Leticia Supple is an outspoken and inexhaustible presence in the heavy metal scene. She has her fingers in all sorts of different pies, from music journalism and blogging to PR and promotion. Her blog, Biodagar, is an invaluable resource for musicians and writers alike, as she’s always willing to share advice gleaned from her many years writing about heavy metal. Leticia has even designed an online course for aspiring music writers to follow, and hosts a series of heavy metal podcasts. She has been a great supporter of Girls Don’t Like Metal from the very first interview, and it is an honour to have her included as part of the series!
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You have been a prolific music journalist for years, first with FasterLouder and later with your zine, Metal as Fuck, as well as numerous other publications. Was music journalism always something you wanted to do? How did you make the decision to focus your energy in that direction?
The music industry has been part of my life in one way or another since I was 15 years old. Back then I was part of a local group, part of a bigger organization called The Push. The Push was a Victorian government initiative that sees young people organize drug- and alcohol-free events for underage kids. They are responsible for PushOver, which was a massive festival back in the day. I ended up president of our local branch of The Push, which gave me experience in promotion, gig management, stage management, staff management, radio, budgeting and a whole range of other things. It was absolutely invaluable stuff! You really can’t match experience like that, especially not as a foundation for a music writer, because you begin to understand other sides of the industry. But back then, I envisioned myself in public relations, which, almost a lifetime later, I kind of am heading towards [laughs].
I won’t get into the whys and hows, but I started to take my music journalism seriously when I began to write for FasterLouder. Suddenly I was the go-to for tons of labels’ materials. There weren’t many of us at FasterLouder; the lovely Kay Smoljak (@goatlady) was the nearest peer I had. I had the pleasure of working with her in many capacities years later.
I have always loved writing and with metal in my soul, it just seemed to be the right direction to go in. I feel like I didn’t make any decisions — there was an opportunity that I grasped and then just followed the path that resulted from opening that particular door. That’s pretty much how I live my life: see an opportunity, grab it, see where it takes me. Planning comes later.
You have always specialized in heavy metal music writing and have identified that as your clear area of interest, leaving FasterLouder when they cut back on their metal coverage. What is it about heavy metal that captures your attention and inspires you to write about it?
It struck me just last week what it is about metal and metalheads, as opposed to nearly any other genre. You can enjoy a lot of genres of music, often because it’s catchy or rockin’ or good fun, but metal wraps itself around you and feeds your soul. It’s why a lot of metalheads talk about “metal finding me”; it’s like you have come home. It just feels right.
I suppose, if I analyze it, that metal has always been one of those genres that is exciting for me. It is musically enticing; it can be mellow, technical, aggressive, heavy as hell and as beautiful as anything. Musicians in metal are so often virtuosic, and it is so dramatically maligned and misunderstood by the general population. It is also something that makes people inveterately curious. Just the other day I got asked on the train, “Why does a girl like you listen to that stuff? Isn’t it very masculine?” Happily, the questioner wanted to engage in an intelligent discussion of rock and metal history, and left the conversation with a greater understanding.
Metal is a field that utilizes a lot of fans as critics, which is great. As a writer grounded in critique, my goal has always been to “raise the bar” in some way. Metal is not only the most deserving genre in which to do this, but is the only genre that works for me.
You offer one of the most unique resources I have seen on a music writer’s blog: Music Journalism 101, a free online course now being reformatted into an ebook. What inspired you to draft this course? How successful has it been?
I honestly have no idea how successful it has been. I so rarely get feedback on my work that I kind of stopped thinking about it. I could count on one hand how many times someone has said, “Wow, that helped me.” Generally I think it has been successful. The small amounts of feedback from people that I have received have been very positive.
Amazingly, the course has been referenced in postgraduate research here in Australia, so that really speaks to me, indicating its value to the field. I put it together because I realized that while you can study journalism and you can study criticism, there was nothing (at the time, anyway) that was specific to the nitty-gritty of metal music journalism, as written by someone living and breathing it. So I went through the art of interrogation (i.e., interviews), the basis of research (which is something a lot of people forget), basic critical principles and the niceties of how to write up materials.
A lot of people forget that the vast majority of reviews are written by fans who “fall into” the field, who don’t have any training and who get very little mentoring. Every little bit that I can add to the field, if it helps just one person, is personally satisfying. I am first and foremost a writer and editor, and I always want to pass knowledge on for the greater good, as it were.
Those people who have found the course useful repeatedly ask for the ebook. It needs updating before I can release it, and that’s just a matter of time. My plan is to have it completed before the end of the fiscal year, fingers crossed!
Do you think that heavy metal music journalism, specifically written metal coverage, differs from other types of music journalism in any key ways?
Not really. The only real difference is that metal fans are, generally, rabid. You don’t tend to get Pink or Lady Gaga fans who collect everything on CD, DVD and vinyl, along with figurines, merch, etc., who read every review, every interview and so on. Metal fans do.
That’s why research skills are absolutely vital. There is no point, for example, in asking the same questions on an album promotion cycle as every other journalist. The same goes for asking about key issues that have been covered in the media before, even if “before” is 20 years ago.
It also requires an appreciation for a variety of sub-genres, which is quite demanding. You don’t need to be au fait with all of them, just aware of them and how they influence each other.
In a sense, one’s general knowledge of metal needs to be quite tight. Fans call you out if it isn’t. Most music journalists in other areas, excluding speciality genres, typically aren’t bound by such demands.
While heavy metal is very much an international music scene, with bands touring the world and fans across the globe regularly communicating with each other, the Australian and New Zealand scenes are still somewhat isolated. How do you think the music scene there differs from the scene in Canada?
I firmly believe that some of the most intense metal comes from the more isolated parts of the world. Or, as I prefer to call it, “the arse-end of the world.” That’s why you get some really amazing bands from parts of Australia and New Zealand. Creatively, they are more isolated, and so tend to be less influenced by other bands.
In Australia, like in many places, each city has a different sound, and each regional area has a different sound. The big difference is that these areas are so far apart. I’m in central Australia and it still takes me something like three or three-and-a-half hours to fly to Perth. If I wanted to drive to Melbourne, it would take me eight hours or more. Of course, each city, being so isolated, focuses on its own thing. You can have power metal bands play in Melbourne, for instance, but you’d be lucky to get 50 paid to a show like that in Adelaide. And in Brisbane, you get fantastic, brutal death metal. In places like Broken Hill (look it up to see how remote it is), you get bands like Soulforge: international-standard bands with very few people to play to. They are fantastically good.
As well, unlike North America, our music industry is really obscenely limited. The metal scene is still small, comparatively speaking, and gaining access to bigger labels is difficult.
In terms of the Australian underground, it’s really supportive in and of itself. Bands like Stargazer, Mournful Congregation, Cauldron Black Ram, Destruktor, Gospel of the Horns, Ignivomous, etc., their fans will travel to see them, from Brisbane to Melbourne, Sydney to Adelaide, Perth to the ends of the country. It helps that the underground bands play less often.
My experience with Canadian metal is one of pure amazement — not one bad Canadian band can I name. And Anvil! You should see my Anvil collection [laughs]! Other than that, I can’t really comment, not having experienced it firsthand.
The really big difference is that people outside of Australia know of bands like Psycroptic, because they “made it”, along with groups like Destroyer666 or Blood Duster. It’s a bloody lot harder for Australians to gain recognition offshore, despite how well-known some of our underground bands are, like Mournful Congregation, for example.
What are your favourite Australian bands that you think deserve more coverage from the metal community at large?
Wow, big question; this is so hard to answer! Here’s a stack for you to start with:
I could go on and on.
You’ve recently started a series of metal podcasts. What has been your experience with this format so far? What do you think a podcast can do in terms of journalism that traditional interviews can’t? Has the series been successful?
The series, which I pulled down to move to another location (though it has yet to happen, but hopefully will this week!) has focused on a series of articles I wrote with Tom Valcanis. We are writing essays on critical rock journalism, with the stated intention of publishing, if we find the right publisher. Tom is very academic in his work and I’m more practical/critical, coming from a background of critique.
The feedback we have had has been absolutely excellent; we even started getting enquiries from academics in the field. I think the key thing that podcasts can do is bring a voice and expression to something that people otherwise skip over. I had, for example, posted the essays online ages before we started podcasting them and it’s after the podcasts that people started to get excited.
It could be that podcasts are something you can listen to while you do other things, so that’s also another benefit that simply publishing work doesn’t have. It allows you to capture that modern day essence of not having any time by allowing people the luxury of taking your work to other places. It also allows you to include material that may not fit into a feature interview. I know that many of my interviews are massively scaled down to fit into feature writing. In a podcast, you have the ability to use a lot more of the jokes, chatting and camaraderie that a good conversation generates.
Feedback has mostly been good on these. One colleague commented that the podcasts drew her attention so much that she simply couldn’t do anything else. I’ve had trollers, too: people who have said that I sound like a librarian reading to a school class, that sort of shit. Haters gonna hate, and those who appreciate seem to do so in quiet happiness.
You’ve become a passionate supporter of fellow female metal writers online, especially on Twitter. What do you hope to bring to the conversation about women and heavy metal? What do you think are the most important issues facing women who participate in the metal scene in any capacity?
I hate to disappoint you, but it’s entirely unintentional. I support cool, intelligent people — gender is totally out of my focus. If you rock, we’re on; if you suck, we’re off.
I have never been a supporter of feminist ideologies, feminist ideologues or gender-based discussions in general. I have always, ever since I was a tiny kid, lived with the attitude that anybody can do anything and the only thing that stops them is their personal perspective. You want to do something? Make it happen. No excuse on Earth will justify you missing out on something, except the fact that you didn’t try.
In fact, at university, surrounded by feminists and girls getting everything, and boys getting nothing, I became a passionate supporter of men’s rights. Why should we have a special room with free cups of coffee simply because we’re chicks? It’s the totally wrong way to look at life. Having said that, I have become more sympathetic to the sisterhood; I think that’s something that has come with age.
In terms of metal, the question reminds me of a quiet discussion I had with Angela Gossow [Arch Enemy]. We were chatting at a meet-and-greet, at her request, following an interview we’d done, and we were surrounded by what you’d most likely describe as “salivating males.” I was the only other female at the meet-and-greet, which was disappointing. My experience of most metal shows in Adelaide is that the gender split is damn near 60/40. Angela was, as you’d expect, skeptical at my statement of this type of gender balance, it not being in evidence at all. In the local scene, the atmosphere has always been one of siblings of true metal, if you like.
Honestly, the most abuse I’ve ever received has been at the hands of other girls: from fans of bands to industry workers. What’s with that? All of my greatest supporters in the industry have been men. Chicks get really upset with other girls’ successes, it seems. Unlike the lovely Grim Kim, who gets hit with those shitty comments like, “Oh, you’re with the band,” because she’s so often at the pointy end.
I’ve only had serious gender issues once, and that’s when I said no to a large promoter here in Australia when he wanted advertising for free at Metal as Fuck. Very few people stand up to him, and he just couldn’t stand it that it was a woman who stood up to him. Tough titties, baby, everyone gets the same treatment from me. To quote Gene Simmons: “It’s not music friendship, it’s music business.”
The most important thing that I want to contribute to the discussion of chicks and metal is this: the thing limiting you is yourself. If you think being a chick is stopping you, then you need to work out whether that’s actually the case or whether you find it easier to place the blame somewhere else. Deep personal thought is not the forte of most people.
Also: the best revenge is success. More people argue with you when you are successful, more people want to cut you down, but that’s because you’re a tall poppy. Shit happens, focus on what you want to achieve and move on.
In this regard, the most important issue facing women in metal today is, regardless of their work in the industry, one of self-confidence and self-belief. Now that I’m in my 30s, it’s become something that I struggle with. It’s that whole notion of the wise man knowing what he doesn’t know. The older I get, the more acutely aware I become of what I don’t know.
I’m not a metal geek; I never have been and, luckily, never pretended I was. I am, however, surrounded by the bastards! It makes me feel completely, utterly inadequate and has on numerous occasions caused me to believe I should give up. This happens more the older I get, but I don’t give up because I know that this is my issue. What I don’t know, I research; I talk to people. Funnily enough, I can speak and write knowledgeably because my love of metal is in my soul and that’s all that counts. So what if I don’t recall album dates and titles, or lineups and labels, or have perfect recall of the titles of each song on my favourite albums? If I feel like I can’t contribute, I don’t speak. Better to have people think I’m ignorant than open my mouth and apparently prove it.
So, ladies, walk the walk, respect yourself, stand up for yourself and stand up for your opinion. If the boys can’t take it, big deal. Most men in metal respect us, enjoy conversing with us and appreciate our work.
There has been a recent surge in sexist, racist and otherwise unacceptable statements being made on mainstream metal blogs, such as Metal Sucks‘ coverage of Trish Doan returning to Kittie and a Lambgoat interview with Chelsea Grin, where the interviewer refers to very young female fans of the band as “groupies.” What do you see as the possible cause/catalyst/motivation for this disturbing trend?
In all honesty, I strongly believe that this rise has happened because everyone is a keyboard warrior. The internet, as much as I adore it (especially for meeting cats like you!), has a lot to answer for, in term
s of reducing people’s empathy, causing outpourings of comments that the vast majority of people would never say aloud. It feels private and so people act like it is. Let’s be honest: people who say this sort of thing to other people in real life lose friends really quickly.
There is still an issue with mainstream metal media pretending that metal audiences are predominantly male; it isn’t like that any more! Huge numbers of key people in the industry are women. The Vice President of Publicity and Advertising at Metal Blade is a woman, key staff at Earache are women, lots of promoters are women and, increasingly, there are more women in bands and writing for publications. As a result of what I’ll refer to as “standard” thinking, as opposed to “old school” thinking, much marketing (and, yes, labels are also to blame) is driven to portray women in a way that simply engenders this type of thing. Sex sells, baby. Especially in Western societies now facing greater repression. It must be something primal — I don’t know. I’ve just noticed it more lately, even in mainstream product advertising, whereas before it was a little more intelligently subtle.
If an editor is mindful, aware and intelligent, shit like this doesn’t happen, because it is unacceptable. If writers are mentored effectively, they know it’s not acceptable; they know that they have a standard to meet.
I love Metal Sucks, but that piece on Doan was just juvenile. Sure, she’s cute, but commenting on her body in the way they did is completely unnecessary and divides the audience. Vast numbers of women read Metal Sucks — all my favourite metal women read Metal Sucks. Editors need to learn that harsh editing is always justified when it removes material that doesn’t add anything useful or will reduce your standing with your readership. That Doan piece flapped around like a dying pigeon, in all honesty. “Wow she’s cute, let’s talk about her body, but, um, yeah we have a point to make about a new band member.” Ugh.
But referring to a musician as a cutie isn’t sexist to me; it is when it becomes the focus of a piece in general, as it did here, that it becomes a problem. I think Lemmy is one of the goddamn sexiest men on Earth. He’s old! He’s ugly! He is so full of charisma that he’s sexy as hell. That doesn’t mean I’d spend all my journalistic kudos writing about it. What a waste of my time and everyone else’s. All it does is turn the writer into a juvenile with nothing better, or of worth, to say.
In terms of female fans being referred to as “groupies,” I think the term has kind of lost its definition. Young cats don’t understand what a groupie actually is. The definition of “groupie” is a follower, especially a female, of a band or celebrity who hopes to get to know said band or celebrity, or “an enthusiastic or uncritical follower.” Groupies have also been called fan girls and fan boys in other types of media. By its technical definition, most drooling, hardcore fans are groupies. But then “groupies” started to refer to young chicks who hung around primarily to fuck band members and get reflected glory from their peers because of their actions. They’re also known as hangers-on, freeloaders and so on.
That other article used the term right, for the intention, it seems; the positive thing is how it was turned around to focus on the fan base, not on the actions of a section of fans. To be honest, if the interviewer had had any sense, he wouldn’t have asked this question or would have rephrased it. It’s pretty rough to talk about groupies with someone who, in the same interview, talks about fatherhood and the impact touring can have on one’s relationship with one’s children. I hate to point this out to people but metalheads are getting older. They have partners, kids, mortgages — life moves on.
In terms of commentary appearing around the web that is sexist, racist, defamatory, etc., honestly most people who write this shit are trollers. I had it happen to me. I had it happen to my writers. I had to block people, which I bloody hate doing, because it silences them. In some cases, I had trollers start to email me to give my writers shit. Trollers do what they do simply because they enjoy, or find funny, the act of being an arsehole. These people behind comments online are generally sitting in their homes being nasty for the sake of it because it gets them attention. It means that they are children.
The cure to this? Stop giving them attention. Like children, they (eventually) go away.
Throughout your career as a writer and editor, you have shown yourself to be a leader, someone who wants to assist and instruct other journalists and editors. What crucial advice do you have for any new writer or editor heading down a similar path?
Wow, advice. There is so much I could say. I’m happy to give people advice, by email, by the way, if anyone has any specific queries.
Here is a tiny bit from my arsenal:
Training. The best way to learn to write is to read. Read, read, read, read, read.
Use. Plain. English. Lots of writers fill their work with adjectives. Adjectives are boring, convoluted and obscure what you are trying to say. It’s harder to say what you want to say simply than it is to fill your writing with a lot of words that mean fuck-all. Say what you mean to say and do it simply. Your readers will thank you.
Spell and punctuate correctly, and write properly. Good writing is essential. Nobody will read profound works if they’re tripping over all of the errors, so do your readers a favour.
Be honest and back up what you say. Don’t know the band? Say so. Don’t like something? Tell us, and tell us why. You only gain respect through honesty. If you lie, it will catch up to you.
Stand up for opinions that you publish. If you don’t, nobody will respect you or support you.
Remember that the best critique is still an opinion. Don’t get aggro or arrogant about your opinion. Everyone’s opinion is different. You just happen to have yours published. Respect your readers.
Editors: your writers are your goldmine. Nurture them. Train them. Mentor them. Give them guidelines and make damn sure they know your standards. Edit their work, harshly if it needs it and communicate what you did and why you did it. Complain to them if their work is shit and tell them how to improve it! Nobody does it enough. It takes a lot of time, but gradually your writing team will be the golden mesh holding your publication together. Without them, you and your publication are nothing.
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Leticia is a 30-something writer based in Adelaide, South Australia. She writes music criticism and essays, blogs about the music industry and metal in general, founded Metal as Fuck, and is now a publicist for a handful of artists. She is also a novice belly dancer and loves good friends, good life and good beer.