by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist –
With his newest book Let It Rock: The Making of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet hitting the shelves just recently, Neil Daniels doesn’t have any intention of putting his pen down and resting on his laurels. Although busy working on his next projects, this accomplished British rock writer and music journalist – an author of books about Judas Priest, UFO, Iron Maiden, Pantera or Journey – has found enough time to share his thoughts on writing about rock music, the quality of online journalism, eBooks versus printed books … He also gives potential newbie rock writers some valuable down-to-earth advice on how to start and keep going.
Hardrock Haven: Let’s start with a very typical question – behind every rock writer, there is a rock fan, so when did it start for you? What did evoke your interest in music?
Neil Daniels: I was a music fan since listening to the likes of Meat Loaf, Queen and Bryan Adams growing up. As I got older my tastes in music got heavier with the likes of Ozzy, Sabbath, Motorhead and then I got interested in AOR and melodic rock but these days I’m listening to a lot of sixties British blues and American singer-songwriters. I also love soul and Motown. My collection spans so many different styles of rock and metal from said bands to AC/DC, Europe and Journey to Opeth, Dream Theater to Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and so many more.
Hardrock Haven: How did your adventure with writing about music begin? What was the actual breakthrough moment?
Neil Daniels: After Uni I started to write about rock. 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 would only ever been one Priest book and that was an official but very slim illustrated book by Steve Gett published in the early eighties. I thought about it and asked Joel McIver 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. A few months later I got a reply from Chris saying he was giving the idea the red 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 a long way since then. I know what I’m doing now!
Hardrock Haven: Due to the fact of books on bands and music being usually very complex and comprehensive kind of literature – how long does it approximately take you to write such a book?
Neil Daniels: Depends on the publisher’s brief. These days usually 6 months. If you’re very lucky you get 12 but publishers want books written fast and in shops as quickly as possible. In terms of my UFO book, I was asked by the publisher at Soundcheck Books if I was interested in a book on UFO. I jumped at the chance. It’s due in the next couple of months. It wasn’t an easy book to write as they have a very complicated history and you’re right, they are very underrated, I hope fans will enjoy the book. It covers their entire history and includes a foreword by US broadcaster Eddie Trunk who is a major UFO fan. It depends of the publisher and the current market for whatever the title is.
Hardrock Haven: When starting to write a book, how does your typical research process look?
Neil Daniels: I usually started by creating a timeline of events and then compile all the research. Write the book as a sort of loose book plan and build the research into it and watch it go from maybe 500 words to 80,000 words. I’m currently working on a book on the first eight years of a major heavy metal band and the amount of detail has been overwhelming to be honest. Very confusing indeed but I’m pretty confident I’ve got it nailed.
Hardrock Haven: What is your general approach towards writing on the subject of music – do you focus more on the biographical facts, or on the analysis of the musical phenomena?
Neil Daniels: I try to do a bit of both. Some readers prefer to know about the music while others prefer the personal lives but both work in each other’s favour. It’s important to have a balance.
Hardrock Haven: Which of the books you penned or co-authored is your favorite and why? And do you think is there any book of yours which could be somewhat improved on, for whatever reason?
Neil Daniels: I’m really proud of the books I’ve done recently for Soundcheck, namely, UFO, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi and ZZ Top but I’m also proud of my Pantera book. There are things I’d change about every book. But I try to look forward to my next projects rather than dwelling on the past.
Hardrock Haven: One of the most interesting books you’ve authored is It’s My Life: A (Fictional) Rock’n’Roll Memoir, a story of the fictional rock musician Johnny Cannon as well as hair metal’s rise and fall. Where the idea for the book came from?
Neil Daniels: I wrote it a while back for a bit of fun and when I started to work on Createspace books I saw the perfect opportunity to release it. It looks pretty cool. I wrote it for a bit of fun. Here’s the premise:
This fictional rock memoir tells the story of Johnny Cannon, an Alice Cooper tribute singer who was once in a band called The Druids, one of the most exciting and distinctive bands of the hair metal era. They released two albums (The Flight Of The Druids and Kingdome Come) and toured the UK, Europe, America and Japan. Vividly recalled and explicitly written, this “mock rock memoir” is filled with hilarious anecdotes, candid diary entries and is also a handy historical document of a bygone era. Hair metal was big business in the eighties until grunge exploded and consequently it became universally derided and a “thing of the past.” Many bands lost their record deals, folded or suffered constant line-up changes and were reduced to playing in tiny clubs. Johnny Cannon was there and he can tell you everything.
Johnny Cannon tells the history of The Druids and the hair metal genre from the early eighties to 1991 when everything changed. It’s My Life (Stories Of Excess By A Former 80s Rock Star Turned Tribute Singer) is Britain’s answer to Motley Crue’s hugely successful autobiography The Dirt.
Hardrock Haven: You’re also an accomplished music journalist. Out of all the interviews you’ve done throughout the years, is there any you find special and why?
Neil Daniels: I loved speaking to Sammy Hagar, Ronnie James Dio, Joey Tempest and Biff Byford. Check out my book, Hard Rock Rebels. I think many musicians are very guarded now especially as managers and PR people have far more control so nothing has really surprised me per se. but I do enjoy interviewing a great deal. The times have changed; if you look back at, say, Melody Maker in the 1970s and Kerrang! in the following decade to what magazines are like now and how little freedom rock writers have you’ll see that there is a great difference. Rock writers twenty or so years ago toured the world with all the major bands but record companies don’t have the dough these days as CD sales are declining and with that so are magazine sales. When interviewing I think the main thing is to do your research and actually have an interest in who you’re interviewing, it’s really that simple. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve not had a bad interview. Every musician I’ve spoken to has given good copy … except by e-mail. They’re a pain. I’ve been lucky but I don’t interview someone I’ve got no interest in. Sure, you get bad days and after a day at work you don’t really wanna spend hours researching and interviewing but it can be a lot of fun. Most of mine are done by phone. I don’t live the jet setting rock hack lifestyle that some seem to think and that few actually do these days.
Hardrock Haven: Is there any artist you never interviewed and you wish you could (or plan to do so)?
Neil daniels: There are lots I’d love to interview – from the top of my head: Tony Iommi, Pete Way, John Miles, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Lemmy, Meat Loaf and Roger Taylor. Too many to name to be honest.
Hardrock Haven: Do you remember the first album you reviewed and the first artist you interviewed? Any impressions in particular?
Neil Daniels: I remember it was Motorhead’s Inferno but it was a long time ago. My first interview was with Glenn Tipton. He was cool. Since then I’ve written so much. Most of my focus is on books these days rather than magazines and websites. Much of the reviews, interviews and articles can be found in my collections such as AOR Chronicles and Rock Bites.
Hardrock Haven: Do you think a shift in music journalism from the traditional printed magazines and fanzines to webzines and the Internet-related media had a positive, or a negative impact on its quality?
Neil Daniels: In terms of quality of writing, yes I think so. There are some great writers online and some bad writers in magazines but much of online writing seems to be rushed, poorly edited and inaccurate. But like I said, you also get some writing like that in magazines. I think these days, anyone who writes for Amazon seems to call themselves a writer. I always say I’m a fan who writes about music.
Hardrock Haven: Do you think theoretical knowledge and specific university education (e.g. in creative writing or journalism) is important for a rock writer, or a music journalist? Or is it only practice and passion that counts?
Neil Daniels: It’s not important in the slightest. Some of the best writers are so good because of their knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject but then again, there are a lot of poor writers around. A basic grasp of language is essential but I don’t think an educated background is.
Hardrock Haven: In recent years, many readers tend to favor eBooks over printed books. Which do you prefer as a reader and how do you think it influences the situation of writers and publishers?
Neil Daniels: I prefer printed paper – books, magazines, comics etc. It’s certainly harder to get book deals know than it was just a few years ago and sales have dropped for music biogs and advances have either stalled, decreased or been deleted in favor of royalty deals. Createspace gives writers full control but then the hard work is promoting. Most but not all of my books are out as eBooks now. The book market is dire in the U.K. as eBook sales have risen hopefully publishers will overcome it. I think there’s still a long life for books. Maybe less so magazines, but certainly book.
Hardrock Haven: For a writer, regardless of a subject, the Internet can be both a blessing and a curse – for example, the phenomenon of piracy. Do you think the individuals downloading books (as well as music, movies etc.) should be brought to justice?
Neil Daniels: This is a minefield of a subject. It’s too late now to change anything – I think labels and publishers were too slow to react to the changing market and shot themselves in the foot. The big fight now is with Amazon.
Hardrock Haven: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers or music journalists?
Neil Daniels: Don’t give up your day job. This gig doesn’t pay. Play friendly, keep all your contacts and be diligent and dedicated. Always deliver on time.
Hardrock Haven: What are your next plans? According to your official website, there are at least a few projects in the pipeline…
Neil Daniels: I’ve just had a book released on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. Next up is a follow up in my Casual Guide series. The first one was on Neal Schon. I can’t say which book yet. Keep checking www.neildanielsbooks.com.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for the interview! Anything you’d like to add in the end?
Neil Daniels: Thanks for the opportunity and I hope you like my books.