Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sam Dunn

I profiled Sam Dunn, who directed the successful Metal: A Headbanger's Journey movie, for the Torch, the University of Victoria's alumni magazine. It was a battle of metal nerds for the ages...



Sam Dunn looks at heavy metal through an anthropological lens.

SAM DUNN MAKES A LIVING BANGING HIS HEAD. And it’s exactly what he wants to be doing. Because not only is he immersed in the heavy metal music he loves, he’s taking his background in anthropology and using it to question why he—and countless others across the world—have such a love for this often-maligned aural assault.
The 32-year-old Dunn and his partner in filmmaking, Scot McFadyen were behind 2006’s breakthrough documentary, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. In an ambitious look at the history of heavy metal, and a study of its social and anthropological aspects, the duo filmed in locales world-wide, interviewing many of metal’s biggest names.
“We wanted to make a film that would bring in both the metal fan and the curious outsider, that person who had a friend growing up who liked metal but they couldn’t understand why the hell they loved this music,” Dunn, BA ’98, explains over the din of a wildly loud coffee shop. “If you grew up in the ’80s, you had one of those friends. And, of course, we made the film for the curious, or furious, mothers out there who want to understand why their little Johnny listens to Slayer 24/7 in their bedroom.”
After it opened in 2005 at the Toronto International Film Festival, the good reviews started rolling in from metal fans (a notoriously tough crowd when it comes to people documenting their culture) and mainstream media outlets alike. The DVD has sold roughly 35,000 copies in Canada alone.
Combining what Dunn learned about anthropology at UVic and his passion for the music, the film guides viewers through the huge Wacken metal festival in Germany, explores the dark side of Norwegian metal, and features interviews with most of the metal’s key figures, including Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson. Dunn and McFadyen explore the metal community’s unique sense of style, its language, and the fans who are attracted by a sense of rebellious unity.Martin Popoff, BA ’84, a noted hard rock and heavy metal journalist and author, says Dunn’s movie “got an astonishing amount of mainstream press. It made metalheads proud on a number of levels, because, even if it likely didn’t convince tens of thousands of outsiders to take up the cause, it possibly intensified or reinforced the beliefs of those already on the inside.”
And why should the non-metal fan care about Dunn’s work?
“I think people should care about music, period,” says Dunn. “Music is a hugely influential part of everyone’s life. I think music is not just music; it’s a very powerful medium for shaping who we are as people, for giving us certain emotions or feelings we can’t get through any other experiences. It can be a very transcendental experience. Especially metal.”
The movie was such a success that Dunn now finds himself in the role of a full-time filmmaker. He and McFadyen are working on a follow-up, Global Metal, which they hope to release this fall. So far they’ve taken their camera to Japan, Indonesia, China, and Poland and they hope to get to India, Iran, and Brazil. They’re looking at the common bonds shared by metal fans around the world and what it is they experience differently because of economic, social and political conditions, or religious upbringing.
It should come as no surprise that Dunn, the narrator and public face of the first movie, has become a spokesman for the metal scene. He appreciates that, but the fame has taken him a bit by surprise and it’s something he’s not always comfortable with. “I don’t mind, but getting asked for autographs is a very bizarre experience. I have trouble dealing with it sometimes.
“It certainly wasn’t a goal of mine to become a figurehead. But if getting noticed on the street means people are seeing the film and enjoying it, that’s great and I’m really pleased.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Business Examiner

I'm the Movers and Shakers editor and Calendar of events editor for the Business Examiner, a business newspaper and website based in Victoria, B.C. Below is a sampling of the Movers and Shakers column.

Rob Reid is the new chair for the board of the Creating Homefulness Society. Dr. Janice Mason and Louise Carlow are new members to the board of directors.

Jill Doucette, a fourth-year University of Victoria biology student, has won top honours at the national Nicol Entrepreneurship competition for her green business consulting practice, Synergy. Synergy focuses on implementing sustainable business practices within the coffee, restaurant and retail industries.

The Vancouver Island Construction Association held its annual general meeting recently; close to $10,000 was raised for the United Way.

J. Peter Meekison, O.C., Ph.D., is serving as Acting Vice-President Academic and Provost at Royal Roads University until a national search is concluded. In other RRU news, professor Audrey Dallimore has been awarded a $75,000 ($15,000 a year for five years) Natural Sciences Engineering and Research Council Discovery Grant to pursue the paleoclimatic, paleoceanographic and paleoseismic history of the northern Pacific coast of British Columbia.

Jim Harrington, owner of AGO Environmental Electronics, recently won the 2008 Premier Award for Technology. Harrington was also recently nominated by the Loyalist Collage Alumni to receive the Outstanding Alumni award for 2008/2009, to be presented in June at the college’s convocation ceremonies in Ontario.

Monday, May 25, 2009


One of my regular gigs is for, a site for youth to check out to read about different career paths and industry trends. It provides me a chance to interview and write about people involved in everything from computer programming to hiking trail maintenance. It's also fun writing for a younger audience. Below are excerpts from a couple of articles I did for them.

[From an article about BMX freestyle:]

Born as an offshoot of traditional BMX—which stands for bicycle motocross and involves riders racing each other around a dirt track—BMX freestyle involves doing tricks on a BMX bike.

Not only does it look super cool, but it feels great to practice tricks enough that you get them “dialed,” as they say in the BMX scene. It’s good exercise, fresh air and gives you a great feeling of satisfaction!

Canadian rider Jeff Favelle isn’t a pro, but he has the same passion for the sport that pros do. He’s been riding, on and off, for “the better part of 20 years.” He’s recently re-discovered his bike, and is riding harder—and better—than ever. For him, it’s a hobby that will never go away. So what does he get out of it?

“Exercise, stress relief, fun, camaraderie and a sense of progression,” he says. “And it’s fun to visualize stuff and work towards it, like any other goals in life.”

Favelle, who responds with a resounding “definitely!” when asked if people should get into BMX freestyle as a hobby, also points out that there are career paths in BMX freestyle, and not always doing the actual riding.

“Like anything in life, you can take this sport to the extreme and become a professional,” he says. “Many try, and very few actually succeed—much like other organized, more traditional sports. But the process involved, the training, the exercise, the discipline, and the mental toughness acquired is all worth it and rewarding, even if the end result is not a full factory sponsorship and being paid to ride.”

Brian Tunney is a professional BMX freestyle rider in New Jersey who also manages to work in the industry, being the Managing Editor of Dig BMX, a cool BMX freestyle magazine.

“Personally, it’s changed my life,” he says of riding. “I’ve been around the world. I’ve learned that anything is possible and I’ll never back down from a challenge. I could go on for days about what I get out of BMX, but on the whole, it’s helped me to understand life a lot more than I ever thought possible. Plus, it gets me to the Bodega everyday for a 99-cent Arizona iced tea.”

[From an article about business analysts:]

If you want to become a private eye but can’t quite get into that line of work, perhaps you’ll find your calling with a jump over to the realm of suits and ties. Business analysts are the detectives of the business world. They solve business problems for companies.

“A business analyst does something different every day,” says British Columbia-based business analyst Darryl Karleen. “It’s a job that combines investigation and detective-like work. Rather than solving a murder case like on CSI, I try to understand and solve business problems. Sometimes this involves changing the way some people do their jobs so that that they can do it faster or more efficiently. Other times, our solution includes the installation and setup of new computer programs to help the people do their jobs faster or better.”

A business analyst needs to have an analytical mind and to be patient and thorough. They also need to be able to understand a variety of graphs, charts and internal documents so having good comprehension skills is also important.

Dave Bieg is the chief operating officer of the International Institute of Business Analysts. He says getting a bachelor’s degree is a start on the road to becoming a business analyst. But as with many careers, getting more education is generally a good thing!

Kathleen Barret, president of the International Institute of Business Analysis, adds that while there is no specific educational requirement, business analysts do need to have certain skills.

“Business analysts should have a good understanding of how business works and IT [information technology] concepts,” she says. “Business analysts must be analytical and not intimidated by ambiguity. It is their job to clarify ambiguity.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Strung Out

Another one for Monday Magazine, where I wrote weekly and proofread every week until budget cuts and a tough economy found me and the paper saying goodbye. This one was a blast for me, and I think that comes through in the piece. My last few pieces for Monday were some of my favourites I ever did for them.

Punk-Rock Carpet Cleaners
Strung Out change to stay the same

Talking to Strung Out drummer Jordan Burns is a lot like talking to any number of dudes who play in California punk bands. He seems happy. Says “gnarly” more than the average person. Is content with where his band is at, some 17 years into their career, even if it hasn’t brought him to our city that often.
“We’ve only been to Victoria once,” he says while driving to the studio for day one of recording his band’s new album. “Do you remember the time? I do.”
I do too. It was around ’94 or ’95. It was at a venue long-since shut down; I was a young punk rocker and Strung Out was playing with one of my favourite bands, Lagwagon. I had the poster up on my wall for years; at some point I decided to throw it out, which was a mistake. But my memories—however foggy—remain.
Burns has memories of that night too; they involve Derrick Plourde, then-drummer of Lagwagon, who killed himself in 2005.
“We got to the club and they didn’t have a drum carpet for us. So me and Derrick created this plan where we went to a convenience store, walk in and tell the lady we’re here to clean the carpets. Then we grabbed a carpet and just walked out of there with it. We took the carpet back to the club and had a carpet to play on. That’s what I remember about our show in Victoria with Lagwagon,” says Burns, lost in the memory of Plourde. “It was so much fun touring with him; he was such a character.”
For a split second, my mind is elsewhere; it’s 1994 again. Long hair, cassettes, high school. I snap out of it, ask if they took the carpet with them; both Burns and I laugh, but it’s a bit too quick, too loud. We’re both elsewhere.
“Yeah. I got that in storage,” he says. “It says ‘Victoria’ on it.”
I ask about his band’s new B-sides and rarities collection, Prototypes and Painkillers, and get an update on their upcoming studio album almost as an afterthought. Because we’re really not talking about the present anymore; we’re talking about the past. But one thing about Strung Out is that they refuse to live in the past when it comes to their music.
“We’re always challenging ourselves to mix it up,” he says, now stuck in traffic, cursing, late to get to the studio. “This new album is doing that again, it’s completely different. We’ll keep making different sounds, but we always sound like Strung Out.”

-Greg Pratt

Airport runway expansion

This one was for the Business Examiner, where I put together a roundup of business news every issue called "Movers and Shakers" as well as do the event calendar. I also do some writing for them and it's always fun.

Victoria airport extension key to cruise ship growth

By Greg Pratt

Blue skying about a runway extension for Victoria has turned to hard calculation with the slow materializiation of the federal-provincial stimulus plan.
The proposed 1,400-ft. extension to the existing 7,000-ft. strip would bring bigger planes, more tourists and, crucially for the cruise industry’s hopes (see “Snaring the next-gen cruise ships,” page 1), the ability to have heavily-laden international charters land and take off in Victoria.
“It is very safe to say we’re in support [of lengthening the runway],” says Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. “It does a number of things for our economy. The first is that it will allow for access for international charters, particularly from Europe and other places far away. That will be good for both our conference and tourism business and will provide a platform to allow us to attract a cruise ship to home port in Victoria.”
Carter, who says this would also help out the high-tech sector, adds that if bigger runways persuaded cruise lines to make Victoria their home base for Alaska cruises, it would substantially benefit the tourism and hotel sectors of the local economy.
“People normally arrive a day prior to their cruise,” says Carter. “So for each of those turns you’d get 300 or 400 hotel-room nights and the associated spending with spending a day in Victoria, as opposed to the current spending somewhere between four and six hours in Victoria and moving on. The economic impact of that is significant.”
A longer runway would accommodate planes that the current runway can not, such as the wide-bodied aircraft that are able to get to Europe in one jump from here, like the Boeing 767, the airbus equivalent, the 330,or the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Carter believes that cruise lines would make Victoria their home base only if their passengers could fly here directly.
Richard Paquette, president and CEO of the Greater Victoria Airport Authority, says that the project will take an estimated $41.2 million to complete; they are proposing a three-way partnership with the provincial and federal governments. (In related news, Nanaimo’s airport is going ahead with a $9.1-million runway extension and upgrade, with phase-one work scheduled for completion in November.)
“This would be beyond the capacity of the Airport Authority to go this alone,” he says. “This is an opportunity for partnership, an opportunity for a project that offers some long-term benefits to the community, and certainly short-term stimulus, too.”
And while money is one obstacle, there are other logistic concerns in regards to doing this, even though the airport has the space on its grounds to do so.
“There certainly will be challenges,” says Paquette.
“Although it costs money to build runways and extend them, it’s relatively easy,” says Carter. “It’s a matter of sorting out what to do with the runway lighting, which is not a huge thing but needs to be addressed.
“My understanding around that is it probably either needs to go towards Sidney, into the municipality, or out into the water.”
“It’s been on our master plan for some time,” concludes Paquette. “We’ve been seriously talking about it for about two years. At this point, it’s still talk, there’s still work to be done, evaluations to be completed, but there’s a new urgency on this. If this is going to be part of the stimulus program for the Canadian and British Columbian government, then we have to get on with it right away,” he says, adding, “We are among the major airports in the country; we have the shortest runway.”

Monday, May 4, 2009


Did this one for; it's always fun to dig a bit deeper into a bigger band or celebrity. One of these days one of these dudes will just hang up on me, but so far everyone seems into having an interview that is a bit different than the usual.

Slipknot’s Corey Taylor

By Greg Pratt

Four albums in and Iowan metal crew Slipknot are still terrorizing the mainstream. I have no idea how they ended up there: this is heavy, heavy stuff. But their latest disc, All Hope Is Gone, ended up at #1 on the Billboard charts, so they must be doing something right. With a renewed focus on his side, singer Corey Taylor is overjoyed at the album, his fans and recent victories like the aforementioned #1 and a headlining gig at Madison Square Garden. The masked men are hitting up Canada with some tour dates supporting the disc, so we took a minute to catch up with Taylor and all things knotty.

What are you up to?
I’m very, very tired. Today I got up at 6:45 because I had to take my son to school. I made breakfast and lunch for him, packed the lunch, took him to school, came home, cleaned the house, went and worked out, came back here, made myself lunch and now this is the second of two interviews I’m doing today.

That’s so not rock and roll.
Well, neither am I. What are you going to do?

So how’s everything going in Slipknot land?It’s going good, man. Everybody seems like they’re in a good place, but you know how we are. That could all go away in a ten-second period. Just the fact that my phone’s not blowing up with emergencies and panic attacks… I’m loving it.

Now that All Hope Is Gone has had a bit of time to sit, how are you feeling about it?
I go through these phases where I just have to put it on. At first, I would start with the front half; now I listen to the back half. It just sounds great. You know how that is, you get an album and fall in love with the first five songs and then you throw it on again and realize the last five songs are killer.

With All Hope Is Gone, you returned to a bit more of a heavier sound. Did that just feel like the right thing to do?
It just happened. We’ve never been the band that sits down and says, “We’re going to sit down and make this kind of album.” We throw shit at a wall and see what sticks, basically. With this album, everything felt dark. Everything felt really heavy.

So would you say the album comes from a good place or a bad place? It’s heavy, it’s aggressive, it’s dark, but you sound very positive about it.
I think all great albums have that; it’s all in the delivery. The lyrics I was writing were kind of both ways. I was raging on a political sense, and I’ve always had something against religion, but at the same time a lot of the stuff I was talking about started in a dark place but inevitably ended up in a positive place. I’ve always tried to put that in there, just saying, ‘Yeah, shit’s fucked up right now but it can be okay and this is why and this is how.’ So it’s just something that I think is overlooked. We catch a lot of shit for being dark and whatnot but unless you’re a real fan people miss the point where we’re like, ‘But it’s alright. It’s okay to be fucked up. It doesn’t have to always be that way.’ On this album, it was a great balance. That’s what we finally found.

And then the album goes to #1 on Billboard. What does that mean to you?
It’s very weird, man. When we were in the studio, I was the first one to say, ‘This album’s going to be #1.’ Kinda just talking shit, but at the same time, you hope for it. You don’t want to hope too much, but it’s definitely one of those things on your list of “holy shit, this would be fucking awesome.” So when it did go #1, it fucking blew me away. I was so fucking excited. I was really happy; I called everybody I knew and told them. I was very proud of that. Everybody talks about how it felt to win the Grammy. But fuck the Grammy. That’s seven old people sitting in a room deciding whether or not they’ve heard of your band. For me, it’s always been more about the albums, the gold albums, the platinum albums, people showing up at your show. That’s your audience coming out and saying, ‘We fucking love what you do. We all do.’ The album was the same way; our fans gave that to us. We worked hard and we earned it but our fans gave that to us just as much as fucking SoundScan did.

Speaking of the live show, you recently headlined Madison Square Garden. How did a band that sounds like you guys do that?
That’s a great fucking question, man. I don’t even know, to be honest. I still trip on it. Leading up to it, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was like, ‘It’s fucking Madison Square Garden, whatever.’ Then you show up there and it’s like, ‘Holy shit, it’s Madison Square Garden.’ Seriously, when the curtain came up and we’re standing there and I’m looking at the Garden and we had damn near sold it out, my jaw dropped. You couldn’t see it because I was wearing a fucking mask, but it took me a second to get my shit together. I was nervous… I’m never nervous. It blew me away. When we finished the show, I came offstage, I just started balling. It was a heavy, heavy night for me. Nobody plays Madison Square Garden to make money, let’s put it that way. It’s very expensive to play. Someone told me it cost $50,000 just to turn the lights on in that place. So you don’t really play there to make money. You play there because it’s Madison Square Garden. It’s a prestige gig. For me, it was just one more testament to how far we’d come.

So you get offstage at Madison Square Garden and you’re balling; how come?
It was just big. I don’t usually let shit like that get to me, but it was a big night, and it was a fucking great show. It was probably the best show we’ve ever had in New York. Everyone was just going insane. It sounded like everyone was singing every fucking word. It was just one of those golden moments. It was Maiden at Donington, it was Cheap Trick at Budokan, it was Aerosmith at the Texas Jam. It was fucking heavy. The grind of this gig can break you down and make you very cynical but there’s moments like that that make you sit back and say, ‘I am living a dream. Are you kidding me? I get to do this for real?’ So I was giddy. I was 14 in my room reading magazines, just going, ‘Fuck, some day.’ And that day was that day and it made me very happy; I went backstage and hugged all my bros. I was sick as a fucking dog that night too, that’s what killed me. I had a sinus infection, I had an ear infection, a 100-degree fever and it just all went away.

So where do you go from here though? You’ve done Madison Square Garden…
Oh, it’s gotta be downhill. Everything after this has just got to suck. (laughs) In three years we’ll be playing fucking clubs again, by my estimation. But honestly, I don’t know. I definitely know where we want to go. Me and Clown have been conspiring for probably four or five months; we’ve got some ideas and some shit we want to do for the next album but… where do you go? You headline MSG and it’s damn near sold out. Where do you go? I guess you just keep going.

Something that’s always cracked me up about you guys is you have these butt-ugly masks on and you look hideous and you have all these teenage girls screaming at you…
Exactly! What the fuck is that? (laughs) I love it, man.

You must be laughing under the masks.
You have no idea. I smirk damn near the whole time I’m wearing that fucking thing. If you could read some of the letters I get… it’s un-fucking-believable some of the shit these people ask me.

When does grown men wearing masks become absurd?
I’m not sure, to be honest. We probably could ask Gene Simmons. I don’t know… That’s a good question. As long as it means the same to us as it always has I don’t think there’s a time limit on it. For us, it’s not about the bullshit; it’s about the content behind it. At least that’s the way it is for me. For me, it’s always had much more of an artistic bent than anything else. So when it starts to become Chewbacca from Star Wars it’s time to walk. As long as it still feels right and it means the same and it’s not hokey and not bullshit. As long as we don’t jump the shark, I think it’ll be okay.