Interview: Ian Christe (Bazillion Points)
Ian Christe literally wrote the book on heavy metal. His Sound of the Beast is the definitive published history of metal, partly because no one else is foolhardy enough to try such a monumental task. (It took years. Christe told me stories about writing it that almost made me cry.) But he did it, and the world is better off for it. Not only does it have evidence that metalheads can read (and write), it also has a spiffy new publishing imprint, Bazillion Points. Christe essentially plowed the money he made from Sound of the Beast back into the metal community.
Bazillion Points books are by metalheads for metalheads — and wider audiences as well. Annick Giroux' Hellbent for Cooking is the heaviest cookbook ever made. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has been seen hefting a copy of Daniel Ekeroth's Swedish Death Metal (reviewed here). Eligiendo Muerte makes Albert Mudrian's Choosing Death (the definitive history of death metal) readable to cualquier persona que habla español. Bazillion Points' latest release, out now, is Only Death Is Real, the definitive history of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost by the man himself, Tom Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior).
Christe kindly took time to answer some questions about Bazillion Points. The all caps usage is his. It's not my first choice, but it's classic metal fanzine style — and who doesn't like that? I asked him about writing, publishing, and why he put out a biography of friggin' Nightwish.
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How did Bazillion Points start?
I heard that Andy McCoy of Hanoi Rocks had published his autobiography in Finland, and I wanted to read it in English. That got the ball rolling. Then I wanted to read Daniel Ekeroth's SWEDISH DEATH METAL, but I didn't want to pay $80 for an import copy. And before long, I had signed a few longtime friends to write books only they could write, and the burden was on me to test out my publishing experience and put my money where my mouth was as far as my DIY work ethic.
What's the biggest difference between being a writer and a publisher?
Mainly I'd say that as a publisher, I'm focused more on the middle and endpoint of a book's creation — the packaging and placement in the universe — while as an author I've been more absorbed with the genesis and imaginative act of creating something out of nothing. I was super-involved with both Sound of the Beast and Everybody Wants Some (his biography of Van Halen, reviewed here); I even compiled the index in both cases. But still I didn't have to make sure the cover was the proper color.
Another big difference is that a writer works in isolation most of the time, and I hated that. You may think you hate being around people, but try writing alone 12 hours a day, six days a week, for years. Now I have all kinds of ongoing business with our authors, production people, artists, and the people at the stores and distros that carry our books. That's been the greatest change in my life so far.
What's the most difficult thing you've had to learn in publishing?
I released my books with two of the largest and oldest mainstream publishers, and I was shocked at how unprepared they were to get books to the people I thought should read them. Luckily, in order to save himself the trouble, my editor got me very involved, and I took on a lot of responsibility. I made a website, I learned how books are put together, and I started my weekly heavy metal history show Bloody Roots on Sirius XM, based on Sound of the Beast. So I was already doing a lot more than writing. But dealing with thousands of heavy-as-hell three- and four-pound books has been a constant challenge. Storing and transporting them safely is a major undertaking. I've learned how to use a pallet jack, which is the fun part.
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When signing books to Bazillion Points, what do you look for?
So far we're doing well with books that represent pretty much the absolute final word on a subject. I mean, ONLY DEATH IS REAL is the ultimate account of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and the origins of extreme metal, written by the man responsible. The TOUCH AND GO book by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson chronicles the growth of hardcore punk almost month by month during the crucial years. The upcoming METALION book by Jon Kristiansen annotates his legendary zine with a memoir that makes any other work about Norwegian black metal look shallow. Even MELLODRAMA was directed by someone who worked assembling Mellotrons for a period.
How completed must a book be before you sign it?
If a couple of chapters and an outline look viable, that's a good basis as a rule of thumb that a writer can tackle the job of writing an entire book. I think any publisher would tell you the same.
Easy! Ike Vil, the translator of SHERIFF MCCOY (the Andy McCoy autobiography), published the Nightwish book in Finland, and Jone Nikula, the Finnish translator of SOUND OF THE BEAST, wrote the introduction. So they sent me copies and I finally read it, and it was very detailed, really funny, and painfully embarrassing as the band could be only when talking to a friend like the author Mape Ollila. So I tackled it as an experiment. I recommend it to non-Nightwish fans — most people I know — because it is a sometimes awkward tell-all written by a band at the height of their fame, not 20 years later like [Mötley Crüe's autobiography] The Dirt or Ozzy's book (reviewed here). And there are several connections to the METALION book and SWEDISH DEATH METAL, as well.
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Are people buying books in this recession economy?
Since we've been in operation for about two years, I've never experienced anything but economic downturn. But yes, people are willing to pay for books like SWEDISH DEATH METAL and ONLY DEATH IS REAL. I mean, these are very absorbing and engrossing works, and they don't require a lot of electricity to operate correctly.
I want to read Bazillion Points books on my Kindle/iPhone/e-reader of choice. Will this happen?
Maybe someday? Right now our books are designed to be big, beautiful, and immune to digitization. Who would want to read HELLBENT FOR COOKING in black and white on a Kindle? (Ed. note: I described it as "probably the most physically beautiful book I've ever seen" here.) I understand why the book distributors and retailers are pushing e-books on the public for practical reasons — to save money on pallet jacks, but in a lot of cases e-books make about as much sense as eating vitamin pills for dinner instead of food.
Bazillion Points just did its first DVD project. How did that process compare to book publishing?
Very similar! But MELLODRAMA: The Mellotron Movie is itself like a finished book, and the DVD Digipak and color insert booklet are an elaborate cover around it, if that makes sense. Meaning we had much less editing and copyediting to do than usual. But in terms of reaching a dedicated audience that is dying to see the movie, releasing the DVD has been very similar to releasing our books. And the documentary connects via Sweden and Opeth to SWEDISH DEATH METAL, and just inherently to Jeff Wagner's upcoming progressive metal history MEAN DEVIATION.
Any advice for aspiring metal book writers?
Pick a subject about which you already are or can soon become the undisputed world authority.
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