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.


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).


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!


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.


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!