DATE OF INTERVIEW:
17th February 2009
METAL DISCOVERY: Metal bands have always experienced more criticism and controversy for using violent imagery than, say, horror movies or novels, whereas it’s all art, surely. Why do you think violent imagery is more acceptable in certain art forms more than music?
ALEX WEBSTER: Well you know what it is, it’s…you know, I really don’t hold that much of a grudge against these censorship kind of people just because they don’t know any better in a way, and music has been less of a story telling thing throughout the ages, I guess. We’re creating fictional horror stories that we’re detached from on an emotional level most of the time. We’re not relating to the serial killer in ‘Skewered from Ear to Eye’; I don’t want to do the things he’s doing, where most music is like a love song or something like that, or a story about something happened where you’re really supposed to relate to it, and the singer’s supposed to be singing and kind of narrating a story that he’s telling, and that he wants you to relate to…and that’s not what we’re doing. We’re looking at it the same way like a Clive Barker or someone would look at their horror novels and it’s an interesting story, here it is, take it for what it is, but we’re not saying this is a message and we want you to follow what’s on the pages of these books. Horror movies and books, it’s more clear, but because music has been used as some kind of a medium to express a person’s emotions through the lyrics, like some people look at our lyrics and go like, well, these people must be out of their minds. You know, and we’ve gone to great lengths to explain that it is much more like a horror movie the way a horror movie maker or horror novel author would approach it, which is a story that we’re telling. We’re not promoting it and we’re not emotionally attached to these characters in any way. A guy writing a love song might be writing it thinking about his ex-girlfriend so it’s very personal in that way. To me, what’s personal about death metal is not the lyrics but the music - like the aggressive feeling and just getting the aggression out. I could be quite content to play instrumental death metal because it’s the music far more than the lyrics that is really expressing, you know…
(Alex Webster on what he would chose to censor in the world)
"I’d probably put a ban on all of that four-on-the-floor dance music, you know, the boom-boom-boom-boom…just for one day! One day without that shit!"
Alex in his dressing room backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, 17th February 2009
Photograph copyright © 2009 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Where you’re coming from…
AW: Yeah, exactly, and those things are hard to put into words - that’s why we play them as music.
MD: Of course, that’s a very good answer too. Do you think it’s the case that repressing violent imagery, like in Disney movies, for example, that represent the world as a perfect, nice place with perfect closure blah, blah, blah, can be more damaging to the psyche than explicit representations of violence?
AW: That’s possible, I mean I’m not an expert in that area but I definitely think that showing people the facts sometimes definitely makes them hate violence even though they’ve just witnessed it as part of entertainment. Actually, just for example, the other night we watched ‘Braveheart’ and, at the end, Mel Gibson’s character being eviscerated…I don’t think I’m doing a spoiler here because everyone in the world’s seen that movie, and you know what happened to William Wallace, and the history books and so on, so yeah, bad things are happening to him, you know, like really bad things. You watch that and they didn’t actually show it taking place but you know that’s taking place and you see how much pain he’s going through - it’s not being candy coded it any way, and it’s like, well that’s awful what’s happening to the poor guy. You feel bad about it, so you’re watching a violent movie but you’re not necessarily revelling in the violence. You’re still, on some level I guess, enjoying it because it’s a well made film, but it’s also not candy coding it. The violence is being shown to be completely agonising, which it is.
MD: Yeah. I always remember…do you know the film ‘Witchfinder General’ with Vincent Price?
AW: I never saw that movie, I don’t think. Pat might’ve seen it…[to Pat] Have you seen ‘Witchfinder General’ with Vincent Price?...[to which Pat replies "no"]
MD: I think it was called ‘Conqueror Worm’ in the States.
AW: I have to see it, yeah, I’ve heard of it.
MD: It was made in 1968 and I remember reading about the director’s argument with the censor that he wanted to represent violence as obscene, vile and a really ghastly thing so people would be shocked into realising how bad violence actually is. It’s kind of a similar idea I think.
AW: Yeah, and the same thing if you look at a movie like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ - it’s got a ton of graphic violence in it, but you’re certainly not happy it’s taking place while you’re watching it even though the overall experience of watching that film is a good one. But the violence is depicted in such a realistic way that it’s as shocking as it should be for most people.
MD: Definitely, yeah. Do you ever get any fan mail from people who take your lyrical themes literally rather than the escapism that it’s intended to be?
MD: That’s a whole other psychological debate!
AW: Yeah, I’m far from being qualified to speak about this stuff I guess, but that’s how I feel about it. It just seems like there’s such interest in it in such a broad part of society that it’s just part of people to be interested in stuff that’s kind of macabre.
MD: Yeah, definitely, I think that’s always been there.
AW: If it wasn’t there, yeah, there wouldn’t be horror movies, you know, there wouldn’t be any of this stuff if it wasn’t something that we were interested in. It gets ratings for a regular TV channel to do a special on a serial killer, so are they glorifying that serial killer by doing the special on him? That’s a debate that somebody could have, I suppose, but it’s something that everybody tunes in to watch. Why? Why do they all tune in to watch? I don’t know; I’m not the guy to answer those questions, but I think it’s worth asking if people are gonna be giving us a hard time.
MD: Exactly, a little bit of hypocrisy maybe.
MD: Not that censorship is always a good thing but if you had the opportunity to act as censor for a day what, if anything, would you choose to censor and why?
AW: Well I’m just gonna have to answer this in a humorous way. I’d probably put a ban on all of that four-on-the-floor dance music, you know, the boom-boom-boom-boom…just for one day! One day without that shit! [laughs]
MD: Yeah a national non…no, a global non…
AW: [laughs] Yeah! No bad, crap dance music just for one day! Let’s ban it all!
MD: They have a national no smoking day or whatever so, yeah, there should be a national no crap music day!
MD: And to counter-balance that, a national no death metal day perhaps!
AW: Yeah, but you know what, to me, I feel like that’s every day because we always talk about it - you go into every restaurant and every little club or whatever, every place you go you’re getting the general public’s idea of what good music is piped into your head.
MD: Yeah, muzak, not music.
AW: Yeah, and it’s like death metal you never hear anywhere and if you did play it, if someone started playing death metal in the background in MacDonalds, customers would complain. But why do we as death metalheads, and other fans of extreme metal, have to listen to music that we think is crap all day when we go an eat hamburgers and they don’t have to listen to ours. You know, so no ban on death metal! I won‘t allow that! [laughs]
MD: It’s banned in many other ways!
AW: It’s banned enough as it is, yeah! [laughs]
AW: You know, maybe in the early days there were some people that were kind of trying to act a little crazy and write to us, like actual snail mail sort of thing, but that’s been a long time. I didn’t really handle the mail back then either, our old guitar player did. But he said every now and again he’d get some weird guy writing, and the chances are it was a bit of a put on anyhow, but yeah, like “I’m crazy, you guys are sick, and so am I…” or whatever, but I think everybody gets it now in the same way they wouldn’t think that Eli Roth who did ‘Hostel’ is a maniac, you know, they’re not thinking that we are either. For whatever reason, human beings, I think all of ‘em or just about a good portion of them judging by the popularity of movies like ‘Hostel’ or ‘Saw’, that we have a little bit of a morbid fascination. We’re all mortal, and everybody dies, and seeing movies where people are dying and that sort of thing, it’s interesting. It’s the morbid fascination - I don’t know why we have it but there’s a good chance it’s in human nature…