On The Blog – ULTRASOUND writer Adam Pottle on Metal Music
Interview led by TPM Associate Artistic Producer – Jiv Parasram
Artists often talk about “aesthetics.” In a colloquial sense, this can often mean a quality or taste in reference to their work, or a place they draw influence from. Other times in casual discussion it can refer to a style or even a thematic element present in a larger body of their work. But I’ve always been interested in thinking of aesthetic in its more philosophic meaning. Etymologically the word is derived from the Greek “aesthesis” or “a feeling.” In this way of thinking, aesthetic can be closer related to a feeling that originates from and is part of a larger culture.
Meeting Adam Pottle, writer of ULTRASOUND, even briefly gave me the sense of a shared culture. Though ULTRASOUND is certainly a play that is rooted in Deaf culture, it was a more all-encompassing one that it turned out that Adam and I shared. I guess you could call it an “outsider” or, to be season-particular “outlier” culture of being Metalheads, Bangers… or call us what you will. We took the opportunity to chat on the topic. But first, here’s how we stack up in fandom:
Adam: That I bought? Our Lady Peace’s CLUMSY. That I owned? KISS ALIVE!
Jiv: That I owned? KISS Psycho Circus. That I bought? KISS ALIVE!
Best Metal Show You’ve Ever Seen:
Adam: Slipnot, Vancouver, 2005. Nobody else can create that kind of energy onstage.
Jiv: Blind Guardian, Toronto, 2005. Never seen a crowd that dedicated.
One Band You Would Do Anything To See – Living or Dead?
Adam: Motorhead. I never got to see Lemmy live. I’d want to pay proper tribute to him by seeing him play.
Jiv: Pink Floyd. The whole band. With Syd, and also post Syd.
Now on to the conversation…
Jiv: So, when we’re talking “metal” how do you define that term for yourself?
Adam: I grew up listening to metal and hard rock: Metallica, KISS, Disturbed, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard. It’s the stuff that instantly revs me up as soon as I hear it.
My favourite metal band is Slipknot. I came across them in high school: I heard the song “Wait and Bleed“ on the SCREAM 3 movie soundtrack, and went out and got their debut album. The ferocity, the creativity, the non-linear song structure. It blew me right the fuck away.
Jiv: That’s a far cry from KISS!
Adam: I see Slipknot as the escalation of KISS. KISS was quite different for their time.
Like KISS, Slipknot uses costumes (or uniforms, rather) and masks and face paint. But Slipknot does that for a reason, a reason I love: they want people to concentrate, not on their faces, but on the music. And that, ultimately, is what metal’s all about. The music.
Jiv: It’s interesting you say that, the music itself being a sound that, almost without fail, has in every period of the genre been met with a certain mainstream disdain.
Adam: That’s another attractive thing about metal for me. It’s against, or at least suspicious of, the mainstream. Slipknot is totally against the mainstream. If you listen to their recent album, especially the song “Killpop,” you begin to understand their disdain. That, and of course the song “Get This.” As someone who’s deaf, and who has difficulty finding acceptance, the heavy metal community is a beautiful thing, because it’s so accepting of so many different kinds of people.
Jiv: That’s a great point. I think in Sam Dunn’s documentary – Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey – Rob Zombie was quoted calling metal “outsider music.”
Adam: Yeah, man. Zombie was right on point. I think he said something like a metal show being all the strange kids in one place. That’s a great description of the metal community.
Jiv: That’s kind of a huge point to bring up there. It is very much a community. One of the things that has always been a joy to me is being in a slam pit where, even though we’re smashing into each other, there’s a safety in knowing that if anyone falls everyone makes sure they get a hand back up.
Adam: Oh for sure, man. I remember being at a concert – a Slipknot concert, in fact – and this one guy had to stoop down to tie his shoelaces. We were right in the middle of the fuckin’ pit, so three or four of us kind of crowded around him and shielded him so he could tie his shoe. And as soon as he finished, he jumped up and we all started swarming again. It was great.
Jiv: It’s certainly something that’s a foreign concept to many. I think from the outside it looks like a rough time, but inside those spots there’s so much communication and respect going on.
Adam: Yeah. People on the outside think that metal is violent, that it promotes drugs or suicide or nihilistic behaviour. But the truth is it discourages that, and provides a kind of catharsis. If you’re frustrated with your life, you can put on your headphones, or go to a metal show, and work that shit out. Metal’s great music therapy.
Jiv: So really it’s health positive.
Adam: I think it is. From a mental health point of view. I mean, yeah, you’ll get some bumps and bruises in the pit, but you’re proud of that.
Jiv: Why do you think that is? Like, the pride in the bruises?
Adam: Because it’s physical evidence that you’ve worked shit out. That you’ve gone into the eye of the hurricane and come out alive and refreshed and ready for whatever comes next.
Jiv:(Laughs) Which is a good segway to the fact that you’re also a poet. How do you feel metal’s influenced your work as a writer in general?
Adam: One way is that it helps give my writing rhythm. I always have a song in my head, and often I find that whatever beat I have in my head transfers to the page. It also helps me empathize even more with people who are marginalized. Much of metal deals with dark, complex themes: isolation, solitude, and discrimination. Death. It’s a great way to see into another’s perspective. For a writer, that’s quite valuable.
Jiv: Agreed to the 666th on that.
Adam: “Run to the Hills,” man.
Jiv: There’s a kind of historic divide, I think, between metal fans and punk fans. Has that ever been a thing for you?
Adam: I haven’t had much conflict there. I enjoy punk music, but not in the same way I love metal. Metal hits me right in the gut.
Jiv: Yeah, I feel you on that. There’s a certain technical prowess in the form that – while I really respect punk for not adhering to it – is very present in most metal – as diverse as it is.
Adam: For sure, man. Metal takes musical and melodic excellence to its logical conclusion. It’s extreme in every sense, and that’s the great thing about it, because it allows for so many ambitious musicians to try things that haven’t been done before.
For me, as a drummer, that’s a wonderful thing.
Jiv: Oh shit! I didn’t know you were a drummer too! As a drummer does Metallica make you sad now?
Adam: You know what? A lot of people like to crap on Lars Ulrich’s drumming skills, but the man does his job, and does it well. He’s made some of the best metal albums of all time, and Metallica sells out every concert they play. He may not be as technically proficient as Joey Jordison or Mike Portnoy, but he is the drummer for one of the most influential groups ever.
Jiv: True enough. Bringing it back to influence then – you mentioned that you’ve usually got a song in your head. How’d that play out while writing ULTRASOUND?
Adam: Well, the character Miranda is a metal fan, so sometimes I’d start a scene with a specific piece of music in mind, and let that music dictate her mood, or establish background tension. One album I’ve been playing throughout the process of working on and rewriting ULTRASOUND is Iron Maiden’s BRAVE NEW WORLD. Because of The Tempest (the play that Miranda is auditioning for) and the play’s themes, it was a natural choice, and some of the songs from that album seemed to hit the nail right on the head. “Out of the Silent Planet,” for instance.
Iron Maiden’s Brave New World
Jiv: “Dreams of Desolation” and “Demons of Creation”?
Adam: Yeah, man. And that element of silence, and its relationship with Deafness. Deafness does not necessarily mean that one is silent, so balancing silence and music helps inform the play’s conflict between the Deaf and hearing worlds.
Jiv: Interesting. Can you expand a bit on what you mean by “silence” in this context?
Adam: Silence means many things to me, as a deaf person. It can mean just the simple absence of noise, but it also means the absence of a voice. Deaf people are not silent, in either sense of the word. They’ve made and are making a tremendous impact. Look at Nyle DiMarco, who’s on Dancing with the Stars and who won America’s Next Top Model. He’s making a lot of noise, and it’s fantastic.
And I certainly am not silent, especially when I’m holding my drum sticks.
Jiv: I guess that’s part of the appeal of metal. Well, most art I suppose – a reluctance or decisive commitment to not being silent.
Adam: That’s right. The people with the most to say are the ones who’ve felt that repressive silence for a long time. Deaf people have lots to say. We’re gonna be hearing a lot more from them in the years to come.
Jiv: Excellent. That’s a great place to end it, I think. But one last thing. Given that ULTRASOUND really deals with family dynamics, and on the topic of parenting and families – any advice you’d give to a parent concerned that their kid is getting too much into metal?
Adam: Sit down with your kid and listen to an album with them. Try to find out what’s so compelling about that music, and think back to the music you listened to when you were their age.
Jiv: Proper. Anything you wanted to say but didn’t get a chance?
Adam: COME OUT AND SEE THE FUCKING SHOW!
Jiv: Ha! Brilliant. That’s staying in unless they make me take it out.
Adam: Ha! Brazilliant.
Immortal Spirits of Lemmy, Yoda, Obi-wan (L-R)
ULTRASOUND a debut play by award-winning deaf writer Adam Pottle is a co-production by Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille and it plays at the TPM Mainspace with ASL/Voice/Surtitles April 28 – May 15 2016. Book your tickets here.
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