Photos from 'Metal Cats' by Alexandra Crockett, published by powerHouse Books.
In their perceived habitat, a metalhead is a lone wolf, a vagabond, an unrepentant practitioner of anything and everything metal. But the moment you witness a metalhead disconnect from their controlled, brutish persona into a sappy, emotional being who makes meow meow noises at kitties in pet shop windows is the moment you realize that the savagery of metal is purely an illusion. Everyone who listens to metal is not a sociopathic caveman who hates your family and sacrifices stuff to whatever. If we’ve learned anything from Hesher or various episodes of Metalocalypse, metalheads are deeply sensitive souls who feel feelings. They cry at the end of The Notebook (I’ve seen this…twice), they stick up for people they care about, and they crumble at the sight of a fluffy kitty.
Alexandra Crockett, a photographer and doctoral student at the California School of Professional Psychology, has witnessed this softer side of the metalhead as well. After spending nearly 15 years in the Seattle metal scene, her visual documentation of extreme musicians and their kitty cat pals prompted the idea behind her upcoming book release Metal Cats, a 100-plus photo collection of metal’s most misanthropic figures and their cute, cuddly felines. Featuring members of Cattle Decapitation, Phobia, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Xasthur, and Skarp, the dynamic between metal’s most violent and domineering musicians and their furry kittehs are explored through 176 pages of adorable that destroys the stereotypical metalhead image we’ve come to accept.
Recently, I spoke with Alexandra (whose sister, Marietta, is one of my favorite Seattle friends - Hey, Marietta! You suck!), about the May 6 release of Metal Cats, and discussed the connection between metal dudes and kitties, the few assholes that were nervous about their image, and other animals she considers metal. If Murderface or Hesher were real people, they’d probably weep with happiness (wait for it…), BECAUSE CATS.
Noisey: In the past couple of weeks, Metal Cats has been featured on Spin, Buzzfeed, New York Magazine, and other outlets. How does the exposure make you feel?
Alexandra Crockett: It’s been overwhelming. I’m in a doctoral program so I have 12 hours of class a day most days and I facilitate group therapy with foster kids and I work on research with one of my professors, so it’s been overwhelming. I’ve been having a mental breakdown for weeks on end, but it’s also really exciting and positive. I’ve been forced to be really good at organization and multi-tasking. Now I’m a master at it.
When I was living in Seattle a few years back, and working with your sister, she never mentioned Metal Cats. Was this an idea that came about within the past few years?
It was 2010 when I started it and I actually started actively taking photos within a couple weeks of thinking about the project, so I did not waste any time, I just immediately began. So in 2006 I graduated from undergrad. I hadn’t done anything else; I was just working as an addiction counselor at the time.
When did your involvement in the Seattle metal scene come about?
My friends and I would take the ferry over from Bainbridge to Seattle and went to shows all the time—sometimes unbeknownst to our parents—and I got involved that way. A couple of my friends' bands would end up playing out in Seattle, Bellingham, Vancouver [BC], so after a while, I moved to Seattle to go to college at the University of Washington and the metal scene was kind of blowing up at that time. A lot of the people who had mainly been into punk were now into metal and were going to shows. It was pretty cool because all of us who live in the peninsula, not just Bainbridge Island, but in all of these small, weird towns that have nothing going on, all those kids who lived there end up moving to Seattle at the time. There was this big connection between kids who were from the peninsula who were now in the metal scene in Seattle.
So when did you make the connection that metalheads are cat lovers?
I guess I noticed it early on because all of my friends at one point had a cat that they were really obsessed with and loving towards. But I guess when I really think about it—even though I made that connection when I’d take pictures of metal dudes with their cats early on—I think it was my roommate who made the connection because she was the one who suggested that I do the book. She was like, "This is a thing. You should do a book because you already have so many photos. You might as well go out and do some photo shoots."
Did you use some of the older photos that you were just talking about or are the photos in the book pretty recent?
I didn’t use any of the old photos because they’re really old and not good for print—you can’t blow them up. I started completely from nothing and texted about 30 of my friends that were in the metal scene and was like, "Hey, if I did this would you be interested?" and everybody who replied to me within the next couple of hours seemed to be really down to do it and excited about the idea. I think they were mainly excited because they wanted to show off their cats. So it just kind of went from there. The submissions mainly came because of the Facebook page. It got a lot of friends and followers pretty quickly and friends started sending me photos really quickly and I was like, "Well, maybe I can include some of these, too, because why not?"
I was actually about to ask if you took the photos exclusively or if some were sent to you.
I took 115 photo shoots for the book. All of my photos are in the book and I think there are probably 75 to 80 submissions in there because my publisher had me cut them down over and over again, but I received about 700 submissions. I’m still receiving them today. At first, I gave them all the submission but the publishers said that they couldn’t do that many pages and that I had to cut them down to 300. So I cut them down to 300 and they were like, "Actually, just cut them down to 100. Oh, you have to cut them down to 50," and I was like, "OK, there are some people I’m not going to cut out."
People who are in really big bands who wanted to be represented visually in a book with their cat that had nothing to do with their bands. I felt like I really respected the fact that they had some fame but still wanted to submit a photo. I definitely kept some people in the book and I kept submissions from people who I felt really helped me finish my project.
Are there specific artists in the book that you were really excited about photographing?
I feel pretty excited about everybody. The people that I photographed I pretty much handpicked. If I had photographed everyone who wanted to be photographed, it would be 100 more photos. But I really took the time to be like, "This person is a good representative of what I want people to see in the metal scene. They’re good to other people, they’re not racist, sexist, doing shitty things to others and they’re in local bands and/or support local music." I’m really excited about all of them. I don’t get super starstruck about people. I feel like everybody that I photographed has their own unique value, whether or not they’ve gotten media attention.
What is it about the personality of a cat and the personality of a metalhead that creates an almost symbiotic bond?
I think it really works with people’s schedules to have an independent animal because as we see with dogs, which we usually see with punks, the dogs are always with them; they need a lot of attention. You have to walk it, you have to be very attentive, and with cats, you don’t have to be as much because they choose when you get to give them attention. Cats are less demanding of your time and it’s kind of like when you have a good relationship with a partner: they leave you alone when you need to be left alone, and then sometimes, you spend some time together. I also think it’s about the “Not give-a-fuck” attitude. Cats and metalheads both have that kind of attitude of like, "I’m going to do whatever I want, and if you don’t like it, I really don’t care."
Were there people you photographed who were concerned about their image? Like it would taint their metal-ness or something?
I had, out of probably 200 people that I was scheduled to photograph, two people who were concerned, in some way, about their image because of being photographed with their cat. I was like, "Well, I’m just not going to photograph you then, because you’re an idiot." It’s so silly. I can’t imagine that something as simple as your pet is going to change your image. To me, it’s kind of like they have a personal problem. So I was like, "Alright, we don’t need to photograph you. I’m not going to pressure you."
Was it difficult to photograph some of the kitties or were they mostly compliant?
They were not compliant in the least. [Laughs] I was telling someone the other day that there’s a difference between some of my first photos and some of the ones later on. My best friend John was working at a lighting place at the time when I first started the project, so I borrowed full-on stage lighting. They’re quite warm so it would warm up the area where I was photographing and the cats would get really relaxed and happy. But when I stopped using those, it was a completely different ballgame without the warmth. I had light stands and everything and it was difficult. There was a lot of giving breaks to the cat and then I’d take a bunch of photos and then take another 10 minute break. Each photo shoot was completely different but we had to try pretty hard to make it happen.
Did you happen to shoot any women and their cats for the book?
Nope. It’s all male-identified people. There’s some transgender people and there are people who are straight and gay and white and Mexican. I’ve been asked the question about race, too, but unfortunately the metal scene is Caucasian-centric. I hope that someday it will change but diversity comes with time and with people becoming more open-minded. I didn’t use any women because I felt like the dynamic between men and cats was more funny and unique. People don’t necessarily identify men with having an emotional relationship with an animal, or even having a soft side. But I’m absolutely a complete feminist and talk about these issues all the time. I advocate and work for social justice constantly, so I really want to do a second project that involves women—I just need to find the right dynamic. I felt that for my first project it wasn’t quite the right dynamic, but absolutely throughout the whole project women were like, "How come we can’t be involved?" And I was like, "You’re going to get your turn. I’m getting to it."
Is this project already in the works?
Yeah, I’ve already talked to Bariann and Nina, who is my publicist and the publicist for powerHouse Books, about a second book maybe involving women or some other demographic altogether. I’m definitely looking forward to doing something like that. I don’t know when that will be because I would like to graduate from my doctoral program first, but I do have that in my mind in the works.
And the proceeds for the book are going towards no-kill shelters, correct?
Yes. My cut for the book is very small, so proceeds from my cut will go towards no-kill shelters and the proceeds from the release party in Seattle, the one in Oakland and the one in New York will also going towards no-kill shelters. I can’t speak for the publisher, but I very much doubt that they will be donating anything from their cut.
How did you hook up with powerHouse?
It was through one of my photo shoots. It was right at the end of the project when I was about to self-publish. I did an Indiegogo [a crowd funding website], and I did a benefit show in Seattle, one in Portland [OR] and one in LA, so I had some money that I saved up to self-publish because I had never published a photography book before. Then one of my friends who I photographed for the book had brought it up to his friend Nina, who is powerHouse’s publicist, and then Nina took it to powerHouse and was like, "Hey, I think this is a really cool project. Maybe we should take it on." It was actually Nina and Bariann who I think were responsible for getting their attention and then powerHouse was pretty much on board from the start.
I read somewhere that you don’t own a cat yourself, but if you did own a cat, would you give it a metal name?
I come up with pretty silly names for my pets. Marietta and I got a kitten together a few years back—and I don’t have a cat anymore because that cat got eaten by a coyote—and its name was Suknukoon, so I would not name my cat a metal name. I would name it a made up name that I felt would fit their personality.
And lastly, what other pets’ aside from cats do you consider metal?
[Laughs] Let’s see. I think some dogs can be metal, but I kind of think they’re more punk than metal. I kind of think the cuter the pet, the more metal it is because being comfortable with yourself and being able to be like, "Fuck off, this is who I am," I almost think that’s even more metal. So maybe something like a bunny…or a chinchilla.
Stephanie Dubick is on Twitter posting cat gifs - @SteffLeppard