First of all, it's quite different to include a fellow journalist and writer in Lords of Metal compared to all the bands we usually do an interview with. Yet, I feel it's quite interesting. First of all could you introduce yourself a bit to our readers?
Sure. I'm a writer and live near London. I've written fourteen books on rock and metal and write for several music and film magazines – Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Total Guitar, Rolling Stone and so on. I also compile albums for record companies and appear on radio and TV.
In last month's issue I have reviewed your book on Slayer. It's a biography but it's not an authorized one. You did try to get it authorized though, so what happened there?
Nothing dramatic. I asked Slayer's manager if they'd be interested in working with me on it and he asked me to send some copies of my Metallica book so they could see what kind of writing I did. I did so and then we talked again a few times. The band were interested, according to Sales, but no decision was made for months and I was beginning to run out of time, so I said thanks and withdrew my offer. It was all very amicable and I wish them the best.
In the book you have chapters in which you explain what happened to the band in that period, followed by a chapter about the release Slayer did in the particular period. I noticed you really dissect the albums and you aren't afraid to criticize certain parts, be it a song or the production, of that album. I think that shows you're not afraid to give your opinion. If Slayer would have authorized the book, do you think the outcome would have been different?
Yes, definitely. In an authorised book the subject tells the story, not the co-writer, so my opinions wouldn't have been needed.
I can imagine it takes a lot of time to get all the information needed. You have to dig into old publications; you have done numerous interviews with people involved and so on. Could you describe what it is like to write a book like this and how much time you need to complete it?
A book of this size (100,000 words) is a reasonably large project and I always want to deliver as much value as possible to the reader, so it does take a lot of time. However, I already had a lot of background knowledge of the band and their career before I began the book, so I didn't need to do much research. Interviewing everyone for the book took the most time. I'd say I spent a year working part-time on it. I did a lot of other things at the same time, though.
You've done quite a few books now. Is there a big market for books like yours? Do you sell a lot and can you make a living out of writing books?
There is a constant demand for good music books, as there is for books on all subjects. I'm fortunate enough to write for large publishers with major distribution, so my books tend to sell well.
You also write and have written for a number of magazines. So do you see yourself primarily as a journalist? Is it easy to combine your work as a journalist writing for magazines and writing a book at the same time?
I'm 50% an author and 50% a journalist. Combining the two is pretty easy, it's just difficult to fit all the work into the available time! I have young kids and tons of other commitments, but I have no complaints whatsoever – this is the best job in the world.
Another book by you that was recently published and that we have reviewed is 'The 100 greatest metal guitarists'. In that book as well as the book on Slayer you show that you have quite some knowledge about playing guitar. Are you a musician yourself? Where did you gain all the knowledge?
I'm primarily a bass player but I play guitar too. I acquired my technical knowledge over a decade of journalism in the music field. That book was a lot of fun, and perhaps the most controversial one that I've written so far.
Your books are published by various publishers. How does that work? Are you signed to publisher? Can you explain this?
Every book has a different contract, whether with a new publisher or one with whom I've worked before. I'm a free agent and can work for anyone I like. I have an agent who deals with the details of each contract.
Besides books about rock and metal (artists) you have also done a book on Ice Cube and Erykah Badu. I guess that might seem quite strange to 'us metalheads'. Is that the journalist in you who wants to write a book or do you genuinely enjoy their music?
I'm a fan of those artists, just as I'm a fan of every musician or band that I write about. My friends are always laughing at me for liking both Erykah Badu and Cannibal Corpse. I realise that it's slightly weird, but it's all music.
The aforementioned book 'The 100 greatest metal guitarists' and the book 'Extreme Metal II' that we have reviewed are mainly your choices concerning the best guitarists and extreme metal acts. I guess that's quite a task to make such choices? I mean I can imagine a lot of people disagree with you on certain choices. Did you get a lot of feedback on those books and is it hard to choose between so many bands and guitarists in this case?
Yes, it's difficult to make the right choices and people often get upset, but that's half the fun. The guestbook at my website is full of comments from people who love or hate my books, fortunately more of the former than the latter.
There are still some books by your hand that I have to read, like the book on Black Sabbath and the book on Metallica. From your back catalogue what book(s) are you most proud of and what book sold the most copies?
I'm proud of them all but the Metallica book has been the most successful: it's sold about 40,000 copies in nine languages in the five years since it came out, which is a respectable number.
When you start with a book, do you have a certain way you write the book? For instance the way you did the Slayer book with a chapter about a certain period followed by the album they did in that period?
That was the first time I'd taken that route and, although it worked out well, I don't think I'll do it every time. Some bands are less about the music than the personalities, others the opposite, so I change my approach as necessary each time.
Do you also read books by others about rock and metal? If so, what books do you see as 'must read' books and why?
I really enjoyed Patrick Humphries' biog of Nick Drake, David Cosby's autobiography, Motley Crue's 'The Dirt' and Bill Milkowski's book on Jaco Pastorius. Whether it's books or magazines, I particularly enjoy the writing of Dave Ling, Henry Yates, John Doran, Malcolm Dome, Geoff Barton, Martin Popoff, Sylvie Simmons and many others.
Recently a book about Tool by you was published and soon a book about Cliff Burton will be published. What can you tell about those books? Why do we have to buy them?
They're both out now and I'm very proud of them. The Tool one worked out well, I think, because I went deeply into the philosophical and occult elements of their music. The Cliff book is the best book I've done – I really tried hard to get under his skin and do him and his friends the service they deserve.
All right Joel, this is it from my side. Anything you might want to add that is interesting to our readers?
That's about it except keep up the good work and thanks for having me on your site!