Why do you think animal rights activism and veganism found a home with punk and hardcore rather than metal?
“That’s a great question. And I wonder, in a weird way – keeping in mind I love metal, and I’m definitely not maligning a genre – about how metal came from establishment rock. And granted, there’s obviously a strong current of metal that’s very counterculture and very anti-authority, and in the ’80s it was political, but it was more focused on war and Armageddon, which are certainly good things to be focused on. But originally, you know, it was an evolution from Led Zeppelin, it wasn’t as marginalised. You had bands like Def Leppard – and I love Def Leppard – but it was almost pop-metal. It was a little more establishment. Which is not a criticism, it’s just a statement that it came from more legitimate music and music business. Those bands were on big labels, they sold records, they had private planes.
“Punk rock – not to say it’s better or worse – very much came from the completely marginalised, weird culture. It was weird, it was very fringe, and up until Green Day and Rancid, it never sold records. If you started a metal band at that time, you might end up super-rich and sell 10 million records. If you were in a hardcore band, your best hope was that 100 people would come see you at a VFW hall. So at that time, there was no commercial incentive. There was no profit motive. There was no ability to be a rock star. There was basically very little chance that a girl would ever come to your show, so you didn’t have to think about being attractive. You could just be this angry activist yelling on a stage. That made it, from my perspective, a much more fertile ground for uncompromising activism because, worst-case scenario, the 10 people at your show would leave, as opposed to worst-case scenario for a metal band was you’d get dropped from Warner Bros. and you’re suddenly worth a few million dollars less.
“But I will say, credit has to be given to the original heavy music vegan, who is Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath. I’m pretty good friends with him and his wife. He’s been a vegan since the early-’70s. He’s probably been vegan for longer than any person on the planet.”
Yeah, and you guys had it tough enough – he was doing it as a kid in 1960s industrial Birmingham…
“Yeah. In the movie, people talk about just how hard it was to get food on tour at that time, and you have, like, John Joseph explaining how you’d make a stew out of what vegetables you could get, but it must have been even harder than that for Geezer.”
How much of a part did direct action play?
“When the UK scene became more dramatically activist, I think of CND, and how people were getting arrested. That was so impressive and inspiring. And you can almost draw a line from that and the original punks in the UK being arrested in the ’70s, to Extinction Rebellion. It’s the same ethos – even the iconography looks kind of the same! That’s one of the things I wanted to draw attention to in the movie: how a lot of modern activism had its birth had its roots in punk rock activism. Look at Extinction Rebellion, it certainly doesn’t look like hippies. Nothing against hippies, but everything about what they’re doing is so punk, it’s that confrontation.
“In the States, the activism, there wasn’t always that obvious hunt sabotage approach, but the Animal Liberation Front, definitely, to a very large extent had its roots in the hardcore scene. Putting on a black hoodie and wearing a black face mask and sabotaging a vivisection lab – that was connected to hardcore. The people I knew in the ALF were, like, sabotaging a vivisection lab on Tuesday and going to see Earth Crisis on Wednesday.”
Things have come a long way as far as ease of going vegan goes. You must be pretty glad not to be having to survive on the road in the ways described in the movie…
“Well when I first went vegan you didn’t have a lot of choice. Now there’s probably 20 vegan restaurants within a mile of my house. It’s interesting because for the longest time, vegan food was seen as uninspiring health food. And I kind of like that – I like brown rice and broccoli. But what happened, I guess, in the early part of this century, was people realised that vegan food didn’t have to be super-healthy. Like, they could use sugar, they could use chocolate, they can use oil, they can use salt, they can use all the things that other restaurants were using, and you suddenly had this explosion of vegan food that wasn’t particularly healthy, but that was really delicious. Suddenly, I could take my normal friends to a vegan restaurant and they wouldn’t complain, because up until about 2001, whenever I took someone to a vegan restaurant, they would just be unhappy. So, in terms of driving the spread of veganism, the invention of delicious, unhealthy vegan food definitely helped.”