A self-described ”connoisseur of screaming,” Melissa Cross is a cheery, red-haired, classically trained voice teacher with a peculiar niche: She caters to the most extreme segments of the metal, punk, and hardcore scenes, teaching performers how to growl like grizzlies, bark like pit bulls, and bellow like tortured children of Beelzebub. All without blowing out their vocal cords. Cross’ clients include big-name acts like Andrew W.K., Lamb of God, Thursday, Melissa Auf der Maur, and Slipknot, and she has produced an instructional DVD, The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed. And yes, the title is accurate. ”[Screaming] should never feel like it sounds,” she says. ”It should never feel angry. It should feel like meditating.” Then she lets out an eardrum-piercing cry that sounds like a dying brontosaurus. ”That doesn’t hurt a bit.”
Today Cross, 48, is holding a lesson in her comfy, Asian-inspired Manhattan studio with Joe Brown, a heavily inked singer from up-and-coming screamo act A Static Lullaby. ”I didn’t know I could get taught this,” says Brown, smiling. He demonstrates his own phlegm-loosening shout. ”I can tell that you have a handle on it,” Cross says to her new student. ”You have a great scream.”
Cross then launches into a typical hour-long lesson, which is based on her elaborate system of screamology: equal parts New Age grooviness, self-help positivity, and vocal technique. She’s constantly gliding around the room, hugging Brown from behind, laying him on the floor for breathing drills, and at one point sticking a pencil between his teeth to teach proper vocal-projecting technique.
At the core of her lesson is a fistful of breathing and vocal exercises that definitely aren’t in the Juilliard curriculum, including a gem called ”the Dump,” which requires flexing exactly the muscles you’d expect. ”My students come in nervous,” says Cross. ”They think I’m gonna be some stuck-up lady, and I’m not like that. Eat what you want, smoke what you want, drink what you want, I don’t care.” That attitude is a winner with her clients. ”I’ve been to other coaches, but I didn’t like them,” says Brown. ”She’s so cool!”