By Sean Palmerston
Over the past twenty years, New York-based journalist Ian Christe has made a name for himself as one of the USA’s most respected metal music writers. A longtime contributor to magazines as diverse as CMJ, Spin, Revolver and Metal Maniacs, Christe has also penned a number of authoritative books, including Sound Of The Beast and Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga. He has also become a well respected radio DJ, hosting the weekly Bloody Roots program on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s Hard Attack/Liquid Metal station.
After this success of 2003’s Sound Of The Beast, Christe decided he wanted more control and became a publisher. In 2007, he launched his own book imprint Bazillion Points, which over the course of the past three years has become synonymous with quality, thoughtful metal writing. Having already released critically acclaimed books such as Daniel Ekeroth’s exhaustive Swedish Death Metal and a Spanish language translation of Albert Mudrian’s provocative Choosing Death (Eligiendo Muerte), Bazillion Points appears to only now be hitting its stride. With a recently released metal band cookbook (Hellbent For Cooking) and even more thought provoking titles planned for release later in 2010, Ian Christe was nice enough to answer some questions about his work.
Ian, to begin with I want to ask exactly how you got into music writing and how that translated into you becoming a book author with Sound of The Beast?
I got into writing out of desperation, after my family moved to Southern Indiana while I was midway through high school. No more bands, no more radio, just me and the post office. I was already deep into underground metal, dabbling in tape trading and some writing. Once I entered the midwestern void, I started staying home a lot working on a fanzine, inspired by Kick*Ass Monthly, Suck City, and the great zines of the day.
I have to say that since my idea of normal music in 1986 was The Accused and Repulsion, so I always had a hard time getting magazine jobs. But I landed some reviews of Germany’s Assassin and Colorado’s Legion of Death in Creem Thrash Metal magazine. Incredibly, Bazillion Points author and former Metal Maniacs editor Jeff Wagner sold some reviews to those guys starting the same issue! Anyway, the intervening fifteen years are basically my life story, so I’ll spare you the details! I went an independent route, lived in Brooklyn making all kinds of music and writing for all kinds of magazines including Wired, Spin, Mother Jones, and the Chicago Reader during the 1990s. It was tough, looking back I can’t believe how stubborn I was. I kept writing about the bands I loved.
Eventually the chance to write a metal history book appeared, and I jumped at that, sent HarperCollins a thick package containing New York Times clips up top working all the way down to copies of letters I got from Dave Mustaine in 1985. I had been pissed off about the lack of a book like Sound of the Beast since I was basically in elementary school, so it was really an honor to arrive at that empty field and get to put all those stories down on paper. And four years later, I had a book. Now it’s become a rite of passage for every incoming metalhead to read, and it’s available all over the world, just incredible to me still. Of course I would change some things if I were to redo the book, but overall I still think it’s a credible overview of the rise of heavy metal and its many offshoots.
What made you decide to start a publishing company to release books about metal music? How did your own experiences – with both writing the Sound of The Beast book and being a senior editor for Metal Maniacs – influence this decision? What did you think you could do that would be unique in starting up your own publishing company?
I started it out of necessity. I wanted to read all the books that Bazillion Points is now publishing, and I hoped and gambled that other people must feel the same way. I took everything one little step at a time, and when I was sure that one crisis had passed, I moved onto the next crisis.
If I may ask, where did the name Bazillion Points come from and what does it represent for you?
Basically, Bazilion Points means a bazillion points of light—inspiration coming from everywhere, and the sky’s the limit. Like a really, really high score, or very hard punches from every unexpected direction.
The books that you have either published or announced so far have all been radically different from each other. They range from a cookbook full of recipes from metal bands to a photo book of the early days of Hellhammer, and includes others like a history of Swedish death metal and an upcoming history on progressive metal. What do you look for in a book? Does it have to be an idea that you would want to read yourself?
I can’t believe how insanely lucky Bazillion Points has been to team up with authors like Tom Gabriel Fischer, Andy McCoy, Annick Giroux, Daniel Ekeroth, and Tesco Vee. These people are true originals with great vision, and they obviously deserve all the support they can get.
Yes, I have to be deeply interested in the book, because these books consume months or years of my time. But I don’t agree that they are radically different. I was talking to Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries author Jon Kristiansen recently about how all the Bazillion projects are weirdly related. Jon released the first In the Woods records, and that band was the primary influence on Nightwish, whose official book we released. We released MELLODRAMA: The Mellotron Movie recently on DVD, which features Opeth from the Swedish Death Metal book. Likewise, Mellodrama features Änglagård, who were a favorite band of Norwegian black metal. The web of intrigue is vast!
I got an email recently from Matt Olivo of Repulsion, saying thanks for the HELLBENT FOR COOKING cookbook—he has a recipe in that book—and that he and Scott Carlson were very excited to read SHERIFF McCOY by Andy McCoy, because they both are huge Hanoi Rocks fans. Bazillion Points books are hopefully interesting to anyone with a decent sized curiousity about the world.
Not being completely familiar with the book publishing world, can you tell our readers how books subjects are decided upon: does the writer come to you with an idea for the book already decided or do you sometimes pitch the idea of a book to a writer in the same way that I as an editor sometimes pitch my writers to do certain reviews or interviews?
So far the Bazillion Points procedure hasn’t been that regulated. We’ve been racing forward full force producing the first batch of books that I can’t believe didn’t already exist. Sometimes an agent gets in touch, but in many cases I already knew the authors and knew they had an amazing book in store for us. I mean, I’ve known Jon Kristiansen since about 1987. That’s ancient history, but I never forgot it.
The first few books you did were already completed and/or published in another language. How detailed was the process of taking those books and translating them into English? Is that something that you did yourself (either physically doing it yourself or paying someone to do it for you) or were they presented to you in English already?
Yes, we had a hard time finding someone to translate SHERIFF McCOY from Finnish, but after I met Ike Vil from Babylon Whores we were on Easy Street. Translation is enormously difficult. You have to find someone who is inspired. My book SOUND OF THE BEAST has been translated 15 times, and I’ve been through a lot with that. The reality is that sometimes translators quit, or get deathly ill, or just disappear. And once a book is translated, it must be completely redesigned. It’s wild. But I want to do a lot more of translations, there are all kinds of amazing books out there in the world. I wish we could have done our version of TROPA DE ELITE, the book that the Brazilian movie was based on.
As an independent book publisher working in a very niche market what are the ways that you sell your books outside of your own website? How easy or difficult is it to sell books through traditional retailers like a Barnes and Noble or Chapters style chain store or through big online retailers like Amazon?
Bazillion Points sells books through all those places you named. Of course it’s better to buy directly from our web site, we always include extra bonus items like metal badges and bookmarks and cards. The most difficult thing about dealing with books is the bulk and size. They take up a lot of storage room, and weigh many tons. ONLY DEATH IS REAL weighs almost two kilos—about the same as 20 digipak CDs!
Would you publish a book because you think that it will be a big seller or do you strive for quality and uniqueness over possibly more mainstream endeavours?
Well, I think quality and uniqueness are what makes books into big sellers. Reading books is a subversive and uncommercial action from the start. Books are the last bastion of quality and uniqueness in mass culture.
Do you have plans to start publishing outside books that are on subjects outside of the world of metal? If so, what other subject would you be willing to publish books on?
Yes, we are publishing Daniel Ekeroth’s book on Swedish exploitation films, SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS. And the giant 576-page collection of Touch and Go fanzines might not immediately fire up the goat of some metalheads, but it should, because hardcore punk from 1979-1983 is an essential part of metal today. We are always looking ahead at all kinds of books. Everything secure is already announced on our web site at bazillionpoints.com. We want people to know what we are doing.
Is there a book that you would not publish if it was offered to you? Would you be willing to publish a book on a controversial subject, like a book on the history of a controversial band like Burzum or Graveland, if it was offered to you? Would you be willing to publish something like the memoirs of Varg Vikernes or someone of that ilk if it was offered to you?
We have already published and will continue to publish offensive and especially abrasive material. We have already fought hard for our authors’ rights, even when it costs us to do so. There’s no other way to operate, in my eyes. But those books you’re talking about don’t sound promising in the slightest, sorry!
What is Bazillion Points’ best-selling book to date? What is considered to be a successful sales number for your books? Is there a sales objective that you hope to hit with each title?
Believe it or not, so far SWEDISH DEATH METAL is top dog, but HELLBENT FOR COOKING is hot on its heels. ONLY DEATH IS REAL and TOUCH AND GO are the next contenders. We are selling everything at a steady pace. The only real sales objective is that every living soul who can understand these books gets a copy, no matter how long it takes.
Can you let us know what Bazillion Points will be releasing in 2010? What is your release schedule for the next twelve months?
Our remaining books this Spring are ONLY DEATH IS REAL: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer and Early Celtic Frost, by Tom Gabriel Fischer with Martin Eric Ain, SWEDISH SENSATIONSFILMS: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers, and Kicker Cinema, by Daniel Ekeroth, MEAN DEVIATION: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal, by Jeff Wagner, and TOUCH AND GO MAGAZINE: The Complete Years 1979–1983, by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson. Beyond that, METALION: The Slayer Diaries will be a major undertaking this year, and afterwards who can say?
Ian, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Would you have any closing remarks that you would like to make to the readers of Hellbound.ca?
Please go to http://www.bazillionpoints.com and investigate our releases. These books are major efforts by some true heavy hitters, and they will explode and expand your appreciate of all heavy metal to the max. Beast wishes and thanks very much!