Andrew Bonazelli: The Hellbound Interview

By Kevin Stewart-Panko

I have no idea if Andrew Bonazelli has ever picked up an instrument, let alone ever played in a band, but his position as the reviews and managing editor of the almighty Decibel Magazine and the fact that he’s just released his second book, A Regular, means there’s a connection to the world of extreme music and a reason to throw the spotlight on the man for a while. That A Regular is being released through the fine folk(s) at Vitriol Records and that this co-operative venture is a first for the label, in terms of entering the world of books and a first for the author, in having his work handled by those used to selling and distributing music, gives us reason to ramp up the wattage of said spotlight a little more in honour of the hard work and talent of all involved. Plus, I figure if I throw ol’ Bonz a promotional bone for the perfect bound surrealistic madness that is A Regular, he’ll reveal who the Decibot is.

A Regular tells the multi-directional, fantastical tale of watering hole denizens, their dysfunctional relationships and how their lives and community are impacted by attacking blood thirsty zombies, short-term romance in a stage-prop coffin at a porno grind show and a robot with a hankering for the blood of humanity. This slice of non-fiction (just kidding) is presented in Bonazelli’s clever, humorous and metaphoric style and led one Page Hamilton, he of Helmet fame, to offer this terse book review and commentary: “I have no idea what just happened but this gaseous, skid-marked-underwear wearin’, alcoholic, Larry-the-Cable-guy-anti-hero named Murray needs to pay rent and manages to annihilate a baseball team, packs of vicious, night-of-the-living-dead canines and a robot, while scraping the money together and finding a hot girlfriend… I need to find this bar.” caught up with Andrew one afternoon recently, somewhere between drinks and hurriedly shifting freelancer commas around three days after deadline.

Being someone who works with the written word every day in the world of baby-sitting freelancers, editing last-minute copy and missed deadlines, how did you find the time and moreso the motivation and energy to do something that required more sitting on your butt as opposed to engaging in a more active post-work pursuit?

Well, the “more active” element is covered by rigorous masturbation. If I start to get too fat, I’ll just work that into my sit-up routine. As to motivation, I kind of look at writing fiction as practice/inspiration for my day job, and vice versa. At Decibel, I’m constantly exposed to writers who are way more polished, thoughtful and imaginative than I could ever hope to be. A lot of my job boils down to time-consuming copy-editing; it’s hard to eke out opportunities to contribute to the magazine or blog, so after work is when I feel like I have the best chance to do something creative and “compete” with all these kick-ass voices. And lose. Badly.

How long was this book/story in the works? How did the story change from its original idea and inception to the final version readers can hold in their hands today?

I actually wrote it as a screenplay in like 2002. The only person I showed it to was Shane Mehling of Playing Enemy—and now Decibel—fame at the Cha-Cha in Seattle (loose inspiration for the main dive bar in this book), and he very politely informed me that it was barely coherent. A couple of years ago I noticed that my MS Word was full of half-finished and/or outright terrible stories. God forbid I pull a David Carradine someday and the Andrew Bonazelli archivists discover all this hackwork for my 20-part A&E biography, so I started ridding the world of the stuff I deemed too awful. I reread A Regular and thought it could be salvaged if I just eased up on the obnoxiousness of the dialogue and clarified what the hell was happening and what it meant. I don’t know that this was actually accomplished, but I certainly tried in the six-odd months it took to translate from screenplay to (very short) novel.

What was your writing process/schedule like in putting this thing together?

I printed out the screenplay pages a couple at a time, determined how much of the stage direction and dialogue was salvageable, then embellished until it resembled a narrative. That was actually kind of fun—it’s hard to have writer’s block when half to 75% of your project is already pre-existing. Editing is so much fucking easier than writing.

Writing professors the world over will often tell their students to “write what you know.” It’s a safe bet you know a fair bit about dingy watering holes, alcohol and shitty security at metal shows, but what do you know about murderous robots and zombie slaying?

This is a good opportunity to briefly bitch that this stupid story was written before Shaun of the Dead came out, and I was fucking crushed when I saw it. The events of the third chapter, I assure you, used to be WAY more novel. And the thing that really blows is I could’ve been one of those badasses who’s like “Fuck it, I’m leaving it as is and I’ll just be better,” but Shaun of the Dead was, you know, pretty good. Luckily nobody’s brought that up, which is what happens when you put out a book on a record label and 50 people read it. That sort of explains the second part of the question—as to the first, I loved Transformers, like any other asshole my age, but I always wanted their interactions with humans to be a little more ribald and mean-spirited. Of course, Michael Bay accomplished that in a totally different way. I mean, he hasn’t sent them out to specifically assassinate Edgar Martinez yet, but he’s certainly made them unlikeable enough that I’m not sure what people think of those chapters. Moral of the story: if you write a book, don’t wait 8-9 years before putting it out somewhere.

How did you come to work with a record label in releasing your book? Being that it’s *ahem* Jason Schmidt from Graf Orlock’s label, was there an action movie quote quota you had to meet before he agreed to put the book out?

I had already released my first book, Mechaniks, on a small press that Decibel’s Kory Grow kindly hooked me up with. However, the people that put it out were complete strangers—incredibly nice and supportive and cool, but I’d never met them before. That satisfied my longstanding goal of turning a story over to people who didn’t know me at all and impressing them enough that they’d want to invest (for lack of a better word) in my ideas. But afterwards I thought it’d be cool to collaborate with a friend on a fiction project—I’m really jealous of the camaraderie of bands, as most hack “journalists” are, I suppose. Long story short, my dear friend Rhonda was going to release A Regular on her start-up press, but we ran into money concerns, so I emailed “Jason” (he has no idea that his pseudonym is one of the worst free-agent busts in Dodger history, I’m betting—ironic for an L.A. dude) for advice on getting shit done DIY. He volunteered to put it out on the label himself, and that was an obvious “fuck-yeah!” I thought the subject matter would make it appropriate enough for Vitriol, although I know he prefers more conventional revenge/espionage/sniper shit with political overtones. So, I’m surprised he dug this thing.

Your writing style in this novel seems to be the sort in which the reader is going to trip over something new each time they read, whether it’s a light bulb going on in terms of understanding some of your metaphors or just getting what the hell is going on in a certain scene. Was your intention to cloak the fantastical nature of the story in many layers so to get people to pick up the book repeatedly?

Honestly, no. I sincerely thought—and still do—that this book was the simplest, easiest-to-compute story I had in my repertoire. It drives me fucking insane when the three people who have read this or Mechaniks tell me they really liked it even though they didn’t quiiiiiite get it. I mean, that could be related to a number of factors, but as a self-flagellator who needs to tell himself he sucks in order to produce content, I’m putting that communicative disconnect entirely on me. Luckily (for an author, or even “author”), I’m still pretty young/green, so there’s plenty of time to improve.

This story and its participating characters are bizarre to say the least. Without naming names, are any of these people based on friends/relatives? If yes, in what ways specifically? If not, how did you come up with these characters?

Kind of, yeah. I feel like most writers start off autobiographically, and the first stabs I took at short or long-form fiction were certainly that. Then, unless you’re Bret Easton Ellis and they back up the truck at 18, you get a little older, read a little more, experience a lot more, and realize that diarizing is best left to your shitty blog. So, Murray is definitely not a surrogate for me. He’s based on a very bright, charismatic, slovenly bar lifer I knew in Seattle, and the things he experiences reflect my desire to incorporate adolescent nostalgia into a story in a way that’s not obnoxious and suicide-inducing, à la Juno. Once the protagonist “escapes” his “prison” of perpetual entrapment in his bar, the things that happen to him and how he behaves are representative of the age he was when he was “sentenced” (sorry for all the quotes). So, the tone is intentionally immature and… fuck, I just skimmed down to the next question and I’m answering it already without totally answering this one. Anyway, in the interest of doing that…

The story seems to be a twisted tale of redemption from someone who has previously used his inflated sense of awareness and self-awareness to a certain detriment. Whether or not this is the case, I don’t know, but is there a deeper meaning in A Regular?

… a lot of the secondary and tertiary characters are based on acquaintances I had in Seattle when I was just beginning to drink (at age 24, like a true asshole). Everything was so novel—I was single for the first time in five years, had my first respectable job that afforded me proximity to some really fucking cool bands, etc., etc. That allowed me to meet a lot of extremely interesting fringe characters, the types of people I rarely go out of my way to engage now because I’m 33 and married and just want to sit around and smoke and die. The way those characters are written in the book, you know, sure, I always liked sitting around with my friends and making fun of people like Nicky Datsun, and ensuring my place roasting in hell. Probably too many of the female characters are derived from personal experience, so I’ll leave that alone. As for deeper meaning, no need to bray on about it, but for me the book’s about navigating the responsibilities inherent in maintaining meaningful friendships.

What has the reaction been from those familiar and unfamiliar with extreme music and Gorigami, the novel’s porno grind band/centerpiece?

I’ve yet to ask my mom what she thinks of Monsieur Cuntbarf, but will get back to you.

The Page Hamilton quote on the topic of the novel was awesome. What other sorts of reactions have you generated so far?

You know, I don’t know. It’s not like Vitriol has their shit on Amazon, so I can’t check out any star-rating type of jam anywhere. And I barely visit our own [Decibel’s] message board, so I don’t know if people have discussed this thing on any others. (I doubt it.) It’s probably for the best, because I gravitate towards the negative anyway—I did an interview on MetalSucks, and one commenter wrote something like, “I immediately went to buy the book after reading this interview. Unfortunately, it sucks.” And I was like, Perfect, this is my destiny—good interview, shitty writer. You fucking suck. So, yeah, I should stay away from seeking out feedback, because even if somebody’s complimentary, I feel like the compliment is misguided or misinformed. Yes, I am an infant.

You mentioned a failed, drunken reading recently. Elaborate, please.

Curran Reynolds, of Wetnurse and various and sundry extreme awesomeness, is doing press for this thing, and he puts on pretty eclectic metal nights every Monday at Lit Lounge in the East Village. (Or maybe it’s the LES; I’m not 100% sure.) Anyway, he invited me to come down and read a few weeks ago—I had never read my own shit aloud before, but have some experience with extemporaneous speaking (i.e. I got a C doing it in high school, and am probably misusing the term even now), so I wasn’t really sweating it. I even figured out certain selections from both novels and timed myself so I wouldn’t go over a half-hour. Of course, I take the Chinatown bus up there, decide not to eat anything so I wouldn’t have to shit halfway through this thing, and knock down like eight rum-and-Cokes instead. I’m pretty high-functioning when I get fucked up, but I decided to stand upright on the stage, with minimal lighting, couldn’t see shit, stammered a lot, and felt deeply stupid reading my dialogue in particular, so I told way too many Neil Hamburger jokes to overcompensate. I did open with a selection from the novelization of Robocop, which I thought went over better than the original content. Anyway, I probably shouldn’t volunteer for that sort of thing anymore. Or just get Peter Weller to read my stuff.

Last question: what are you listening to and reading as of late? Is there any relationship between the two lists?

I’m currently working on a new project, and I never read fiction while I’m doing that in order not to confuse voices, but I’d like to try Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools when I’m done, although I’m told it’s not as good as Pale Horse, Pale Rider, which I really dig. As for tuneage, the new Khoma is so fucking choice. It’s the guitarist from Cult of Luna with a clean vocalist who’s super melodramatic and anthemic. I know I’m going to play it to a point where I can never quite listen to it again with the same ears, but that’s what the best shit is all about, right?

Sean is the founder/publisher of; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.