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Interview with Iann Robinson

You probably know Iann Robinson from when he was a VJ on MTV. When he appeared on MTV, it was exciting because fans of heavy music could finally feel that they had someone representing their sensibilities and taste in music, which at that point in time, had largely been ignored by MTV. His time with the network was short-lived but I do believe that he made an impact while he was there that influenced lots of viewers in a positive way. If five kids checked out the Bad Brains because they saw Iann wearing a Bad Brains shirt during and MTV News segment, that’s a step in the right direction.
What I admire most about Iann is his passion for music, movies and comics. I thoroughly enjoy reading his reviews because his enthusiasm is reflected in his writings, which can be viewed at skullsnbones.com and craveonline.com. I highly recommend that you check out what he has to say because he will provoke you to think and reflect on what matters to you. He can back up his reviews because he has a thorough knowledge of the history of what he writes about, whether it’s heavy music, independent films or the golden age of comic books. DTM caught up with Iann to get his views on music, movies and comics and what he is most looking forward to in 2009.  – (Introduction and interview by Chris Burns)

iann-robinson1 -Tell me about skullsnbones.com
Sam Roon and Jason Lekberg left nonelouder.com and I went with them and we started skullsandbones.com kind of together and basically it’s a network where you can go and sign up and become a part of the network. You can read stuff by me and other people. It’s only been up a couple of weeks but it’s been pretty productive so far. We [Iann, Sam and Jason] all have a very like-minded thing in that we all think that extreme music is important and needs a kick in the ass, so we’re starting this and it’s very interesting because the internal struggles are all very real and what we’re doing on the page is very real, even if sometimes it doesn’t work. I’m very excited about it.

I just picked up the new Trap Them record, Seizures in Barren Praise and was instantly blown away.

Yeah, it’s awesome. I actually just reviewed the record for skullsnbones.com and for what I do, I listen to a lot of crap, a lot of Xerox bands that don’t really do anything to remind us why extreme music is so important. I get a lot of bands that sound like Pantera, I get a lot of bands that play really fast and I just don’t care and then you come across a band like Trap Them and in twenty-five minutes they have said more than most of the bands I listen to all year. Bands like Trap Them, Ascend and Aspa, and bands like Black Anvil; those are the bands that are really going to take the music into the future. In a more straightforward vein, bands like Toxic Holocaust and Hatchet are the bands that are going to take things into the future for heavy music. Hopefully, we’ll hear less from Lamb of God or Shadows Fall. You know, Shadows Fall sound like Testament and Lamb of God sound like Pantera. I don’t fault those bands; I guess there’s a need for that kind of comfort music but it’s not gonna’ take the genre anywhere.

-I know you’re a fan of the Bad Brains. They recently played a couple of shows in NYC.
I didn’t go down to New York. I don’t think they played in Boston, but, you know, it’s not really the Bad Brains.

-I wanted to get your take on the Bad Brains of today.
Well, I didn’t go. I didn’t go when it was the Bad Brains with John Joseph fronting it.

-Was HR fronting it this time?
Yes. I’m not a huge fan of reunion shows. I think that bands existed, when they existed, because of the chemistry and the time and they are a great statement for the time and place. I think that when bands get back together, they’re reduced down to just a bunch of people playing shows and nine times out of ten it’s done for monetary gain. I know that HR is usually not that kind of guy so maybe this wasn’t so much for money but, even if the shows were great, it’s not the Bad Brains. It’s not the Bad Brains from December 25th, 1982 at CBGB. It’s just not them and if people want to go to try to recapture something that they lived through or they want to go and try to be part of something that they weren’t part of to begin with, I can’t fault them for that. It’s just not anything that I’m interested in. Devo got back together and I saw Devo in 1980 and they were amazing, but I don’t have any interest in seeing Devo now because it’s not the same thing. While I’m happy for anybody that went and experienced the Bad Brains and thought it was great, to me, it’s not the Bad Brains. It’s not 1982. It’s not the hardcore era. All that is dead and over and nothing now but a footnote on an MTV reality show, so to try to go and relive it, it just seems silly to me. But that’s me.

-With 2009 approaching, what are you looking forward to in terms of movies and music?
It’s always hard to say because I’m at an age now, at 37, where all the bands that I loved have pretty much universally disappointed me. I don’t mean that in a, “fuck them” kind of way, I still love those bands and I still root for them, but they’ve just universally disappointed me album-wise. Bands like Slayer, Metallica, Iron Maiden; the list goes on and on of bands where they’re coming out with a new thing and I’d be like, “fuckin-a, I can’t wait!” Those bands have pretty much universally disappointed me. I don’t care. The new AC/DC was a real breath of fresh air and a surprise. The new Motorhead I thought was great. In terms of music, it’s more for me what I’m going to discover in 2009. What new thing is going to land on my desk that’s going to make me want to tear my head off and kick it out the window. That’s what I’m excited about and what’s even more exciting is that I don’t know when that’s coming. I don’t know from around what corner that’s going to happen from. There are a lot of bands that I had no idea who they were or what they were doing and now they are a permanent part of my record collection and that’s much more exciting. The one album that I am excited to hear is Mastodon’s new one, because I loved Remission, and I felt Leviathan was them trying too hard and I felt Blood Mountain was them not trying hard enough. I felt that both Leviathan and Blood Mountain were, especially Blood Mountain, were transitional records and I think this new thing that they’re doing and the bravery that they’re showing, deciding that they want to do this sort of epic power rock, and not re-do “March of The Fire Ants”, part 2, I’m excited to hear where they’re going with that. That should be exciting.
As far as movies go, it’s kind of a dry year.When you see all the things for movies, they’re for 2010; Conan is in 2010, Captain America is in 2010, Iron Man 2 is in 2010. There is going to be a new The Dark Knight, but that’s not until 2011. I’m interested and cautiously optimistic about the Watchmen movie. I don’t think it’s going to be the book. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Star Trek movie.

-What did you think of the Wolverine trailer?
I thought the Wolverine trailer looked great. I’ve never been, both in Marvel Comics and now with the movie, a fan of showing Wolverine’s past. I thought part of what made Wolverine great was that you got glimpses of it but were never really sure and also, now that they’ve got a definitive past for him in the movies, it’s going to take away a lot of the mystique, even in the comic books because people are just going to associate the movie background with the comic books. That’s one reason why I thought it was so brilliant that Chris Nolan didn’t give The Joker a background in The Dark Knight. I thought that was great. That’s one of the big things that ruined the Tim Burton version; the fact that The Joker was a criminal and he killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, that was all bullshit. I think when Hugh Jackman is just allowed to be Wolverine, he does a fantastic job. I’m a huge fan of what he does with the character. I’m not a huge fan of the fact they’re giving him a background.
I’m also interested to see if this whole geek explosion dies down. I’m writing an article for craveonline.com called, “The Death of Geek,” which I feel, much like the metal horns or when Rick Rubin did it with the word, “Def,” that the word “geek” has just needs to be buried and killed off and replaced with something else; “dork”, “nerd”, “freak,” whatever, because “geek” has now become a marketing tool. The Incredible Hulk made a lot of money and The Dark Knight made a lot of money, Iron Man made a lot of money but a lot of the comic book properties that aren’t directly linked to superheroes haven’t done great and I think that if the Watchmen movie doesn’t provide gangbusters, we’re going to see a real decline in people whoring out comic book properties, or “geek” properties. I think that 2009 is going to be a really interesting year. I think it might be a real fall for DC. It might be a time where Marvel Comics can regain some of their footing that they lost during the whole “Civil War” thing. They’ve [Marvel Comics] got some real wonderful stuff going on with Daredevil and Captain America now that it’s really wonderful; the Thor stuff is good. The Incredible Hulk is starting to lose me. The Watchmen and Star Trek movies and how they perform could really dictate the whole future of the “geek” culture idea. I think the Captain America and The Avengers movies; those will constantly happen but the Conan movie might not happen. They want to re-boot Daredevil and you don’t know how that’s going to happen. I think 2008 was this massive explosion of all this stuff and now 2009 it’s going to find out where “geek” mythology’s actual place is in the universe of pop culture as opposed to just being at the forefront, much like independent film movement in the 1990’s. It started off really, really strong and all of a sudden every film coming out was a girl and a guy and a gun with snappy dialogue in a car out west in with some weird tremolo guitar playing behind it and these random acts of violence that didn’t really add up to anything other than, “uh, we’re upset because life doesn’t work.” That got really boring and now geek stuff like Fanboys or Seth Rogen and I think his career is going to take a dive because his whole, “I’m a geek, isn’t that neat?” That Kevin Smith world is going to falter a little bit because it’s a little much. Too much, I think. As far as music goes, I’m really interested to see what comes around the corner.

-Which five records are essential listening when it comes to hardcore music?
Do you mean spanning the entire history of hardcore? Because there are five essential hardcore punk records which would be Black Flag, The First Four Years record or Damaged. Minor Threat, the first record and Negative Approach. Once you get into hardcore, when the metal element, the most essential record you must own is Bad Brain’s, I Against I. It’s the start of everything. It’s the start of taking punk rock and playing it in a more fast, metal way. It’s the jumping off of where hardcore punk became hardcore. All these bands, Minor Threat and Black Flag, took great inspiration from the Bad Brains and they sort of had a more punk element. I think the five most essential hardcore records would be, Bad Brains, I Against I, Cro-Mags, The Age of Quarrel, Negative Approach, the discography, thought it’s not an actual record. I’m gonna’ go for broke and put hardcore punk in with hardcore and say Black Flag, The First Four Years, that compilation is essential to everything and Minor Threat’s, Out of Step. Those are the records that continue to be relevant. There are a lot of hardcore records like Chain of Strength, or, no offense to anybody, but Youth of Today or The Justice League; there’s a ton of hardcore bands that you listen to and you say, “these just aren’t relevant anymore.” They don’t stand up to repeat listens or it was something that was great in the era that it was in but it’s not something that was important to music. Just the same as the whole indie rock movement would never have been around without Husker Du and you go and listen to all of the Husker Du records, they’re completely all relevant. All of them; the entire catalog. When you’re looking for jump off points for this kind of music, you’re looking for things that remain relevant and remain important, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve been out. I think those five are a good starting point.

-Do you follow hardcore music now?
No, I don’t. As far as I’m concerned, hardcore died in 1989. I got into it at the very, very death rattle of it and what it is now is metalcore; a lot of screechy vocals and guys doing their best to try to be Hatebreed or V.O.D. type records and it’s very cliquey and fashion-oriented. When you see The Minutemen or Minor Threat shows from back in the day, there was one guy with a big mohawk and a whole bunch of punk rock stuff on standing next to a guy with a short-sleeved collared shirt and a pair of jeans and a pair of Vans on next to a guy who had on short-shorts and white tube socks pulled all the way up to his knees and a white t-shirt with something handwritten on it. You would see a lot of different things happening and that’s all dead and gone. The rebellion of it is over and it’s now a marketing tool. Hardcore and punk rock spitting in the face of the establishment has now been replaced with mass-created rebellion by corporations looking to sell a lifestyle. That’s all hardcore is right now and beside that, it’s also a bunch of tough-guy nonsense. It’s like the end of Heart of Darkness, “…the horror, the horror… eliminate the brutes.” It’s just a bunch of guys with bad tattoos and football jerseys looking to show how many guys they can beat up or how big their penis is because they can create enough bloodshed. It’s all about that; it’s all about cliques and this and that. I remember the hardcore that made it effective rebellion and that’s long since dead, so as far as I’m concerned, none of it exists anymore and the stuff that comes out now is laughable at best and insulting at worst.

-The hardcore scene of today seems a far cry from what Ian MacKaye envisioned when Minor Threat started out.
You have to remember, with Minor Threat, when he [Ian MacKaye] was straight-edge, he was stating that he didn’t want to be the drug-addled punk rockers like Sid Vicious and that with Minor Threat, “we’re doing our own thing” and he was doing it for himself. It wasn’t until it caught on and spread around the country that he even decided that he had to go out and say anything about it. Now, straight-edge is a marketing tool. It’s like anything else; like tattoos or piercings or vegan food. Everything has been co-opted into a marketing tool; to the point to where I don’t even go outside anymore because the world-at-large disgusts me. Everything is an advertising poster and so when you see the guys who are like, (adopts tough-guy voice) “straight-edge for life,” you think, “well if your straight-edge for life, who the fuck cares?” You don’t see bands with gay members going, “gay man for life,” you don’t see guys who are smoking weed going, “weed-smoker for life.” You know what I mean? We get it, you’re straight-edge, congratulations. Now, leave me alone. I mean, that’s just me. Like I said, I’ve become immensely cynical over the last fifteen years. I’m never a bright ray of sunshine, but the last fifteen years have done more to dampen my spirit about the human race and art and culture as we know it. You know, we’re fighting a war against an invisible enemy and we’re losing it. Every day we’re losing bands and people to the other side and a lot of my hardcore heroes are standing behind really shitty bands and that’s because they’re terrified that they are going to be forgotten; they’re terrified that they’re going to be a footnote in musical history, so they’re just wiping out everything that they’ve ever done that was positive so that they can stand next to As I Lay Dying. You know what I mean? It’s a constant reminder of how far we’ve fallen as a society.

-Was being at MetalSludge.com a good experience?
Yeah, it was great! Metal Sludge was my first real encounter with people who were like, “we like what you do and we just want you to do it.” MTV is very good at the bait and switch and when they were courting me and you know, the president of MTV was coming to my band’s show and blah, blah, blah, they were like, “we love what you do and you’re the best” and on and on and then I got there and they were like, “you can’t do any of it.” “Just shut the fuck up and report what we tell you to.” And that was very disillusioning. When Metal Sludge first contacted me to write for them, I was like, “well, it’s gonna’ be the same shit,” and it wasn’t! And that was very, very cool and it also helped me to define my writing, what my voice was and what I actually believed in. Which is cool because having gone to skullsnbones.com this many years later, I’m a much better writer than I was when I started with Metal Sludge. I think that if Metal Sludge hadn’t been around, “Thirsty and Miserable” never would have been born, which still goes on at skullsnbones.com and I don’t think my writing skills would have been sharp enough. I had a really great experience working there. I have nothing but good things to say about those people. Even when they made fun of me, it was really smart.

-Have you considered collecting your essays and publishing them?
It’s actually funny that you should say that. What we’re going to do now with Isolation Disorder Press, hopefully within the next year, is I’m going to go through six-hundred different things that I have written over the last few years; stuff from my own blog, stuff from nonelouder, stuff from skullsnbones, stuff that I’ve written for fanzines and all that kind of stuff and rather than try to hawk it to somebody, we’re just gonna’ put it out as our own kind of retrospective periodical. Brian Smith who’s the partner that I have is going to do the illustrations. What I’m gonna’ do is give certain essays to artists that I respect, locally from Boston and have them draw something that they think embodies what the article is about. Not for every single one, but for random articles and then hopefully we’ll put out that sometime over the summer in 2009. It took a long time for people to convince me to do it because I felt that it was very pretentious and it was tantamount to me standing in the middle of a public square and jerkin’ off but people like to read that stuff. I decided that I should get over my own self and just put it out and see what people thought.

-When you were growing up, did you read Creem magazine? Were you influenced by music critics like Chuck Eddy?
What happened to me was when I started getting into music, as a kid, I became infatuated with Lester Bangs and Hunter S. Thompson and wasn’t specifically into music-oriented writing. It was more about society as a culture and where music and politics falls into that. I never really read a lot of music magazines. It just didn’t interest me. I liked Lester Bangs’s stuff a lot and some of the writers for Creem who I read later on and when I sort of got past the whole, “I hate music magazines,” ideal that I had as a teenager. I like when people would write things that were statements or bigger than just a review. One thing about this thing that I’m going to be putting out for myself in 2009 is that I don’t want to just put out a review, or just an interview of the bands; “so what did you do this week” or “how did you challenge yourself.” Who gives a fuck? Those types of questions don’t really speak to anything artistically or culturally. That’s one of the reasons that I avoided a lot of magazines. Maybe I lost out but that was just how I did it.

-The reason I ask is because I remember reading Creem magazine as a teenager and it was the fist music magazine that wasn’t afraid to take the piss out of some of the bands it was covering and say, “these guys are a bunch of idiots.”
I learned an important lesson about writing about music from Lester Bangs, who started Creem magazine, which was, “don’t ever become friends with the rock stars.” I’ve got a very limited amount of people that I know in the rock n’ roll world that I’m friends with and they also know that if I don’t like something that they do, I’m going to say it. If they can’t deal with it, then we’re just not going to be friends, because when you first get into something like MTV, your first reaction is you’re meeting all these people and you want them to like you, just like with anything else. You want people to like you and you realize it begins to affect your reporting and it begins to affect how you really are and how clear you’re really being about what you think and what you feel and you can’t do that or else you’re doing yourself a disservice and you’re not really a writer, you’re just a cultural PR person. There are enough of those in the world.

-That’s well put. It seems that most of the magazines that you read are just PR for bands without any true critical thought.
And it’s too bad. It’s a giant machine that doesn’t ever seem to sort of end. It’s almost like everything follows suit; band puts out record, heralded as the “next big thing;” the second record comes out and they say, “they’re not in the sophomore slump, this is a challenging record.” And then they take a couple of years off and then they come back with “the most important thing that they’ve ever released.” Nothing can just come out and go, “alright, this is what this is and what do you think about it?” It’s backed by these PR people that just shove it down your throat and all the magazines, that’s all they are. I’ve never read a really serious piece about any modern heavy metal or rock band that wasn’t a lot of…It’s one of two things; it’s either an obvious blowjob or it’s a blowjob hidden behind cynicism. Like Spin magazine is the kings of that shit. They make you think that they’re being cynical, that they’re being honest, that they’re really taking the piss out of… but they’re not really doing it. They’re sucking the dick of the band of the day but they’re hiding it behind this Pabst Blue Ribbon, hipster, cynicism bullshit,  which is just horribly disgusting to a point of where I think people who do that shit should just be lined up and shot in front of the people they care about. But you know, whatever. Like I said, I don’t have a lot of friends and I’m not that popular with a lot of the major magazines because I just don’t want to play that game. It’s not that I’m better than anybody or cooler than anybody or more of a rebel than anybody. I don’t feel the need to write another article claiming how great Slayer is. Slayer hasn’t put out a record in ten years that means anything, other than, “listen, it’s Slayer.” And it’s not that Slayer are bad guys or I hate them or I feel that they should not continue playing around musically but no one has really talked about the fact that, from what I understand, Tom Araya is now a born-again Christian or at least has become highly religious. And he’s doing this to make some money. You know what I mean? It’s kind of like, “okay, so where’s that?” There are no examinations of what is making the band tick. How much they hate each other. Pick up Spin, Rolling Stone, Decibel; any magazine that covers heavy music and you open up the magazine and each article pretty much reads the same. There are differences in style and questions and attacks, but it’s all pretty much the same thing. The interviews I do on skullsnbones.com, they’re mostly e-mail. There’s no more days of, “I’m going to spend two weeks on the road with these guys.” Nobody wants that; they want instantaneous, “what’s happening right now?”

-I wanted to bring up that point because I always look forward to reading your articles online because they remind me of those days when I looked forward to reading Creem magazine.
Wow, thank you! That’s probably the nicest thing that anybody has ever said to me.

-I believe that you’re writing is a continuation of the legacy of Creem magazine.
Wow, I’m bad with compliments other than to say, “I really appreciate it. Thanks.”

-Tell me about Craveonline.com.
Hopefully Craveonline.com and skullsnbones.com are going to partner up. Ahmad Childress, who is the managing editor at craveonline.com, is a fuckin’ awesome human being and completely understands me and my fucked-up view of the world and is very supportive of pretty much anything that I want to do there. I really like the site because it covers a wide variety of different kinds of things and I’m very excited to be a part of craveonline.com, so that’s very cool.

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  1. 04/28/2009 at 3:26 am

    somehow i don’t understand why someone who always complains about everything and thinks he knows it all is like Lester Bangs. learning the quotes from “Almost Famous” doesn’t make you a music writer. also, absorbing every comic that comes out and spewing a quick basic blurb about the overall arc’s of the books i can get from the “geek” behind the counter at my local book shop. not being mean, just asking why this guy is relevant as a social commentator or artistic critic. everyone is of course accorded their own opinion and the internet has a dearth of that as you now know after conducting this interview.

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