(re)View From The Past #5
a retrospective series by Andrew C Schlett
A tale of two interviews…(part I):
Being a music journalist is not as easy as it looks. There’s much more to it than
just writing about music, and you need more than simply a good command of the English
language and a keyboard to write on. You cannot get by on a musical ear and an opinion
alone. On the pages of this paper and others I have seen the results of what can happen
when unqualified people with insufficient skill-sets decide to become rock reviewers, or
reviewers of anything. This is not to discourage anybody from trying; indeed, the more
literate people in this world, the better off we all are. Nobody starts off in this line of
work at the top of their game. Not to suggest that I’m there yet either, but reading back
over some of my own earliest material in the old issues of Rivethead, I am honestly
surprised that anybody read my columns at all, that Lisa even ran them, and that those
columns could possibly have led me to the level of writing that I am doing today. So yes,
by all means try. Write, y’all! Write, and submit. You never know what might happen.
But don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself in water that is a little too deep to
tread in. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself …sucking.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of music journalism is the art of interview. Bear
in mind that this is all relative. Compared to something like paving roads, for example,
music journalism is pretty easy. But of all the various aspects of this craft that one must
master in order to succeed, the toughest task, at least in my own opinion and experience,
is interviewing. (Particularly, interviewing musicians. God love you all, but you’re a
quirky bunch. Of course I mean this in the kindest possible context.)
To be a good interviewer in the first place, the prepared journalist will have
familiarized him or her self with the subject and will have a pre-determined idea of where
the interview should go, i.e. upon what topics you wish the interviewee to speak. You
will also have a pre-prepared list of questions, and will have researched the work of
previous interviewers to rule out those questions that are the most redundant. Quality
recording equipment is also helpful; if you try to scribble notes as fast as you can while
the subject answers your questions, well, good luck succeeding with that. But above all,
you need to be able to communicate with your subject at a one-on-one basis, just the two
of you, like old friends discussing the weather or maybe football. This requires the
ability to put yourself on the same level as your interviewee without being star-struck or
feeling small in the presence of one whom you may perceive as so huge. Self-confidence
is a useful thing in day-by-day living anyway, but with interviewing it is crucial to
success. If you don’t have enough balls to ask your local postmaster questions about
blown-up mailboxes on the Northwest side (what?) then how on earth do you expect to
sit down and interview a rock band that has sold millions of albums and is known around
In this column, then, and in the next, I would like to compare and contrast the
best, and the worst, music interviews I did back in my previous Rivethead career.
Presented here today is the best, with Gary Holt of Exodus, that occurred in late
November 1990 and ran in Rivethead Issue #26, January 1991. Part II will feature the
worst, Academy Black, which took place in August 1990 and ran in Rivethead Issue #23,
Sept/Oct 1990, which was our Second Anniversary issue. The final copy of that
interview piece turned out quite well in print, though. If anybody still has that issue, take
it up and read the interview again, then come back and learn how it actually went down.
So, the Exodus thing started when I was awakened one morning at like 2pm
(yeah, I know) by a phone call from someone named Jack Black of Z-Rock Magazine. Whether he was
the same Jack Black who, some years later, would be known for Tenacious-D and now is
known for movies, I really have no idea, but I have always claimed that he was when
telling this story to friends. Z-Rock Magazine had been in touch with Rivethead because
they needed a local guy to do a very short little piece on Exodus, who was playing
Houston right then, and Lisa E was kind to recommended me. She must have forgotten
that I don’t do very short little pieces.
(Sidebar note: I was told by Jack Black that this article was to be exclusive to ZRock
Magazine, and that I could not share it with any other publication, not even my
own. Of course I blew this off, and wrote not only the 500-word piece that Z-Rock had
assigned me to, but also a kick-ass interview piece that I mailed immediately to Lisa. I
always hoped that she didn’t get in trouble for running it. For my own part in this foul,
scandalous disregard of corporate etiquette, or what the hell ever, I got to see my work
published in Z-Rock Magazine …with no by-line! It just says “Exodus”, and then my
short little piece, and nobody ever knew who wrote it until right now. Jack Black, on the
other hand, is famous.)
The concert was taking place at the Las Americas Arena, with Blitzphere and
Houston’s own dead horse warming up the crowd for Exodus. I arrived a little after three
and walked into the hall just in time to watch Exodus’ roadies sound-checking the amps
and equipment. After identifying myself to the band’s people, I was led into a back room
where several members of the band were lounging, waiting for the night. One of them
got up, shook my hand, introduced himself as Gary Holt, and asked me if I wanted a beer.
You know I did, so he grabbed out two St. Pauli Girls from a great huge barrel filled with
ice and various other kinds of beer, opened them, and handed one over to me. He then
had me follow him out of the building and onto the band’s tour bus, which I stepped into
with a not-so-small sense of awe, and our interview began.
From the outset, it was a pretty easy and comfortable interview, because not only
is Gary Holt a very down-to-earth, regular sort of guy to talk to, but also because I had
done so much research on Exodus beforehand. I had known who they were, of course,
but I really didn’t know much about their history before this assignment. It was a very
cool and unique experience, sitting down and speaking with a man about whom I had just
read and learned, and listened to, so much lately. My questions were sound, and relevant,
and Holt appeared impressed more than once at the thoughtfulness of these questions.
We spoke easily for at least half an hour on a wide-ranging variety of topics, music,
politics, violence in the pit, women, the business side of rock-n-roll, etc. One of the
roadies finally came to break up the interview since the catered food had just arrived.
Holt and I thanked each other for our time, shook hands again, left the tour bus, and went
back to our respective lives.
I very much doubt that he remembers this interview. I’ll never forget it.
Everything fell into place so easily, and it really helped that Holt is not a raging
egomaniac. The show that night was one of the best thrash shows I’ve ever been to,
Exodus is a tremendous band to see live, but apparently, something weird and
unexplainable happened to me in the time-frame between the conclusion of that interview
and the opening of the doors at Las Americas Arena. For some totally unknown reason I
missed dead horse entirely, according to my Rivethead article, and I honestly can’t
remember anything at all about Blitzphere. There must have been a bar nearby.
That pretty much wraps up the story of the Exodus interview. All these many
years up here I have enjoyed re-telling this to anybody who has ever even heard of
Exodus; and I am happy to see it all laid out finally in print, for everyone to read. Well,
in virtual print anyway. Please stay tuned for (re)View From The Past #6, already in
preliminary draft, which will visit the opposite end of the interview experience and show
how the total lack of preparation and a little too much familiarity with your subject can
leave you sitting there amongst friends looking and sounding like a complete horse’s ass.
If I time this right, it should be the first ‘Past’ column to debut on our new website!
Until then, Houston home-folks, tip out your bartenders and waitresses as always,
but tip them heavier this time if they have a strong, yet well-balanced, sense of self worth.
Because the Metal matters, y’all!!
Because the Music Matters!!!
The Editor's Desk