From Bon Jovi to Judas Priest and UFO to Pantera, British rock biographer Neil Daniels has written books on some of the biggest and best names in rock and heavy metal.
In only seven years Neil has published close to thirty books including his biographies and also his collections of interviews with fellow rock writers and musicians. In addition to books, Neil has contributed to dozens of websites, magazines and newspapers. Frankly, his workload puts many of us to shame.
2014 is already shaping up to be a busy year with books on Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden and Journey guitarist Neal Schon due for release at the beginning of this year, with many more to come.
Continue reading to check out my chat with Daniels about his work.
Geeks of Doom: How did you first get into writing about music?
Neil Daniels: I started writing for websites like musicOMH and some obscure ones before I began contributing to Fireworks, a fantastic magazine run by serious rock enthusiasts which I wrote for until 2013 when I decided to concentrate my full attention on books. I also began contributing to Powerplay around that time and later penned some bits for Big Cheese, Record Collector, Rock Sound and several rock websites. In full, my reviews, articles and interviews on rock music and pop culture have been published in The Guardian, Classic Rock Presents AOR, Classic Rock Presents Let It Rock, Rock Sound, Record Collector, Big Cheese, Powerplay, Fireworks, MediaMagazine, Rocktopia.co.uk, Get Ready To Rock.com, Lucemfero.com, musicOMH.com, Ghostcultmag.com, Drowned In Sound.com, BBCNewsOnline.co.uk, Carling.com, Unbarred.co.uk and Planet Sound on Channel4’s Teletext service.
When I started writing for Fireworks and Powerplay I had built up a list of contacts, mostly consisting of writers and PR agents. I knew I wanted to write a rock book and was a big fan of Judas Priest. At the time I actually decided to write a book, Priest had just reformed. I asked revered metal author Joel McIver for some advice on how to go about pitching my proposal for a biography of Judas Priest to publishers. He was extremely helpful and friendly and even gave me the email address for the Commissioning Editor at Omnibus Press, Chris Charlesworth. After several months of waiting, Omnibus Press commissioned the proposal and I began researching and writing my first book, The Story Of Judas Priest – Defenders Of The Faith. That set the ball rolling. I have since written books on Pantera, AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Journey, Linkin Park, You Me At Six and UFO. As well as those commercial biogs I have had published a number of Createspace collections featuring hundreds of my interviews, reviews and articles.
Geeks of Doom: What makes you choose a band to write a biography on?
Neil Daniels: I was asked by the publisher at Soundcheck books if I was interested in a book on UFO. I jumped at the chance. It’s due in the next couple of months in the US but out now here in the UK, so anyone can buy it from Amazon UK. It wasn’t an easy book to write as they have a very complicated history and you’re right, they are very underrated, I hope fans will enjoy the book. It covers their entire history and includes a foreword by US broadcaster Eddie Trunk who is a major UFO fan. I guess what I think is their most underrated album is Mechanix, their tenth album. There are some excellent songs on there a good clean riffs. But in times of other books I’ve done –bit of both. Sometimes I go to publishers with ideas, sometimes they ask me.
Geeks of Doom: How long do you spend researching a subject?
Neil Daniels: It varies depending on the project. Sometimes 6 months; sometimes less. It really does depend on the book – the subject, word count and deadline. I spent a good few months on UFO.
Geeks of Doom: Do you write and research everything yourself? I know that (fellow British biographer and music journalist) Mick Wall hires additional researchers for his books.
Neil Daniels: I do everything myself to be honest. These days I even track down photos and help with photo research, indexing and marketing.
Geeks of Doom: When you start the actual writing, how long does it usually take you to complete a biography?
Neil Daniels: I usually started by creating a timeline of events and then compile all the research. Write the book as a sort of loose book plan and build the research into it and watch it go from maybe 500 words to 80,000 words. I’m currently working on a book on the first eight years of a major heavy metal band and the amount of detail has been overwhelming to be honest. Very confusing indeed but I’m pretty confident I’ve got it nailed.
Geeks of Doom: Do you ever have feedback from the bands?
Neil Daniels: I think many musicians are very guarded now especially as managers and PR people have far more control so nothing has really surprised me per se. but I do enjoy interviewing a great deal. The times have changed; if you look back at, say, Melody Maker in the 1970s and Kerrang! in the following decade to what magazines are like now and how little freedom rock writers have you’ll see that there is a great difference. Rock writers twenty or so years ago toured the world with all the major bands but record companies don’t have the dough these days as CD sales are declining and with that so are magazine sales. I’ve had feedback from fans and readers but very rarely the artists – I doubt they care.
Geeks of Doom: Have you ever been warned off an artist?
Neil Daniels: I don’t want to name any names but yes, some bands have tried to warn me off but I’ve had reliable publishers and there’s never been any problems after the books have been published. Touch wood.
Geeks of Doom: Do you have a biography of your own that you’re particularly proud of?
Neil Daniels: I’m really pleased with both Pantera and UFO books. Sure, they’ll have their critics but I think they cover both bands’ histories rather well. I like the Journey book too, though, there are things in every book I’ve done which I’d love to change.
Geeks of Doom: For your excellent ‘All Pens Blazing’ book series you have interviewed hundreds of music journalists. Why did you decide to compile these?
Neil Daniels: Well, it all started on my now defunct website www.neildaniels.com (my new site is being built) under the heading Interviews With Writers. I was asked a few times if I was ever going to compile them into a book, and wanting to try my hand at self-publishing or print on demand, I went ahead with the idea. I used a few in the first collection that had been published online but certainly 95% of the first volume are exclusive to the book, so I’m not ripping people off. I got in touch with lots of writers, especially from the old Kerrang! days, like Derek Oliver, Dave Reynolds and Paul Suter, and I know they have something of a following in the scene, so I had another viable excuse for a book. These guys have some really great stories. The idea for the first volume was to stick exclusively to hard rock and metal but with the second volume, I changed to title to ‘Rock & Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook’ to broaden the scope and to include more writers. I then became acquainted with Createspace and released a third and final volume and retitled and rebranded the series as Rock N Roll Sinners. All three volumes are available on Amazon.
Geeks of Doom: Was everyone happy to get involved?
Neil Daniels: Absolutely. Some were very keen to talk about their careers as rock writers and friends to the stars.
Geeks of Doom: Are there any music writers you haven’t been able to interview yet but would like to?
Neil Daniels: Yes, there’s quite a few but I had to stop with the third book and move on to other things but I think 200 writers covers the profession rather well.
Geeks of Doom: Which music authors or books would you recommend?
Neil Daniels: Dave Thompson’s book on Deep Purple, Martin Popoff’s books on Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, John Tucker’s book on the NWOBHM, Phil Sutcliffe’s AC/DC book Ian Christe’s book on the history of metal to name just a few.
Geeks of Doom: Not only rock music, you have also written about TV and films. What films did you most enjoy when you were growing up? Has your taste changed much since?
Neil Daniels: I love science fiction, fantasy and horror. I’ve been a film buff for as long as I can remember so I did my degree at Uni in film studies. I released a book last month called In A Dark Room – Exploits Of A Genre Fan which collects my film reviews and articles. I’ve got a book out next month on pop culture and a film biography out in 2015. Exiting times ahead.
Geeks of Doom: Do you have plans on starting an ‘All Pens Blazing’-type series of books featuring interviews with screenwriters? If so, who would you most like to interview?
Neil Daniels: No at the minute. Those books were quite time-consuming and I’ve got other projects to work on but it’s a good idea.
Geeks of Doom: What are you working on for 2014?
Neil Daniels: I’ve had over 20 books published with titles on Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Journey and Metallica as well as AC/DC and Bon Jovi et al. I’ve had commercial biogs out this year on Pantera, UFO and AC/DC. It’s pretty exciting. I’m not quite as prolific as Martin Popoff or Dave Thompson but it’s not a race and I admire those guys immensely. I like to move between the self-published stuff which fills in the gaps between the commercial releases. Next year I’ve got books out on Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi as well as others which I can’t mention yet. Keep checking neildanielsbooks.wordpress.com for updates.