meanstreak band

Interview – Rena Petrucci of Meanstreak

Meanstreak band

Over the last decade there has been tremendous strides toward a more balanced attack of ladies and gentlemen in the Heavy Metal world. With a slew of talented all-female Metal bands popping up all over the globe in recent times, it is important to recognize the pioneers who cleared the path… like Doro, Girlschool, Vixen and also Meanstreak.

Based out of New York, Meanstreak was originally the vision of Guitarists Marlene Portnoy (formerly Marlene Apuzzo prior to marrying Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy) and Rena Sands Petrucci (wife of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci) who were eager to rock and roll. Heavily ingrained in the NYC scene, they put their experience to good use, forming Meanstreak on their way to earning a lot of attention for their tenacity and speedy style.

Releasing their debut album Roadkill in 1988, Meanstreak were gaining traction and becoming a well-respected force around the Metal community. Now decades since, Marlene, Rena, Vocalist Bettina France, Bassist Lisa Martens Pace and Drummer Yael Devan rejoin to raise hell once more. A surprising reunion which began in 2022, now in 2024 they release their new EP Blood Moon. A prelude of more yet to come, Rena Petrucci recently took some time to reflect on the history of the band, reuniting, plans for the future, plus more.

Cryptic Rock – There is an interesting story to tell with Meanstreak. First off, many considered you one of the first all-female Thrash Metal bands. So, how did it all start for Meanstreak?

Rena Petrucci – Marlene’s boyfriend at the time, Ronnie, who was in a band, was a well-known guitarist around our area. He always wanted us to get together and play. I was friends with him. I had just moved back from California to New York and we had to be eighteen or nineteen at the time. We just got together to jam and we started learning a Judas Priest song.

I was playing Classical at the time, but I also played a little Blues, and I loved Metal. I have always loved Metal since I was little. Anyway, Marlene started showing me; because I didn’t really play Metal on guitar. I was taking Classical lessons because my father, who was a Jazz musician, suggested it. He said to me, “It’s the best way to learn the instrument and the neck, etc.”

So, we got together and started learning some songs together, and Marlene was showing me the parts. The next thing you knew, she was like, “Hey, we should start a band.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s an awesome idea. Let’s do this.” So, we did it.

The drummer that was in Ronnie’s band, had a wife that was a singer. We met up with her. We found a different drummer locally than Yael; who’s in the band now. We just put it together. We started by playing covers, like most bands do at that point when they’re first starting out.

We were playing all sorts of Metal clubs or whatever was around. Back in the day, you could play anywhere in any town; there were three or four great music clubs that had live music and had stuff going on. I remember we were playing at L’Amour and they asked us to put a song on their at L’Amour Rocks (1987) album. I don’t recall if we had this song written, but it was called “Lost Stranger.” One got this one song on this compilation album. The label that was putting it out, Mercenary Records, offered us a record deal to do a full album. This all happened within the first six months of us being together. We had to write the whole album in a really short amount of time, but we did it.

The label hired Alex Perialas to do the album. I went up to Ithaca and got in the studio right away. We had very little recording experience. We did auditions with Lisa (Pace), she came from Long Island. She walked up the driveway, we took one look at her and said, “You’re in!” We didn’t even know if she could play or not, she was just so pretty. (Laughs)

So, we went up and did the album in a week’s time. At the time, Alex had done every Metal band that was doing anything on the scene at the time. He had recorded with Anthrax. Also, Alex’s assistant was Rob “Wacko” Hunter. They really helped us get our heavy sound; because that’s what they were known for.

We did Roadkill in a week. We wrote it within maybe a few months before we went up there. We had a little bit of time, but we just really got together every day, pushed out the songs, and recorded it.

Then we were getting really good gigs at that point; because we had a whole bunch of original material, and it was kind of heavy.  At the time, Thrash wasn’t what Thrash is now. It was just like the heavier, faster Metal. Metallica was around and playing clubs at the time. It had this heavy edge, and we were sort of influenced by that as well. We were really into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Metallica. We wrote songs that we thought sounded like our influences, basically.

We got a gig to play; we were going to open for Anthrax at L’Amour, and our drummer at the time didn’t think we were ready to do it. She had a lot of anxiety about playing the show. She really didn’t want to do it. She wanted to turn it down. We said, “We’re doing the show. We’ll get a fill-in if it’s too much for you and you don’t think you can do it.” So, we found Yael. She had a few days to get ready for this, learn all this material, and play this big show we’re going to play at L’Amour in front of 2,000 people. At that point, our old drummer sort of bailed on us. She was upset that we didn’t not do the show and that we had a replacement for her. It wasn’t much of a thought process to get Yael in the band; because we loved her, she hit so hard, and she was amazing. Yael was a kid; I used to have to drive to Queens to pick her up from her job to bring her to rehearse in Rockland County where we were located at the time. That’s where it all started, basically.

Cryptic Rock – Wow. It is very interesting how it all came together like that. You released Roadkill in 1988 and it was really quite good. You did some demos in the early ’90s. Then the band had kind of ceased to be. What caused you to decide to step back from the band?

Rena Petrucci – There were a few things happening. The Metal scene died down, for whatever reason. The whole Seattle Grunge scene took over. Metal was just not getting the same reaction from people. We were playing a lot of gigs. We were playing all over the place, doing some tours. Not big tours where we were out for like a few months, but we’d go down and play a bunch of shows with Overkill on the East Coast, go down as far as Virginia, and do that type of stuff. We were really enjoying doing that.

The early ’90s, all of a sudden, it was just not that big a scene anymore. A lot of clubs were closing. The Grunge thing was happening, and people weren’t playing guitar solos anymore. Also, at the same time that was happening, we were in our late twenties. Yael was a little younger than us and she was starting to get the itch to play some other styles as well. She liked Hip Hop and the Grunge stuff. So, she was starting to jam with a lot of other people.

It moved and fizzled out naturally. Marlene, Lisa, and I had got married within that time frame. We all wanted a family; so, it just naturally progressed to that. We didn’t really have an official, “Oh, we’re breaking up.” After Yale left and was playing with some other people, we got another girl to fill in a little bit and did that for a while. After nine years, we were a little burnt out, the music scene wasn’t the same, and we were all going to have kids. That’s how it kind of happened.

Also, the record label we were on went bankrupt. We were still on Music for Nations in Europe, and they were still selling the album there, but we didn’t have the support either. Without that tour support and everything, it was hard to get things going. Especially in that climate since things have changed so dramatically.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, that is understandable. The early ’90s was a tough time for a lot of Metal bands. Fortunately, it came back around in the early 2000s. Even Dio, who was playing stadiums and arenas in the ’80s, was relocated to playing clubs in the ‘90s. He fought through it, and he got back up top again in the 2000s.

Rena Petrucci – Yeah, but that’s crazy… it’s Dio! I even remember going to see Judas Priest in a half-filled arena somewhere and thinking, “What’s happening?” I drove up to Connecticut to see Iron Maiden with the whole band. We were able to just walk around through an open floor with general admission. It was weird… you could see it happening. Some of the bands really pummeled through it and just did great anyway. Now they’re on top of everything.

Cryptic Rock – It is interesting how everything came back around. Music has always been a part of your life. Speaking of Judas Priest, you played in a Judas Priest tribute band, yes?

Rena Petrucci – Yes. Judas Priestess. For about eight years I was with them. Then we were doing the Meanstreak reunion. There was a point in time where I had to have a minor surgery, but I was going to be out of commission for a little while. They had a lot of gigs and got some fill-ins. It worked out for them. It worked out for me to take a break from it and get back to doing the Meanstreak stuff. I actually just played a show with Judas Priestess this past December at the Hard Rock in NYC.  We had a great show that night. I love those girls; they’re great.

I also love playing those Judas Priest songs. I had to relearn this stuff because a couple of years went by. With the pandemic, we hadn’t played. Then right after the pandemic, we did one show, I think in Michigan. Then I came back and I had to get this minor surgery taken care of. I hadn’t played the songs in probably a year. When I picked them back up, I just said. “I love these songs!” I love Judas Priest.

meanstreak roadkill
Meanstreak – Roadkill / Mercenary Records (1988)

Cryptic Rock – Judas Priest is one of the best Metal bands of all time. Now, the past couple of years leads us up to the Mean Street Reunion. What inspired this after all this time?

Rena Petrucci – We were always talking about it. We stayed friends; I’m sure you’re aware that I’m married to John Petrucci, Marlene is married to Mike Portnoy, and Lisa’s married to John Myung. We’re all always seeing each other with stuff. Over the years, our kids grew up together, and we’ve always all been together. Tina lives in New Mexico, and Yael lives in California but we have always stayed really close friends.

The thing was that some of us were still professionally playing, or to a degree. Yael was touring a lot and playing with a lot of different bands. I was doing stuff with Judas Priestess and some other local bands that I was in. It was hard to get it together. Availability is a big thing; having them be on the West Coast, and the three of us are on the East Coast. Lisa and Marlene live in Pennsylvania, and I’m in New York. It was really just a logistics thing.

We said, “How are we going to do this? We want to do this.” Then the pandemic hit and everybody had to stop what they were doing. We were home, and we were like, “Hey, let’s have a Zoom meeting and just kind of hang out, a Zoom party, whatever.” So, we all got on, and after like twenty minutes, we said, “Oh, my God. We have to do this.” We love each other. We couldn’t wait to get back together and start playing again. We just made it happen. I used my air miles, I went out to Yael, and started jamming with her. She also had a leg injury of some kind, and she was healing for a little while. It took her a little bit to get back. She was playing all along, but getting the double bass back to where it was, was painful for her to tour and all that. She’s great now though.

The second we started playing together, we were just jamming on some new stuff we were writing at the moment. We just never left the studio together… it just felt so good. We have some new stuff that’s not on the EP.

The Blood Moon EP that we did, was recorded kind of all over the place. The drums and vocals were done in New Mexico at Yael’s Studio. I did most of my guitars at home on my own recording equipment. Marlene did some of her stuff out in Pennsylvania. I recorded Lisa’s bass at home for a couple of tracks. We went with Jimmy T into the studio and recorded a couple of tracks. It was really all over the place.  We were doing that so we’d have something to sell on the tour. We had nothing out since the Roadkill album. Yael didn’t play on that; so, it doesn’t really represent us because we had the old drummer for that. We thought, “We need to have something.” We thought maybe we could just record a few songs and sell a CD. Well, we didn’t finish it in time and we didn’t have it for the tour. (Laughs) When we got back, a little time went by, then we dug up the funds to finish it up and here it is.

Cryptic Rock – Well, the recently released Blood Moon EP came out quite good. Some of these songs were older demos, right, that you reworked, correct?

Rena Petrucci – Yeah, they were. Two of them were from a demo in ’89 (“Giant Speaks” and “Rubberneck”). “The Dark Gift” was from a 1992 demo we did. When we did “The Dark Gift,” at that point, Lisa wasn’t in the band anymore, and Marlene was playing bass. Marlene switched to bass because we couldn’t really find a bass player that would be reliable and stick in the band. One day, she just was tired of people not showing up to gigs and said, “I’m going to play bass.” (Laughs)

On our original “The Dark Gift” demo I was the only guitarist; because we played out as a four-piece for a little while. At that time, we also had started writing some other pieces and everything that we ended up putting together for now. Like I said, we haven’t really had a chance to get together just to write; which is something we’re going to be doing in the near future so we can get more material. We just decided to re-record everything… because the old demos were old demos.

Cryptic Rock – Well, it sounds fresh. As you mentioned, it was recorded all over the place, but it all works well together, and it sounds good. Do you have plans for writing and recording new material?

Rena Petrucci – Absolutely. Definitely. We want to tour too. We did this EP as a self-release. When we first finished the EP, we contacted a couple of record labels. They said, “Oh, keep showing us what you’re doing.”

The whole climate changed with the way things are now. You have to have a big social media presence. You have to have videos. It’s different. It’s not like you could just say, “Oh, this is our music, sign us.” They don’t want to take a chance on something that’s not ready. After we got a small response, rather than shopping it around to smaller labels and getting with someone, we decided, “Let’s just do a self-release, get our numbers up, get our stuff out there, and write new stuff.”  For us, we were sitting on this since before that tour. We really wanted to get it out and we didn’t want to wait.

Next time, we’re going to go in the studio properly together and record all in one place so we can all be together and do it that way. Even though it does work to do it moving around. We’ll probably do a lot of pre-production that way. However, we really want to get in the same place and record together.

Meanstreak Blood Moon cover
Meanstreak – Blood Moon / (2024)

Cryptic Rock – Right. That is always the best way to write and record music; to be in the same room together. It is nice that we have all the technology, but nothing beats actually being in the room to write and record together.

Rena Petrucci – It’s so true, yeah. You’re not really playing off each other and writing riffs. I have little drum machines and things I work with to write, but it’s not the same. The second I got in there with Yael, ideas came to me that wouldn’t have because of what she was doing. You have a whole different take on being creative. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to write a song. Let me use my beat buddy over here. I’m going to put this on now. I’ll put a beat on and I’ll start writing a riff.” I do that too, but there’s nothing like being in the room. That’s the bottom line, as far as I think.

Cryptic Rock – Yes. So, how do you usually write as a band?

Rena Petrucci – The way we write is we’ll all jam on stuff and riffs will come out. It’s not really arranged or anything. Then we go home and think about them a little more. One of us might arrange it and put it together with some other things that we’re working on.

Our singer (Bettina France) writes the majority of the lyrics for the songs at this time. Back in the day, I was writing a little bit. I’m more into music now. I think I’m going to leave the lyrics to her since she’s very good at it. She has a passion for expressing herself that way.

Usually everybody writes their own parts or will contribute in that way. That’s why I want to get us all in the room together so everybody can offer their contribution to the songs and on the newer material that we’re going to do.

Cryptic Rock – It will be great to hear. There obviously has been a layoff between writing together and such. Obviously, it will sound different than it did. Is there some material that you had shelved for a while and you are going to dust it off and perhaps rework it a little bit?

Rena Petrucci – It’s possible. There was some stuff Yael and I worked on while I was out at her place. She recorded our jam for an hour with the first things we were playing together. There was some really interesting stuff coming out of it. Also, Marlene was taking some courses at Berkeley and had to write some songs for her homework and different things. She came up with some great ideas that would really fit right in with what we’re doing.

With the guitar, you’re home and you’re playing something and you go, “That’s really cool. I have to put this somewhere.” You might just make a note on your phone and hang on to that riff. Then you bring it into the room and see what happens when the drums start and the bass starts. Then you’re coming up with a whole new thing. There’s that method. I really can’t say 100% how it will work out.

Back in the day when we were writing, I would make a lot of little riff tapes. I found a box of twenty-nine tapes of riffs that I want to listen to just for the fun of it. I think I’m a much stronger musician now. Back then, I was playing mostly by ear. I didn’t really understand song form or chord progressions and how they really fit and work. I would just play whatever sounded good to my ear the way it would work. I’ve schooled myself over the years. I am coming from a different place now.

I don’t know if it will change things though, honestly. When we first went back to this, I was kind of thinking, “Oh, I don’t know. Those old songs, do we want to play these? Do we want to write new material for the tour?” Then I listened to them and thought, “You know what? These hold up pretty well. They’re not too bad.” Even though it’s Traditional Metal, it’s got a sound. It’s heavy, and I like it. I feel like if I like it, then maybe other people will like it. That’s the way it’ll work with us. We’re going to write that way and see what becomes of it.

meanstreak live
Meanstreak live / photo credit: Bradardley 

Cryptic Rock – Interesting. The EP is newly recorded, so it does sound fresh. In comparison to Roadkill, the atmosphere sounds a little bit darker and more melodic.

Rena Petrucci – Yes. Definitely. I like that too. On the tour, we played most of the songs from Roadkill. We had them recorded almost every night. Again, Yael wasn’t playing on that album. Now that she’s in the band, we want to have her versions. We have thirty-two or more show recordings that we have to go through to see if anything’s close enough to releasable. That’s another thing we might do; possibly reissue or re-release some stuff from Roadkill.

 I do know what you mean about the sound being a little darker. I guess it was, like I said, at the time we were writing from our hearts. We just said, “Oh, this sounds cool, I like this riff. Let’s go here. This is a power cord.” We really didn’t know what we were writing. I feel this stuff that we do now is probably going to be very similar to that, but maybe with a little more depth in the writing and the musical side of it.

We love the musical stuff. We like to have instrumental sections. Marlene and I really want to go for that double guitar attack thing like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. We like where we have the guitar team doing harmonies and things like that. We still love that. We’ll have a lot of that, definitely. It’s going to be heavy, that’s for sure, because that’s what we all like.

Cryptic Rock – Is there a timetable for this? Obviously, you do not want to rush it.

Rena Petrucci – This is our plan – we’re hoping to get on tour for the summer a little bit and then start writing in the fall. It will probably be a late 2025 release for the next bunch of stuff we do. That’s what I’m thinking and what we’ve talked about. It could be sooner, depending on whether or not we’re able to get on some of these summer festivals opening spots. We’re trying to get that to happen right now, and we have some interest. Since we don’t have a label that’s supporting us for touring, it’s a little trickier. It’s something we have to work out.

Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we see you at some of the festivals this summer! In the time that the band has been away, a lot has changed in the Metal scene. When you ladies were starting out, there were a very small number of female Metal bands. Now, there are a lot of female Metal bands.

Rena Petrucci – There’s a lot of really good female Metal bands too! I’m seeing them all over the place, and they’re all like twenty-five years old. I feel like we’re the grandmas of Metal over here. It’s easy to be insecure and think, “Where do you fit with all this stuff out and the way that they market things?” They’re looking to really make a dollar on stuff too. You think – who’s going to buy the stuff, what’s your audience, and what’s your target?

I’ve never looked at bands like a competition. I never liked that kind of thinking. Having my husband be John Petrucci, if I was feeling competitive, I would just quit guitar and never play again. This has been an issue my whole life. Even in Judas Priestess, I could play a solo for “Beyond the Realms of Death,” and then I slightly miss one note and slide up. The next thing you know, it’s on YouTube in Japan saying, “Oh, she messed up. She shouldn’t play guitar.” Whoever’s playing with me could mess up a whole bunch of times and nobody cares.

I’m used to people being really critical. The people that really matter are the fans that really love the music. You’re always going to have critics. They’re going to be there. There’s going to be trolls. They’re going to rip you apart. It was like that even then; they just didn’t have the internet to do it before.

If you believe all the things you see, all the things you read about yourself, you’re not doing yourself any justice. It’s not worth it. I laugh at it. I think, “Oh, I must be important enough for somebody to say something rotten,” so it makes me laugh. At least bad press is better than no press.

Cryptic Rock – Yes. Like you said, there was just no internet back in the day. Metal was kind of the ‘guy’s club’ for a very long time, but was that by design or was it just the way it happened? When Doro came out, people loved her with Warlock. Were so many men as closed off to women in Metal as it may be perceived?

Rena Petrucci – Doro was out when we were out. I do notice that over time people tend to love or have a lot more appreciation for a woman-fronted band, or there was back then, opposed to having women playing all the instruments.

I think we were accepted pretty well, but we were from New York. Every weekend we were at L’Amour watching Carnivore, Biohazard or whatever. We were actually in the mosh pits and getting beaten up and stuff. For us, it was just a lifestyle. We didn’t think of it as, “Oh, we’re going to go on and show them how this is done” or anything like that. We were just like, “Let’s have a band.” We were what the guy bands were doing. Most of the guys didn’t want to play with girls in the band; so we had our band.

It just was fate how we put it together. I think that it’s much more acceptable now. In fact, I think in a lot of ways, we kind of played to the gimmick of it, and it helped us. This happens a lot with female musicians; and I’m not going to say anybody’s names or anything. I don’t mean this about anybody who’s a brilliant Guitarist like Nita Strauss or Lari Basilio (who’s one of my favorite guitar players in the world). There are women out there that are amazing players, but we haven’t come that far because everybody still has to put on a bustier and do this and be like, “Woohoo.”

It’s weird. You can look at all the reunions of bands – a lot of the guys, they have beer bellies and long beards and do-rags, and they can look like anything. It doesn’t matter because it’s the music. For women, there’s a standard that’s kind of different. I think that there are bands out there now that are just phenomenally talented musicians. There are like seven-year-old Japanese guitar players that play better than John. The whole thing has completely changed.

What hasn’t changed is that people want to hear music and they want to relate to the music. It’s a connection that you have with the audience and with your fans. There’s always room for different styles, levels of playing, and ways of playing.

Even with me, I love when people call me a shredder, but my influences were the guitar players that I loved growing up like David Gilmour and Joe Walsh and The Allman Brothers. Then, obviously, in Metal it’s fast and furious, so you kind of need the shred. I always think there’s room for more original material that’s good. I also think good is subjective to who’s listening to it; one person’s going to like something that somebody else doesn’t.

It’s not like there’s room for one girl band. Nobody would ever question how many male bands there are. There are billions of them! (Laughs) However, there’s a handful of female bands that actually make it pretty big and get recognition. I don’t really know the reason why, except that there is something in Metal that is a masculine thing. There’s something aggressive. I believe that most women feel these things, but are taught to not really express them maybe. Maybe it’s that.

Meanstreak promo photo 80s
Meanstreak promo photo from ’80s

Cryptic Rock – Fascinating. It is great to see that we are still progressing. You made a very good point about how a guy can just go out there and come as you are. There is still a standard that the women have to put on makeup and present themselves on stage.

Rena Petrucci – Yeah, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people also selling themselves as a marketing tool looking great, being healthy, looking sexy or whatever. I don’t have a problem with that at all, but I just don’t think it should be the only thing.

It should be open, because music is like layers. You have visual art, the music, the live show, and the energy. There’s so much to it. When I go see bands play, maybe when I was 20, I’d be like, “Oh, that guy’s really cute you know with the long hair and playing bass.” Now when I go see bands, I’m looking at the musicianship and the show they’re putting on and listening to my favorite songs and the music. I think that’s always going to be that way… as long as AI doesn’t take over. (Laughs)

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