Islander (NO CLEAN SINGING): not doing this as a businessNo Clean Singing it is one of the most interesting and relevant web zines coming from the underground scene. The Editor in chief of the publication, Islander, was kind enough to answer to a couple of questions for us for a better understanding of which are the ingredients that make No Clean Singing so special.
Metalfan: Hi Islander and welcome to Metalfan.ro! When did you first discover the metal and the rock music?
Islander: Greetings, and thank you for this interview. I first discovered metal and rock music when I was a teenager. That was so long ago that cave paintings were still being created and sabretooths were still a threat to human safety. But I got away from metal for decades and only got back into it about 10 years ago. I’m still exploring what I missed during the ‘90s and early 2000s, in addition to trying to keep up with what’s happening in the present.
Metalfan: Who is Islander and why do you believe that your opinion is important and relevant for the metal community?
Islander: I’m just a guy who is an obsessed fan of extreme metal and enjoys spreading the word about music he enjoys. I don’t consider myself a “critic”, and I don’t believe my opinion is more important than anyone else’s. My friends and I at our site are simply recommending what we enjoy, and people will either find music through us that appeals to them or they won’t. I do hope that what we are doing is relevant to the metal community, by helping expose listeners to good underground bands they might overlook. We try not to write (or at least very much) about bands that most people already know about.
Metalfan: No Clean Singing is one of the most important and respected metal webzines. How did it all start?
Islander: Thank you! I started it in 2009 with a couple of other people as a hobby, with the idea of only writing about music we enjoyed and wanted to recommend, and not spending any time trying to tell people what they shouldn’t be listening to. I didn’t expect many people would ever read what we were doing; it was just a fun way to pass some time. There have been changes in the other writers at the site over time, but the mission hasn’t changed.
And we’re still not doing this as a business. We make no money and don’t try to. My “day job”, which has nothing to do with metal, enables me to pay all the site’s expenses, and I’m very lucky that I can do that. I’m still very pleasantly surprised that the site has lasted as long as it has and has grown so much since we started.
Metalfan: What did you have in mind to do and to achieve when you've started No Clean Singing?
Islander: I guess I’ve already answered this question above. At the beginning, the idea was just to have fun, as a hobby. And the one thing that was different from most other metal sites that existed back in 2009 was that I only wanted to write about what I enjoyed and to support the bands who were creating that enjoyment – and not spend any time criticizing music I didn’t enjoy, or making fun of bands who weren’t very good. That hasn’t changed.
Metalfan: In which way do you think that metal journalism is different than regular pop-music journalism?
Islander: I’m not sure I know if there’s a difference, because I’m not interested in pop music and I spend no time reading pop music journalism. My completely uneducated guess is that there are more people involved in metal journalism who are like me – people who are involved purely out of devotion to the music rather than as a career, and therefore aren’t affected by commercial interests, simply because metal (and especially extreme metal) isn’t nearly as popular as “pop music”. And as everyone knows, there’s not much money to be made in the genre anyway.
Metalfan: Robert Christgau is self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics". How important to your beliefs is his impact on music journalism and also for the music journalists from the younger generations?
Islander: I don’t feel that I’m qualified to answer that question. I don’t consider myself a music journalist and haven’t spent time reading mainstream rock critics in a very long time.
Metalfan: Which is your favourite type of writing? Do you enjoy writing album reviews, live reports or making interviews? Why?
Islander: I do enjoy writing reviews and features about new music more than anything else, just trying to express what I feel when I listen. I don’t write many show reviews – when I go to shows I usually try to just get immersed in the sights and sounds and enjoy the experience, without having to spend time making notes or trying to think about what I might write.
And I don’t do many interviews either. They take me a lot of time because I try to do research about who I’m interviewing and I agonize over trying to come up with questions that are interesting and different from the kind of standard questions you usually see. I’m not sure I’m very good at that, but it takes so much time away from the typical things I do every day that I tend not to do it very often.
Metalfan: Speaking about album reviews, live reports and interviews, what is your advice for someone who wants to make a press material? What is the most important thing that this person should have in mind when he starts writing an album review, a live report or an interview?
Islander: I’m definitely not holding myself out as an expert or role model. But I can talk about what I enjoy reading. I enjoy reviews that show some serious thought and work went into them and that have a lively writing style – not things dashed off after one listen and without paying much attention to things like grammar and style. I also enjoy reviews that provide insights into the music, that express visions of how the music made the writer feel and what makes it strong (or weak), something more than simple descriptions of the sound in genre terms. For those reasons, I tend to find track-by-track reviews tedious and often not very interesting to read.
I think the best interviews are the ones that show the interviewer knows the music very well and has spent time doing research before asking the questions, and that the questions are challenging and different from what you usually see. Stock questions usually produce stock answers, and it all becomes quite dull. If the person being interviewed is bored by the questions, they’re going to give boring answers. There should be “personality” in the questions, and therefore help bring out the personality of the person being interviewed, or get them engaged so that they will reveal things they might not normally want to reveal.
For show reviews, I want descriptions of the sights and sounds that bring the experience to life, with interesting anecdotes that are fun to read.
I guess the main objective for all of these kinds of features is something that is very hard for most amateurs (including myself) to achieve, and very hard to teach: to write well, to make the writing itself lively, entertaining, and insightful.
I guess my one other piece of advice for anyone interested in doing this kind of writing is to read as much as you write – to read lots of interviews and reviews by good writers, and to identify what you enjoy, admire, and find worthwhile, and then try to build those qualities into your own work over time.
Metalfan: Do you see yourself trying to write a live report in the style of gonzo journalism? Something in the vein of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson …
Islander: I would actually love to do something like that, but I doubt that I have the creative talent for it. [Ed. Note. smiles]
Metalfan: Great rock journalist like Malcolm Dome (Metal Hammer, Classic Rock), Albert Mudrian (Decibel) or Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen have released during the years some of the most interesting books about rock and metal music. Do you have in mind at this time or do you see yourself any time in the future to release a book about this kind of music? Could you tell us why or why not?
Islander: You flatter me with that question, but I doubt that I would be able to write anything good enough to be worthy of a book that people would actually buy (unlike the authors you mentioned). And even if I thought I could pull that off, I don’t have the time to attempt it. Between my family, my “day job”, and the significant time I put into NCS, I barely have time for eating and sleeping.
Metalfan: Have you read any of the books of the three mentioned earlier? Any recommendations?
Islander: I own and have read most of Albert’s revised and updated edition of Choosing Death (he and artist Dan Seagrave were nice enough to autograph my copy when I saw them at Maryland Deathfest a couple of years ago), and I do recommend that one (eventually I will finish it – I read books slowly). I also have a copy of Metalion, which is also fascinating. I haven’t read any of Malcolm Dome’s many books.
Metalfan: What are the main reasons, in your opinion, for which most of the webzines or even magazines that are dealing with rock and metal music fall the test of time? Could you please tell us more?
Islander: That’s a good question, and I don’t have any special insights into why so many have passed into the grave over time. I would guess that rock and metal print zines have faced the same problems that all print zines and even newspapers have faced due to the rise of the internet. People are now used to getting information they want without paying for something they can hold in their hands.
I would also guess that both print zines and many webzines have faded away over time because it’s so easy now for people to listen to music they’re interested in before buying it, and therefore feel it’s less important or useful to read someone else’s opinion before making that decision. For lots of fans, good writing will always be worth reading for its own sake, but there’s not a lot of that out there. So, for the webzines who need to make money to stay alive, that’s probably more difficult now than ever before.
And for the webzines and blogs like ours that aren’t dependent on making money, people’s lives change, they move on, they lose interest or run out of time, and they let their blogs expire. Sometimes I think NCS has grown simply because it’s still around after 6 ½ years.
Metalfan: I don't know what do you think about mix-tapes, but here at Metalfan.ro we're fans of them. Would you like to choose 12 songs from 12 different bands for a "virtual mix-tape"? Which would be the title of this compilation?
Islander: Again, I’m flattered at the invitation, and I do enjoy virtual mix-tapes as a way to discover new music. I’m not great at making lists because I spend too much time worrying over them, and I’m already late in answering your questions, so I won’t delay any more in order to give you the list now – but I will get back to you.
Metalfan: Speaking of compilations , do you think that you could put a compilation once a year under the name No Clean Singing?
Islander: I have dreamed about doing that. We do have a Bandcamp page that we’ve used to make available two free-to-download compilations of grind and powerviolence tracks that were assembled by Alex at the Grind To Death blog (and Kydoimos Records). But for me to create a compilation would require a lot of time, first deciding what to include and then contacting bands and labels for participation and permission – and I just don’t have the time to do that. I’m pretty sure the other regular writers at our site don’t have time to do that either.
Metalfan: Before we end this interview, what is the most important thing an artist that wants to appear in No Clean Singing pages should have in mind?
Islander: It’s hard to answer that question, because each of us who writes for the site makes his own choices regarding what to write about, and we only write about what we enjoy, so it really comes down to our own taste in music.
And it also comes down to what we happen to make time to hear. We get tons of e-mails and Facebook messages every day from bands, labels, and PR people inviting us to listen to music, and we’re only able to listen to a small fraction of what we get – again, for all of us, this is a part-time, no-pay hobby. In my case, I will usually try to make time to listen to new music from bands whose past music I’ve enjoyed, but deciding what to hear from bands who are new to me is a pretty random process.
One thing that helps a lot is an interesting and well-thought-out message that also includes a link to a music stream I can listen to immediately. The first couple of sentences should tell us something about the music itself, ideally in an interesting way, with more detailed info such as a band bio coming later. Because I skim e-mails and am often in such a hurry, I usually don’t get past the first couple of sentences unless it’s interesting and telling me something about the music itself so I can decide if it sounds like metal that would appeal to my own tastes.
Metalfan: Thank you for your time and for your answers! In the end would you like to add something or to send a few words to our readers?
Islander: Thank you very much for this interview. I hope people will find the answers interesting. And thanks also for what you and Metalfan are doing to support and promote metal.
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