Feminism, Flower and Fury – Venom Prison

An interview with U. K. Metal Guitarist Ash Gray of Venom Prison

With feminist lyrics and furious guitar playing, extreme heavy metal band Venom Prison exploded out of South Wales in 2016 with the release of their debut album, “Animus.” We’re all accustomed to going to a concert and lighting up a little flower to relax the experience, but there’s no relaxing when vocalist Larissa Stupar and guitarist Ash Grey are onstage — the tunes from their new sophomore album “Samsara” are as bracing as music gets.

It’s no secret that cannabis remains illegal in the United Kingdom, so we chatted with Gray about the differences in consumption habits between the U.S. and the U. K., not to mention social justice as well.

Now that you’ve toured America a few times, what cultural differences stand out to you?

It’s pretty tough to pick out stand out differences — state to state varies so much in terms of mannerism, I think at every single fuel station or restaurant we’ve been to on this tour, at least one person has said: “are y’all in a band?” I mean I can’t even imagine someone at home asking us that question or even talking to us, so it’s kind of cool people are intrigued about those things in the States. In terms of shows, people purchasing merch are always kind with tips and so on which obviously is a massive help for touring bands, but America and the U.K. as a whole are fairly similar (excluding the weather, I understand that’s a very British thing to say)

Venom Prison is a metal band but also a hardcore punk band, and historically there’s been some opposition to cannabis in the hardcore scene — do you think that’s eroding at all? Getting stronger?

I got into hardcore at a young age, and a lot of my friends are or were straight edge, but it was never a way of life I wanted to choose, but I was respected by them for my choice to be who I was and I respected them with their choices. A hardcore scene is meant to be respect for one another, and I mean if you can’t live like that then obviously, you’re not as good of a person as you think you are.

How difficult is it to obtain cannabis in the U.K.? Do you think that legalization is getting any political traction there?

It’s pretty easy, it’s not like you’re buying it on a busy street in front of everyone, but there’s plenty of ways. I know so many people who on a regular basis smoke, whether it’s after a day of work or a chill day. We are seeing more CBD pop up in shops now more frequently, and the older generation is coming around to it slowly. Other than that, they just think whoever is smoking weed is a drug addict, and they will lead on to harder drugs in the future — which is complete bullshit. The funny fact is that all the older generation complaining is mainly the people who came from the prime hippy era of smoking weed and are now so against it. My father will probably kill me for mentioning this, but he came from a metal background, and he tells me it’s a gateway drug, so does my mother… I’m not being funny, but you cannot tell me they didn’t smoke it…

What bands do you see as your peers? It certainly seems like something is brewing in the U.K. with groups like you, Ithaca, Employed to Serve and a few others.

I always struggle with questions like this as I’m influenced by many artists. I agree though, the U.K. certainly has a lot of cool bands up and coming which is great to see, and we still have the older generation of bands pushing U.K. metal like Napalm Death and Carcass — both of those bands have influenced me heavily growing up and still do to this day.

Obviously, social justice and feminism are big themes in Venom Prison’s music – does cannabis or cannabis justice have any lyrical place in your music?

Haha! No, unfortunately not, I highly doubt that would be a thing, either!

What about writing the songs, is cannabis even an occasional part of the writing process?

For me, yeah, I do from time to time for writing. It helps me focus, allows me to be inside a bubble in my home studio, and just forget everything outside of the room. It also helps while listening back to pre-productions and gathering notes and ideas for when I revisit the songs.

Metal has historically been a scene that’s not always friendly to marginalized voices, but very vociferously in favor of freedom of expression. Venom Prison has made marginalized voices, especially the experiences of women, a central part of the band’s expression. Have the upsides of that conversation outweighed the haters?

The haters will always hate, either because they’re too stubborn to grow or just uneducated. The more that the band grows, the less I see this to be honest — probably the less I look. When we dropped our first record, it was just comments on platforms crying about a female having an opinion or perspective on the subject. I mean those people are probably just nerdy, lonely or hateful people, we can leave them where they are, and hopefully, they’ll catch up with the world one day.

As a whole, though, I would say it is certainly getting better, it’s just that people need to be aware that it works both ways; if you force it onto people it will only repel them negatively, so finding the balance is key. Have your opinion and leave it there.

Do you think music is becoming a safer place for women and marginalized peoples?

I would like to think so, I’m very aware of the things that are still happening to women in music or even generally and it does annoy me, but it is heading in the right direction as long as people keep doing what they’re doing.

What can listeners do to keep the ongoing progress in the music scene continuing? I know a lot of people are worried that backlash will suppress the gains women have made in the scene recently.

There are so many ways — just supporting bands, buying records, merch, going to shows, put shows on with friends, write zines, online webpages for example. I think a lot of people think that the only way to save music is by being in a band but, honestly with the internet, bands touring, etc. you can support in many ways.

Venom Prison is currently on tour in the U.S. with Homewrecker. Catch them at the following tour dates:

09/27 – Boise, ID – The Shredder

09/28 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon (Funhouse)

09/29 – Portland, OR – Paris Theatre

10/01 – Orangevale, CA – The Boardwalk

10/02 – Los Angeles, CA – Five Star Bar

10/03 – Las Vegas, NV – American Legion Post 8

10/04 – Mesa, AZ – Club Red

10/06 – Dallas, TX – Club DaDa

10/07 – Houston, TX – White Oak Music Hall

10/08 – Austin, TX – Come And Take It Live

10/09 – New Orleans, LA – Santos

10/10 – Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade

10/11 – Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506

10/12 – Washington, DC – The Pinch

10/13 – Amityville, NY – Revolution

Joseph Schafer

Joseph Schafer is an Editor at DOPE magazine. He writes about cannabis as well as politics, technology, pop culture and music played at ear-splitting volume. Follow him on Twitter at @JosephPSchafer and Instagram at @timesnewromancatholic

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