Firstly, congratulations on the Hellbound gig. I know it takes courage to approach a site you like; you must be thrilled!
Thanks! I am pretty excited. As a writer, the goal is to have people read your work. Getting on with Hellbound makes my work visible to a far greater audience than my personal blog alone. I’m pretty humble by nature so I was hesitant to contact Sean to offer my services due to that fear of rejection, but I needn’t have worried! The fact that Hellbound.ca is a Canadian based site is just icing on the cake.
Let’s start at the beginning, how did you discover the world of metal? Was there a particular gateway band that lured in you, or was there something in metal you’d not found anywhere else?
When I look back at my pre-metal years, I shudder. I prefer not to think about some of those bands. But anything was better than my parent’s music. “There are two types of music in this world. Country, and Western.” Somebody shoot me. My transition into the world of metal was relatively slow. When we finally got MuchMusic on cable (Canadian equivalent of MTV), the ball started rolling. On the Pepsi Power Hour I saw videos for Anthrax’s “Anti-social” and Metallica’s “One”, among others. I borrowed (with no intent of returning) my cousin’s *…And Justice for All *cassette because I needed more.
That was about the extent of it (other than grunge) until I was about 15. Then I saw the video for Pantera’s “I’m Broken” and it was all over. The energy, the intensity, the aggression. That’s what I wanted. Then came Slayer, Black Sabbath, Sepultura and so on. It just kept snowballing and branching out from there. I could go on for days but if I can attribute my obsession to one band, it’s Pantera. They’re not my favorite band, but I do hold them ultimately responsible.
What made you decide to leap from just simply enjoying metal to writing about it? Did you have a background in writing before you started?
I used to work at a record store and the handful of us metalheads that worked there would trade Album of the Year lists. We did that over email for a few years after I moved back home, and then Facebook came along. Then I’d publish my list as a “Note” and tag anyone I knew with a passing interest in metal/hard rock. This is when I started writing short little reasons beside my selections. I felt like I had to justify my selections. When those reasons started to grow, I started my blog in hopes that other people would read them and spur some discussion. And here we are. Hundreds of posts later and still only a handful of comments. I guess that didn’t work. I’ve never considered myself much of a writer. I hated English in high school. Despised essays and having to explain myself all through university. But over the last few years I’ve had many people comment on how talented a writer I am between my review work and my non-metal blog. I’m a late bloomer I guess.
Your own blog, Kingdom Of Noise, has been going for four years, so you’ve been writing about metal for some time now. How does that affect the way you listen to metal? Is it always with the ear of a critic?
Unless I’m given an album for the express purpose of writing a review, I always approach the music as a metal fan first. Oftentimes I’ll listen to a record a dozen times before I even think about writing a review. Even with promos, I try to separate myself from the review process for at least the first few listens. Then I’ll move into critic mode once I have a good feel for the album. I find that immediately evaluating something can take the fun out of it.
There’s a big old world of metal out there, Matt. Are there genres you prefer to write about? Or perhaps, some you’d struggle to find anything good to say about?
Yes, and yes. I do find that there are some genres that I find much easier to write about based on what they do for me. Or rather, what they do to me. How they make me feel, what they do to my mind. The genres that tend to have an effect on me most, and spark that creative spirit are most likely doom, sludge and black metal in their various forms.
Some genres, like thrash and death metal for instance, I thoroughly enjoy but have a hard time expressing why in a manner that would make for interesting reading. And as you go further down, there are genres that I won’t even listen to if I have a choice. In those cases, I invoke what my mother taught me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
***You’re a father and you work full-time. How do you find the time to write in the first place? Some folks need strict routine to write, do you have to set time aside to write? ***
Until just quite recently I never felt obligated to write. Just doing my own blog I would just write whenever I had the time. Now with Kingdom of Noise gaining some momentum and getting the gig with Hellbound, I’m starting to feel that obligation. Finding that time to dedicate to writing can be difficult. I work 50 hours a week and have 3 kids. Traditionally, I write while I’m working. Through blogger I have an email address set up where I can just type the review up in an email, hit send, and bam, it’s posted. So I’ll type the review out one sentence at a time over the course of a shift or three while listening to the album on my breaks. I’ve become quite adept at working this way without affecting production at all. But don’t tell my boss. To this point, I’d estimate 95% of my reviews were done this way. As my writing has become more serious, I’ve had to start doing some writing at home. I need that access to lyrics and other research materials that I don’t always have at work. This is where the balance comes in.
My wife works when I don’t so when I’m not working, I’m a house husband. Finding the time to do all that needs to be done inside and outside of the house, keep an eye on the kids and write is hard. It’ll be easier when the older two go back to school and even easier when all three are enrolled full time. (September 2015. But I’m not counting.) The good thing is, I can listen to more or less whatever I want with the girls around. They’re numb to it by this point.
You’re a big fan of Twitter and social media. How important do you feel those mediums have been for you engage with your readers, labels and other writers?
I am a big fan of Twitter. But despite what my wife says, I am NOT obsessed. (“I’m networking, hunny.”) I use different social media site for different purposes. My interest in Facebook wanes with every passing day. It’s how I interact with “real people”. Co-workers, family, old high school friends, etc. Excuse the language, but on FB, I feel like I have to pussy-foot around in order not to have to justify, defend, or deal with asinine comments.
Twitter on the other hand allows me to be who I really am. It’s a whole different sphere. Any success I have as a metal writer I can attribute to Twitter. I wouldn’t be doing this interview! I haven’t engaged much with readers, (other than fellow writers. Talk to me, people!) but the contacts I’ve made within the industry have been invaluable. Single tweets have opened doors with labels, retweets dramatically increased readership, and I can state with the utmost confidence that without the support of my fellow writers (all of whom I met through Twitter) I wouldn’t be where I am today.
As online metal writers our work is as public as you can get. That’s great of course, that’s what we want, but do you ever worry about reaction to your work? What if you simply hate an album, are you happy pick it to bits in the public sphere?
Hate is a really strong word and an emotion I try to avoid. But there are definitely artists and styles I have a strong distaste for. More often that not, I simply won’t write about it. I’m not afraid of backlash from the band or its fans. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and I welcome discussion. I just feel that I could use my time more effectively on promoting artists I enjoy. I will rip in to a band if the mood strikes me. I did a number on that Lulu crap last year.
Obviously metal is confrontational, and that’s why we love it. But are there lines you won’t cross, things you wouldn’t write about or listen too at all?
******I’ll listen to anything. Chances are, if the lyrical content is something I would find offensive, I can’t understand it anyway. I have all kinds of death metal albums with gory imagery and lyrics. Doesn’t bother me. If we are to talk about controversial figures in the metal scene, which is where I suspect you are going with this question, thing become a little fuzzier.
Again, I’ll listen to anything at least once. Will I support it monetarily or by promotion? Maybe, maybe not. For example, Satan worshipping (real or gimmick) bands. I’d pay money to see Watain. I own Deicide albums. I wear my Goatwhore shirt all the time. But that line gets crossed with hate, ignorance and bigotry. Will I listen to Burzum? Yup. I’ll even write about Burzum. But I won’t buy a Burzum CD. I won’t wear a Burzum shirt. That crosses from the band to the man. I can’t support someone like Varg. It might sound hypocritical but that’s where I stand. And if you found me an anti-Buddhist band (if such a thing exists) I will tear them to the ground. I can deal with the karma later.
To my mind there have been a raft of amazing releases in 2012. Who’ve you got lined up so far for the inevitable ‘best-of’ list?
******I knew you were going to ask this! I say it every year but 2012 has been such a good year for metal. Some of my favorites so far would have to include perennial contenders High on Fire with *De Vermis Mysteriis *(Get well soon, Matt!), the startling debut by Pallbearer, Sorrow & Extinction, Titan’s jaw-dropping Burn, the hair-raising Cattle Decapitation (Monolith of Inhumanity) and the heartbreaking *Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light *from Woods of Ypres (RIP David). To name but a few. I will always have a soft spot for Soulfly. Krallice has a new one on the horizon. Hopefully Pig Destroyer. And if Clutch releases a new one by year-end, it’s an automatic #1.
Do you have a plan for the future direction of your writing? Or are you happy to let it flow on the current?
******I’ve always been a very “go with the flow” kind of person. I prefer to just let things happen the way they are meant to play out. But at the same time, I know I can’t sit idly by and expect things to come to me. At some point, sure, I’d like to write for more publications but right now I’m happy to run Kingdom of Noise and contribute to Hellbound. Part of that is also time. If I were approached by other webzines or blogs, etc I wouldn’t turn it down out of hand. There is no way I could give up my job to pursue writing more seriously. (I’m not as brave as you.) Who knows? Maybe once the girls are all in school I can devote more time to more outlets. But I’m also looking forward to using that time to write actual music, not just about music.
Here’s your chance to tell all and sundry your darkest secrets and deepest fears—any final thoughts?Darkest secrets?
I’ll give you three. 1) I didn’t appreciate Iron Maiden until A Matter of Life and Death. 2) My beard envy is surpassed only by my long hair envy. 3) I used to have those jeans with legs as big around as the waist, backwards ball cap and a goatee. Not my best look.
My deepest fear, other than going deaf, is that my esteemed government continues to pry into internet security and privacy. They have plans to severely limit bandwidth and institute laws that would lead to fines simply by clicking on certain links. Very Big Brother. The virtually unlimited access I have to music right now could get tricky and expensive.
I’d also like to say that I think it is important we remember that all we have is due to the generosity of others. I appreciate all that I have and am truly grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received from the metal community at large. And of course, thank you for asking me to do this interview! It’s been my pleasure.
**Photo courtesy Becky Hinch. **