(Shortly before The Number of the Blog met its sad demise, TNOTB began publishing an interview series called “Keyboard Warriors” written by a relatively new TNOTB staffer who called himself Rev. Will. Because the archive of TNOTB posts seems to have exploded in a spatter of bits, never to be seen again, we agreed to give these interviews a home here at NCS, mainly because one of the interviewees was me. So, beginning today we’re republishing the five interviews that appeared before TNOTB went down. We’ll follow those on Friday with an interview that didn’t appear before TNOTB shut down . . . and we understand more will be coming after that.)
TNOTB INTRO: Many of us have read, heard, and watched countless interviews with our favourite musicians/bands involved and gained a better understanding of their art and the difficulties that come packaged with it. How often do we do the same with the people who slog behind the limelight and come up with the very words you are taking in now though? Rev. Will speaks to veteran metal writer, Adrien Begrand, to shed some light on the overly underrated and underappreciated art of metal music journalism.
THE GREAT THING ABOUT INTERVIEWING A FELLOW METAL WRITER (AND A PROFESSIONAL ONE AT THAT) IS that I don’t have to spend a lot of time scrutinising the interview response for spelling and grammatical errors. Heck, I don’t even have to worry about the punctuation. Conversely, I’m pretty sure that if I were to interview infamous troll bands like Anal Cunt or IWRESTLEDABEARONCE via e-mail, I would probably be spending most of my working time on the piece heavily correcting their responses to inject more coherence and sense into whatever they might be trying to bring across to you readers. Or whatever it is they are trying to troll, once again.
Well, since we are on to the subject of trolls, has anyone ever heard any of your metalhead homies diss metal writers as mostly a bunch of nonsense-spewing and “they-just-don’t-get-it” people? The existence of such ungrateful apes has always intrigued me; it really just doesn’t make sense to me that anyone who reads metal-related articles online or offline to help aid in their purchasing or downloading decisions can make such audacious and uncalled for remarks. Sure, metal writers tend to get overly-excited or drunk at times and end up writing the occasional stuff that they will regret ever churning out later on, but alas, they are only human at the end of the day, too. On the other happier hand, metal writers do get some pretty juicy benefits over the everyday metal fan, and that is not including the joy they get out of writing passionately for their beloved Metal. Needless to say, the business of metal music journalism is not a walk in the park. Just like most other jobs out there, it has its fair share of dull and exhilirating moments.
Rev. Will: Aloha Adrien. How long have you been contributing to Decibel, Terrorizer and Dominion magazines? Any non-printed publications you contribute to as well?
Adrien Begrand: Let’s see, I’ve been contributing to Decibel since December 2005, and have been with Terrorizer and its offshoot Dominion for the last year and a half. I also contributed to Metal Edge during its last couple years (RIP), plus I write for Metallian magazine in France every now and then. I’ve written hundreds of pieces for PopMatters.com for the past nine years, I’m a senior writer at Hellbound.ca, and have most recently taken over the Headbang metal blog at MSN.com. Needless to say, I’ve stayed busy!
Rev. Will: What sparked your interest in metal and how young were you when that magical moment happened?
Adrien Begrand: My indoctrination into metal was very gradual. I spent the first 12 and a half years of my life in rural Western Canada, completely removed from classic heavy rock and metal, living in a world of AM radio and my mom’s Beatles records. When we moved to a larger city in 1982 I was floored by all the T-shirts kids wore at school: Ozzy, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, AC/DC…it was all so foreign and strange to me!
The popularity of music videos at the time introduced me to the mainstream bands that were breaking huge at the time, and in late 1983 I caved in and bought Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, though it didn’t really click. I heard a friend’s tape of Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil, and that seemed a lot more appealing, though I couldn’t pinpoint why. In early 1984, something did click when I heard Van Halen’s 1984 and Scorpions’ Love at First Sting, but the clincher was that summer, as I wound up playing Ratt’s Out of the Cellar and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry non-stop. By the time I went back to school that fall I was a full-fledged cassette-buying, Circus magazine-reading obsessive. That fall I’d get into Slayer, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., KISS. That was pretty much the end of me right there, my path was set.
Rev. Will: Why did you decide to go down the path of a metal music journalist and when was your first big break?
Adrien Begrand: This is a bit of a long story. Deep down I knew I always wanted to be a metal writer, right from when I was 15 doing essays about W.A.S.P. and the PMRC for English class in high school. But of course living far removed from one of Canada’s major cities, it never felt like something I could actually do. I’m actually a late bloomer; when I finally fell into music journalism, I was 30 years old. By then my musical tastes had broadened a great deal. The nascent death metal wave at the end of the 1980s had no appeal for me (by then I was more into Voivod and Faith No More), and I’d spent the 1990s exploring a lot music outside metal while my metal heroes released subpar record after subpar record. So by 2001 I was very well-rounded musically, able to write about anything from metal, to indie, to mainstream pop, to electronic, and when PopMatters accepted my application, that’s exactly what I did.
The longer I went, though, the more I realized just how much fun I was having writing about metal, but at the time online publications like Pitchfork, PopMatters, and Stylus weren’t treating metal seriously. Aside from a few smaller labels, most metal labels didn’t bother trying to get albums reviewed at those sites, so I was mainly writing about major label metal bands. One day in 2004 I went out and bought Therion’s Lemuria/Sirius B of all things, loved it, wrote a review, and thought to myself, “Wait a sec, why don’t I just approach these labels myself?” I got permission from my editor, and quickly formed relationships with metal labels and PR reps, and before I knew it I’d become the PopMatters metal guy. Then in 2005 I started my monthly Blood & Thunder column, the first column devoted exclusively to metal at a popular music webzine (Pitchfork and Stylus would follow suit soon after), which in turn caught the eye of the guys at Decibel. So after years of mucking it out, paying dues by writing tons of reviews and articles for nothing, I was finally a paid writer.
Rev. Will: What are the difficulties you face as a music journalist?
Adrien Begrand: Number one: transcribing interviews. It’s an absolute time-sucker. I’m a slow typer, a 45-minute interview can take me three hours to transcribe, which is a lot of album-listening time lost. Plus, having to write at length about mediocre music is a real chore, but it’s always worth it when you hear that one great new record.
And of course, making a living at this is very tough. You have to stay really busy if you want to make half decent money, and even still, you’re paid peanuts.
Rev. Will: On the bright side, tell us about some of the benefits of being a music journalist.
Adrien Begrand: It doesn’t happen as often as many would think, but sometimes you do get to travel, which is always a blast. I’ve been to Sweden and Norway covering bands and events. I toured the States and Canada with Tyr, Eluveitie, Ensiferum, and Turisas, flown out to interview Iron Maiden, and covered the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in the Caribbean. Plus you get to go to tons of metal shows for free, you get to interview cool people, and best of all, you get to hear new music before anyone else does!
Rev. Will: I have always thought of the metal music industry as a food chain starting with the rockstar/cult figure at the top, followed by record labels, then the press, the gig organizers, and then the merch retailers and metal stores all over the world. Do you agree with this view that the metal community is simply not as anti-establishment and homey as many prominent figures in the industry like to frequently make it out to be (with their politically correct stances)?
Adrien Begrand: It’s no different than mainstream popular music, that’s for sure. There’s absolutely a sense of community among bands, fans, and the media that something like indie rock simply cannot grasp, but no question, there’s a lot of calculation that goes into the marketing of a band. If there’s an anti-establishment, “us against them” sensibility, it’s among the tinier “boutique” labels like Profound Lore, 20 Buck Spin, and Seventh Rule, who are putting out incredible new music and conveying a total sense of integrity while doing so.
Rev. Will: What do you think of musicians and bands who bash reviewers when they receive bad reviews from them?
Adrien Begrand: It’s an incredibly trite thing to do. Every so often you have to deal with the odd vanity Googler who searches for his or her name to see what people have written about them, but in the end, if I’m going to trash an album, I make sure I do so fairly. I prefer to stick to the rule, “Don’t say anything about a band that you can’t say to their face.” There have been a few times I’ve strayed from that rule, which I still feel bad about!
Rev. Will: How do you strike a balance between opinionatedness and objectiveness when writing album reviews?
Adrien Begrand: That’s a tough thing to do, but objectivity is crucial. For instance, I can’t stand Dream Theater, but in assessing their new album I had to forget about my own personal bias and assess it compared to their past work and what’s expected of that kind of a band. In the end, I tried mightily to find merit in it, but the album still sucks, though.
Rev. Will: Interview articles typically follow a standard Q&A format (like this one) or a narrative one with quotes from the interviewee being injected between the interviewer’s own passages. Do you think there can be any way to spruce up the interview format and make it less rigid?
Adrien Begrand: It depends on the writer. If his questions are conversational and good enough to draw an eloquent response from the subject, then a Q&A works extremely well. Personally, I’m not a real schmoozer, my interviews tend to be rather rigid, so I often prefer to flesh a piece out in an essay style. Though I think I’ve been getting a lot better at Q&As as of late!
Rev. Will: Who are your most memorable interviewees so far?
Adrien Begrand: Having long sit-down interviews with Dickinson, Harris, Smith, and Murray of Iron Maiden was the big one, a dream come true, and they couldn’t have gone better. It’s all downhill from there.
But seriously, I have a lot of favorites. Interviewing Accept for my Decibel Hall of Fame piece on Restless and Wild was a pleasure from start to finish, all members, current and former, couldn’t have been nicer and more accomodating. Robb Flynn from Machine Head was a big surprise, he was incredibly forthright. Jarboe (ex-Swans) is a very cool lady with great stories. Anneke van Giersbergen is the sweetest person. Julie Christmas from Made Out of Babies is a great interviewee. Eric Adams and Ross the Boss from Manowar are the nicest guys you’ll ever talk to (wish I could say the same about DeMaio). I always have fun interviewing the guys from Cobalt. Just the other day I interviewed Wrest from Leviathan via phone and he turned out to be a friendly, fascinating guy, much to my surprise. I was expecting a disaster.
Rev. Will: What are your favourite bands of all time?
Adrien Begrand: As far as metal goes, Iron Maiden’s at the top. But I’m also most fond of Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, Opeth, Meshuggah, the Gathering, Katatonia, Motörhead. Outside metal, there’s the Ramones, Pavement, Pulp, Can, Bob Dylan, Drive-By Truckers, Goldfrapp, New Order, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young. I could go on for ages in both categories.
Rev. Will: What albums have been hogging your ears lately?
Adrien Begrand: As of late, the stuff that’s blown my mind the most have been Opeth’s Heritage, Hammers of Misfortune’s 17th Street, Leviathan’s True Traitor, True Whore, Iced Earth’s Dystopia, Evile’s Five Serpent’s Teeth, The Atlas Moth’s An Ache For the Distance. I’m still trying ot get my head around Mastodon’s The Hunter. I’ve also been playing Jaguar’s 1983 album Power Games like mad lately. And St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy, metal fans should check it out, she shreds on that sucker, she’s become Kate Bush meets Big Black. Oh, and though it’s not metal, Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life is the best thing I’ve heard all year. I have no idea what my top metal album will be. Primordial? Opeth? 40 Watt Sun? It’s a total toss-up right now.
Rev. Will: Will you consider setting up your own metal magazine next time?
Adrien Begrand: Not at all, nearly ten years in I’m still perfectly happy churning out the reviews and articles like a drone.
Rev. Will: How about writing a novel or a non-fiction book on metal?
Adrien Begrand: A book is the next big step, no question, and I have an idea or two. It still feels a long time away though.
Rev. Will: Any other advice for young and budding metal music journalists out there?
Adrien Begrand: Don’t go into it expecting to make money. Start simply, start a blog or contribute to a webzine and work hard at forming your own voice. If you’re passionate enough to grind it out, the paying gigs will come, and then you’ll have to work even harder to keep those going. But if you love metal and writing about metal, it’ll never stop being fun. The second it stops being fun, don’t hesitate to step aside, because there’s always someone waiting to take your place.
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Hey Rev, nice interview. I remember reading the one with Islander on TNOTB, good to see that the your work has been resurrected.
I nominate Kim Kelly for inclusion in this series.
Well, she will be interviewee number 7 in this series! I have already contacted her for an interview last month.
Interesting interview. Great topic. Thanks!