Craig Hayes offers an excellent primer to the good and ugly of rock journalism. His writings are superb, fluid and most importantly honest. None of that watered-down nonsense.
Let me first ask you, how did you get into music journalism?
Well, I've been scribbling things down my entire life, but a couple of years back I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition which led me to eventually having one of those 'life's too short’ epiphanies, and I committed to writing full time. I was already writing for NZ magazines, and had a part-time music editor role, but like a gazillion other metal writers I really wanted to write for Decibel, Terrorizer and kin. I thought long and hard about if or how that could happen, realised the chances were minuscule, and just decided to plough on writing about metal regardless.
I decided to start a blog (sixnoises.com), and then contacted Hellbound about the possibility of contributing. Hellbound welcomed me aboard, that in turn gave me the confidence to approach Popmatters when I saw they were looking for writers. After writing a small piece on NZ metal for Heavymetal.about.com I began to contribute reviews there too.
Earlier his year I began writing a column for Popmatters (Ragnarök) and my workload increased drastically. I had to drop my magazine work here in NZ, which was tough decision, but I feel really lucky about how things have been developing.
Why did you get into music journalism?
Linked to that is my belief in the transformative possibilities inherent in music. Metal's filled with an array of mind-bending/expanding outfits, and whether that artistry is delivered in a bombastic, blackened, brutal or beautiful package, its ability to identify meaning in life is colossal—I'm just writing to reiterate that fact.
I guess there's also an element of obstinacy in my work because I'm dyslexic, and I got very tired of people telling me that I'd never be able to make it as a writer. Ultimately, I'm a hermit who happens to be a music geek, so there's really nothing else I’d rather do.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
You are based in New Zealand (Wellington), what can you tell us about the metal scene over there that we don’t already know about?
The scene is really thriving. You have bands like Ulcerate, Diocletian, Witchrist and Beastwars doing well internationally, and aside from those guys, if you want a taster, then check out: Razorwyre, Arc of Ascent, Old Loaves, Meth Drinker, Stone Angels, Vassafor, Creeping, Winter Deluge, Exordium Mors, Cobra Khan, Keretta, House of Capricorn and The Mark of Man.
But in the contemporary realm Oranssi Pazuzu definitely fulfil my brow-raising requirements, as do Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord. Justin Broadrick and Aaron Turner's various side projects are always fascinating too. I think my go-to idiosyncratic metal bands would include Locrain, Bosse-De-Nage, Sutekh Hexen, Sunn O))), Circle of Ouroborus and Botantist—those guys all offer genuinely unconventional metal—as well as any band that resides in that noise/ambient/metal nexus.
Is it true that you briefly endeavoured to be a Rockstar?
Now that “Rockstardom” is over – how do you spend your free time?
Having worked in print media as an editor – what is your take on music webzines versus printed music magazines?
There's no doubt the rise of webzines has contributed to many print magazines folding, and that's a tragedy because along with that go hopes and livelihoods. Adaptation and survival is a cruel process, and I know from experience how tentative some magazines’ existences are. I hope the print industry finds some steady footing, because I love the tactile world of magazines, and that can never be replaced by online content or reading off electronic devices. I'd really hate to see the day when I couldn't flip open a copy of Decibel or the Wire. Magazines continue to be a huge part of my life.
If it wasn't for webzines I would never have discovered the bulk of the writers I love to read, and we wouldn't be having this conversation, because I wouldn't have read your work, and you wouldn’t have read mine. I don't think I have a concise answer for that issue really, aside from the fact that I really enjoy both, and I think they occupy very different and important roles.
At Victoria University (New Zealand), one of your majors had been philosophy. What are your philosophies of heavy metal?
Metal is so incredibly broad that it's an endlessly fascinating philosophical mind-fuck (I'm pretty sure that's the correct academic term for it). You can look at metal through the eye of any number of critical theorists, and you can try and gauge its accent using countless theories, and you'll find entirely different and often contradictory answers about what metal 'is' every time. You can think you've got it pinned down one day, then take another peek—questioning its aesthetics, moral relativism or culture—and find all your answers negated again.
I appreciate metal for its purely visceral aspects, but I’m also fascinated about the philosophical basis of an artist’s works. Obviously, metal is more than anger, bile, devilry and buckets of gore, even if those happen to be some of its best aspects, but I guess the closest I could get to my own philosophy of metal could be crudely captured using two sets of metal lyrics.
The first is the initial question that metal has always sought to answer in its broadest terms: "What is this that stands before me?" The second defines metal's temperament: "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."
I think metal seeks to answer big question, while carrying an even bigger chip on its shoulder—and that's why I love it.
Do you have any albums picked out for the ‘must-have’ of 2012?
I always hum and haw about 'must-haves' and 'best-of' lists because it's all so dependent on time and place. However, going by my headspace today, I would heartily recommend:
· Samothrace— Reverence to Stone
· Horseback—Half Blood
· Dawnbringer—Into the Lair of the Sun God
· Sutekh Hexen—Larvae
· Arc of Ascent—The Higher Key
· Tragedy—Darker Days Ahead
· Locrian & Mamiffer—Bless Them that Curse You
· Mares of Thrace—The Pilgrimage
· Witch Mountain—Cauldron of the Wild
· Vatnett Viskar—EP
· Astra—The Black Chord
· Ancestors—In Dreams and Time
· Ufomammut— Oro: Opus Primum.
I could go on and on… the new Rush, Ahab, Father Befouled, and Wrathprayer albums are great. Titan's Burn is HUGE, and those Adversarial/Antediluvian and Alaric/Atriarch splits were amazing.
I think if you buy all those, and every other 2012 release from Profound Lore, Gilead Media, Dark Descent, Handmade Birds, Southern Lord and Nuclear War Now! you'll be making a good dent into 2012's must-haves. Oh, and Christian Mistress and Royal Thunder too. And… sorry.
You are a Krautrock fan – is that a reflection of your eclectic music taste?
Krautrock is the perfect conduit into that realm, and if you're shy and a bit awkward like I am, then that insular and nerdy niche-within-a-niche vibe is the perfect place to hide away. I just love that feeling of stumbling upon under-appreciated or forgotten treasures. It's the same with metal: the more underground and obscure the better. I guess I'm looking for music that's a geeky as I feel.
Most writers eventually move into novels and biographies, do you have any plans to go in this direction?
I sure do. I have two books in various stages that I've put aside, and one other idea that I'm going pitch to a publisher here in NZ, just as soon as I can pluck up the courage.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming music journalists and are there any misconceptions of writers that you would like to dispel?
You should never write solely for money or egocentric reasons, because there's little money in the writing game anyway, and conceitedness is an insult to your readers’ intelligence. Write because you want to find that perfect way to express how music makes you feel in the marrow of your bones.
I’ve written umpteen thousands of words, and I'm still not sure if I've found my voice or if my work has any personality. Writing is a continually evolving process, and ultimately the key is just to keep grafting and grafting, and to never give up. If people tell you you're wasting your time because one piece of work happens to be less than perfect, keep in mind they are completely and utterly wrong. The sharing of different perspectives and voices is what writing, and life, is all about.
Alternatively, feel free to ignore my advice and do whatever you want—it's probably best not to take advice from someone who failed all his English exams at high school anyway.
As far as misconceptions about music journalists go, they're probably all warranted in some sense. We're a wildly diverse bunch, which is perfect, because music causes wildly diverse reactions. I hope we all have a touch of the tortured artist lurking within, as that’s what turns the dull and descriptive into something altogether more lyrical.
At the end of the day, I think the most crucial piece of advice I would pass on to writers is that you if you work from home, try your utmost to get dressed before lunchtime. Because if you don't, you'll inevitably find yourself at the corner store buying cigarettes in your pyjamas at 3pm—and trust me, there's really no way you can escape that scene with your dignity intact.
Are there any last words that you would like to add?
Thank you so much for asking me to have a chat, Lav. It's such an honour to appear on your blog, and congratulations on all the success you're having with your writing. I want to send out my everlasting thanks to Hellbound, Heavymetal.about.com and Popmatters for allowing me to pollute their pages, and cheers to the writers and readers who’ve sent an encouraging word my way. I really can't underscore enough how much that means to me.
Craig Hayes (Haze) can be found scribbling at: www.popmatters.com/ www.hellbound.ca/ heavymetal.about.com/ sixnoises.com/ and on Twitter