Interview with author Jill Hughes Kirtland
Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal
What first inspired you to write a book about Women in Metal?
JHK: I used to run an online magazine called USA Progressive Music. I interviewed many progressive rock and metal musicians. I started to get more and more interested in interviewing female metal musicians and felt like my magazine was not the right outlet for that because of its focus on prog, so I sold the site to one of my contributing writers. I thought maybe I’d just start another website and focus on interviews of female metal musicians and reviews of female-fronted bands’ albums, but there were already sites like that. What I noticed was that there weren’t really any book publications on the topic so this was a good opportunity. Women are very under-represented in heavy metal anthologies and it was time to give them a voice and celebrate the achievements they have made thus far in the metal genre.
I noticed that this was an independent publication. Did you shop the idea around to publishers or choose to go independent from the very beginning?
JHK: At first I was considering pursuing a book publisher, and even reached out to one that seemed interested in the book topic (this was before the manuscript was written), but I needed to work at my own pace and I wanted creative control over the process so I decided to self-publish for the first edition. I would consider re-releasing it with a publisher in the future, though.
I love the title. It’s strong and potentially controversial, just like lots of Metal music. How did you come up with the title? Did you have any reservations about the name, or second thoughts before committing to it? Have you had any negative comments about the title yet?
JHK: I came up with the title late at night brainstorming with a friend of mine. It is outrageous but I love it. I do get negative comments about the title. People have thought I am being demeaning. Not at all the case. I wanted it to be catchy and controversial, but I also think it captures the essence of my book. Women in metal unfortunately have their tits (and other “assets”) as the focus way more than their music ability. I have no regrets making that the title except maybe at times when radio stations can’t say the full title. I use “Celebrating Women in Metal”, the subtitle, when I talk about it in more conservative environments. I have many people say they love the title and they started using the hash tag #NotJustTitsinaCorset instead of #CelebratingWomeninMetal. It is getting people’s attention, that’s for sure!
As a family person, mother and busy professional what was your writing routine like? Many late nights or working away on the lap-top when you had time?
JHK: I telecommute for my job (rather than work in an office) so it’s much easier for me to balance it all. I would work on my book during my down time during the day, and yes, very late at night, too. That’s why it took me so long to write this book. I did have to take about a year off because I had a slightly difficult pregnancy in 2013 and had no energy to work on the book after I already put in 8+ hours for my day job. This book should have been finished by Fall 2013 but that was around when my daughter was born so I was not able to complete it until February 2014.
Were there any exciting bands that you discovered through your research?
JHK: I think that this book allowed me to explore some of the “older” bands that I researched that I might not have been as familiar with because I didn’t really get into metal into later in life. The festivals I attended (Flight of the Valkryies and Metal Female Voices Festival) definitely exposed me to some of the lesser known bands such as Cassandra Syndrome, Flames of Fury, A Sound of Thunder, Valkryie, Lahannya, etc. and even some of the bigger names like Amberian Dawn, Diabulus in Musica, Arkona, and Benedictum.
In your book you mentioned you travelled while writing your book? Where did you go and who did you talk to?
JHK: Yes, I traveled a lot to local concerts to interview women and to take photos at concerts, but I also took two trips to Europe for the book. I went to Belgium to the Metal Female Voices Festival to take photos of all the bands performing in 2012, and I was able to interview Lisa Middelhauve and Manuela Kraller while I was there (the other ladies at the festival I had interviewed prior to coming to the festival). Then I went to Netherlands/Belgium again the next month and was able to attend Within Temptation’s 15th anniversary Elements show, take photos at a metal charity concert where Stream of Passion, Autumn, Kingfisher Sky, Sin7Sins and others were playing, and interview Charlotte Wessels (Delain) in her hometown. I also went to the Flight of the Valkyries festival in Baltimore in 2010 and 2011 and interviewed many of those women such as Angelica Vargas, Chelsea Knaack, Melissa Ferlaak, and Irene Jericho.
What were some of the more inspiring interviews for the book?
JHK: It was really great to hear a lot of the stories from the women who were there from the beginning such as Doro Pesch, Ann Boleyn, Linda McDonald, Roxy Petrucci, Addie Lee, Sandy Sledge, Leather Leone, Betsy Bitch, etc. They had such great stories and inspiration because they have been doing this for so long! They truly have seen the “evolution” of women in metal. Sitting down in person with Lita Ford was amazing. She’s such an inspiration for so many women, not only because she was in one of the first all-female rock bands but she also had a successful metal career in the ‘80s, and she is not just a singer but also a guitarist. There were many women who also gave really great interviews and had some inspiring stories to tell. My favorite was Charlotte Wessels of Delain. Not only did she have some good ‘adversity’ stories to tell, but also she is a gender studies major so she had some really great psychological insight to share. It ended up being more of an intellectual conversation rather than what felt like an interview for a book.
The next couple of questions are tough but fair. I noticed there were at least half a dozen major female artists not represented in your book. Were there any artists that you wanted to talk to but just could not reach?
JHK: It’s absolutely fair to criticize who is in the book and who is not. I had my ‘wish list’ of whom I wanted to interview. It was not possible to interview everyone for many reasons. 1) They were not available to be interviewed. 2) Either the artist or their management did not want them to be interviewed for the book and 3) I could not possibly include everyone because of time and space. The book otherwise would have been 500+ pages but I did not want to make it that long and I could not spend 10 years making this book. Instead I included a cross-section of women who I thought represented the metal community well, and told their stories. It is not meant to be an encyclopedia about EVERY woman in metal.
In a related note, were there any artists who just did not want to be involved or declined to be interviewed?
JHK: There were 3 people whose management declined the invitation for me to interview their artist: Joan Jett, Amy Lee (Evanescence), and Jill Janus (Huntress). I figure it’s their loss, not mine. Many others who were not included just did not make themselves available or I could not reach them.
With so many artists worthy of inclusion was it hard to decide who to include and who did not make the cut?
JHK: Yes, but I tried to be as comprehensive as possible and include women from all subgenres of metal. I have to admit it may be a bit heavier on the traditional heavy metal and symphonic metal side, but probably because I am more familiar with those subgenres. I tried to do a lot of surveys on the forums I frequent and the book’s facebook page to find out who people wanted me to include in the book. If I was able to interview those people, I did. But of course you can’t make everyone happy!
Despite the recent massive (and welcome) increase of women participating in Metal in all areas and genres, the total number of women in Metal bands still hovers at less than 3%. Why do think that is?
JHK: Maybe not enough interest in performing in the genre. Maybe some are fearful of the scene since it is so testosterone-heavy. I am hoping this book will inspire other women to get involved and not be afraid to be in bands or work behind the scenes.
In your opinion what is the largest barrier to entry into the world of being a professional Metal musician/performer? How can people help eliminate that barrier? Conversely should there even be a stated goal or threshold or should the genre evolve organically unit there is gender equity, in terms of number of people participating and making music?
I think the biggest barrier is the criticism and comments that come from metal fans towards women. So often you see derogatory and sexist comments on the Web towards anything that has to do with women in metal. I think if women were accepted more they would be willing to perform metal music. You have to have a thick skin to be a female metal musician. I don’t think there should be a stated goal. I hate goals/thresholds. I think if everyone would just be accepting and encouraging then those numbers would naturally increase. But I also don’t want the metal genre to be saturated with people who think they can make music. You need talent to back it up.
Back to the book, were you involved with the lay-out, editing and design? What is your proudest moment of the project?
JHK: For the most part it was a DIY (do-it-yourself) project. I did hire a research assistant (Bobbie Dickerson) to help me prepare for interviews and some content for the book. I also hired a professional writer/editor (Heather Leah Huddleston) to help me proofread the book. And the book cover design was done by Gustavo Sazes who is known for his album artwork for bands such as Arch Enemy, Amaranthe, Firewind, Angra, James Labrie, Stream of Passion, etc. Although I took many of the photos in the book, there were other photographers who also contributed photos, either through the artists or directly. Tim Tronckoe, Sako Tumi and Michelle Feingold were some of the biggest contributors. Definitely the proudest moment was the moment I finished that last proof and was able to upload it to the printer’s site. It was a big sigh of relief that after 4 years it was finally done!
I really like how you focused on women in the industry as well. With so many powerful and dynamic personalities working behind the scene, how did you choose to spotlight. It must have been a tough choice!
JHK: It was really who I knew personally, who was recommended to me by others, and who was available/willing that helped me choose who was included in that section of the book. There were SO many others I could have interviewed for that chapter but I wanted to keep it brief and also show a cross-section of different roles available to women to do behind the scenes.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and journalists who are interested in working in Metal?
JHK: I think in chapter 7 of my book there is much better advice from others than I could ever give, but the biggest thing I’ve learned over the past decade of doing music journalism is to be professional. You can be a fan after your work is done. But don’t ask for an autograph or photograph with the artist until later. And don’t act like a groupie and linger on the tour bus. Be casual, friendly, and if they want to hang out, that’s fine but don’t be a nuisance. I’ve seen so many times, both males and females, be more of a fanboy/girl than a professional journalist. Also be courteous in the photo pit. We’re all there for the same reasons (to promote metal music) so don’t hog the best spot or push people out of your way.
For more information visit http://www.jillkirtland.com