Unlikely Cat Ladies: Metalheads and Their Kittens

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Metal-loving guys might be in bands called Cattle Decapitation, but when it comes to their felines, it turns out that some of the toughest of the bunch favor cats named Fluffy and Princess. 

For a new book, Oakland-based photographer and Ph.D. student Alexandra Crockett spent four years traveling up and down the West Coast, documenting manly, masculine metal fans and their widdle cats. The result is Metal Cats, a collection of more than 700 photos of metaldudes posing lovingly with their feline pals, which will be published by powerHouse books next month. 

"When I decided to do it, I texted about 30 of my metalhead male friends, most of whom I knew already had cats," she told the Cut. "I just said, Hey, if I did this kind of, like, silly weird idea, what would you think about that? And they were all like, Oh my God, I really want to!”

Crockett, a longtime fixture on the West Coast metal scene, is an unlikely metal fan herself: “I like to call how I look in normal clothes my 'blonde-lady costume.' Nobody can tell I’m into metal when I go to school.” Which makes her a natural fit to find her inverse: Metal guys who just really want to cuddle up to something cute. She spoke to the Cut about cattitudes, gender politics, and what it’s like to be a female metalhead surrounded by cat-loving dudes. 

How long have you been working on this project?
I started it in September of 2010, so it’s been quite a while. I had been talking to my roommate at the time, who is a fellow artist (we were making art together). I was showing her these pictures of my friend Dave and his girlfriend’s cat. Dave has long hair, and the cat looks all sweet, but he’s got all these studs and spikes on. And she said, “Oh my God, that’s amazing. You should make a book of that.” So I figured, why not?
 
Why do you think this relationship between metalheads and cuddly cats exists? Or is it just for irony?
I’ve been in the metal scene since I was 14 years old, so I’ve been hanging out with people that are in this scene this entire time. And it’s always kind of been a theme where these guys that are into pretty dark music are also really into cute cats. And they’re like really hilarious with them — naming them Princess and Fluffy. I wanted to document that. I also think when you’re in a scene where you’re really expressing the dark side of yourself, you have to have some sort of balance. On a practical level, a lot of these guys are musicians. And with cats you don’t have to do as much, and I know that musicians are often touring a lot or working a lot, so I think that having a pet that is less high-maintenance is key.
 
What were you observing with these guys and their relationships with the cats?
There’s this sense that you have to keep up this particular persona of being tough and kind of like don’t give a shit. I think it’s always funny because all of them have the exact opposite regard for their pets. That’s even whether it’s a cat or not. So much baby-talking. When I was actively doing photo shoots, I would get texts with cat pictures and cat videos constantly, like every single day.
 
Were all of your subjects open to being so vulnerable with their furry best friends?
I think it’s one of those guilty pleasures — I prefer to never use the words "guilty pleasure," because I’m not guilty about things that I like — but there were a couple of people that I wanted to photograph, who gave me the excuse “I don’t know if it goes along with the persona of our band.” It’s such a douche-y statement, but I didn’t waste my time trying to convince them otherwise. The vast majority were okay with it, at least to the degree that they were willing to take a photo with their cat and not feel weird about it.
 
You’ve been in the metal scene since you were 14. Is it challenging to be a female metalhead?
It really can be. I’m not going to say that there isn’t sexism and misogyny in the scene. There is. I’m very much an activist and a feminist, so when I come across things like that, I’m very vocal against it. I’ve also taken boxing for two years. I think it pisses people off sometimes, but I really don’t care. But it is such a small population of women who are in the scene. All of us still hear things like: Oh, I bet you only like this band because your boyfriend does. Or, if you’re a musician: Do you play keyboard? Or: You’re obviously the singer. Of course that’s not everyone but there are these deep-seated ideas about women that are absolutely ridiculous. More people are speaking up, though. There was a huge Twitter feed for a while that was like “Stupid Things Men Say to Female Musicians,” or something like that, and I thought that was awesome. I was really stoked to see that.  
 
I imagine there are just a lot of misconceptions about people who like metal in general, not just from a gender standpoint.
People have their ideas about it. I’m in a doctoral program right now, and while my usual friends are these fringe-community people whom I’ve known for years and years, my school friends are very much what I would consider more normal, well-adjusted, in-the-mainstream types of people. It’s really different for me. But I had someone ask me like, Oh, what are metal girlfriends like? I bet they really get the whips and chains out. I was like, It’s weird that you just assume that because someone’s into metal music that they’re into S&M. There are a lot of stigmas attached to it.
 
What I really liked about the book is the exploration of unexpected people: men who love cats and who love metal. Were you thinking about that when you shot it?
Definitely. I was thinking a lot about that. I think the book gives you a wide variety of what people are like in the scene. There are people in this book with short hair, people with long hair, people with studs, transgendered people. There’s not an exact this is what a metal head looks like.

But there aren't really any people of color in your book.
It’s always been a very white genre, and I think that while one does see some progression away from excluding non-white straight males, it is still overwhelmingly just that in terms of demographic. I personally know three black metal-fans and probably ten Asian metal-fans. Some of it also has to do with where I was photographing — the project began in Seattle, and let's face it: It's a pretty white area. That’s a disappointing answer, I know; I feel the same, and I wish there was more diversity.
 
Do you have a cat?
Well, this is an interesting story. So, currently I live with a roommate who has two cats, and I’m pretty obsessed with them, obviously. Before that I actually did have my own cat, but she — I had moved back from L.A. to Washington, and I was having her stay on Bainbridge Island with my parents. I’m pretty sure she got eaten by a coyote. Just last night, my friend Jen was — she works for a no-kill shelter — sending me kitten photos. I can’t handle it! But now I’m thinking about adopting.
 
I was just thinking that cats and metal fans make sense. Cats have a pretty metal attitude.
My friends from Skeletonwitch did an entire interview about being a cat band. They said that any animal that shits in a box and expects you to clean it up is pretty metal. I would have to agree. They have this level of not caring — just doing what they want to do and expecting you to pick up the slack. It’s just a big middle finger to whomever.
 
Do cats like metal music?
I don’t think that cats like music. I think that actually might be the most metal thing possible, but it’s like no matter what is playing they’re kind of just sitting there doing their own thing, seemingly not even noticing that there’s music on. It could be a jackhammer versus, like, classical music, and  they always seem to have the same reaction. They’re thinking about the can-opener sound, and that’s the only thing that’s going to get their attention.

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