Once you see the zine with the title like this one, you know you want to read it. And as a fellow zine-creator, I feel more than a sympathy to a fellow man doing this stuff, so it’s not a rocket science that – obviously – I want to know more about it.
Therefore, I had to ask Ed some obnoxious questions…and the answers will be your punishment, ha!
Hey, bro, how are you doing?! First and foremost, thanks a lot for your time doing this interview!
All good, man, cheers! Right now, as I’m writing, I’m catching up on listening to some sick new stuff I received in the mail. There’s always something making its way to me, it’s hard to keep up haha. Thanks for the interview, happy to oblige.
Well, let’s jump straight into the questions, shall we? So… what has urged you to start doing a zine in the first place? Have you had any previous experience doing an underground publication? Is/Was there any particular publication you might consider an inspiration for your publishing efforts?
Choppin’ Headz is my contribution to the extreme music underground. I’ve been a fan of the whole spectrum of brutal music for years, but unlike many people who are into heavy shit, I’ve never been able to give back by making my own noise. I do attempt to play drums, but it’s really just a distraction; I’m nowhere near competent enough to play in a band. I had a go at screen printing, since I’ve also made my own shirt designs in the past (using a stencil!), but I found that to be an art I couldn’t get along with. The theory is simple, the execution is not! Shout-out to all the printers making killer merch, you guys rule. So, I decided, instead of doing something I don’t know much about, I should do what I know, which is writing and print layouts.
Now, I’m by no means an expert at either of those, but it’s something I’m familiar with from work, so it made sense. The first lockdown was the catalyst for pushing me to actually do the zine. That shit fucked with my head pretty bad, and I needed something to focus on – something that was my own and that would be its own reward. So, the zine was catharsis for me and also allowed me to put creative energy into something I care a lot about.
As I mentioned, I have some experience in print layouts, but nothing in the style of a zine. The cool thing about zines is that you have total freedom to make it what you want. There aren’t many times in life you can say that! Plus, anyone with the basic idea of what a zine is can put one together.
In terms of inspiration, there’s nothing exactly that shaped the look and the style of Choppin’ Headz. Most of the zines I’d been exposed to prior to starting were real-deal, grimy DIY cut-and-paste efforts, which to me is the quintessential style. Choppin Headz’ has a little of that flavor, but it also has a more formal, magazine style. One thing I will say about a lot of zines I had read in the past, is that they weren’t really that well written. I mean, to the point where they sometimes didn’t make proper sense or didn’t really say anything. Once again, I will say that I am by no means an expert writer, and I admire anyone who takes time to put the ridiculous amount of effort it takes to put a zine together! But I wanted to make sure the writing in Choppin’ Headz was something I put a lot of effort into, not just bashed out in a hurry.
You’ll notice that the reviews never mention other bands, and the ‘For fans of…’ sections are tongue in cheek – this is intentional. I never liked the idea of forming of an opinion of a band in the context of another band, of someone else’s creative output. I think it’s an insult to the band in question, like their efforts are only valid when they’re linked to someone else’s. I take the work as it is, and write about its qualities in isolation. Sure, there’s a good chance that a given band has been heavily influenced by another one, and it might be glaringly obvious, but you still have to look at their output for its own sake – it has its own value, regardless of influences.
I considered including all of the noisy genres I’m a fan of, but decided this would spread it too thin. So I decided to stick with grindcore, death metal and noisecore. Death and grind are like conjoined twins, and sometimes it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Noisecore is not to everyone’s taste, but to me it’s the ultimate realization of the fuck-the-world punk attitude that’s found in grindcore.
Finally, I simply had to include horror movies. I’ve been watching them for over thirty years and I won’t be stopping any time soon!
With the state of the printed press nowadays – “thanks” to the always rising postage, especially to/from abroad – have you had any doubts before starting your operation…you know, like….will I be able to sell all the copies? Wouldn’t the postage kill the whole idea…you know, that kind of stuff…
Publishing in print was always going to be a challenge, but I think it’s totally worth the pain! I have personally never got used to reading on a backlit screen – it hurts my eyes and kills my interest. Plus, I have a deep-seated love of physical books. I grew up reading all sorts of horror novels, and I loved admiring the cover art ‘in person’ so the speak. There’s something about reading from the printed page that’s natural. It just feels right!
But you’re absolutely right, it’s goddamn expensive. The Choppin’ Headz motto is ‘for the scene, not the green’. I’m pretty sure I would suck at being a businessman even if I was aiming to make a profit from the zine, but the reality is I barely break even, if at all. But, like the motto says, that’s not the point. The point is contributing to the scene I love so much. It’s its own reward. I do limited runs of all issues, around 50 copies, which is not very economical. But so far that’s worked out OK. I’ve done the occasional reprint too, so that’s always an option if I run out.
Shipping (or ‘postage’ as we English prefer to call in), is a big factor. It’s a rip-off right now and doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon. That said, I have sent zines to a lot of places around the world, and it’s cool to see people in diverse nations getting into it.
So far, you’ve done 4 issues…for those who don’t know, how often do you publish the zine? Do you keep any periodical schedule, or, as it’s mostly the case with many zines, when you have all the content you need to fill the pages?
I started out thinking I would put out an issue every couple of months, about 6 a year, since they’re relatively short at 50-odd pages, but it became clear quite early on that that was too ambitions haha. Hours and hours and hours go into those meagre 50 or 60 pages, and I have to fit it around my day job, so it’s a slog. That said, when I’m gifted with amazing artwork to dedicate a handful of pages to, and really insightful interviews, it makes it a lot easier. But, then again, that can sometimes slow you down, since everyone works to their own schedule – they have lives to live too, so you can’t expect too much of them and be pushy with getting stuff out of them. I am eternally grateful for all of the contributors and, really, that’s the gold in each issue – not my rambling crap!
The other thing that I had no idea would take so long is the actual printing. I’m not sure if this is the case with all companies, but with the outfit I use it can take up to three weeks from sending the files to getting the finished copies. I tend to forget this, and I’m psyched that I have an issue roughly on time, as promised, and then I’m like – shit, it has to be printed, dummy! But these things can’t be rushed, just like everything in the metal underground.
What would you say are the reactions to your publishing efforts so far? I have no doubt you will have a lot of positive appraisal, however, have you encountered any negative ones? If so, what would people complain about?
I’m pretty amazed that the reception of Choppin’ Headz has been entirely positive (at least to my knowledge!). As I said earlier, the zine is for the scene, so it means a great deal to me that it’s appreciated by all the maniacs out there. It seems like the extreme underground is mostly a place where everyone sees the effort and passion behind what’s being put out, even if it’s not to your personal taste, and is willing to support it in some way or another. To see the zine in distros in legit operations like Me Saco Un Ojo, Grindfather Productions, Maggot Death, Caligari Records and Blast Addict is an immense source of pride for me. Shout-out to all you guys, you fucking rule!
I’ve also been lucky enough to have some exposure on two absolutely badass YouTube channels: Vital Vinyl Vlog, presented by Adam Schnellenbach in the US, and Liam, who does The Death Doom Metal Head in the UK. Both these guys are incredible at what they do and are an invaluable source of inspiration when it comes to seeking out the sickest new releases. To see the zine being talked about favourably by those guys is really exciting.
I imagine some people might find the fact that there are quite a few reviews, versus having mostly interviews, kind of a shame. Interviews are timeless, and can be read years later after they were conducted, but reviews have an expiry date to a certain degree. You might have already bought the record I’m talking about, in which case the review might be less helpful or interesting. But I love thinking about how to describe the noise I’m hearing – it’s always pretty challenging – so I’ll always include them. You can’t please everyone, so it’s pointless to try!
As mentioned above, print-publishing is not easy. On the one hand, it’s easier to do a pro-printed publication, on the other hand, postage costs make print publishing quite prohibitive. But the print is not dead yet! Do you keep tracks on other existing zines? Would you consider them a competition of sorts? Obviously, every publisher considers their work the best (well, I did! 🙂 ), however, if you can name a few…what are your favourite underground publications, both defunct and still running?
I love the fact that there are other zines emerging right now! It’s really cool to see how different people approach the challenge. Sometimes, I’m like, ‘OK, I wouldn’t have done that’ or ‘Damn, that’s a wicked idea!’. It’s inspiring to know that other people are going through the agony of getting a zine over the finish line. It seems like every one out there at the moment is pretty unique, which makes sense, since it’s such a subjective endeavour – especially if you’re a one-person operation like Choppin’ Headz.
I always try to pick up a zine when I spot one in distro, but in terms of ones that have really caught my attention, there are a few. How can I not mention the supremely esteemed publication known as Rubber Axe Webzine? Seriously though, your efforts are incredible, not least because you’re clearly a glutton for punishment, sitting through all of those truly awful horror movies and then writing about them! You’re a better man than I. For printed zines, I have to shout-out fellow UK-based ziner Charred Magazine (created by the very talented artist and musician @charred_vulture). This publication is crafted amazingly well and has a ton of hand-drawn illustration, which is the mark of a real-deal zine. Another from the UK is Mercenary press zine (@mercenarypress), which is as strong and true as the slaying heavy metal that is featured in its pages. From the US, I love Frozen Screams (@frozen_screams_imprint). John is clearly a master graphic artist and has a passion for the VHS-era horror aesthetic. The bands on his label are also sick as fuck. And, of course, how can you not love the Headsplit newsletter? Cut-n-paste supremacy, the old way. Plus, the writing is great. Finally, my dude King Ink, the evil mastermind behind Exhale the Ash zine (@exhale_the_ash_magazine). If you’re lucky enough to have any of those in your collection, you’re doing OK.
Let me guess…you’re working on a new issue, right? If we can have a sneak peek under the hood…what goodies do you prepare for your readers in it?
Haha, of course, the new issue is in progress! (Though I’m off to a slow start this year.) I often give away some of the stuff that’s coming in the next issue at the end of my reviews, mostly so I don’t forget what I wanted to include! So, for example, in the next Sick Samples section, which looks at audio samples (usually from movies) used by a given band, I’m going to cover the Aussie goregrind project Meatal Ulcer. Goregrind and garish, gargling sound effects are often inseparable – it seems like it’s a tradition in the genre. The dude behind this outfit is clearly a horror-film obsessive. He uses very intense-sounding samples that adds to the already brain-scrambling intensity of the ‘music’ that’s assaulting your ears. For example, one of his tracks features a bit from the scene in The Exorcist III, where a possessed Brad Dourif is raving in a demonic fit. It’s scary as shit in the film, and when coupled with the pulverising force that is Meatal Ulcer, you’re in for a fucked-up time. The number of obscure films I’ve identified from an audio sample I’ve loved the sound of is ridiculous. When a movie sample is isolated, without the accompanying visuals, it takes on a whole other level of effectiveness. It impresses the imagination more intensely.
I’m going to be reviewing death metal from Greece. I like to focus on what are possibly lesser-known areas of the world when it comes to death metal. As a rule, the Europeans seem to have a more idiosyncratic approach to the genre, which makes for a more interesting and challenging listening experience. That said, in response to the fact that a lot of people who cop the zine are in America, I’m going to introduce a new section called Altered States, which will focus in US bands. I’ve resisted this so far, since I think there are zines out there that are doing it better than I could, and US death metal and grind gets so much coverage already, it really doesn’t need any more! That said, I will be seeking out the weirder stuff, to make it worthwhile.
The movie review for this next issue pushes the boundaries of the bad movie experience – it’s Beyond the Seventh Door, which features a bewildering performance by the unforgettable Lazar Rockwood. Itb was released on Intervision Picture Corp, which is a goldmine, if you’re mining for fossilized movie turds.
I like to mix new features in where I can, so the rest will hopefully come to me soon!
I consider doing interviews is probably most interesting aspect of doing a zine…working on inties, is there any artist you would want to interview, considering it – maybe a sort of – a pinnacle of your writing career? While talking about interviews, which one are you so far proud of the most? And let’s milk this topic to the full (haha)…what do you hate the most regarding the interviews, if there is anything you hate about them?
Absolutely – as I said, interviews don’t age like reviews, so they’re essential and possibly the most valuable aspect of a zine. It’s funny, because I think I’d rather interview people who are making a splash in the scene at the time of writing, rather than getting an interview from a ‘classic’ band. In death metal especially, people worship the old gods obsessively. I mean, there’s an argument to say that, for example, nineties death metal was the pinnacle of the genre, and so to have an interview from a band from that era would be the sickest, but I want to represent the future classics, the torch-carriers of today.
My favourite interviews I’ve been granted so far are from Ryan, the drummer from UK tech-death titans, Cryptic Shift, and the insanely talented and highly original artist Karina Monzon, who most people will know from the album art of Cerebral Rot’s LPs. Ryan gave such detailed and insightful answers, and even though it was essentially ‘drum talk’, it has a wider relevance and gives a really cool picture of the band. I was really surprised at the chilled-out and humble approach Karina has to her work. Cerebral Rot’s ‘Excretion of Mortality’ was one of the biggest death metal records of 2021, and the cover is unmistakable. But Karina was like, yeah, I just did it for my buddies, no big deal. Her tattoos are also crazily distinctive and I’d be proud to be inked by her!
The absolute worst thing about interviews, for someone putting them together for a zine, is one-word answers. Are you on crack, motherfucker?! Have you ever actually read an interview?! The whole point is that they’re informative and entertaining – the word ‘yes’ does not contain these qualities, nerd. Then again, maybe too much of an answer is just as bad… I’ve probably written too much here. Guess I’m a crack nerd too haha
What would be your message to anyone thinking of publishing a zine? And while we are at that, what would you say positives/negatives of underground publishing – particularly, in you case – are?
If you’re thinking of putting a zine out, be prepared for just how long it takes to put it all together, and don’t bother if you’re hoping to make a business out of it. Other than that, do it any way you can. The Headsplit newsletter is just a handful of pages, but the quality and detail in those pages makes it one of the best out there. You don’t need to use a pro printer, you don’t need to be the best writer – people will appreciate your effort, especially if you make it unique. That’s probably the biggest part of it – make it special, and make it weird!
The biggest drawback is having to limit the runs your do, creating a frustrating scarcity. But it’s a Cacth-22 – you probably can’t afford to do a huge run, not least because you don’t want to be storing mountains of issues in your tiny flat haha, but it’s always a bummer to have to say that something has sold out. It’s a fine balance that I guess you get better at with time.
And coming to the end of this nice chat…any last word to the readers?
Thanks, firstly, to Rubber Axe Zine for dedicating space on the virtual page to my nonsense. I hope I’ve made it worthwhile for your readers! Secondly, thanks to anyone who supports the efforts of ziners around the world by spending their hard-earned cash and precious time on their output. I’m willing to bet that 99.9% of people who are involved in putting zines out there are doing it purely to share their passion for audio destruction, and your support is priceless. Lastly – protect ya neck, motherfuckers! (PS – yeah, I stole the zine’s tag line from Wu-Tang. Fits perfectly, not sorry.)
Cheers! Evil Ed