(With this post, guest writer Alain Mower begins a series of interviews with women in metal.)
As someone who has been in the metal scene for over a decade, half of that spent playing at the local level in metal bands, I’ve noticed some recurring statements, habits, and trends that need to be addressed.
Metal was built on the foundation of being an open-minded, all-embracing haven that accepts everyone from every walk of life. I’ve never been a part of a community where COMPLETE and TOTAL STRANGERS will literally push people away and pick you up from where you fell in the pit, give you a swig of mead from their horn chalice, or go out of their way to help you back out of that super-tight parallel park job, and I don’t expect many other communities with that level of blind trust and companionship exist elsewhere.
That’s why it’s extremely distressing when I overhear or stumble into conversations where people are using terms such as “Girlfriend Metal” or pointing out the ever-elusive “Metal Girl.” I’ve had many a female friend express that they feel uncomfortable attending metal shows, feel extra pressure in live performances, and – disgustingly enough – have had derogatory statements yelled at them, both as fans and as musicians. Obviously not everyone is guilty of such behavior, but it’s still a pox that we need to deal with if we want to continue to be the boundary-destroying, all-accepting community this culture was built upon. I don’t mind if we treat it or cut it off and leave it behind, but something has to be done.
As a man in the metal scene, I’ve got things pretty easy – ignoring the fact that I live in the Bible Belt and have to feign being normal until I con people into hiring me, whereupon I reveal that those illegible “misprint” t-shirts I wear are actually all Urfaust “limited to 50” designs, but I digress – I’ve got a voice that is echoed by a definitively male-dominated culture. What I don’t have, though, is any perspective on being a woman in the metal community.
While I could emulate my male government representatives in regard to matters affecting women and make decisions or speak out on subjects about which I have literally no knowledge or experience, I decided instead to opt for consulting some experts on the topic rather than talking out of my ass.
This series is dedicated to creating discussion and awareness by expressing the observations, thoughts, and opinions of current prolific metal musicians who, in their spare time, also happen to be women. If it results in you punching some loud-mouth, drunk sexist at the next show you go to or calling someone out when they question the attendance, attire, or musical capabilities of a woman at a show, then that’s all I could ever ask, and then some.
What first attracted you to metal music / the metal scene?
I had a lot of angst regarding dogmatic structures, conformity, and the status quo when I first started listening to metal, so it felt like the right soundtrack for my outlook. I related to the intensity, and to the rebelliousness of it. It seems that most other music reaches a safe, easily digested point of emotional expression, and metal at its best comes closer to expressing the whole extreme range of emotions that one can feel.
What inspired/led you, as a musician, to delve into the relatively small (albeit dedicated) niche market of dark music?
Not logic! I don’t really think it’s a choice when you get into a small niche like heavy/dark music. I don’t feel that I ever delved into it, it was more like I just kept making the kind of music that I wanted to, and one day I looked up and found myself entrenched in it. I’m quite grateful to be part of this niche, but the only thing that is important to me is to make honest and good music.
As a female musician in the metal scene, have there been any hurdles that you have had to overcome?
I think that most of my hurdles have been self-imposed. When I began playing heavy music, the themes of respect and integrity were guideposts for me, and I felt that to be respected as a woman in metal I needed to play an instrument rather than just sing, and I had to always place the content and authenticity of my music very high above my image or sexuality. This is not necessarily true, but because I used those ideas as building blocks for my musical identity I have not had to deal with many hurdles specifically related to my gender.
There are likely some hidden hurdles that I am not aware of, which come from prejudices from record labels, music publications, promoters, other bands, etc. I have heard extremely sexist statements about women in heavy music from some such people, but I have never experienced it personally. I don’t know that these can be considered hurdles, though, as I would not want to work with or for anyone with such shallow judgments. It’s good to remember that what one man may condemn another will praise.
I personally refuse to believe that metal bands can “get big” because they have women in their group rather than based on musical merit, yet I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by metalheads in regard to both big acts and underground up-and-comers. What gives?
Can you imagine how many terrible metal bands would just put females in their bands if that were true? It would be an epidemic. Can a female in a band be a gimmick? Yes. But so can anything else… so can spiked leather gauntlets, so can Black Sabbath riffs, so can Satanism. There simply is no formula to “get big,” but it is easy to single out women as they are less common in metal than leather gauntlets, Black Sabbath riffs, and Satanism.
What advice would you give women just getting into metal music and culture on what to possibly expect?
Be authentic with your music and yourself, and keep your integrity intact at all times. Don’t ever think of yourself as a “woman in heavy music,” just think of yourself as a woman. If you do this you will be treated as a woman, and if you think of yourself as a man, you will be treated as a man. I’ve played shows with many different genres, and I can say without a doubt that the kindest, most generous people I’ve met in music have been the scariest, meanest-looking metalheads. There will always be a few jerks in any group, but they fade into the background very quickly if you don’t give them the attention they so desperately want.
What advice do you have for female musicians trying to break into the industry?
All of the above plus persistence. Always make your creation—your music—the priority, and know that when you make something powerful the world will demand it. Make and play the music you love, play it well, and let it become your master… that way the industry will never have more power over you than your own music.
Many have expressed a fair argument (in my opinion) that metalheads are often close-minded in their reluctance to embrace change. Is it fair to say that this applies to metalhead views towards women in the metal community on some levels? If so, what do you think the community as a whole can do to continue to progress toward that all-accepting culture that we idealistically and foundationally wish for?
Oh yes, I think there are plenty of people in the metal community who would prefer to keep metal a private men’s club for sure. Metal was extreme and progressive when it first started, but now that it’s become a somewhat fixed subculture, it has become a structure that provides security and comfort for those who identify with its largely masculine themes and sounds. For those who make this structure their home, change feels like danger. Women are one of the most extreme changes this genre structure has had to deal with increasingly in the last several years, and they are a threat simply because they change the color or content of the metal walls.
Change is inevitable in life and that’s something that the metal community and all humans should embrace and be better for it.
Closed-mindedness is always a product of fear, and fear is not very metal. So I would say that the metal community should invite the great deluge of women into its metal-walled world, and if those walls look different once we’ve washed over them, or if they fall down, then boldly stand exposed to the elements and take that feeling of purity and rawness and do something even more innovative to build them up again and again and again until it’s realized that there is no perfect structure. The very intensity of the inner wild animal screaming through the music is likely what made them love metal in the first place, and wild animals do not thrive in structures—they die in them.
Vocalist and bassist Sera Timms’s always ethereal, and, when called for, punishing projects have seen their share of critical acclaim – though more is certainly warranted and would be, I’m sure, appreciated. They have been called everything from post-metal to folk, dark-wave to Slavic, with no description truly doing the music justice.
While the news of Black Math Horseman’s disbandment earlier this year came as both a shock and the cause of ensuing alcohol-induced coma (just me?), especially as their 2009 debut/swansong Wyllt was easily one of the top albums of its year and has more than withstood the passage of time, the loss was silver-lined by this captivating and only too appropriate cover of Nirvana’s “All Apologies”…
… and was fortunately announced concurrently with the formation of Sera’s solo project, Black Mare, and that project’s 2013 release Field of the Hosts. This, and the promise of more releases from her current band, Ides of Gemini, following up their 2012 debut full-length Constantinople, has me fully resuscitated and looking forward to the future once again.