'Metal Evolution' Director Talks Canada, Alice Cooper and Satan
There is not much Banger Films' Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden don't know about metal. The Canadian filmmakers began their historical and psychological dig into the oft maligned music genre with the intelligent and respectful 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey' in 2005 and followed it with the socio-political culture-crossing 'Global Metal' in 2008.
The focused 'Iron Maiden: Flight 666' and 'Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage' came next, and now a comprehensive 11-part made-for-TV series, 'Metal Evolution,' which already started airing on VH1 Classic in the States in Canada on MuchMoreMusic on Nov. 25.
Noisecreep talked with Dunn about metal, of course, more metal, Canadian metal, Alice Cooper, Satan, and babies.
You have a Masters in anthropology. How have you applied that degree to your filmmaking career and choice of subject?
It's really most relevant to the first film, 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey,' which was told through that lens of me, as one half metal fan and one half anthropologist. Because we wanted to find a way to create the film that wasn't just going to appeal to a metal audience, we thought, "Well treating metal as a tribe and as a culture could be a way to pique people's interest." So it gave us an opportunity to broaden the audience for the show and tell a story about it that wasn't just a big pat on the back for heavy metal, but was rather an exploration of the culture and the controversy and the misunderstandings around metal music.
Is there a story or some kind of impact that you can assess whether or not you accomplished that for people outside of the metal community?
Kerry King, the notorious guitar player for Slayer, his wife is a good friend of ours (Scot and I) and I remember when she came up to us and said, 'You know I've been married to Kerry King for many years and never have my parents understood what the hell it is that he does for a living, but when I showed my parents the first movie, 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey,' they were like, 'Okay, yeah, I think we get it.' [laughs]. So I think that the first film was pretty successful in bringing the non-fan into the metal world and presenting it in a way that was accessible. People may not necessarily come away from the film loving heavy metal, but at least they'll have a better understanding of what it is.
How has your love and your passion for metal changed the more you research it?
For me, I guess my love for the music has deepened in a lot of ways. When you're a teenager growing up listening to metal, you love it because of the sound and the energy and the power of the music, but as time has passed and we've done these films, I certainly gained a deeper understanding for how much it means to people, and not just the fans but the musicians. Take guys like Black Sabbath who grew up in pretty dire circumstances in working-class Birmingham in the '60s and '70s; I think this music was a way for them to deal with their surroundings - and get out, get out of dingy Birmingham [laughs]. So certainly doing these films has broadened ours and hopefully audience's perspective on how much the music actually has an impact on people's lives.
Would you say that's the chief thing you learned about it or is there something else you didn't know before?
Well, I've learned a hell of a lot about metal [laughs], a lot more than what I knew. I think that when you're a fan of the music, you just love the bands that you know and you follow the bands that you're passionate about and you go to the shows that you want to see, but especially after doing 'Metal Evolution,' which is 11 one-hour episodes on the history of metal, I've learned a lot more about how like a band like the MC5 from Detroit was a really important band in establishing heavy music in America in the '60s, learned that the Black Sabbath guys grew up listening to jazz music and that was hugely influential on them. So I've certainly learned a lot about how metal is connected to other styles of music and to the rise of counter-culture in the '60s too.
So for people who have seen 'Metal: A Headbanger's Journey' and 'Global Metal,' is 'Metal Evolution' more about the interconnectedness of that genre with other genres of music, and less about the respect for the genre and more about its influence?
Yeah, the first two films were really more about the culture of the music, the controversy of the music, the lifestyle that surrounds the music and the misunderstandings that people on the outside have about metal. 'Metal Evolution' is a historical journey that takes you from Gustav Holst, the classical composer [b.1874-d.1934], right up to contemporary metal bands, and about how the sound of metal has changed over time. And those different sounds are represented as different sub-genres of metal, so you have thrash metal, and glam metal and nu-metal and grunge and so on. I think what we've learned is that these are all just stages in the development of metal music and how the sound has transformed over time because of technology, because of different influences seeping into the music, and all sorts of different things. So I think the real main differences is that this a story about the history of the sound of metal.
Is there anything left for you to uncover about metal?
Not much [laughs]. The series covered a lot of ground. Each episode is really its own mini documentary on each sub-genre. There are 26 sub-genres on the family tree and we cover I think 11, so there's a few out there. But whether you can tell an interesting story about Goth metal, I'm not sure yet.
That's Liisa's department [Liisa Ladouceur, a researcher on many Banger Films projects, including 'Metal Evolution,' has just released a book, 'Encyclopedia Gothica,' which contains a Goth Band Tree].
Yeah, Liisa would beg to differ.
Where does Canadian metal fit into the Evolution?
Canadian musicians appear in all sorts of different episodes of the series. Even go back to the second episode which is called Early Metal U.S., John Kay spend some of his formative years growing up in Canada and was part of the whole Yorkville movement and he, of course, went on to form Steppenwolf and it was the first time that heavy metal was used in a song ['Born to Be Wild']. So it's a pretty important role there. And of course, you take a band like Rush, who is featured heavily in our episode on progressive metal, they were the first band to take the hard rock of Led Zeppelin and the Who and combine it with British prog-rock, bands like Genesis and Yes. So they were combining musical styles that had never really been combined before. So Canadians are a pretty important part of the story.
What other Canadian acts are in there - from Voivod to Sebastian Bach?
You can't avoid Sebastian. He's such a dynamic character. He appears in the first episode. He also appears in the episode that we did on glam metal. Voivod, unfortunately, a band that's very dear to my heart and was a band that I grew up listening to, we just struggled to find a way to make them work in the progressive metal episode. We've talked about doing an episode on the bands that we just can't fit anywhere [laughs], that just defy categorization, and I think Voivod is definitely one of those bands.
Maybe concept metal bands?
Exactly. They were one-part Metallica, death metal and they were into obscure prog-bands like Gentle Giant and Genesis, but they were writing about science fiction and otherworldly themes. So Voivod has their own category [laughs].
In Canada, the government gives grants to [eligible] arts projects from film to music. Explain to international readers how you were able to get funding in the early days for a film on metal music?
Well it comes through a combination of distribution, both theatrical and for TV broadcast, and then we do some funds from the Canadian government through a tax credit system and they have the Canadian Television Fund, CTF. So if you can picture a pie chart, it comes from a whole bunch of different sources, but definitely on several of the projects that we've done the Canadian government has supported what we've done. I never thought when I was a 12-year-old kid listening to death metal that I'd say that the Canadian government would be funding metal, but, hey, times have changed [laughs].
Tell us about the Alice Cooper documentary you're doing now.
We know Alice through various projects that we've done. We interviewed Alice for 'Headbanger's Journey.' He's also featured pretty prominently in two episodes of 'Metal Evolution,' both in Shock Rock and Early Metal U.S. He's a pretty fascinating character, who has been through a lot in his life. He's one of those musicians that maybe he hasn't had a hit in a long time, but every knows who Alice Cooper is because of his influence on pop culture and the big songs he had in the '70s.
Big Canadian connection too.
Yeah, definitely, with [producer] Bob Ezrin working with him on his big hit songs like 'I'm Eighteen.' We're in the early stages of telling the story of his career. We're probably going to focus in on his early years up to his comeback in the '80s. We're exploring a different stylist approach with this film. It won't be talking heads; it's going to be more of an archival and animated journey through his career. He's such a rich visual artist, it makes so much sense to try and do it in a different way. I think we're just a little bit sick of doing talking head interviews, to be honest [laughs], after doing 300 of them for 'Metal Evolution.' So it's really the story of Alice's career from the '60s right up to the '80s and everything he went through - the ups and the downs, battles with alcoholism, being raised in a Christian family, rebelling against that but then coming back to faith later in his career, and moving from town to town, and trying to find his place.
So that's what you're busy with now and you have a doc on Satan, right?
Yeah, we're doing that [Alice] and we're in the research and writing phrase for a feature doc on Satan.
Will he appear?
We hope so. We're looking for him; if you find him let us know. Top of the list for the research tasks [laughs]. Yeah, it's really a modern history of Satan. We're going to focus on the 1960s to present-day, and not so much tell the biblical story of Satan, but rather how Satan, as a figure and a concept, has become quite powerful through film, music, literature and TV. So it's a film about Satan, but we're trying to give it the Banger touch.
When do you think each of those will be released?
At this stage, our goal for Alice Cooper would be TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival, September] next year. That would be the ideal scenario, and then for Satan, it would be a little bit after that. We're looking at early 2013. We don't know what festival we're going to aim for yet. We'd love to get into Sundance or Berlin or some of the other festivals.
I always thought a documentary on Def Leppard's Rick Allen would be inspiring – about overcoming what might be perceived as the worst tragedy to happen to a drummer, losing an arm, but his commitment and unwavering support of his bandmates.
It's funny you should ask about 'Metal Evolution.' He's not in there, but [frontman] Joe Elliott and [guitarist] Phil Collen are a big part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal episode."
What about your own band? Did you give that up a couple of years ago never to return?
Sadly, Burn to Black sits in the dust at the moment. The band broke up in 2008. Band members left town, band members got busy with careers and I just became a father last week.
Boy, girl, Satan?
And was he born with long hair?
No, no. We're working on the baby mullet.
'Metal Evolution' is premiering its second episode this weekend in the States and the series will kick off in Canada on Nov. 25.