INTERVIEW: Neil Daniels

I’m a music journalism geek. Aside from dudes like Steve Vai and Jimmy Page my heroes are dudes like Michael Molenda, James Rotondi, Charles Schaar Murray, Joe Gore, Joe Bosso, Alan Paul, Brad Tolinski, Jas Obrecht, Lester Bangs… the list goes on and on. And it seems I’m not the only one to geek out about such matters. Neil Daniels has written a whole book about what it means to be a metal writer, interviewing dozens of writers from across the metal-journalism spectrum (including Joe Matera who has written a few guest posts for I Heart Guitar here and here).

How and where did you get your start writing about music?

Well, I first started writing about music after I left Uni back in 2003. I started writing for websites like musicOMH and other lesser known sites and then I moved onto fanzines like Fireworks and Powerplay. I’ve contributed to Record Collector, Big Cheese and Rock Sound over here in the UK. I write mostly for Fireworks and Powerplay though. They’re great to write for and very lenient with the word count. It’s becoming a joke now in some magazines. I mean, how can you possibly say what you think about an album in 100 words? There’s hardly much point in listening to the whole album. It’s the same with music books. I read 100 word reviews of my books and wonder if the reviewers have actually read it or just skimmed through and looked at the pictures!

I then had an idea for a book which became ‘Defenders Of The Faith: The Story Of Judas Priest’ and from there the books have rolled on, thankfully. The Priest one was fortuitous timing because of the reunion and the new album ‘Angel Of Retribution.’ Since then of course there have been more books on them (some very good ones!) as well as my second book on the band ‘Dawn Of The Metal Gods,’ written with ex-singer Al Atkins. It is his life story. I really don’t think there is need for an official book. The time has passed. They’ll have to wait a few more years.

Who are your favourite music journalists?

That’s a good question and one that ties in with the publication of my new book ‘All Pens Blazing: A Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook.’ It’s my first print on demand book – which seems to be the way to go for music/non-fic writers at the moment because of the recession – and is available from Amazon and as well as other online book stores. OK, so now the book plugging is out of the way (ha!) I’ll directly answer your question: I like the ex-Kerrang scribes like Derek Oliver, Paul Suter and Dave Reynolds. I’m not old enough to have read them back in the eighties but have discovered their writings through back issues. They were/are very, very passionate about music and have encyclopaedic knowledges of rock and metal. That kind of enthusiasm comes across better than a few well written sentences, if you know what I mean. Some writers try to be too clever and are more interested in themselves than the music, but with those guys you could tell it was the music that matters. They’re interviewed in ‘All Pens Blazing’ along with fellow ex-Kerrang scribes Neil Jeffries, Dante Bonutto, Dave Dickson, Malcolm Dome and Howard Johnson. There are 65 writers in total. Roll on volume 2!

I also like Martin Popoff – as every other metal writer does – because he is also very passionate and knowledgable and, with Martin, he intellectualises a style of music (classic rock/metal) that has been derided for years and that, I think, is very admirable. There should be more writers like him.

Have you had any mentors who showed you the ropes?

When I first started (even now) Joel McIver has been very helpful. He’s given me some advice and given me email addys of some publishers and told me what to do and not to do in a world where there are lots of people trying to screw you over. He is one of the good guys. He is, of course, very successful now and rightly so. Joel is a very good writer and is also passionate and committed. I’ve also learned about music writing and publishing from reading interviews with other writers online or in magazines which is the whole reason behind ‘All Pens Blazing.’ This book will tell you what you need to know!

Any eye-opening moments (that are printable!) with your interview subjects? Surprising revelations?

Surprisingly not. The heady days of getting drunk and flying first class with rocks stars is (mostly) long gone. Besides, if I did all that I wouldn’t have written six books in just under four years! I’m quite shy and reserved and prefer to stay here and write and speak to rock stars on the phone. Sounds kinda sad, but that’s what works for me. I suppose getting a hand written letter from ex-priest drummer Dave Holland – who is now in prison – is quite extraordinary. It’s in the book.

A lot of music journalists are musicians as well – do you play?

Nope. I did try back in High School but sucked badly. I didn’t have the drive to actually succeed. Looking back, I really should have stuck to it but truth be told I’d rather be a piano player and songwriter like Billy Joel than a rock star in a band. There’s more freedom and in the end, reverence. (Money too!) But no, I’ll stick to the writing. It seems to be working out OK at the moment.

I imagine you must have a pretty extensive archive, both of your own work and others for research?

It’s getting bigger, that’s for sure. It’s certainly not as big as some other writers but then I have only been doing this since 2003. The past year has been pretty insane in terms of music books and CDs, especially since I set up the website I try to review as much a possible but it really isn’t totally possible because there is just too much out there. I’ve asked this question to a lot of the writers interviewed in ‘All Pens Blazing’ and their collections sound like heaven for rock fans. I’m not really a collector, mostly a fan, but what I have is getting bigger week by week. I don’t throw anything away.

I not only like music but films and have a massive DVD collection. I also love comics and sci-fi/fantasy/horror and have loads of books all over my place. I have a very understanding and generous partner and I tell her it’s all for research but we both know it really isn’t. I’m obsessive about keeping everything in order because when you have so much stuff you need to know where everything is hence A-Z order, generic order, etc…

If you could beam back to any time in music history and cover a particular band’s early days, who would it be and why?

I guess I would have liked to have been born in the late fifties which would make me a teenager in the early seventies and an adult in the eighties. I would have loved to have seen the early metal bands and experienced all the great hair metal bands of the eighties. Never mind.

You’re working on a book about Linkin Park, and even though they’ve been around for quite a while now, your other books tend to be about classic rock/metal acts. Why Linkin Park, and are there other similarly recent acts on your horizon?

Yeah, I guessed some people would pick up on that. My main area of interest is the older bands, more classic rock/early heavy metal orientated bands, but I’m not prejudiced and love a lot of new bands. Linkin Park have been around for over a decade and there’s not a book on them so the publisher approached me and I agreed. I don’t like the ‘Reanimation’ album and hate the Jay-Z stuff but love their three studio albums and they’re great live. I’d like to move between books on bands that have had massive success like LP and Bon Jovi to artists like Priest that have had lots of success but also, the books have an historical meaning however small. Same with ‘All Pens Blazing.’ I think it’s a really cool reference book.

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