by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —
Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal is a newly released photo-journalistic book by Jill Hughes Kirtland. It features in-depth interviews with the likes of Lita Ford, Doro Pesch, Betsy Bitch, Roxy Petrucci, Angela Gossow, Sharon den Adel, Cristina Scabia etc., the most influential women in rock and metal, as well as several women working behind-the-scenes of the music industry – an obligatory item on each and every rock/metal fan’s reading list! The book’s release and its recent coverage on Hardrock Haven was a good occasion to get to know the women behind the project, Jill Hughes Kirtland herself – a rock fan, a successful music journalist and band manager.
Hardrock Haven: Difficult though it is to answer – what are your personal highlights of Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal? Are there any particularly outstanding statements you managed to gather, or maybe the entire chapters you’re the most proud of?
JHK: I really enjoyed interviewing all of the amazing musicians out there and hearing all their stories, but I did have some favorite interviews out of the over 100 women I interviewed (musicians, behind the scenes women, and fans). If I had to pick just one, my favorite interview was with Charlotte Wessels. Our schedules kept clashing so I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to interview her. Then I went to the Netherlands on vacation to visit a friend and Charlotte said why don’t we try to meet up while I am over there. She lived not too far from my friend so on one very windy cold day in November, my friend drove me to Utrecht to meet up with Charlotte in a café. First we got lost, then we had trouble finding parking so I was running very late to meet with her. It was not starting out to be a good day. The café was noisy but Charlotte & I sat there by the heaters drinking coffee and tea, and just had an amazing conversation. She had so many great stories to tell. She’s also a very smart woman, and because her major in school is gender studies she had some great insight into what I was writing about and I learned a lot from her that day that helped inform some of what I wrote about in my book. I wish I could have included so many more of her quotes in the book but I needed room for the other ladies! Maybe someday I’ll write a blog article to share the rest of that interview. So my favorite quotes were probably of hers, about how she used to go to a club that played metal music when she was younger and it was called The Doctor and so she used to write notes to get out of school because she had to go to “the “doctor”. And she had some great stories about how a label treated her and wanted her to show more skin during a photo shoot. She did something very clever to show them what she thought of that. I won’t give it all away – read the book!
Hardrock Haven: Where did the idea for Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal come from? Was an initial vision of the book pretty much the same as the result of your work, or did it evolve into something different?
JHK: I used to run an online magazine called USA Progressive Music. I would interview lots of progressive rock and metal musicians. I started to get more and more interested in interviewing female metal musicians and felt like my magazine was not the right outlet for that because of its focus on prog, so I sold the magazine. I thought maybe I’d just start another website and just focus on interviews of female metal musicians and reviews of female-fronted bands’ albums, but there were already sites like that. But what I noticed was that there weren’t really any book publications on the topic so this was a good opportunity. I had a set of about 10 questions I asked every person. I wasn’t sure at first how I would use those interviews but then I realized since I used the same generic questions in every interview it really lent itself to what my chapters would be. Some questions fit into the ‘history/evolution’ chapter, some questions fit into the ‘challenges’ chapter, some questions fit into the ‘triumphs’ chapter and the others into the ‘female community’ or ‘advice’ chapters. As I was putting the book together it all fell into place very nicely. I decided that I would let the quotes from the women tell the story of each chapter and not write too much narrative around it because I wanted it to be their voices, not mine. I think the biggest addition was adding in the ‘behind the scenes’ ladies and the ‘fans around the world’ section. There were moments where I thought maybe I’d just leave those for another book, but I decided to include it in this edition after all.
Hardrock Haven: Please tell more about the process of collecting the interviews and photographs for the book.
JHK: I already had a lot of contacts with labels and publicists because of my former online magazine and also being a band manager so I used those connections to set-up the interviews and get photo passes to concerts. I already been taking photos at concerts for a few years so I had the basics down, but I upgraded my camera equipment for this book since I wanted the photos to be more professional and be a big part of the book. The interviews were conducted based on where the location of the artist was, their availability and preference so I did them via phone, email and in-person. I have to say the better interviews were obviously in-person but it was much easier to process that many interviews because I had so many done via email so I didn’t have to take the time to transcribe them. I did have to outsource some of the transcription because there were just too many to do on my own. I also reached out to some concert photographers I knew personally to ask them for some photos of some of the women that I was unable to attend their shows. I did travel over to Belgium in 2012 to the Metal Female Voices Fest so I could take more photos and do a few more interviews, especially of the bands that don’t come to the U.S. often. It was a weekend full of opportunity to get a lot of content with a room full of female metal musicians and over 20 female-fronted bands performing!
Hardrock Haven: One thing about Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal is the honesty of all the interlocutors. How difficult it was to coax such intimate interviews from the artists (and non-artists as well)? Were all of them so open and candid in the beginning?
JHK: I really did not have any issues getting the artists to tell their stories. I think that many of them understood that this was their opportunity to tell about their challenges and triumphs of being in the industry. There were a few people I interviewed who swear they did not encounter any adversity as a woman and that everything was just wonderful. I find that hard to believe, but I left it at that. I try to just have a conversation with the person as if they were one of my friends, rather than make it feel like a formal interview. Of course I have a canned set of questions I ask, but I think if everyone is comfortable then you can have better dialogue and get more out of the interviewee.
Hardrock Haven: While collecting the material for the book, was there anything that surprised you, or anything you never expected to happen?
JHK: I think I was more surprised at the number of people who were willing to be interviewed for the book, and who was willing to be interviewed and who was not. I won’t mention names but there were some whose management would not cooperate to let me interview their artist. It was quite disappointing when that happened especially since I am a big fan of the one artist. And another person who declined, I was like, ‘what does she have to lose?’ It didn’t make sense to me especially since so many artists who were bigger than her were willing to be interviewed.
Hardrock Haven: How specific do you think Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal is? Is it for rock/metal fans familiar with the scene and the interviewed artists only – or is it just a part of a bigger discourse, in which non-metalheads can be also interested?
JHK: It’s funny. I just had this conversation with my husband tonight. I told him his mother bought a copy of the book, and he’s like ‘really?!’ Of course she bought it because I wrote it, but we realized that non-metalheads may buy the book as well especially since Lita Ford and Lzzy Hale are in the book and they are more mainstream these days. I think that the book can be accessible to everyone. They can read some interesting stories and maybe they’ll want to check out the music! But obviously it’ll be way more relevant to those who are into metal and know the bands I am talking about. I think they’ll appreciate it more because they already have some context.
Hardrock Haven: Aren’t you afraid of the book being labeled as “yet another” discourse of contemporary feminism? With the word ‘feminism’ being pretty ambiguous nowadays, what does feminism – and female empowerment – means to you personally?
JHK: You know I don’t really think of this book as a feminist book. Sure there is a lot of underlying text around feminism in the book because it’s about women and their struggles in the metal music industry, but to me it’s more than that. To me it’s a book to showcase the music and the female musicians behind it. I also want to set this for the record, I am not a hardcore feminist like you may think of – out in the street protesting, burning bras. I know there are some differences between men and women, and there are some things that I think men are better at than women, and vice versa, but I am still for women being treated equally as men, not as second-rate citizens and not as sex objects all the time. I not only work in the music industry but I also work in the corporate business world, and it’s the same there. I see men get promotions over women who have not even done the same quality of work, or women get paid less for doing the same job, or women’s ideas not being heard, or women treating other women poorly because of the competition of trying to climb the ladder when so few women actually are able to achieve it. I bet the ratio of the amount of female metal musicians versus male musicians is probably very similar to the amount of female business leaders versus male business leaders. I just wish it wasn’t that way and so maybe that makes me a feminist.
Hardrock Haven: Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal can be said to examine gender relations in metal music. Is it the topic you as an author would like to explore further, or maybe you’d rather switch to something else?
JHK: I don’t know if I’ll conduct any more interviews on this topic. I probably will continue to discuss it on my blog site (www.thewomeninmetal.com) to help promote my book but probably nothing more beyond that. I haven’t decided what I am going to do next!
Hardrock Haven: Is there any follow-up book to Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women In Metal planned? Anything in the works, or at least a vague idea for the next book?
JHK: I am pretty exhausted after writing this one! I have to focus on some personal stuff before I think about writing another book. And we’ll also see how well this one takes off. I have had some writer and photographer friends contact me saying they’d like to collaborate with me on another book, but I told them I need a break until I am ready to pursue another book project. This was a major undertaking and I spent a lot of time and money on it, on top of my day job and starting a family.
Hardrock Haven: The majority of women interviewed for the book are rock/metal artists. Hence, a question – who are your personal favorites as far as the genre of metal is considered? Any favorite singers, female role models…?
JHK: If we’re talking about just females, my favorite female metal vocalist has always been Sharon den Adel. Within Temptation was the first female-fronted symphonic metal band I ever got into. I’ve actually interviewed Sharon twice (once for my online magazine and then for the book) in-person and she’s just a really great person. And of course Doro. She’s not only an amazingly strong woman who I think is one of the few that people don’t really see her gender when she is on stage. She’s really helped paved the way for women in metal and she’s such a beautiful person in the inside. She loves her fans so much. Although not metal, I would say my biggest inspiration is definitely Ann Wilson from Heart. I am a huge Heart fan, and was considering interviewing her for the book but then I thought, well, she’s more “rock” and she’s in a lot of books already. I wanted to steer away from doing something that has already been done. I wanted to include people who don’t normally get a lot of exposure. And people might say, ‘oh but you have Lita Ford’. But if you look at Women in Rock books, usually it’s Joan Jett who gets all the glory. Lita has contributed a lot to metal and she doesn’t get recognized for it very often. And she was also another one who was one of my favorite interviews!
Hardrock Haven: Now let’s switch to music journalism, an important part of your life and career. Apart from your recent book release – what do you consider your greatest achievement as a journalist?
JHK: I had a lot of success with my online magazine USA Progressive Music. I had some pretty big names in progressive rock compliment me on the site and mention it in public as a “premiere resource for progressive rock news, interviews and reviews.” I met so many people through running that site and some of them became some of my closest friends. I am proud of it, but after four years it was time for me to do something different, like write this book!
Hardrock Haven: How did your adventure with journalism start?
JHK: My adventure with journalism started my freshman year of high school (14 years old) when I joined my high school newspaper staff! I was really into journalism then. I went to journalism conferences and a journalism camp in the summer, and when I was a senior I was the editor-in-chief of my newspaper and literary magazine. I did not pursue journalism as a major in college, but I did write for the college newspaper for a couple years. If you read my professional bio on my website and book jacket, the first musician I ever interviewed was Edgar Meyer, who is a Grammy award-winning classical upright bass player (plays with Yo-Yo Ma). Music and writing have always been a big part of my life, so it’s logical to now merge them together!
Hardrock Haven: A slightly cheeky thing I always ask my fellow rock journalist about is the comment on Frank Zappa’s (in)famous quote about music journalism which goes as follows: “People who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t talk, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read” …
JHK: That’s awfully presumptuous of him. I don’t even know how to respond to that – he obviously didn’t have a very high opinion of music journalists! I have read some comments on sites since my book has been announced slandering music journalists and how they twist people’s words. I pride myself on being a truthful journalist, not out to slander anyone to make a buck, but of course the media has a bad reputation and it can happen.
Hardrock Haven: Are there any professional magazine writers or journalists whom you consider/ed your role models? What are your favorite music magazine titles?
JHK: Liz Ciavarella-Brenner who I interviewed for the book is a very good journalist. She used to be the editor of Metal Maniacs magazine. We’ve become good acquaintances over the years. I don’t really read a lot of print magazines these days. I do subscribe to Classic Rock Presents Prog because I am into progressive rock and metal. I pick up a copy of Revolver or Decibel on occasion but only if a band I like is on the cover. I mostly get my metal music news from online. Through the Facebook feeds of bands or my friends, from Blabbermouth.net or Bravewords.com, or the press releases I get in my email from various publicists and labels.
Hardrock Haven: What are your next plans considering the book’s promotion?
JHK: I have a book launch party on April 3rd at Roxy & Duke’s in Dunellen, New Jersey. That is a big promotional event to celebrate the release of the book. I’ll also include people who can’t attend by having a hashtag twitter party (#NotJustTitsinaCorset) that night with women in metal trivia and you can win prizes. One of my friends is trying to set-up a live video stream of the event as well. There will be 3 bands playing that night (A Sound of Thunder, Mindmaze and Flames of Fury). And the rest of the time just trying to get as many reviews and interviews to promote the book. I am working with a great publicist who is also Lita Ford’s publicist. I would love to speak at the MEOW conference or attend a few festivals to do some book signings, but we shall see.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you very much for the interview, good luck with the book and all the best!
JHK: You’re welcome – thanks for interviewing me!
You can purchase it here: http://www.jillkirtland.com/?page_id=631