For the past few years I've worked in the same building with a guy named Matthew. I would say we work for the same company - which we do - but that might give the impression that we have a lot of close contact. In truth, I have little occasion to enter his department of the Missoulian: He works in classified advertising, on a different floor of the building. Nevertheless, I've met Matthew in passing in the break room. I also knew that he was a friend of a good friend of mine, a woman who seems to keep company with a good number of gay men.
Matthew is thin, exceptionally well-groomed and almost unnaturally pleasant in demeanor; so it didn't take much of a leap for me to assume that he fit in with my friends' friends.
Turns out, I was completely wrong about his sexuality. But Matthew does have a secret home life, one that was - to me - rather a shock: He plays guitar in an industrial-metal band.
Paint me all scribbly-headed.
My exposure to industrial-metal has been that of most Americans: Every once in awhile, my unsuspecting ears are pummeled and grated by an unholy din that leaves them ringing in protest for a few hours afterward. I haven't ever intentionally attended a show by an industrial bands, though I've accidentally stumbled into (and, quickly, out of) a few. I don't hang with the crowd. I simply don't get it.
Though I like to think of myself as musically open-minded - my Christmas mix CD last year included piano ballads, modernist classical music, some hip-hop, some Radiohead, and a Willie Nelson tune - I've never found anything to grab onto in industrial or other hardcore flavors of metal. The lyrics are often offensive and always unintelligible; the "singing" makes the Cookie Monster sound musical; the guitars employ one sound (distorted) and one playing style (chugging power-chords); the drums are all speed and no subtlety.
The resulting effect, to me, is a hateful offense to the ear.
But now there's a problem with all of that, and that problem is Matthew. How does a good-natured guy like him fit in with a noise like that? I ruminated on the conundrum for a few months, until this week, when Matthew dropped off a new CD by his band, Walking Corpse Syndrome.
Clearly it was time for a chat; so Matthew and I sat down during his lunch hour and talked metal. (For a complete transcript of our conversation, see this post at Nickellbag.com.)
Q: I recognize that I come from another planet when it comes to this type of music. What do you think I'm missing at a fundamental level about what you do?
Matthew: Not to be down on myself, but I don't think you're missing anything. I just think that there are so many different viewpoints and people; so the fact that you don't like it, that's OK with me. We're not on a crusade to make everyone like Cookie Monster vocals.
But there is this vast spectrum of emotions and experiences. If you think about the movie world, if you're like most people, you go from a comedy to a horror to an action flick; and you don't condemn an entire genre just because you don't like one movie. So if you think of our music in movie terms, you might say that we're more like the creepy stuff, like "Silence of the Lambs," rather than the Rob Zombie-type of horror; we're into a creepy, darker psychological vibe.
In my job, I'm nice to people all day long and I'm a friendly person; but there is that dark side to me that has to have an outlet. So instead of going out and getting drunk and getting into fights like some people might do, I play this music to release my emotions.
Q: I know that I sound like an old prude when I ask this, but I think there are plenty of people in the world who wonder the same thing: How do you reconcile your love of music with the kind of aggressive and seemingly angry sounds that the band makes?
Matthew: There are all sorts of artists and reasons people do art. The stuff here on the walls (he gestures at a group of scenic Montana photos), this is more to brighten the room and create a calming environment. There's room for that, and that kind of music too. Then there's the anguished music, the music of the tortured artist, the means of escape and grappling with and dealing with the world. We're more on the lines of the modernists. … We do this because it's our way of grappling with issues and dealing with our problems. I really like David Lynch movies, a lot of people hate them; but his movies are still about the classic story where the hero goes into the underworld and discovers something about himself and comes back. Movies like that, or music like ours, give a person a safe means to discover a core part of themselves without having to go out on the journey or the quest. You can just hear it through the music.
Q: What do your friends and co-workers say when they find out you're in a metal band?
Matthew: A lot of people are surprised. … I've had to develop a basis of explaining this, and explaining that this is a positive influence on me even if it sounds negative. It's allowing me a creative outlet. I'm different from a lot of people, I've known that for a very long time; so for me to find a genre of music or art that allows me to express myself, it's very cathartic.
Q: I see that you have 346 Myspace friends, which is about 340 more than I have. The media - OK, maybe just the Entertainer - tends to paint metal as an antisocial subculture. In fact, it seems like it's a very tight-knit scene, at least locally.
Matthew: I think that the Missoula metal scene is at the best it's ever been. When I moved here in 2000 … there were only a few bands, and they didn't really play together too much. Since then, Missoula's scene has grown a lot, in part due to Cherie (Fullerton) at Demonlily Entertainment. She helps all of us out so much in terms of organizing shows and getting the word out … . Now in the metal scene, we all know each other and go to barbecues together. … And we talk to each other, which is something that doesn't really happen outside Missoula.
Q: You have a very thoughtful attitude about what you do - which is something I can't always say about musicians in any genre.
Matthew: We're intensely self-deprecating. We joke around and poke fun at ourselves, because if you don't take this music with a grain of salt it can seem too intense. We realize we're a small band in Montana, in a town where a lot of people still don't get this music; so we can't be too high on ourselves.
Reach Joe Nickell at 523-5358 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walking Corpse Syndrome will release its new CD, "Forsaken," in a performance this Saturday, June 21, at the Palace Lounge. Admission is $7; it's a 21-and-over show, and begins at 9 p.m. The band will also perform an all-ages show earlier that day at the Deer Lodge Skatepark, as a fundraiser for the park. That show begins at 3 p.m.