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Interview: Joel McIver (Record Collector magazine)


What are you currently up to?

I'm currently doing radio and magazine press for my fourteenth book, To Live Is To Die: The Life And Death Of Metallica's Cliff Burton, which features a foreword by Kirk Hammett. I'm also preparing to present a TV series based on an earlier book of mine called The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists.

There's an anthology of fiction coming out shortly called Hyperkinetic, which includes a short story by me, and I'm planning books 15 and 16 for publication next year. I'm also working on an ongoing basis with the great Glenn Hughes on his autobiography, which will be out next year. In between all that I contribute to several music and film magazines every month, so it's all go round here. Blogs are for people with too much time on their hands, but I do a monthly update at

How do you decide what to write a book about? Do you tout ideas to publishers or are you approached by publishers with their ideas for a musician/band to write a book about?

It works in various ways. Sometimes I suggest a book idea to a publisher, and other times they approach me. Every now and then a musician asks me to co-write his or her autobiography, or a management company asks me on their behalf. Alternatively my agent will come to me with a book idea. It varies every time, which is one of the interesting things about being a writer. Not all ideas are good ones, by the way - I've turned down some eye-wateringly poor suggestions in my time, believe me.

Which book has been the most successful for you in terms of reviews and sales?

I wrote a book in 2004 called Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica which is up to about 40,000 copies sold in nine languages now. It's about to be republished in its third edition. Although it's sold well - there are quite a few well-known novelists who don't sell 40,000 copies - that doesn't mean it's been universally loved: I was pretty merciless with my opinions of Metallica's 1990s albums and upset a lot of fans. It had great reviews, though, and I've had more emails from happy readers than angry ones. The angry ones are funnier though.

You have interviewed many rock musicians. Who have been the most entertaining/interesting and who was a complete nightmare?

Of the 500 or so interviews I've done, the majority have been with musicians and most of them have been really cool. Some of them are truly great people - Jack Bruce, Lemmy, Bob Geldof, Michael Nyman, John Lydon, Tony Iommi, Iron Maiden, Faith No More, Queens Of The Stone Age, Ice-T.

The funniest man I've ever met is probably Les Claypool. The only negative experience I've had with an interviewee was with Jon Bon Jovi, who was basically not interested.

I've also interviewed a few film and TV people - Bobby Farrelly, John Simm, Richard Hammond, Clive James and Guy Ritchie among them. I also had a chat with Sir Patrick Moore recently, which you can read here He is one of a kind and I was humbled to meet him, even if he does have some questionable views on immigration.

If you had the chance who else would you like to interview?

I'm down to a short list of heroes that I'd like to meet, having done most of them over the years, but ideally Prince would invite me to Paisley Park for a jam and then I'd go out on the piss with Tom Waits.

How do you go about researching for a book? Does the internet make researching a lot easier?

The only way to deliver value to the kind person who has shelled out 20 quid or 30 dollars for your book is to give them information that they won't get anywhere else, so interviewing the right people is paramount. So, for example, I got Cliff Burton's bass teacher and his last girlfriend to talk about Cliff for the first time on the record.

The internet makes communication easier and I've tracked down a lot of useful people through Myspace and Facebook, but - contrary to received wisdom - writers can't just lift chunks of text off the web to use in their books, because so much of it is inaccurate.

Do you still pen CD reviews and is it harder to write these given the stricter word counts you have from magazines for reviews.

Yes, I do a few each month, but strictly for fun because they don't really pay much money. I review albums, books and DVDs for Record Collector, Metal Hammer and Rhythm and I review films for DVD & Blu-ray Review. The word counts help you stay disciplined and anyway, I don't do enough reviews for it to be a pain.

Heard any good music lately...

Not really any good new music, but lots of great old stuff, which I think is a function of being nearly 40. I plan to spend the rest of my life exploring the back catalogues of Kyuss, Deep Purple, Miles Davis, Weather Report, Nick Drake and Bach.

What other rock music books and books in general would you recommend for people to read and why...

There are loads of good music books and lots of terrible ones as well. Unfortunately you can't tell which is which until you've read them, but I suggest that you're on safe ground with Patrick Humphries' biog of Nick Drake, Ronnie Wood's autobiography, Bill Milkowski's book about Jaco Pastorius, Thomas 'Celtic Frost' Fischer's book Are You Morbid? and anything, whether book, mag or web, written by Henry Yates, John Doran, Dave Ling, Steven Rosen, Jason Draper and a few other esteemed writers.

For general books, just read Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant series (the first six books only; the last three-book cycle is shaping up to be pretty tedious) every five years, and dip into Tolkien, Lovecraft, Arthur C Clarke and Richard Dawkins and you'll have the sum of human wisdom at your fingertips. And don't read The Satanic Bible, I read it hoping to become some kind of evil doomlord from the ninth circle of hell and was disappointed.

If you could have a fantasy band line-up who would be in it and why?

Ronnie James Dio on vocals, Al Di Meola on lead guitar, James Hetfield AND Dave Mustaine both playing rhythm guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass and Dave Lombardo on drums. Basically, the incongruous mix of jazz fusion and thrash metal that I always go on about.

Anything else to add...

Yes. The world is going to hell in a handcart, but don't worry about it because compared to the ultimate fate of the universe, nothing matters. And if you bought one of my books, I am thoroughly grateful.

Interview © 2009 Jason Ritchie


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