Latest film: Metal Down Under – A History of Australian Heavy Metal (Animus/MGM)

Indonesian-based Australian film maker Nick Calpakdjian has spent the best part of the last two years flying from his home to England and the length and breadth of this country collecting interviews with some of the most important people behind the development of Australia’s heavy metal music scene. From stories told in studios, pubs, living rooms and radio stations, Calpakdjian has weaved the most in depth film ever made about heavy metal in Australia and from August 22 his three-part, almost three hour long documentary will be hitting the shelves around the country. Loud editor and Metal Down Under interviewee Brian Giffin chatted with Nick recently on Skype from his home in Jakarta.

It’s going to be great to finally have it available, Nick. From the press previews, have you had much feedback about the film so far?
Feedback is starting to come through and it’s been very positive. I think people are realising that it is a good document on the history of our heavy metal. It’s not a slap-together, backstage film. It’s a proper documentary and people are finding it a lot more educational than they imagined. They’re learning about bands they didn’t know existed or they’re remembering bands that they listened to thirty years ago and it’s been kinda nice to get the feedback from the ones who were there in the early 80s as well as the young ones who weren’t born yet. They’re both getting something out of the film and both parties are enjoying it.

One of our other writers thought it was great because he learned a lot of things he hadn’t known about. Mortification, for example, he didn’t know anything about them, and the whole Hot Metal story probably isn’t that well known.
I used to buy Hot Metal when I was a kid and it was being brought up by a lot of people in interviews, but I didn’t really know [editor] Robyn [Doreian] or have contact with anyone from Hot Metal for quite a while. So it was really great to chat to Robyn and get a bit more of a story about what they were doing and what they were trying to do. I think there’s a few of those sort of nuggets in there, like, ‘I didn’t know we had one of the world’s biggest Christian heavy metal bands in Melbourne!’

I’ve not spoken to Steve Rowe in many years, but the times I did he was always far more interested in talking about music and metal than he was about Christianity.
The thing is that he doesn’t care if you’re into his music because of its Christian values or not. Unfortunately I couldn’t put a lot of that into the film because I was trying to keep people concise, but people might be interested in his extended interview when I put that online. Talking about hate mail and how many people just despise him for being a Christian. The flipside [is that] many people love him for that, but at the end of the day, you can’t deny that his music is pretty bloody good. So if you’re going to make decisions on which band or music you like because of their personal beliefs, I think you’d be disappointed by a lot of the artists that you do listen to.

So what is the plan regarding giving people access to the unedited interviews?
The plan is that I’ll put one [online] every week until I run out. Initially I was thinking it’s not something I would do when making a documentary – you cut out the crap stuff. But there’s 35 years of history, there’s over 40 interviews… I don’t think there’s crap stuff that didn’t make the film, it’s just stuff I couldn’t make work in terms of a storyline. Just having one person say good moment can’t sit in a film, you have to have a number of people to see a point through. People would be genuinely interested in a one hour interview with Jason from Blood Duster or John Gibson from Renegade, just to get more in depth into their thought processes or their recording practices or on other people’s bands, so I’ll do my best to get them online so people can check them out.

I have to say that I thought there could have been a lot more included in the film. To my mind there were a few exclusions that really stood out.
There’s a few bands and a few people that I think would have been good to have got involved and really a couple of reasons why they’re not is that a couple of them didn’t want to be in it. When they were contacted they just couldn’t be bothered or it wasn’t their thing. Others it was just a matter of, I’ve run out of time and I’ve run out of money and I can’t afford to fly out there again. I went to Brisbane on the tail end of one of the filming trips to interview Rodney Holder and I was really just in Brisbane for half a day. The next time I was in Brisbane I wanted to catch up to the guys from Misery and the guitarist was in town but the vocalist wasn’t and the vocalist wasn’t going to be back until April and I was going to be somewhere else… we just couldn’t make the timing stick for it. So there’s people who should be in the film but aren’t because I didn’t have the time or money or I couldn’t get in contact or they didn’t want to be.

What I did find was that some of the people who are in the film, particularly some of the early guys like John from Renegade, said some amazing things. I liked the way you brought him in at the end when you were talking about the way the scene is now and how some people are saying the same things about some of the newer bands that were being said about his band back in the 80s.
John was a great guy and he was trying to do something and copping a lot of flak for it and it took him a long time to get a following and now in the more modern era of the metal scene, people are passionately against metalcore and I find it a really interesting topic because I don’t understand why people are so passionately against something when there is so much other music they could be focusing their attention on, and it really doesn’t affect you if X band is popular if you’re into Y band. What difference does it make to you?

One of the bands that I thought you perhaps could have spoken to was Parkway Drive.
We have Parkway in the film in that we talk about them and things like that, but I guess it was at that point in the film that I wasn’t sure how far down that road I would go with metalcore and hardcore and whether I was going to examine it. If I was going to go down that path any more then I would have needed an interview with them or one of those similar bands to really make that point. But it got to the stage where that part of the film needed the momentum to be finishing rather than exploring new concepts. So I had to keep that exploration of metalcore as concise as possible.

Do you think there’s scope for yourself or someone else to perhaps make a second chapter in the future?
Yeah I think so. Obviously the metal scene is not just gonna stop, so our story will continue. I think there will be sub-genres and other bands and people that will be worth examining. And if I make my money back on this one then I will be much more inclined to make an additional episode that looks at some of those people and some of those moments and concepts that didn’t quite make the first film. Then again, it needs to be funded and paid for so we can actually do it.

You’ve talked about the possibility of Metal Down Under being broadcast on TV. Have you heard anything further about that?
Nothing yet. It has been submitted to some of the networks in Australia so it is under consideration, but it takes weeks or months before you get told if it’s too niche or if they want it. So we’ll wait and see there. I’m also talking to a television network in Canada who’s interested in the TV rights there. It would be fantastic if it was broadcast on VH1 internationally. That would be an amazing result.

Other countries seem to have a better appreciation for Australian metal than Australia does, so it seems to me to make sense that it would go to air somewhere like Canada first.
I think it’s a really interesting point. I wonder whether all countries have a similar concept in that we are all looking outward rather than looking inward: I’m interested in watching a documentary about South America or about Germany and maybe the Germans aren’t so interested in watching a documentary about themselves, and they want to see one about Australia. It might be interesting from that point of view. I think Aussie bands are getting out there a lot more than many people realise and making an impact overseas. Look at Ne Obliviscaris and their fund-raising campaign for their world tour. There’s obviously a crap load of people who want them to come to their town. So there’s a healthy respect for the music that’s coming from Down Under.

Anything that can raise awareness of heavy bands in Australia is going to help. Some of the biggest bands in the country right now are heavy bands but you almost never hear about them. Even Karnivool, apart from the fact that they won an ARIA, are almost never talked about in the media.
No! And I think I saw recently that both Karnivool and Voyager are up for prog rock awards in the UK for breakthrough artists. Two Aussie bands sitting up there. I think there are these big heavy bands doing things. Maybe it’s always been like that – with the hard rock in the 80s. Our biggest export apart from Kylie Minogue and Delta Goodrem, is metal and hard rock.

You didn’t talk about Rose Tattoo much, but they were bigger in England than they ever were in Australia.
The Germans loved them too. There’s a lot of good work by Aussie bands happening overseas that gets totally unnoticed in the Australian media. That being said, I did an interview last week with The Sydney Morning Herald, so the mainstream media are taking a little bit of notice of what we’re doing. That’s a good start.

Well I think a film like this, made by someone like you who is a film maker rather than just some guy with a camera, will do a lot of make people sit up and take notice.
One of my biggest challenges, apart from the money side of it, was convincing others that this was a film that can be made and I can see it through until the end. Because a lot of people said to me, ‘Mate, I’ve done this before, I’ve talked to people and nothing ever comes of it. What’s the point?’ And I can understand that. I’d get the shits too if I’d been interviewed over and over again for something that never sees the light of day. I was very glad when people actually started returning my calls and after we did the first few interviews and put up photos and a couple of quotes from Steve Hughes and Tony Campo and Peter Hobbs, that people realised I was serious about making a film. That I had a few skills and I was employing people that had a few skills more than me to make it look good, a real and honest film that the heavy metal scene in Australian deserves.

How did you get in touch with all these people? Was it just a matter of getting the word out?
Basically I made a list of bands that, from my knowledge of the history, that I thought should be involved. That was just a very small list to start with and I thought, I’ll contact these people first by email and see what the response is. Once I started to meet these people, then people started offering up advice on who the next person should be I should speak to. I wanted to do the first lot of filming with the people I definitely knew had to be in the film, and that really opened up my research options into different bands and different moments in time. It was quite hard to find a few of the old guys. Not everyone’s got email or a Facebook account, not everyone answers the phone if they don’t know the number. I got an email from someone a week ago who was interested in being in the film, and it was someone I had tried to contact two years ago. That’s a long time to wait for a response. It was easy for a lot of bands in that they’ve got their social media set up and you can find people, but I gotta admit your book helped a lot too in terms to who did what and who was in each one. Phil Gresik was great to talk to and it was good to be able to cross check and say, Oh yes, you were in this band and this band and this band and joining the dots that way.

Well Nick it’s a great film, it’s a great project and I wish you all the best with it.
Thanks Brian!