The New Metal Media(um)
If you’ve been a regular listener of the podcast I co-host, the Mainstream Resistance podcast (MSRcast @ iTunes) you’ll have heard me mentioning The Jasta Show every so often. That is Jasta as in Jamey Jasta, vocalist of Hatebreed, and his show is actually a long form, conversational styled podcast where he interviews someone from the world of heavy music. It was something first brought to my attention by my co-host Cary, who listened to an episode where Jasta interviewed a favorite of his, Devin Townsend of course. He was impressed and thought highly enough of it to mention it during one of our podcast recordings. So I looked over the list of archived episodes, picked out the Duff McKagan one, and soon found myself hooked. Its proved itself to be the podcast I’ve been waiting for without realizing it, bringing the non-interview conversational approach of popular podcasts like The Nerdist, WTF with Marc Maron, and many others to the world of metal. Jasta himself is key to this concept, being like Chris Hardwick and Maron, a guy who’s plugged into his particular industry’s world, someone who knows a lot of its players and big names and has been entrenched in it himself long enough to garner the respect of nearly all his peers.
You might remember Jasta for his stint as the host of MTV2’s Headbanger’s Ball from 2003–2007. I had the opportunity to tune in to that show quite often during that time and I found him to be an engaging interviewer, not only for his surprising talent as a TV host, but mainly for his credibility factor as a fellow musician of heavy music. It was a lot easier for bands to come on the show and feel at ease with Jasta at the helm rather than a carefully auditioned and manicured personality, or worse, someone who wasn’t all too interested in heavy music altogether. The same could be said for the original incarnation of Headbangers Ball back in its early-mid 90s run with Riki Rachtman, an on and off musician who co-owned a club called The Cathouse frequented by the days biggest stars such as his good friend Axl Rose. Rachtman was one of the ‘boys, an outsider with no television experience who despite his good audition, certainly flaunted his “in” with many major rock stars to MTV producers as an undeniable selling point. Rachtman and Jasta knew their guests off camera, hung out with them, partied with them, and in Jasta’s case, toured with them as well. Its that credibility factor that makes The Jasta Show such a compelling listen —- you’re eavesdropping on a conversation full of inside jokes between old buddies like Howard Jones from Killswitch Engage, or hearing Jasta recall hanging out with Derrick Green in Rio, marveling that gorgeous could-be-supermodel women were clamoring for a picture with the Sepultura frontman.
Now funny stories and tales of the road are one thing, entertaining though they are, but the reason I feel compelled to discuss The Jasta Show here is mainly because of just how inside baseball Jasta wants his podcast to be. Open and frank discussion of the state of the heavy music industry and its ins and outs and realities are not shied away from, in fact, Jasta seems to encourage and facilitate discussion towards those topics. The aforementioned McKagan episode was chock full of this stuff, ranging from topics as wide ranging as over saturation of markets by excessive touring, the royalty rates of Spotify, why younger generations aren’t buying digital downloads, to how bands should look to run their operations as a small business. At one point, McKagan reveals that Guns N’ Roses actually had Geffen Records audited in 1994, and discovering that the legendary label hadn’t paid the band for approximately 6 million albums —- Geffen offered a settlement, payment for two million albums, or the choice for the band to sue the label with all the expensive costs that such a court case would guarantee. The band settled, and McKagan’s view of who and what labels were changed (he’d subsequently go on study business in college once he left Guns N’ Roses for the express purpose of understanding the contracts he’d signed… read his autobiography, its fantastic). Its just one example of otherwise hidden info you wouldn’t get anywhere else, largely because no one before has ever really steered a documented conversation with someone from Guns in that direction.
The McKagan episode only scratches the surface of deep industry talk that Jasta gets his guests to engage in. A few times he’s had on purely industry people like Vicky Hungerford, the promoter of UK’s Bloodstock festival, or Live Nation promoter Andy Copping, frequent booker of heavy hitters like AC/DC and one of the guys behind the Download Festival. In these discussions, Jasta and his guests delve deep into the economics of rock and metal festivals, what determines booking and running order, who are the future headliners of major European festivals (or arena tours for that matter). Its not a starters guide either, conversations aren’t dumbed down for our ease as relative outsiders. I’ve gone through over half of Jasta’s 189 episodes to date, and often times I’ve found myself having to think rather quickly about the context of what a particular word that I didn’t quite understand was used in. The first time I heard Jasta mention “syncs”, it took me a second to decipher that he was referring to synchronization rights, which are licensing deals artists or labels can make for a song’s placement in TV/advertising/videogames. Until I listened to The Jasta Show, I didn’t realize (though surely should have) that there was such a thing as a “radius clause”, built into most live performance contracts between artists and promoters —- that being a specified amount of time and/or distance that the artist could not perform within the vicinity of the agreed upon date and venue. I’ve learned more about the concert industry from this podcast alone than I have in my years as a curious fan doing whatever scant and meager research I could on the subject.
He leans heavily on guests from American based bands, largely I suspect due to his band Hatebreed’s tendency to play alongside them on touring lineups, but a few people from the European metal scene have popped up from time to time. Most episodes I find myself coming away with a newfound liking for a particular guest who I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to before. I was impressed with Trivium’s Matt Heafy, a thoughtful, well-spoken guy whose albums I’ll be willing to give a chance to now, in fact, I’ve gone and listened to music from every guest on the show who I walked away with a good impression of. With most of the bands, my opinion on their music doesn’t really budge, but I’ve still benefited from my internal prejudices being dissolved by hearing the artist have a non-promotional oriented discussion. With Jasta in particular, I actually went back and gave Hatebreed a second chance and found that I actually really enjoy their music now (check my review of The Concrete Confessional). He himself is a model for how most of the metal world should relate to one another, embracing the diversity of all subgenres and being open to different kinds of heavy music. This from the singer of Hatebreed, who was initially viewed as outside of the metal genre coming from a Connecticut hardcore band (they’ve long since transcended that limiting tag). I actually think the guests are secondary to my interest in the show, because ultimately what Jasta has to say himself is just as or more compelling.
The medium that he’s chosen to do his show in was a deliberate choice. He was initially offered a radio show, but in keeping with much of what he preaches as music business common sense on his podcast, he turned it down when he realized that he could be the recipient of ad revenue himself if he, rather than a corporate network, owned the show. Its also a medium that, while having grown in the world of heavy music and metal, was largely void of a big name metal podcast that had a comparable audience to that of the popular comedy podcasts. Being the co-host of one of the longest running metal podcasts, I know that most of the metal ones have extremely limited audiences, even those associated with bigger websites. The Jasta Show was the first metal podcast hosted by a guy in a big name band, able to draw a large audience from day one (his show started in summer 2014, and yes I realize Chris Jericho’s Talk Is Jericho started in 2013, but his guests tend to lean more wrestling than rock/metal). Why aren’t more people in Jasta’s position doing shows like his? I think, largely, because they don’t realize that they can. Yes Bruce Dickinson had his BBC Rock Show for a few years, the wonderful Fenriz has his NTS Radio affiliated “pirate” Radio Fenriz shows (essential listening if you want a curated hour of music from a guy who listens to thousands of releases a year for all our collective benefit), but no one else has a show like Jasta’s with an emphasis on heavy music informed conversation.
Right alongside my newfound interest in The Jasta Show, I was starting to pay more attention to the activities of another guy who was trying to do something new in metal media, one Sam Dunn, the famed anthropologist-turned-documentarian whose Banger Films company turned an eye towards new media in the form of YouTube. They established BangerTV a few years ago simply as a place to put up trailers for their films and VH1 series Metal Evolution, along with scattered interview outtakes from those projects. At some point, they looked around at what other people were doing with YouTube in terms of original content and decided to try their hand at it, and announced their intentions in September of 2015. Two months later they premiered their first series of YouTube original content in Lock Horns, a live web show in which Dunn and his invited guests would restructure and reshape the “metal family tree” that was so prominently displayed in Metal: A Headbangers Journey and the Metal Evolution VH1 series. Being live, viewers on YouTube could throw in their two cents on the discussion about what bands should or should not be under a particular subgenre branch of the metal tree, and Dunn and his producer take notice, reading many of the comments verbatim in all their fanboyish glory. The episodes are archived, so people who couldn’t catch the live premiere can always check them out later (I’ve only managed to catch one live myself).
Let’s step back a bit for a second —- when it came to Dunn’s documentaries, I recall being excited that someone was finally doing something like it on metal, yet simultaneously disappointed at the same time. His first, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey premiered in 2005, and at the time I felt vindicated as a metal fan that we were getting a serious portrayal in a cinematic medium, yet dismayed that so much of my own metal experience wasn’t really represented within it. There were only glancing looks at extreme metal or power metal, but it was a 90 minute film, so I could understand it to some degree. Years later, their Metal Evolution series on VH1 sought to delve deeper into metal’s broad spectrum by focusing each of its eleven episodes on a particular era or subgenre of metal. I was surprised and impressed that power metal was chosen as one of the topics, but wildly agitated at how Dunn admitted to being uninformed of the genre. One of my early articles that never ended up being published on this blog was a critique of that very episode, specifically on how and why he was bereft of knowledge of major bands that were quite clearly known to the rest of us here in the States (your Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, etc). At the end of the episode, he excused his lack of knowledge on power metal as a result of its being tied to European festival culture —- a plausible theory, yet not completely waterproof. I’d never been to any European metal fests, yet I was a record buying participant of the late nineties/early aughts golden era of the genre right from my bedroom in Houston, Texas (a wasteland for a power metal fan). Dunn hailed from Canada, and it seemed strange to me that he had a far more tunnel visioned experience as a fellow North American metal fan than I did.
My opinion was naive —- I must have subconsciously realized it at the time because I actually finished writing the article but couldn’t bring myself to hit the publish button. One day I found myself at my parents place watching VH1 on their satellite and catching an episode of That Metal Show, you know, the goofy, classic rock pandering disaster starring Eddie Trunk and comedians Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson. It annoyed me in general, because even if the guests were good, the format was godawful and the “interviews” were lowest common denominator stuff. It was like every bad cliche about people at Metallica shows rolled into a glossy, manicured presentation, down to the buffoonish audience who lapped it up and misguidedly thought of Trunk as a “metal expert” (even though he largely ignores anything resembling non-mainstream metal and doesn’t pay attention to bands formed after 1992 unless they were a new band by someone established… Chickenfoot anyone?). I was suddenly struck with the realization of how much Dunn’s documentaries, on film and TV, were so deserving of far more praise than I had ever given him in conversations with fellow metal fans and friends. His approach was always thoughtful, full of discourse about the actual music and the reasons why it was created, in search of something with greater substance than just stories of excess and debauchery. But I missed my window to do that, a few years had lapsed and Metal Evolution was old news to just about everyone in the metal scene.
So in a way, this is kind of an unsolicited apology to Dunn and an urging to anyone reading this to jump aboard the Lock Horns train. Its a fun watch, at times utterly compelling in its ability to get you shouting at your screen over why no one, guest or live audience has mentioned Vintersorg during the Folk-Metal episode (they finally did!). Camera work and sometimes audio are a little spotty, but it is an operation in its infancy and I actually prefer this DIY, rough n’ tumble production approach to something overtly glossy and plastic. The heart of the show is conversation, intellectual discourse about the actual music of the subgenres and bands that we love and so feverishly quibble over. Its a unifying experience to be a part of such a discussion, even as a passive watcher long after the live episode airing. Sometimes the discussion within an episode will give birth to another episode, as was the case when bands like Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, and Rhapsody were deemed too symphonic for the regular power metal branch, thus growing the metal tree with a symphonic power metal branch all its own. The Early Black Metal episode had the live audience getting raucous about the inclusion of Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir (they too got the boot). These are the kinds of conversations that we used to hold only in forgotten message boards, now largely abandoned in the wake of Facebook and Twitter. Lock Horns is a centralized place to hold this debate, and a cultural touchstone for metal fans of all flavors (remember my metal as ice cream theory?). Its become one of my favorite YouTube watches, a show I will only view on my TV with YouTube pulled up through the Xbox, sitting on the couch with an iced tea or beer in hand, attention full-on.
Lock Horns fills a void on YouTube, a place long devoid of quality metal content. There are occasional moments of promise, such as Infidel Amsterdam’s channel and some stray things here and there that are actually creative such as Brutally Delicious or The Metal Voice. I used to get emails from people asking me to check out their vidcast show they’d put on YouTube, or a video version of their podcast, and I would. All of them were well meaning, most of them were relatively unwatchable however for one reason or another. A round table discussion of what was the best Metallica album with a single 360 microphone, one camera, and bad lighting is not exactly compelling viewing, especially when the panelists are inebriated and the clicking of beer bottles tunes out the actual talking. Yes that was sent to me and I’m not trying to be condescending, just being honest. Point is that Lock Horns really is groundbreaking, a show with a modicum of budget behind it that’s really going for the jugular in terms of creating outlets for in-depth metal debate with an emphasis on the music and on putting its history together. It and The Jasta Show are just two endeavors using new media to document and archive parts of our metal past, and we need more things like them out there. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that metal has no governing body, no organizational control structure or educational institution instructing us to document our history —- outsiders don’t care, they never will, we have to do it ourselves.