Tuesday, 3 May 2011

INTERVIEW - Neil Daniels - Author of "Don't Stop Believing - The Untold Story of Journey"

First, tell us a bit about your background and how you started writing.

I started writing for websites before I moved onto magazines such as Fireworks and Powerplay. I know (some) websites are very popular and get more hits than magazines have readers but there is something about a magazine that is far more appealing – the artwork for one. I pitched an idea to Omnibus Press for a biography of Judas Priest when they had just reunited so Omnibus were keen. It got commissioned and from there the books have thankfully rolled on (though it has not been easy.)

Usually people are devoted to one band, which they know everything about. I’m impressed with the variety of bands you have written biographies about, from Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin to Judas Priest to Linkin Park to Bon Jovi and now Journey. Not bands you often find lumped together. Are you a devoted fan of these bands or why these particular bands?

I think it’s a misconception that metal fans only listen to metal. I like a variety of music but with my books I think in some way they all come under the broad umbrella of rock. I mean, they’re all guitar based bands in some way, even Linkin Park. And of course, I am a fan of all the artists I’ve written about; I’d never write a book about a band or a singer I don’t like. I’m not keen on some of Linkin Park’s work but I still love Hybrid Theory and thought Minutes After Midnight was much better than some made out. I think Bon Jovi’s best work is still their first four albums. They try too hard these days to be taken seriously. Robert Plant still startles despite his pretensions. Judas Priest’s last album, I didn’t like at all but I thought Angel Of Retribution was solid. I’m still waiting to hear the new Journey album but I’ve heard very, very good things about it. Revelation was awesome! There are artists I’d love to write about but I don’t think publishers would commission books. At the end of the day it’s all down to what will sell and here in the UK HMV (who owns Waterstones) will not stock books on bands that they think people will not buy. Publishers are at the mercy of the booksellers.

What do you feel is the difference (advantage/disadvantage) between writing an authorized and an unauthorized biography?

I think the biggest difference is that an official book (if it is done badly) will be nothing but a sanitised and watered down version of events. Of course Motley Crue did a great job with The Dirt and have never shied away from the truth but most bands would not be that honest. I doubt Judas Priest would talk much about Dave Holland let alone include a letter written by him from his prison cell (which my book included!) I don’t think Journey (Schon/Cain) would be so forthcoming about their tumultuous relationship with Steve Perry. Unofficial books – and I hate that term – would be objective and as long as they’re done correctly they’d fully explore an artists’ history. It’s only the narrow-minded zealots that see official books as being the real deal as it were.

How do you go about collecting material for your books?

I have a huge collection of rock and metal magazines stored in about 10 boxes; I have quite an extensive collection of music biographies (and yes, they’re not all on rock and metal – some pop too, and blues and even soul) and reference books. I interview people, of course. And the internet is obviously a great reference tool. It all depends on the artist in truth. For the Journey bio it was a balanced mixed of all the above.

What is your writing process like?

It depends on my deadline. With Journey I had a year so I spent the first few months interviewing, compiling research, creating a timeline of events within the band’s history and organising all the facts. I then wrote the barebones of the story and built my research within that. Once the first draft is done I have a break for a week or so and then go back and redraft. That’s pretty much the way I work with all my band books. If I have less than a year – which is very generous – I’ll work in the same way but on a tighter schedule. I have a day job too so it’s not always easy.

How do you approach the artists for interviews? Do you tell them it’s for a biography or do you use interviews you have conducted for other magazines etc?

Both! With Journey they were never going to cooperate with a book such as mine so I used my past interviews and managed to secure new interviews with former manager and Journey founder Herbie Herbert – a fantastically entertaining and forthcoming man – and Journey’s first frontman Robert Fleischman amongst others. It’s often the case that bands won’t cooperate with writers unless the book is a fully authorised one where they’d obviously get paid by the publisher themselves. There’d be a lot of politics involved too, which I don’t have the time for. Most writers use a balanced mix of original interviews and secondary/pre-existing ones from other sources.

Being a writer myself, I always record my interviews digitally, both for concentration issues and also for memory (sometimes the way something is said says more than what it looks like in a scribbled note). How do you record your interviews?

I have an old fashioned Dictaphone and I keep saying I’ll progress into digital but have yet to make that move. I’ve got all my interviews on tape and catalogued in a box. Everything I have is catalogued – interviews, magazines I’ve written for, my own books, etc. I’m a stickler for organisation.

Your books “All Pens Blazing” are really nice reads. It’s not that often we actually get to meet the writers behind the interviews/reviews. How did you come up with the idea for these books?

I had started a section on my website www.neildaniels.com simply called Interviews With Writers. I interviewed not only music writers but authors too, including Kim Newman. (You can view them all at this link: http://neildaniels.com/Interviews/Interviews.html). I had been emailing with Martin Popoff and asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to compile some of those music writers interviews into a book with new and exclusive ones that had not been published on my site. He thought it was a great idea. I had wanted to self-publish a book too because I really admire his own work. The first APB book came out via a UK print on demand company called Authors Online. The quality (dark cover and small text) wasn’t that great because I didn’t know what I was doing but with the second edition it came out much better so I went back to the first volume (at my own cost) and had it redesigned and reprinted. Both books now make a matching pair. I knew there were a lot of people out there interested in reading interviews with ex Kerrang! scribes like Paul Suter, Hoard Johnson and Derek Oliver so it was a no brainer, really.

Were there any facts or information that surprised you?

To be honest, not really. I know there’s a lot of politics behind the scenes and there’s a lot of rivalry between magazines and writers. I was more interested in knowing about those ex Kerrang! writers from the eighties and their experiences interviewing bands. Most of the writers were great but a small few are quite bitter and ego driven. I’m not the kind of guy to name names but some of them need to get of their high horse. It’s not like their Hunter S Thompson or anything. We just write about music, that’s all. For me it is a hobby and a pleasure but a lot of writers do it to pay the bills.

Being a published writer myself I know the amount of work behind it. Would you consider writing a book about some band or musical style you’re not interested in?

There is far too much work that goes into writing a book so I’d only ever write a book on an artist I am not a fan of. I could never write a book on Bono because I can’t stand the guy. I don’t own a U2 album. But at the same time I know when I’m out of my depth so I’d never write a book on, say, the Rolling Stones. I’ve made a little niche for myself and I’ll stick with that.

Have you had any great backlashes which made you almost give up? (I personally recently erased an entire chapter and didn’t have a back-up).

Fortunately, no. And fingers crossed it stays that way. I had some issues over the Judas Priest book but they were only minor but other than that I have been quite lucky I guess. Like I said before, it all depends on the artist.

If you were told something very interesting by an artist in confidence and you were to write a book about this artist. Would you use it even if they wouldn’t want you to?

No, I’m not that kind of writer. Most would but if it is off the record and/or in confidence then it needs to stay that way. That’s the way I see it.

Are there any book plans you have given up on? If so, why?

I have lots of ideas and have spent a lot of time on book proposals and have only given up when I have not been able to find a publisher. Before I begin serious work on a book I always have a contract signed and seal with a publisher otherwise you’re just wasting time. I’d like to know that all my hard work will pay off.

What band/artists would be your dream biography to write?

Well, I have already had two of those books published with my Judas Priest and Journey biography. There are quite a few artists I’d love to write books on so I don’t really want to give my ideas away. I have tried a few times with one book on a certain American artist but I didn’t have any takers so it never moved beyond the proposal stage. I’ll try again at some point and one day it will get published.

What’s your next project?

Well, my Journey biography (Don’t Stop Believin’ – The Untold Story Of Journey) is published by Omnibus Press on 3rd May. After that I have a CD sized book out in the summer on Judas Priest’s British Steel album. That one will be published by Wymer Publishing. Next spring I have a hardback coffee table book out on Iron Maiden by Quayside Publishing in the States. There’ll also be some more print on demand collections too at some point. I’ll pass the 10 published books mark before the year is out.

How did you get a publisher for your Journey bio?

When Journey’s current singer Arnel Pineda was hired I mentioned it to some publishers but I didn’t formally pitch the book. But then Glee took over the world and suddenly Journey were really popular again. I hooked up with a literary agent in London by the name of Matthew Hamilton who - rather conveniently - is a massive Journey fan and he sent a formal submission to Omnibus Press. These things are very slow but Omnibus Press were really keen especially as there wasn’t a single biography of Journey available. Getting a book published on a band like Journey is a great triumph given publishers’ snobbery of AOR and melodic rock. Both myself and Matthew are really pleased with the book and the fact that we managed to get it commissioned in the first place. I have just received an advance copy and I think it looks great. I know Journey fans are real zealots so I am prepared for some (many?) negative comments but I think it gives a tight, objective and detailed account of the band’s entire history. The story really begins with Santana around 1969. To understand the foundations of Journey you have to know a little bit about Santana and Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon’s history with the band. Journey formed in 1973 and the story of Journey is told in chronological order right up to 2010.

Where can we order your books?

You can order them from Amazon through my site www.neildaniels.com or visit my Amazon author’s page at this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Neil-Daniels/e/B0034OPPEK/ref=sr_tc_2_rm?qid=1303201556&sr=1-2-ent.

You can buy my All Pens Blazing books through Amazon and www.authorsonline.co.uk.

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