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Ray Van Horn, Jr. Interview
This is the latest in a series of articles profiling heavy metal writers. Nearly everything you read about your favorite metal artists is shaped by writers like Ray Van Horn, Jr., and it’s interesting to hear their stories about bands they’ve interviewed and people they’ve worked with. Ray and I have written for some of the same publications, are close to the same age, and I’ve always appreciated his writing style.
He is very knowledgeable and always does his homework, which really comes through in his writing.
Van Horn, Jr. currently write for Metal Maniacs, Pit, AMP, Hails & Horns, Impose and Angst magazines, along with RoughEdge.com and MusicDish.com. In the past he has written for Loud Fast Rules magazine as well as PivotalRage.com, Live4Metal.com, AllThingsMetal.net, Inside Metal.net, Maelstrom and Pitriff.com. He also writes AMP’s metal column “Death From Below” and in addition to interviews for Pit, also does a quarterly column dedicated to the visual medium, “Artists of the Macabre.”
Chad Bowar: How did you get started writing about metal?
Ray Van Horn, Jr.: I’ve always loved heavy metal ever since I got turned onto it in 1982. I’d say my first genuine metal writing gig came in 1989 when I was the assistant editor of the college newspaper and had my own column entitled “Musically Speaking,” which was grossly slanted towards heavy metal and punk rock. Only my friends and one other person who stopped me to ask who the Bad Brains were ever read the thing until I was given the ultimatum to broaden my horizons and cover other music or else lose the column.
It was a valuable transition for me because I think exploring other types and styles of music made know what to listen for other than monster riffs and thrash beats. I always recommend to people that they listen to as many diverse forms of music as they can stand.
I got into my current stay as a music journalist once I saw that a full-fledged heavy metal revival was spreading across the underground of North America, which of course, had died in the early nineties. Nu-metal in the late nineties aroused my interest in aggressive music after exploring alternative, jazz, rap, soul, funk, classical, Celtic, Goth, electronic, dance and so on during the dead zone of the mid-nineties. I picked up with an underground Goth and electronic music magazine called Legends where I was able to hone my reviewing skills and learn the techniques of interviewing musicians. I came across a lot of bizarre artists and highly challenging music, which I also think was a valuable opportunity to learn from. After meeting former Dag Nasty, All and Down By Law vocalist Dave Smalley at one of his solo gigs in Baltimore, I realized that I should’ve requested an interview with him. I sleuthed my way and tapped a couple of connections to get to him and sure enough, we got together for an interview, and I realized that even though it was a part-time venture, I felt this was a calling for me. After next socking out a killer interview with Blaine Cartwright of Nashville Pussy for Legends, I felt like this was something I should be doing on a regular basis
I came up with the idea of writing a book on heavy metal a few years ago after I’d completed my first novel Mentor when I realized that I’d missed this music so much and I missed how it made feel inside as a listener. Honestly, I also missed the inner rebel that used to define me as a teenager and metal and punk fan of the eighties. I had no idea what approach I was going to take with this book other than that I wanted to interview as many heavy metal figureheads, both past and present, as I possibly could. I cold-contacted many musicians and found a surprisingly high degree of success. I conducted many evening conversations with the likes of Joe Lynn Turner, Dee Snider, Kevin Dubrow, Michael Schenker, Joey Belladonna and others, but a lot of musicians directed me to their publicists and record labels before consenting to talk with me. After being told by many publicists that they wanted immediate writing exposure for their clients, it was then that I understood the direction I would be taking. The first metal label to take a chance on my project was The End Records, and boy, what elation I had when I got my first batch of free CDs in the mail! I interviewed Karyn Crisis (then on their label) for my book and that would grow into a small friendship with the band before they broke up last year. A publicist who was marketing for The End Records put me in touch with the editor of the metal website Pitriff.com, and this was my official birth as a music journalist. Immediately I was given an assignment to interview Great White’s Jack Russell, and this was probably less than a year after the Rhode Island tragedy. I found Russell to be professional and honest, and from there I found myself quickly in the maw of high profile interviews such as Lamb of God, Mastodon, Himsa, Cradle of Filth, KMFDM, Arch Enemy, Killswitch Engage, Bleeding Through, High On Fire, Soulfly and Trivium, just as an 18-year-old Matt Heafy and his crew were just getting started. The rest, as they say…
Are you able to write full time, or do you have another job?
Alas, my dream to waste away in front of the computer while pecking melodic manifestos with blaring music that terrifies my wife is currently relegated to a part-time existence. I work as a mortgage title processor by trade, and have been in that industry for 14 years now. I never give up my hopes and ambitions to write full-time. I have two fiction projects in progress, a book of poetry I need to edit, my yet-to-be-finished non-fiction project about heavy metal, and I’m getting my portfolio of articles and photography assembled to promote myself to other outlets. This prophecy will soon become reality; I’ll stand on it.