LAINA DAWES has written possibly the most important book about metal ever with her recent tome, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation in Heavy Metal, (Bazillion Points). Although informed by her personal experience, Dawes uses examples from many other important figures in breaking boundaries for women of color in heavy music, but also music history, sociology, and psychology to highlight injustices and explore how changes can come about. Dawes was in New York City for the book’s release fete in her honor, when she caught up with Metal Army’s Lynn Jordan, whose own career touched upon as one of the subjects of the book.
MA: The book touches on several issues, but what is the main thing you want folks to take away from it?
LD: I’ve gotten the response, “that is my story” from a number of people. It was important to document the similar experiences that a lot of black women into the extreme music scene had encountered. I think a lot of people felt that they had no one in their lives whom they could express either how excited they were to be involved in whatever musical scene they were in, or admit how negative experiences affected them. Because of that I hope that this book provides a voice for those who do not have the ability to have conversations surrounding these issues in their everyday lives.
MA: You’ve collected so much information from so many people and sources. Would you write a “WAYDH II” or do you think that this book took the topic as deep as it could go?
LD: I think that a WAYDH II would be centered on what I mentioned above – more of a non-North American perspective. I think that there would have to be some work done, in order to ensure that the same issues that were discussed in the first book are not duplicated in the second, or if they are, what are the differences? In terms of race and racism, there certainly would be, but it is something that would really need to be thought out. I think I would also love to provide more suggestions about handling yourself in the music industry – more suggestions from industry folk, and more perspectives from men.
MA: You write that women in Metal in general as marginalized as much as possible and how attempts of addressing that are mostly shallow and exploitative. Considering the depths you plumbed with WAYDH, would you ever consider writing another book just about women in Metal to help reverse that trend?
LD: Good question! The key is, is that society has to change. Some of the current issues, like magazines who post scantily-clad women metal performers are doing it, not only because they are misogynist, but because there is a demand for it. Some men want to see women in that light, and some women have no issue with representing themselves like that. The metal community is reflective of the attitudes that exist in the larger society. Does that go against what metal represents to us lifers? A community of people that want to feel and think differently from the larger society? Yes, but realistically we cannot help but bring the outside ‘in.’ The music is the most important thing, but we cannot help ourselves in bringing in our own personal baggage into the community.
MA: SKIN of SKUNK ANANSIE wrote the forward for the book. Can you divulge the names of other ladies that you would have liked to have done it if SKIN declined?
LD: No other women came to mind! I was focused Skin because she meant so much to me as a black woman and as a fan of heavy music. In hindsight, SUZANNE THOMAS, an LA-based guitarist and singer would have been really cool. She was in a band called PMS – the first black and female metal band and she has a lot of stories to tell. Not being able to interview her properly for this book is a big regret of mine.
MA: I have to say, that I was so happy that you mentioned BESSIE SMITH, who I am distantly related to (she was reportedly my great-grandmother’s cousin and they knew each other from childhood). The story about her facing down the Klan was powerful stuff and made me proud! Did reading the stories of these hardened, fearless women make you want to delve even deeper into American Blues music, or not so much?
LD: There is still so much for me to learn about African-American blues music and culture. I referenced Blues Legacies and Black Feminism by Angela Davis in WAYDH and that’s where I found that story about Bessie Smith. Obviously that story and of course, Smith resonated with me and represented what I see in some of the contemporary women performers: Strong, forthright and unafraid to show their emotions onstage. One of the issues with this book is I wished I could have delved in more deeply, but I was really enthralled with the lyricism, in which these women first referenced issues that even to this day, are seen as controversial to put into words. sex, lust, addictions and in some cases lesbianism or alternative sexuality.
MA: I don’t recall that you interviewed any White male Metal musicians or at least any from a prominent band. Was that by choice, or did they decline due to the subject matter (or not respond at all)?
LD: Oh no! I interviewed JASON NETHERTON from MISERY INDEX. I absolutely love his band, but more importantly, I wanted to talk to him as he grew up in DC and his lyricism, which is pretty socially progressive. They are a political band and I thought that he might have some interesting to say. I did want to keep the voices in the book as ‘black’ as possible as it was important to let their opinions be heard, but a couple of my melanin-challenged brothers, like Scott Alisgou who runs Clawhammer PR, were just as important to give a different perspective.
MA: Who are your favorite bands right now, and what drew you to them?
LD: Right now? I’m loving the new DARKTHRONE album, THE UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE. It’s such a great nod to trad metal, which I grew up on. I’m also digging INTER ARMA, the new CATHEDRAL album, CAR BOMB, NAILS, ANCIIENTS, and VÖHL.
MA: You give much respect to JOYCE KENNEDY of MOTHER’S FINEST, NONA HENDRYX and TINA TURNER. Did they decline to be involved, not respond, or did you purposely not approach them because you wanted to focus on the more current group of Black Female Metal musicians?
LD: No, I actually reached out to both Joyce and Nona and didn’t get interviews. Tina Turner? I decided not to pursue that, as I was pretty sure she would not want to talk about the early years. But the music that she and Ike Turner created – the early stuff, is pretty hard!
MA: Bazillion Points, which publishes Metal/Hard Rock focused books, proves that Ian Christe is fearless as a music fan and supporter. What were his thoughts about the book when you approached him with it, and what is his feelings about it since it’s been published?
LD: Luckily Ian was and is, supportive. From the beginning he thought it was a great idea and if it wasn’t for me knowing that despite all the early and pretty awful drafts he had my back, this book wouldn’t be what it is. Not a lot of people were supportive. I think that they thought I was nuts.
MA: Non-Blacks have the tendency to think that a book such as this alienates or upsets people rather than bring them together. Do you think that non-Black people will ever grasp the concept that doing things, such as writing a book like yours?
LD: Another fantastic question. I think that we have to get to a place where we say, ‘who gives a shit?’ I would be lying if I didn’t want this book, or the work that the Black Rock Coalition does to make an impact on the larger society, but I think it is time to stop waiting for an acceptance that might not ever come. We need to provoke change from within, encourage young black folks or people of color to just ‘be’ themselves. Do what they want and be who they want to be instead of conforming to what the majority thinks they should be. I’m admittedly on the fence as to black-centric TV stations. I’m pretty disgusted with BET, as they do not represent the majority of black communities in North America, but on the other hand, it is impossible to do so. We all have such different perspectives on things, it is a disservice to lump us into a monolithic entity.
You can buy this book and other great books about metal from Bazillion Points, here on their website.
By Lynn Jordan