Thumri Paavana, based in the UK created the USPM blog back in the spring of 2016. It has a number of interviews, reviews and essays with her special focus on US Power Metal, and yes, she is a Doctor. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with her.
Tell us a bit about your journey of discovery to become a Metalhead!
When it comes to music, as with many things in my life, I owe a huge debt to my father. He is a classically trained Carnatic vocalist, and has brought a tear to many an eye with his passionate delivery of traditionally devotional music. However, my dad is also the very definition of cool, and back in his university years was a notorious rocker, even recording an album that sadly never saw formal release.
As a child I was thus exposed to a huge spectrum of music. I spent most of my formative years in India, where CDs hadn’t really caught on yet, even in the late 90s. Whilst other kids my age were listening to the Spice Girls (and don’t get me wrong, I did too!), I was also listening to Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, on recorded tapes with tracklists hand-written by my parents. When I was around twelve, my father bought me my first CD player, and a stack of CDs which included Killers by Iron Maiden. For me, this was absolutely the gateway drug – I was completely addicted, and desperate for more.
When I moved back to the UK, music became vastly more accessible. CDs were the norm, and even available at affordable prices second hand – I would raid every fair and second hand shop in the market for the best bargains, and of course, my dad’s collection. Suddenly bands that I had never imagined I could see live – Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Judas Priest – were playing at venues half an hour away. At eighteen, I started singing in a band, and had my first experiences of performing heavy metal live.
At university, I was very lucky that within a month of moving to a new city, I had successfully auditioned to sing for the power metal band Soul Shredder.
Performing with them for a decade meant that I basically had these great friends with hugely diverse tastes in music (and beer!). In fact, most people I went to medical school with probably couldn’t pick me out of a line-up, I was at the pub putting the world to rights with my bandmates!
Now of course, I do feel like a small cog in the vast underground heavy metal scene, not only as a writer, but also as a musician, and take great pride that we, as Lethean, were privileged enough to have our debut released by the mighty Cruz del Sur Music back in 2018.
A common, but thankfully fading perception, is that Metalheads are unintelligent. I understand that you are a Doctor and you have even chosen to emphasise that in your blog/site. Tell a bit about your career.
It’s true, I am a doctor, having graduated in 2012.
When I started the blog in 2016, a love for USPM and being a doctor were kind of the only things I had going for me, hence the name! I don’t think I’d change it now as ‘USPMDoctorPermanentlyExhaustedCoveredInDogHairAndYoghurt’ isn’t quite as catchy.
It’s funny, because in a bizarre way, I see a lot of parallels with my work and heavy metal.
I am a higher surgical trainee in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery, a group widely regarded as the knuckle draggers of the hospital world. Traditionally a male-dominated specialty, day-to day-trauma involves treating and fixing fractures, manipulating dislocated joints and playing with some serious power tools in the operating theatre. As a result, there is a perception that much of what we do relies on brute strength – that our surgery is essentially human carpentry.
However, when you see a surgeon who can fix a badly fractured femur without a second thought, also sit down and put together a mangled wrist, performing microscopic repairs of the tiny nerves and blood vessels, fix the tendons and bones, all whilst navigating delicate and complex anatomy, you quickly realise the knowledge, skill and expertise required to achieve a good outcome for the patient.
Similarly, it is very easy to think of heavy metal as loud noise, with blokes in guyliner screaming about leather, babes and beer to a testosterone fuelled, sweaty mob, and that might be true if all you have ever heard is what is played on Kerrang. But I cannot believe that a person with any appreciation for music could fail to be impressed by the vocal range of John Arch, a Criss Oliva solo, or the beauty and sophistication of a simple lyric like ‘Now Jupiter deceives the stars/ To dance in masquerade with Mars’… You don’t even have to look at the obscure, who could not find something to admire on Judas Priest’s ‘Defenders of the Faith’ or Iron Maiden’s ‘Powerslave’?
In a related question, do your colleagues ever seem surprised about your taste in music and extra-circular activities?
I might be mistaken, but I genuinely don’t think my colleagues know how deep it runs. I do mention our record and the site as a point of interest in my professional CV, and so some people are aware of the release. But I think there is a huge chasm between what people think heavy metal is, and what you and I know it to be. I expect most will think I’m a bit of a ‘rock chick’ – but do they know that I once finished a night shift and headed straight to the airport to see Atlantean Kodex play in a castle in Bavaria? That I ugly-cried in the front row when Fates Warning played Guardian at Keep it True? That I once drunkenly made Kenn Nardi belt out Queen of the Reich with me? I’m not sure!
What is the appeal for you about USPM? Why not write, say for example, a blog about German Thrash or Norwegian Black Metal?
The short and direct answer – because I love it the most!
To elaborate a little bit more, I fell in love with USPM before I knew what it was – sort of like loving your local pizza place for years, only to discover that the bloke running it was actually a Michelin starred chef back in Napoli. Certainly I had been in love with bands like Queensryche, Savatage and Fates Warning years before I knew anything about ‘United States Power Metal’. What other ‘genre’ can make you feel invincible like Jag Panzer, or move you to tears like Heir Apparent? Or both on the same record – like Crimson Glory?
I think not enough is said about the ‘well known’ USPM bands, and less still about the more obscure ones, their excellent music and often tragic history. I wanted to be a small voice that helped celebrate them.
When you felt that you had something to say did you feel intimidated (I’m not sure that is the correct word) to begin creating a niche blog in a very crowded digital landscape for Metal media?
Yes – and no!
It never actually dawned on me personally that anyone would care about anything I had to say. I’m relatively young, female, and have had something mansplained to me during practically every conversation I’ve ever had about heavy metal. But that all changed when I met my mentor, often referred to in my blog as O.W.K. Within a few weeks of meeting, and having endless USPM chats, he suggested I put my thoughts to paper. He said – ‘just write what you know’ – so I did!
You will see from my site that it is hardly high-tech! My pictures are rudimentary selfies a lot of the time, and my writing is heartfelt word-vomit. So, as scary as it was to bare my soul for all the world to see, a part of me sort of thought – well, who’s reading it anyway!
How has initial reception been to your work?
You know – I have no idea – good, I think! I don’t really look at the statistics or anything. What I do love is when I get comments or messages about a relatively obscure album, it thrills me to know that there are other people out there celebrating with me.
Have you thought about expanding the scope and scale of USPM Doctor?
I am limited by two factors – time and technology. Between my job, toddler and ageing doggies, songwriting and blogging have taken a bit of a backseat, which is a shame, because I still listen to music as much as I ever did, if not more. I do think the interviews have tended to be more broad, not strictly confined to USPM, and I think that will continue, but the reviews will always be my love letter to American Steel.
I also have no understanding of web-design or coding, so I don’t really have the necessary skill-set to tart the site up, even if I had the time. I do kind of like the old-school blog look, it reminds me of my old myspace page (/stilltheorchestraplays/) haha!
In 2019 and 2020 your output seemed to slow down but 2021 has got you back on track. What are you currently working on?
Ground to a halt, yes, and I almost packed it in. Maternity leave was very much like an expectation versus reality meme. I thought I would have all this time to listen to music, write, learn a language – how deluded was I! Turns out getting yourself and baby through the day without a complete meltdown is achievement enough. Then I went back to work in a hospital during the pandemic, and well, that wasn’t fun.
Both O.W.K. and James, my partner in Lethean (and life) have been amazing motivators this year. They knew I had been sitting on the material for The Longest Night uspmdoctor.com/2021/01/22/the-longest-night-modern-classics-in-the-barren-years-of-american-heavy-metal/ and urged me to edit and publish it. It felt like a gargantuan achievement, even though it was largely written by the musicians themselves!
Currently I am working on a couple of reviews of classic albums, chasing up some interviews as part of special series, and even thinking about a video interview – if I can work out how to do it (all tips welcome!), and then overcome my innate social anxiety. Dutch courage perhaps!
If you had one piece of advice for aspiring writers what would it be?
Just go for it! If a goober like me can do it, anyone can!
Thank you so much for the amazing opportunity to showcase my little blog, and for the great work and energy you’ve put into keeping true steel alive. Up the hammers, down the nails!
Thumri 🙂 x