Interview: Dom Smith – Wobbling About & Rocking Out

Dom Smith plays with The Parasitic Twins, and also runs a project to raise awareness (via the musical community) of mental health and disability issues. So we’re kinda sidestepping our usual musical focus to find out more about this…

We last spoke to you in relation to The Parasitic Twins, who were Band of the Day last year! How are things going for the band?

Yeeeah! Thanks for that, guys. It’s still good for my soul when that pops up on the ol’ Google when I’m trying to look for shit that makes us look cool so that we can get gigs. You’ve got us a fair few gigs, I reckon. So, cheers!

The band’s okay – me and Max (Watt, guitar and vocals) go through an existential crisis every time we play, and we are without doubt our own worst critics, so that can be really tough – but we have some cool shows coming up so I am excited. We are supposed to be doing Taiwan Death Fest, but before that we play Fully York Festival, as well as a show at Warren Records in Hull. I’ve always wanted to play a record store show, so y’know… that’s exciting! Oh! We are doing a really cool show with Mastiff and Witch of The East at our favourite hometown venue, Dive (run by my brothers in NEWMEDS) in aid of CALM, the male suicide prevention charity in November. That is going to rule so hard.

Other than that, for me – my other project, Mary and the Ram has just recruited some ace players in Edward Alan Logie (Modern Mood Swings) and Andy Glen (Pak40), so after our single release in a month or so (which I’m proper excited about because Dave Ogilvie [Skinny Puppy, Tool] is mixing, and Howie Weinberg [Limp Bizkit, The Smashing Pumpkins] is mastering), we are gonna be a full proper band. Until now, it’s been myself working on live drums, and my buddy Kiran Tanna doing production (and vocals), so I am beyond thrilled about that. My good friend Kallie Marie from NYC, who’s in a band called Explosions for Her Majesty (unintentional rhyming skills there!) helped us produce it too. It’s been a nice cross-continental product, and it’s what I am living for at the moment. Cheers for letting me ramble on!

You mentioned in that interview that you also run Soundsphere magazine and have recently added Wobbling About & Rocking Out to your list of projects. What is WARO and who is it aimed at?

That is a most excellent question! WARO is a mental health and disability awareness project that very much takes inspiration from Soundsphere magazine, in that we are telling different types of stories. With Soundsphere, it’s obviously like… music industry stuff, bands ‘n’ that, but with WARO, we do wanna speak to notable industry professionals sometimes, but predominantly we want to support, and tell the stories of people who are doing lots of cool shit despite mental health issues, and or disability. We will also chat to cool charities, organisations and businesses that are doing more to support mental health and disability awareness in Hull, and the surrounding areas. Like with Soundsphere though, we will go international where appropriate – there are some amazing people out there!

You’re Hull-based. Are you focussing WARO on that area, or more nationwide?

Yeah, man. I mean… when I started the thing, I’d just got back from America (working for MIT) with the specific goals of starting a Hull-based business, and going back to my roots, as I’m only from Beverley in East Yorkshire, originally. I mean like most people I’;ve moved about: Preston, Manchester, Chester, York, London – but I think I always wanted to come back and do something cool.

I love Hull. It’s got a unique spirit and grit. There’s a bunch of people doing some really cool stuff here, without very much money – Mark Page’s Humber Street Sesh is a good example of a festival that’s built from an idea, from the ground up – that’s created creative, music industry jobs for the year round.

So, yeah back to your question, it’s stuff like that that made me want to come back and do stuff here, but like I mentioned we will expand it around the world as needed. I have the best intentions to try and support people everywhere if I can! I’m the happiest I’ve ever been since I’ve been back here, and WARO is a huge part of that – it’s an entirely Hull-based project too – we work out of tech innovation building C4Di where the site was built, and The Warren Youth Project – so we can take Hull, accessibility and mental health awareness out to the world if we want to!

It’s the same with my indie label, The New Anonymous (home to the delightful Waste Of Paint), and my rock label, Man Demolish (we’re putting out the aforementioned NEWMEDS stuff later this year) – Hull-based, but we can go anywhere if we want! I want to promote the area globally wherever I can, and this exposure helps… so once again, cheers!

As a sufferer of cerebral palsy, have you yourself suffered any problems at clubs or gigs that you feel should have been handled better or avoided altogether?

Suffer is probably the wrong word to use, but that’s just the journalist in me! I think by going to clubs and bars, and playing in venues – that’s the way people are going to be exposed to disability and work out how to best support. From my perspective, like… how is anyone supposed to know what it’s like to be disabled if they’ve never experienced it directly, if you get where I am coming from?

You have to experience it, if it’s not your every day to get used to it. So with that in mind, if I go and play these venues, and talk to the promoters about what I need (that element of conversation is so important) and they see me playing, maybe… maybe they’ll be ready for the next person who has a disability who comes in, either as a fan, or a musician. I tend to take it as it comes and not assume a venue is ready for me, but if I am struggling I’ll call ahead and see what can be done, and I would advise anybody else to do that… especially with smaller DIY punk venues, you can’t assume they’ve got stuff ready.

Are there any other particularly bad stories you’ve heard from other disabled people in relation to the music scene?

You know what, no. I mean, I guarantee that there will be some, but I try not to overthink it. If I was to be over-analytical, I wouldn’t be able to count the amount of times that someone hasn’t recognised me as the drummer in the band because they thought it was someone else, or the times when I get, ‘Holy shit… you play drums… how?’ or, ‘I had to watch you because I wanted to see if you could actually play’. Of course, I kinda dig that you know… it’s smashing people’s preconceptions every time I get on stage, whether they like our doom-grind vibes or not!

There has been a lot of focus recently on mental health issues. While obviously a good thing, do you feel this has distracted from those with physical ailments?

I mean, that’s a good question but I believe there’s plenty of love to go around! We all need to support each other, and ourselves. I believe mental health and disability should be supported equally, and again that is down to conversation… we have to talk. We (and I mean platforms like Soundsphere and Moshville Times) have to talk about this stuff in interviews (where relevant), so that there’s more exposure. I think fundamentally, we as humans are afraid of what we don’t understand, and that’s cool… but we have to confront it, so that we can learn and grow…

I’ll always allow young kids to ask questions about my disability, for example if they are nervous around me because I look different. I have met people with severe depression and anxiety (The Warren Youth Project works really hard to support young people with mental health challenges too), and sometimes it’s just good to talk. I suppose it’s a very romantic way of looking at things, but I do believe it’s as simple as a conversation, or a series of conversations where people can find ways to educate, inform and inspire each other.

What can venues do to help?

Talk to customers and bands about what they need in terms of support. Be as open as possible.

What can gig-goers and the general public do to help?

Man, the metal community in general is really great at understanding and supporting. In fact, the majority of society is…particularly with disabilities. I wish there was more understanding for invisible disabilities. Again, it’s the same problem…awareness. But, I do think we are getting there slowly.

I also think mental health provisions are coming along all the time – at a local level there are cool people campaigning hard for improvements to services all the time. These people, in my mind are absolute heroes!

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