Brian Giffin author of the
Encyclopedia of Australian Heavy Metal
Interview by JP
Please enjoy our interview with the #1 expert on Australian Heavy Metal, Brian Giffin.
I first came up with the idea in the early 90s, but I’d had the vision of an encyclopedia of Australian rock music since high school – around 1985 or so! Of course a task of that size was beyond my limited resources or knowledge so I focused on metal because that’s what I knew most about. Plus, no one else had done it yet. There’s a lot of books about Australian rock, but hardly any of them (except Ian McFarlane’s ‘Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop’) so much as mention metal. In a way it’s kind of understandable, because until the mid-90s the scene was sooo underground you had to be a part of it to even know it was there and it was never ‘hip’ enough for the music press like, say, the “Little Bands” movement in late 70s Melbourne which was centred around just a small group of musicians from the inner-city forming band after band with strange names and recording weird music. There was books and even a movie about that (“Dogs in Space”), but nothing about metal at all. The very first version of the Guide was actually a website. One crazy night I decided to print it off as a book. A rock historian named Chris Spencer got hold of it and offered to publish a version of it for me – that’s the old version that you have. To help me, he sent me print-outs of his own research that filled a box about the size of a microwave oven! He ended up using some of my research in his book ‘Who’s Who of Australian Rock’.
How has reception been from the Australian Metal community?
It’s been great. The people who know it exists have always been enthusiastic about it and I’m always getting requests from bands to be included.
How has response been from the global Metal community?
It’s harder to gauge that because unless you have some interest in Australian metal for some reason it’s probably not something you would normally pursue. Like, metalheads the world over would probably be interested in a book about Swedish metal, or German metal, or NWOBHM or the Bay Area, but how many people outside of Italy would buy a book about Italian metal bands? Come to think of it, how many Italians would buy that book? The Aussie scene is strong, but it’s really niche – even in Australia. I get royalty payments in tiny amounts a couple of times a year so people somewhere are buying it. I haven’t seen reviews or anything like that, though, apart from the ones on your site.
I understand that there was a version released with a different cover in Europe by Iron Pages in 2004. Can you tell us how that came about?
They got a hold of the one that Moonlight did and commissioned me to do a version for them. For some unknown but very cool reason, Germans have always had an affinity for Aussie metal, so they were very very interested in the subject matter. I’m very thankful for them to have given me that opportunity.
Have you ever solicited a larger scale publisher? Would you like to expand the book into a larger scale, version, hard-cover, glossy paper, photos and other features?
If I had an offer from a major publisher I would most likely do all those things and even include a cover mount CD if I was allowed but I don’t think it’s likely. Given what I just said above, I’m not confident there are any Australian publishers who would be interested enough in the subject, but who knows? With a lot of Aussie hard-edged bands scoring Top 10 albums lately there may be a possibility. And if an offer did come, I’d tread carefully as I’d hate to see my vision diluted too much. Even Iron Pages made me change things like taking out Spear of Longinus’ entry because they’re a Nazi band (Iron Pages didn’t want to give them any publicity) and getting me to put in entries about bands like Cold Chisel and Choirboys that are awesome, awesome Aussie rock bands but not metal at all! Also, they used a cartoon on the cover that looks similar to the sleeve from ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’, that I don’t really like. Who knows what a bigger publisher might want? The UK version of Jeremy Simmonds’ dead rock musicians encyclopedia ‘Number One in Heaven’ has no mention of Chuck Schuldiner because his publishers removed the entry. Can you fucking believe that? The inventor of death metal got excised, but a guy who was in Blue Oyster Cult for a few months before they even recorded an album was left in. Simmonds had no say in that. He doesn’t even really know why it was done! Still, there are a few publishers around that I might solicit when the next edition is done.
I have a couple of tough but fair questions. I didn’t see this info listed (and if it is I apologize) but what artist is on the cover? Was it hard to decide who made the hallowed position of the cover?
It’s Matt Collins from Blood Duster. I was going through a bunch of photos I took at the Metal for the Brain festival one year. I’m not much of a photographer and that was the best one. Same deal with the photo on the first version you reviewed – that’s Stu Marshall who’s in Death Dealer now with Sean Peck and Ross the Boss, taken when he was in Dungeon. The decision was based purely on the picture being the best one I could find.
I noticed there were some useful and interesting features in the Australian Metal Guide such as the label indices, that did not make it into the Encyclopedia Of Australian Heavy Metal. Why were those omitted?
Moonlight Publications asked me to include those. The main reason I left them out later on was because the book as it exists now is already massive. It’s almost 500 pages of artist information alone. I wanted to include a cross-referencing index of musicians at the back, but that would have run to about 120 pages on its own. I had to leave something out. Neither Def nor Warhead exist anymore and there’s a lot of small labels dealing with metal now like Riot!, Obsidian, Grindhead, Rockstar, Monolith… It wouldn’t really be fair to include some and not others. To be honest though, it’s hard enough just keeping up with the bands.
Do you think your work has helped expose the massive Australian scene to the world? In a related note has your work helped unify the regional scenes across your huge country?
I don’t think it has. I read a lot of blogs and online zines from around the world and a lot of them still think the Australian metal scene starts and ends with Mortal Sin, Sadistik Exekution, Destroyer 666 and Hobbs Angel of Death, or that all Aussie metal bands must sound like either those bands, or AC/DC. That’s kind of like thinking all Canadian bands must sound like either Annihilator or Rush, or that all French bands sound like Gojira, because they’re the only bands from there that you can think of off the top of your head. So no, I don’t think it’s done a great deal to expose the scene to the world, but that wasn’t the intention. And I think the rise of the Internet as well as the Metal for the Brain festival – there are other festivals around now but that was the first and biggest – have been the unifying factors of the regional scenes here, but even now there are gulfs between them. The scenes here are centred around the state capitals and some of the satellites like Newcastle, Wollongong, Geelong and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts – towns that are two hours’ drive or so from the capital cities. With the Internet, it’s easy for bands to get their music to other Aussies, but it’s harder and more expensive to go to them to play live. Brisbane is a 15-hour drive from Sydney. To drive to Adelaide from Sydney takes two days. You can fly of course, but that’s not cheap and in Australia even that can take a long time. Perth is a three hour flight from the east coast with literally nothing in between except desert for two-thirds of the trip. It’s very hard to unify the scenes here because they’re so far apart, but the good thing about them now is that they are all much more knowledgeable about each other than they were twenty years ago. My book hasn’t really helped that, and that wasn’t the intention either. The intention was to keep a record of them all because no one else was. To me, it’s like a part of Australia’s musical culture and heritage was being ignored and I wanted to do something about that.
As a writer what were some of the greatest challenges you had producing this work?
The research! The writing part is actually pretty easy, but some of these bands are so obscure I’d never ever heard of them and because I wanted to include as many as possible finding info about them was exceedingly difficult. Early on, the research was dogged with pitfalls because there was so little info around. Apart from the odd mention in some of the local metal mags here and there, there was nothing. This was before MySpace and Facebook and all those things where people can drag out their old memories and share them with the world online. I was using BNR Metal Pages and Metal Archives as reference guides a lot, but they weren’t always that reliable, especially MA, because even that was only new then. I looked up a band on there called Spectral Birth to find out about their line-up – a couple of years later a guy who’d been in the band contacted me to let me know the information was completely wrong! Another time, I read on MA that a member of an obscure BM band had killed himself and I stupidly believed it. The guy isn’t only still alive, he’s been in about a half dozen other bands since then. So my big tip would be to check and double-check your research, or you’ll end up writing something as bad and as riddled with mistakes as that book Stephen Davis did about Guns N Roses.
Do you work alone or do you have a few people helping proof-read, edit and collect the raw data?
The proof-reading and editing and virtually all of the writing has been completely my task. Back in the early days Suzanne Slaughter (Seance Records) wrote some of the entries about bands from the Adelaide area. When the site became a wiki Liam Guy from ‘The Fallout’ zine added quite a few entries about bands from around Brisbane and Nico Liengme of ‘Northern Shadows’ added virtually all of the Darwin bands – he’s pretty much the expert on metal from that part of Australia. Others have suggested bands and emailed me with info – the internet has been the greatest tool I could ask for in doing a project like this. Mick Keating from an old Sydney band called Enticer set me straight about a few things. I’ve had a good deal of help. I don’t think anyone can do something like this alone.
Do you still do your fanzine, your radio show and if yes, do you ever get tired of listening to underground Australian Metal and just say to yourself, ‘Damn it, I just want to hear some Icelandic Folk Metal for a change or maybe some American mainstream Metal?
The fanzine is a website now: loudmag.com.au I’d love it if your readers could check it out even though it’s not a metal site – we do classic rock, hardcore, punk as well – but there is a big focus on metal as we all love it. My radio show is still one of my favourite things to do, so I doubt there will be a time I will ever stop doing that. It streams live over the web now so if anyone’s interested in checking it out the station website is rbm.org.au although as we are 14 hours ahead of you it’s on about 8am Wednesday mornings! As for the whole underground Aussie metal thing, that’s not all I listen to. I couldn’t listen to underground Aussie metal all the time! A lot of it is incredible, but just as much of it isn’t that good. Of my five favourite metal bands, only one is Australian – Alchemist (the others are Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Fear Factory). My favourite bands right at the moment are Mastodon, Baroness, Katatonia and Opeth. But the interesting thing about being a fan of the local stuff is that you get to see how good it is compared to the international bands that headline our festivals. Some aren’t as good, like I said, but there are also a lot that are just as good or even better.
What advice could you give a young writer who may be considering writing a national encyclopedia, for example the Encyclopedia of Greek Heavy Metal or the Canadian Metal Guide?
Research, research, research! Then, let as many people in the scene and industry know you’re doing it. Hit up everyone on your contact list. You’ll not only be surprised by how many people come out of the woodwork, you will be overwhelmed. Then get an assistant and get them to help you sort out the shit from the clay. You really can’t do this alone. Also, go into it with the attitude that it’s a personal project, because it won’t be a best-seller.
With the first version of your book in 2002, the next in 2004 and the next in 2008, are you working on yet another updated version?
Yes. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of this year for early 2014.
Our last question will put you on the spot. In your professional opinion, in any genre what are the ten brightest hopes for the future of Australian Metal? For what it is worth one of my votes would go to Dragonsclaw!
Oh well, I’m not surprised you love those guys, but they wouldn’t even be on my radar. Our brightest hopes at the moment IMO would be Thy Art is Murder, a tech/deathcore band, and Northlane who do this astonishing progressive technical melodic metalcore that’s catchy as hell. You’d probably hate them both! Psycroptic and The Amenta, who’ve been the vanguard now for quite a few years, and this fantastic, utterly insane grind band out of Melbourne called King Parrot. Not only is their music awesome, but they are incredible live. I saw them last year and the first thing that happened was that the guitarist kicked the foldback off stage right onto my foot! The vocalist went berzerk and chased the barmaid around the venue and the whole stage ended up covered with beer and water until it became dangerous to play on.
Without rambling too much more, let me just name five others that I think your readers should look up – Chaos Divine, The Devil Rides Out, The Levitation Hex, 4ARM and Ouroboros. They do melodic progressive rock/metal, stoner, progressive death, thrash and straight-up death, respectively, and they’re all pretty good at it. If you will indulge me to nominate an eleventh, I would say Voyager. They cross German-style power metal with Depeche Mode. It’s amazing.