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Jeff Wagner    
jeff wagner
Probably more so than in any other genre, listening to metal is a participant sport. Metalheads love to form bands, join street teams, and start 'zines. Unfortunately for most of us, metal is a hobby. 'Zines rarely can provide an income - most simply fight to break even. Even most metal musicians in signed bands need to work a day job just to make ends meet. So metal gets relegated to our free time, with the prime daylight hours devoted to payin' the bills. Precious few break through to a point where metal can be a career. Rarer still is the person who can make a living writing about metal. It just simply isn't done.

As co-editor of Metal Maniacs magazine, the true metal mag published by Sterling MacFadden, Inc. (which otherwise specializes in soap opera and teen pin-up rags like Tiger Beat and is available in just about every supermarket in North America), Jeff Wagner is North America's most prominent heavy metal journalist. Jeff's Maniacs tenure (since 1996) has brought intelligence, integrity and diversity to the mag, and his editorial reign has developed a loyal, worldwide following. The fact that he is now stepping down from his position is a very significant event in the metal world, and its worthy of a closer examination.

How could Wagner leave metal journalism's sacred post? The news left the metal nation feeling like the U.S. in the throes of another recount. Was he getting out of metal? What did this mean for Metal Maniacs? Who would fill Jeff's shoes? And what exactly does Mr. Wagner have up his sleeve for his next trick? All questions which needed to be answered. Jeff therefore graciously agreed to sit down with the Metal Update, and gave us the scoop.

Metal Update: How old are you?

Jeff Wagner: 31.

MU: How did you first get into metal?

JW: Like for a lot of people in my generation, Kiss was a huge thing when we were six, seven, eight years old. We were highly impressionable. Immedi ately their image -- the loudness and the brashness of my first exposure to Kiss was just incredibly powerful. Still is. 'Cause I really still love their old music. And I think they're actually a pretty valid rock band in every way.

MU: Did you ever see Kiss play live in the 1970's?

JW: No, the first time I saw them was February 8, 1983, I think it was.

MU: Is this about the time you were first getting into it?

JW: No, I'd been into them for a while. I grew up in the Midwest. And they came to Iowa on the 'Dynasty' tour . . .

MU: You grew up in Iowa?

JW: Yeah.

MU: Slipknot country?

JW: Yeah. That's a whole other story. I was in a band that one of the guys in Slipknot used to come see.

MU: What was the name?

JW: Fleshdig.

MU: Fleshdig?

JW: Stupid name. Anyway, I didn't get to see 'em until the 'Creatures of the Night' tour. So I did see 'em with makeup, and that was pretty great. So was Kiss. I've seen 'em like fifteen or sixteen times now. I've gone to see them every tour. Just because it was Kiss.

MU: When were they the worst?

JW: 'Crazy Nights'.

MU: When was that?

JW: '87-'88. But I still went to see them. Just for those four songs. They'd always play "Cold Gin," you know. They'd always play "Detroit Rock City". I was there.

MU: Do you still care about Kiss? Should they be hanging it up?

JW: I'm glad they're hanging it up. But I'm glad they came back too. I've been bugging my publisher to get me tickets to one of the New York shows. It's gonna be impossible to get in. But he knows Gene Simmons pretty well.

MU: You gonna wear Kiss makeup to the show?

JW: No. I'll let them do that.

jeff wagner
Drunk in Holland: Wagner raids the minibar, while an amused Ula Gehret takes pictures.

MU: Is Kiss the first band who ever wore corpse paint?

JW: Well, obviously there's Alice Cooper. I think some bands experimented with it in the past. I don't know how much Arthur Brown did, or how much you know about him. But he was pretty theatrical. Played with a lot of cryptic things on stage.

MU: So anyway, Kiss was your first exposure to metal.

JW: Kiss was my first exposure. That, of course, led just to just interest in rock. When I was about ten, eleven, twelve, I would just listen to radio, see what I could glean from there. I would hear Styx and REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. Some of that was kinda heavy and it kind of got me drawn into that. And I found a really cool station who would play like Saxon and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

MU: In Iowa?

JW: In Iowa. WXLP, I think. 97.

MU: They still play that stuff?

JW: Nah, they turned commercial at one point like every cool station eventually does. That got me into Priest, Maiden. They'd play that stuff late and on the weekends. That was really when I was searching out Maiden and Priest and those bands in '82 and '83.

MU: Were you into the hair bands in the '80's?

JW: No, not really. Back then, because everything was so new, I used to check the stuff out. I'd listen to it, but I would not buy the stuff until I knew I liked it. I mean, the only bands I came out liking from that era were TNT, which I think are much more legitimately good, as opposed to Poison. I never got into that stuff.

MU: What about Motley Crue, 'Shout at the Devil'? Early Def Leppard.

JW: A lot of people loved that stuff I liked early Def Leppard. I liked 'Get Your Rocks Off'. The second album is pretty good. After that I lost interest. Back in the day it was all kind of interesting, but even then I was pretty picky.

MU: When did you transition?

JW: Well, it was Priest and Maiden into Accept. And of course, Accept to me was an underground band at the time, right before 'Balls to the Wall' came out. And then that led to . . . I can't remember when the transition was. But some time, about '83 or '84, myself and some friends discovered a record store that carried Metal Forces which had just started up at the time. Kerrang! was still good at the time. Picked up some of those magazines, started finding out about the bands. Of course that led to Exciter, which led to Metallica, which was a huge revelation. Anthrax, you name it. Manowar, all those bands that were coming up at the time. That was extremely exciting. Extremely empowering for someone my age. We were geeks, even back then. We were listeners. "Top Ten Manowar Riffs On the First Four Albums". Stuff like that.

MU: When did you get involved with the scene?

JW: I guess it was in college, in '87 or '88. There was a magazine that was done by the people who did Cream, called Thrash Metal. They were asking for reader reviews. I did a reader review on Rage 'Perfect Man'. And I sent it in. The guy, Steve Peters, the editor at the time, liked it so much, he wrote me back and told me I won the contest. Not only that, he liked it so much he said they'd like me to contribute regularly.

MU: What did you do?

JW: Nothing. They pulled the magazine before we got anywhere with discussing things. But from that I got very interested. Maybe I could make this a viable hobby at least. And I started writing for a fanzine from Canada called Anti-Poser, and I did a few pretty immature things for that. I still look at that and--

MU: What comes off as so immature about it?

JW: The excitement comes off. You're way less discerning. When you get your chance to push bands to people, when you're first writing in print--

MU: Why is it exciting for people to push bands to other people?

JW: I think it is the same thing as doing a radio show at a radio station. I did a metal show in college. And that is so fun. To be able to program what people listen to. Just trying to turn people on. I know the excitement of getting into a new band. Hearing something fresh, something that really sparks something in me. I think that's extremely exciting and empowering. And to be able to do that for somebody else . . .

MU: Do metalheads have more of a need to evangelize on behalf of the cause than do fans of other genres of music?

JW: Oh yeah. Just judging by all of the involvement. For me it just seemed second nature. Word of mouth too. Word of mouth really spreads. I don't know how it works in other scenes 'cause I'm not as involved.

MU: So you did Anti-Poser.

JW: And I hooked up with Sheet Metal, which was done by a guy named Jake Weisley, who started a label called Red Decibel. So those were my first freelancing gigs. I really enjoyed it. I stuck with that for my two years in college. Sort of realizing that this was something I wanted to get into professionally. But I looked down the list of majors at the University of Iowa, and I didn't see a damn thing that related directly. I just had a hunch to kinda do it my way. At the same time I got involved in this band that was playing this Primus-y, Prong-y, Voivod-y kinda music. And we were doing pretty well with the bar scene . . .

MU: That was Fleshdig?

JW: That was Fleshdig. So I dropped out of college to pursue that and to see what I could do with writing. And I started reading a lot of fanzines, like Comedy of Errors, which was done by Ula Gehret. Sue Nolz's Manic Reaction. All these people who write for Maniacs now. I started reading 'zines and getting more into that scene. And I did the radio thing as well, while I was in college and after I was in college - they let me stay on after I left school, doing the metal show on Saturday nights.

MU: You were in Iowa.

JW: Yeah, but that didn't seem to matter. We had to drive four hours to see shows in Chicago. But that didn't phase us. That was what we had to do to see those bands. Dead Horse, Atheist, you name it. Any of those bands had to be seen in Chicago or were not going to be seen at all. So the Iowa thing was not as big of a roadblock as a lot of people might think it was. You could easily have access to stuff if you searched it out. If you mail-ordered, if you drove an hour to a cool record store.

MU: What years are we talking about here?

JW: I guess between '87 and '91. '92 I quit the band out of frustration with various things and decided to start my own 'zine. And that was the biggest leap yet for me. It was called Symposium. We put out about five issues, four of which were done before I got hired at Relapse. And through the 'zine of course, I met Bill and Matt from Relapse. They offered me a job. I wasn't really doing much in Iowa at the time. Other than my 'zine I thought, why not? Let's go for it. This was another lead toward what I wanted to be doing with my life. And this was my first paying, full-time gig. So I went to Relapse in Lancaster, PA in '94. Stayed there until 1996.

MU: What was Relapse like during those days?

JW: It was smaller than what it is today, but it was developing into what it is today. That's what they needed, more promotions people. They needed one publicity guy, one radio guy, one retail guy. Where as before, one guy was doing all that.

MU: What did you do?

JW: I did publicity. I didn't really know much about publicity. They gave me a list of phone numbers, a phone, I didn't have a computer yet, we kinda shared a computer. And they said, "here's your job. Go for it." I thought, Wow. This is pretty open ended. This is pretty cool. All the guys were really cool. I made lifelong friends there. It was a really exciting time, getting to work with some of the bands that I admired. Amorphis and Deceased. Some of the stuff they put out, I wasn't into. But it was all sort of working to do what they do and to help them along.

MU: Did you also distribute Nuclear Blast?

JW: At the time, yes. And that was another plus factor for me. Being into Dismember, Dissection, Kataklysm and stuff.

MU: How did you then get the job at Metal Manaics?

JW: A girl that I was seeing at the time who had just moved from Illinois to Arizona for a job got offered the job that I now have --

MU: What is your title, by the way?

JW: I was Associate Editor, I'm now co-Editor with Mike. I'm just as much an equal part as Mike. In some respects more. 'Cause he'll tell anybody that he's not a lifer. He's more of a music fan. So he's given me a ton of freedom. But anyway, [the girl] called me and said that she had the offer but couldn't do it 'cause she just had moved, but that she thought I was the perfect guy.

MU: And it was a full-time paying job with real distribution -

JW: --at a magazine that I had read! And alternately loved and alternately didn't love. I think they had had some bummer eras or bummer issues, but yeah, I saw some potential. And I really liked that, on the whole, they were this big metal magazine getting bands like Hypocrisy and Rotting Christ into grocery stores. I was like, that's great. That's subversive, actually. (laughs)

MU: How many full-time jobs are there at Metal Manaics?

JW: Three. Mike and I, and the layout person. Other than that, it's all freelancers.

MU: Financially, can it be a career?

JW: Nope. Well, I'm able to pay my rent.

MU: Do you live in Manhattan?

JW: Nope. I live in northwest New Jersey. I used to live in Astoria before I moved there. The job doesn't pay as well as you might think. And I don't think I'm getting paid enough, as far as how hard I work.

MU: Does Maniacs make money for the parent corporation?

JW: Oh yeah. Off of advertising. Off of sales. Definitely.

MU: It's around for the long haul?

JW: I wouldn't want to speculate that anything with this publishing company is around for the long haul. I just don't know. But I do know that they make a lot of money. I didn't take the job for the money. I took it because it was Metal Manaics.

MU: Are there careers for non-musicians in heavy metal?

JW: From my end of it, I can't really go anywhere from here that I would as enjoy as much. Because it all starts to get more mainstream.

MU: You wouldn't want to write for Spin or Rolling Stone, or --

JW: Oh I wouldn't mind Spin, I like bands that they cover. But I'm talking within metal. I don't know if there's any place else I could go within metal that would be as high profile and would pay better. Right now, leaving Maniacs, of course I am in a position to think about my future.

MU: Actually, let's focus on that in a minute. So take me through working there in a little more detail. When did you start working with Maniacs?

JW: January 6, 1997. I came on as Associate Editor.

MU: You remember dates very well.

JW: Yeah, well. That's just the trivia fiend in me. I can't balance my checkbook, but I know who came and went in Katatonia. That's one of my girlfriend Tanja's favorite things to say. By the way, I refer to my girlfriend. She's more than a girlfriend. She's not a wife. We don't believe in the institution of marriage. The divorce rate is so high in this country, I would not cheapen what we have together with that label. Anyway, her name is Tanja. I don't really know how to refer to her with people.

MU: How would she like you to refer to her?

JW: (pauses) You know what we say? We say "wife" to people. If we're on the phone to the gas company, we can say "well my wife's gonna be home, you can talk to her." I'll just call her Tanja. Anyway, I got there in '97. Associate Editor. From the get go, Mike gave me a lot of say in the direction of the magazine. Because he needed somebody like me who was an encyclopedia of facts and figures and knows way too much about metal.

MU: How are Mike G's personal tastes reflected in the content of Metal Maniacs?

JW: He's a music fan. He loves music, he absorbs music. He's very discerning. Metal, for him, is only one genre. Whereas, for a lot of us, it's really the genre.

MU: Wasn't he involved with a country magazine?

JW: He used to be. Having said that. He hates Garth Brooks. He hates the Korns of the country world. He's into like Hank Williams, the original guys. Waylon Jennings. Old Kris Kristoferson. Willie Nelson's catalogue. That kind of stuff. Stuff that has integrity.

MU: I have some respect for that stuff.

JW: I have a lot of respect for Johnny Cash. He's a Cash encyclopedia.

MU: There are fifteen-year-old Maniacs readers who will cringe when they read about the Maniacs editor's interest in country.

JW: Sure. He doesn't mind. But he needs somebody that would be able to just tighten up the magazine.

MU: Someone who knows who all the former members of Kataklysm are.

JW: Absolutely. Absolutely. 'Cause the readers will catch you on that.

MU: So that's why the position was created?

jeff wagner
At the Maniacs Xmas party, l to r: Posterior Stephen O'Malley, S. Craig Zahler, Jeff Wagner, Vincent N. Cecolini.

JW: No, there was an Associate Editor before. But she did nothing but really proofread. Her name was Alice. She did nothing but proofread and just sort of do daily grind sort of work. She didn't have much say in the creation or direction of each issue. And she wasn't a fan, so she didn't write. I kinda took that position and made it something a little more involved. And eventually due to half reader demand and half Mike just realizing that I was doing more work than the Associate Editor normally does, he made my title co-Editor. I don't care about titles, whatever. I was just happy to have more freedom at the magazine. And I think it's taken a really nice shape, and I think it is a very tight magazine. I think we have a really great writing staff, and I was able to pull it together and make it work for a while.

MU: What is the scope of Metal Maniacs' coverage?

JW: Now? Or before? It used to be thrash, some death . . .

MU: How'd the magazine start?

JW: There was a magazine which was a companion to the radio show Metal Shop, called Metal Shop. Mike was at the publishing company when that magazine formed, and he became editor of it.

MU: Why does it say "Superstar Special" on the cover?

JW: I don't know. They used to maybe have a magazine called Superstar Special which covered popular eighties bands. Of what sort I have no idea. But this was more under the banner of that, 'cause they didn't know if it was gonna be a one shot or what.

MU: They'd put out one issue and see how it flies . . .

JW: Maniacs was a one shot at first. That's what Maniacs was. But it worked so well that it became a regular thing. I think they've actually dropped the "Superstar Special" part from the cover just recently. It doesn 't matter.

MU: After years and years and years . . .

JW: Yeah. It doesn't matter. What the hell does that mean? We're not talking about superstars anyway, that's not our world. So anyway, there was a column in Metal Shop called . . . maybe Street Talk, maybe Street Trash. I can't even remember. Anyway, Katherine Ludwig wrote that column. They covered the thrash and death stuff and the underground metal at the time. 'Cause Metal Shop was a little more mainstream at the time. Somebody at the publishing company said "let's make a magazine out of this type of stuff," 'cause the column got a really good response. They did that. Mike was maybe co-editor with Katherine for one magazine. It did really well, so they decided to give Katherine the entire magazine. Mike stayed on with the publishing company doing other stuff. But she ran with that for like five or six years, and made Maniacs what it was. Covering, back to your question about scope, like thrash, death, Faith No More here and there, Seaweed was a band she put in, but normally the coverage was the thrash/death stuff. Since I've been there, I think it has expanded out towards black. Out towards not blacklisting bands because of their political views. I'm kinda like Katherine in a way, in that I'm a hardcore vegetarian. I'm vegetarian because of the animal issue, and I'm an animal rights activist. I do stuff in my private life in that realm. But I also don't see a need for it in Metal Maniacs. I don't think people are interested in that. I don't think it belongs. And that's what she did. So anyway, the coverage has been all that I told you, but it is also important to make the point that the power metal that you're seeing in Maniacs a lot is just reflective maybe of the scene. There was power metal back in the early nineties, but right now there are a lot more bands, there' s arguably a lot more creativity happening with these types of bands.

MU: Are we talking about Hammerfall, etc.?

JW: Well, maybe not specifically. Any of that ilk. Jag Panzer. Nocturnal Rites. Whoever you want to say. Grave Digger. We haven't covered them, but they're certainly a band that deserves coverage. And if Maniacs is supposed to cover the metal bands that other newsstand publications won't, which has always been its credo, then power metal definitely deserves a look. Because they're not getting covered. They're like the antithesis to all this nu-metal stuff.

MU: Did people complain? Death metal fans?

JW: Not really. I thought people would. But we've gotten mostly a positive response to that. There's a couple of people who think, "aw, you have too much power metal!" But at the same time, they can open it up and find their black metal and death metal bands, or whatever they want to find. Or at least that's our goal.

MU: Do you think those are different fans? Black metal and power metal listeners?

JW: Some are and some aren't. I'm amazed and encouraged by the amount of people who write in and give us lists, whether it is the year-end lists or whatever, and they'll have Jag Panzer on their list as well as Immortal. There's a lot of people like that who realize that this is essentially one genre. You're the same way, I'm the same way. I like to pick from the different sub-genres and then decide what works for me and what doesn't. It 's not all good, but then again, I don't think there's one genre that's really truly all that. Even nu-metal. I hate it, but I love the third Deftones record. You just can't . . .

MU: Wasn't there a recent push at Manaics to exclude some of this nu-metal?

JW: Yes. Because it was getting coverage elsewhere. This was mainly a device of Mike's to see, OK, if we put these bands in like Korn, Coal Chamber, you name it, will that draw in fans to get into some of the more underground and real metal stuff? Will it be a gateway drug so to speak?

MU: You kinda see that approach with Ill Literature right now?

JW: Yes. And for us, it didn't work. We were selling the same amount of issues. So there were some people dropping off and some people coming on. But it didn't seem to work. And mostly the readership was just absolutely against it. There was this sort of outcry against that. So Mike pulled back and said hey . . . and I had been telling him (and he'll tell you this too) every issue: this is not Maniacs material. We cannot do this. What are we doing? But he'd insist, and I'd say OK. If it pulls people in, fine. What's the worst that can happen? Readers rallied against it, and things changed. It's now been about two years, and things are definitely going in a tighter and truer and more pure direction than they ever have been.

MU: Do you feel an obligation to cover certain acts because the labels push them on you?

JW: Primarily, we pick what we like. The stories I do are all bands I really enjoy. Everybody from Gorguts to Yngwie Malmsteen.

MU: Do you endorse everything that goes in the magazine?

JW: Personally? No way. It's just like you wouldn't endorse everything that all your friends listen to. You recognize your differences, and you listen to each other. You may check out an album 'cause your friend says to, but that doesn't mean you like it. Having said all that, all the freelancers really have the say. It's not just what the labels are pushing. We'll just bite at their bait if it happens to be something we want to do.

MU: How does someone become a freelancer for Metal Maniacs?

JW: It depends. For me, I'm just looking at 'zines sometimes, and I kinda know who I think is a really good writer, I'll go out and get them if we need somebody on staff. The way I did with Rytkonen, and Zahler, and Chris Maycock. I liked their writing in their respective 'zines, I went and got t hem, and they've become Maniacs staffers. And Mike finds his people. Mike found Ron Strauss and Dylan Gadino, who's a new guy writing for us. He has his say too. And we kind of bring our people together, and that's what makes Maniacs happen. But it's important to say: we're not at all advertising driven, as far as what we write about and what we criticize. A lot of people have that misconception about a major mag. That there's some payoff goin' on. But not at Maniacs. I wouldn't even allow it while I'm there. I don't sit well with that. And then there are bands like Six Feet Under or Pantera who maybe the minority or nobody on the staff really likes, but we do realize that they are very important to our readership. And we are going to put them in because of them. So it's more of the writers and the readers that make the decision. And that's exactly where it begins and ends.

MU: But the labels must find it really important to a band to secure a feature in Metal Maniacs. Don't you feel pressure to cover all the big releases? Say Nuclear Blast has three major releases it's pushing for 1st Quarter 2001. Aren't they all going to find their way into Metal Maniacs in one form or another?

JW: It's hard to say. Eventually, they probably will. They may not get the feature they want. They may just get a review. I've often kinda bummed out a publicist by saying well, we don't have room for a feature, this issue, 'cause we've run out of room (there is only a finite amount of coverage we can give each issue), we're just going to do a review of it. And that's only if we can find somebody on staff who has something to say about it. Whether it's negative, positive, or somebody who says, hey, I'll take that on.

MU: So what do you do? The magazine gets promos, and you dole them out to people -

JW: Yeah, I think about, "gee, Sue Nolz would really like this." Or this is her kinda thing, let's see what she thinks about it. Or if she comes back and says, "you know, I hated it, but I want to write a review about it," I'll do it. Like C.O.C. She's a big C.O.C. fan. She got the new C.O.C. album, hated it, and slammed the hell out of it in the new issue and I have no problem with that. 'Cause, I'm like, let's be honest with each other rather than be in some -

MU: You wrote the funniest and harshest review.

JW: Virus 7?

MU: Exactly. I've never seen a record get a worse review ever.

JW: I've never listened to a worse record ever. That's the difference between Metal Maniacs and other magazines, I think. We're fans. And we react like fans. And we're gonna write like fans. And I think people really appreciate that about Maniacs. And I hope that's not something that gets lost in the new regime.

MU: Are there certain bands that you would ban because of what they have to say?

JW: So far we haven't had a problem with that. If you're talking like, I don't even know if Resistance Records is still around. But Resistance is only focused on signing bands that are exclusively racist. Like White Power, etc. If a band came to us and wanted us to cover them that was so extremely . . . this is a tough issue. Let me come at it from a different direction. Emperor have done some unsavory things in the past. Everything from burning down churches to killing homosexuals that clearly a lot of us with some sort of ethic or moral feels that is totally wrong. However, that's never reflected in the music. They were not about that in the music. They never, ever lyrically brought that stuff to light. Obviously, the church burning - I'm talking about the killing, the homophobia, whatever. It never became an issue. They were never a racist band, so I don't see a problem. People are people and music is music. People are gonna do what people do, regardless of what music they're creating. So I don't mind that a certain guy is a dick or a certain guy is racist. As long as it doesn't 100% come into their art, then I guess I have to allow them that.

MU: What about Satanism?

JW: For Slayer it is imagery. For Venom it is imagery. For . . . I'm trying to think of the most extreme case. For Dark Funeral . . . you know, there's very few truly dangerous Satanic bands. And that's why I have trouble . . . Even Gorgoroth, who put out a really Satanic front, they're not preaching ultra-violence on a certain race of people or anything.

MU: What about homophobia in metal?

JW: I hate it.

MU: I think it runs rampant.

JW: It does. But then again Halford himself, when I sat down with him, he was overjoyed at the response that he got from his coming out. Even that's opening up a little bit. Obviously it is not hurting the response to his record or his concert sales. He's doing fine.

MU: Would you use the adjective "gay" in describing an album to mean "that record sucks"?

JW: No. I think that's misleading and really immature. Can you just really elaborate please on why it is gay or why it sucks? Anyway, I guess it would have to be a case by case basis. I personally am not offended by any Satanist any more than I am any Christian artist 'cause I'm atheist, that's my personal thing. I don't have a problem. To me that's all sort of make believe. I think it is fine. And I think a band playing music like Gorgoroth has to be violent in their imagery, has to be Satanic, 'cause it just doesn't surely sound like hippie stuff, you know what I mean?

MU: So you took over and decided you still should talk to bands even if you didn't agree with their lyrics or whatever.

JW: I decided we still should talk to Cannibal Corpse. I believe that Katherine was offended by some of their lyrics which are extremely violent against females. But I realize that that's just the equivalent of those guys sitting around being all . . . silly and saying "I cum blood! Ahhhh!!" I don't know man . . . anything goes as far as I'm concerned. Unless you are a band that's just pushing something that's extremely, extremely wrong, and I'm not even going to say what that is 'cause that differs from person to person. But if I see a band coming out with like twenty songs about ripping apart dogs and selling them as meat, and they have this platform that I personally think is abhorrent, then of course, I'll be put off.

MU: But ripping apart women and selling them as meat, that's OK? Just not dogs? (laughs)

JW: (laughs) Yeah, but I don't think they're serious. As opposed to somebody who would call for the death of a race, or a certain animal.

MU: So what you're really saying is that it's easy 'cause there aren't any bands that you think are truly dangerous.

JW: I can't think of one band out there who is pushing something that I think I feel threatened by. Or if I was Jewish I would feel threatened by. Or if I was homosexual I'd feel threatened by. OK, there's one band called Corpse Vomit who have been blatantly and outspokenly homophobic. We haven't chosen to cover them. I think that stuff's ignorant. And if both Mike and I come to a point with a band where we feel they're putting out just absolute stupidity, we don't want to be a part of it, then we won't cover it. But I don't think we are as militant as the former editor was.

MU: Well did you have fun during your Maniacs tenure?

JW: Yeah. Totally.

MU: Was it the ultimate heavy metal journalism gig?

JW: Totally. I've gotten to sit down with Bruce Dickinson. Rob Halford. Dave Mustaine. You name it. Just absolute idols . . . Lemmy. I got to hang out at Lemmy's apartment for like an hour and a half, drinking and shooting the shit. It was amazing. It's surreal. It's been a great ride. I got to go to Brazil. I got to go to Finland. I got to go to Holland, Germany, England. Milwaukee, oh boy. Connecticut. California several times. Texas. Florida. Yeah it's been great. Just to get paid and to be given recognition as a fan who really gives a shit. A fan that is discerning. And to bring along fellow fans and friends. Some of the people on our staff. And to make this a very tight and readable magazine.

MU: Let's say there is enough of an audience in the market for a good metal magazine to support one big-time major metal mag. Why does the big commercial publishing company's magazine win out over the competitor owned and operated by true blue metalheads? Why do we all support Sterling MacFadden over the underground 'zines. What if you and your freelancers just wrote for your own magazine instead?

JW: If you can find a guy who can invest, I'll take those people with me and I will make a magazine that could completely crush it. The reason I say that is that the availability of Maniacs really bothers me. But Sterling MacFadden's problem - a problem which I brought to the publisher - is that they're very old-school. For example, we only have one Internet connection for the entire floor I work on. You have to wait around for it to be free and hope you can jump on it when you need to. They're very old fashioned in taking on new ideas, as far as distribution. As far as the creative end of it. As far as getting more out there. Publicizing ourselves. That's been a very frustrating thing for me. So why Manaics? I don't know. I think it 's more available than a lot of the other fanzines which might potentially have been better.

MU: What kind of investment would it take to create a magazine on the level of what Maniacs is right now?

JW: A lot of money.

MU: What's a lot of money?

JW: I have no idea. I've never sat down and figured it out. I'd have to start talking to a printer. I'd have to start shopping around printers. I' d have to start looking at distribution and I'd have to take it from there. You'd have to pay the editor, you'd have to pay the freelance fees for each article. Oh, I don't know, I can't answer that question. I'm just saying hypothetically it would be a huge undertaking but it could be done. Sure advertising. And hypothetically, if it was me heading it up with all of these writers, I think we're all sort of known enough where labels would get behind it immediately, so you wouldn't have a problem getting advertising for sure.

MU: Bottom line: tell us about why you're leaving Metal Maniacs.

JW: A combination of three things. One of them is my life outside of Maniacs. I have Tanja. I have eight animals. We're renting a farm. I want to go one better than that. We want to buy a place. But both Tanja and I don't want to buy a place in this area. Because we are not into overpopulation or urbanization. We see that happening in the most rural areas of New Jersey right now.

MU: You run a farm, or you just live on it?

JW: Well . . . we live on it. We don't do crops, right now. Sure, I get into some small gardening. But nothing like that. It's just more of the space. Having your privacy. Both her and I come from small towns. She comes from small town Germany and I come from small town Iowa. We both knew that when we bought a place, which was imminent, that puts my job at jeopardy.

MU: Where are you headed?

JW: Virginia. Off the coast. Everybody's headed for the coast in Virginia. We're off the coast. We're a ways away from any large population. Which is what we like. We like the privacy, we like getting away. We're very mobile. She can work at home.

MU: Why couldn't you work at home?

JW: I explored that. But Sterling MacFadden is just not equipped or prepared to give me what I would need to work at home. I'm not talking money-wise, I'm talking equipment-wise. I'm talking technology. I'm talking being progressive and making it work.

MU: It's not worth it to you to just go out and buy a machine for a couple of g's to make it work . . .

JW: It's not only that, there's a lot of stuff that does go on, that I just would have no control over. Photo selection. The close connection with Mike. The shooting down of things. The bring in of different -

MU: You need to be there.

JW: I've explored it, and it just really seems like I need to be there. Or I'd be missing out. I'd be doing it half-assed, and I'm not really the kind of person to do that. I either do it or I don't.

MU: So you're leaving your editor position?

JW: I'm leaving my editor position sometime in March. Three more issues after the Cradle of Filth cover (March 2001). Then it is going to cut off completely. I don't think I'll be involved, at least for a couple of issues, because I have to get my new life in order.

MU: You might end up doing some freelance writing?

JW: Maybe. I'll definitely do some writing. For who or for Maniacs, that' s yet to be seen. Basically, with the desire to move and to secure something for a long time, and in a buying situation it had to be outside of this area. This area is very expensive and it's very populated. We were not wanting that. So we found this place. It's a beautiful, beautiful place. Lots of land. I'm very excited about it. But I am going to have to leave Maniacs to do it. But the way I feel about it - the way I feel about Sterling MacFadden in general is that I feel like I'm up against a wall. I feel like I do the best I can with the tools that I'm given. I don't think the magazine is going to be any more widely distributed than it is right now. I don't think they're ever going to get all color pages. I don't think they're ever going to get a more modern layout.

MU: Are these issues you've raised with them?

JW: Yes. They don't even want to listen. 'Cause they're happy with the amount of money they're making right now. They're content to sit back and let it roll in, rather than try to get more. 'Cause it could be better. It could all be better. So that coincides with the whole life outside of Metal Maniacs thing, that makes me think it's really time to go. And why not go out when I feel the magazine is at a high point. And I think as a reader and a fan, I really do feel that way. And I think it is best to go out now rather than when I feel like I'm dragging my feet. Go out on a high point rather than a low point. That kind of scenario.

MU: What will you tell your successor about this job?

JW: I don't really want to tell the person to be very discerning or to cover this kind of stuff but not this kind of stuff. 'Cause I was never given that direction when I was there. I was given a lot of freedom. And I was given even more and more freedom as the years went on. I don't want to tell anybody that. They'll have seen the magazine. Mike'll still be there, he knows the magazine. It'll be a new era. I don't know how it's gonna pan out. I hope it pans out now. I love the magazine now. I don't want readers to think that I'm turning my back on the magazine or that I've gotten out of metal. Neither could be further from the truth. I love the magazine with all my heart. I really, really do. But I have a life. And I really don't want to live my life in this area. I've found a place where I' m super, super happy and I'm gonna go there.

MU: So how will you stay involved with the metal scene?

JW: Working on that right now. I can't say. I'm exploring options. Nothing is solid. I've had an offer from Mr. X to do this Project X. I can 't even say what medium it's gonna take where it's gonna be, how it's going to work out. But there are things in the offing. Of course, I've considered trying my hand at freelancing. But it's quite hard to make a living doing just freelancing. Though I think that I definitely have my foot in the door in a lot of areas to do that. And I'd like to get out and write for other things and write about other kinds of music as well. I'd like to write about Radiohead. I'd like to write about King Crimson and other bands that I couldn't cover in Maniacs that I'm a fanatic of.

MU: So writing about music is your lifelong career?

JW: I wouldn't want to do anything else at this point. Although in the back of my mind I've always wanted to just get to be a fan again. I can't wait to mail-order something and have it come to my door, not knowing anything about what the music sounds like, not knowing what the cover looks like, not having any hype come along with it. And just be a fan again. 'Cause there's a lot of innocence lost when people get into the business so far. I haven't lost it. I feel I'm still a fan. I have a music room at home. I set aside X number of hours per week and just listen for enjoyment to stuff that I want to listen to. I never take promos home. I do that all in the office. And I do that (1) because it seems very natural; and (2) because I've heard a lot of people in the industry say things like "I wish I could just sit down on the couch with an Autopsy record and just absorb it all like I used to. I wish I could listen to stuff that I want to rather than have to." I don't want to get caught in that trap.

MU: So you don't want people to send you promos after you leave Metal Manaics?

JW: If I'm writing? Feel free. I'll give my contact information. I'll let everybody know what I'm doing and if it relates to writing. But I'm definitely not afraid of getting cut off lists and just having to buy music. That's fine.

MU: Are you going to go to Milwaukee Metalfest?

JW: I don't know if I'll go to Milwaukee again, but it's sort of on an anti-Koshick thing. I don't like the way that guy runs his show. Of course I'll still be involved. I've never been a huge concert-goer. I've been to many, many shows. But my music listening I prefer to do in front of the stereo. Alone.

MU: Where is metal headed? Is it on an upswing?

JW: That's kind of a weird question. For me, for many fans like yourself, it's never been on a downswing. We could go year-to-year, and have fifteen or twenty records that came out that were really, really good that year. So I think creatively, it is never really been at such a low point.

MU: Well what's the best album of 2000?

JW: For me? It's probably tied between three things. One of them not very metal. And that's Cave-In's 'Jupiter'. I didn't put that at the top of my list 'cause it's not really that much of a metal record, but it is an important metal band, I think. For me, I put Borknagar. Because I think that's about as seamless and airtight and about as perfect as an album gets. Not perfect, but about as perfect as one gets. At least in 2000. Spiral Architect was number 2. Because I think those guys are ridiculously talented. And I really like kinda a good mindfuck band.

MU: You mentioned before you were playing in a Voivod meets Primus meets Prong -type band . . .

JW: Voivod's one of my all-time favorite bands. That kind of shows you. I prefer my bands to change. I want bands to either piss me off, or surprise me, or challenge me with every new album. I don't want to know what's coming.

MU: What you just said could be a metaphor for this transition you're going through now.

JW: I'm not sure what's next, but I'm not scared of that. I'm psyched. I' ll always love the thirty-two issues of Maniacs I did. It was a little over four years, and it was a great run. But I've always been a person to move on, I love to keep doing new things. I love to challenge myself. I'm not afraid of not having anything on the horizon. I'm excited about building something new on the horizon.



SLIPSTREAM MAGAZINE interview with Jeff




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