Music is inherently political, interview with Giovanni Minozzi
Giovanni Minozzi is simply ambitious and versatile. As well as being the bassist and lead lyricist for Italian death metal band Despite Exile, he is about to complete his doctorate. in political philosophy and social sciences.
In light of these accomplishments, we spoke to Minozzi about his history with music and politics, why music fans are sometimes shocked to discover the legislative attitudes of their favorite artists, 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 started thinking seriously about political issues. One of the turning points was the discovery of System of a Down. They were very political because they were mainstream in that they discussed the Armenian Genocide. It is with this kind of nü-metal that I deepened the musical nuances of the groups. Many of us were introduced to metal by bands with strong political messages, but we didn’t fully understand what they were saying.
In recent years, people have apparently become more polarized, so they probably care more about lyrical content and judge artists accordingly.
For sure. As a lyricist, they have always been important to me. We don’t pretend to be a political band or put that side first, you know? If you really want to appreciate it, however, you’ll dive into the songwriting. Even then, it’s not a clear message. I want to leave room for interpretation, but at the same time I try to convey my own convictions.
It’s great that you allow this freedom instead of just proselytizing.
With metal, there is a sort of numerical relationship with the content you receive. 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 points of view, so it’s something that makes you think for yourself. I’m not a fan of relying on pre-established stereotypes of what a band should be.
The most important thing is the community that music creates. I remember when my dad found out I was listening to Slipknot. He was like, “What the fuck are you listening to? What does that do to you morally? [Laughs]. It didn’t infect me to become a serial killer. It’s actually cathartic.
Absolutely. So you’re saying that artists have the right to express ideas, but they should never overshadow the music or the connections between fans?
I agree with that. I’m studying philosophy and I’ve been our lead lyricist for seven years, so that’s shaped the way I think about songwriting. I don’t try to tell people what to do; I’m just giving some nuances and intricacies regarding what we’re singing about. Then it’s about creating a warm 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) political freedom compared to artists from other countries?
Overall, we’re less polarized than you might see in America, but the issues are mostly the same. I always find it funny when someone finds out about a band’s outlook and says, “Ah, keep the politics out of it. It’s absurd and strange because, for example, we don’t want to be preachers (and metal fans can see through the falsehood), but you can’t think that what artists do is completely outside the real world. Music is inherently political. It might happen a little less in Italy because the metal community is smaller and not so dominant (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’ positions (like with Rage Against the Machine)?
Well, people our age were born in a profoundly decisive time. We thought that the ideological oppositions were somehow made for music to be a neutral domain untouched by politics. In its heyday, nü-metal was sold as a commodity, and you might not want that commodity to force you to think about that stuff. With RATM, I was like, “Okay, they have lyrics that everyone can understand, so what was so confusing?”
It relates to the larger idea of separating the art from the artist. For example, is it possible to remain a fan even if you don’t agree 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 I can admit I was naive back then . After all, the world is sometimes confusing, so you have to negotiate between opposite directions.
With music and politics, it’s not a direct correlation. There are works of art that are indisputably good and eternal, but maybe the creator(s) did some horrible things behind the scenes. You should recognize this and see how it relates to their creations. This is not to separate or to say that your moral judgment and your aesthetic judgment are mutually inclusive. They can be at odds, so it’s up to you to work through this and learn from it.
You have to put it all in context. Also, I think the divisiveness of the fans is probably related to how they define themselves by the people they look up to.
Art is generally intended to overturn moral judgment. If someone takes a stand on an issue, acknowledge their choice, but don’t think it has to affect you personally. Don’t project your personality onto the artist. Above all, the purpose of metal in a political sense should be to benefit the kinds of communities and messages that help society.
Thanks to Giovanni Minozzi for the interview. Follow Despite exile on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and Spotify and buy their music through Bandcamp.
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