AMA is Heavy Blog’s monthly community Q&A column, where readers ask questions across the gamut, and we are legally required by the universal laws of “AMA” to answer them! These are edited and excerpted transcripts. To see full transcripts and participate in future conversations, join the Heavy Blog Facebook Community Group!
Alright, we’re back! We took a month off as we were neck deep in laying the groundwork for [gestures wildly]. Our community brought the heat in our first column under the new format though, asking about our opinions on music education, guilty pleasures, metal in southeast Asia, “game-changing” bands, and more! See you next month!
Andrew asks: Thoughts about high school music education?
Since I’ve started teaching, I can’t help but think that high school music education, especially here in the US, is basically one big swing and a miss.
To make this question more specific, I’m asking about what you all think about the influence that mainstream, public music education has on what kinds of music get produced, privileged, and consumed.
I have some thoughts on this but I’m curious what HBIH thinks as well
Jimmy Rowe: I basically received no music education in high school. Half a semester one year for state requirements, and the other quarters were dedicated to art history, dance, and theater and they cycled out. The whole thing felt like an afterthought.
There were a few years in grade school where we had a real music class that taught us how to read music and piano basics but it didn’t last long. Took music appreciation in college as an elective and I think it helped.
Nick Cusworth: I feel like I’m an aberration here specifically because I was privileged enough to attend multiple public schools with excellent music programs. We had competitive programs for jazz band, concert band, and choir in my middle school, and my high school jazz program was the inspiration for the movie Whiplash (for better or worse lol).
I really can’t imagine what my life would be now had I not had those experiences. I likely would have still taken private lessons and done well-enough that way, but it’s quite likely that I would not have had a tenor sax thrown at me as a meek high school freshman, been challenged to learn it, and outperform everyone else to take top seat.
I don’t think we do enough as a country to treat music education in the esteem and practicality it deserves. Yes, it is an art, but more than that it is a language, one that is just as (if not more) universal as most other languages. It should be taught as such. Like too many things, we treat it as a bonus or luxury rather than a necessary part of human communication and understanding the world around us.
Eden Kupermintz: I’ll go a bit back beyond high school and talk about primary school. I studied in the UK for two years as a kid and went to primary school there. It was a private school, funded by the corporation my mother had relocated through. It was very “proper” and “old fashioned” and so, naturally. music was viewed as this classical thing that all kids had to learn. So, we didn’t really have a choice and we had to pick an instrument. I chose the piano.
That experience probably set me back from ever picking up an instrument. Admittedly, I did give piano another chance when I was a bit older and that fell through for reasons of growing up and not the instrument itself. But the classes in the UK, so forced, stuffy, and without the joy of music, made me see playing an instrument as something boring and mandatory.
Bottom line: if kids are taught music, especially at younger ages, I think it’s crucial that they are taught to enjoy and love music rather than the emphasis being on technicality or what “ought” be taught (like scales or whatnot). The goal is to light a spark in them for music, not necessarily create a “ready to perform” artist.
Simon Clark: My musical education was entirely in the UK, but probably a good few rungs down the class ladder from Eden’s experience.
Certainly, the grading system that people pass through as they progress was/is (I did it in the eighties and nineties, so I have no idea what it’s like now) unbearably stuffy and focused on tedious classical pieces. I learned trumpet. Fortunately, my brass teacher supplemented the classical with jazz, and I had a music teacher for whom rock wasn’t a four-letter word. All in, I may have been quite lucky to have had the stuffy side to give me the technical knowledge, but then also shown how it could be applied in ways that were fun.
But, I certainly recognise the picture Eden paints of how music can be taught – particularly for people who, just breaking into their teens, are already being taught to do things ‘that look good on their CV’. I don’t doubt that it’s only really the passion and imagination of the individuals directly involved in my education that stopped it being my experience.
Noyan: I don’t have a specific opinion beyond stating that the way music is taught and the way music is made is very divergent nowadays. Basic DAW usage, plugins, synths etc is just as valid if not more so than learning how to play the viola or something. But it’s harder to build a curriculum around something novel like that.
Nick Cusworth: I think you are starting to see some places at least use tools like Garageband’s app to teach just the basic foundations of constructing music digitally.
Tom asks: I‘d love to hear some (musical) guilty pleasures.
Eden Kupermintz: That’s a good one! I actually don’t really like the concept of guilty pleasures because I think we should all enjoy what we enjoy without shame but let’s not kid ourselves; we definitely feel shame in some things. For me, it will always be Backstreet Boys. Backstreet Boys are fucking GREAT. Their songs are bangers and always get me hyped, especially because they also send me back to my high school years.
Jimmy Rowe: I gave up being guilty a long time ago but my big one is The 1975. Loved the band since I heard “Chocolate” on the radio. When they started playing with auto tune, it took me a minute but I grew to enjoy that too
Noyan: I will double down on what Eden said – no need for guilty pleasures. Enjoy what you enjoy and own it. I listen to Limp Bizkit enthusiastically and proudly. I think an important step in self-actualization is accepting that your opinions don’t need to be validated. That doesn’t mean you can’t be critical about music, but simply that it’s ok to like things that are obviously flawed.
Scott Murphy: I’ll echo the fact that guilty pleasures don’t “really” exist. There are plenty of pop artists (who are usually considered guilty pleasures) who write genuinely good music that’s also fun and effortless to listen to. The closest example I can offer is Rick Astley, only because of the whole Rick Roll meme. I actually didn’t get that it was a joke for a while because I think his big hits are wicked infectious and achieve exactly what a pop song is supposed to offer. Sure, the lyrics are corny as hell, but they’re not markedly worse than any number of pop hits from the last several decades.
Cody asks: Gunna piggyback on this because there’s an interesting angle. What about artists who turned out to be unfortunate people? Is there any music that you actively support despite the fact that you wouldn’t endorse the people in the band or support their future endeavors due to their actions?
Eden Kupermintz: Not really Cody. There’s some music I still listen to because I don’t think that’s actively a problem but if I know a band (or a band member) is sketchy, I won’t promote their music. The same, sadly, can’t be said about labels. I know for a fact that a few labels in metal (prominent ones at that) are terrible but not promoting any bands on them seems like overkill. However, we won’t work with those labels actively, no interviews or in-depth collabs etc.
Camilla asks: Are there any habits or routines you (all) have in order to keep up with the various posting schedules? I’m sure a similar question has been asked before but add whatever nuance to your answer that you would like – I am curious about any and all of the ways this question could be applied. (e.g. Doesn’t have to be a habit or routine per sé, but maybe a way of thinking about your productivity that works better for you personally than any conventional wisdom, or some strange Amélie (2001) style character quirk that you absolutely must do before sitting down to write.)
Alternative phrasing: what is a strange habit or quirk you have that helps you maintain your schedule for the site’s content? Or, is there anything you do that would be considered unusual that helps you exist in the world, external of any kind of productivity?
Eden Kupermintz: I’m sure this counts: dark mode. I need to have everything I’m using to write (the google doc, the blog, the bandcamp page) in dark mode before I can work. Otherwise, I spend five minutes on it and I get super mad.
Nick Cusworth: This is actually a really interesting question to come up now that we’re in the middle of radically restructuring the very nature of scheduling content for the site. I’ll let the other editors respond for themselves as they’re the ones who do most of the actual scheduling and wrangling of content these days, but for myself it’s really always been just keeping in mind the major milemarkers of the day when we traditionally posted content (10am, 12pm, 2pm, and 4pm) and making sure we’re covered on sharing articles to Facebook or anything else.
Now it’s going to be pretty radically different. Most days we won’t be posting much, if anything, and instead we’ll have sprint-like weeks where we have to pull together all of our planned content. It’ll be more similar to a traditional monthly zine model, which is kind of exciting on its own. I really like the idea of being able to take the time to assemble a well-crafted and curated package of content and not being a slave to the daily posting grind. There is very little we post about that people will be worse off for knowing about at the end of the month rather than the beginning or middle.
In terms of productivity….uh, I am a serial ADD/multitasker when it comes to this stuff, so it’s a lot of doing things in small, concentrated chunks throughout the day and putting out fires as necessary haha.
Camilla asks: Both very interesting answers; thank you! I especially like the zine comparison. There’s definitely an issue with content creators in any form having to be always-on in the digital age, and I’m sure there’s 10s of thousands of articles online about the burnout it inevitably leads to, so I really like this kind of return to a more organic output that you’re switching to.
Nick Cusworth: 100%, that is the goal at least. As I hope you’ll see already in our first “issue,” everything from our usual slate of columns, our reviews, and everything else will have been given the benefit of time and focus. We want our readers to get the most out of the few minutes of their day that they might devote to us, so we’re going to make sure it’s spent learning something worthwhile about artists they follow, ones they might not know anything about, or subjects and questions that interest us.
And then the rest of the time will be devoted to more “quick bite” content, smaller (in terms of word-length, not importance) recommendations, premieres, and the like. Once again, we’ll have the benefit of not feeling beholden to certain schedules and formats of what we’ve done in the past. It should hopefully be very freeing and only improve the quality of all the work we do.
Nate Johnson: I’m kind of excited for the new format we are working on because it allows us to “gather” content instead of thinking: “that would have been cool to add!”
Kevin asks: Favourite keyboard solos of all time?
Eden Kupermintz: This one by Derek Sherinian at 5:16
Or maybe this weirder one from Tomas Bodin (Flower Kings) at 3:32
Jimmy Rowe: I adore “Swim to the Moon” as it’s the only BTBAM keyboard solo and it’s so fun. That last bit that’s just nonsense wank is a thing of beauty and it just works
Noyan: I didn’t write it so I feel comfortable plugging my own music – the intro to “Taken Away By The Tides” by NYN
Scott Murphy: Classic example (and arguably low-hanging fruit), but The Doors always comes to mind when it comes to awesome keyboard jams. Anything from their self-titled is great, but “Break On Through” in particular is amazing.
Nick Cusworth: Throwing this in for good measure because Brandon Morris is a stud. (Start at 2:08)
Joe Astill: I second “Swim to the Moon” by BTBAM
Eden Kupermintz: Just here to say that A Sense of Gravity‘s Travail still rocks so fucking hard.
Se’nam asks: How do you think metal has affected southeast Asian sociopolitical climates?!?
Eden Kupermintz: I think it’s really interesting to interrogate the similarities and differences in the role of metal as “rebellion” in the West and in Southeast Asia. For sure it has taken on much of the same codification as something that is transgressive and rebellious but it’s coated there with this appeal to an “other” culture. That is, in the West, the rebellion of metal was all about class while in SE Asia it might play some part but it’s also about choosing an outside culture over an internal one.
This also has interesting similarities with how metal is in the middle east. It also involves an alternative, or even a huge middle finger, to local cultures. “All about class” is very reductive but it certainly played a massive role which I think metal in SE Asia doesn’t play today.
Look for example at what Chthonic are doing here in this video. They are a band from Taiwan but this track is about a Japanese mountain/famous cruiser class ship which played a massive role in WWII. The entire song is about WWII, airstrikes, etc. And the band themselves play with western imagery in their clothing and presentation but also with traditional Japanese makeup, Taiwanese tattoos, clothes and imagery. It’s a mish-mash of ideas that works super well, it’s not a simple relationship of difference or similarity.
The context of the Chthonic track btw is also Taiwanese anti-imperialism. The tattoos featured come from specific tribes on Taiwan, aboriginal tribes, that were conscripted into the Japanese army (Takasago Giyūtai they were called). Note the thrash-y tones to this track; it’s Metallica at times. So they’re using the same anti-war/anti-imperialism vibes of something like Metallica’s “One” or Megadeth, but re-contextualized into their own local context. Super clever stuff.
Se’nam: yeah like its crazy how conservative powers put really hard policies towards these communities that adopt cathartic ideologies/mediums from the west but act like their staunch positions are supposed to preserve the culture when it was post WW2/Korean War the brought western ideas/imperialism into those areas. They deserve and absolutely have the right to participate in things like metal music but its wild how some government officials subject these people into persecution for something completely irrelevant to the character of the people. I really really admire countries like Indonesian for adopting things like slam death metal but it’s interesting to understand what is the appeal and how it’s affected the social climate of these nations that are still going through regime changes and sociopolitical shifts.
Eden: I mean, I’m overextending here a bit because I’m no expert on this, but it kind of speaks to how capital/state power is more fluid and global than the cultures that individuals go for, right? People in SE Asia adopt things that are certainly Western in their immediate origins (though if you go back like, sixty years, you’ll “suddenly” find the non-Western origins of metal or, at least, non-white) but are making it their own. But the governments, hegemonies they’re operating under can STILL weaponize the same kind of moral outrage at them on the drop of a fucking dime. Listening to conservatives in Israel for example and what they have to say about metal is like listening to fucking Tipper Gore or whatever.
A really good example is satanism. That gets levied at kids listening to metal here. When I was growing up and came to high school with a Bodom shirt, a teacher literally asked me to go home and change because I was promoting satanism. She literally told me that she didn’t want me sacrificing cats or whatever. Dude, we’re in fucking Israel, not evangelical suburbia, what the fuck does satanism have to do with anything? But they don’t care and I bet it happens in Asia as well. The same moral points and critiques get leveraged against you.
Which partly speaks to how ingrained the West’s dominant culture and its perceptions are on the rest of the world but mostly about structures (surprise hello it’s Marxism time) and how they are only superficially different. But since metal represents the same sort of transgression which capitalism wants to hate/love to death so they can sell it, the same sort of responses are drummed up against it. In form if not in content.
Noyan: I had some thoughts but Eden went way deeper than I could and I fully endorse him here. I will say though that metal in territories like SEA or ME seems to have developed akin to something like an Australian accent. The roots are very clearly in when it was spawned off of the Western counterpart, and in some ways it’s remained close to the original aesthetic from like the 80s/90s while also adding a local flavor. One key to the scene in such areas is that a vast majority of bands mostly play covers of popular songs by major (often old school) bands. As such the culture develops an over-reliance on that style. Similarly in Turkey. Which is also why there are a handful of bands per country that are really big and not a lot of small stuff that breaks through. Most of those are long running bands because they got established as the scene formed and the rest of the scene formed around them. The fact that those countries often don’t have access to social media due to government censorship, or even when they have access there is a lot of extra censorship and pressure applied to metal bands really stifles the younger bands and forces them underground. Which is also why they tend to be in more underground and extreme genres.
Ian asks: kinda a really broad topic, but what do you guys think are some bands that completely changed the game in their respective subgenres? Basically, if x band didn’t drop y album this current generation of bands wouldn’t sound anything like they do or even created an entirely new subgenre with their sound. A good example would probably be something like Nothing by Meshuggah
Eden Kupermintz: Opeth – Still Life, they really just created that dark and brooding, sort of folk-y, sort of progressive death metal sound.
Easy mode is Death of course.
Morbid Angel – Domination
Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory (for good and for bad lmao)
TesseracT – One, for all the atmo-djent stuff.
Nate Johnson: I wouldn’t say it’s one band but I’m liking the current trend of the sound of early 2000’s metallic hardcore coming back with bands like Knocked Loose, Jesus Piece, Year of the Knife, etc.
Jordan Jerabek: I can’t imagine a world without [Neurosis’] Through Silver in Blood.
Noyan: Necrophagist basically defined tech death
Scott Murphy: Really all of Converge’s discography up through Axe to Fall, but specifically Jane Doe. Of course, there are so many ’90s metalcore ba day hah shaped the trajectory of metallic/chaotic hardcore (Botch, Cave In, Coalesce, etc.). But there are so many bands in that style where Converge is the most direct, obvious comparison, sometimes in a not so flattering way. Their sound has truly become the blueprint for this style.
Daniel asks: Should double albums be released as two separate albums or one long ass single album?
Jordan Jerabek: Unless your name is Trent Reznor and you’re writing The Fragile Pt. 2, I propose a third option: edit that shit and make a great “normal-size” album instead of an average (or worse) double album. Save the cuts for a b-sides compilation or continue to workshop that material into something worthy of a proper album release. More often than not, double albums are bloated albums. I’m looking at you, Book of Souls, Hardwired…, and Mesmerize/Hypnotize….
I’m not turned off by the idea of a double album as much as the “40 minutes or less” folks might be, but if you absolutely have to do it all on one release, it better be ridiculously consistent (like NIN‘s The Fragile) or each album needs to offer a different enough experience so people aren’t beholden to a fuckin’ audio enduro. Baroness handled it nicely with two shorter, more distinct companion pieces on Yellow & Green.
Noyan: I’d say release a bunch of EPs instead. It’s hard to get a good ratio of attention to time spent making them on your songs beyond singles. Multiple EPs keeps the hype alive, gets more attention per song
Scott Murphy: There are very few examples of double albums working for me. Kamasi Washington makes it work because he’s so incredible, but even then each of the discs on his albums have a distinct theme. I also think Yellow & Green by Baroness works perfectly and doesn’t overstay its welcome. But most double albums do, and they almost always feel like they’d work better as separate, distinct releases or a series of EPS.
Cody asks: When the new defeated sanity came out I was ecstatic about it being the rosetta stone of death metal. Bridging gaps between tech death, osdm and slam I was excited for everyone to see The Sanguinary Impetus as a peak for several genres of death metal. Much like how Dying Fetus’ brought elements of tech, slam, meat and potatoes and deathcore together on Reign Supreme. But after a discussion with Noyan he pointed out that it’s more likely that cross-sections of those genres would appreciate it rather than indoctrinating say a tech death fan into slam or something. And while I was excited, he had a point.
So my question is, how do you think the blog will avoid appealing only to a cross-section over time? Eventually you guys will be the only metal centric blog with relevance and a penchant for other styles of music. How do you capture the minds of the people who are close minded, but open to new things in their preferred genre (and the columns already answer this excellently to a large extent) but i’m more curious about everyone’s take on the issue.
Eden Kupermintz: I don’t think that eventually we’ll be the only blog out there with interest in other genres, that seems like a weird statement. I think a lot of blogs out there cover a mix of things, it’s just that maybe we have a bias by not following them frequently and only getting exposed to their stuff when it’s relevant to our interests. So I don’t foresee that as a problem and to be honest, I don’t really think about the issue at all. We like what we like, it is not our job or our mission to “educate” anyone. We’re here to say: “this is important, here’s why”.
I think this also answers the question of how you influence people who are focused more on single genres that they like: you don’t. I’m sure Defeated Sanity made their album that way because the cross-sections sounded good/were interesting to them and not out of some desire to educate people on them. Same with us: I’ll write about a jazz-y death metal album because I think it sounds good and does interesting things, not out of a desire to open anyone’s mind.
To sum up, what we say to people is: this music is interesting because it’s varied and different and eclectic (sometimes by the way; we also cover a lot of very “run of the mill” stuff). You should listen to it because it’s interesting and good. If they don’t want to do that or disagree, that’s fine. We don’t really mind.
Scott Murphy: For me, the goal isn’t to specifically open other people’s minds, but to ensure my own taste is broad and keeps growing. Obviously, I hope that people find the artists I write about interesting. But as long as I continue to broaden my musical knowledge and better curate noteworthy music, then I’ll continue to discover and ultimately write about music I think is most noteworthy and most worth people’s time. How they react to what I and others post is up to them, but as long as we continue finding and promoting music we find compelling and we enjoy writing about, then our job is done.
I’ll also add that everyone has a different gateway into every genre they end up loving, so it’s impossible for us to predict whether an album will convince someone to check out a band or style. We just hope they enjoy what we recommend.
Nate Johnson: I think Eden and Scott summed it up perfectly but if you are only listening to one genre of music you are doing yourself a great disservice. There is SO MUCH fantastic music out there that doesn’t sit under the umbrella of “metal”. Our staff has incredibly eclectic tastes and if we can expose someone to a new jazz, indie, post rock, hardcore, etc album and have them continue that journey on their own, that’s a win in my book!