20 Heavy Musicians Who’re Smarter Than You Think They Are
It’s no secret fans of heavy music are smarter than your average music listener. I mean look at you, right now you’re smart enough to be reading the leading alternative music publication in Australia (and the World probably). This is all backed up by facts. Numerous studies have found not only are we better adjusted and significantly happier, but we’re also a smart bunch of individuals. I’m not going to link to the studies, you can either take my word for it or, do your own research (just stay off Youtube and away from Pete Evans). So if metal fans are smart it shouldn’t come as any surprise to discover some of our idols and favourite artists are pretty fucking smart too – the odd one bordering on genius.
With that in mind, we have compiled a list in no particular order, based on academic achievement, of some of the smartest individuals in heavy music.
1. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) – Pilot
First up, and this will come as no surprise, not only is he one of the greatest front-men in rock he also has a list of achievements as long as your arm. He’s written screenplays, novels, an autobiography, been a world ranked Fencing champion and probably most famously a commercial airline pilot. Most of the singer’s achievements could be due to talent, perseverance and tenacity. But stupid people don’t fly planes and getting a commercial pilots licence takes a fair amount of brainpower, so Bruce Dickinson definitely belongs on this list.
2. Carla Harvey (Butcher Babies) – Degree in Mortuary Science
Carla Harvey, beautiful, talented and just a little surprising. Before she got together with Heidi Shepherd and formed Butcher Babies the vocalist had a few different jobs in the entertainment industry, the most notorious being nude modelling. When getting her gear off just didn’t do it anymore Carla enrolled into Cypress College and earned a degree in Mortuary Science. But the dead’s loss was our gain when Carla saw a career in music over the morgue.
3. Dan Spitz (Anthrax, Red Lamb) – Degree in Micro-Mechanical Engineering
I have to admit Dan Spitz came completely out of left field for me. Not only did he play lead guitar on some of the best thrash albums Anthrax ever recorded, in 1995 he threw it all in and went to Switzerland to study luxury watchmaking. Spitz attended Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) with a full scholarship and graduated with degrees in Micro-Mechanical Engineering. Not a bad addition to his swag of gold and platinum albums.
4. Brian May (Queen) – PhD in Astrophysics
Guitar hero, founding member of one of rocks most influential bands, Chancellor of John Moores University, with a degree in physics and a PhD in astrophysics. It’s almost unfair for one person to be so smart and musically talented at the same time, but Queen’s Brian May is all those things and more. He’s also an animal rights activist and by all accounts an incredibly nice guy who still finds time to tour extensively with bandmates Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert.
5. Tom Morello (RATM, Audioslave) – PhD in Political Science
Speaking of guitar heroes, not only does Tom Morello have mad skills on the fretboard he’s a pretty smart cookie to boot. Wearing more hats than a Milliner, Morello’s intelligence saw the axeman not only graduate high school with honours, he managed to get a doctorate in political science from Harvard University. Tackling causes far and wide – he puts his strong sense of social justice to good use through his music and activism.
6. Charlotte Wessels (Delain) – Degree in art history, Masters in Gender Studies
Symphonic metal songstress Charlotte Wessels takes talented and intelligence to the next level. Not only is the Dutch native front and centre of Delain, Wessels is a formally trained classical and jazz singer, has an Art History degree and a Masters in Gender Studies. I sometimes wonder how people like Charlotte get time to achieve so much.
7. Mike Mangini (Dream Theatre) – Bachelors Degree in Computer Science
Before he became one of the world’s fastest drummers Mike Mangini was into computer science, like really into it. So much so after graduating Bentley University with his degree Mangini took a job programming software for Patriot Missiles. Thankfully the draw to create was stronger than the urge to destroy with the computer nerd going on to teach music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Oh yes, and becoming one of rock’s most celebrated drummers.
8. Dexter Holland (The Offspring)- PhD
When you’re discussing the smartest guys in the room The Offspring’s Dexter Holland has to feature. Not only did he graduate high school valedictorian, the punk rocker has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and added a PhD to go with his Masters in Molecular Biology. Dexter is quoted as saying by the time he turns 40 he’d rather be a professor than a musician. Well, at the ripe old age of 54 and still rockin’ I’d say science’s loss is music’s gain.
9. Serj Tankian (System of A Down) – degree in marketing and business
Serj Tankian has a long list of achievements to his name, not least of all penning some of the most powerful songs of the late 90’s and early 2000’s with System Of A Down. Outside of his various musical pursuits Tankian found time to write a book of poetry and collaborate with fellow activist Tom Morello to co-found the progressive activist group Axis of Justice. On top of all that Serj holds a degree in Business and Marketing from California State University.
10. Sharon den Adel – (Within Temptation) Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design
There’s something about symphonic metal and smart women. Not only is mezzo-soprano Sharon den Adel a naturally talented vocalist she also has a pretty smart head on her shoulders. Graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Fashion Management, you’d have to assume she’s putting it to use when designing her stunning stage outfits.
11. Greg Graffin (Bad Religion) – PhD
Any list of smart musicians has to include Bad Religion vocalist Greg Graffin. Given the band’s lyrical content it came as no surprise to discover one of the main songwriters was as smart as a whip. Not only does the punk rock legend have a Bachelors and Masters from UCLA he went on to earn a PhD in Zoology from New York’s Cornell University.
12. David Draiman (Disturbed) – BA Political Science
When your parents want you to be a Rabbi and you want to be a lawyer the obvious compromise is to join a metal band. Along the way Disturbed front-man David Draiman graduated Loyola University Chicago with a BA in Political Science and Government, Philosophy, and Business Administration. Clearly the best training for one of the most recognisable voices in heavy music.
13. Janet Gardner (Vixen) – Degree in Dental Hygiene
Some rock stars start out with day jobs (let’s face it unless you’re Wolfgang Van Halen you need a day job before hitting the stage) others need to find jobs after the rock ‘n roll dream has ended. That’s what happened to glam metal songstress Janet Gardner. Rather than taking a job flipping burgers or the late shift at 7-Eleven Gardner attended the University of Bridgeport graduating with a degree in Dental Hygiene. So for the past 15 years, in between musical projects she’d been keeping everyone’s pearly whites more pearly and more white.
14. Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die) – Bachelors degree in English
Hot Damn! If this one didn’t surprise me. I knew via Twitter metalcore legend Keith Buckley had become an ordained minister, albeit to the Universal Life Church – possibly not an actual church. But the Every Time I Die front-man also has an actual degree. He graduated from the University of Buffalo with a Bachelors Degree in English and taught Shakespeare to high schoolers. So I guess if the whole music thing doesn’t work out Keith can just go back to school.
15. Sam Vallen (Caligula’s Horse)– PhD Progressive Music
When you’re in one of Australia’s premier prog rock bands it seems only fitting to get a PhD in Progressive Music. Caligula’s Horse guitarist Sam Vallen did just that! Some people throw themselves into study, it becomes the be all and end all, Sam did things slightly differently. Not only was he writing and recording the bands latest album Rise Radiant, Sam became a father for the first time and finished his PhD. Just doing one of those things is a full-time job, Dr Vallen somehow managed them all at once.
16. Kim Deal (Pixies, The Breeders) – Associate Degree in Medical Technology
There is no doubt of the influence Kim Deal and her merry band of Pixies has had on music, some say without Pixies there’d be no Nirvana, that could be a stretch but without their influence Kurt Cobain and co would almost certainly sound different. But before all that the daughter of a Laser Physicist graduated high school and attended no less that seven different collages before obtaining an associate degree in medical technology. It seems a hard way to go about it, but getting there is all that matters I suppose.
17. Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) – Bachelor of English
Rivers Cuomo is not only a singer, songwriter, keyboardist, producer and founding member of influential alt-rockers Weezer he also has a Bachelor of English. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the frontman. Cuomo actually went back to school 4 times before eventually graduating from Harvard with his degree. Although he started studying music he switched to English and walked away with a love of Shakespeare.
18. Noora Louhimo (Battle Beast) – Bachelor of culture and arts
Not only does Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo boast one of the best voices in heavy music she’s pretty smart as well. Somehow all while fronting one of Finland’s premier metal bands Louhimo managed to graduate from Tampere University of Applied Sciences with a Bachelor of Culture and Arts in Music Production. Proving this driven woman is more than just a pretty face with an amazing voice.
19. Leon Todd (Ragdoll) – Bachelor of Science and Maths
Another musician who has more than a few feathers in his cap is from Perth hard rock band Ragdoll. Guitarist Leon Todd as well as being an insanely talented musician, has a successful Youtube channel and tutors guitar, bass, maths and science. The latter two subjects are due to the Bachelor of Science and Mathematics (First Class Honours) he holds after graduating from The University of Western Australia. Todd also graduated from high school with one of the highest ATAR scores in the history of the school.
20. Booka Nile (Make Them Suffer/ Internet Friends) – Bachelor of Psychology, Bachelor’s degree, Law
It’s no longer a secret Perth’s own metalcore queen and former reality tv star Booka Nile is as smart as any on this list. Before joining Make Them Suffer the keyboardist and vocalist had a very successful career in mental health, all thanks to her degree in Psychology. And because (I assume) Booka is an overachiever she also has a Bachelor’s Degree in Law – it’s no wonder she didn’t have time to find a fella…
So there you have it people, a bunch of musically talented and super smart individuals. If we missed any let us know. I’m sure even after the few minutes of extensive research I did there’s a few that got away…
Written by Gareth Williams
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Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman, fighter pilot then doctor of emergency medicine.
Duff McKagan would be a worthy inclusion.
Duff was in the short list but I left him off as he didn’t actually finish his degree.