Currently, he's the Sustainability Director at Kiski.
He's done this, www.sustainabilitynowradio.
and this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1j1AIQwfWts
and this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgG-ekGE8x8
and he has a poetry blog, which is one of my favorite blogs, Peter Is In The Forest.
Q) As a poet, musician and an environmentalist, do you see these interests as part of an integrated whole or as separate? How do they feed and inform each other for you?
A) I’m not a person who usually compartmentalizes my identity. Whether by choice or by nature, I see these as discrete expressions of who I am and often connected to one another. I express my reverence for nature in all three of these identities. My poems are my most patient ruminations on who I am in nature’s course, on what and how other living things are expressions of matter and energy, how a stone is many things while being just a stone, how “we” the industrialized humans in the world have embarked on an incredible and terrifying game by insisting we must both increase our raw numbers and raise the affluence of each of those people and that this amplifies our games with death, fear, and love in ways that evoke despair and wonder. All of the lyrics I wrote for my last band, Collapse, were about ecological degradation. It was at its heart, protest music against the growing machinery of humans that is literally poisoning the biosphere both deliberately and by accident. That said, we also covered Testament, Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Metallica songs that had zero to do with nature. Finally, as an environmentalist – a very active and vocal one – comes quite naturally to someone who loves and reveres the marvels of the world, enjoys language, and has no qualms about getting in front of a gathered crowd or the audience of a publication. I’d like to believe that my opinions are well-informed and reflected upon in a number of ways and that they find meaningful expression across the board.
Q) What appeals to you most about the metal genre of music?
A) I’d say power. If metal is about one thing, it’s about power. And everything in it expresses power somehow. Lyrics are about suffering because someone is holding you down. Whether that’s your parents, an unseen corporate elite, generals in the military, Obama (check out “Hopenosis” by Forbidden), Satan, Christianity, aliens, or your own violent urges, it’s power. Or it’s about overcoming something, engaging in violent combat, being or fighting a dragon... Even hair metal is about power. Fast cars. Hot chicks you submit to or dominate. Going on a bender. And the music expresses these things in so many ways.
Look at the artwork too. Power. Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot, is like an avatar of distorted power much of the time, able to do strange and incredible things. Just look at the cover of Killers or Somewhere in Time where Eddie has just murdered someone or blown someone away in some Blade Runner dystopian future. Look at the cover of Metallica’s …And Justice For All with Lady Justice bound and being pulled apart amid a rain of falling money. It’s all corruption, the abuse of power. Pick up just about any death metal album. Dark and sinister power.
And of course the music does it too. Metal, as a genre, deals in incredible extremes. In no other musical genre can we have the range of vocal expression and talent and skill that we do in metal. If you randomly pick ten bands – Prong, Carcass, Blind Guardian, Testament, Whitesnake, Lamb of God, Mayhem, Napalm Death, Gojira, and Tyr – you will go through an incredible range of tempos, rhythms, vocal styles, melodies or lacks thereof, and playing abilities ranging from the astronomically virtuosic – Steve Vai played in Whitesnake for example – to the proficient but nothing to write home about – like Prong. And all this music just fucking overwhelms the listener. Want to see people reveling in being overwhelmed, go to a Slayer show. Everyone there is in an ecstatic state because four guys are playing the loudest, fastest, most vicious music humans have devised.
Q) In terms of environmental issues, what do you see as the most pressing concern at the moment? What advice would you give to someone who wants to do something but does not know where to begin?
A) I think it’s impossible to say there’s just one thing like the extinction of species, climate change, or habitat loss. Here’s a kind of egg-headed answer: We have too many people using too much stuff too fast and we are designing our technology and economy to make even more people use even more stuff even faster. That’s pretty crazy. We are consciously undermining our descendants’ ability to live on a planet viable for human habitation. How can we tell? Through the problems like the ones I listed above. I’ll save you an exhaustive laundry list of problems and move on to actions people can take.
The single most important thing a person can do is connect with other people to try to understand and reflect on what you are grappling with. If I give a list of things to do – eat less meat, insulate your house, reduce your electricity load by using less light and lowering your thermostat, walk, bike, or use public transport instead of driving, reuse things, plant a pollinator garden, have one child, vote for a carbon tax, purchase renewable energy credits through your power provider – it will just be empty instructions. It’ll be worse than being a kid who has gone to school and doesn’t understand why she has had to “learn.” But people should learn about why we should act. They need to believe that there a more harmonious relationship to the more-than-human world means that we need to see ourselves in it and take care of it the way we care for our loved ones. It will always be imperfect, but we can do better.
Q) How did your journey as a guitarist/composer begin?
A) The moment my parents put on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Night on Bald Mountain orchestrated by Maurice Revel and performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That music is heavy. As a four-year-old I remember dancing around the living room in my pajamas pretending I was some insane goblin. That kind of music just loaded me to love heavy stuff. Toward the end of elementary school I heard Whitesnake and a little later Guns n’ Roses, Iron Maiden, and Metallica and that was it. I was hooked. My parents bought me a guitar in 10th grade and I started writing music. But I became disaffected with all popular music because most of it was too simple. I needed a challenge (and I was kind of a prick who wanted to set himself apart). I studied music theory and history in college and started composing. By the end of my Master’s degree though I had come full circle and all I wanted to play in music was my guitar. So I did.
Q) Everyone approaches the creative process differently, whether writing poetry or composing a song. How would you describe your process? Is it different for each form? Conversely, how are they similar?
A) Man. This question. Sometimes it’s a shape I like on the guitar and so I just start playing the shape and it turns into a song. Other times I hear something and just go figure out what I’m hearing in my ear. Others, it’s almost playing a variation on a song or excerpt from a piece I really like. Improvising for hours, I can just play and play and nothing of consequence will come of it.
Poetry tends to be much more conscious and deliberate. Usually there is some image I want to put in words, a feeling I want to evoke, or a story I need to tell and I go about it by just putting down words. Then I revise, revise, revise. Unlike playing the guitar which just happens almost of its own accord for hours at a time (if I have that much time), I have come to approach writing poetry like a craft.
But there is one thing in my “goal” (if I have one) through poetic and musical expression. I want to evoke things from the listener and reader.
Q) Apples or oranges?
Q) What developments in environmental research are most exciting to you right now? Where do you think lies our best hope of positive action as a result of research?
A) It’s probably in the social science of economics. There is a lot of work going into figuring out the true costs of things. In the last few years, some really incredible research has been carried out showing that the damage our use of coal costs us much more in human health, damaged watersheds, and the like than it does good by providing us with electricity. The advent of full-cost accounting that internalizes damages instead of externalizing them from the market could help us create some incredible policies that could guide our actions and edit our choices in really good ways.
Q) When writing poetry, do you use pen and paper or electronic devices? Both? Are there differences in the experience for you?
A) Both. I am surprised at how much I like the computer honestly. I like typing and typing and then deleting and reforming and shaping things on the screen. And I love scribbling away with a pencil and circling things and making an arrow to another idea or scratching something out, just rambling along.
Q) What is one of your favorite experiences of playing in a band?
A) I think it was just the ecstasy of unleashing all that energy into a room full of people who wanted that energy. It’s thrilling. There was a woman who used to come to Collapse shows and I would just stare into her eyes while I was screaming and playing bass and just feeling so alive. She loved it. It might sound funny that this is coming from a metal guy, but it was a special thing we shared, loving that intensity. And she had beautiful skin.
Q) Themes or theme songs?