Caryn Havlik is more than just a contributor to this here website. She’s also the drummer of the influential blackened sludge band Mortals and the all female Slayer cover band Slaywhore. She also volunteers at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls which instructs, encourages and supports young women in their quest to become stars of the rock and roll stage. There are links throughout to the many projects that Caryn is involved with. As some of you might know the #MetalBandcampGiftClub has named Willie Make Rock Camp as the beneficiary of all proceeds. You can help too by donating here. Or you can check out the Willie Mae Rock Camp store for some badass threads. At any rate, Caryn is one of my most favoritest people and I implore you to read about her life and support all the wonderful things that she does.
How did you first get into playing in music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?
I’ve been musicking since I was about 5 years old, when mom asked if I wanted piano lessons. I really wanted to play drums, but I figured that banging on another thing was an acceptable substitute. I stuck with that until college, but I added church organ at age 12/13 or so, because I had an offer I couldn’t refuse – to be the second string organist for my family’s Catholic church. The pay rate made my tween-eyes goggle out of my head! All I have to do is move all of my limbs to the chords & bass lines of the hymns and sing at the same time? No problem. That was probably the pinnacle of my “success,” as some in my family might term it. I got paid. I got out.
Drums are a continued labor of love and success feels so far away. I feel like I never practice enough. No beat is ever interesting enough, or metronomically precise enough. Sometimes I even consider triggers. Then I laugh at the idea and go back to running while sitting (playing double-kick pedal) instead of improving my hands like I should be. And no matter how good or competent I get for a girl, I know that I’ll still need to be working four times as hard. So I guess, the answer is NO. I haven’t achieved a level of personal success just yet. We’ll see how/if that changes after I play at the Brooklyn Museum on March 5th as part of the Tom Tom Magazine Oral History Project.
In our band Mortals, however, I feel like we achieved what we set out to do. We spoke the wishes aloud: “it would be so cool to tour Europe”; “we’d like to play with Pallbearer”; “we’ve always wanted to open for Skeletonwitch” – and because we worked our asses off, and then had the solid support of Relapse, these things happened. (That, plus our own personal jinn, who made these three wishes come true.) Seriously, I am open-mouthed and goggle-eyed with the good fortune that came our way! The only way to top that success would be to lather, rinse, and repeat. And maybe play in Poland & Japan as well. But I suppose I’ll have to be patient. Mortals is on a break.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get one of your projects (or one of the bands you coach) onto a show with a band you love or into a magazine, blog or the like? If you feel you have never debased yourself in any way, then any embarrassing story will do to captivate our readers.
I’ve pitched my own band for years to the media outlet I work for. For whatever reason, they’ve just not been interested in our brave new amalgam of blackened sludge-crust metal. I think that whenever I say “metal” at work, people automatically cover their ears and run away, so I have stopped trying where I work. I don’t know. Overall, I don’t feel like I’ve debased myself with Mortals.
So – yes – let me tell you about this band that I coach – Harsh Crowd! (That’s where this debasement question might actually be more relevant.) Their members are 13 and 14 years old (by Feb. 20th, they’ll all be 14!) and play “clean punk” (not emo.) There has been near-constant begging by me to get them air-time, here at the media outlet of my employ. I think I’ve pitched them at every opportunity for the past two years to the folks who book the music show, Soundcheck. It’s bordered on somewhere between embarrassing dance-mom and the perpetually sidelined quarterback to try to convince that show and its producers to do a feature or any kind of coverage, on the young musicians of Harsh Crowd.
Finally all of the stars aligned when Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls celebrated their tenth anniversary in a huge gala event last December in Brooklyn, at which Harsh Crowd was to be one of the bands performing. They had a well-recorded track to hear and everything, and perhaps the two years of wearing down that show’s producers had finally punctured their defenses – but Harsh Crowd got their minute of air-time in a Gig Alert!
You play music and work in music but probably the most exciting thing that you do is being a mentor and drumstructor at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. Can you tell us how you got involved with that and how it has enriched your life personally?
Oh sure! Step into the wayback machine with me…It was the fall of 2004, and I needed to find a cat-sitter, since I would be away for the Thanksgiving holiday. I went on Craigslist, since all of my friends were also going to be out of town, and found someone who provided pet care. Said person was also in a band who was playing the very first fundraiser for the Rock Camp for Girls that would be starting here in NYC, and I pretty much sunk my claws into them and said “HOW DO I MAKE THAT HAPPEN? HOW CAN I HELP!?” So, I was one of a dedicated group of women who started meeting regularly at a Union Square coffeeshop to plan the first year of camp. We figured out how to get people to donate or loan-ate their instruments for a week, found a campsite (Society for Ethical Culture), got together potential volunteers to teach, figured out what kinds of workshops to offer to the campers, started to get all of the liability concerns in order, and every kind of working part that needed to happen to make Camp exist. We had our first Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in summer of 2005. And the magic has not stopped since.
I’ve been teaching and mentoring young bands (and older) there since that first Camp session, and the rewards just keep coming. Some of the bands I’ve worked with have remained together after the camp session ends. Like Harsh Crowd! There have been a few others (Royal Pink! And Magnolia!) and they continue to shine long after their star rises during the Camp week (kids) or weekend (adult bands.)
The great enrichment of my life comes from being able to inspire our campers – young and not-as-young – to inspire them to learn to hit things – harderbetterfaster, but also to listen more closely, and to work together to make something. To urge them to take risks, to be able to accept that one might look or sound foolish at first. Then to couple these life skills with making sure that our campers know that at Camp they will have the freedom to be as loud as they want to; for them to know that they will be HEARD and not just seen as pretty objects, that they will have their ideas treated with respect. It’s really overwhelmingly satisfying to be able to help organize the enabling of those experiences and keep on offering them to the folks who might need it most: young girls and folks who identify as female, aged 5-7, 8-18, and adults who identify as female aged 19+.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music and life?
Mighty Girl. Girls Who Code. Girls in Science. Education for All Girls, Worldwide. Reproductive Rights for Women and Trans-Folks, both here in the USA and abroad. I hope that I’m contributing to supporting these issues – in what I do with my free time, how I hope to make young people who might identify as female feel confident about their ideas and talents in either a musical setting or how my ideas are published and shared on the interwebs.
I’ve always tried to pitch Mortals to Reproductive Justice Events, but somehow we just didn’t fit in with the acoustic guitars. Well, if it isn’t going to be Mortals directly supporting these causes, it’s very easy to see Harsh Crowd picking up where we left off with these issues and standing up for them when I/we can’t. I don’t pull the strings for their political/social causes, however. They’ll have to make up their own minds.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? What’s the first instrument you picked up?
I think it was my friend Joe and his red-haired friend Chris. We listened to all kinds of now-classic stuff in the attic of Joey’s garage on a little boombox. I think that was where I first heard Iron Maiden, Metallica, the Scorpions, and countless hair metal bands. I still remember writing all the lyrics from “Fade to Black” on my math folder. Some of us went and saw Motley Crüe together too. It WAS the spinning cage tour, btw.
My first instrument was piano. But I was convinced by someone else that I didn’t have much that was original to say on that instrument. Said individual also happened to gift me with a purple drum kit when I was 19. Fortunately, he is no longer in my life, but I still have the drums.
What’s the stickiest you have ever been?
Halloween, 2007. Slaywhore (yes, a Slayer cover band made up of 4 other lady-friends of mine) played the old Knitting Factory and I had made myself bags full of fake blood from corn syrup and food coloring. I covered myself in blood before the set, and asked our singer to help keep me covered in blood throughout. Between the usual sweat from my exertion, the heat of the crowd, and the corn syrup, I was smashingly disgusting!
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
Some outlets focus on being among the first to break a story/publish a review, rather than doing a good job, or sitting with a record and actually listening. To be sure, this is more in the pop realm, especially when surprise-albums drop. The advice might be to listen and think first, and write second. Sounds simple enough to me.
Then there’s the ever-present problem of content-factory kind of media outlets, where it’s quantity first and the concern is for clicks/eyeballs. There are other cases within those kind of outlets where there hasn’t been a second brain assigned to once-over some writing, which can appear quite sloppy or even redundant. When this happens, the hard-working musician tries to look past factual errors, or just regurgitation of a press release and be grateful that at least one outlet is giving attention to their efforts.
Also it really helps a musician’s fragile ego when the writer assigned to cover the material is at least, in some way, interested in the subject matter. I don’t know. Does that answer the question? I feel like I ride that divide a bit too much. OH. Mentioning the gender of a musician too early in a piece or at all might be relevant only if they are playing the drums with their erect member or guitar with their ovaries. Got it? Perhaps a bit more focus on the music – that thing into which the musician has poured countless hours of life.
I already mentioned that you have a day job. It’s a pretty cool one so maybe you can tell us how you like it. Also, do you have any hobbies? I do know that you’re quite the ace at Yoga.
Yep. I work as “the staff” for this show, New Sounds with John Schaefer, on New York Public Radio. I’m the Assistant Producer, which means, I play with editing audio, I listen to tons of music -weird & good, simply atrocious, and then really beautiful things that fall within all genres-, I do the social media marketing, clear rights for podcasts, and sometimes even influence the programming. It’s quite the coup, given that my 9-yr old self wanted to grow up to be me.
To make sure to give all credit where due, both the organization and especially my immediate bossman, Mr. Schaefer, have been extraordinarily supportive of my music-making and band-coaching ever since I started. He even attended my bands’ crappy early shows, and helped secure necessary time off for touring, abandoned his office so that I could be on important phone calls. You name it!
Also, I sometimes have to go to concerts and call it work (like many of the Ecstatic Music Festival shows.) It’s soooo terrible.
Let’s see. Hobbies. I sometimes enjoy cooking, tea-drinking, and I really like ball-chasing, ass-slapping and yelling, aka co-ed slow-pitch softball. Before I became old, slow, and useless, I used to play softball every moment I could from April-November. Now, I can only hope to be some team’s token woman to make sure that said team qualifies for league play. I also believe that I know the rules better than umpires and tell them so during a game. I really enjoy going for drinks and ribbing both team and umpires afterwards.
I also enjoy lifting/pulling/pushing heavy things and putting them down again, while sweating and grunting, and Metal Yoga. I have become a very enthusiastic practitioner of said Metal Yoga, whether at St. Vitus or at Cobra Club in Brooklyn. Thanks to the guidance of the very helpful and sometimes very evil Saskia Thode, I am filling in the gaps in my classic death metal knowledge, hearing some fine new-to-me Icelandic black metal, and getting good stretches. I wouldn’t assume to be the judge of this, but it feels like I might possibly be doing the poses better than I was when I first began last fall, and getting some conditioning besides.
Finally, when you’re not listening to, writing or playing metal, what are some of you favorite non-metal albums/things to listen to?
Duh. Brass bands. Especially Fanfare Ciocarlia! WHO ARE PLAYING in NYC in APRIL at Town Hall! I AM BEYOND EXCITED!
French cafe music.
Percussion ensembles that are not hippie drum circles (see Vula Viel, So Percussion, or TIGUE.)
Anything involving the oud (Middle-Eastern lute) or kora (African lute-harp).
Also, this music by Ensemble Constantinople.
Thanks so much to the one and only Caryn Havlik for her precious time!