Without question, author Joel McIver is the premier Heavy Metal biographer of our time, and quite possibly the greatest music writer of this or any century. This University of Edinbugh alumnus has completed entertaining and informative books on Lemmy Kilmenster of Motorhead, Slipknot, the immortal Ice Cube, and those four guys who released 'St.Anger'', just to name a few. His writing has appeared in Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, and some rag called Rolling Stone. In 2008 he completed work on the first biography of Slayer. In January of 2009, he published 'The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists', which questionably named Megadeth's Dave Mustaine as number 1, instead of virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen who, as far as the DRB is concerned, rightfully deserved that prestigious numero uno ranking. Regardless of our personal opinions, the DRB was grateful and excited for the opportunity to talk with the visionary who created 'The Extreme Metal Handbook'.
What started you down the path of the damned, authoring books on metal acts such as Metallica and Slayer?
It’s a familiar story, I’m sure. I was a teenage geek without much going on in my life except science fiction and thrash metal, so when the opportunity came a decade later to become a music journalist and then an author, the obvious thing was to write books about metal. As it happened, when I started work on Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica in 2003, there was no existing biography of the band other than KJ Doughton’s excellent Unbound, so my book filled a niche, sold in large numbers and became a bestseller in some countries. Books on Sabbath and Slayer followed. I’m now working on my 17th and 18th books. I’ll get some sleep someday, perhaps.
Which of your books has been the most satisfying to complete and why?
They’re all fun to do. I’ve done a few shit jobs in my time, which helps me appreciate that writing books is a laugh in comparison. The first one that I really felt happy with was an Ice Cube biog in 2002, because I worked really hard to get it right and I think it mostly paid off. Then the Metallica book was fun to do, of course. I also wrote a biography of the late Cliff Burton last year, which was tricky to get right because I wanted to portray him as he really was, rather than as a saint, and also get into the details of his bass technique without sending non-bass players to sleep. Again, I think it worked out. The fact that Kirk Hammett wrote the foreword was a huge endorsement for me.
In the same vein which book was the most challenging to complete and why?
I wrote a fairly hefty Black Sabbath book in 2005 which almost killed me. I left it a bit too late and ended up writing the entire 175,000 words in about three months. That was just down to my poor time management. I won’t be doing that again.
Of the thousands of artists you have dealt with, who was the most and least forthcoming?
Most of them are great. The first time I interviewed Lemmy, we hung out afterward and he played me a demo of his then-new album, just for a laugh. Dave Mustaine is always a really entertaining interviewee. There’s hundreds of good ones, actually. The only really difficult interviewee I’ve had is Jon Bon Jovi, who really didn’t want to be there and obviously thought my questions were lame. They probably were, too. It’s difficult to dream up an interesting angle with a guy like that.
What are the challenges for a British writer in documenting the lives of American rock stars?
Not as many or as significant as you might think, in the internet era. Obviously there are plenty of cultural references that we don’t share (eg to “smoke a fag” means different things on either side of the pond) but those are decreasing as we become more and more Americanized.
Is there a 'dream band' who you would love to write about but haven’t had the opportunity?
Not a band as such but I’d love to work with Prince on his autobiography if he ever does one, just for the experience. I’m moving towards co-writing musicians’ books rather than writing third-person biographies these days, it’s more interesting. I’ve just finished working with Glenn Hughes (Sabbath, Purple) on his book, and the next one will be the autobiography of a member of a well-known metal band.
What albums and artists are you listening to these days?
More old stuff than new stuff, which is a consequence of being nearly 40. I’m wading through the works of Opeth, Tool, Mastodon, JS Bach, Miles Davis and Tom Waits at the moment. There are some great new metal bands coming out – Trigger The Bloodshed, The Wretched End and Musica Diablo come to mind – but basically the metal scene is over saturated with new material, which makes it hard to find the good stuff among the Pantera copyists.
What brings you to tears?
I stubbed my toe on the wardrobe the other day. But if you mean tears of rage and frustration, that doesn’t happen often these days. I had a job once where some of the people were so unbelievably incompetent at their jobs that it used to make me want to gnaw my fingers off in irritation, but those days are long gone. Also, I have small children. When you have kids you really don’t give a damn about a lot of things that once bothered you, because there are more important things to worry about.
If you could change one thing about England it would be?
Nothing major, it’s great here. People who complain about living in the developed world don’t know how fortunate they are.