Years before the hardcore scene changed his life, London May was sent to acting camp by his worried parents. They hoped it would keep him out of trouble. And it did until he started playing drums in eighth grade and attended his first Black Market Baby concert. May grew up in Maryland during the heyday of 1980s DC hardcore and joined Glenn Danzig’s second band Samhain when he was still a teenager. He played on the classic November Coming Fire and Samhain’s live album and later joined Dag Nasty for their Wig Out At Denko’s tour. May has remained closely involved with the underground scene in the ensuing decades and rejoined Danzig in 2014 for Samhain’s 30th-anniversary tour.
In recent years, May also rediscovered his passion for theatre and film. He went to acting school and quickly started landing small roles in plays and television programs. However, May worried he was getting typecast and created a black metal character called The Summoner that began appearing in minor parts. The Summoner finally has an entire short film dedicated to him called Brutal Realty, Inc. In the movie (directed by Erik Boccio and written by Joseph Mueller) The Summoner tires of his job as a demonic entity and decides to pursue a career in Los Angeles real estate. The misadventures that follow are hilarious and oddly touching. The soundtrack was written by Sanford Parker, Dallas Thomas, Bruce Lamont and Charlie Fell. May talked to us about his new path and how what he learned in the hardcore scene still informs his life and art.
I know a lot about your musical background, but you’ve also been acting since you were a child.
I acted in the Children’s Theatre in Baltimore. My parents tried to find an outlet for me because I was such a delinquent growing up. They were desperate to find something to keep me off the streets. I was a class clown. Their idea was to put me somewhere where I could act out more safely. So they put me in the theatre when I was a kid. I was able to do that for a few years, and it was an excellent outlet for that restless energy. Then the music thing happened. Theatre was my gateway drug to performance.
Do you remember any roles or plays?
We did a lot of fairy tale theatre. We’d go to schools and county fairs for performances. A lot of scripts were written by this famous Baltimore theatre director named Dearie Burger. She’s written a few books on acting. She wrote original fairy tale plays for us. I was always like the Puck character or the mischievous elf (laughs).
Typecast at age eight?
(laughs). Absolutely. But I was happy to do it. She allowed us to write our material and host showcases at the theatre. It was something I thought I would always do until I joined my first band. I started playing drums in the eighth grade. Before punk, I admired The Who. I think Black Market Baby was my first show ever and I also saw The Clash on television. I knew that was the drumming I wanted to do, not the drumming they were showing me in band class.
So when did the acting bug bite you again?
In 2010 I was cast in this Ron Howard pilot show called The Great Escape. It was a prison escape show, and a few people I worked with said I’d be perfect for it. I auditioned and got it. When the cameras started rolling, I felt out of my element. I said that if I didn’t completely bomb it, I would study acting. It wasn’t something you can pick up 30 plus years later. So I went back to acting school and started getting plays and small television parts. It reminded me of why I liked playing music: I got to be part of a group, especially with performance and rehearsal. With a band or a film, it’s the same sort of world. It fills a need (I have) not only to prepare and work on something but put something out in the world.
I have to imagine that the theatricality of Samhain applied to theatre, no?
It was a great branch between music and acting. Both are performance-related, and both can be dark. My natural pull was to horror. Samhain was always very professional. It wasn’t a garage band where everyone jams out. Everyone had a role, and you could not drop something. The stakes were high. When you are doing drama, the stakes are high, too. You need to make an impression, so you put everything into it. When I played a song like “The Howl,” I imagined I was a werewolf. That sounds kind of silly, but you need to sell it.
How did the Brutal Realty project come together?
I came up with The Summoner character and played him in some short films and roles. In one movie, I was almost like a black metal Paul Shaffer. I would show up to audition for different parts where they wanted a musical character as The Summoner (laughs). I was sort of tired of playing myself. I get called a lot to play a variation of myself, but that doesn’t push me.
David Hasselhoff has made many millions of dollars playing himself.
(laughs). Believe me; if I had that option, I’d do it. Still, when I’m offered things that don’t challenge me, I feel like I haven’t grown. Getting to play The Summoner in these small roles made me feel like I was making something different. The director of one of these shorts said there needed to be a movie about The Summoner. I said if I could find someone who could write a film about him, I’d do it. I did a Western last summer in Los Angeles, and the kid who wrote the script (Mueller) is a prodigy. He’s 19 and wrote this intense Western. He comes from a different perspective than most Los Angeles types. I wondered if he could write a film about The Summoner. We gave him the shorts we’d done and some Wikipedia articles about black metal. Over a weekend he created this pitch where The Summoner, this black metal demon, becomes a real estate agent.
One of the things I loved about how you approached the character is that viewers will root for him. He’s passionate about trying to sell homes and keeps messing up. I was expecting the comedy but not empathy for the character.
You’ve touched on the deeper theme: rooting for the underdog. He’s a bull in a China shop, but he doesn’t know he is making a mess. He is lonely and naive, but you want him to succeed. I’m not playing him funny. He’s sincerely trying his best as a fish out of water to impress people and doesn’t know right or wrong in the human world. There is broader comedy to this, but there is also real humanity to it. There are no cheap shots. His rage comes from a personal place (and my experiences) of being bullied and called a freak as a kid.
I know you’ve been in a black metal band but how big of a fan were you?
I’m a huge fan. In 1998 I got the Gummo soundtrack and heard Bethlehem. I traveled to Scandinavia a few years ago and went to Helvete. I came late to Ritual, but that was a dream – to play in a black metal band. I think that experience reignited my passion for it. Your passions spill out into your work. In this case, it came out in my acting. I wanted to make something about black metal that was real but wasn’t an obvious homage.
I’m amazed at how much cultural awareness there is about black metal now. Immortal memes have been everywhere for years. Lord Of Chaos was a major motion picture. The music is now a global phenomenon.
I hope the purists will check out the film first and also check out my lineage. There’s a lot more going on in the movie. I remember when I was a punk in the 1980s, and they had a punk episode of CHIPS or Quincy, and I was furious. I thought they were making a mockery of something beloved to me. But I am not a Hollywood douchebag. I come from a dark place and have a brutal background and bring a comedy element to it. All of this is done with profound respect and love.
At the end of the movie, it says The Summoner will return.
A feature film is in development as we speak. We were very wishful when we put that at the end, but we knew in our hearts there could be more stories and adventures. We don’t have to do it ourselves again. We won “best kill” at Cinapocalypse, and we went to New York for Tromadance and then studios called. We have some great names attached to this, and you won’t believe who is involved. It’s connected with some people we admire. There are so many adventures you could take with this guy.
One of the most important things is a character that resonates. They are making a new Bill and Ted movie now, and both actors are in their 50s. If you create a character people like there’s no end to the stories. On a meta-level Marvel has done this for a decade.
The film comes from a DIY punk rock aesthetic. We made what we wanted to see. I created a character I wanted to see and wasn’t getting through my Hollywood acting world. When I got into punk that was finding music I wasn’t getting on the radio. I’ve done a lot of things I’ve felt strongly about and the world yawned, but occasionally you connect with people. The film seems to have touched some people. The world is in a shitty dark place right now, and maybe we need a new antihero who follows his dreams no matter what people say.
Given where the world is now, do you ever get nostalgic for the DC scene days? Did anything you learned then help you navigate the current times?
I grew up with Reaganomics and nightmares about nuclear annihilation. The punk scene was crushed under the iron fist of the police. Society always seems to come down on the things I value. I learned to always try to create a world within this world and use my imagination to find the silver lining.