The below interview was carried out way back in 2009 (or something like that) by former assistant editor Alex de Moller. Aside from publishing many more issues since, and adding a digital edition to our arsenal, not a lot has changed! This Q&A should give some insight into the magazine’s history for anyone who’s interested in the who, whys and whens…
Zero Tolerance: A state of mind, a righteous policy… Who are you? Publishing superheroes? Or just another rag with a fake message?
We’re not smug. We’re not arrogant. We’re not full of cliche and neither are we in it for any personal glory. We exist to shine some much needed light on metal’s unsung mastery. We’re an independently run company formed by myself and my husband, Leon Macey. The name Zero Tolerance was really borne out of frustration towards the metal press in general at the time. During a long car journey, Leon and I were laughing about our approach towards coverage and how we’d avoid the trend at the time for the use of overly flowery, pseudo-intellectual language in reviews. We looked at each other and realised we’d stumbled across the name for the magazine. Zero Tolerance.
September 2004, a new music magazine hit the shelves, a melee began. Rumour was king. “Who are you?” “Aren’t you rejects from Terrorizer?” Where did you come from and what were things like in the beginning?
I worked on Terrorizer Magazine as its publisher for a number of years but decided it was time to leave in early 2004. The title was still going through a particularly turbulent period after teetering dangerously close to being closed down before I’d saved it from extinction by finding a new buyer. Sadly, the move to a new owner wasn’t a happy one and I didn’t particularly like the future I could see shaping up for the magazine where I was left holding the reins both editorially and as publisher — a thankless task. I decided it was time I left the building, though I didn’t go quietly… As far as I was concerned, there was room for an alternative to what was on offer. That same year, we launched Zero Tolerance Magazine and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Who writes for Zero Tolerance? What makes them different to the other critics?
We have an articulate, intelligent and consistent crew of writers at ZT. If you’re interested in the general who’s who, look on the staff section of the site. I like to leave it up to the reader to decide what makes them different to other critics, but if you pressed me for an answer I’d have to say that their general lack of arrogance is noteworthy, alongside the fact that a big chunk of them are musicians themselves, and that perhaps gives them something of an edge. But musician or not, all our writers live, breathe and sweat music. There’s no weekenders here. Whether you agree or disagree with their personal opinion on a release, they’re formed on solid foundations and they justify them fluently in their writing. We don’t have a high turnover of writers. This longevity of staff means readers can relate to our writers – they can build up a clear picture of our writers’ likes and dislikes, and this leads to both an entertaining and thought-provoking read. I don’t know about you, but I always get a lot from reading reviews and features from writers I’m not on a musical par with just as much as those by writers whose tastes are really similar to mine, and it’s come to be quite a rare thing to find magazines where you’re with the writers for long enough to be able to do that. Many of our writers have been with us since the very beginning, and we have picked up some great new writers over recent years and will hopefully continue to do so. We don’t actively hunt for writers though, when someone’s right for us we seem to gravitate towards one another.
How can you hope to compete with bigger magazines?
We exist and get on with doing our thing in a focused way. If we put all our energy into competing with other magazines I believe we’d lose focus on what our readers really want. Some people will buy a magazine because they love it – others because it’s all that’s available to them and they’d rather read something than nothing. We fulfill the former here and are making strides in plugging the gap with the latter. Not every one who listens to metal wants to be talked to in a magazine’s idea of a typical metalhead’s language… I know I don’t want to read a magazine that patronises me by dumbing down an artists’ comments, nor one that thinks that photoshopping flames and blood onto otherwise decent pictures of bands will convince me it’s the most “metal” read out there. We’re not all rebellious teens looking to shock other people riding the same train – some of us want to actually see what bands have to say minus embarrassing, cliched window-dressing and tabloid-esque headlines. We’re still overwhelmed by the positive response we get from people as they discover us — a lot of the time this translates into relief that there’s an alternative to some of the other UK mags that are available commercially — and some that they can buy us in addition to others – the more the merrier. Either way, we’re not fussy, we just want people to get something out of us other than the feeling that they’ve just chucked the money down the pan! The idea was always to provide readers with a magazine that has an element of collectability to it and we seem to have achieved that, which is really great. Alongside our content, we put together a high-quality magazine in production terms – we use high-grade materials, have a spine which helps the magazine stay in one piece after repeated reads, and we’re close to a US comic book size, which makes us ideal to pop on a bookshelf. We’re stocked in the UK’s core High Street retailers and numerous independent newsagents alongside the likes of Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer (RIP) et al and we compete with them by default on the newsstand. The proof is in the reading though, and I know which I’d buy regularly if I wanted to satisfy a desire to keep on discovering bands as well as enjoying those I know about.
Why don’t you cover the same bands as them?
We do cover some of the same bands and no doubt always will — but in this case, it’s how we cover them that’s important. Where we’re really different is that we use a vast number of our pages to cover bands that readers would otherwise struggle to read about in one coherent place. This is where our writers really come into their own – they don’t just obediently review a few CDs, they’re like one of those friends most people have had at one point or another, who always seem to be on to something special ahead of the crowd… but collectively! We’ve been ahead of the game with a lot of coverage — we’ve seen bands go from a small feature in ZT to a cover elsewhere… As musicians and fans ourselves, we also understand that metallers generally don’t just listen to metal exclusively — and if they do, then we think it’s our job to put artists in front of them that we think they could appreciate together with enough of what they already like to give them some instant gratification from an issue of ZT. Power electronics, dark ambient and industrial music, for instance, has a wealth of artists that many metallers will find some connection with — it’s all about broadening horizons and catering to those who already listen outside the box but predominantly listen to metal.
Why is Darkthrone in every issue?
They’re not, but unusually, they have appeared on two covers — the launch issue and issue 009. What can I say? They’ve given us great interviews and the interest in the band never ceases. It was always curious that they’d never had a UK cover before our launch issue, and we were really happy to kick the magazine off with an in-depth Darkthrone cover feature — topped off with Pete Beste’s brilliant photography and an exclusive Peaceville CD sampler produced especially for issue 001! (Nb: since this interview, Darkthrone have appeared on a further three covers!)
You talk a lot about extremes: extreme views on extreme music – still, everyone has their limits. What are yours?
We don’t shy away from controversial artists in context but we don’t and never will allow the magazine to be used as a soapbox for individuals to spout repugnant views from any side of the political spectrum. A bit of harmless blasphemy is path of the course, but creeping fascism in whatever form it might take, for example, is a different kettle of fish entirely and not something we’re comfortable giving credence to in the pages of ZT. Extreme music presents something of a conundrum as far as publishing goes: as a publisher, I have to be cautious of what appears in print — there’s a great deal of responsibility that goes with the territory, but that’s for me and Leon to worry about — and you do need something of a tough skin in case cries of “censorship” start to rise. But you know, if people want to read uncensored comments from bigoted individuals, there’s plenty of forums for that on the net. We don’t flirt with sensationalist material in a cynical attempt to boost sales — we value our place on the newsstand too much to play that sort of game.
What’s the most exclusive story ever published by ZT?
It definitely has to be the exclusive feature we ran with Tom G. Warrior interviewing the visual artist HR Giger for issue 026. The photographer we worked with for the piece, the magnificent Doralba Picerno, joined them both in Switzerland to document the piece photographically at Giger’s house (an artwork in its own right) and we were really overwhelmed by the way the piece turned out. From a personal point of view, this was a publishing dream come true! HR Giger’s artwork has been a powerful visual backdrop for a lot of extreme music fans and having his cooperation in the piece, along with that of such an icon as Tom G. Warrior, was, to use the word in its truest form, awesome! Second to that, we ran another exclusive artist-on-artist piece way back in issue 006 where Cathedral’s Lee Dorrian interviewed Candlemass for us in a special cover feature, which was also really exciting.
You say you’re distributed worldwide… why can’t I find you?
Our main focus is the UK, but we export globally too. We’re distributed on the newsstand in the UK, Ireland, USA (Barnes & Noble exclusively), Canada, Australia and in a lot of countries across Europe. The world’s an enormous place – you’ll never find any magazine everywhere, and much less a niche title like ZT. People sometimes miss the point that there are only so many copies we can print – we don’t sit on a bottomless pit of money – we’re an independent company and we’re not bank rolled by anyone. The idea of seeing a copy of ZT on every newsstand across the planet is a romantic one that will never happen. Instead, we put copies out strategically where they’re most likely to find their audience. If you’re fortunate enough to have a stockist near you then we hope you pick us up – every copy we sell goes toward the magazine’s future. But if you can’t find us on the newsstand don’t sit about waiting for us to show up as without your help, we might not! Check out our list of stockists on the site or fill in the postcode locator and you’ll get an email back with your nearest stockist (UK), order copies direct from our online store and better still, buy a subscription to ZT and you’ll get the bonus of saving some money and free direct delivery!
Will you ever go monthly?
No, we don’t have any plans to go monthly, though we’re very likely to run some special digital issues of ZT just as soon as we have the technology in place — so watch this space! For the moment, if readers stick to picking up ZT every couple of months, we’ll stick to producing the UK’s most insightful extreme music magazine… Support the printed word!