Music Is Inherently Political – An Interview With Death Metal Musician + Ph.D Candidate Giovanni Minozzi
Giovanni Minozzi is nothing if not ambitious and multifaceted. Aside from being the bassist and primary lyricist for Italian death metal band Despite Exile, he’s on the cusp of completing his Ph.D. in Political Philosophy and Social Sciences.
In light of those accomplishments, we spoke to Minozzi about his history with music and politics, why music fans are sometimes shocked to discover their favorite artists’ legislative attitudes and much more.
Growing up, did you pay attention to the political views of musicians?
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I began to reflect seriously on political issues. One of the turning points was discovering System of a Down. They were very political for being mainstream in that they were discussing the Armenian genocide. It was with that kind of nü-metal that I delved deeper into bands’ musical undertones. Many of us were brought into metal by bands with strong political messages, yet we didn’t fully comprehend what they were saying.
In recent years, people have seemingly become more polarized, so they probably care more about lyrical content and judge artists accordingly.
For sure. As our lyricist, they’ve always been important to me. We aren’t claiming to be a political band or putting that part of it at the forefront, you know? If you really want to appreciate it, though, you’ll delve into the songwriting. Even then, it’s not a clear-cut message. I want to leave space for interpretation, but at the same time, I try to convey my own beliefs.
It’s great that you allow for that freedom instead of merely proselytizing.
With metal, there’s a sort of cyphered relationship with the content you’re receiving. Black metal might be the most famous subgenre for this. When I was a teenager, I listened to it without knowing the political content. Obviously, there are a lot of bands with different views, so it’s something that pushes you to think for yourself. I’m not a fan of relying on prearranged stereotypes about what a band should be.
The most important thing is the community that the music creates. I remember when my father discovered that I was listening to Slipknot. He was like, “What the fuck are you listening to? What does it do to you morally?” [Laughs]. It wasn’t infecting me to become a serial killer. It’s actually cathartic.
Definitely. So, you’re saying that artists have a right to express ideas, but they should never overshadow the music or the bonds amongst fans?
I’d agree with that. I’ve been studying philosophy, and I’ve been our main lyricist for the last seven years, so that’s shaped how I conceive songwriting. I don’t try to tell people what to do; I just give some nuance and complexity regarding what we’re singing about. Then, it’s about creating a welcoming atmosphere, to the point that even people who don’t like metal can have fun at our concerts.
Totally. Would you say that Italian artists have more (or less) freedom to be political compared to artists from/in other countries?
Overall, we’re less polarized than what you might see in America, but the problems are mostly the same. I always find it funny when someone discovers a band’s perspectives and says, “Ah, keep politics out of it.” That’s nonsense and peculiar because, like, we don’t want to be preachers (and metal fans can see through phoniness), yet you can’t think that what artists are doing is completely outside the real world. Music is inherently political. That might happen a bit less in Italy because the metal community is smaller and not so mainstream (so debates about politics in music don’t gain as much traction).
Why do you think some fans are shocked when they learn about artists’ stances (such as with Rage Against the Machine)?
Well, people our age were born in a deeply decisive time. We thought that ideological oppositions were somewhat done so that music would be a neutral realm untouched by politics. At its height, nü-metal was being sold as a product, and you may not want that product to force you to reflect on things like that. With RATM, I was like, “Okay, they have lyrics that everyone can understand, so what was so baffling?”
It relates to the larger idea of separating the art from the artist. Like, is it possible to remain a fan even if you disagree with them?
It's a complex decision, but it comes down to taking responsibility and asking yourself why you like the band. I mean, I listened to a lot of Mayhem as a teenager, and there’s a lot of shitty stuff behind what they did, but I grew up and can admit that I was naïve back then. After all, the world is sometimes puzzling, so you have to negotiate between opposite directions.
With music and politics, it’s not a straightforward correlation. There are works of art that are indisputably good and eternal, but maybe the creator(s) did horrible things behind the scenes. You should acknowledge that and see how it relates to their creations. It’s not about separation or saying that your moral judgment and aesthetic judgment are mutually inclusive. They can be in contradiction, so it’s up to you to work through that and learn from it.
You must put all of it into context. Also, I think the dissension from fans is probably related to how they define themselves by the people they admire.
Art is usually meant to subvert moral judgment. If someone takes a stand on an issue, acknowledge the choice but don’t think that it needs to affect you on a personal level. Don’t project your personality onto the artist. Above all else, the goal of metal in a political sense should be to benefit the kinds of communities and messages that help society.