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Richard Hell and Unlocking the Truth Chat about Punk, Bullies and Metal

Last spring, the Internet was set ablaze with news of a heavy metal trio of sixth graders from Flatbush, Brooklyn called Unlocking the Truth. They were loud. They were fearless. They were 12. Unlocking the Truth's music and what they represent more broadly -- a group of kids making music that perhaps their peers and adults might not always see as "normal" -- aligns with the spirit of metal and punk music at its purest. And, in that sense, who better for the band to interview, and be interviewed by, than the "founding father of punk," Richard Hell? Here, Unlocking the truth and Hell, who are both featured in Dazed x AllSaints current New Music Cities series, talk about bullies, metal and finding inspiration in the Mickey Mouse Club.

uTT.jpgRichard Hell interviews Unlocking the Truth

RH: Your website says about you, "Heavy metal is in their blood. That is why they do it so well." How did heavy metal get into your blood? Does it ever hurt? It seems to have made you into super-heroes, but sometimes that brings its own problems.

Jarad: Heavy metal is in our blood because this is what we like to do. Heavy metal is the music that lifts us up when we are down. Heavy metal is the music to get all our emotions out. This music is everything to me. Japanese animated TV shows and wrestling are the reasons why this music is in our blood. The music in the background inspired us to play metal.

RH: Do you see yourselves as having a unique purpose and message in your compositions -- music and lyrics -- or are you more interested in simply being consistent with the existing style and feeling of your favorite heavy metal bands? If your purposes and messages are unique and different from other heavy metal, how would you describe those intentions and messages of yours?

Jarad: I do see us having a unique purpose. Our music has this good message for all people that feel like they are being bullied, or people who want to be free. I think that our music is for everybody. 

The message I want to convey in my music is to be free, do what you want to do, and get back up if you get pushed down. If you're following others, then you're not being yourself and it's okay to be different.

RH: Do girls like heavy metal?

Some of the girls we hang out with at Malcolm's school like our music and the other bands we listen to.

Yes, girls do like heavy metal.

RH: What would you be most-interested in doing in the way of occupations, jobs, if you weren't in a band?

Jarad: I would be a studio engineer. I just like touching buttons.

If I wasn't in a band, I would want to be a pro skateboarder, guitar technician, or a producer.

RH: What does it mean when you make a fist but stick up your pinkie and your index finger?

Jarad: I really don't know. I hope it's not bad or anything.

Malcolm: Putting up the devil horns basically is respect to heavy metal and all it has done for me and a lot of other people. Metal gets me through each and every day and I'm not just saying that because everyone else does. I'm saying it because it is true.

Unlocking the Truth interviews Richard Hell

UTT: Were you ever teased or bullied because of the type of music you listened to?

RH: In the mid-'70s, when the way I looked -- torn and wrinkled clothes that were also sometimes written and drawn on, patchy and ragged haircut, etc. -- was new and unusual, I was occasionally insulted by strangers and sometimes had a hard time getting a cab to stop for me. Sometimes I was refused service at restaurants. But I was already in my twenties by this time and I could handle it fine. When I was a kid, I didn't have any particular traits that drew bullies, but there are some people who will bully anyone they think they can scare, and I definitely encountered a few of those types of bullies and they did scare me.

UTT: Did people question the way you live your life because of punk?

RH: Well, I was pretty lucky because right away, when I was first beginning in music, a set of other bands and people arose who had a lot of the same values, musically and otherwise, as me. This happened at CBGB. So we could support and encourage each other and feel a little insulated from the squares who'd give us a hard time.

UTT: Who were your biggest influences when you were a kid?

RH: Well, when I was your age, I was more straight and conventional than you are. I lived in a pretty bland place where there wasn't a lot of stimulation or exposure to new ideas. I was probably as influenced by TV shows as anything else. Those included Howdy Doody, Father Knows Best, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger and Route 66.

UTT: How was life growing up for you during the punk era?

RH: That's a pretty broad question, but let's see... Well, for one thing, I was already on my own. When you say "growing up" you probably mean being your age. But there was no punk music as we know it when I was your age. I was in my early twenties when we created modern punk music. I'd still call it a process of "growing up" at that late date though, or even a decision not to grow up. Who wants to be like grown ups? When I was a teenager and already on my own in New York, I was learning how to live the way I wanted, and it was always most definitely outside of normal "society." I didn't care about having the respect of normal society. I wanted to make art and have fun and say and do what I wanted. So I was always struggling -- I was hungry a lot -- but that was better than subordinating yourself in order to have a job and a career, with bosses.

UTT: How has the music changed from then until now?

RH: Probably the biggest change is how electronics have affected it, both in the way music is created (sampling and other computer-assisted ways of making music) and for its distribution (the Internet and the way it's both made getting your music to a public easier, or at least something you can do yourself, while at the same time has made it so easy for people to take musicians' work without paying for it). As far as styles of music, the biggest change has got to be the advent and huge success of hip-hop and everything about how it's done and what it says and means.
UTT: How did you come up with the name of your band, Richard Hell and the Voidoids?

RH: It's a made-up word. My friend and I were ragging on each other, by calling each the other this-oid and that-oid and he called me a voidoid. I jumped on it. First I used it for the title of a short novel I wrote, and then a couple of years later as the name of my band.

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