(photo credit: Nick Palmiretto)
(In this post, Dane Prokofiev [formerly known as Rev. Will around these parts] returns to NCS with another installment in his Keyboard Warriors series, in which he interviews well-known metal writers. Today’s subject is the thoroughly awesome “Grim” Kim Kelly.)
The name “Grim” Kim is, surely, not unknown to denizens of the metal blogosphere and physical print media.
Starting at the tender age of 15, the New York-based female metal writer worked her way up from underground fanzines to bigger outlets, and she has been at the craft for nearly a decade since. Her career as a metal writer seems to be one of the most successful cases around, as evident from her perennially expanding portfolio (she recently became a staff member of Pitchfork Media), and so it is only natural to inquire: what were the unique life experiences that shaped her to be who she is today?
Of course, that is not all that perks the interest of the body modification enthusiast’s admirers and peers. In this interview, No Clean Singing delves into certain iffy metal issues with the seasoned metal scribe as well.
Hello Kim, it’s time to start talking about yourself again! Were you christened (or satanized) “Grim” Kim by a good metal pal, or did you come up with it yourself?
It’s a nickname given to me by my friend Curran Reynolds. He runs Precious Metal, a weekly metal night at Lit Lounge in Manhattan, and when I was in college in Philly, I’d often come up to catch the show and hang out. I eventually started DJ-ing there upon occasion, and he decided that “Grim Kim” was to be my DJ name. When I started writing for MetalSucks I used it as my pen name ‘cause everyone else there had a quirky nom de plume, and from there, I guess it just stuck. People like rhymes.
Brag about yourself. Go on, tell us about your entire portfolio.
Right now, I contribute to Terrorizer, NPR, Pitchfork, Decibel, The Atlantic, MetalSucks, Invisible Oranges, Brooklyn Vegan, Iron Fist, The Chicago Reader, Loud!, Metal Hammer Norway, Salty Eggs, Ad Hoc, Absolute Underground, and a couple others. I wrote for Metal Maniacs (R.I.P.) and Unrestrained! (R.I.P. – love you, Adrien) before their untimely demises, and wrote for loads of smaller webzines and print ‘zines in high school and college.
Why did you decide to go down the path of a metal music journalist and when was your first big break?
I’ve always loved to write, but the music writing bug [only] bit when I was fifteen. I was writing for my county newspaper when they tossed me a (terrible metalcore) CD and said, “Hey, do you want to review this?” I fumbled through a scathing little write-up, and before long, the poor Burlington County Times was running features on Cattle Decapitation and Behemoth. From there, I started writing for every website and ‘zine I could find, and eventually landed an internship at Metal Maniacs when I was nineteen. That was an amazing experience; it was an absolute joy and privilege working with Liz and JJ, and I suppose getting published in that dearly-missed magazine was my first “big break” into the world of metal journalism.
What are the difficulties you face as a music journalist?
Meeting deadlines, chasing down money I’m owed, being broke, dealing with assholes, embarrassing my grandmother.
On the bright side, tell us about some of the benefits of being a music journalist.
I get to combine my two great loves – writing and metal – and somehow convince people to pay me for it (sometimes). What could be better than that?
What do you think of musicians and bands who bash reviewers when they receive bad reviews from them?
I can understand where they’re coming from, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to survive in this world, you’ve got to have some brass balls/gold-plated ovaries and grow some thicker skin, because no one’s going to be nice to you unless they want to be. You’ve just got to try to win ‘em over and ignore the rest…
How do you strike a balance between opinion and objectiveness when writing album reviews?
I’m pretty opinionated in general, but I only cover stuff I like, so it tends to work out. Listening to something you dig already makes analyzing and evaluating its strengths and weaknesses way more enjoyable, and encourages you to pay closer attention to detail.
How scared were you when you first heard heavy metal?
I was never “scared” of it – my parents were into Southern rock, country, and classic rock, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch. My dad gave me my first Black Sabbath record, after all.
In an interview you did with Invisible Oranges, a blog that you contribute to yourself, you mentioned that “I listened to a lot of wretched music in the beginning.” That sounds pretty damn elitist! Are you the kind who hates mainstream music?
Not really. I have fairly broad musical tastes, within and outside of metal – I’m just picky about what I like, and am not shy about communicating my opinions about things.
Elitist? Okay. Also, I fucking love Taylor Swift, so who am I to judge? That being said, there are some truly inexcusable bands out there making music today, and it’s beyond me why anyone would want to listen to the garbage they pass off as “metal.”
Generally, “deathcore” and “metalcore” are two of the biggest sub-genres of metal music today that are considered “wretched music” by metal elitists. Do you actually like any bands from these two sub-genres?
Nah, that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to me.
You grew up in a Catholic environment, yet you eventually became so enthralled by metal that you became your mother’s “devil child”. Catholic families typically bring up their kids in a very conservative and strict manner, so how come your obsession with metal (and especially black metal) music was allowed to mutate into the insatiable monstrosity it is today?
My parents were never overly strict about religion, beyond forcing me to go to various Sunday schools and Catholic CCD classes until I turned twelve and told them that I was an atheist. My father’s side of the family are very conservative, religious country folk, but they mostly turn a blind eye, and my mother’s side think I’m funny. Having that somewhat religious background and having been made to read the bible and various religious literature definitely led to my questioning and ultimately rejecting Catholicism and Christianity as a whole at a young age, though. Know thine enemy.
How the hell did you convince your father to give you Deicide’s greatest hits for Christmas many years ago?
I put it on my Christmas list, and he got it for me. The ol’ man’s not half bad – we drink whiskey and crank Ted Nugent whenever I make it back down to the pines.
Not only did you start your metal obsession young, you have a long-running interest in body modification as well. When did you get your first tattoo or piercing? Were you grounded when your parents found out about it?
I got my first tattoo when I was eighteen. My parents didn’t see it until I was moving out of my second-year college apartment, though, and by then it was a bit late to ground me.
What does your favorite tattoo say? Which is the most extremely modified part of your body?
My favorite tattoos are the “666” I have on my hip, because I got it with my best friend Diana in Nashville, and the Bathory goat on the back of my left arm, because it was done by a dear friend (Heath Rave, Speakeasy Tattoo, Chicago) and because, duh, Bathory.
I guess the “most” modified part of me is my face, thanks to a handful of piercings and stretched lobes; or my knees, which are scarred from two separate suspensions.
You consistently made the honor roll in high school, were also an award-winning member of the school’s Model Congress debate team, and even wrote about politics for the school paper. Having been such an excellent academic during school days, do you feel that it is important for metalheads to drop the outdated “high school dropout” image many of them are trying to portray, and excel academically instead, to show that there are fans who are attracted to metal music because it is no longer the no-brainer genre it once was in the past?
I don’t think metalheads are trying to portray that image at all; some do, but so do plenty of other kinds of people who’ve never heard of Judas Priest. Some of the most highly-educated, intelligent, and accomplished people I’ve ever met have been into metal.
What was the first record you owned which was not metal, but heavy enough to make you curious to want to check out metal eventually?
Outside of my dad’s Iron Butterfly cassettes and listening to Metallica on the radio with my mom, the first metal-ish CD I remember buying for myself was a System of a Down record – I’m showing my age here! I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and I bought ‘Toxicity” at Wal-Mart because that was the only place within an hour’s drive that sold music; and the cover looked cool. I can’t stomach that sort of music anymore, but back then, it seemed heavy as fuck.
Out of the zillions of concerts you’ve been to over the years, were there moments that were so memorable and life-changing that you will always remember them?
Lots. Definitely watching Ra Al Dee Experience in the basement of Into the Void Records in Dublin. Every Roadburn is special, and last year’s Nuclear War Now! live ritual (BLASPHEMY!!) was amazing. The all-star black metal tribute (with members of Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Emperor) and performances by Koldbrann, Necros Christos, Nifelheim, and Behexen at Norway’s Hole In The Sky Festival in 2009 are some things I’ll always remember, alongside the first time I saw EyeHateGod in NOLA and on the pair of Russian dates on Cannabis Corpse’s first European tour. Oh, and seeing Patrick Walker do an acoustic solo gig in a tiny coffee shop in London – that gave me shivers. I don’t think I’ll forget Morbid Angel’s MDF appearance this past year, either – my boyfriend and I snuck onto the top of the venue and watched the madness unfold to the tune of all the old songs I’d been hoping they’d play. MAZE OF TORMENT!
You have been writing for nine years now. Do you ever go “Wow, who wrote this? Was it really me?” whenever you get nostalgic and read your old writing from the various online metal publications, Terrorizer and Metal Maniacs issues you contributed to in the past?
I read through old stuff once in awhile, and am generally pleased with it, but I like to think I keep improving. That’s the goal, anyway.
“The biggest influence on my metal evolution wasn’t a person at all–it was the written word.” Why do you think metal writers are so awesome?
Generally, we’re all just giant nerds who actually paid attention in English class and own way too many records, but hey, we try.
Ever tried hunting down those kvlt, rare old school black-and-white print magazines like Slayer Mag?
Nah, if I’m going to spend time combing the Internet and record shops for old metal stuff, it’s going to be for vinyl, though I do enjoy paging through those kinds of ‘zines when I come across them. I love the DIY aesthetic and excited, passionate writing that fanzines still offer.
You say you don’t really get “starstruck” anymore, but that you still get a little giddy going through the numbers in your phone. Have you ever thought back and wondered how your younger metal self would have reacted to this if she time-travelled to our present time?
I’m pretty sure she’d be stoked. It wasn’t that long ago, after all. I’m only 24.
So what bands or individuals have taken you by surprise with unexpectedly chill-out personalities?
Mors Dalos Ra is a true gentleman. Otherwise, Southerners take the cake. Wino is one of my favorite people ever, Phil Anselmo is a sweetheart, and Kirk Windstein is like an uncle to me. All those NOLA dudes – Crowbar, Down, EyeHateGod, haarp, Hawg Jaw – are the nicest, most welcoming people you could ever meet, and they’ll always have your back. I’ll never forget the time on tour when a crew member was being a dick to me, and all of Crowbar threatened to “pound his face into dust”. That’s love!
Is there any pattern (e.g., generally black metal, generally prog metal) and/or unique trait (e.g., plastic CD covers to protect the jewel case, autographs on jewel case and not on the album artwork) about your metal record collection?
My collection is mostly black metal, crust punk, and old country records, with a nice dose of death metal, grind, and a little neo-folk thrown in. I’m a sucker for colored vinyl and elaborate packaging, for sure.
You love the sense of community that metal music provides for its fans (and so do a major portion of the metal crowd out there). Don’t you think that this is an ironic outcome, seeing as how the genre started out as a protest against mainstream societal values and practices, and the whole point of it all was to not fit in with any established community at all?
Not really. I think it started out when a bunch of broke, disillusioned British dudes got together and decided to start playing music in hopes of brightening up their dreary working-class lives – the same reason so many others do the same thing.
Metal’s fiercely independent spirit has been there since the very beginning, but so has the sense of community – the idea that “we’re all in this together ‘cause no one else understands.” “The lone wolf” trope brushes up against the “metal brotherhood” ideal and ends up, as does everything else, falling to the individual to decide which branch of the tribe feels most comfortable to them.
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)?
The music business is a business, and the metal business is a part of that, but it’s not quite so soulless as you make it out to be. Sure, there are people at big labels and business entities that make a comfortable living and don’t give a rat’s ass about songwriting or integrity, as long as it sells, but those type of people are far outnumbered by the rest of us.
No one gets into metal to make money, and if you do, you’re an idiot who will soon be thrust rudely back into reality. The vast majority of people I know and come across who work in the metal business are in it because they love metal, and want to support it in any way they can. They could make more money working at a different label or bigger magazine, or outside of the industry altogether, but they take the hit to stay true to what they love. No one’s a saint – this shit is cutthroat – but I believe that a good number of people do have the best of intentions, even if the bastards get better and better at grinding us down. Beyond that, look at the DIY scene – there are thousands of bands, labels, distros, zines, writers, screen printers, promoters, and venues operating way below the radar, that are doing it purely for the love of the music. They don’t need to be “anti-establishment” – the establishment doesn’t even know they exist, and they’re better off for it.
So which female metal musicians do you look up to?
Jo Bench, Lori Bravo, Sharon Bascovsky, Chiyo Nukaga, Runhild Gammelsæter, Amber Valentine, Jinx Dawson, Doro, Onielar, Vivian Slaughter, Grace Perry, Becky Hawk, Athena Kautsch, and so, so many others!
What are your favorite bands of all time?
EyeHateGod, Bathory, Amebix, Morbid Angel, Drudkh, Dissection, Necros Christos, Blasphemy, Warning, Black Flag, Saint Vitus, Revenge, Horna, Sarcofago, Neun Welten, Archgoat… and of course, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe.
Will you consider setting up your own metal magazine next time?
One of these days.
How about writing a novel or a non-fiction book on metal?
You never know…
Any advice for young and budding metal music journalists out there?
Work hard, know your shit, be conscientious, and don’t give up.
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