Over the years of being a metalhead, I have noticed that a huge number of metal and rock musicians as well as fans have cats as pets. I have been a cat lover ever since I remember and when I read earlier last year on CVLT Nation that a picture book of male metalheads with their cats was in the works by a certain Alexandra Crockett, I was more than excited because I felt (and still do) that something which represents me (and distinguishes me from others) is finally going to be released out into the world. The book not only highlights the love that exists between metallers/rockers and cats but it also proves that there are a lot of us out there breaking gender stereotypes of male metalheads being very evil and macho and that felines are mostly females’ friends.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go into further detail about these topics with the photographer, Alexandra Crockett, of this very book which is titled simply, Metal Cats. Read below to check out the interesting opinions of Alexandra about sexism in metal and learn more about the process of the book’s creation.
Dom: First of all, what do you like about cats? Cats or dogs?
Alexandra: What do I like about cats…Well, to start they are comprised of my favorite shape: the triangle, haha! They are also sassy jerks that do what they want to do with no concern over others’ judgement of them. They are soft, cute, and friendly, but they are confident in themselves and know when to assert their boundaries. In essence, I kind of see cats as soft and fluffy triangular feminists. Cat was my first word, so I’d definitely have to choose cats over dogs, but in reality I love all animals. I’m very much for animal welfare and animal rights. I’ve been vegetarian for over a decade and don’t buy products that are tested on animals. Not that this is what you have to be or do to say you love animals, but these are my own personal values.
Dom: Why do you think a lot of metalheads love cats? Is there a connection between cats and metal which draws metalheads to cats?
Alexandra: I’m not sure I can speak for everyone, but I do think that the connection comes from the fact that cats are independent and have that “don’t give a fuck” attitude, both of which are attributes I normally see in metalheads. I also think that cats have a bit of an occult connotation, which is something that is often touched on in the metal scene and through metal music.
Dom: Is there a reason why you have chosen these people/band members to take pictures of and not others?
Alexandra: Absolutely. Beyond everyone in the book being cat lovers, I also made sure that all the people I photographed were people I felt good about overall. What I mean is that I did not include anyone I knew was a misogynist, was racist, homophobic or had any other intolerant or inherently negative and ignorant characteristics. In fact, I will admit that I cut out three people who I found out had committed crimes against women, so this was a standard that was very important to me in my selections.
Dom: Which person and cat were the hardest to shoot? Are there any interesting stories that went with the whole shooting process?
Alexandra: I can’t say that there were some that were hardest, as every single cat I photographed got wild and crazy kids as soon as I showed up for the shoots. I had a template I used to make the photoshoots work anyways, which included bringing in my lights and setting them up right away, then sitting with the cats’ humans for a while and just talking and building rapport and creating a more relaxed environment. Once that was established, it was a lot easier to get the photos I wanted. The best story is of the guy in LA who got attacked, bitten and scratched by his cat the entire two hours I was there doing the photoshoot. His cat, amply named Satan, was a fairly young cat and was just racing all over and then destroying the guy’s arm every time he picked him up. It was insane and funny and sad all at once, cause obviously I didn’t want any of my subjects to have to endure pain to get through these photoshoots, but the guy was so cool and relaxed about it, I was able to laugh a bit. We ended up finally getting one shot that worked where the cat wasn’t biting him. That was the only shot out of probably 350 photos total that was non-violent.
Dom: How long did it take you to complete this project? What was the hardest moment in the process of bringing it together and publishing it?
Alexandra: I started the project in early October of 2010. I think the hardest part of the project was giving up some of my creative power and just power over certain decisions once I got taken on by powerHouse. I am the type of person that always has this idea that whatever project I’m working on, my way is the best way and I can do it all myself. So it was really a huge learning experience to see that I can give up some of that control and trust someone else to help out and that it can still turn out really well. I feel really proud of how it turned out, and I certainly don’t have only myself to thank for that. In the end, the result was a team effort.
Dom: How many pictures overall did you take for this project?
Alexandra: I took 115 photos for the project myself, which were taken all along the West Coast from as far North as Bellingham, WA to as far South as San Diego, CA. I contemplated doing Vancouver, B.C. but I couldn’t manage it with my driving and time constraints unfortunately. Beyond that, I received over 700 submissions, of which probably only about 70 are featured in the book itself, so I am considering doing another zine (something I did already in late 2011 to get interest in the book with just outtakes and submissions, which was all on my own with a zine-buddy named Marna, printed at home, etc) to include more of the submissions that couldn’t fit within the pages of the book.
Dom: What tips would you give to new authors/photographers starting out and thinking of publishing a book?
Alexandra: I think it’s worthwhile to really think about why you are creating your project, and to have an idea of what aspects are vital to the integrity of your work as well as which are a bit more fluid and less set in stone. I had planned to self-publish up until the week before I signed with powerHouse, so it’s good to look into what type of publishing company you are interested in and how much it will cost to print before getting too set on details. Beyond that, ask questions! This could mean emailing publishers or authors for advice, inquiring about interest from companies that look good to you, and being prepared for hearing things you might not want to hear, including rejection. I was lucky enough to be approached by powerHouse, so I didn’t have to “sell” myself or my project to them, Nina had already done that for me (she was the publicist for powerHouse that brought Metal Cats to them as a project of interest). However, when I was still looking at self-publishing, there were a lot of details that were incredibly overwhelming to me, so research and communication is key. But most of all confidence in yourself, a willingness to learn and change, and the passion and ambition to complete your project even in the face of adversity or hardship is what really makes it happen.
Dom: What do you think of sexism in metal? I believe that the inclusion of women in bands and the “scene” is not enough. We have to change our mind set with less objectifying and womanising and coming to the terms that both genders are equal. What do you think? (Obviously, this also applies to the whole world and not only metal…)
Alexandra: I could write you a doctoral thesis on this topic. Beyond my creative and academic endeavours, I am also an active advocate for feminism, women’s rights and particularly survivors of rape and sexual assault. These are issues that affect the metal scene as much as any other culture within the United States. In fact, I believe that in some ways, it is a bit worse in American subcultures that emphasize gender binary structures and “traditional” gender roles (aka, gender roles that put men in the dominant/strong role and women in the submissive/weak role), which the metal scene would be included in. Like sports-focused subcultures, the metal scene was created around a very Caucasian-centric, male-centric, hetero-centric hierarchy. I can’t even count how many metal songs I’ve heard that have intensely misogynistic lyrics and themes, including very explicit descriptions of raping women or imposing violence on others (almost always, the victim is a female, rather than a male, which I find to be pretty interesting). I am so aware of it nowadays that I can’t actually listen to music that perpetuates stereotyping and violence against women. As a teenager I put up with it because I didn’t feel empowered to say anything and wasn’t fully aware of how fucked up it was that we as women in the scene have to constantly be bombarded with hateful and disgusting imagery about our own dis-empowerment and destruction for no good reason besides misogyny and male privilege. It’s a deeply embedded culture we have here in this country, to believe that women are lesser than men, and weaker, and less intelligent, less capable, more emotional, along with a myriad of other ridiculous assertions that simply aren’t true in the least and based on antiquated standards of gender roles that don’t really work within modern society or actual reason and logic. So yes, I agree with you that inclusion of women in bands and the “scene” is not enough, nor has it done much to break stereotypes, as all of us in the scene or playing music still see these same misogynistic standards and judgements as women within the general population. I think there needs to be a systemic and systematic change in thought process, and a huge increase in awareness and visibility of the issue for me to be at all satisfied with its outcome.
Dom: Even though there are gender stereotype-breaking people in the metal scene (“evil” metal men liking “feminine” cats), women still tend to be objectified in this genre. Do you agree?
Alexandra: Yes, and I think that the question in and of itself speaks to these stereotypes and objectifying ideals. The fact that a music genre needs to be gendered and that a type of pet or a certain animal needs to be gendered in how they are regarded is, to put it simply, absurd. I mean, what makes a cat more feminine than a dog or a rat or a bird? What makes metal more masculine than folk, noise, rap, polka, pop, shoegaze, or any other type of music? Or….if it’s as I suspect, are ALL genres of music overtaken and monopolized by men, where the men are the actors and women are the objects of the action, or the muses for creativity. It’s all so deep-seated and pervasive, it’s difficult to keep this answer to such a limited argument, but yes OF COURSE I think women still tend to be objectified in the metal genre. I hear comments about women’s bodies and physical looks in the metal scene constantly, and hear people being judged on their looks or who their boyfriend is for their “scene cred” and value, as opposed to giving someone credit or credibility or the esteem of one’s trust in them based on actual important characteristics that are within the person. I could go on. But I think it was really exemplified the other day when my friend Angela and I started loudly discussing a man (a person we made up, not any one that actually exists) in the way we often hear women discussed as a joke about misogyny. We were just casually critiquing how he had a shitty body and a small dick and had really low self-esteem. We went on to say that his work at school was pointless because he was so ugly no one would ever want to hire him, and that his body type was so unattractive that he should really stop eating and start working out and not come out into public until he looked “good” and “attractive”. The thing was, after speaking about this fake person in a way that I know men (AND women!) speak about women for just a few minutes, I felt so guilty and disgusted with myself that I had to stop. This was striking because at the same time, myself and millions of other women every day hear men in the public forum, on the radio, in books, in relationships, in our family and so on saying things similar and acting like it’s no big deal and is just as natural as stating the fact that 1+1 equals 2. Again, it’s systemic. It’s a huge issue, and I hope that as visibility increases, the issue will evolve into something less marginalizing and ridiculous. Most of my fans on Facebook have seen my views on misogyny and rape culture through posts I’ve made about bands who have been active supporters of rape culture and misogyny, so this is certainly no new topic for me to be discussing.
Dom: There are many women who do a lot of the work behind the scenes like management, PR, journalism or photography, like you, but they are not always given as much credit as the musicians.
Alexandra: That is 100% true. In fact, in the US women still make only a fraction of what men do for comparable work and career positions. I just did a comparative presentation on gender equality in the US and Sweden last week, so I’ve been thinking on the topic a lot. It makes no sense, and I think that women’s lack of self-efficacy, which comes through a lack of encouragement and opportunity in fields that have traditionally been allocated for men (including art and music, along with of course, science and writing and math and sports) continues on because of a lack of people being willing to acknowledge the disparities and male-privilege as well as a lack of people being courageous enough to take action and speak out for those who are not given the ability to take action or to use their voices for themselves.
Dom: Will we see more work from you in the near future? Will it be cat/metal related?
Alexandra: I believe so. I’m looking to do a similar book except focusing on women in the metal scene instead, as well as another pet-focused book. Maybe ladies in metal in general or rappers and poodles, I don’t know, haha.
Dom: For the end, please tell us what kind of metal you find yourself listening to recently!
Alexandra: Lastly, I have found myself listening mainly to older Swedish Death Metal and then punk bands like the Dead Boys. I don’t only listen to metal, though, so I’ve spent a lot of time with Edith Piaf, Mobb Deep, Christian Death and Dengue Fever too. It’s all a matter of where my mood and my mind needs to be. I get pretty stressed with the doctorate program at school and everything regarding the book happening at once, so I have to really incite some variety to keep myself relaxed and on track mentally.
All pictures in this article are from Metal Cats by Alexandra Crockett, published by powerHouse Books.