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Jill Hughes Kirtland - Not Just Tits in a Corset

Book Review & Interview with Jill Hughes Kirtland





Not Just Tits in a Corset. If there’s one phrase that really sums up the state of female-fronted metal in today’s world, that would be it. It also happens to be the title of a new book by Jill Hughes Kirtland, journalist, band manager, and former owner of the online magazine USA Progressive Music. Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal is an amazing collection of interviews and photographs of not only the great female musicians that play in our favorite bands, but also the women working behind the scenes in the music industry to promote women in metal music.

I was able to sit down for a phone interview with Jill to discuss this great new book which is certainly the first of its kind. She told me the idea to write the book came to her after attending the Flight of the Valkyries Festival in 2010. “That summer I had sold my online magazine and I wanted to just write a feature article,” says Jill. “I still was friends with the person who bought my magazine, he was a former writer of mine, so I thought maybe I’ll just write a feature article about women in metal. But then I realized, ‘You know what? This would make a really good book!’ because I’d never really read a book on this topic, and there seem to be a lot of really great stories that these women are able to convey about their experiences as women in metal and the trials and challenges that they have had to overcome.”

This idea turned into a four-year effort of gathering interviews and photographs to put this book together. I asked Jill about the process, and she says that the first thing she did was to make a list of the women she wanted to interview. “I did that first by just writing down all the people that I knew of that were pretty fascinating in the genre, because I had interviewed quite a few in the past for my online magazine,” she explains. “Then I reached out to some friends, like Bobbie Dickerson, who was the promoter for Flight of the Valkyries, so she was pretty familiar with that scene, so I asked her who she thought I should interview. And then I also posted some stuff on my facebook page and forums I was on, and you know, just kind of asked people who they thought should be included in the book. So that gave me probably like 100 people.” Jill ended up interviewing 75 women musicians for her book as well as 20 others working tirelessly behind the scenes, including Sonic Cathedral’s very own John Wolff, Robin Stryker, and Lindsay Schoolcraft. The musicians interviewed range from metal legends like Doro Pesch (who penned the book’s foreword) and Lita Ford, to household names within the scene, such as Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel, Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia, and Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale, to members of smaller, local bands about to break through, including Sarah Teets of MindMaze and Nina Osegueda of A Sound of Thunder.

To get the interviews for her book, Jill reached out to all the label contacts she had from her previous work as a music journalist and band manager. “That garnered up quite a few, I would say about 60 or 70 percent of the people that I wanted to interview,” relates Jill. “And then there were some new names, some new faces, that came up just by reaching out to the different contacts that I had, because they were on their roster, so I was able to interview most of them through phone or e-mail, and then if there was a show that was coming through the area, I would make the extra effort to do that particular interview in person.” Jill even travelled all the way to Belgium to attend the 10th anniversary edition of the Metal Female Voices Festival, where she was able to snag a few more interviews and take as many photos as she could. “I really didn’t do many interviews there because I had already interviewed pretty much all of the Eve’s Apple girls, not all of them, but quite a few of them, and a lot of the other females that were represented there that were performing, so I had done a lot of those interviews ahead of time,” notes Jill. “It was more that I went to Metal Female Voices Fest to take photos, and I did a couple of interviews, I think I interviewed Lisa Middelhauve and Manuela Kraller while I was there, so, I think that’s all. I only did a couple interviews while I was there. It was really hard, there was a lot going on.”

The first chapter of Not Just Tits in a Corset chronicles the very beginnings of women in the metal scene and features the women and bands that paved the way for a whole generation of girls to pick up an instrument or a microphone and let it all out on stage. Among these are bands like Fanny, Girlschool, and Phantom Blue, as well as women such as Doro Pesch, Wendy O. Williams, Leather Leone, and Lita Ford, who Jill was particularly nervous about interviewing. “She is such an icon, you know, for women in rock, and that was a little intimidating,” says Jill with a laugh. “She’s been around since the beginning, and she has quite a controversial background with The Runaways, so it was kind of like, do I ask her certain questions? Do I not? I didn’t know how she would respond to things like that, and she had been out of the scene for a while, but she was really gracious, she was willing to pretty much say anything. I got some really good stuff from her! She talked a lot about her divorce, because that was very fresh at that time, and she was coming out with a new album after being out of the scene for 20 years. It was a huge comeback, so that was really cool. I sat down with her for like an hour, it was a really long interview, and if you look at the book, there’s really not that much from her, because she went off on a lot of different tangents, but I would love to actually publish the whole interview someday, because it was just really good.”

The second chapter of the book features many women in metal today discussing their inspirations and what encouraged them to start playing metal in the first place. Naturally, a discussion of the women that inspired so many future metal musicians led me to ask Jill how she herself got into metal music. “I got into metal when I was a teenager, before that I wasn’t really into metal,” reveals Jill. “I grew up in the 80’s and the 90’s, so I was into Guns ‘n Roses. That was part of my start with metal. I was probably only like 5 or 6 years old when my cousin would play his cassette tapes, and it was something that was so bad to listen to because we were really religious, so it was like contraband *laughs*, so we would sneak off and listen to it. And then I got into stuff like Def Leppard and that kind of stuff, so I would say when I was a teenager I wasn’t really into metal at all.” It wasn’t until her late teens and early 20’s that Jill realized her love of metal when a boyfriend of hers at the time introduced her to Dream Theater. “That was my introduction to progressive metal,” she reminisces. “Then I really got into the prog metal and the power metal stuff after college, so I was in my early 20’s when I really started getting into metal. I started listening to the traditional heavy metal stuff, like Iron Maiden, and then I got into Within Temptation.”

Within Temptation wasn’t, however, Jill’s introduction to female-fronted metal. That honor goes to arguably one of the most successful bands in the scene and one that brought female-fronted metal to mainstream radio for the first time in many years. “The first female I heard in metal was Amy Lee and Evanescence, if you consider that metal,” confesses Jill. “I was just out of college, so it was the early 2000’s when they really broke through, and I heard ‘Bring Me to Life’ on the radio, and I was like wow, this is so cool, this is really heavy, this is really epic, and I had never heard anything like this before, so I really got into Evanescence. I bought their album, and I just couldn’t stop listening to it in the car, a new car with a CD player, finally, not a cassette player *laughs*, and I was really excited about it. And then a couple years later, my friend got me into Within Temptation, and from there it just kind of took off, because I more liked stuff like that.” It’s not an uncommon story, either. While they didn’t pioneer the genre of symphonic metal, Evanescence opened the door for many fans, especially in North America, to discover already established bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation who had by that time garnered a significant following in Europe.

While the first few chapters of Not Just Tits in a Corset chronicle the rise and growth of female-fronted metal, much of the rest of the book explores the current state of women in the metal scene, their successes and their struggles to make it in a genre traditionally considered a “boy’s club,” from every day instances of blatant sexism to outrageous requests from labels and management to promote these women as sex objects instead of talented musicians. The interviews reveal that while a lot of progress has been made, there’s still a ways to go before equality is achieved. I asked Jill if she thought we were on the right track towards equality in the metal scene, and though she acknowledges that things are getting better, she notes that there is still a lot of room for improvement. “People are accepting more of the symphonic metal types of bands and there’s a lot of stuff that is catering more to females,” she notes. “I did go to a Kittie show, and it’s still pretty dismal as far as the numbers of females that were there, even though it’s a female-fronted band. I would say it was still very male-heavy. I think at the symphonic metal shows, though, you’ll see that the ratio is a little bit closer. It’s not 50/50 yet, but definitely more females.”

A part of Jill’s book that really stands out is that it features interviews with women who work behind the scenes, including festival promoters, journalists, graphic designers, and managers at record labels. Though more and more women are taking more active roles behind the scenes, these women face their own struggles, even if they’re not in the bands they’re promoting. “I run into more and more females who are taking more active roles behind the scenes,” Jill says. “They’re still mostly merchandise girls, merchandise managers. There aren’t too many tour managers or band managers; I was one of the few I’ve ever met! I think they’re taking more of those traditional roles, like merchandise, but there are a lot more promoters that are female, that’s a plus. There are quite a few that are putting on big festivals and big tours, but you don’t see them behind the light and the sound board very often. I did interview some engineers, but there weren’t that many available to interview.”

Though we get an inside look through the interviews in the book at the struggles of women behind the scenes, I asked Jill to tell me a little bit about her own experiences as a band promoter. “I think a lot of time’s it’s just being taken seriously,” admits Jill. “Having the confidence to do the jobs where a lot of times… you know some of those jobs are really hard for women, especially when you have to lift things that are really heavy, and dealing with the politics, and when some venue promoters are very crude. I’ve had to deal with a lot of them where they’re just outright crude to you because you’re a female, they think you’re hooking up with somebody in the band or you’re the girlfriend of somebody in the band and that’s why you’re the manager. They don’t take you as seriously, and they ridicule you a lot, and they also try to act like, you know, ‘we’re going to have to be easy around her because she’s a girl, don’t make her carry around anything too heavy or work too hard or don’t say anything too crude in front of her, she can’t handle it’, like that kind of stuff. I’ve had that happen to me before, like ‘oh there’s a girl in the room we’ve gotta behave now’. So there’s that whole aspect of it. And I curse worse than the guys, so I’m just like ‘whatever’.”

So what does the future hold for women in metal? Some would say that the terms “female-fronted metal” and “women in metal” are now irrelevant and that promoting bands as female-fronted could be considered counter-productive. Jill, however, doesn’t think we’re ready to abandon that term just yet. “You know, I heard a statistic the other day, and I probably should have had this stat when I wrote the book, but somebody told me that female-fronted bands are only 3% of metal bands out there, and that’s really low. That’s really low!” she exclaims. “I was shocked, I thought it was higher than that, and I think until there are more, there still needs to be a distinction because they’re so rare, and so I think if we can get that number up, then it won’t be as obvious and I think that term will go away. I’m not saying that I like the term, but it is what it is.”

Overall, Not Just Tits in a Corset is a great insight into the evolution of female-fronted metal as well as what the state of the scene today. As Jill describes it, it’s about the “heart and soul” of being a woman in metal. She’s quick to note, however, that “it’s not a historical book or an encyclopedia of women in metal, it’s not going to read like a history book. The first chapter is [a history of women in metal] but it’s a summary, it’s not comprehensive of everything and every woman in metal, and I really want to make that clear, because I think some people who are reading the book are expecting that and then are disappointed. I wrote this because I wanted it to be authentic of what the scene is like and the different kinds of people who are involved, the women who are involved across all sub-genres and around the world.”

A big thank you to Jill Hughes Kirtland for the interview! Make sure to pick up a copy of Not Just Tits in a Corset: Celebrating Women in Metal here.