For Gay Pride Month, Billboard asked artists about the reality of being out musicians in hard rock/metal and the state of LGBTQAI acceptance in the genre. Below, Paul Masvidal discusses his experiences as guitarist for Cynic and Death.
Paul Masvidal has seen both sides of the closet door as a performer. In the early ’90s, he was out among friends while he was a guitarist in Death, one of the forefathers of death metal. But he kept his orientation quiet from fans because he wanted them to stay focused just on his music. However, when his current band, the death-metal influenced prog act Cynic, released Kindly Bent to Free Us in 2014, Masvidal and former Cynic drummer Sean Reinert agreed to disclose that they were both gay after their record label asked if they were willing to discuss it during the album’s promotion cycle.
“I said, ‘OK. It’s time to talk about it in our world,’ ” recalls Masvidal, 46. Since the pair came out in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he says reaction has been “at least 85 percent” positive. One detractor, though — luthier Vik Kuletski, owner of Vik Guitars — posted comments on his Facebook page that indicated he was displeased. Not only did such commenters as musician Drewsif Stalin and Scar Symmetry guitarist Per Nilsson challenge those remarks, Periphery members Misha Mansoor and Adam Nolly, who had business ties with Kuletski, posted statements declaring they were severing those relationships due to Kuletski’s stance.
“It was really impressive how these kids stood up, and this is hardcore metal-scene stuff,” says Masvidal of the incident. “That being said, there’s still a lot of stuff going on.” He cites as a recent example how he made a Facebook post, and “suddenly, there was this guy saying a bunch of homophobic slurs. All these fans were coming to our defense, and I blocked him. It was ridiculous.” Masvidal recognizes that tolerance within the community has come a long way, but it also still has “a lot of ignorance.”
Aside from Vik Kuletski, did anyone say to you they had a problem with finding out you were gay?
Oh, sure. Different versions of that. Never in my face, fighting me, but plenty of “F—t, get off the stage” slurs from audiences. That’s happened numerous times over the past couple decades, I’d say. We had, at one point, bottles thrown at us on a tour a long time ago. I think it was Texas in some small town, and literally a couple bottles were hurled.
The thing is that [Cynic was] outsiders. We were always outsiders as a metal band, not only sonically with our influences coming at it from a totally different direction, but we never wore the masculine badge as being tough guys or any of that. We oftentimes wore very colorful clothes, so we were just a little more eccentric and kind of outside the box … Never someone coming up and starting a fight with me, but audience moments, like some kind of aggressive moments.
How do you deal with that?
I’ve approached it different ways, depending on the vibe, but I guess I really don’t want to incite violence. Generally, I’ll say like, “Someone please, whoever said that, someone give that guy a hug or spend some time with them, because he’s obviously working through something, and if we could help assist you working through it, releasing this anger, let’s do it.” At the same time, if it feels really aggressive and nasty, I’m going to stand up for ourselves a bit more and say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the right space for you and it’s time to leave.” I’ll offer that as well if I feel it’s somebody who vibrationally shouldn’t be in the room, which occasionally happens.
Do you think death metal is homophobic in terms of genre content or in terms of audience and its creators?
I think the death metal scene has evolved. It’s different now. There’s so many different subcultures and genres in the death metal scene, and I’m not really deep in that world. I just know that originally, it was pretty rough around the edges. I think it softened over the years, and I think the younger generation, Gen X, Gen Y, have appeared, potentially Zs, there’s another component, so they’re growing up with it more, so there’s less ignorance around it. But it’s still there.
… There’s this old-guard thing going on with it that may never get past it. It’s almost like a Viking mentality or something. But it’s OK, because there’s plenty of artists and groups that are doing well in their own subgenres and communities that don’t need to participate in that world.
… There’s a lot of aggression involved in metal. It’s an expression of anger, a lot of it. A lot of these bands, it really is kind of a wall of, hit us over the head with this sound. There’s different versions of metal that cover a wide [spread] of emotions, but definitely at the root of it is this visceral aggression. That not channeled constructively in a young person that has their own internalized homophobia issues, it’s going to manifest, and suddenly, [they think], “This rock guy, wait, you’re not allowed to be a voice in metal.”
With the ignorance, you have this stereotype of a gay man being perhaps a feminine character, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. There is that [dynamic] in the community, but there’s the other extreme as well. I could take you to where’s it’s all just trucker guys, and they’re all gay. They’re drinking beer and making hot dogs.
What can be done to improve inclusiveness?
Dillinger Escape Plan was very outspoken against anti-LGBT-biased stuff, a really pro-gay rights voice in their scene … You need people who have respectable voices in the community. Henry Rollins is outspoken as an LGBT advocate. That’s pretty cool. That’s what makes a big difference, because so many of these people, especially the more ignorant, are looking to these people as voices for instruction, for guidance. These artists become kind of their role models, in a sense … You have to speak out everywhere when it’s happening. Otherwise, it just gets perpetuated.