Jill Hughes Kirtland, who resides in Pennsylvania, started the successful online magazine 'USA Progressive Music' in 2007, which she sold in 2010. She is a concert photographer,and has worked as a manager for metal band Suspyre and tour manager for Shadow Gallery. Her new book, 'Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal', is a result of having spent two years interviewing behind-the-scenes and onstage metalheads from all over the world.

With this book, Kirtland hopes to dispel stereotypes about female metal performers and personnel and also to bring attention to world-class metal entertainers.

PB: Why has your background as a writer and tour manager inspired you to write this book?

JHK: Having immersed myself deeply into the metal community over the last decade, I have encountered or witnessed numerous instances, some of which I relive in the introduction to my book, where women are treated like sex objects or are under-minded as if they don’t have the knowledge or capability to perform or work behind the scenes in the metal genre. Also having read many publications on heavy metal/hard rock, I felt like women were grossly under-represented.

There are so many amazing women who have made great contributions and achieved success in metal music that are never mentioned in these books. I applaud the websites, radio stations and other sources that do bring attention to these women, but it is sad that they are not mixed in with their male colleagues in general heavy metal anthologies. So, I felt like a book like this needed to be written.

PB: While promoting a Suspyre album, you received a phone call from a venue promoter that astounded you. You also tell us early on, “Hopefully, someday a book like this will be irrelevant.” Can you elaborate?

JHK: Of course I hope this book will be irrelevant someday because I hope that metal books will represent women as equally as they do male musicians, and recognise more of their contributions to metal music so that we don’t have to single them out. Quite a few people I interviewed feel the same way. But until then this book should hopefully quench that thirst.

PB: You took concert photos and interviewed a few hundred women vocalists, instrumentalists, behind-the-scenes personnel and journalists etc., who have all been heavily involved in the metal genre. How did you conduct your research (phoners, in-person, email, etc.) and how did you eventually narrow down your list of subjects after having such access?

JHK: I believe I interviewed about a hundred subjects. I did the interviews in all three formats (phone, in-person and email). It all depended on the person’s availability, location, and preference on how I conducted the interview. There were people I would have loved to interview but couldn’t, so I tried to include them in other ways in the book. I narrowed down who got included in the book (and not everyone who was interviewed) by trying to be comprehensive in metal sub-genre, as well as location (for example, not having too many from one particular continent or country), as well as trying to include instrumentalists not just vocalists.

I also picked out the quotes that I thought were the best, so some people got more exposure than others because they just gave a better interview or had better stories to convey that went well with the chapter topics of my book. Believe me, it was not an easy task because I wish I could have included every woman! So many amazing women in metal!

PB: Do you feel that the Metal Female Voices Festival (and similar festivals) brings fans and artists together or creates a barrier?

JHK: At this moment because women are so under-represented at other festivals, I feel that festivals that cater to female-fronted bands are needed to get exposure for these ladies. It does create a bottleneck for them because there are only so many of these themed festivals or tours, so you either see a lot of the same bands over and over or they don’t get to play very often at these festivals because they just played there.

PB; Lita Ford, former guitarist for the Runaways, adds a lot of substance to the dialogue. She felt that when band members dressed provocatively, “we weren’t taken seriously.” Later on, she expresses frustration that there still are not that many female guitarists. How do you feel about women’s progress within the metal community?

JHK: I definitely think it’s better than when she first started. Lita was out of the scene for a bit, so she may not be as familiar with the other genres of metal that have cropped up where women are playing guitar more (but I don’t want to assume that). I definitely see more female instrumentalists than twenty years ago, but there are way more vocalists for sure. Elize Ryd of Amaranthe made an interesting observation about how a lot of parents don’t encourage their daughters to do less conventional things like taking drum or guitar lessons, and maybe if parents (or society) did this there would be more female instrumentalists in metal bands.

PB: Ronnie Dio expressed an interest in the group Hellion. Lead vocalist, Ann Boleyn, explains that females were “expected to look and dress like Pat Benatar or the Go-Go’s.” Dio felt that too much emphasis was being placed on appearance, rather than the performance. Leather Leone, “The Voice of the Cult,” of San Francisco’s all-female Rude Girl, says, “Women are targets. They are easy prey.” Do you agree or disagree?

JHK: I think it all depends on the woman but when you are first starting out and are naïve about how things work as a young woman, it’s very easy to be preyed upon. I was a very easy target when I first started in music journalism. I am way more confident now when I go to shows to interview artists and I know how to stand up to the male chauvinist who says something sexist to me or makes a sexual advance. I also have learned how to laugh it off. I try not to be a bitch about it. Sometimes the guy just thinks he’s being funny. I have mostly male friends so I know how they think.

As far as how women dress on stage, most of them have the option to do what they want. Some women like Doro Pesch or Leather Leone have decided not to dress that way. They are sexy in their own classy way without revealing too much. Of course an artist is going to want to dress herself up when she goes on stage because in that moment she is an entertainer, too, otherwise people would just stay home and listen to the CD. If an artist wants to dress provocatively that is her choice, but with that more than likely guys will look at her with eyes of desire.

I am not saying that the derogatory comments or physical advances are appropriate, though. Some men just need to learn how to control themselves around women.

PB: Why do you feel that symphonic metal opened the door for female musicians?

JHK: Symphonic metal provides a much more atmospheric, melodic side to metal that I think appeals to the feminine side of people, both male and female.
It is much more accessible and also pulls from so many other influences, especially classical music. I know a lot of classical musicians who get into symphonic metal for that reason. They are looking for something harder but the “symphonic” part resonates with them.

I love how bombastic and epic symphonic metal is. It’s dark and uplifting at the same time. There’s so much power behind it.

PB: You say that some journalists, publicists and fans unintentionally bring negative attention to female metal artists. Can you explain?

JHK: I believe it’s natural to be attracted to the sex appeal of these women because a woman is a beautiful creature (just look at Botticelli’s 'The Birth of Venus' painting). And we have to be conscious of the fact that “sex sells.”

But the problem is so many people draw attention to this sex appeal when talking about a female musician and they forget about the real topic – the music. There’s too much focus, in my opinion, on the sexiness of female metal musicians, than on the amazing talent they bring to the stage or behind the scenes in writing lyrics or composing the songs or managing the affairs of their band. When I read an article, I want to know about these things, not what make-up they wear or what lingerie retailer they prefer. It is fine if it’s a side note to the article but not the whole thing. I want to know about the musician.

PB: Floor Jansen and Simone Simons grew tired of comparisons so they decided to perform together. Are female metal artists typically collaborating in this way?

JHK: Yes, some examples in the book are Lzzy Hale (Halestorm) and Amy Lee (Evanescence) sang on stage together during the Carnival of Madness tour a couple years ago. Doro has performed numerous times on stage with other female vocalists to celebrate women in metal! A small US tour was just announced for June 2014 where Benedictum, A Sound of Thunder and Leather Leone will be together and I wouldn’t be surprised if they all sang a couple songs together on stage. And of course at the Metal Female Voices Festival, there was an entire night dedicated for a couple years where many female musicians (as part of a group called Eve’s Apple) collaborated to perform on stage together, and many guest female vocalists have joined other female-fronted bands on stage during that event (I believe Sharon den Adel joined Delain for some songs during Metal Female Voices Fest 2013).

PB: VK Lynne, of Vito Nova and Stork, talks about a fan that considered suicide earlier in the week and then heard Lynne’s onstage stories and left filled with hope. Christina Scabbia, of Lacuna Coil, says that rock and metal fans “really feel part of a big family.” She adds, “That makes it completely different from other musical genres.” Why does this type of music generate such a strong sense of community?

JHK: I think because we all feel like “others” or “outsiders” to the mainstream world. The camaraderie in the metal community is strong because we need each other to lean on and be with those who are like-minded. We get each other. When we are at metal shows, no one is judging us for liking the music or wearing black.

Many people who do not listen to metal, think that metalheads are bad satanic people. It has a negative connotation to those who don’t understand that metalheads are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

PB: Some of the subjects are female parents who have to juggle an unorthodox career with the demands of childcare. “I couldn’t be a mother and only a musician. I need both,” says Sharon den Adel, vocalist, Within Temptation. Clearly, it takes an unusual person to do both jobs well. What are your thoughts?

JHK: I can speak to this from personal experience. I agree with the women whom I interviewed that are mothers. Music is their passion, and as much as motherhood is important to them, they can’t live without music. So they have to do both. If you truly are passionate about something, you’ll figure out how to do it all.

I work full-time, I am a mother, and I guess now I am an author too! I somehow manage to do all three of those things at the same time, and I hope nothing suffers from it. Of course you must have amazing time management skills, and of course you don’t get that much sleep. Being a mother is incredible but I also could not give up my career.

Some people are just not meant to be ‘stay at home mothers’. They need to do something else (in this case music) and so I think that’s where these women are coming from. No one is going to say it’s easy. There are sacrifices that obviously have to be made. But it can be done if you believe you can do it and if you have a great support system (family, friends) that can help you.

PB: Finally how do you see the future of metal and, more specifically, the role of women in metal?

JHK: Maybe over time people will get tired of the over use of the same four chords and unoriginality in mainstream pop and rock and come over to the “dark side” (I say that jokingly). I think metal will become popular again because of that, but like any genre the more it gets inundated the more it gets polluted with garbage and things start to all sound the same.
I think that’s what is happening with female-fronted bands. Everyone wants to sound like her favourites and then they all copy each other and then it all sounds the same.

I hope more women get involved as instrumentalists and behind the scenes in metal, not just as vocalists. My other wish is that metal was as popular in the States as it is in Europe!

PB: Thank you.

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