Heavy metal praises itself for being nonconformist. It is a lifestyle which allows metalheads all over the world to take a break from everyday realities and escape into a comfortable place. It is there for us on both good and bad days. The heavy metal scene also likes to praise itself for being inclusive and supportive to other fellow metalheads; it’s a community for everyone who likes to rock out to metal acts such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Arch Enemy, Doro or Bring Me The Horizon.
Regardless of this, there still exist plenty of cases of sexism and exclusion of women in the metal and rock scene. Only a couple months ago, Andy Copping of Download Festival claimed that women “haven’t felt inspired enough to pick up a guitar or be the singer of a rock band”.
Female metal talent is plenty and it is all around us. There are bands with female musicians of all kinds of metal sub-genres. Mark Harwood, a director and producer, decided to dedicate a documentary film to female metal vocalists. The aptly-named title Soaring Highs and Brutal Lows: The Voices of Women in Metal focuses on both the operatic and the growling singers in metal.
I emailed Mark to tell us more about it and what we should expect from the film. Check out what he has to say below after watching the trailer.
Dom: How and when did the idea of making a documentary about women in metal come about?
Mark Harwood: I had watched a lot of the metal documentaries that came out over the past 10 years or so and noticed a couple things. First, none of them spent any real time on bands featuring women and second, that most of them were either just a bunch of interviews strung together, or treated the subject very academically the way a history class would. For me, I felt that the stories of the performers were really the most interesting part and so it was natural to combine these two areas to communicate an actual story, rather than make the equivalent of an encyclopedia.
Dom: “Soaring Highs and Brutal Lows” – what do you want to communicate with this film title?
Mark: The title refers to two things; firstly the actual voices and vocal styles of the performers, since some are from the more symphonic side of things, and some favour the more growled vocals. But the title also refers to the nature of the life of a performer. There are great moments, huge peaks, such as being on stage in front of a huge crowd at a large festival, but there are also the other moments; when sickness prevents you from doing what you love, or even just the fact that many of the day-to-day realities of being a touring musician are not exactly glamorous or fun.
Dom: How many bands/artists have you interviewed for this documentary?
Mark: The film features interviews with 10 artists, 8 of whom are women. We shot (and continue to shoot) other interviews and are hoping to release that material as bonus features on the DVD or online.
Dom: Which interview was the most memorable?
Mark: Depends in which way you mean. There was one case where it wasn’t the interview itself that was memorable, but afterwards. While I was waiting to do some paperwork a random woman came up to me, started hugging my arm and just would not let go: I had to pry my arm away from so I could gather the gear and catch my train.
Another time, I was really excited to interview Doro since I’d listened to her music for such a long time, so of course traffic was super heavy and I arrived late. The whole time I was thinking “great, I’m interviewing a legend and I’m 30 minutes late – way to make a good impression,” but of course she couldn’t have been nicer.
Dom: Have any of the interviewees found it difficult to speak out about gender issues?
Mark: None of the interviewees had difficulty in speaking about gender issues, although none of them feel particularly defined by those issues either. Each of them is a performer first, and either you can forge a connection with an audience or you can’t so gender doesn’t enter into it. Charlotte from Delain has a Masters degree in Gender Studies and had a lot to say, but took great care to give nuanced answers and really provide food for thought. We spoke again during their recent US tour and one of the things we talked about was whether she was happy with how her words and thoughts were represented; I’m happy to say that she was.
Dom: What are your thoughts on sexism in metal? What can we do to prevent it?
Mark: Honestly? Just don’t be an assh*le. Show respect for the artists and for other fans. There are lots of great bands out there and lots that are not so great, but maybe they will be one day. Don’t assume that the difference between the two is based solely on gender and don’t put up with other people who do. The music is what’s important; whether you feel it and whether it moves you. The rest is secondary.
Dom: There are many people who say that there are not enough women in rock and metal – including Andy Copping of Download Festival/Live Nation who claimed “There’s no shortage of women coming to our festival, but they seem to like watching bands more than being in them. They just haven’t felt inspired enough to pick up a guitar or be the singer of a rock band.” What do you think of this statement?
Mark: One of the things that a number of the interviewees mentioned is how they were inspired by seeing other women performing onstage, and how it made them feel like they could be up there as well. I think in general, it’s easier to take inspiration from someone you can identify with, whether that’s based on gender, vocal style or something else. Once that exists – “hey, doing that is an option!” then it becomes much easier to visualize yourself in that role and to find a way to that goal.
Dom: Perhaps, all we need is a greater recognition of female talent?
Mark: Maybe, but I think it’s more to do with just being open to the music and not being so concerned with the gender of the people on stage. I have a friend who likes metal but won’t listen to bands with female singers. He also refuses to listen to anything with keyboards, and both of those things are quite arbitrary, but it’s his loss and increased recognition won’t change anything for him. On the other hand, I watched ReVamp open for Iced Earth in Canada and remember talking to someone in the pit who said “Wow, I’d never heard of these guys before and didn’t know what to think when a woman came out on stage but they’re really good!” And he went over and bought the album right after their set, so again, it’s more about being open and willing to give things a chance.
Dom: There also seem to be many women working “behind the scenes” who may not receive the credit they deserve. Have you had a chance to interview any female industry figures for the film?
Mark: You can only fit so much into a film and still have to be coherent and interesting, so a decision was made early on to limit the scope to just vocalists. There are certainly women who are not vocalists that have stories to tell, and hopefully there will be enough support that we can get those out there as well.
Dom: The first public screening will take place at the Female Metal Event in the Netherlands in October. What more can you tell us about that? Are you excited?
Mark: Super excited! I’m one of those people who feels that the theatre experience is still an important part of films, so it’s great to experience it with people in that setting. And of course, having two of the artists who appear in the film perform after the screening makes it really special.
Dom: Will there be more screenings in other countries?
Mark: I certainly hope so. We’re talking to different distributors now about the possibilities of theatrical distribution and also looking into setting up screenings independently. But we could use some help to show people that it’s worthwhile – the more people who sign up for the mailing list or like the Facebook page, the stronger our case becomes when talking to theaters. If you’re interested in having a screening in your area, especially if you’re willing to help set it up, let us know!
Dom: When can we expect to see the film released on DVD?
Mark: The plan is to release the film on DVD in time for holiday shopping this year.
Dom: Will the film be available for streaming online?
Mark: Yes. Once the film is released it will be available for streaming/purchase directly from the website www.womeninmetaldoc.com. We’re planning on making it available through services like iTunes, Amazon, Netflix etc but that most likely will be later on.
Dom: How long does it take to complete such a project? Can you briefly guide us through the process of creating such a documentary?
Mark: A long time. There’s a lot of time spent in researching everything to try and get an idea of where the story is and who the voices to best tell it are. Once that’s done, there’s more research to try and track those people down, contact them and see if they’re interested in participating. Then it becomes a logistical challenge of figuring out when they’re available, where they’re going to be, who else is in the area, making travel plans and so on.
All of this assumes you have the money to make the film in the first place which is not a sure thing either, and if you don’t have it you have to figure out how to get it somehow. Once you’ve got all the planning done, and you’ve figured out how to pay for it, then you have to actually go out and shoot it all, and once that’s done you have to bring it all back safely and see what you’ve actually got, because whatever the story you thought you were doing at the start will have changed significantly by the time you finish. And that’s when the hard part really begins.
The editing process takes a long time, getting music written, licensing music is a HUGE nightmare, and once that’s done there’s post production to clean up the audio, make the video look better, mix everything together…just a huge amount of work, and this is just a rough overview.
Dom: Thank you for your time! Last words are yours.
Mark: Thank you! We know that there will be some people who will say “You didn’t include my favorite singer/band/genre!” and unfortunately it’s just not practical to represent all performers, or even all styles in a single film. But we’ve already got plans to expand upon what we’ve started here, so hopefully there will be enough support from people that we can bring those stories to life as well.