To the Beat of Metalmanliness
A Conversation in Creativity with Multi-genre Artist Michael Nero
by D’Monic Boris Lee
Writing about your friends is something I have heard others advise against. The reasoning presented for being against writing about your friends has merit to it. However, I disagree with this concept. I say write about your friends, especially if you are new to writing in a journalistic capacity. Your friends are a comfort zone of material. All parties involved have equal opportunity to grow from the experience of your writing about your friends. It’s an opportunity to connect with those you know on a creative level that grants them a chance to showcase their talents, and you the writer, a chance to get your typing toes wet in the literary lake.
Five years ago, I started my journey in music journalism by writing about local bands playing for a promoter in the Hollywood area. The Sunday matinee shows I attended were hit and miss on the crowd gatherings, but always on point with the talent taking the stage. Some bands that took the small stage of the “Venue Room” in the now defunct Loaded, launched off to successful international touring careers, while others remained local acts with a steady fanbase for garnering the glory they desired at home.
There was, and remains, some of the most talented musicians that go unnoticed being “Local,” who put out music more deserving of the recognition some current international touring acts receive. That does not just apply to the Los Angeles and So-Cal area, as the same can be said for just about any “Local” music scene. Check out Austin, Dallas, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Portland, Pittsburgh and other cities and you’ll find creative creatures dedicated to capturing your senses with their own symphonic sorcery.
One of my earliest writing’s based on the aforementioned matinee shows was of a band bringing some P-Town Punk to the Hollywood Pit. Sick Six Sex, an industrial punk band fronted by Micheal Nero, with members Bobby Abagado, Jim Kirk, Phil James, and the Master of Metalmanliness himself, Justin Hellfire, fought through poor sound and burned out amps to leave an impression of their determination to defile the normal, and leave your entertainment senses beautifully brutalized. Later in the year, Sick Six Sex would play their last show with the original line-up and once again I was able to catch the show at Loaded for a late Sunday evening set. The thirty-minutes the band had on stage turned into the best live performance I would see in the Los Angeles area until the end of twenty-seventeen, when a little coven of creative cuteness called Sirenhex cast their spell upon my metal mentality.
Twenty-seventeen also marked the year I ended up listening to the best industrial metal/punk record I had heard to date and is arguably still the best to this date. Sick Six Sex released their final (as of this writing) studio album, Crucible of the Jackal, an All Killer No Filler, frantic face-smash of hauntingly heavy riffs and lyrics.
The production of the album superseded the band’s previous material, and if there ever was a concept in successful creative growth, Crucible of the Jackal is the definitive example of such. Though the band has done little in the past three years, primarily because of guitarist Justin Hellfire’s battle with a brain tumor that left him in a coma for a year and in continuous recovery since, the band’s frontman, the Maestro of the Musical Macabre, Michael Nero, has kept the Sick Six Sex spirit soaring through memories and even a new single which he released this past spring in tribute to the “Un-Fallen” brother, Justin Hellfire.
Nero’s idea design capacity is a cacophony of creativity that ventures beyond the primary focus of Metalmanliness, Sick Six Sex. An accomplished artist whom has had gallery showings of his works, a published author of dark poetry (an under appreciated literary art in my opinion), and accomplished music producer, Nero is venturing into new ground with Beats by Nero, a more Hip-Hop based brand of musical mastery.
Recently I had the opportunity to converse with Brother Nero about his creative endeavors in all fashion from the past, present and future.
D’Monic Lee: Mike, thanks for joining me here at Symptom of the Metalverse. It’s our first opportunity to talk about things outside of the Sick Six Sex realms, so let’s launch into this. Do you recall your earliest influences creatively? Were you exposed to film, literature, music, art on canvas and paper?
Nero: My very first creative outlet was drawing. It was something that I could do anywhere at anytime. I was going through some old boxes of stuff recently and came across an old comic book that I made for a third-grade project. I called the comic “Robot World.” Art really helped me grow as a creative individual because it inspired me to expand my creativity and allowed me to grow through trial and error. There were no rules to art. There is only what you like and dislike.
I was always a horror film junkie. The Entity and The Thing (the ‘80’s version) remain two of my favorite horror films today. I guess the darker elements of my work could be traced back to my early taste in film. Film remains a go-to source of entertainment for me as it incorporates art, word, and sound. All of which are an inspirational source for me.
DL: Drawing was my first creative outlet as well. I recall being in second grade and taking to drawing pictures of fire engines, cars, and then on to King Kong, Superman and others. Old-school horror films are definitely my strongest creative influence, with the old Hammer Horror films and Vincent Price/Roger Corman films coming in alongside them as the earliest impressions upon my already darkened youthful mind.
Being a multi-genre creative creature, what prompts you to change your creative mediums? Is it about putting all facets of yourself to creative use, marketing, or that gut feeling that a certain way to express yourself is better than another maybe at a certain time?
Nero: I never wanted to box myself in as a specific type of creator. I feel that I have many ideas I like to explore and present, so it was natural for me to toggle between various forms of artistic expression. Stories can be told in many ways, and I enjoy the exploration of multi-dimensional art. As long as I am pleased with the product I don’t really worry about the medium.
DL: Memoirs of an Exquisite Mephistophelian, is a book of dark poetry and art. The drawings you present in the book are a balanced collaboration of beauty and brutality. Which of the two is the key ingredient to your energetic recipe when putting the pencil to paper to create these images? What brought about the creation of the book?
Nero: For me, art, word, and sound are equal. They can coexist together or stand apart. With Memoirs, I focused more attention and energy to the words and let them dictate the direction of the visual art. At the time, my mind was overflowing with poetry and storytelling, using what I call abstract poetry that is mainly influenced by the Dada Movement of the early twentieth century. Tristan Tzara is one of my favorite “Word” artist to this day.
The book was an introspective journey for me prior to its completion. I had suffered a severe case of anxiety. It’s difficult to describe exactly how I felt. The best way I can put it is like having a heart attack, a bad acid trip and a stroke all at once. This lasted for months and forced me to go on medication to balance out the chemicals that were lacking in my brain. I wasn’t your typical anxiety patient that was afraid of crowds or wanted to harm themselves. It was mostly a physical ailment triggered by an imbalance of chemicals in my brain. There were no mood swings or personality malfunctions during or since. It just felt like my body was dying for twenty-four hours a day. The book chronicled my journey back from that dark period of my life and is a redemption story of sorts.
DL: How did the writing process for Memoir’s poetry differ from the lyric writing process for Sick Six Sex?
Nero: For the lyrical content for Sick Six Sex, I approached it from an entirely different perspective. I mainly wanted to touch upon injustice and the outside world. The message of the band is “Don’t be an asshole.” The world would be a much better place if we as a people could refrain from acting out the “Assholiness” parts of our thoughts and desires. I like to bully the bullies with my content, so to speak. Unfortunately, I will never run out of material because of the overabundance of assholes in this world.
DL: “I Look Around and I See a Handful of Diamonds Amongst the Coal,” comes across as a message of finding inner strength in solidarity rather than support from the crutch of society. A message for those who find strength in solitude, even though there is a darkened loneliness that accompanies this path. Was this a message from you for others to let them know, it’s okay to find your own path and praise in the belief of yourself, or was it more of a message to those who rely on instant gratification and false praise from anyone willing to pat them on the back?
Nero: That piece was a rally cry at its core. I wanted to show that there are many ways to achieve strength and pride in oneself other than the conventional methods pushed on us as a society. Whether that epiphany and self-worth comes from solitude or by expressing yourself to the masses is really up to you. Validation comes from within. I see so many expectations forced upon us by corporate entities as opposed to actual people. Life is not a competition, it’s a personal journey. I want to give out the message that, “You don’t have to compromise yourself or let outside ‘Criticism’ taint your perspective and feeling of self worth.”
DL: As an artist, your work has been displayed at gallery showings. What was that experience like, to have a piece of you looked upon and judged by strangers passing through a room?
Nero: I have been very fortunate to have had my artwork showcased at various galleries and the feeling is exhilarating. You have your positive and negative feedback, but I don’t take that to heart. I’m only presenting my work. I’m not looking for praise. Instead, I like to inspire thought and conversation. If the viewers can gain new ideas from my work, then that is the ultimate compliment. If I can inspire others to really think about life in a constructive way, then I feel like a success.
DL: My thoughts on what a reader takes away from my fictional works are like yours on the results of a gallery showing. If my stories entertain readers and stimulate the “What if?” factors in thought, then the work was a success. As an author, praise is helpful in marketing attention via social media, however, I don’t write for attention. I write because it’s my creative passion.
Most of the “Creative Creatures” in the Los Angeles, Pomona, and surrounding areas know you as the passionate frontman for the industrial punk band, Sick Six Sex. Your latest project, “Beats by Nero,” is a step in the world of beats and sample creation.
What are the origins to Beats by Nero? How much of your creative formula was altered or borrowed from the Sick Six Sex creative process when coming up with Beats by Nero?
Nero: Years ago Justin Hellfire and I were discussing the direction of Sick Six Sex and what we would do in the future. I saw that Rap, Hip-Hop, Trap, were going to be the dominant genres of music, so I created a Beat Stars account. Justin was doing side work in the movie industry and was getting a few connections in that field. I figured that we would need some job security because being in a band is not exactly like it used to be monetarily speaking. I thought it would be wise to venture off into behind-the-scenes production with the beat creation specifically. I saw it as an opportunity, and since I’ve been a fan of the genre my entire life, I thought it would be fun overall. Well, the future is now my present and unfortunately Justin is battling cancer, so I had to go down the road alone for the time being.
The creative formula is similar to Sick Six Sex as far as the basic method of songwriting. The key differences lie in the vocals and guitar production. I don’t have to worry about vocals or playing the harsh guitars that you would find in a Sick Six Sex song. I can just focus on the sound and structure of the beat. No matter what, the product will always have my signature sound or arrangements hidden within the music. I am the one behind the controls so it will have my flavor and influence.
DL: A signature, an imprint of our creative DNA is what all us mad scientists strive for when life is given to our creations. If there is no “Master to Monster” kinship, do we even create something from our heart? For me, in writing fiction tales, each story has my imprint. Whether I intentionally instill this, or it is a natural byproduct of my creativity, there is a piece of me in every scenario that plays out in the reader’s mind. I can say the same for the column articles or my other journalistic work. What are your thoughts on the “Master to Monster” relationship?
Nero: I believe that art is everywhere, and we can find every artist’s signature in every aspect of their own lives. Speech, clothing, and even personality are all a part of the collective identity and artistic forms of expression. With that in mind, I think it’s only natural to find that “Imprint” in their work. When an artist is working on a commission for someone else, it kind of becomes a collaboration. I believe that even though you are working to create someone else’s vision, you inject parts of yourself into the work and that becomes your signature. In short, I believe in the “Master to Monster,” relationship.
DL: From a creative standpoint, I seem to have lost the memory of a few things I created over the years. However, I never forgot my first. My first drawing, painting, song, or story I created. There is something about the conception and evolution of an artist first creation you just never completely forget (for me at least). Do you recall the first musical piece you wrote? What was that experience like versus when you created your first beat? What’s been your creative evolution when it comes to knowing something is going to work rather than hope what you are creating will work?
Nero: I remember my first musical piece as a small cluster of work from my days as a fledgling composer. I usually work on several song ideas simultaneously. That provides me with enough space to flesh out ideas in order to capture one to really focus on. With my current venture into crafting beats, I find the experience very similar. I approach beat making with the same idea in mind. I guess you can say that for every musical composition I release, there are several other experiments sitting in my hard drive. Music is both a journey and a destination for me.
DL: Have you considered rewriting some Sick Six Sex material as beats and if you were to do so, where in the s6s catalog would you look for a root riff to write from?
Nero: I have considered it but never fully committed to focusing on anything I would be happy to release at this time. We rooted the music of Sick Six Sex in beat making. It’s a marriage of beat and riff. Justin Hellfire would provide most of the riffs with a few contributions of my own, and vice versa with writing the drums and rhythm section.
I have a very old unreleased Sick Six Sex song that I think would make for an interesting beat. It was written using an old MPC 2000 many years ago with my friend, Andrew Chavez. I remember an aspiring rapper at the time was interested in using the piece in some capacity with what he was working on. As I’ve stated before, Sick Six Sex is essentially grounded in beat making, so this is a natural step for me.
DL: How does somebody create a beat they know is a good beat? Is there more instinct in the creativity to know the hook you feel in the beat is something others will latch onto, or is it more marketing and testing the beat with the other creative components that make up a completed song? For me, the beat is the background to which the musical landscape takes shape. Is that the idea when you create a beat for Beats by Nero?
Nero: Like all forms of creative expression, the beat will only be good if you are pleased with it. No matter what you do in life, there are always going to be people that disagree. But, if your music/beat is bringing in money, then apparently there are other people who think it is good as well. You have to create for the right reason though because if you’re just trying to make a buck, most likely your product will reflect that and come out stale, bland and homogenized. In this type of creation, the beat is a focal point as opposed to rock music. The beat, melody, and vocals are what’s important. I like that because it allows me to focus and turn my attention to one specific thing. With Sick Six Sex, I have to spread myself a little thin because there are so many elements that go into each song, so this formal creativity is refreshing to me.
DL: Have you considered fusing your beats with Sick Six Sex material to give life to a new monster?
Nero: On our first Sick Six Sex album, Nuclear Immaculate, there are a lot more influences in line with this form of beat making. That record has more of a fused sound. Even back then I was planning ahead to get into beat production, so I flirted with it on that album. Our second album, “Crucible of the Jackal,” was more angry and heavy. That was a very emotional record with anger as the central focus and theme.
DL: Crucible of the Jackal was a superior album in energetic flow with the final product reflecting the message you intended to share with listeners. I stand by what I have said privately to you and publicly to everyone, that record is “Beautifully Brutal.”
As a writer, I have a ritual for getting into my creative chaos. Do you have a ritual, and if so, what is your ritual for getting into the proper mental place for working on your creativity?
Nero: Yes, I do have a ritual. First, I have to make sure I have a sizable chunk of open time to work and stay in the rhythm of creation. I like to have a huge breakfast. I also make sure I don’t have any reason to leave my house, so I do all of my errands in the days prior. I like to listen to a few songs from other artist to get in the right head space, set up and pretty much blast off from there. When I’m working, I usually need to be alone to concentrate. That is also important unless it’s a collaboration.
DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring creative creatures looking for their niche in the chaos that is being an artist of one form or another?
Nero: I would say to an aspiring artist in any field to make sure you love what you do. The life of an artist is unconventional with peaks and valleys. Dedication to your craft is everything. You need to develop thick skin because your work will be scrutinized and criticized. It’s inevitable. Don’t go into it expecting to become some famous millionaire. Expect nothing, but dedicating yourself to creating the best possible work that you are proud of. After you have enough material, then you can start to get into the business aspect of it.
As far as my work is concerned, I would just like to thank everyone that took the time to delve into my creations. I appreciate every single one of you.
DL: Thank you Brother Nero for joining me here for this installment of Symptom of the Metalverse. It’s been my honor to be a part of your sharing all facets of your creativity with our readers. I look forward to the success of Beats by Nero, and the release of other creative material from you in the near future.
To learn more about the Maestro of Metalmanliness, Michael Nero, his latest project Beats by Nero, Sick Six Sex, purchase a copy of Memoirs of an Exquisite Mephistophelian, and other Nero related materials, follow the links below.
Checkout the world premiere of “Derailed” from Michael Nero by clicking this link here:
by Michael Nero
The pathogen favors no prejudice
No rhetoric, nor sentiment
You can’t bully it or yell at it
Calling it names does nothing
And when the times call for us
to do nothing
I look outside and always try
To see the good in us
I consume reports, opinions, and facts
At a level that helps me to adapt
There comes a time in every life
That a true test of character
Will present itself
The time when questions are asked
“What are you going to do about it?”
“What does your heart really look like?”
I take another look outside and realize
That the foolish
will punish the innocent
And strength really means nothing
Without a core
They scream at me
From their little TV’s
Wanting me to follow the pack
That will crash the ship
They want to sow discord
Unwilling to accept their own flaws
Allowing the ego to block the arteries
And everything becomes painfully obvious and unintelligible
I live in a time where the fake
Will call the truth a lie to disguise the wolf in wolf’s clothing
But the pathogen,
the virus, the nothing
Cares not and does not
Follow the cult of personality
It is only
An open door to the end
Symptom of the Metalverse columnist, D’Monic Boris Lee, is also an accomplished horror and thriller author. His book, The Shadows of Insanity (available here), was a top ten finalist in the Author Elite Awards Best Thriller of 2020 category. You can learn more about Lee though his website, The Tenor of Terror, and follow him on Instagram and YouTube.
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