As we move into 2011 and settle back into our old habits [yes, we know most of your “new years resolutions” have probably failed miserably by now unfortunately] and so we begin our normal routines yet again. However, what we have lined up for you is far from routine. We are still posting mega-rare 80’s Metal articles and interviews from the Demolish vaults, however, after much encouragement + support we have decided to resurrect the ‘zine and cover some current material as well. The latest propaganda will reside in the aptly titled DEMOLISH A.D. section.
To kick off the premiere article for this freshly minted department we are happy to bring you a kick-ass exclusive interview with none other than the ubiquitous music journalist and musician J.Bennett. We had hoped to bust this out last August, but father time pushed the fast-forward button on us and somehow five months have miraculously rolled past! With that being said, here’s to 2011.
Before we get out of the gates with this one, I must admit that I am not an avid reader of DECIBEL Magazine. As a matter of fact, up until a couple of years ago, I had only nonchalantly skimmed through a few issues while visiting a [Metalhead] buddies house around two years ago. After gulping several Guinness [while listening to Artillery’s “When Death Comes” for the better part of an hour], I noticed his stack of magazines close by and decided to see what the latest crop of Metal rags were all about.
Upon closer inspection, I realized how much of a short attention span peeps must have these days as the reviews seemed to be very short and contained mini-blasts of info and or just a quickie summary about the band. After reading a few more items, I must admit that I still had no idea what some of the bands actually sounded like! Moving forward, I was steadily bombarded with many descriptive genre tags and even more sub genre labels. For some reason, the voice in my head told me that since Metal’s seemingly great comeback was so strong, I assumed the scene and or “industry” if-you-will must have solidified somehow and or became a cohesive powerhouse. Not so…
What I realized was that contrary to popular belief, “Metal” really never went anywhere, it had simply morphed and splintered off into countless sub genres of what Decibel Mag. was calling “extreme” music -yikes, yet another “genre”? Maybe this was the GRAND “Metal” label of all and every other form of “Metal music” now resides under that expanding umbrella—or at least within the last decade [or to be more precise, it was 7 years ago, when Decibel published their first issue]. In any case, kudos to all @ Decibel for putting out such a quality publication for the Metal fans. It’s about time an American company tries to take on the many European Metal counterparts!
What immediately got my attention was the first-rate print job and excellent illustrations of artist Bruno Guerreiro. This dude’s got skillz! After Bruno’s art caught my eye, I started to hone in on the actual article(s) themselves—it seems like the ones that resonated with me the most were usually written by the one named J. Bennett. BTW if you are wondering—his name isn’t Jay. “J” is actually short for something else. It turns out that “J” is one of their main contributors (certainly among their best writers IMO) and we are always down to support and promote such peeps who are doing something positive in the Metal community.
Mr. Bennett is certainly a busy-beaver as he contributes to Revolver, Alternative Press (mostly movie reviews/stuff there), MySpace.com, Thrasher and most notably Decibel. However J is normally on the other side of the table, meaning, he is usually the one asking the questions, doing band interviews or writing the reviews!
Please join us as we pick his brain about all things Metal, his life and anything else that we can think of that you might not know about him already.
KINGER: How in the world do you find the time to write for Revolver, Decibel, Thrasher and Self-Titled mag.?
J.BENNETT: Excellent question. I usually find it under rocks or buried in haystacks in remote foreign lands, which is a time-consuming process in and of itself. Which then requires me to find even more time. It’s a vicious circle. Seriously, though? Amphetamines.
Which of these outlets do you enjoy contributing to the most and what is the common thread among these choices [if any] and how did you narrow your choices to these four publications?
J: I suspect I’ll get fired by at least three or four magazines if I answer the first part of this question honestly, so I’m gonna go with Field & Stream. Mostly because they never hassle me about all the nonexistent deadlines they never give me. The common thread among the others is that they all probably wish they’d hired someone else. For some reason, I didn’t narrow it down to four, though. I also contribute to Alternative Press and Terrorizer. They also probably wish they’d made a better choice!
How did you get started writing about Metal?
J: I was young and didn’t know any better. Some teenagers experiment with drugs or alcohol; I experimented with drugs and alcohol and writing about heavy metal. My first assignment – unpaid, of course – was for a local Boston rock rag called The Noise. I think it’s actually still around. I reviewed a live show at the Middle East Club in Cambridge. I think the lineup was Big Wig (a rock band with a rapper), Cast Iron Hike (featuring future members of ISIS and Doomriders) and Orange 9mm. Then again, it could have been something else entirely.
I hear that you have some ‘zine publishing experience—back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, tell us about your old ‘zine Hexbender.
J: I published four issues between 1998 and early 1999 – a thousand copies each, I think. My brother from another mother, Keith Bennett, was my right-hand man and the house expert on all things extreme (he currently plays in the totally righteous PanzerBastard). We actually managed to land some respectable interview subjects even though we didn’t really know what we were doing: Queens Of The Stone Age on their first tour, Emperor, Arch Enemy (Johan Liiva era), Clearlight (Jimmy Bower from Eyehategod’s short-lived side project), John Garcia (pre-Unida), In Flames when they were still good, etc.
My friend Ironlung (of Scissorfight fame) wrote a column for every issue entitled “Ironlung’s Wild America.” One was about Bigfoot smoking weed. My favorite line claimed that Sasquatch liked to “get higher than Bill Walton and Robert Parish at Reggae Sunsplash.”
I found out about your writing mainly from the excellent Precious Metal book (also via some reg. Decibel issues). It appears that you wrote more than half of the pieces in that book, tell us how that came about and what bands you covered? Have you ever thought of writing your own book?
J: Precious Metal was the brainchild of Decibel editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian. It’s sort of a greatest hits compilation of the “Hall Of Fame” features that run in every issue of the mag. For each “Hall Of Fame” piece, someone at the magazine interviews all the members of a band that recorded an album we consider to be a classic.
The finished book includes 25 “Hall Of Fame” features, 14 of which were written by me – including Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales, Kyuss’ Sky Valley, Sleep’s Jerusalem, Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness, Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse, At The Gates’ Slaughter Of The Soul and others.
As for the second part of the question, I’ve given a lot of thought to writing a book of my own. But I don’t wanna jinx it by running my mouth too much. I will say this, though: When and if it happens, it will not be music-related in any way.
I’ve noticed that your Decibel columns are posted on your Cry Now, Cry Later blog. Please tell us about this blog and what is the target audience?
J: The Cry Now, Cry Later blog is really just an archive for my Decibel columns of the same name. I usually post them after each new issue comes off the stands, but I think I’ve fallen behind by a month or two. The only thing I can really tell you about the target audience is that it’s apparently very, very small. I just checked, and I have a grand total of 15 followers. Obviously, I’ve hit the big time with this thing.
You mentioned that you are also working for Alternative Press online doing [primarily] movie reviews—how do you like doing that compared to the Metal material?
J: Writing about movies (after writing about metal most of the week) is like jumping naked into Boston Harbor in January after jogging barefoot across a mile of hot coals. It stings a lot and you’ll probably get an infection from all the sewage, but your pores will be less clogged in the long run.
“My review of Piranha 3D has already been called ‘the most pretentious movie review I’ve ever read’ by some kid from Michigan with a sideways haircut.” – J. Bennett
Are you able to make a living from your writing or do you still have a day job perhaps? Walk us through a typical day for you!
J: Writing has paid my bills—barely, for the last 11 years. Mercifully, I’ve been able to avoid the miserable slave pit that passes for our country’s once-thriving service economy for at least that long. We’ll see how much longer it lasts. A typical day usually involves at least one interview, endless hours of soul-murdering transcription, and the occasional stab at stringing together some gibberish for my editors to publish somewhere. Rinse (drown sorrows in alcohol), wash (edit, spell-check), repeat.
Tell us the 411 about your music project, IDES OF GEMINI. What is your role in the band and/or what instrument(s) do you play?
J: Ides Of Gemini essentially started in December of 2009, when I pieced together some songs on the guitar in hopes of conning my girlfriend, Sera Timms, into writing some lyrics and singing (she sings and plays bass in a fantastic band called Black Math Horseman). She totally fell for it, so then I suckered her into starting a band with me. Two months ago, we released our debut EP, The Disruption Writ.
What genres of Metal and or other musical styles [ in general] do you prefer to listen too?
J: I enjoy most genres of music, with the possible exception of techno, but I tend to gravitate most toward various forms of Metal, rock, pop and soul. I have a huge soft spot for ’70s and ’80s music – everything from early glam like T. Rex, Slade and Bowie to cock rock, pop and new-wave. On the other ends of the spectrum, I love Ravi Shankar, Boards Of Canada, Gladys Knight and Thai pop from the ’60s and ’70s.
What’s your Top 5 Metal releases?
J: I’m not sure I could narrow it down to just five, but my top handful would absolutely include:
- Diamond Head’s Lightning To The Nations
- Metallica’s …And Justice For All
- Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
- Judas Priest’s British Steel
- Danzig’s self-titled
- Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales
- Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss
- Kyuss’ Sky Valley (if that could be considered Metal)
- Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades
- Burzum’s Filosofem
- Immortal’s At The Heart Of Winter
- Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger
- Life Of Agony’s River Runs Red
- Only Living Witness’ Prone Mortal Form
Since you listed METALLICA near the top—Metallica or Megadeth?
J: Metallica. Their first five albums are varying degrees of unstoppable. Much to the chagrin of almost every metal fan I know, my favorite is …And Justice For All… I’m also not one of those people who think the Black Album is crap. But in defense of Dave Mustaine, I will say that Megadeth’s “Holy Wars… Punishment Due,” “Hangar 18,” and “Peace Sells” are three of the greatest metal songs ever written (“Angry Again,” from the Last Action Hero soundtrack, is also a personal favorite.) And I’ve been listening to Countdown To Extinction regularly since the day it came out in ’92.
Did “grunge” kill Metal (I love his answer to this one—I totally agree)?
J: That’s just the excuse that the cock rock bands used to explain why no one gave a shit about power ballads anymore. In reality, most of those bands had already started sucking hard before Cobain pulled the rug out from under them.
What are some of your favorite Rock/Metal concerts that you’ve attended over the years?
J: Almost every Scissorfight show I’ve seen has been monumental. Very few bands brought it like those cats did. I also had a semi-religious experience at the Only Living Witness reunion show at the Middle East Club in Cambridge, MA, a couple of years back. And this past summer, I had the privilege of seeing Isis’ final show up in Montreal, which was as triumphant as it was a bummer. Oh, and Queens Of The Stone Age at the Wiltern in L.A. in December of 2005. Amazing show, plus they brought out John Garcia at the end to sing a few Kyuss jams. And I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Oxbow. They’re one of the greatest live bands out there.
As far as bigger shows, seeing Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Faith No More at Sullivan Stadium in 1992 was a definite highlight. Slayer on their Undisputed Attitude Tour was another gem. My attorney and I saw that one at the now-defunct Axis club in Boston in ’96. I’ve never seen so many fights in one place in my life. Unsane opened, and I remember Chris Spencer saying, “I swear we only have one more song before Slayer comes on.” The place went batshit!
Do you still buy CD’s and or any vinyl and what is your take on MP3’s and or the availability for online music in general?
J: I’m a shameless vinyl junkie. I buy way too much of it way too often. But records obviously aren’t very portable, so for music on the go I prefer mp3’s to CDs. There’s no question about it—the easy availability and portability of mp3’s killed the compact disc. I’m actually in the process of unloading my CD collection as we *speak*. But I’ll be buying vinyl as long as it’s around.
I liken the current explosion of online blogs to the fanzines of the 80’s. What’s your take on this and is this “explosion” responsible for the closing of several print magazines of late? What is the ultimate fate for the remaining [music] print magazines?
J: Clearly, a direct connection could be made between the blog blowout and the decline of print mags. And yeah, most of the music blogs I’ve seen certainly seem to have been created in the same spirit of the fanzines of the ’80s and ’90s. In most cases, the writing seems to be of the same quality as that of the old ’zines—which is to say: occasionally spirited but generally fucking terrible. But there are of course exceptions. As for the fate of the music mags still in print? If I had a crystal ball, I would gaze into it longingly and tell you the answer, my friend. I’ll say one thing, though: For the most part, the steady elimination of print mags has been a truly Darwinian process. The wheat has been separated from the chaff. There are exceptions to this, too, but few that I can think of.
There are several different delivery methods and or styles for blogs and or magazines these days. It seems that some places like to make a zillion posts that are super short…almost like “text messages” or short PR blasts and then others like to deliver longer interviews and or reviews. I guess it boils down to the age-old debate = Quality VS Quantity?
J: If you ask me—and I’m pretty sure you just did—quality trumps quantity every time. I’ve read 75-word blurbs that are more compelling than full-length novels. It all depends on who’s doing the writing and how much of a shit they happen to give on that particular day.
I am not a video game junkie, but I tend to think with the popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band type games, that it helped re-kindle some interest in all things Metal + Hard Rock. Do you think we will be seeing a noticeable “bump” one day [in the future] when all these kids grow up and start forming bands? If so, has this already began?
J: Your scenario certainly does not sound like crazy talk, but I’ve never played any of these games or even seen them being played by anyone else, so I’m in no position to answer this one.
To some, Metal has definitely made a “come back” of sorts…would you agree? I mean for the last five years you are definitely seeing more of the classic 80’s bands putting out material—some fans + reviewers say their best material in ages even. For example: Testament, Overkill and Accept have all put out decent product lately.
J: I’m gonna be an asshole here and say that I don’t think any of those bands have put out some of their best material even sort of recently. I will say that the new albums from Burzum (Belus) and Atheist (Jupiter) were about a million times better than I expected them to be. I also thought Obituary’s comeback album, Frozen In Time, was highly satisfying.
What was the coolest writing gig you’ve ever had and why?
J: I’m gonna have to plead the Fifth on this one to protect the guilty. But I’ve got the scars and the memories to prove that it happened. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world—not all of it, but a decent chunk—in the name of “journalism,” and I’ve met many a character along the way. But some things are best kept to oneself.
What do you think makes a good writer?
J: He or she does not bore you to death. If a writer can make you laugh, cry, or simply turn the page with anticipation, he or she is doing something right.
Who are some other writers in the industry that you respect? What are some of the blogs that you follow (other than Demolish of course)?
J: I’m not gonna name any specific writers here because I feel like I’ll forget someone and feel shitty about it later. But blog-wise, I follow:
- The Cosmic Hearse
- Mike Hill’s Everything Went Black blog
- Fenriz’s “Band Of The Week” blog (on the Darkthrone MySpace page)
- Joe Carducci’s The New Vulgate
- Cosmo Lee’s Invisible Oranges
- Aaron Turner’s Feral Pig blog
- R. Loren’s You Texas
- Dark Star blog
- Sera Wolf Blogspot
- On The List
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Is there anything you would like to add?
J: Thank you very much for the interview and support, Curt. I appreciate you taking the time to quiz me.
Decibel is America’s only monthly extreme music magazine.
Revolver is a bi-monthly hard rock and heavy metal magazine.
Ides Of Gemini – the disruption writ.
Self-Titled is your new favorite music magazine.
*Special thanks to Bruno Guerreiro for permission to use his illustrations. Also thanks to Larry [from the Metal Odyssey Blog for sending me several of his older issues of Decibel to soak up).