Anyone who has dabbled in the more cerebral end of metal that borders the many other extreme genres will know of Yury and his long-running and widely-read esoteric underground magazine CONVIVIAL HERMIT. Well, the latest edition has finally emerged from cave convivial and after many years of emails back and forth between us, it is a great pleasure to finally catch up with the man for a good old chat on Old Man’s Mettle. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get drunk! So, it’s 2020, and what musical gems, what controversial articles and interviews has Yury found for us in this latest beautifully printed issue? Make a little more room on your book shelves please, and let’s discover…
So Yury, who are you, and why do you still write a printed ‘zine? Why not just do a blog like this?
First of all, thank you Scott for deciding to include me in your blog! Sometimes I wonder myself about these questions: Why am I still publishing a printed zine? Why not just do a blog? And, indeed, who am I? I have written reviews and interviews in various magazines like Unrestrained!, Metal Curse, Metalworks, Brutallica, and Erebus since 1999, mostly of bands and personalities from metal although I also include electronic, ambient and experimental music. These eclectic tastes and interests are reflected in my magazine, The Convivial Hermit, which I started around 2003. I wrote a long and detailed essay on why I prefer paper magazines to webzines in my 1st issue that can still be ordered. There are pros and cons to both mediums but generally, being an “old school” guy who likes books and somewhat of a collector, as well as someone who likes to read outside on a walk and whose eyes strain on staring at a screen for prolonged periods, I prefer paper. Not to knock Old Man’s Mettle or your wonderful endeavors, I think there is a place for blogs, but to me printed zines are more enduring and valuable, whereas most, not all, webzines are a bunch of quickly cobbled crap put together for people with low, social-media-level attention spans. People usually don’t sit and read books online on a website, they prefer reading at length without batteries or being plugged into an outlet. My own site that I just created and activated this year, www.convivialhermit.net, is created somewhat with this in mind. I’m not putting lengthy texts on it, at least not for now. I’m just including news, images and ordering information.
Could you describe who your zine is for? What kind of person would buy it?
I’d guess the people that read it are misfits and loner-types like me, or people who find interest in the bands that we, Bertrand and I, interview. Speaking for myself, I don’t make a conscious decision to gear the magazine toward any target group, so that’s why you may see a band like Rome or Trial of the Bow or Steven R Smith alongside Cruciamentum or Rotting Christ. I think Bertrand, my cowriter, can vouch for this. We want to make a magazine that we would like to read ourselves, which also means articles on independent films and artists and reviews of books. There is a trend with a lot of zines now to drop reviews and articles and only feature interviews and I’m glad to say that we have not taken that boring path and never will.
Who and what is in the current edition?
The latest issue, #9, was released in the Year of the Virus, 2020, and features 22 exclusive interviews in 120 pages, in a 8.5×11 inch format with color covers. Bertrand has mostly interviewed ambient and folk bands like Dehn Sora and La Breiche while I focused on metal. This issue includes the first ever interview with Wigrid from Germany, which is one of my favorite Burzum-type black metal bands, and some really obscure (and in my opinion, very cool) stuff from New Zealand, Kenya and China. Jacob Lowenstein from Igni, who is serving a long sentence for burning down a few Mormon churches, was my first-ever prison interview. This issue furthermore has me speaking to a few American guys whose work I’ve liked for years with Jim Roe of Incantation/Disciples of Mockery and Mike from Paragon Records. Most of the articles were written by me this time and are a bit “edgier” or more “controversial” than before, with essays on North Korea, nationalism in the metal scene and a “defense” (what’s to defend? It’s great!) of blasphemy. The more I read it the more typos and mistakes I find, as always, but I generally think it’s a really strong issue. Fireball Printing in the Philadelphia ghetto also did an AMAZING job of printing this one; they won’t read this but a big thank you to the team there (especially Maria) for their speed, reliability and professionalism in getting the job done!
How has the magazine changed over the years you’ve been doing it, what with changes in technology and the way the world has also changed?
In respect to technology and the world at large, Convivial Hermit hasn’t really changed. It’s still printed on paper as on day one, and it’s still designed using the same software, more or less. I do much of the writing and do the design all on my own. My skills as a graphic designer have improved over the years, I’ve learned from many (far from all) of my mistakes, but I also have to thank Bertrand and my other cowriters over time like G. Owen Wears and Bradley Smith for being the wind in this ship’s sails and helping it reach its many destinations. If anything, the world at large has adversely impacted the zine as I find that it is getting harder each year to get people to stock or show interest in it, and shipping costs have skyrocketed. In the United States, shipping one copy using the standard USPS costs up to $28 (no exaggeration), so I have to find other ways to maneuver around this. When I started in 2003 or so this was not the case at all, but that’s a separate subject all together.
How long does each issue take to put together?
It takes too long to put together. I think I wrote someplace that they form like stalactites in caves… their growth is so slow that it feels imperceptible. That might be exaggerating just a bit, but not much. The latest issue was separated from the past issue by over 3 years. I can’t claim that I spent all three of those years building issue #9 but the inspiration comes and goes, and there is no outwardly imposed deadline, so things tend to drag. Most crucially, I can never rest content with what I have once I begin and it keeps growing and growing. The articles and reviews in particular always go through multiple revisions. The last 5 or so issues have all been monsters at over 100 pages each. The 8th issue was 144 pages when counting the bonus 8.1 booklet that I included in all USA orders. It’s a bit daft, you might say… and I don’t charge $25 or whatever for each copy as some brilliant people do who sell magazines that are smaller in size. I don’t expect any issue to hit Compilation of Death dimensions… in fact, I’m trying to go in the opposite direction since I find magazines of that size awkward and user-unfriendly. They just end up growing to these proportions. But returning to the root of the question: this and the fact that I do not outsource the design are the reasons for what is usually a gap of several years between each issue.
International postage used to be fairly cheap, I guess the price increases a few years changed your business model too? You’ve got some outlets around the world stocking it, right?
Yeah, I touched on this above. I’m not sure of the situation in the UK, but in the USA, due to a number of factors, but mainly because of the so-called “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006”, signed into law by an asshole named George W. Bush, the United States postal system was forced to fund the pensions and health benefits of its workers upfront, via its own devices in what was essentially a tax on its own revenue. I don’t like to drift into politics, but this concrete fact has to be screamed from the rooftops for any American reading this who is hurting and wondering why: a Republican congress made it a mandate in that year that the post office set aside billions of dollars every year in advance to fund itself, with no outward help in subsidies, as there are forces in this country that have an ideological contempt of anything government-based or regulated. There is a lot of strange hypocrisy in this, and I make no claim that the USPS was ever a “perfect” institution, but this ill-founded decision from 14 years ago eventually led to the crisis that the postal system finds itself in today where it is going bankrupt in order to fund itself and with no immediate choice but to pass on unreasonable costs to its consumers. As I said, it now costs up to $28 to send a 9 ounce (255 gram) package outside to another country. Shipping just one gram, if it cannot be fit into a regular envelope, costs $15. Scott, I can put a feather into a package container and it would cost $15 to send abroad, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Does that make sense to you? The installation of Louis DeJoy as postmaster general has made things worse as now most post offices are understaffed and mail is delayed more than usual. I can go on and on…
To get around these problems I’ve been mailing bulk using alternate services like Asendia, which is great (enormous thanks to Joe at Digital Ferret for helping me in this respect) and some local private services (mostly owned by Ukrainians). These all have pluses and minuses. Printing the magazine elsewhere via “licensing” is nuts with a magazine of this size, or indeed printing in another country and shipping it here and abroad (without being able to look at and proofread without weeks or months of back and forth frustration, something I’ll never accept), so I just send a bunch in bulk to some distributors overseas. Right now Bleeding Heart Nihilist Productions in Berlin, Germany, are my main distributor for worldwide orders. The German postal system has also become worse but it cannot be compared to the crazy costs of USPS which have made even the Italian post (once a kind of international laughing stock for its outrageous prices) look positively affordable in comparison.
Any other ‘zines you’d recommend?
Of the magazines that are still alive, I really like Special Interests from Finland and Noise Receptor from Australia. Bogus Rendition by Justin Curtsinger of Zud was an awesome zine that in a way changed my whole view of what is possible with a zine, but I think he is no longer doing it. Ongaku Otaku and Hellfrost were both awesome zines in the past that really inspired me and what I’m doing now.
Your predictions for 2021?
For the magazine, there may be a chance that I’ll have #10, probably the final issue, printed by the end of the year. I already have many ideas for it. In respect to everything else, I think there won’t be any dramatic changes. Hopefully you and I will still be alive and healthy, as well as everyone reading this, but I don’t think things will dramatically change. We’ll have a bunch of new crappy death metal bands, most from the West coast USA and Sweden, that bring absolutely nothing new, that I am sure of. Stoner metal will still be stoner metal, playing the same riff over and over again. Some guy in a basement in Illinois will still be releasing noise/industrial cassettes that 5 people worldwide will have any interest in. On a broader scale, we’re being told now that in 2021 the vaccine to control this present pandemic we’re living through will be distributed broadly around spring to the population at large. Four countries already have developed vaccines. It probably will be summer when everyone has a chance to be vaccinated. That said, the entire year will probably be as chaotic as this one. The virus will not be going away, concerts still won’t happen, and the global economy will still be rough for many people.
How to change the world, in a sentence?
There are so many ways to change the world… we don’t even need a nuclear bomb, or a truck-sized meteor… as humans are their own bombs… what we need to do is become more educated. Fuck the older people; they’re set in their ways. I’m talking about the youth and those whose minds haven’t fully ossified. And it is not just reading in general… it is *what you read*. Naturally, reading Convivial Hermit magazine is the quickest way to ensure positive individual and societal change. The first step to that glorious redemption is to order a copy today via my website, www.convivialhermit.net. Thanks again, Scott, for the opportunity, and to anyone reading this! Sorry, a sentence turned into a paragraph.