and melodic than the band’s debut without abandoning its core heaviness. And once the album is done, In This Moment will head right back out on the road so they don’t lose any momentum.
For now, Brink is thrilled to be building the band one single at a time, however she’d eventually like to expand her role to other areas of the entertainment business, getting into acting, displaying her paintings in a gallery, maybe even owning her own label. And whenever she has doubts about her future, she remembers everything she has overcome to get to where she is today. Then, if she still needs reassurance, she looks at the words inked on her fingers.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you have to focus on the positive and believe in the good energy,” she says, sounding more like the hippie girl with the fl ower in her hair. “The more you believe something’s going to happen and the more you visualize it and work toward it, the more things will go your way.”