Antonia McMaster

this is part of a photo series i’ve been working on since 2011. it is a collection of photographs of badass women involved in metal, hardcore and the borderline metal/punk/avant-garde worlds. these are the people who make up the music scene. these are my friends.

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Re-meet Antonia McMaster. We did this song-and-dance three years ago but decided to have a reshoot so we can talk about a mud-covered Trent Reznor.

What was your first metal experience?
Antonia McMaster: I think Opeth was the first band to really get me into metal. I remember having a particularly strong reaction to the song, “Black Rose Immortal.” I honestly think what struck my teenage brain was just how joyous I found their music to be. The riffs have almost a jig-like quality, and the melodrama of the lyrics endeared me to them. This maybe sounds patronizing, but I don’t mean it to be! I mean to say that Opeth is a fitting first metal band because metal (I guess I should say black metal in particular) was never the music I listened to when I needed to feel like I was identifying with something dark. That has since changed, but not by a whole lot. Nowadays Katatonia, Dissection, Rotting Christ…that shit makes me feel happy!

I should also say that my first ever experience with heavy music was watching Trent Reznor slathered in mud at Woodstock ’94. My mom, brother and I visited family in CA while my dad stayed behind in NYC to work. So he Pay-Per-Viewed (remember Pay-Per-View?) the whole concert and recorded it on multiple VHS tapes. I remember watching NIN and being totally transfixed. The guy was hitting himself in the head with his microphone! Multiple times! I’m not going to wax poetic on what I thought about all of it at age 6, but I’ll just say it had an effect on me. I remember seeing the music video for “Closer” after that and being very disappointed that he had black hair (I figured it was brown, but that was just the Woodstock mud).

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When did you decide to become a doctor? What lead you to the field of therapy / psychiatry?
AM: I’m getting a PhD in Clinical Psychology, so I’ll have the doctor title, but I won’t be a medical doctor/psychiatrist. I just wanted to clarify that because I do not think I could handle medical school, nor would I want to have someone come to me just for medication management (as a lot of people do when they go to a psychiatrist). Anyway, I’ve been in therapy since I was sixteen with the same psychologist (she’s actually a graduate of my doctoral program), so I’ve valued therapy for my entire life. In college I just assumed I’d get a PhD in English, but when I was (mercifully) denied acceptance at all the English PhD programs I applied to back in 2010, Psychology just seemed like the natural alternative. I’m struggling to come up with an answer here that doesn’t sound derivative, so I guess I’ll leave it at this: I can’t help thinking about/worrying over why people think, act and feel, so I’ve got an obligation to try and do that in a meaningful and systematic way that actually helps people instead of simply evaluating them. Hence, 5-7 more years of school!

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As a life-long New Yorker, what are your favorite museums / art places?
AM: I haven’t been in ages, but going to the Neue Galerie is always a real treat. They’ve got a bunch of Klimt and Egon Schiele, whose work I thought I was SO COOL for liking back in high school. There’s also this little strip that always makes me feel so nostalgic whenever I’m there: starting at 109th and Amsterdam you can get Roti Roll, and then walk up and see the Peace Fountain sculpture at St. John the Divine. I always think of being a kid when I see that huge moon face. It also makes me immediately think of V&T’s across the street, which is where my family always ordered delivery from. Maybe the round pizza pie melded with the round moon face? I don’t know. Anyway, there’s also a white peacock usually hanging around there, just to add to the dreaminess of this little area.

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Is Swans still your favorite band ever? 
AM: The answer is yes! With a few caveats. I return to so many of those albums again and again.  “Swans are Dead” is one of my favorite albums of all time; the beginning of that album’s version of “Blood Promise” still occasionally chokes me up when I listen to it.  Then there’s the memory of wearing a Swans “Greed” T-shirt to summer camp and a pimply-faced teenager proudly holding up ‘The Great Annihilator’ CD he was listening to in solidarity. That shirt was co-opted by my brother Nick, which is just as well; I think you’ve probably taken pictures of him in it! So listening to those albums again never disappoints, and delivers up a healthy dose of nostalgia as well.

The caveat is that I don’t really care about what they’ve done since coming back in 2010, or whenever it was. I think I saw them that year right after moving back to NYC from Berlin, and thinking, “Ok, I get this, I don’t really need to see it again.”  Nick and I actually have talked about how a lot of their new stuff is all about the crescendo, and how that can get a little boring. So I just stopped paying attention after that first album post-comeback. Now that could mean that all those subsequent albums (there have been at least two, I think) are awesome, but I just haven’t cared to check them out. Then when Michael Gira was accused of sexual assault, I kind of got the excuse I needed to not care at all. Fans of his after that broke made him out to be this mythic, spiritual figure and I was like, really? Have you been listening? At least in early Swans material, he makes no secret of what a troubled guy he is; listen to one of my favorite songs from his solo album, “You See Through Me”, where a recording of him drunkenly arguing with Jarboe plays over a beautiful and increasingly-haunting backdrop. I’m not saying that’s evidence that he’s capable of rape. I’m just pointing out how little it takes comparatively to disbelieve a sexual assault victim.

Maybe I just want to preserve the relationship I had with the band back in high school, and that’s why I haven’t really had the impetus to listen to the newer stuff. Or it could all be laziness. Who knows!