Joe Murdie—Metal: The New Zealand Story

Photo Credit: Matt Cook — No Limitz Photography

New Zealand is a long way from anywhere. Trying to get any of our metal onto a world stage, let alone a domestic one, can be a trying endeavor. Although metal is huge in NZ (apparently we buy more per head of population than anywhere else in the world) our love of the genre is not reflected in mainstream media coverage. If it weren’t for the dedication and commitment of fans who work hard to promote metal independently on NZ radio and TV, there would be few opportunities for local or international metal bands to gain much exposure.

New Zealand’s major media outlets certainly don’t care about metal—unless you’re a platinum-selling artist. It’s ridiculous that a band like technical death metal wizards Ulcerate can get loads of positive press internationally, but as far as mainstream media coverage in NZ goes they may as well not exist. By only covering the biggest metal bands, New Zealand’s media ignores a thriving DIY metal scene and a whole bunch of incredible local band, many of whom have been praised overseas. They also do a real disservice to fanatically loyal NZ metal fans.

New Zealand metal deserves a lot more coverage and it’s thanks to creative individuals like Joe Murdie that it will soon be getting some well-deserved documentary exposure. Joe is a guy whose life is defined by metal. Playing in bands, helping bands fulfill their creative ideals, and being a life-long fan of metal has inspired him to dedicate his time, energy and a substantial amount of his own resources to producing New Zealand’s very first documentary about our homegrown metal scene. It’s an admirable project, one that Joe has taken on in his pursuit to combat the lack of coverage of NZ metal. I discovered the initial promo clip for Joe’s film recently and was hugely impressed with his dedication to the cause. I jumped at the opportunity to ask him some questions about his plans for his film.

How did you get into metal, Joe? 

Got into metal young, through my parents really. My Dad is a pretty big rock and metal fan so I grew up with it. When I was young I was a huge Metallica, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath fan so it just progressed from there.

What’s your current role in NZ’s metal realm? How important is metal to your life?

Well first and foremost I’m a musician, I play guitar for a few bands. But I’m also a massive fan. Metal’s a huge part of my life, like most others who are in the scene. Now I feel my role is developing a bit more, through actively trying to promote the positives of the scene and get behind bands who are trying to make it happen in this tough industry that is NZ music.

I look at NZ’s metal scene as self-sustaining and fairly DIY. There are plenty of NZ metal fans, yet homegrown NZ metal is still a marginalised and under-reported music form. How do you see the scene?

It certainly is very DIY but that comes from necessity, even though the metal scene has some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen, there’s just not the same allocation of funding as other genres get in NZ, and I guess that just comes down to what the NZ funding decision makers consider to be the most ‘marketable’. I think though that people in the metal scene are starting to realize, or have realized, that they can’t let that stop them. They know that they just need to get on and do it themselves, and because they are so passionate about it, they will make it happen.

What’s your opinion on the lack of recognition for NZ metal bands, particularly regarding the lack of a metal category in the NZ music awards?

The big topic… Of course I would love to see metal at the awards. And I think all musicians deserve to be recognised for what they do. It would do a lot for putting metal in the eyes of those who would not normally see it. If I had to choose though I would rather see some more regular mainstream air play or recording/video grants to help get the great music made here heard throughout the year, not just at the one awards event.

When did it first strike you that you wanted to make a documentary about the NZ metal scene? What inspired you to take a step forward and take on the project?

I guess it did stem from the above, with NZ metal endlessly not being recognized, and the scene being so DIY, it can feel like such a struggle. The thought started off quite casual, just a late night conversation between myself and a mate about the idea that a lot of people have a very warped concept about metal and that there are so many different underground aspects involved that people don’t know about. For the month following, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. Thinking about the people I could interview and the way to go about it, it just snowballed from there really. Everyone I spoke to was really onboard and eager to help out, each adding a new concept or idea, so we’ve just made it happen.

Looking at the project’s Facebook page, it seems you’ve taken on a lot of different aspects of the project yourself. What’s your role, do you have a background in film, and is anyone else involved in the process?

I have been a photographer for most of my life so naturally I have done a lot of photo work for bands, gigs etc. I guess from there it was only natural to start working with film in the same way. At first it was just my own band’s videos, then mates’ bands and live gigs, then I just got more and more into it, so now I do all sorts of media projects within the NZ metal scene. This is my first doco project and yeah I am doing a lot of it myself but I’m really enjoying it so far. The support that’s coming through has been awesome.

It must be an intimidating project to take on, there are time constraints and energy levels go up and down, but also metal isn’t exactly a homogenous entity. There are big stylistic differences between your own band, Fuelset, an outfit like Witchrist and a band like Jakob. All are built upon metal, but there are lots of opinions and ideas about what metal is and how it should be represented. Are you harnessing opinions from across the spectrum? How do you go about including those opinions that don’t match with your own?

Yeah for sure, for such a ‘little’ industry there is a lot of difference of opinions, but I guess that’s what makes it what it is. I’m trying to cover all types of metal within the doco and have requested interviews with many bands from different styles of metal. Unfortunately some of the more brutal NZ acts like Witchrist have turned down interviews, which does makes it hard to get everyone’s opinion across. I’m working on representing a lot more of the positive aspects of the industry and those that are doing massive things for getting NZ metal out there and heard.

Ever encounter any negativity from folks who just want to keep things underground?

Yeah a bit. But like you’ve said we don’t all see it the same way. And I’m understanding more of that side through doing the research involved in this project and am seeing that we are all just doing it how we want, which is how it should be.

What’s the ultimate aim of the project?

Mainly to build awareness of some of the really industrious people that are in the industry and of the talent that our metal community has to offer. And to give people who are not currently metal fans a chance to see what’s involved—and that ‘hey you just might actually like this’ factor.

Have there been any music documentaries you’ve found particularly inspiring yourself?

The Soulfly DVD, The Song Remains Insane, is one of my favorites, as well as Headbangers Journey and Global Metal.

As an artist, do you find it frustrating being based in NZ ? As a writer it leaves me discouraged sometimes. Do you think that NZ’s geographical isolation affects our ability to get our metal heard?

Yeah for sure. Being from such a small country it’s definitely hard. Not impossible though—many great acts have achieved it. I think that is one of the main reasons we need to band together and support each other.

Do you have a projected release date for the film in mind?

Looking at early in the new year at this stage. It’s all coming along very nicely.

Are you planning on selling it online, or have you a distributor in mind?

Yeah it will be available online and we are looking at distribution options. Don’t have all the details confirmed just yet, but will let you know when we do. I’ve also have spoken to a couple of networks about getting it screened on the metal shows with a really good response so far.

Will you be aiming to get some overseas exposure for the film?

I’m not against it going overseas, I’d be happy if it does, but I’m really making it for NZ audiences.

Ok Joe, last question, and this has nothing to do with the film, but it’s something I ask everyone. What are your top five metal albums of all time (anything released this year that’s caught your ear?) and most importantly, whom should international readers be checking out in the NZ metal scene?

That’s a tough one but a good question. It changes so often for me. Right now the top five would be something along the lines of:

  • Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake
  • Whitechapel – A New Era of Corruptions
  • Mudvayne – Mudvayne
  • Iron Madien – The Number of the Beast
  • Parkway Drive – Horizons

New releases I’m liking are the new albums from Trivium, Cavalera Conspiracy and Devildriver.

NZ acts to check out would be Resporn, Incarnium, Darklight Corporation, Devilskin, Advocates + a million others.

Just want to say, thanks heaps for the support from everyone who has given it, especially the likes of yourself and Paul Martin etc who have really gotten behind it. Much appreciated.

If you’re looking for more information on Joe and the film please see links below.

Metal: The NZ Story

Joe Murdie Photography

Fuelset