AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR “MR. METAL” MARTIN POPOFF
Martin Popoff is a Canada born journalist,critic and author. He is mainly known for writing about the genre of heavy metal music. He recently added yet another book to his literary CV by releasing Rush-Album by Album which is a look back at the bands twenty studio albums through the minds and ears of twenty musicians, Rush experts and fellow journalists.
I opened our conversation by asking him how he personally found the description of him being the worlds expert on the heavy metal genre. While admitting that he found it quite flattering he modestly stated that he was sure that there were lots of experts and lots of people that have their areas of expertise. His publication tried for many years to keep up with all the shifting tides of different rock genres and styles. However as he admitted himself he felt that around the time period of 2000-2005 that he gave up trying to be an expert on every young band and every young genre that came along. He elaborated that he felt his level of expertise was good for the seventies and the eighties but that it starts to go downhill after a part of the nineties.
Seeking the catalyst to Martin’s passion for music, I asked him if he could actually recall his first introduction to music. He shared that it had been a weird/random sort of thing as he had been a member of a postal record service that had actually mailed releases to members. Releases from Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival initially later led to the discovery of Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Kiss. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Nazareth, so the non-metal thing didn’t last very long. Later on he was there for the start of punk rock in 1976/77 went to university where he had was introduced to other musical genres including prog rock. That was where the progression stopped and Martin declared that he didn’t share such musical appreciation for other genres such as Jazz, Country or Dance music. Martin then quickly got the vinyl collecting bug and he professed to still having many of his first purchases .He still has a pretty extensive vinyl collection even after reducing it by several thousand recently. He has now stopped his collecting habit and his current total is around 6,000 after attaining a high at one point of over twice that amount. The recent changes in the industry have caused Martin to view things in a different light. He confessed to having difficulty becoming used to the idea of ownership of music. The availability of music has caused him to re evaluate things and he now states “I really don’t need to carry all that stuff around.” However things that he had bought as a kid or obtained band signatures on, those items remain particularly close to him.
I was keen to hear how Martin made the move from being a fan of musical genres to actually writing about them and getting books published. He started late and essentially self-published his first book of record reviews in 1993. Straight after that he started in partnership a music publication “Brave words and Bloody Knuckles”. That was a print publication for fourteen years before it went online. He started by interviewing and also writing a lot of reviews in magazines. His first book was then reissued by a publisher and since then he has been producing a book or two each year. He has moved on to having now written about sixty books and his yearly total has increased to four or five per year. Having had some experience myself in freelance writing, I was curious about the actual progression to actually being able to earn a living through writing. Martin agreed that it was a difficult thing to do but that he actually found those first few interviews to be a test of his nerves. He was thrown completely into the deep end with his first big interview, Trent Reznor at the height of his fame. From 1994-2000 Popoff juggled those duties with his full-time job. The two lines crossed each other in 2000 when he realized that if he was to spend all his time doing the media side then he could probably make as much money as he was earning from his job. At that point there was still a lot of magazines around and he was writing for around 4/5 magazines. He was earning money from internet adverts. That was when he realized that he could put out a lot of books even without a publishing deal and essentially self-publish his work.
With such a large amount of books that he has published, Martin has now established a set pattern of writing,and researching each one. I concluded that obviously as a fan he would have a core source of knowledge already to form a foundation of his work. Regarding the band biographies, Martin stated that he would not tackle a band biography until he had personally interviewed that band 20-25 times which therefore allows him to obtain his own fresh material in it. He does use some cutting and pasting from available sources but ultimately he wants to contribute something new to the collective world mind-swept of the knowledge on any of his subjects. His books generally have something odd about them,or a different slant or take on a particular subject. Every book therefore has a whole different feel attached to it and no single method that he applies uniformly.
Martin’s,latest book, as I outlined in the introduction is about legendary Canadian rock band Rush. Some of the contributors -”Rush Authorities” they are termed certainly seem to take the term obsessive to quite new levels. That was my perception as a reader, had Martins research drawn a similar conclusion? He concluded that he had also found that to be the case,but added that they also tended to be very smart and have very good jobs. Martin found that in addition they were very upstanding citizens, very capable people and well adjusted. his experience from attending many Rush fan conventions. He believed that the bands music lends itself to those type of people, as the music,lyrics and album covers are also complicated. That give him as an author a lot of stuff to dig into while putting the Rush book together and a lot to obsess over. The book initially had made Martin skeptical as it involved interviewing two people per album,and trying to get them to dig deep into each release. Martin was apparently blown away by how smart, how insightful and how much cool stuff he was able to get on those things. On the project he was apparently a moderator stepping back of the discussion although he still had to obviously still write the intros. He was very pleased however that he did get the great substantiated interviews to do the book with.
Martin Popoff has a phenomenal creative output,and is constantly working and publishing. Again from personal experience I have found as a freelance writer that schedules can be tight at times. Working to his own schedule is obviously the most ideal situation. Generally he approaches publishers with a range of ideas. However some of his work is actually directed by outside publishers who approach him. Sometimes he just sees no need to go to publishers depending on his book subject /topic as he feels that he can do a decent job himself through his own self publication methods. In those situations Martin will sell directly to his own database. Some bands Martin has not expected to be writing books on, and actually has ended up doing exactly that. Due to the fact that he prefers taking a different angle, Martin can take that philosophy and despite not having done a lot of interviews he can write outside the regular interview approach basis. Hence books on both Led Zeppelin and the Clash have been devised in this manner. Bucket list bands he referenced who he would like to write a book on included Aersosmith who are one of his favourite bands. There are some bands however that he had never interviewed and thus he doesn’t expect to write a book on them. The different concept approach helps to keep his subject matter attractive and appealing to the long-standing rock and metal fan. Martin actually surprisingly stated that he found getting access to artists for the interviews easier when he first started writing. Print was king and doors opened more easily than in current times. Initially with his magazine he would get all these great interviews.
Troubling to him was that he was not getting many new interviews, he is still trying and still gets quite a few. The power to get regular interviews because of the regular press has gone down. This is simply attributed to the internet, the death of printed media and the lesser importance of magazines. Paradoxically Martin felt that his power in the book world industry has gone up and allowed him to get some interviews easier than it would have been previously in the old days.
Martin was optimistic and upbeat regarding the state of the book industry. It seemed to be in a much stronger place than the recorded music industry. People are still buying books and the projected takeover by E-books still has not occurred. Fans can be well satisfied in terms of raw information on band via the internet. Fortunately people still love buying books and they are still selling.
While Martin undoubtedly remains a fan of hard rock and heavy metal he doesn’t actually go to shows any more for several reasons. Generally “I feel that I have seen that many in the past that I don’t feel the need to go back to too many gigs.” He feels that repeated viewing of a band live more than a few times points to a person being easily amused-over saturation I guess that is what he was trying to say. Further confirming his hard-working nature Martin wrapped up by sharing a few projects that he was working on currently. Definitely a journalistic icon I enjoyed sharing stories with Martin and he was more than happy to grant me the benefit of his journalistic expertise and experience making himself approachable for further discussion should I like to request that.