Following our fascinating and well-received chats with veteran UK music writers Mick Wall and Joel McIver, Loud talks to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Classic Rock Prog scribe Dom Lawson in the latest instalment of the series. Lawson talks about the current state of music journalism, the narrow-mindedness of some metal fans and the popularity of his vodcast series, Dom’s Iron Sandwich.
Q: Can you tell our readers a little about how you came to land a job in music journalism?
A: It was more by luck than judgement! Back in the mid-to-late 90s I started doing my own webzine, with the help of a friend of mine who was into web design, and swiftly realised that this was a great way to acquire free music. The Internet was still a relatively new thing for most people at that point and there weren’t millions of awful webzines yet, so evidently my little page stood out a bit. I was in touch with a couple of labels – Earache Records being the most significant of them – and they ended up recommending me to Kerrang! when they were looking for new writers. I’d always fancied being a music journalist but I’m not terribly ambitious so it was fortunate that the opportunity came up, otherwise I’d probably be stuck in some soul-destroying office job or sitting on my fat arse getting stoned at the taxpayer’s expense.
Q: Do you remember the first band/artist you interviewed?
A: Yes, the first band I interviewed for Kerrang! was Akercocke. This was in 2000 I think and it was for a one-page feature. I remember being quite nervous about doing the interview but really enjoying it in the end. I still get on great with those guys; one of the best British metal bands of the last 20 years, no question.
Q: Your ongoing vodcast series Dom’s Iron Sandwich has won a cult following online and always sparks considerable debate. Does the popularity of your no-frills ranting about music surprise you at all?
A: At the risk of sounding falsely modest, I genuinely don’t understand why anyone would want to watch me waffling away and looking sweaty and sleep-deprived, but I’m not going to complain. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that it was a good idea when Metal Hammer originally suggested it, but I thought I’d give it a go and see if I could get away with it. Somehow it’s settled into a reasonably workable format and even though I realise that some of the reviews are more inherently controversial than others, I hope people can tell that I’m being completely honest and not pandering to any particular sphere of opinion. I’m not doing it to promote myself, believe it or not.
Q: How difficult can it be to summon the energy to talk about an album for 10-15 minutes, especially when the record in question might be so middle-of-the-road that it doesn’t really move you in any way?
A: I try to review albums that are vaguely worth discussing and I try to avoid overly generic or mediocre stuff because as much as I enjoy ranting away, I’d rather promote bands that deserve the attention, or say horrible things about bands that deserve some abuse. It’s surprisingly easy to talk for 15 minutes, even when the album’s a bit boring. I make it all up as I go along and really don’t plan anything in advance, so it’s a simple matter of talking until my brain gives up. I’ve had to record a few of them multiple times, though, because I’ve run out of steam too quickly or said something idiotic that I’d rather people didn’t hear.
Q: You’ve mentioned numerous times during said recordings that few things raise your ire quite as much as ignorance and segregation within the heavy metal scene for stupid reasons such as having a different haircut or a band incorporating influences from outside of metal. Do you think some heavy music fans will ever learn, or has the Internet just enabled said whingers to have at it as much as they please?
A: I’m torn between hating people’s narrow-minded attitudes and applauding the passion of people who feel obliged to defend their favourite music’s core principles. I don’t think the poor level of discussion online is limited to fans of metal by any means, but metal fans are invariably more passionate than fans of most other styles of music and unfortunately that means that people start spouting before they’ve fully engaged their brains. The result is a lot of pointless squabbling about fuck all. My basic philosophy is that people should listen to whatever they like and not try to tell other people what to do, but at the same time I reserve the right to stand up for real metal music and metal culture. I don’t care if people dislike traditional metal or think that Manowar are silly, but I do object to being told what metal is all about by people who have no affinity with it. That said, my natural inclination is to disagree with everyone about everything, to be honest.
Q: (Laughs) Do you think these issues have improved compared to, say 20 years ago, or have avenues such as the Internet only made it worse?
A: The Internet has given everyone a voice, and that includes morons. We’re just more aware of all the sniping and moaning that goes on now. I don’t think human beings have changed measurably over the last 20 years. Most people were full of shit in 1992, but they didn’t have a blog to enable them to inflict their idiotic opinions on everyone else. It comes down to choice…either you can use your common sense and ignore the vast majority of crappy writing about music on the Internet or you can read it and get annoyed. I hope that people read Metal Hammer and recognise that there is an inherent level of quality and intelligence in what we do. I don’t see many webzines that come even vaguely close.
Q: Given your experiences in music journalism, have you strongly considered writing a book of some description, whether it’s a biography, co-authoring an autobiography or something else entirely?
A: I’ve thought about it numerous times and I fully intend to write a book or two in the future, but I have a real issue with the astonishing quantity of mediocre books about music out there already. Most of them are lazy hack jobs, rushed out by publishers in order to cash in on the popularity of a certain band, and although I don’t begrudge anyone the chance to make a living that way, I don’t want to contribute to the great heavy metal bargain bin unless I absolutely have to. I do have a couple of things in the pipeline, though, so I hope to head down that road sooner rather than later. Right now, however, I’m quite content writing for Metal Hammer and Prog. I’m not in any rush to be a published author.
Q: Who would be the top three artists you would love to work on a book with, and why?
A: That’s a tricky one…too many to mention, I suppose, (but) off the top of my head – Manowar, King Diamond and Napalm Death. All really important artists/bands, obviously, but also they each have a fascinating and substantial history and many great stories to tell.
Q: Interesting. Do you read many music-related autobiographies/biographies and if so, which ones have you enjoyed or not liked at all?
A: I don’t read as many as I probably should, but largely because I get annoyed by the poor standard of writing in most of them. I tend to prefer non-metal stuff, too, because I know a fair amount about metal and its history and I’d rather be enlightened about some other area of music. I absolutely loved Sid Smith’s King Crimson book, Paul Lester’s Gang of Four biography and Dave Simpson’s wonderful book about The Fall, The Fallen. Ska’d For Life by Horace Panter, about the early days of The Specials, was brilliant. And I loved Adam Ant’s autobiography, even though it was quite morose and erratic.
Q: I asked your colleague Joel McIver this, but would also be interested in your thoughts. The Internet has given everyone an avenue to express their opinion. While that has many positives, for mine the major downside is it enables anyone the ability to start a website or blog and as a result there seems to be a lot of sloppy, amateurish musical “journalism” out there. As a music fan and journalist there are few things that annoy me more. How do you feel about this situation?
A: I find it incredibly irritating. I do love the fact that people are enthusiastic about writing and want to write about music, but what is rarely acknowledged is that there is a degree of talent and skill involved in doing this for a living and establishing a reputation as a trustworthy commentator. Also, having an opinion is not the same thing as having something worthwhile to say. The Internet has given a lot of people the false impression that they are music journalists when, in fact, they’re just twats with laptops. I’m a professional twat. There’s a difference.
Q: (Laughs) What advice would you give any aspiring music journalists reading this?
A: Don’t bother. You’ll be stealing work from me and I’m struggling financially as it is. If you must pursue music journalism as a career, put the effort in, concentrate on the quality of your writing and find your own voice. Copying everyone else will not help you to stand out. And do your bloody research. Nothing undermines your credibility more than getting your facts wrong.
Q: On a more personal note, what new releases are you currently enjoying?
A: A few favourites this year are new albums by Ihsahn, Gojira, Ahab, Storm Corrosion, Anathema, Napalm Death, 3 Inches Of Blood, Landmine Marathon, Sigh, Kreator, It Bites, Peter Hammill and Ginger Wildheart. So many great records around, though. It’s been an amazing year already.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Lower your expectations!