Local Atlanta photographer/film maker Emily Harris is about to release here debut documentary, Atlanta Metal. Harris, a grad student at Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta took it upon herself to dedicate three years of her life documenting the Atlanta metal scene. Attending countless shows and talking to numerous bands and media people (me included), Harris at times nearly bit off more than she could chew but she persevered and the end result is three years of footage and interviews condensed into 45 minutes.
I recently had lunch with Emily and she was awesome enough to tell me all about her documentary, the tears, and the fun that she experienced in the making of this film. The film, Atlanta Metal, will premiere on Sunday, January 11th at the Masquerade here in Atlanta. If you’re here, go see it. If you’re not, buy it online after the show. Sit back and enjoy reading about Emily Harris and her awesome documentary Atlanta Metal.
Emily, thanks so much for doing this interview. The tables are turned on you so now YOU are the subject!
[laughs] I know. This is so weird [laughs].
So for those that don’t know you, who are you?
[laughs] Who am I? Wow, that’s a deep question. Well, I’m a metal fan and I’m also a photographer. I’ve been able to mesh those two loves together in grad school in order to get my MFA.
How did this become your concentration in school and the focus of your MFA?
Well, it didn’t start out thinking that I would do something about metal. The idea came to me when I took a documentary photography class in my 2nd or 3rd quarter of school. In that class we had to come up with a project and for my project I really wanted to re-visit my youth. I wasn’t having a mid-life crisis per say but I just wanted to revisit my high school years. I asked my friend Amos (Rifkin; drummer for Death of Kings) and he introduced me to a high school metal band called Homicidal. I spent a whole quarter documenting their band and just hanging out and I felt like I was revisiting my high school years through them. During that project it dawned on me that this is what I wanted to do for my thesis but I wanted it to be about the Atlanta metal community.
Emily, how did you get into metal in the first place and how did you develop such a passion for it?
When I was about 14 I was in marching band in high school. I was a total nerd but it was so awesome. I had an older boyfriend who I met in marching band and him and his best friend were musicians. I didn’t have great taste in music at that point and I didn’t know that much about music. They just started giving me cd’s and turned me on to punk and metal music. That was when I really fell in love.
While doing this documentary, what were some of the more positive things you picked up on regarding the Atlanta metal scene?
One of the positive things I picked up on was that the community is really tight. Pretty much everyone knows each other and for the most part is very friendly with each other. They support each other and they want to help each other. That strength in the community was the biggest thing that I picked up on.
Like with anything else, while doing a documentary and any other kind of journalism, we can often times see the not so nice side, the darker side if you will, of things. What were some of those not so positive things you experienced while in the trenches?
It’s funny because going into this project my main goal was for this documentary to be totally positive. I tried to eliminate and even ignore anything that was negative because I wanted to portray the community as positive but of course there were some negative things about it. For one, being a girl just walking into these clubs was kind of hard. It’s harder to be taken seriously when you’re trying to talk to all these guys and you’re a girl. I really had to break into that and that wasn’t always easy. Another thing was that some of the bands just aren’t friendly with each other. It was really frustrating to see that there are some bands in the Atlanta scene that just don’t talk to each other. I wish there was more camaraderie than there is.
Did discovering this aspect of it kind of change your views of the scene?
Yeah, it definitely made it more realistic. I guess I’ve changed from a pessimist to an optimist because of this though. The hippie inside of me just really wants people to get along. I don’t know if my documentary will do anything to change that but if it can help to unite the community in any way that would make me happy.
You stated that it was hard at times being a female and approaching bands for interviews. Did you actually have any real flat out painful experiences when doing this project?
Nobody was flat out mean to me which is great [laughs]. I have a friend who told me that it must be easier for me to talk to bands since I’m a female but sometimes being a female trying to talk to all these guys in bands, maybe they’re going to look at you differently than if you were just a guy. They might try to hit on you and what not instead of just talking to you about the music. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking, “Are these guys going to take me seriously?”
To prep for this documentary, did you spend a lot of time watching other documentaries?
Yeah, I watched a lot of them. I watched Sam Dunn’s documentaries definitely, “Until the Light Takes Us”, the black metal documentary, so yeah.
How did they influence you?
They gave me some guidance especially as to how to put a whole documentary together, how to tell a story, and how to just put it all together. They also gave me pointers on what not to do. If I saw something in those documentaries that I thought was done really badly, I knew not to do that in mine.
You seem to concentrate a lot on the more extreme metal for the most part. What is it about that kind of metal that speaks to you?
I’m just drawn to this kind of music because the more aggressive styles of metal is what speaks to me more. Inside of me, there’s that pent up frustration that just needs to come out and that music just does that for me.
While talking to and interviewing people for this documentary, did you discover some other types of metal that you didn’t really know about that you found yourself liking?
One of the bands that I covered in this documentary is a band called Awaken the Ancient. They use a lot of jazz in their music and their sound is way different from any other band in Atlanta. It’s like death metal meets jazz. It’s very confusing but really cool. Another band would be Lazer Wulf. I didn’t get to cover them in this documentary, I wish I would have, but their sound is very ethereal and kind of this transient thing. They are really bad ass. I really discovered a lot of other different bands while doing this.
You really talked to a lot of people such as myself and other photographers and what not. How did talking to these folks steer you in the direction you took while making Atlanta Metal?
Actually, I picked those people for a good reason. Not only did I want to involve the bands, I wanted it to be about the grander picture. I wanted it to also be about the media. For me, as a photographer, I wanted to find other people who were doing their own thing and in their own way supporting the metal community. I really wanted people to see that other side of things as well.
Do you ever see yourself doing this kind of thing again and maybe exploring other genres of metal?
Absolutely. I’m not just into black metal and death metal. There’s all kinds of metal and if a band is good I’m not going to dismiss them based on the kind of metal that they play.
Looking back on it now that it’s complete, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
If was to do it all over again, I’d focus on just one band, or one genre, or even just one person rather than an entire city. I’d do something more focused on something more specific. That’s my only downfall with this documentary. I went in with such a broad kind of topic where I was trying to discuss a lot of different things in one short film. It was extremely overwhelming.
So how long did this project take you to complete?
About three years overall. I only had two nervous breakdowns [laughs].
This is the end product of all my hard work for the last 3 years. The show will feature some life size photographs and some artifacts from people from the local community, and then the film itself will be shown. I’ll also have some other goodies that I’ve made and I have four local bands playing. Homicidal, Malformity, Cesspool, and Sybaritic and it’s a free show.
Will the general public and those unable to attend the event be able to buy this DVD?
My plan is to have the DVD available to order from my website www.emilyharrisphotography.com after the show.
Finally, what are you hoping to get across to the people who will be watching this documentary?
I want people who have any stereotypes against metal or this lifestyle to see just how much this music means to these people. I want them to see that metal, to these people, is about family, about having confidence, and perseverance. I want show people that the Atlanta community does have these things going on here and that in the end it really is more of a positive thing than anything. Also, if this documentary can help these bands get noticed, get some publicity, or anything like that then my job is done.
Emily, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview and best of luck to you and with the release of Atlanta Metal.
Thank you Don. I appreciate all your support.