Full Metal Parenting #9: Tom Campagna interview

Full Metal Parenting

We often take a reflective viewpoint here at Full Metal Parenting. Matt and I frequently talk about what we’ve learnt about parenting over the years. We talk about our successes, failures and/or frustrations. And we try to present some words of encouragement gleaned from all the experiences parenting can offer. We want to keep things real here as well. Tell a very truthful tale. And New Jersey-based metal writer Tom Campagna has recently begun turning the very first pages of that story too.

Tom is a math teacher by day, and he’s contributed to sites such as Metal Injection and The Number Of The Blog in the past. Currently, Tom writes for Brutalitopia and About Heavy Metal. But the really big news round Tom’s house is that he and his wife Carolyn welcomed their son Connor into the world a few months back. For Tom and Carolyn the world of parenting is obviously getting bigger every single day, and it’s an absolute honour for us at FMP to publish this interview to get a sense of how Tom is enjoying and experiencing his role as a new parent.

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A heartfelt congratulations from the FMP crew on the recent birth of Connor. How does it feel to be a new dad? A few months in, have you found your feet yet?

Honestly it feels great. He’s been an absolute joy to have in our house – his smile cures cancer, this I’m sure of. I’m surely finding my feet as he’s currently 11 weeks old and a whopping 15 lbs or 1 stone 1 lb for those of you who live in Bedrock. He’s starting to do 4, 5 and 6 hour sleep cycles which is much appreciated by his mother who is kind enough to let me sleep as I work most mornings.

I’m sure, like any prospective parent, you had some firm ideas about what parenting would entail. I know it’s all very early days for you, but has anything taken you by surprise?

The thing that has surprised me the most is the sheer amount of changing you have to do initially. He’s gotten much better but he was wetting diapers as fast as you could put them on. Also his pistol is quite active and the slightest breeze could make it fire. He’s already gotten the lyrics to Motorhead’s ‘Sharpshooter’ memorized.

Let me take you back to your own childhood. What was your pathway into heavy metal? Was there one band that really secured your metal fandom?

My pathway to music in general was paved by my father’s penchant for random music quizzes, which featured various amounts of Motown groups like The Supremes and The Four Tops among others and of course Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (we’re from New Jersey so make of that what you will). He also has a strong love of The Doors, Steppenwolf, Warren Zevon, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple and that’s where the rock and heavy stuff came into play.

My older brother, Kevin, always had albums lying around his stereo like Alice In Chains’ Dirt, the first four Metallica albums, and Porno For Pyros, so he was instrumental there as well. Growing up in the ’90s showcased plenty of bands that were “heavy” in the traditional sense like Nirvana, the aforementioned Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Smashing Pumpkins, so there was plenty of loud rock music going on. Also hating Bon Jovi and all of his stupid radio rock led me in a heavier direction.

As far as the extreme side of things, I once read a list on the video game website IGN.com back in 2007 and was pointed in the direction of a band called Mastodon which led me to learn more about sludge metal and then I found Eyehategod, and my thrash love of Metallica led me to the rest of the Big Four, Exodus, and Testament and eventually Celtic Frost. I continued to evolve and learn more and more and, well, there you have it.

What sparked the idea that writing about heavy metal was going to be something that was creatively fulfilling for you?

A good amount of my friends are punk rock fans first and foremost, plenty of Bad Religion love from them and myself. But with all of this metal floating around in my head I needed an outlet for it and my girlfriend (now wife and mother) told me back in 2010 to give it a try. So I found another person who I recognized from comments posted to Metalsucks.net, GroverXIII who was starting The Number of The Blog and he took me on board. I did reviews and ran my column Throwback Thursday, that celebrated various old school metal albums. Alas the website met its demise nearly two years later but the experience was something I’ll never forget; some of the other staffers and I have become great friends.

You have a full-time job as a math teacher, and you’re also writing for a number of websites. Having a young baby can often be time-consuming and exhausting. So have you had to set down any firm rules about what is work time and what is family time?

It has been tough. I’ve had to scale back my writing to some extent but that has been going on for a few years now. I do 2 to 3 reviews for heavymetal.about.com every month and contribute an interview and/or a review for Brutalitopia in the same frame of time. If I do any work at home whether it be grading or writing I do it either very late at night or very early in the morning so that my wife and Connor are asleep so that I don’t wake them and if they are up I can help them. Mind you I used to work a power washing job that afforded me 3 hours of sleep before a 13 and a half hour shift so less sleep has never been a huge bother to me. All hands on deck while the little guy is awake.

How’s being a new dad affected your relationship with metal? Every week on your Facebook page I see you posting a big list of albums you’ve been listening to. So I guess you’re still finding time to blast all the noise. But has the way you feel about music changed in your life since Connor’s birth?

I search for deeper meaning in some of the music I listen to these days and that evolution has been spurred by a love for bands like Panopticon, whose Roads To The North dealt with similar life changing events. I get time during those down times at work or at home to blast some of that noise and it is a cathartic experience. I can’t say I’ve changed my perspective completely because I still enjoy the simple things like the new Deathhammer album that is a good kind of erratic noise that helps me to forget about the seriousness of life itself. The new Royal Thunder album has made me feel nothing but extreme love for my son as it is a beautiful album about the band’s metamorphosis and reflects my own life changing events as well.

Down my end of the world, we’re a fairly socially liberal bunch. But I’ve still had a few disapproving looks cast my way over the years because metal’s image might be a touch crude or controversial for some. I like to think that society is more welcoming of families in all sorts of shapes and sizes these days. But how’s it been for you? Have you ever been aware of any dim looks or whispered comments cast your way because you happen to be a metal fan and a dad?

Not all that much, but we have just started to go out as a family so that may change. I also think in this part of the world that most people are too involved in their own selves that they rarely notice too much external stimuli other than when a shiny object passes through their peripheral vision. I know the concept of “growing up” is something that is a bit up for debate but metal is not a sign of immaturity as I can assure you the majority of the people reading this will attest. The metal community as I see it is a large inclusive community of equal minded people who love each other and their respective families and at the end of the day are just people.

One thing new parenting brings is a huge rush of love and happiness into your life. Yet, at the same time, you’re still listening to very grim and bleak tunes. How does that juxtaposition play out for you? How do you experience that counterpointing of darkness and light? What does that mean for you now?

I’ve always found metal to be a release and a more positive one than doing things that would be considered self-destructive. I enjoy my life too much to ruin and/or shorten it in any way short of the common indulgence in bacon or cheese. I take no issue with listening to Eyehategod’s Take As Needed For Pain (a perfect title mind you) and then embracing my son with a laugh and a smile. Everybody has an inner darkness and the idea of it all to me is to embrace it and also to keep it under wraps. You also always need to have alone time and both my wife and I respect that of each other; ask and you shall receive.

It used to be that metal had little time for the notion of family. Community, for sure. A scene, of course. But not a partner and kids. That was too responsible. Too square. However, nowadays, you have a situation where Wrest, from Leviathan, is on the front cover of Decibel with his young daughter in his arms. And I’d like to think this column is an example of metal’s more inclusive reach these days too. So, as a new dad, how does that make you feel?

Great. I know plenty of metal parents either through my own circles or through this very column. It is a great balance and it showcases people who really love hard. They love their music like they love their families and vice versa. Living life to the fullest is really what it seems to be about. The metal community has always felt like a family and having your own family be part of it is something special.

I always thought there was something pretty metal about being a parent. Chiefly the chance to inspire a new generation with new ideas. How do you see your role in that regard? Are there any lessons you’ve drawn from metal that you really want to pass on to Connor?

I can pass along the general love of music to him like my dad had done for me. It is a great escape for me as a person, an adult, and now a parent. I can teach him to respect what’s different; plenty of people pass judgement on metal at the surface level and refuse to either delve deeper or treat it for more than they see it. He’ll learn to respect people of various backgrounds; working a lower class labor job, having mostly middle class friends and having some fairly affluent family members will allow for more of a broad range of people for him to see.

Let me turn that last questions around. Are there any elements in metal that you really hope Connor avoids in the future?

I do hope he doesn’t read too much into the lyrical content in that it can be a “read what I do, don’t do what I say.” It should be a balance in his imagination like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy; what’s real is tangibly real and what’s lore or lyrical content is just that. Also he can avoid the crappy metal trends like nu-metal and deathcore; that would be great.

One last question, and this is the most important one of all. Here’s your chance to recommend your Top 5 metal discs to soundtrack the joys, frustrations, laughs, and loves of parenting.

In no particular order:

Opeth – Heritage

Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors

Rush – Hemispheres

The Lord Weird Slough Feg – Twilight Of The Idols (mostly because of the song ‘Brave Connor Mac’)

Fu Manchu – The Action Is Go

I’m sure I missed others…

Craig Hayes

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.