I don’t usually take the opportunity to fangirl all over the place with this column, but having the opportunity to interview Jeanne Fury is a genuine privilege. A greatly influential music writer and rock critic, Fury has been writing since the early 90s. She is perhaps best well known for her time penning the long-running column NY Rock Confidential, where her intimate, intelligent critique of the music scene from an insider perspective. Fury also regularly contributes to Decibel, and has also written for Spin and Village Voice. She writes eloquently and passionately about a wide range of music, from mainstream rock to kvlt heavy metal, and her powerful voice has long been one I have looked up to. I am delighted and honoured to have her as part of Girls Don’t Like Metal.
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What first attracted you to aggressive music? What is your heavy metal love story?
I love the bat-shit crazy energy. I love the fearlessness. Discovering that music was like discovering a large part of me that always existed but that I was never allowed to acknowledge. I just desperately wanted that stuff to be part of my life.
When did you begin to translate your relationship with music into words? How did you start writing about music?
By accident. I wanted to write about art, majored in art history, wrote dozens of papers, even had a tiny internship at an art website. That’s where I discovered the art world is horrendous, full of people who have lots of money and no soul, just a bullshit-filled world. I was crushed. I decided that since I always loved music, I should try writing about that instead. I found NY Rock, and off I went. My entire career is their fault.
Do you think there are key differences in the way that people approach music writing? What are the differences, for instance, between music critics, music journalists, music writers and bloggers?
Absolutely there are differences in people’s approaches, and there are differences in people. The idealist in me would like to think that music writers all have the same goal: communicating via writing what we hear in a song and how that song fits into the world (or doesn’t fit into the world). As far as bloggers and critics and journalists go, there are fundamental differences between them, of course. Honestly, it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death, and I can’t pretend like I have the energy to contribute anything meaningful to the discussion at this point.
You are generally regarded as a music critic. How comfortable are you with this label?
I’m flattered that you think that. I still feel like an impostor.
In many ways you were defined by your NY Rock Confidential column. How did that experience define you as a writer?
In every way imaginable. First, it helped me find my voice. It taught me to think and write whatever the hell I wanted but to also take the gig seriously. There were no rules; the editors trusted my judgment. I understood the responsibility and really respected their trust in me. I spent my 20s living and breathing that column. I didn’t want to be a mouthy little shit that hung out in clubs and shmoozed with bands and bartenders; I wanted to write well. I miss it so much, but it served its purpose, and we’ve all moved on.
How have you watched music writing, and especially music writing as it related to aggressive music, evolve since you began in your career?
It has exploded, to put it mildly. Metal, in particular. But also, I think once Green Day got signed to the majors, magazines couldn’t ignore the so-called underground. And everyone knows the Nirvana/Sub Pop story. Nothing is off the table, in terms of what kinds of music magazines will cover.
How have you watched the role of women, and the way women are written about and portrayed by music writers in the rock work change over the course of your career?
I grew up reading feminist writers. I didn’t want to read anything that didn’t respectfully cover female artists. I didn’t have the time to bother with that when there were so many brilliant women writing about music in brazenly feminist terms. I wasn’t turning a blind eye; I knew sexism was rampant in music. I just had no desire to absorb it.
Have you ever faced challenges or obstacles in your career because you are a woman? How did you overcome them?
Of course. I overcame them by writing whatever I could for whomever I could. There was absolutely no way I was going to be dissuaded by a bunch of self-congratulatory bros in the boys’ club. Keep closing the door; I will find another one to detonate.
What advice would you have for someone, especially a young woman, who wants to pursue a similar career path?
Have a back-up plan. Seriously, this is not a financially secure career move by any stretch. You can write about music on the side, but do not under any circumstances rely on it to pay the rent (or lunch, for that matter). Take your writing seriously – pay attention to sentence and paragraph structure, grammar, flow, tone, all of that. It really matters. Join a network of writers, like girlgroup, and learn from them. Learn to take criticism. You have to be committed. You have to love it. And don’t ever write what you think your audience or editor would want to read just in the hopes of landing a gig. You’ll hate yourself for it. Write what rings true to you.