I met Tanja Caciur the same way I have met so many incredible women who work in the heavy metal scene: on Twitter. She was one of those people who I found myself aggressively agreeing with very often, and we both became great fans of each other’s writing and other creative work. I have always admired Tanja’s openness and energy, her direct way of expressing herself and often her courage. She is another one of those people who daringly pursues what she loves, and her strong writing (and equally strong personality) have earned my respect. I am thrilled that she was willing to answer some questions for Girls Don’t Like Metal!
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Tell us about your role in the heavy metal community. What kind of work do you do?
I write live show reviews and interviews for a number of online and printed media all around the world. My work has been published by BW & BK (Canada), HornsUpRocks (NYC), John Doe Revolution, Dome.fi (Finland), Darkside.ru, Rock Oracle, 1Rock, Rovesnik (Russia) and Norway Rock Magazine. I also run my own website with two lovely photographers, although lately my activity has been a bit on the low side there due to personal commitments. I also diminished my presence online a bit recently, as I do most of the work now for one of the Russian magazines and they have very strict rules about posting English versions of their interviews online, unfortunately. I was able to work on some amazing stuff and it sucks that the rest of the world can’t see it.
For my Bachelor’s thesis, I concentrated on heavy metal festivals and big arena shows, for which I did a collaboration with Live Nation Finland. That was an amazing experience.
How did your love affair with heavy metal begin? How did you become introduced to the genre, and how did it become an obsession?
I was about fifteen years old and I was hanging out with a bunch of people who introduced me to punk rock. I’d wear ripped jeans with pins sticking out everywhere and a huge anarchy sign pendant. I thought I was as punk as it gets. Through those friends I also met people who were into heavier stuff, and decided I should explore some new horizons too. I still remember the first metal bands that I listened to: Nightwish and Dimmu Borgir. I was sold, completely. I remember at the time checking out some bands and thinking that their music was a bit too much for me; these are bands that I now love and admire.
One’s music taste always has to evolve. This music, this community and this lifestyle — it took me like a whirlwind. Now it is a heavy addiction. One of the things that attracted me the most to heavy metal was how general society tends to frown upon metal and everything related to it. It also helped that my father is a (moderate) fan of heavy music and he supported my love for the music when I was underage, even though he didn’t always like it. I mean, not every parent would drive 1000 kilometres only to see AC/DC play “Thunderstruck” or argue with their kid over who gets to have the new Marilyn Manson CD. So, it’s kind of a family thing as well.
At what point did you decide that you needed to become more active in metal than the level of involvement exhibited by the average metal fan (which is a lot)?
I never planned this for myself. At one of the shows I attended, I met a photographer, who has been working in the music media for a few years already. We became friends and she suggested that I try writing about music, specifically live show reviews. She read some of the blog posts I’s written about the shows I’d seen, and she said she liked them. The rest is history. It’s been 4 years now and I have seen so much. I’ve learned a great deal about writing and about the music business. At the same time, there’s still a long way to go. There are writers I strongly admire, like Dom Lawson or Joel McIver, and whenever I read their work, it makes me realize I have a long way to improve. Perfection possesses no limits.
What is it about heavy metal that draws, affects and inspires you?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s the enormous middle finger in the face of society. It resonates with me on a personal level. Heavy metal also possesses this magical, ineffable feeling, something that occurs at any live show, when the whole crowd throws horns in the air together and sings along. It still gives me goosebumps every time! It’s the rush you get from blasting this music whenever you’re sad, angry or happy. Complete love is definitely the mindset that one has to have in order to appreciate metal. The weak shall not pass!
Also, there is no other music genre that will give you the feeling you get when you visit a place with a rich metal history. It’s like when you’re at some historical battlefield and you can clearly picture what happened there. For example, when you come to Norway, you don’t even have to be into black metal, but you will literally feel it seeping through your skin. It’s in the atmosphere; it makes you understand why this type of music was nurtured exactly in this place.
And, of course, it’s all the amazing people that you get to meet because you share the same passion.
Do you think that there is a specific way that “heavy metal girls” are supposed to look? Do you think you follow or reject that expectation?
I could rant about this forever! I’ve heard fans who say that if you’re not wearing a band’s t-shirt to their show, then you’re not a fan, which is ridiculous. Even though I’m into metal, I am still a woman and I like to look nice. Unfortunately, men tend to think that there is only one reason a woman would dress nicely: to attract their attention. There is some truth to that as well, but it’s not universal, and I was often left amused by this assumption.
There is nothing wrong with sporting a band t-shirt and jeans, but I rarely wear those to shows. Metal is about standing out from the crowd, not blending in with everyone. Sometimes I wear something just to get into people’s faces, like a t-shirt with words that might cause a reaction. For instance, as a joke aimed at a certain narrow-minded person, my friend and I had t-shirts made that say “Fucking Groupie.” The reaction it got from people was awesome.
Nobody can tell you what to wear or how to look. What the hell, metal is about breaking the rules and shattering stereotypes imposed by the general society. Whatever you wear, there will always be someone who will like you and someone who will hate you. If you want to wear t-shirt and jeans, go for it. If you prefer to wear a nice dress, why not? If you want to break out the fishnets and some goth attire, then whatever rocks your boat, I say.
And if someone thinks that, just because I am wearing a nice dress to a show that I am somehow “not metal” or that I don’t know what I am talking about, then they should get their heads out of their asses.
You live in Finland, a country in which heavy metal is far more mainstream than most. Would you still consider it a subculture in any way?
Something that is mainstream can’t be considered a subculture anymore, so, in this regard, it’s not a subculture. In Finland, metal is everywhere. The moment you get off the plane, you get on a bus and the driver blasts metal. You walk into a fast food restaurant and it’s there on TV. You take a cab, and it’s there on the radio. Every third person on the street is a metal musician; every village has their own summer festival. It’s great, and as a metalhead, you feel like you belong! I sometimes even forget that people listen to any other music genres, although they are represented here too. Once, during an interview with Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), who is definitely one of the most prominent metal musicians in Finland, I asked him what, in his opinion, was the reason that metal is so popular in Finland. He said: “It’s because the whole country is fucking rebellious!” He’s right.
Do you think that women in heavy metal are perceived differently in Finland that they are in other countries in Europe or in North America?
From what I see personally, I would say there is a difference in perception. Finnish society is very feminist, sometimes even to the point of ridiculousness; a man could be yelled at for holding a door for a woman. Men here are generally used to women working all sorts of professions and occupying important positions. They don’t assume that you can’t perform your duties properly because you’re a woman.
In the music industry, nobody will think that you’re someone’s girlfriend or groupie. Men will treat you with respect and generally keep their distance (this is also due to the Finns being quite a reserved type of people) and nobody will hit on you until they get very drunk.
Sadly, the worst misogynists in Finnish metal society are women themselves. I don’t know if this is also the case in other countries, but the constant battle for the attention of some musician, who, most of the time, isn’t even worth it, is sickening. Even if you have no interest in anybody, women will hate you simply for being in the same space as they are. I am not talking about random women, but those who work in the industry. Of course, not all people are like that, but there is a certain competitive element to the scene. It’s discouraging, and I often have to remind myself that I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
What advice would you have for someone who is just beginning to become involved in, listen to or work in the genre?
Get out before it’s too late. I know that if someone told me the same years ago, I would never believe them, and I know nobody’s going to believe me.
I’m a true metal junkie, and now my whole life is tied to it. If you are really sure that you absolutely have to get involved, you better grow a few layers of thick skin and sharpen your claws, because you’ll have to tear through a lot. There will be people who will try to take you down at every step you take, and there will be fans who will always be mad at you if you happen to give an unfavorable review to their favorite band. You cannot be involved with metal without things getting intense.
At the same time, be prepared to go through many exciting experiences and meet a lot of interesting and admirable people on your way. Always be genuine. Don’t take any bullshit from anybody, no matter how important they are. The truth is, most of these people are so tired from being constantly asslicked that they will appreciate you for your honesty. And if you think doing or saying something will be an outrage, always go for it!
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Tanja Caciur has been an avid metal aficionado for almost a decade. She started her career as a journalist four years ago, when she became a resident of Finland. She has been published in a number of online and printed media from all over the world in English and Russian, and some of her work has been translated into Norwegian. She is one of the ladies behind Music Photocalypse and is also one of the contributors to a new project that will be published soon on one of Finland’s top music magazine’s websites (but she can’t give out more information about it yet). Tanja is dedicated to battling female stereotypes in the music industry.