INTERVIEW WITH JUDITH WHITE-GLUZ BY JEREMY SAFFER
For Mother’s Day, we wanted to do something special with one of the most supportive moms in music. We had the pleasure of speaking with Judith White-Gluz, mother of Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy) about Alissa’s history with art, music, health, rescuing animals, some funny stories, and, of course, the amazing bond between Alissa and her incredible mom, along with advice we should all take to heart. Alissa also left a little surprise for her mom at the end of this interview.
What first got you into music?
You’re going to love this answer because I come from a family where there was six kids, and it did not really take me long to realize that if I was listening to music, I could create my own little bubble. So, I would have my own little world and was able to remove myself from all of the hectic activity that was happening around me. In having books and music, it opened up my brain to different ideas and different ways of thinking, as well as it was protecting me by giving me my own little personal space at a time when there was no space (laughs).
What were some of the bands you grew up listening to?
I have an eclectic taste. The first show I went to was Led Zeppelin, and I think I paid a whopping $5.50 for the ticket, which at the time was astronomical. I was in the nosebleeds, but a great show, of course. That was way back in the 70s, so that really got me interested in seeing live bands and the difference between seeing live and listening to a record. Back then most of it was records. There was a little bit of tape where I would be making music mixes by listening to the radio to see when a song came on and really fast recording it.
Was there anything else you were into besides Led Zeppelin?
I would listen to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones—the classic staples. Throw in a little bit of Jim Croce, a little bit of blues, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. I loved the British invasion of blues, even way back then, Fleetwood Mac was a blues band with Peter Green, so a lot of that. My home base in music would be rock and blues. From there I branched out. My brother would listen to Jim Croce and Simon & Garfunkel—a lot of the harmonies in that. From that, I would go to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which had a little bit of that, but a little bit more rock. I dove into Bob Dylan and The Band—a little bit of rock, a little bit of folk thrown in. Then back into a little more of the heavier rock, which I guess would be getting into the metal part—you know, around the time of the quintessential angst teenager years where you had to crank up the punk and listen to some of that or the new wave. So, I have an eclectic taste.
Did you ever get into more of the heavy stuff, like Alissa’s bands?
It took me awhile to get into the really true metal, and that was only after watching one of Alissa’s shows. Once I was there and I saw the show, I understood it. Without seeing the show, I did not understand metal. Like extreme metal, I just did not understand. I’m talking when you got the growling, I just didn’t understand it, but when I went to a show, it all came together. It was fun. It was actually a revelation. It was like, “Oh my god, I get it now!” So, I have no types of music I don’t like. All of them reflect different stages of how I’m feeling or a growth stage. If it’s good music, it’s good music. I don’t care what it is. If it’s rap, if it’s classical, if it’s metal, or if it’s rock and blues, if it’s good, it’s good, if it’s bad, it’s bad.
What were some of the bands and music playing in the house as Alissa was growing up?
Alissa’s my middle one, so going back to my oldest one, there’s three years difference between the two girls, so for Jasamine it was heavy Bowie. I was in a Bowie phase in the 80s. Then when Alissa came around, it was a lot of U2 and rock. So, there was a lot of that being played. I think probably when she was first born, the pivotal album would have been Joshua Tree for her, because I liked U2 a lot at that point. With my son, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan because I got into that.
“WHAT WE DID WAS WE GOT A WHOLE BUNCH OF INSTRUMENTS AND WE WOULD JUST PLAY, AND, OF COURSE, CREATIVITY COMES FROM JUST PLAYING.”
Was Alissa musically inclined at a younger age?
All of the kids were musically inclined at a younger age. The situation in my house was, I lived in an area where there was a lot of privileged kids. I gave up a job—my income was reduced—so I could spend time with my kids. That was my choice. I’m not saying it’s the only choice, but that was my choice. So, in giving up a lot of income, you cannot pay for a lot of activity, like music lessons. So, what we did was we got a whole bunch of instruments and we would just play, and, of course, creativity comes from just playing. When they got older and they were like, “Can I take guitar lessons?” I looked at them square in the face and I said, “Never once in their lives did Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton take guitar lessons, so no you can’t. If you got it, you got it and you know you have it. If you don’t have it, guitar lessons aren’t going to help you.” (laughs) It’s pretty dumb when I think about it. I told them at that time to watch TV, because MTV actually played music videos and not TV shows. I said, “Watch the TV and copy them.” Now when I think about it, that’s so bad, but that’s what I said.
Well, it worked!
But it’s true. If you can’t play, you can’t play, and no amount of lessons are going to help you. You either have it or you don’t, so yes, they were very musically inclined. In the house there was always instruments, like amplifiers, mixers, we’ve got pedals, there’s an old drum kit, a banjo, a flute, mandolin, a violin, random guitars—there was just stuff. It’s fun to see a child create from their head.
Do you have any fun stories of a young Alissa or Jasmine getting into music?
Oh, I do, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say (laughs). I have a lot of them actually. One thing I’m allowed to say, New Year’s Eve, they used to put on a performance for us. We’re not big on going out to big parties on New Year’s Eve. New Years is just another day, and we’re just going to celebrate with the kids at home, so yes, they would put on musicals and dramatic performances for us, and they are all recorded. I think Jasmine used some of the recordings in one of her videos that she did.
How did you encourage their musical growth?
We always listened to music. For example, if the kids came into the house and there’s music playing, they’re like, “Okay, she’s cooking some food.” If there’s no music, they’re on their own (laughs). But there’s always music playing somewhere in the background. That’s how I function best. It tends to focus my brain. So, if I’m cleaning, I put on certain music. If I’m cooking, I’ll put different music on. So, they also heard all of this all the time. You’ve been in my kitchen. I put vinyl albums up on the cupboards to change the look, so there’s music there, and that becomes an interesting music history lesson when you see them and talk about the music and the session musicians that were working with that person—the type of music they started with, the type of music they ended up with, where their path went, because as creative musicians or creative artists, you start one way, but then the doors change and the path moves and meanders and you get different things. So, they are encouraged by me always listening to music, but also me asking them what they’re listening to. As much as I might have educated them on the old school music that I know, they have educated me on the more current music that they know. It’s symbiotic, which is nice.
“ONE OF HER FIRST SHOWS WAS ARCH ENEMY, BECAUSE I FOUND A TICKET STUB AND A FRAMED IT FOR HER ONCE SHE STARTED SINGING FOR THEM.”
Do you remember what some of the first concerts Alissa attended were? Did you go to concerts with her when she was younger?
No, actually, believe it or not, because often she was going to all of the metal ones that I didn’t understand at the time. I’m pretty sure one of her first shows was Arch Enemy, because I found a ticket stub and a framed it for her once she started singing for them. I thought it was a nice big turn around because I collect ticket stubs. The girls were brought up with a feminist ideology, meaning girls can do anything. I don’t mean feminist as in male bashing. I mean feminist as in yes, you can do anything. So, they have been aware of the differences, in the years of females breaking into the music industry and what type of problems they may encounter and how to solve the problems. Because staying with a problem isn’t the solution, you have to find the solution. Not just say there’s a problem, you have to work on fixing it. So, for example, Jasmine, the oldest one, her approach is very different from Alissa, and she has done a lot of writing. She’d been told many times, “Oh, you’re a woman. A woman will never make it in that side of the business.” Which, instead of deflating them, made them stand their ground and move forward. Alissa also being in a genre that is predominantly male has had to take a couple of things to the side because of being female, but again she finds the solutions to it—not focusing on the fact there is a problem. Her focus is solution based.
“THE GIRLS WERE BROUGHT UP WITH A FEMINIST IDEOLOGY, MEANING GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING. I DON’T MEAN FEMINIST AS IN MALE BASHING. I MEAN FEMINIST AS IN YES, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.”
Did you ever butt heads on anything in terms of their careers?
Music and career-wise, no. I’m into science. I do have a lot of creativity in me, but I do not play instruments nor do I sing in a band, but I enjoy music, and yes, I do sing, just not in a band. So, that being said, science is how I make my living. That’s my job. I’m in education. They came up to me and said, “I’m not doing science. I know you like it and you think it’s good, but I’m not doing it.” And I was like, “Okay, fine. Well, what are you going to do then?” And then they told me what they wanted to do, and I was like, “Fine, go for it.” Alissa strangely enough, you know she’s quite the accomplished artist as well as musician, correct?
Okay, because she’s done a lot of really cool paintings. One of the things Alissa used to do was make set designs for a couple of people who had their own drama companies, and one of these women actually said, “She has to keep working with her and forget about school.” And I remember saying, “No, you have to go to school, end of story.” I ended up working with the lady while Alissa was in school (laughs). Alissa finished school, and when she started getting all her gigs and stuff, it just morphed into this. I’m very proud of what she has accomplished with what she has had to do to get there, as well as what her older sister has accomplished and how she’s done that. They’re both very similar, meaning their both in music, but they’re both totally different in their approach of singing.
We have to ask, did Alissa get in trouble, or was she pretty much a good kid?
Yeah, they’d get in trouble, but I never really grounded them. I took the approach of when they were in high school, they were allowed two mental health days a year. Meaning, if they just didn’t want to go to school for whatever reason, then they’d be like, “Okay, mental health day number one.” I’d say, “Don’t ever skip. If you need to not go for a day, just tell me.” There were times when I would get a phone call from school like, “So and so is not in school. How come?” Or, “They told me they were going to a show. You shouldn’t be doing this.” And I’d be like, “If they want to go to a show, they are going to the show, and yes, I know they are going to that show.” So, the schools were not ever supportive of students going into music, which is a shame because music education in school is really something that should be encouraged.
“WHEN THEY GOT TO THE AGE WHERE THEY WOULD ASK WHAT OTHERS ARE EATING, I WOULD SAY, ‘WELL, THEY ARE EATING BACON. BACON IS FROM A PIG.’ AND THEN THEY’D ASK, ‘WHY ARE THEY EATING HIM?’”
Alissa has the upmost love and respect for animals. How did that develop as she was younger?
That has to do 100 percent with how she was brought up. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1970 and vegan for probably six, seven years. All the kids were raised vegetarian, so right then and there, there was a discussion. Then when they got to the age where they would ask what others are eating, I would say, “Well, they are eating bacon. Bacon is from a pig.” And then they’d ask, “Why are they eating him?” So, that’s where the discussions came and where, luckily for me, my kids are still vegetarian or vegan. Actually, the girls, they are both vegan, while my son’s veggie. They have a great respect for the planet, for animals, for animal rights, and I did also a huge catch and release on my own in the area I live. I got like 17 cats sterilized, and then released them back into the environment. We’d take care of them until they were healthy. Instead of having the animals killed, I paid to have them sterilized. Alissa was involved with that, and we found homes for the babies.
Alissa mentioned that we have to ask about your amazing hair.
It’s long! As a matter of fact, I should cut it at some point. I had long hair for one reason and one reason only. When I was in grade four, my older sister cut my hair really, really short, and my hair is really curly like Alissa’s. It just stuck out, and that probably scarred me for life. I tell my older sister all the time, I have long hair because of her.
How long is it?
In a braid, it goes mid way to my butt, so it’s quite long. It’s healthy. I dyed it once. I don’t really do anything to my hair. I like to keep it clean. I think Alissa’s hoping I’m going to cut a whole bunch off so she can make a wig or some extensions (laughs).
Do you remember when Alissa started singing in bands?
Yes, I do. It was way back in early high school. She was singing before that because we were always doing things in the house—the kids would always be singing songs. I love old school Disney cartoon animation, especially when it’s put to music. So, when they were little, like six or so, that would be the content on TV they would be watching, so they were always singing. She started singing in bands early in high school, with a gentleman who she eventually bought a car from, but that band was nothing like what she has now. She was always writing—writing lyrics, writing poetry, creating riffs in her head, and changing songs that they hear, just like any other musical artist, always looking for something. If I put an album of YES on, they’d listen and be like, “Oh my god, listen to the riff in there. It’s really good.”
Do you remember what her first public performance was and what it was like?
Her first public performance was very interesting. She was nervous. She went out there and gave it her 100 percent. It was received quite well, but the music was very different from what she’s doing now and it wasn’t even the metal band that she had before Arch Enemy.
How old was she back then?
14, I think.
How did you feel seeing her perform in front of an audience? Did you know then that this would be her path?
Yeah, I felt like, “Uh oh” (laughs), knowing the heartache that is ahead on the road for her because it’s not a particularly easy lifestyle for a musician these days. It’s hard to make money doing what you want to do. When I saw her perform, it was like, “Okay, I see what you’re going to be going for, what you’re going into, and it’s going to be hard and you need to take care of your health.” Which is why all my kids started a membership to a gym when they graduated high school. I believe if you eat well and take care of your body, everything else is good. And perhaps that’s why she’s still so intent on working out and eating well and taking care of her body.
“SUPPORTING HER AND JUST TELLING HER TO KEEP ON GOING. THERE’S NOTHING ELSE YOU CAN DO FOR SOMEBODY WHO’S AT THAT STAGE. IF THEY’RE GOING TO GO, THEY’RE GOING TO GO. WE JUST WISH THEM LUCK AND LET THEM GO.”
In what ways did you help her when she was starting to play more shows and practice with more bands, as things started going with her former band?
All the driving to the airport, listening to her thoughts about anything, whether it is an image she would be projecting or thoughts about a song or lyrics. Just being a sounding board for her, number one. Supporting her and just telling her to keep on going. There’s nothing else you can do for somebody who’s at that stage. If they’re going to go, they’re going to go. We just wish them luck and let them go.
As her band got signed and started touring, how did you feel? Did you have any concerns?
Only about her taking care of herself, because back then, vegan things were not as popular as they are now. So, having food she could eat was one concern. Not overworking her voice and herself was another concern, but again at that stage you have to say, “Okay kid, you know what you’re doing. Go for it! You know how hard to push it, but you need to be careful.”
During the hard times, of which there are many in the music world, what are some of the ways you encouraged her to keep going?
Just being a mom, making some really good food for her, going out to art museums with her. You just take a step back and look at somebody else’s creativity, walking, exercising in the woods, going out and doing stuff like that. There’s not really anything else. Oh, I take care of her kitty cat (laughs).
“BREATHE, COUNT TO 10, THINK TWICE, TAKE THE HIGH ROAD. EVERYTHING ALWAYS WORKS OUT, BUT SOMETIMES WE JUST NEED TO REMIND OURSELVES OF THAT.”
Were there any words of encouragement you can remember giving to her when things got tough?
Breathe, count to 10, think twice, take the high road. Everything always works out, but sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of that. I remind myself of that all the time. Whenever you’re working with people, there are always different personalities involved and sometimes somebody comes and their baggage they’re bringing in from somewhere else explodes in your face, and really, you just have to step back and take the high road. It never hurts.
What are some of your proudest moments in Alissa’s career thus far?
There’s a couple of them. Wacken, for one. The incident when she jumped on the platform and broke her ribs but continued, I was very proud of her, but scared, because medically you’re like, “Oh my god, her ribs are broken!” But very proud that she handled it all professionally. Personally, when she stepped on the stage for the first time in Montreal as the singer for Arch Enemy after all the crap that happened with her other band, you could visibly see on her face it was just a wonderful thing. I was very proud of that moment for her that she conquered her dragon.
What’s it like for you to attend an Arch Enemy show?
Mind-blowing. They’re incredible artists. The musicians are phenomenal. The way they play off each other, they all know each other so well, it’s an amazing thing.
Do you have any favorite Arch Enemy songs?
It changes with different times. I think the one at the moment that resonates most with me is “Reason to Believe.” The reason I would say that is because the message and the signing style she does. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful song, but I like it because I work in a high school, and it’s a great way of speaking to kids who are in crisis and getting them to think of a different thing or look at their situation in a different light.
Are any of your students a fan of Arch Enemy? Do they come up to you get star-struck?
There are a ton on them (laughs). The look on their faces when they’re like, “Miss! Miss! Somebody told me that…(and they try saying it really quietly), they told me that your daughter is in Arch Enemy.” And I say, “Yes!” And it’s, “Really? Can I get her autograph?” And I tell them to go to a show (laughs), but I had one kid do a wood carving of the Arch Enemy logo, but then he got it tattooed on his arm, so he asked me to make sure Alissa and Doyle saw it. They’re cute.
A lot of parents tend to discourage their children from pursuing a career in art. Was that ever the case for you, or were you always just go for it?
Oh no, no, no, my core belief is whether it is art or whether it is something else, you have to choose something that you can see yourself liking in 10 years and still doing it in 20 years and liking it. When they told me that’s what they wanted to do, I said, “You have to go for it.”
What were some of the most difficult moments you had to deal with because of their career choice?
I don’t think I’ve had any difficult moments, to be honest, apart from missing them. Just recently Arch Enemy was in China. China and Canada have not such a great relationship, so I’m like, “Eek, be careful.” I know when Alissa sees injustice, it can be hard for her to hold her tongue, so when she’s in places where the political situation is a little crazy, I’m like, “Whoa, be careful.” Why would somebody not want their kid to go into something that they are happy doing?
Exactly, and that actually leads into the next question. If you could give advice to a kid who has a parent that doesn’t support his or her dreams, what would you say to those kids?
It’s funny you ask that because I get kids in my office—I have a lab—coming in all the time, and that’s one of the biggest things. It’s either from somebody trying to go into something, because I teach in a high school, so they’re going on to their higher education, and they say, “I don’t want to apply for the stuff my parents want me to,” or, “I’m bisexual, and I don’t want to tell my parents,” or “I’m transitioning, and I don’t want my parents to know.” Those things are huge on a kid. The kids these days really want their parental approval. I tell them that ultimately they are now entering into the stage where they are becoming their own agent and they have to decide what means more to them. If they wish to follow this career path, is that what they want? They are entitled to make their own mistakes, and you learn more from making a mistake than from doing the correct thing. If they didn’t do it, how badly would they regret it? For example, if a kid came in saying they really want to go into music, but their mom wants them to be a doctor and they hate science. Easy! How would you feel if you didn’t do your music? How would you feel if you went into science? You have to go with what you like! So, my whole thing is about empowering the student or the kids, who are now our future, to find what their passion project is and go for it. There’s nothing wrong with the parents who want you to have a stable job. The kids need to be aware that the parent may not be comforting them about their choice, but are just worried about their future and that they may not be in a sound place. Their parents’ lack of understanding is coming from a place of love and maybe a little ignorance. Maybe they don’t realize how important it is to them.
On the opposite side of that, what would you say to parents of aspiring artists who aren’t sure if it’s the right path for their child?
First, I would ask them, “What is their issue was with that choice?” They’re going to say, “They can’t make a living out of that.” And I could say, “But they find a lot of joy and happiness in it, and why would you think they wouldn’t be able to make a career out of it?” They are going to say, “Because of the odds,” which makes sense from a parental point of view. The number of people who can actually make a living is small. If you’re a painter, you’re not going to be making a whole lot of money right away, but at the same time, I would like the parent to know that that’s a certain part of their child’s heart, their love, that needs to be fed. By feeding it, it will make them a more full and happier person, and ultimately a parent wants their child to be happy. Parents these days have the weirdest things in their heads. Like parents who want to make every decision for their kids. I don’t know what they are afraid of. Let them try it! Listen to the child, maybe the child has a plan. Come up with a five year plan, and if you’re really unhappy, reevaluate where you are. That’s what we all do all the time. I mean, every so many years, you evaluate where you are, what you’re doing, and what you have and what you should be doing. Those are normal things, but parents need to make sure their kids can actually make those decisions. There’s nothing wrong with a kid going into art or music. We need art and music in the education system. It is not valued in the education system, which is probably why parents don’t think it’s a valuable commodity to have art or music under your belt.
What would you say is the key to being a supportive parent to an artist?
Listening. Just listen to the kid.
If you could go back and give a younger Alissa advice, what would you say to her?
I don’t know, that’s a really hard question. Maybe, beast mode all the time is fine? I don’t know (laughs). That and the book we are reading together, well, she finished it, how to live like you don’t give a fuck. You know, that kind of stuff. That would be the only thing I would give her, but that’s in retrospect, because luckily for me I don’t have to deal with the kind of stuff she has to deal with.