Vancouver writer Catherine Owen’s latest collection of poetry, Trobairitz (Anvil Press), melds the seemingly disparate worlds of 21st-century metalheads and 12th-century troubadours into a molten amalgam of sweat, serfdom, angst and Warlock guitars. And she should know, having played bass in the trenches of heavy metal with such acts as Inhuman, Helgrind and her current musical project Medea. Owen locked devil horns with the Courier to discuss van murals, Susan Musgrave’s panties and being a woman in metal’s man-ster wheel.
1. You’ve just come back from a number of reading events across the country. What’s more gruelling, a book tour or a heavy metal tour?
Metal without a doubt. No funding. Fiddly gear. Worse couches. Crappier pizza. Later hours. Longer drives. Crazier people.
2. What should our readers know about Trobairitz and will they go to hell for reading it?
Oh more than likely. I am the daughter of a nun. Trobairitz is a book of poems that puts troubadours and metalheads in a mosh pit of forms, tunes and beats and lets them go at it until blood or song results.
3. I assume that’s you on the cover of your book. What’s the secret to a good hair toss?
Yes it is. Pilates to thicken the neck muscles. Then you just get some momentum going. And try not to fall over.
4. Have you ever owned or driven in a van with a mural painted on the side?
I never got my licence precisely because I knew I would never be able to afford that dream van.
5. Who’s the greatest lyricist in heavy metal?
When I used to listen to heavy metal as a teenager I thought that lyrics by Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue were deeply moving. He just got right to the heart of adolescent ire as in these immortal lines from “Shout at the Devil”: “He’s the wolf screaming lonely in the night/he’s the bloodstain on the stage.”
6. If you could have written one heavy metal lyric by somebody else, which one would it be?
There aren’t that many metal lyrics actually that translate well to the page due to their frequency of clichés. They sound great screamed over blast beats however. Many of the metal bands I love like Rotting Christ, Enthroned, Mayhem and so forth don’t even speak English as a first language. I must say I do enjoy some Candlemass lyrics like this one from “Psalms for the Dead”: “Is that a sun there in your hand/a little light that battles with itself/is there a message in the sand/that tells me how to set the world in flames?” Epic stuff. Still, nothing beats the metal songs I wrote at 13 years old like the oh so memorable HELL HOLE.
7. Heavy metal bands haven’t always been the most enlightened when it comes to attitudes towards women. Do you sense that’s changed?
Not really. It’s still a dude scene. There are more women singing and playing instruments but mostly they need to fit into the stereotype of guy-chick or hot-babe. I aim for neither extreme.
8. Do you see your poetry as a response to heavy metal’s old boys club?
Trobairitz is a poetic reaction to eight plus years of playing bass and singing in blackmetal/doom bands in which I was regularly subjected to various forms of you can’t do that, oh you’re doing that as a woman, why don’t you do that with your shirt off and so forth. It’s my lyrical scream against the strain of being female in metal’s man-ster wheel.
9. What’s the most debaucherous thing you’ve witnessed at a poetry reading?
Susan Musgrave waving her panties around while trying to auction them off. But that was a long time ago.
10. When you aren’t writing poetry or playing music, what do you do for fun and relaxation?
Take photos of rusted and/or decaying things. Make tofu dogs. Toss catnip pillows. Stroll by the river Styx imagining Armageddon.