I first came into contact with music writer Neil Daniels when he approached me to do an interview for his online project which sought to interview the authors of a variety of rock music books; I guess, since I've written books on Iggy Pop and moshpits, that I qualified.
Daniels has written books about Judas Priest, Robert Plant, Linkin Park and Bon Jovi in addition to co-authoring Dawn Of The Metal Gods: My Life In Judas Priest & Heavy Metal with Al Atkins. Neil currently writes for Fireworks, Powerplay and Get Ready To Rock.com, and occasionally contributes to Rock Sound and Record Collector.
Joe Ambrose: What do you conclude from the author interviews you've undertaken so far?
Neil Daniels That publishers are very difficult and it's hard to get your ideas commissioned and at the end of the day there's very little money to be made. You really have to want to be a writer to commit yourself to it. Sure, you can write as a hobby but if you're thinking of making a living from it - think again! Some writers are lucky and have bestsellers right away and can quit their day job and make a decent living almost immediately; while others have to write a few books to make a decent wage and even then there's not a lot of cash involved.
On an entirely different note the way writers approach research can differ vastly: some write and research at the same time; others research for six months and then start writing the book; some use mostly secondary interviews for various publications; some use only first-hand interviews; some use a bit of both. It varies massively. The way novelists write also differs: some write an outline before they begin their novel while others start with a sentence and then see what happens. Also, all the writers I have interviewed write every day...and I mean every day, even if it's just a couple of hundred words.
JA: Do the writers have anything in common?
ND: Most of them are skint and rarely see daylight!
JA: What attracts you to a topic when you decide to write a book about it?
ND: Well, my first bio was on Judas Priest because there had only been one biography of them; it was published in the mid-eighties and even then it was only an illustrated book. When I decided to pitch it to publishers they'd just reformed and were making a new album so it made sense. They're a great band (and an underrated one) and although there are very few controversial periods in their career the whole story going way back to 1969 is an interesting one. In fact, I decided to concentrate on 1969-1973 when it was not the Judas Priest we know now; it's a period of their career that had never been fully written about. My next book is called Dawn Of The Metal Gods; it's the autobiography of ex-Priest and founder Al Atkins. We've got a foreword by Priest bassist Ian Hill and there are some amazing photographs and interesting anecdotes about the band that nobody has seen or knows. I just hope fans will give it a chance. It'll make a good companion to Defenders Of The Faith. My books on Robert Plant and forthcoming ones on Bon Jovi and Linkin Park were publisher's ideas. As I said, it's hard to pitch ideas to them because most of them want stories that have been told a million times before even though they ask for original ideas.
JA: Do you think Robert Plant should join the allegedly reforming Led Zeppelin?
Nd: No, I don't think so. At the time of the 02 gig I, like everybody else, was envious of those 22,000 people who got tickets and hoped the band would tour, but like Plant recently said they'll never recapture the brilliance of the early seventies so why bother. He told Absolute Radio recently: "Once you commit to comparisons to something that was fired by youth, it's hard to go back and meet it head on and do it justice... The reason that it stopped was because we were incomplete [without John Bonham], and we've been incomplete now for 28 years." When you look at it like that, he's right. They don't need the cash and they don't crave the credibility. Plant's career is doing amazingly well at the minute, anyway. He's just won five Grammy's.
JA: Do you think posting the interviews you've done with rock writers is a sufficient portal for this material or would you like to collect the interviews into a book at one stage?
ND: It's a little project of mine that I hope will be of help to budding writers and it also clears up some things I wanted answered. It's also made me some valuable contacts and I love reading about the rock scribes of the seventies and eighties: people like Lonn Friend, Steven Rosen (in the US) and Chris Charlesworth and Chris Welch (in the UK) have some great tales. There are also interviews with Joel McIver, Gavin Baddeley, Martin Popoff and Ben Myers et al. It seems to be getting quite popular; the feedback has been good. Of course, there's still a bunch of writers I'd like to interview: Charles Shaar Murray, Mick Wall, Johnny Rogan, Chris Salewicz, David Fricke, Neil Strauss and others. Because there are quite a few interviews online now at some point in the next few weeks my webmaster is going to alphabetise them so as an archive it'll be much neater. We've yet to add Mick Middles, Jeb Wright and I'm hoping to also add Tony Fletcher and Keith Zimmerman soon. Answering your question directly, I'd love to collect them into a book but I may have to self-publish it. I'm a big fan of Rock's Backpages and there is a book of rock criticism culled from past publications called The Sounds And The Fury: 40 Years Of Classic Rock Criticism. A book of interviews with the people behind the rock criticism would make an interesting companion.
JA: What books are you working on right now, what are the plans for publishing this material, and how do you go about gathering in material for a book?
ND: I've just finished writing an encyclopaedia of Bon Jovi which as I said before was the publisher's idea. I actually really like Bon Jovi's first four albums and am not shy to say I love eighties melodic rock. It's basically an A-Z book but with lots of original interviews. I'm also working on a rough guide type book on Linkin Park who despite being slagged off by most music magazines are actually a very good band. Don't forget: bands like Sabbath and Zeppelin were loathed by critics back in the day. When I have the time I'm also scribbling some words in a rock novel I'm writing.
JA: Is heavy metal finished or is it just beginning?
ND: Neither. It's lingering somewhere in the middle. I'm not sure where heavy metal stands at the moment because most bands seem to be lumped in what is commonly referred to as Classic Rock which is a very broad spectrum of music encompassing AOR, melodic rock, glam rock, old school metal and sleaze rock. I never really bother with genre debates.
There is a whole world of metal outside of what is sold at HMV and on sites like Play; labels like SPV and Demolition are doing a really great job of keeping metal alive by signing bands that the major labels wouldn't even look at. In the metal/rock world a lot of fans tend to follow labels like the aforementioned and Frontiers, AORHeaven, AFM, Spinefarm and Escape, etc. The problem is fans have to buy them online because shops like HMV for some reason charge imported prices of #15.99 and nobody in their right mind would pay that for an album. And if you want to expand the issue even further you could say that such high prices is part of the reason why music shops are failing and the Internet is winning. I'd like to go into HMV and pay what I think is a reasonable price for an album, say 8.99 or 9.99. Instead I have to buy the latest Bob Catley album from a website for that price because HMV are charging way over a tenner. Don't even get me started on Downloading. It's bollocks basically.
JA: Does writing your books keep you pinned to a computer or does it involve subsidised trips to exotic locales to interview subjects and their colleagues?
ND: The former. Because I have so many writing commitments I can't really afford the time to travel besides I've never actually been asked. Labels still run listening sessions and pay for writers to travel and I know the bigger labels pay for writers on the bigger magazines to travel abroad but it doesn't happen as much as it used to. Again, check out interviews with Chris Charlesworth and Chris Welch; that kind of friendship with big bands doesn't happen so much these days because the PR people are in control. Some PR people are great and some, well, they can be a nightmare.
Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.