Instead of throwing a set of questions to some longhaired, self-centered rockstar wannabe, this time we chose a different route. Neil Daniels is an author who has written several rock biographies and rock-related books, so we were pretty confident that his interview would be something worth reading too. To make sure, we were just as nasty to him as we've been to the rock'n roll hoodlums.
What's going on in the world of Neil Daniels right now?
Well, I’ve literally just signed a contract for my next biography. Can’t say what it is yet but I can say it’s the first – well, at the minute it’s the first – book on a major American rock band. This is the first book deal I’ve had with the help of an agent. We’re also working on another idea together so it’s all go. Also, I’ve just finished All Pens Blazing volume II which is now available to buy from Amazon and AuthorsOnline. I’m going back to the first volume and having it redesigned and formatted so both pairs making a matching set. Volume III is also in the works. I really like the Ye Olde Metal library of books Martin Popoff has published and would like to do something similar with my All Pens Blazing concept. Both volumes feature over sixty interviews with some of the world’s most famous and respected rock and heavy metal writers. It’s really interesting stuff especially from the likes of Derek Oliver, Mick Wall, Dave Reynolds, Dave Ling, Geoff Barton and Jerry Ewing.
I knew I wanted to sink my teeth into a book at some point; I’d always had the idea at the back of my mind but it was just a matter of, who do I write about? Around the time I was thinking of writing a book, Judas Priest had announced their reunion tour as part of the Ozzfest bill and some European dates had also been scheduled; they had also announced plans for a new album and a world tour. I knew there’d only ever been one Priest book and that was an official but very slim illustrated book by Steve Gett published in the early eighties which has slipped into obscurity. I thought about it and asked Joel McIver (top bloke!) for advice; he told me to write a detailed proposal and shop the idea around to various publishers. I did that before he gave me an email address for Chris Charlesworth at Omnibus Press, the world’s biggest music book publisher, literally. A few months later I got a reply from Chris saying he was giving the idea the green light. It was amazing luck, really. The timing was perfect. I went down to London to have a meeting with Chris and a couple of weeks later I got the contract. I wasn’t sure if I could do it; whether I was kidding myself or not, and I had a real lack of confidence when the contract arrived. If it wasn’t for one person – and she knows who she is – I would probably have bailed out. I have to thank her for everything, really. It took a year for me to write and research the book and there was a lot of negativity from the band’s management but when it was published it got a lot of good reviews. In terms of the actual writing of the book, it was a real learning curve and I’ve come along way since then. I know what I’m doing now! Back when I first started I had written bits for Record Collector, Powerplay, Fireworks and several websites but writing a 90,000 word book is a hell of a lot different from writing a 100 word review. I learned that from writing the Priest book which was very hard indeed. Of course, you can self-publish your first book – as Martin Popoff did – and work that way up before you get a deal with a mainstream or independent publisher; but they will ALWAYS ask ‘what have you written?’ It’s important to have some sort of foundation before you write a book.
Just how lucrative is it to write books about bands, can you make a living out of it?
At one point I thought it might happen but not now. Advances haven’t gone up, magazine work is drying up and book sales are sluggish because people aren’t buying them. I’ll stick with a day job and write as a side project, and what money I do make covers the bills etc. I’ve never had much paid work from magazines anyway – I wrote some bits for two popular rock magazines but the money was terrible. It just wasn’t worth the hassle or really, the time. You write because you want to write and enjoy the music. I obviously still write for Fireworks and Powerplay because I love it and its fun, but I’ll stick with my books rather than venture out into other magazines (unless I’m asked!) I’ve made some money from books but not enough to live off. You’d have to have two major book deals a year and some paid magazine work to justify making a living from it but then I wouldn’t be able to work full time and would struggle so it’s catch 22 for me. I know only a handful of writers who can do that and they might have help from their spouse. I’ve earned very little in the way of royalties, actually.
I suppose you could say I’m a failed musician. I played guitar badly when I was a teenager and took lessons but gave up – the discipline wasn’t there. I also tried playing the keyboard which I was better at than guitar but again, gave up. I don’t have the time now. I suppose what you have said is true to an extent.
All Pens Blazing…simply because it’s a pretty cool idea and as it’s print on demand I had full control though I had to pay for the books to be made and have yet to make my money book. I published them both simply because it’s a really cool idea and a lot of the writers have more interesting and entertaining stories than the artists’ themselves. I’ve had some really great feedback on the series and can’t wait to have the first volume reprinted next month so both books will be a matching pair. I’m proud of everything I’ve done though, even the weaker stuff. Everything has flaws but you improve with each one. A few said my Linkin Park book is my best written book to date.
Out of all the books you've written, which one is your least favourite and why?
Well, like I said, I’m proud of everything. I suppose the book that got the most lukewarm reviews was my second book, the Robert Plant bio. I didn’t have a lot of time to write it and was still a newcomer to this writing lark. For the German version we ironed out some of the flaws and mistakes, and if I could read German I’d tell you it’s much better than the English version though some did claim it makes for a pretty good chronology of his career for the newcomer or casual fan. It’s not easy writing a book though. Not easy at all.
Albums: Bat Out Of Hell – Meat Loaf, Back In Black – AC/DC, Screaming For Vengeance – Judas Priest
Books: Kethani – Eric Brown, The City And The Stars – Arthur C Clarke, The Concrete Blonde – Michael Connelly
The angry songs that Billy Joel was really good at writing when he was young and before he married that supermodel. I know he’s probably not somebody that would be namechecked on Rock United but he’s an amazing songwriter. Just check out an album like The Stranger. Really great stuff especially if you are in your twenties and pissed off with life or you’re going through some personal stuff.
Biff Byford. Nah, just kidding of course. I’d say Liv Kristine.
I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had any bad interviewing moments though I did once call Geoff Tate Mike because I was thinking about asking him a question on Mike Stone. I don’t think he heard me though – thanks to the dodgy Trans-Atlantic phone connection.
What is it with you and Al Atkins, he seems to pop up in every book you release, one way or another?
Well, that’s not quite true though I know one of your reviewers made some sarcastic comment about that. He only featured in my first book, the Priest bio, for obvious reasons. He was also mentioned in my Robert Plant book because both of them are of similar age and from the Midlands and Al saw the Band Of Joy perform back in the late sixties; and I obviously co-wrote his book Dawn Of The Metal Gods. Oh, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries as well and that’s because it features some of the interviews with bands, singers and rock writers I’ve done over the years. Again, it’s relevant. I think it’s fair to say him being in those books is certainly relevant. I’ve done eight books, four of which he has been mentioned in. I don’t think he has been mentioned in another book.
What/whom are your influences and heroes?
Too many to name but some would be: Alan Moore, Meat Loaf, Billy Joel, Arthur C Clarke, Warren Ellis, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Clive Barker, Kim Newman and Alfred Hitchcock. Most of them as you can see are writers and filmmakers.
Yes they do! The fact is most (good) writers have way better and entertaining stories than the artists themselves who are often inarticulate and quite dumb. Let’s be honest, most rock stars are just thick. These writers have loads of great stories especially those from the early years of Kerrang!. I’ve been getting loads of great feedback from these books and its obvious people want to read them. But then, there are a large proportion of rock fans who don’t really read either, but with the APB books they’re designed in a Q&A fashion so you can dip in and out of – great toilet reading in that sense.
I sometimes struggle to find new interesting, entertaining ways to say what I want to say while writing reviews etc. Have you noticed any re-occuring phrases in your writing which you just can't seem to get rid of?
Probably, and I do repeat myself quite a bit in reviews. Can’t think of anything off hand though I more than likely use a lot of clichés like ‘in a nutshell’ and overuse phrases like ‘sturdy riffs’ etc. It can’t be helped. I’m a hack after all.
interview by Kimmo Toivonen,
01 August 2010