Interview with author Laina Dawes
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Laina Dawes, Canadian journalist and author of her new book, What Are You Doing Here?
Tell us a bit about how you got into writing about Metal!
I’ve wanted to write about metal since I was a kid, as I was an avid reader of Circus, Hit Parader and Creem magazines. I just never thought that anyone would hire me, and I was writing about black rock and metal bands, trying to incorporate my love for both but in 2007/08, I was offered a contributing writer position at Metal Edge and wrote for that until it closed down in 2009. Since then, I’ve written for print and online outlets Hellbound, Exclaim, Noisecreep, Invisibleoranges, Deciblog and Brooklyn Vegan.
Is it difficult to make a living being a Metal writer?
Yes. A lot of the big mainstream music publications rarely, if ever cover metal bands, and when they do, it’s the bigger ones like the Top 4 (Metallica, Megadeath, Anthrax and Testament). Or the Hop-Topic, younger bands like Suicide Silence. I’m more interested in the underground bands, and there are a lot of prominent metal writers who have swooped up a lot of the paying, more recognizable publications and websites. You have to kinda wait your turn to get into these publications, or create your own projects, like I have done.
Is there still a place for traditional print Metal media?
I think there is. I know that Decibel Magazine is so well respected by many, especially us older heads that really grew up on print. People like to collect issues, and you don’t really have that same perspective with online magazines.
Do you have an opinion of the industry massacre of the some of the bigger print magazines (Brave Words, Metal Maniacs, etc) in the past several years and conversely the rise of the printed fanzine (Chips n’ Beer, Chromium Dioxide, Banzai) again?
Well, I think that some of the online pubs (I will not name names, but one that you listed) are a disservice. Sure, they get the clicks, but the articles tend to be troll-baiting and then on other posts, non-moderated comments take away from what could be a great post and really end up falling into the stereotype of what non-metal fans think of metalheads: ignorant, racist and misogynist idiots. It’s really sad that Brave Words, Metal Maniacs and Metal Edge went under, as they were publications for people who are serious about their metal. Long live Decibel and Louise Brown’s new magazine, Iron Fist.
There has been a massive increase in Metal related publishing in the past few years, specifically books. What do you attribute this too? Do you read other Metal books/magazines/fanzines to keep a finger on the pulse of the publishing industry?
I’ve been a lifelong collector of metal-centric books and publications. I think that my publisher, Bazillion Points has targeted a niche of people who are not only interested in the music, but its surrounding culture. I think it is extremely important as a writer to keep abreast of the zines, magazines and books out there so you can further develop your knowledge and your style.
Can you tell us about some for the challenges of writing your first book?
Initially, the problem was whether I could find enough content and ideas to fill a book! I had some ideas of areas I wanted to discuss early on, but after doing some research and talking to people I was pretty easily able to confirm that what I wanted to do was relevant. The other aspect was that while my publisher never wavered in his support, a lot of other people did and there was a healthy amount of skepticism from people whom I don’t know if I’ll ever fully forgive. You really have to believe in yourself when you are writing a book on something that has never been done before.
Do you prefer doing freelance, piece work, academic stuff or specific projects like your book?
I like doing all of them! I loved working on the book and hope to start working on another one very soon. Freelancing is interesting, but you do get tired of doing straight album reviews or interviews. I prefer doing long-form investigation pieces that delve into a particular subject.
As a writer do you have any particular habits, styles or routines? Do you stay up late at home and write or in an office in the morning? Do you have a time when you feel most creative or inspired?
I’ve been working from home for almost a year, and I love it. I schedule my day like if I was at an office, and prefer to write through the 9-5 workday but I often find myself writing or doing some writing-related work until 8 or 9. When I was working in an office full time, I would come home from work, eat and then write until midnight. I hated it and realized that that model didn’t work for me, as I was so stressed from the day job I wasn’t doing my best writing.
Tell us about the creation of your book how it evolved to what it is today.
I had initially written a couple of features on black rock artists, and wanted to delve into some of the issues surrounding the lack of representation in the rock scene. I was really into metal but didn’t think that idea would fly. Originally I wanted to create a documentary because the visuals of black women rockers were important to me, especially in the era of hip-hop ‘video vixens.’ I was looking for an alternative image in media and thought that the provocative, yet self-controlled images of some of the black women rock artists, like Lisa Kekaula from the Bellrays, was exciting. However I didn’t have the knowledge or the funding. In 2007 I had an essay published in the anthology, Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs on Skunk Anansie, and it was recommended that I turn the documentary idea into a book
How are sales of WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? You don’t have to answer that! Have you had much feedback in reviews or from other writers in the industry?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive! A lot better than I thought it would be, to be honest. I recently went to the Decibel 100th Issue show in Philadelphia and was really stoked to find out that a lot of the writers had heard about it, which was cool. Getting a positive response from other metal writers has been very important for me.
What was the most rewarding part of being publishing something as ground-breaking as this book?
Providing a voice for the voiceless. I’m very adamant about supporting the women I interviewed for the book, and getting their stories out there. I think it’s very important to break racial stereotypes and to remind people that people should be perceived as individuals, outside of what mainstream media is trying to force feed us. I think that this issue is a lot more complex – and I have hoped that I have shown how complex it is – in terms of race, gender and musical preference.
What other projects are you working on?
I hope to write another book in the near future. I already know what I want to do, but I would to write an outline by the end of this year. Otherwise, I’m hoping to get out and travel to promote the book and the issues detailed in the book.
What last inspiring words do you have for young writers wanting to get into the industry?
I would find a mentor – just another writer whom you like and respect. I sent out lots of emails when I started writing seriously for advice, and everyone responded. I would also write for free to build up your portfolio by just volunteering to work at your favourite music website, but give yourself a deadline. Be patient, as those high-paying gigs are few and far between. Write from the perspective that you have to do it, and that your point of view is important, relevant and should be shared. You have to have a lot of self-confidence and dedication to do it, as it is not going to be easy.
Editors Note: Please feel free to check out my review of Laina’s book here.
Visit Laina at www.whatareyoudoingherebook.com
What Are You doing Here is available for sale at www.bazillionpoints.com