Rock & Race, Part II


Laina Dawes

Interview by Sheila Dianne Jackson

WAYDH-front-jacket w skin

Canadian music journalist and author, LAINA DAWES‘ new book entitled, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, is slated to be released this summer.

Laina shared a great deal with me about her upbringing and her journey as a young girl into rock and metal, in Part II of her interview with  Read on….

SHEILA:  Some projects begin in a very different place than they end up.  How did you come to the decision to write a book on black women in metal?

LAINA D:  I had been writing about Black women in rock music since 2001 or so, as I was a lifelong fan and wanted to see if there were any other women out there who shared the same observations as me. I grew up in an all-white environment. I only had white, male friends who were into the music.  And, while I went to a lot of shows, I always felt a bit out of place. I saw the correlation of how the music affected me as a kid and how it helped me get through some very serious rough patches in my teenage years – being a Black girl in an all-white environment. I’d always been very active in social justice / anti-racism activism and felt that even though it was weird, there was a strong correlation in that the music made me feel strong and empowered in an environment where it felt that there were many obstacles in my way that made me feel like I was nothing.

When I was 11 or 12, I used to stay up late to watch this Canadian music video show on alternative/punk music, and I discovered Agnostic Front and  Henry Rollins from Black Flag. I was mesmerized.  When I was in my early twenties I started collecting Henry’s books. Through him I learned that you had to have faith in yourself before anyone else and that got me thinking about how my metal albums as a kid really helped define me as an individual outside of all the negative, sexualized and racialized stereotypes that Black women face.

In 2005, I presented a paper at the ‘Experience Music Project’ conference (EMP) in Seattle and I met a fellow writer, Phil Freeman whom later asked me to contribute to a music anthology he was editing, Marooned: The Next Generation of  Deserted Island Discs and I wrote about Skunk Anansie, whom I’m a huge fan of. After that, it was suggested that I turn the documentary I wanted to produce on Black women in rock, to a book. I decided to focus on extreme, underground metal, simply because I’m a fan and it was of more interest to me.

SHEILA:  Tell us a little about yourself..and your background?

LAINA D:  I’m a trans-racial adoptee, born in Toronto and was adopted at six months and grew up outside of Kingston, small city in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I come from a family of classical musicians – my dad, who was a chemist, is now a professional musician ( I’m so proud / happy for him) ; one of my brothers is a full-time professional music director, pianist and church organist and my little sister is a very talented violinist. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a minster and also a musician, so music was very, very important in my household, though it was primarily classical. My parents had an awesome record collection of classical, ragtime and some early folk and soul music, and since we grew up in a rural area with no cable, my four brothers and sisters relied on their records to keep the boredom away. I was never judged when my love for KISS at 8 morphed into a serious metal addiction by 11 or 12.


SHEILA:  How did you come to be a music journalist, and now author?

LAINA D:  I must say though, I’ve been told that it was my background that led me to “white people’s” music, but honestly, my family really doesn’t like or really understand the music, but my 70+ mom does know who Metallica and Megadeth are! My first professional photography gig was shooting Metallica and she loves those pictures.

As a black kid raised by white family, I had a hard time fitting in in both the white and black communities – there was a smattering of black families in the area where I went to high school – and I was not

I started out doing hip-hop and R&B music for some online magazines, and writing some pretty militant race-relations stuff, but I was bored by Hip-Hop and once I got the opportunity, started writing about rock, alternative, punk and later, metal music. I still write about race and ethnicity issues for, but my real passion is extreme metal.that interested in fitting in, but more in just finding my own way. I was obsessed with Circus, Creem and Hit Parader magazines and while I always wanted to be a music journalist, I didn’t think black girls were ‘allowed’ to do it. I had always written essays and opinion pieces since high school, but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started taking music journalism seriously.

SHEILA:  When can everyone expect to see your new book. What Are You Doing Here, in stores?

My book will be out  August 14th , 2012 by Bazillon Points Books, a niche but really successful publishing company out of Brooklyn, New York that focuses on publishing high quality books on aggressive genres of music.  The publisher, Ian Christe, who is a successful author in his own right, was the one who suggested I turn my idea of a film to a book, and he has stuck with me though very bad and disorganized early drafts, and always had faith in my work when countless others have not. It truly is an honour to be published by that company.

I plan to have a big-ass book launch in New York in August, where many of the musicians I interviewed live and where the Black Rock Coalition, who have been extremely supportive, was founded. Outside of that, I plan to hit every major city I can in the fall/winter of 2012, do some readings, and hopefully have some live performances by black female metal, hardcore and punk musicians from every city I visit. My site,  will not be up for another month or so, but people can pre-order the book on Amazon.

You can also check out my blog, Writing is Fighting.

SHEILA:  We will keep the community informed of your book launch events and  locations.  Rock on Sista!

Sheila Dianne Jackson is an award-winning author, biographer and CEO of Eve’s Lime Productions. She is Director-Producer of  the upcoming documentary, “Nice & Rough: Black Women IN Rock.”


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