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At Odds With God: „Men are definitely more under pressure“ STALKER series „Women In Rock“
A while back I heard a rock orientated pop song on the radio. The moderator introduced the band by name and immediately added that it consisted of only of women, that it was a girl band. Personally I was wondering how come it still is so special that a band consists of women only, so that it explicitly has to be mentioned? Then I ended up thinking of a musical genre – metal - where it truly is special if there is even just one woman involved in making music.
As far as I know, the fact is that most of the active metal musicians out there simply are men. By the looks of it, most of the consumers are men as well. I feel the aesthetics of metal music are characterized by many features that aren’t traditionally part of the female gender role.
Being of a later generation of metal fans, I´ve come across many accounts of what it was like in times when metal was everything but cool. I have learned to understand that the prejudice towards metal heads was rather strong, especially when it comes to women, as they have been primarily playing the role of a fan, groupie or a girlfriend rather than that of a musician.
Yet there are some women who play metal. Maybe I’m wrong, but my wild guess is that the women involved in metal still are not a common phenomenon and that they provoke reactions, for and against, inside and outside the scene. How is it being a female musician in a field that is dominated by men, and most importantly, what has changed in the reception by the media, fans and fellow musicians over the past few decades?
With these thoughts on my mind I interviewed Nina Saile per e-mail. She is the lead growler of the US death metal band At Odds With God (former STALKER Fresh Act).
The band has been productive – the recordings of the second album are almost finished. Mastering of the new album will take place no further than in Sweden. Naturally after the release, gigs as well as a US East Coast tour are planned. There is no sign of getting tired, since, according to Nina, some of the creative minds of the band are already writing material for the third album. Good news for the European fans of At Odds With God: the band is planning their first Scandinavian tour for next year!
Even though Nina doesn´t report having experienced any discrimination in the field of music, the obviously multi-talented woman has her own view on some gender issues:
“Before I answer your questions, which are mainly ´gender difference´ based, allow me to give you in short my personal view on gender issues, which most probably answers already some of your questions.
In our western society there are still gender issues per se (it´s not my expertise to comment in depths about hard facts and statistics). The law grants women same rights as men (in western society). But traditional values and religion might make it difficult or impossible for certain women to live out this given equality. There are so many examples of women everywhere who prove they can do the same thing as men and have achieved things with the same tactics as men (which are not gender related tactics).In general I think, it’s more one´s personality and behavior that are unfortunately labeled feminine and masculine and therefore cause silent or outspoken discrimination in some cases. And the interesting thing is, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual physical gender attributes (more or less muscles, tits, dicks and so on) one was born with.
In my opinion attributes that are misguidingly labeled as feminine (in society =“soft or weak”) are for example passive, introverted, nurturing, slow, mysterious, emotional, dependent, romantic etc. whereas attributes that are misguidingly labeled as masculine (in society =“strong”) are active, extroverted, rapid, functional, rational, energetic, independent, aggressive and so on. Anyhow, every one of us has a unique mix of these “masculine” and “feminine” aspects. For example a man is still a man if he is introvert, nurturing and soft or romantic… A woman is still a woman if she is extrovert, rational, energetic or aggressive.
In societies where patriarchal standards are the norm the more “masculine” behavior you have the more power you are granted on a superficial level. Then if you look at the opposite, such as matriarchal societies it’s the opposite and lacking equality just the same… If we would forget about physical gender differences and stop labeling “masculine” and “feminine” behavior we could stop comparison and stop judging and stop behaving the way we (or some ) do.
I have been living by this theory of mine for a long time and therefore my personal experience as woman has been maybe different than other women. What you think about yourself reflects directly in how people react towards you. If you think you are something special just because you are a woman then people will hook on that. So far, I have not felt discriminated by the fact that I am a woman and I also have not been put up on a pedestal for being a woman by colleagues, fans, friends nor others. “
So by now it should be clear that we won´t get to read a survival story about a woman fighting her way in a man´s world. Before actually answering my questions Nina sums up that she never had the feeling that a woman in the metal scene would provoke a negative reaction and should a woman get any extra attention just by being a woman, it too is just normal human behavior. Tough, Nina writes, it surely is more preferable that a female musician gets attention because she is talented and not just because she is good looking… To refer to my introduction, Nina writes that she believes that it is the media that likes to make a big deal about a female metal musician; still it is simply something different and therefore it can be used to get more interested readers. In her view, the fans and the musicians already might be quite fed up with gender related issues.
Nonetheless here is what Nina answered to my questions about being an active musician in a male dominant scene.
First let me get this right: You are a sound engineer, singer-songwriter and a visual artist? You have lived in Europe, in Sweden and in Germany and at the moment you live in the United States, in Florida?
Yes that’s all correct. The only thing missing is that I am also a graphic designer and film/effects editor.
For how long are you – in one way or another – involved in metal music?
As a fan: a long time. But my musical career I started actually as an electronica producer and engineer about 12 years ago. Shortly after I got interested in working/recording/mixing bands (during internships in Recording Studios) and produced a project that was a mix between punk-metallish and electronica. That’s where I started experimenting with my own voice and the feedback from musician and producer friends and the fun I had screaming encouraged me to take this serious from then on. So eventually I took singing lessons, where the main focus was breathing and that opened a door for me going deeper and deeper in my vocal range until I ended up growling. I joined At Odds With God six or seven years ago (I can´t remember exact year right now) when they just started writing death metal and I found my match (musically and personality-wise); my band mates are like real brothers to me.
I keep on going with sound engineering too and still run a recording studio (that´s mainly recorded metal bands) recording/mixing and mastering bands.
What is your earliest memory of metal music? Were you introduced to the music by someone?
My earliest memory of metal was the first metal gig I attended when I was 12 …which was the German band Scorpions. From then on I started listening to metal, but nothing heavy heavy. Many of my friends have introduced me over time to different metal bands, but only about 10 years ago I started to get hooked on death metal and from there on started developing my own favorites list, which grows to this day.
Can you recall any specific reactions by the environment as you said/showed that you preferred harder music?
No specific reaction at all. Only support. Since I was 5 my family has been used to my rather extreme taste in things be it music, art, clothing or anything else. My mom was listening to Hendrix and Janis when I was a baby and she still does besides having turned into a metal head herself (she goes to gigs and the other day she enjoyed listening to Pestilence and claimed that it was sounding like classical music with distortion). I was and still am really lucky because my parents always supported anything I was interested in especially if it was to do with something eccentric or creative.
How did the audience and the media react to the fact that there was a front woman instead of a front man? Has something changed over the years? (Many times one hears that female singers or instrumentalists are often mistaken for girlfriends/groupies or they even are advised how to do their jobs)
The reaction in the media was that At Odds With God has a female singer (growler). In the audience once in a while a facial expression like… “is that really a girl growling?” But usually the reaction by fans is based on At Odds With God music and performance than anything else. I was never mistaken as being a fan/girlfriend for some reason. Maybe it´s just my personality and the way I behave in general?
Do you think that metal music can still today offer a woman an alternative and different social role compared to a man? Is it more rebellious to be a female metal head than a male metal head?
Well I don’t think this is only in metal like that, but in general in western society. We women can jump into so many more roles than men these days and get less judged than men, just start with clothing and even behavior or sexual preference. It seems to be more accepted or tolerated if a woman expresses herself differently and steps out from the pack.
Notwithstanding women’s issues and women’s rights have to be still fought for in other parts of this world and awareness should be on the agenda in order to change things for good.
Think about this… maybe there is a time for a men’s liberation movement soon… Men are definitely more under pressure in our society to be, behave and look a certain way (talking traditional values here too) than women these days. That’s just a personal observation. But to answer your question directly, yes I think a woman in metal (fan or musician) has more alternative role options than a man in metal (fan or musician).
Do you think a woman has to be stripped of her sexuality to be taken seriously?
No I don’t think a woman has to be stripped of her sexuality to be taken seriously. Talent is what counts to be taken seriously. Talent is not determined by sex, sexual preference and neither should it get valued as better or less good because of a musician´s gender.
Could you think of any reason why there appear to be more male metal musicians and fans than women?
Women’s liberation and equality is only over a century old in our western society, so they have some catching up to do to fill the ranks to have good or equal presence.
One other factor could be that many women just don’t like loud, brutal or aggressive sounding music. And the third factor might be that metal is still considered underground to the masses…so there might be a lot of women (and men) out there that would love metal, but have not had the chance to listen to it. Mainstream media and radio creates the taste for the mass population, that’s just a fact.
Apparently it is common attitude that a woman becomes „one of the guys“ as she is treated as an equal with men but it sounds a bit weird if a man becomes „one of the girls“ when he is treated equally (one of my favorite clichés). Do you think that a woman has to be „one of the guys” to be accepted in a male dominant field? (Is this a silly question?!)
Ha-ha, I like this one. I have been labeled a macho many times by friends, partners, colleagues and strangers. It makes me smile. Because it does not seem to be my looks, which are more feminine than masculine I would say.
Here is how I see this:
I am physically a woman and spiritually an energy that is sexless (like everybody else’s).
On this Earth, in this life and this body I love being exactly who I am: a woman– no penis envy for me guys! Don’t get me wrong, I love men, but I absolutely love to be a woman.
The definition of being independent, confident, strong headed and extroverted does not make me nor any other woman a man or pretend to be a man. These are all false concepts and traditional value thinking. Yes unfortunately that comes from the past thousands of years were these adjectives have been mostly attributed to a human that has a penis. We have to start seeing things from a different perspective…
Respect for anybody and anything, no matter how “different”, can only be achieved if we stop putting value stamps on things.
By the way, in the metal world I have only received respect and truly genuine support from male and female musicians, fans and others. It seems that the metal people overall are all like a big family and wherever you go be it Europe, Asia, North- or South America… Support and respect between each other as metal heads and metal colleagues.
I don’t know if I answered your question actually…
Do you think you, as a woman, had/have to work harder to gain respect and trust of other people when it comes to knowing your field as a musician or as a sound engineer?
No, I personally think it is the same for men or women. The talent counts. That will get you the respect no matter if you are a woman or a man. Hard work is part of the whole process to get respect, but again the same for women or men.
Does the feedback you get from female fans differ from the feedback you get from male fans?
In general there is no difference when its feedback from metal fans that listen to what’s out there metal-wise (many girls in bands by now as I said). What’s different is mainly girls ask me how I can growl that deep and what technique I have and how started being a death metal singer. Occasionally I get the…”yeah women’s power”…”you showed it to the guys that girls can be monstrous too”…or something like that.
Do you feel that you are a role model for other women or girls or do you feel that you are somehow paving the way for the future female musicians?
There are so many women out there in metal by now and there have been women before me that actually have paved the way for female metal vocalists. Like all the other women out there in metal, I could be maybe be an inspiration for another woman due to my vocals and At Odds With God’s music …but I really don’t want to take on the responsibility of being a role model for future female musicians. I leave that up to others…
Would you like to see more women on the stage in the future?
I would like to see more talented and unique musicians on stage no matter of their sex. But yes of course since women are still minority in metal music, I would love to see more women as long they have talent.
Is it actually even relevant to talk about the „position of a woman” in the metal scene? Is there anything you’d like to see change?
I am not sure. For me personally it is irrelevant to talk about the position of a woman in metal. As long as one make an issue out of “being different” and see this as a competition as long as it will be or creates an issue. Musical and artistic talent, authenticity and the being yourself is what matters to me whether it comes from a man or a woman.
I believe if you love what you are doing, if you are honest to yourself and others in what you are doing and you are determined, you will achieve anything no matter if you are a woman or a man in this world. And that’s what I love about life!