A few weeks ago I was asked to interview a band that I really dig: Lord Mantis. I didn’t hesitate in taking the gig. It was an email interview, so I sent my questions to their PR guy and was looking forward to their responses.
I am going to slightly sway from the story here: I want to recommend to everyone that if you have a trace of doubt in your mind, listen to it. On the surface, I was stoked to do the interview, but a couple of months beforehand one of my Facebook friends who is Trans, had posted some leaked artwork of the band’s cover, depicting a woman with a penis, bound with lash marks and a noose. A couple of other Facebook friends had responded that the artwork was incredibly offensive to Trans people and swore to boycott the album and the band. I agreed that the cover could be construed as offensive, and added that the artist, musician Jef Whitehead (Leviathan, Twilight) might not have been the best choice, as he had just gotten out of some serious legal charges involving accusations of sexual assault.
(Full discloure: A good friend of mine interviewed Whitehead for Decibel Magazine when the charges first materialized in the press. I talked to him privately as in the interview the charges were not mentioned by him, but Whitehead did allude to them himself. In a roundabout, passive / agressive way I accused him of purposefully omitting the charges, which were later dismissed).
But I went ahead and wrote and later sent the interview questions. I did include a question about the cover art, as I felt that it was necessary that the band have a chance to respond.
Well vocalist / bassist Charlie Fell responded. I’ve linked to the interview so you can read it for yourself.
Now, the record label, run by a man whom I deeply respect, and their PR rep, whom I also respect, edited and vetted the responses before it was sent to me. I did raise my eyebrows when I read the responses, but due to the nature of the publication and also that I do not feel like editing someone else’s opinions, whether I agree or not, I felt that it should stand the way it was, I had written my intro before getting the responses, lauding the album – which I still love – added in a few bits and sent it to the editor. The publication, run by a good friend of mine, tends to veer on the side of sensationalism. I have had my issues with prior articles published before my friend took over as Editor in Chief but the quality and content of the writing is more respectable. I know and respect my friend quite well and because he asked me to do the interview, I did it.
The morning the interview was slated to be published I was filled with anxiety. The night before I had spoken to a trusted friend and told him that I was a bit worried in how people, especially my Trans friends might react. There was one woman in particular who was very vocal in her opposition to the cover art and the band. I asked my friend if he thought I should reach out to her and let her know beforehand that the response to the cover by the band was going to be not what she wanted to read. He agreed that if I felt that deeply about it, that I should do it. So I did.
Within 30 minutes of the article going up on Noisey / Vice, I started to get messages on Twitter and Facebook. The editor had written the title, but ran it by me first. I responded that he was going to catch shit for it, and he worked out a couple of other ideas before posting his final title. He is the editor, not me.
Well, things did not go well. I was accused of being a bigot, and some demanded to know if I had written the title accompanying the interview. Some questioned why I had even done the interview. One person asked if I was getting paid for the interview, and if I had (which I am) then they alluded that I had no morals. I felt defensive, responded to the questions, got testy, and felt sick by it.
Because I’m writing about this now, I still feel a bit sick about it. However, I have interviewed bands before in which the responses have not only been politically incorrect, but could be construed as offensive. Never have I gotten the response like I did to this one that bothered me so much. BUT I believe that the artist who is being interviewed has the right to respond in anyway he / she chooses to. It is not my right, as a writer, to alter their responses to make it more appeasing. It is their responsibility to think about how they want to be presented while they are responding to interview questions.
I stand by that. But the last thing I want to do is offend people….unless they deserve it. What bothers me is I do not want to come off as being insensitive to issues concerning Trans people. I do not want people to think that I agree with what Fell responded with, but apparently it alluded that I did. And what was worse is that I gave the album that accompanied the cover art a positive review. But I stand by that. It’s a great album and I’ve been a fan of the band since their early days.
But I was thinking about my work in relation to race and racism and the writing I do in those areas; how I’ve judged my ‘friends’ whom I recently realized are only in your corner when you are writing about issues that don’t concern them in the least. In the past few weeks, I’ve been extremely disappointed in those whom, when I’ve written about race, have gotten upset with me because it has involved people whom they have a relationship with. Their personal beneficial relationships with people who have made some questionable decisions trumps the fact that by supporting them, they are supporting actions that could be detrimental to the enjoyment of people of color participating in the metal scene. I thought about my resentment towards those people, and I wondered if I had unwittingly done the same thing. Soo...am I being too hard on the people who have questioned my motives before?
To be fair, all of us – me included – are only really concerned with issues that directly affect us. I considered myself an ally to not only my black brothers and sisters, but also to the LGBT community, and other communities that have been marginalized by the mainstream majority. But I doubted my ally-ness when I started getting angry responses, some from people whom I personally respect. And it hurt, as I felt that I put my foot in my mouth, but would be lying if I said that I didn't support the music that this band is creating. I have asked this question in my book and plan to write my graduate thesis on the same subject, the question is:
Can we separate the artist from their music? Can you love the music but dislike the person that created it?
It is a question in which right now, I cannot answer. All I know is that I realized, not only in relation to this article, but in the previous shitshow I wrote about diversity in the metal scene ( which led to someone / some people trying to hack into my email, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube accounts) that I have some of my own internal work to do -its hard to accuse people of insensitivity if theres a chance that you have been insenstive yourself.
I honestly do not personally think that anyone involved with the Lord Mantis piece was purposefully complicit in positioning Trans people in a way that was offensive; perhaps we all are a bit ignorant in how serious these issues are. Perhaps we are all navel gazing……….