Robert Aloi, aka Robinator, is a part-time writer for the site and a very recent addition at that. Him being a New Yorker, I have had the pleasure of attending the Sleep/Winter show with him where we were able to inspire each other as writers during animated discourse before and after a nice well deserved beer. This is the first in a series of interviews for the site that I want to have dedicated to writers within the overlooked field of music journalism.
Have you always been passionate about music and, if not, what made you want to immerse yourself in that world?
Ahh, good question.. I think I've always been passionate about music in some way or other. Ever since I discovered Metallica and Black Sabbath at the tender age of 13, I realized that there is a whole other world or 'dimension' out there that was begging to be explored. I mean, for me, heavy metal was never just a form of music but rather an enigmatic lifestyle akin to say, the taboo underground of fetish parties for example, haha..
That said, I felt compelled to immerse myself in it for it appealed to the 'loner' in me since, after all, I really didn't have many friends growing up and felt like an 'outcast'. Therefore, metal was my one true 'escape' and since then I've never looked back. In other words, if you've ever seen that old Blind Melon video with the cute little girl in the bee costume who finds her paradise at the end after all, you could then safely say that I was that very 'bee girl' and metal was the paradise for which to lose myself in and forget about feeling like a 'stranger' in a world full of hypocrites.
Did you find camaraderie when going to live shows? I think that's one of the main attractions of gigs, it's the feeling of belonging that one gets when attending it.
Well.. I did but not at first.. and I think that's mainly because for the most part I'm A) not much of a drinker like other so called "metalheads” proudly are, haha and B) I was always too intimidated to get into a mosh pit and impress others with my “slamdancing” skills or whatever you'd like to call it. Hence I was always the dude who silently observed from afar and liked to take the band in by soaking in the ambiance and atmosphere of it all. So, basically, it wasn't until the internet became more predominant in peoples lives that I really began to associate with others in metal. That is, via heavy metal message forums. In other words, once I became a presence on some of these forums, other like-minded people began to take notice and acquaint themselves with me and from there I would then meet up with them at shows around here or around their area.
The internet really does serve a great purpose in that. It's been my experience that when someone gets that entrenched in music, they end up wanting to create it themselves eventually. Did you ever try?
Yes, I did. It started way back in high school when I 'attempted' to learn guitar in music class but I failed miserably at it :) Just never had the right hand coordination I guess.. haha. But because by that time I had immersed myself in so many styles of the heavy metal genre, I was determined to be 'involved' in one form or another. So knowing that I was a decent writer, I then took up music journalism. That is, I'd occasionally listen to CDs and then for the heck of it, starting writing my impressions of 'sounds' on note pads as practice. At that time I was actually aspiring to be a regular feature writer for Metal Maniacs which was already becoming a big underground publication on news stands everywhere!
Practice makes perfect after all! Whose writing influenced you the most during that time and what was your first "break" in the world of music journalism?
Oh, another great question actually! Well, to begin with, some of the music journalists I really developed a fondness for were the ones who actually were in bands themselves for the obvious reasons, of course.. I mean, if you play in a band it just makes the imagery, dedication, and painstaking effort that much more heartfelt. That said, I really admired Brutal Truth's Kevin Sharp who has a unique and very introspective way of penning his thoughts when it comes to writing about the industry and other bands in general. Then there's Napalm Death's Barny Greenway who always managed to entwine a humorous witty style with analyzing other bands' music. Those are just a few off the top of my head. As for my “break” in music journalism.. I'd say it started with me earning my very own heavy metal column in my college newspaper where I was able to not only review CDs, but do interviews with my favorite musicians and attend gigs (free of charge of course!) and review those gigs as well and from there it's been a nonstop journey.
Wow! So college is good for something after all :) I can imagine that, since then, you've made a lot of connections in the underground and met some interesting individuals. Can you describe one of the most bizarre or interesting meetings you've had?
Oh wow, there have been many! Let's see there was the time I interviewed Chris Barnes of Six Feet Under and found him to be quite the arrogant dickhead. At the time, Metal Blade hooked me up with him via a phone conference call and, basically, he kept shorting out due to the bad connection; so I couldn't hear everything he said and, when I kept making it known about the problem, he just got all moody and accused me of being amateurish to which the PR people got involved and acted like something was wrong with me as a way of kissing his ass.
On the plus side, speaking to Seth Putnam of Anal Cunt was a blast! After spending over 40 min. of me asking him all of my interview questions, he didn't want to get off the phone with me. I ended up making up mock, silly interview questions just to goad him into saying some of the most silliest stuff ever.. which he did. It was like two elementary school kids laughing at fart and poop jokes all over again. But I think one of the most memorable moments for me came when I had the opportunity to interview Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel. Despite being bizarre and eccentric as always, he surprisingly told me at the end of the interview that he found me to be a very nice guy that he actually asked my name so he could keep it mind.. which surprised the heck out of me!
Overall though, I think one of the MOST bizarre experiences was interviewing Dark Funeral because almost the whole entire conversation ended up being about their then obsession for German scat porn, not to mention some of the weird Satanic rituals they engage in right before going onstage!
Those certainly are some amazing experiences. Seems like you got to know some household names, so to speak. Alternately, out of the different publications that you've worked for, which one did you enjoy being a part of the most?
Well, I think one of the best zines I worked for and which I feel clearly helped define and shape my writing style was Diabolical Conquest (which is a webzine of course). It was there that I really had a chance to associate with other people who weren't just fans of the music but were also serious in their intelligent way of sharing opinions. I mean, it was the first time I actually met people who knew what the heck they were talking about and weren't afraid to take heat for having sour opinions for certain bands that were the underground's flavor of the month. That said, the experience really taught me to be on top of my game in terms of reviewing and analyzing music because it was there that I knew that the people knew 'bullshit' when they detected it. Furthermore, surprisingly enough, some of the writers/forum personalities were even more 'educated' and intelligent than the fan boys that wrote for Metal Maniacs and other more 'mainstream' professional publications which is saying A LOT!
Certainly does. This brings me to a certain question that's been on my mind for some time. What is your opinion on the evolution of music journalism since the internet has become mainstream? It still has the same purpose in the end I think, which is to promote music that meets a certain criteria, but I think the relevance of informing people has died off to a considerable degree. People can just youtube whatever song you've tried so hard to describe, you know?
Yes, I have to agree to a considerable extent with that myself actually! Indeed, it's as if the internet has greatly diminished the casual, more personal means of communicating by far. Hell, I remember back when we used to communicate via pen paling which meant you earned yourself a medal for carpal tunnel syndrome duty due to writing, and writing, and writing your ass off (pen and paper) with other people worldwide and you traded tapes and flyers from your own community with those people too! I mean, yeah.. it wasn't like you were communicating face to face even back then, but ya see, there was something in the 'smell' of the note paper and the cassettes in the envelopes, the distinct way of writing and or doodling style on paper that lent a much more distinctive, 'exotic' identity to the people you were writing to. Shit, I remember getting tons of flyers of shows that happened in other people's countries that gave me a good idea of the background, living situation, identity, familial makeup, etc., etc. of those who befriended me via pen paling. Besides sometimes people would send you pics, even drawings, and other good stuff as an added extra bonus because unlike the internet.. pen paling (as obsolete as it is now) was a lot more 'tangible' and 'real'.
Further.. back then it was harder to score certain types of demos or other foreign bands' music obviously, so when you received something your friends didn't have on cassette you earned bragging rights too! :) Yet, in all seriousness, because it wasn't so easy to obtain obscure bands' music back then, what you scored in the mail you cherished a lot more and didn't take it for granted the way these punks who go trollin' on the internet seem to do. And that's because the internet practically 'spoils' people and makes them the jaded, cynical assholes they make themselves out to be.
True. With that being said, I've been noticing a trend of two things happening with most: 1) they're full of comparisons to other artists without much content 2)they're boring and very extensive track by track breakdowns. What's your opinion on those?
I have to agree with you there in regards to your assessment actually, for I have been seeing that trend quite a lot for myself in fact. And that's because the internet makes it so easy for 'anyone' to be a critic, a fuckin' philosopher, e-celebrity, author, preacher, comedian, etc. etc.
I mean, it's like public cable access television.. you give anyone access to cameras, a studio, equipment, etc., free of charge or at minimal cost mind you, and bam! Someone has a talk show.
These days I feel that the role of the reviewer has basically regressed to something of a couch potato. They don't invest the personal time and effort to go out and observe more and take a more active role in things. And I think that's because in a lot of areas/states here in the U.S. there isn't much of a scene to begin with, or at least much of a community of organized friends who can go to shows or get involved in bands to where they can gain a sizable following of sorts. So boredom sets in and, therefore, the only way for them to get involved is via the internet.. but unless they actually had something more 'tangible' to relate to, unfortunately, you are going to get those writing reviews with lazy band comparisons.
I mean, think of it as trying to be a reporter covering war if you have never been to a war in the first place! You know it's full of explosions, guns firing, etc., etc but unless you've been there and experienced the adrenaline rush, the carnage, the emotional factor, etc., etc. for yourself you can't really fathom the depths of it all, basically. Oh, and I love the reviewers who attempt to drop band comparisons that are so off the mark that you have to literally scratch your head. That's when you know that person is a novice and is just being lazy overall, but then again if that person lives in an isolated community of sorts, you sorta can't blame him/her.
Interesting way of putting it, but personally I still find that unforgivable. If you've never been a part of the scene, you can still at least describe how the music moves you. What do you think the role of the music reviewer should be first and foremost despite the internet?
Good question. I feel that the role of the reviewer first and foremost should be somewhat of a historian; and I don't mean so much in a scholarly academic way either, but, rather, someone who has definitely experienced enough years, changes, etc. to have a good grasp of how things evolve in music. He/she has to be able to know how well a certain band stands up in a contemporary setting; in other words, does it have the possibility of being timeless to where 20 years from now fans will still be playing it on a different format other than CD or Vinyl? Does the band or performers manage to be relevant today? Also, they'd have to be able to express the type of audience the music would be fit for, other than just say, fans of Slayer or Morbid Angel. In other words, would that band appeal to a cross pollination of diverse crowds and such? Lastly, it would help to inform your audience how well or successful the band manages to mesh its influences with the contemporary stylings of today.
I can see that in your writing style. Reviews aside, what is your general approach to interviews? Do you focus on just the music or do you try to delve a little deeper into their personalities? Which do you prefer, spontaneous ones or those planned out in advance?
My approach to interviews usually centers around being just an average 'best friend' or 'buddy' type. To elaborate, basically, I don't like to sit there and impress bands with how well I know their history 'cause then it just comes off as blatant ass kissing and nothing more. So, what I do is try to make it as casual yet as engaging as say, a game of Truth or Dare would be amongst friends you know you'd feel comfortable pulling personal details out of. Anyone can do an interview basically, but a good interview entails someone coaxing out info a reader would NOT expect a band member to share with the readers. That's why it pays to sometimes to look beyond just the performance side of things and, besides, unless your readers are a bunch of music theory nerds, readers won't get the terminology and will lose interest quickly. Besides no one likes to be talked down to either!
Very true. I know music journalism is your first love, but do you write anything else like poetry, short stories, etc? Do you have any creative outlets of your own or do you just pour it all into reviews?
I do write some short stories, usually of the horror kind. I'm a big horror/zombie junkie and so every now and then I like to write stuff with a lot of gore in it. Granted I am 38 years old but somehow I find my youthful enthusiasm prevents me from wearing plaid and scrounging for Denny's 15 percent off coupons in the near future. But I mostly write reviews since music is a very big passion of mine.
Another horror fan here too! Which movie or series holds a special place in your heart?
Oohhhh, another fine damn question, glad you asked that one! As it stands, some of the franchises I really adore are the George Romero zombie sagas, particularly the 1978 Dawn of the Dead masterpiece. Then there's the Silent Hill video game franchise which I happen to love for its eerie surrealism. I also happen to enjoy a lot Fulci's gore flicks as cheesy as some of them are, still, there's a distinct macabre poetry that makes Edgar Allen Poe look tame in comparison.
Now that's not something you hear every day. Calling Poe tame that is! What is it about gore and horror that fascinates you so much? I know for me, it's learning how twisted the human mind can be.
What fascinates me is that it allows one to actually apply certain concepts to real life events and predicaments that really get you contemplating and believing that certain things can happen for real, like zombies. Religion is always preaching end-time messages that involve invoking the 'lord's' wrath and therefore it's not difficult to add zombies or the undead into the equation. Thus, you might be watching the news on TV one day about some cataclysmic event of sorts and think, "shit, anytime now the ground under Israel's feet is about to cave in and a whole horde of the undead is about to surface and fuck shit up!" if blood keeps being spilled on holy land or something like that, hahahaha!
Further, it also allows one to never look at even some of the most mundane things in life the same way ever again. For instance, Stephen King has a knack of doing that to his readers. Some of his short stories are like that. Like there's one good story of his called the Library Policeman that deals with someone who gets stalked by a menacing figure all because he failed to return his library books on time, hahaha.
I'm glad I was always prompt about stuff like that. I think I remember you talking about being involved in theater, I just never knew exactly what you did in it. How did you end up entering that venue of expression and what do you dedicate your time to when there?
It started way back in high school when I got the bug taking a random drama class. I was full of angst and somehow theater was the ideal outlet for which to express my own insecurities. Then again, I think most people with a mental illness or self esteem issues end up in that field anyhow seeing as to how weird celebrities are in general, haha. But I gravitated towards it because, in a way, it gives me discipline and has taught me how to properly speak and articulate my thoughts and ideas. It's given me the maturity I don't think I would have gained from metal that's for sure; but seriously it's helped me to associate all sorts of metaphors with everyday life and make connections that are profoundly deep and personal in a way. As for what I do, I basically act and direct. Everything from classic Shakespeare to modern contemporary works. Shakespeare is my absolute favorite, of course, because he's the most challenging to translate on a modern stage but, yet, very diverse for some of his plays can easily be set in any timeless setting. In fact, I was in a production of Romeo and Juliet that was set here in Brooklyn of which saw Romeo coming from a strict Russian Jewish family background and Juliet coming from a Palestinian one. And there was plenty of Tarantino-esque gun play involved to boot! :)
That sounds fascinating!! If only I had been able to see it. You're a person of many talents. Cycling back to your writing, have you ever thought about publishing your short stories some day?
Yes, I have but truth be told, I never felt they were really good and, that said, whenever I've written a short story it was mainly for the sole purpose to amuse myself and just blow my stack, so to speak, nothing more. Basically, whenever I've written a short story it usually ends up turning out to be quite juvenile, something akin to a Troma film script but with lots of weird subplots taken from old 70's era Saturday morning cartoons, hahaha.
It's official. I want to read one sometime.
Oh you bet!
I really enjoyed talking to you, Robert. Can't thank you enough for taking the time out to do this with me. Are there any closing remarks that you would like to leave for our readers?
Just a big thank you for taking time out to read what I have to say and possibly enjoying every minute of it. Just the very fact that I'm being interviewed makes me feel humbled and blessed beyond words! Thank you again!