In APESHIT‘s ongoing quest to speak with the people who work behind the scenes to make it all happen, we caught up metal renaissance man, Ian Christe. Starting out with the familiar starting point of a zine, he moved onto freelance writing for a wide variety of music publications as well as writing music. His band DARK NOERD THE BEHOLDER appeared on the very cool soundtrack for the uber disturbing Gummo movie. Currently, heavy music fans can catch his radio show, Bloody Roots, on Sirius XM Radio as well as read the insightful books that his publication company, Bazillion Points Publishing, is putting out. Ian gives us the inside scoop on some of his coolest projects, including the upcoming books from Bazillion Points.
APESHIT: You’ve worn and continue to wear many different hats within the heavy music world. When did you realize that you were a lifer?
Ian: Ha, great question! As a kid I couldn’t imagine anything else, that’s for sure. I knew I was a lifelong listener from the very start. I really started devoting all my working energy to heavy metal with the beginning of my metal history book Sound of the Beast in 1999. Before that, I played in bands, I wrote for various magazines including Wired and Popular Mechanics, and I had way more time on my hands!
APESHIT: You’ve had a chance to meet many of metal’s legends. Do you have any cool rock ‘n roll stories that you’d like to share?
Ian: Compared to almost any other form of music, the creators of heavy metal are great admirable dudes. We were lucky to have guys like Ronnie James Dio at the helm for so long. I decided to start my own magazine after spending a crazy day in Indianapolis in 1986 running around with Cliff Burton, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield. I was 16 and beside myself with joy. Eerie Von and the other two guys besides Glenn Danzig from SAMHAIN were also there, so it was like my two favorite bands meeting each other for the first time. Very cool, and I realized I had to get something happening!
APESHIT: Let’s talk about your radio show, Bloody Roots, on Sirius XM Radio. You’re on year 10 of the show’s existence? How do you keep things fresh and exciting?
Ian: Year ten started this June, which is just incredible. If I bring ten new songs to Sirius XM every week — and some shows have over 50 songs, in fact — then Bloody Roots has introduced at least 5000 songs to satellite radio. People and bands are so appreciative, and I’m very grateful to have the opening to do what I do there. It keeps me sane having a weekly outlet to blow off steam while I’m working on this long book projects that sometimes take years to complete. Although I’m mainly a writer and metal publisher, I actually started doing a radio show in Geneva, NY, when I was 14 years old, playing VENOM, EXCITER, METALLICA, SLAYER, and MERCYFUL FATE back in 1984.
APESHIT: With each broadcast, there’s always a cool topic where you provide a lot of insight for even the most diehard extreme music fans. Do you ever get “DJ block”?
Ian: Yes, it’s tough to come up with a new playlist every single week, almost 500 weeks in a row now. But the secret is tapping into whatever’s flowing through my head. I’ve been to Japan, Argentina, Sweden, Mexico, and Brazil during that time, and for instance I always bring back tons of music and that becomes a show. Fortunately metal keeps mutating and advancing, so I’m able to do shows like “Bloody Roots of Slam Death Metal” and other genres that didn’t exist when Sirius XM began.
APESHIT: You may be most well-known for being the author of Sound of the Beast. Endeavoring to write about the history of metal is no simple task. Can you tell us about the writing process?
Ian: Sure, I mapped everything out visually, including key events year by year but also how all the genres evolved together. I wanted to build the book from the ground up, letting the events and significant moments dictate the story. Leave the formulas for VH1 Behind the Music, that’s how TV has to be put together to work. Books can be way more complex, and I think Sound of the Beast has integrity because the narrative happens naturally. I worked pretty seriously for four years. I remember writing and rewriting from so many different frames of mind that eventually things seemed to have a strength as if the book had been written by a cabal of different people.
APESHIT: When the book was released, did you ever expect the book to be so successful? It’s been published in 13 languages and taught in college classes. That’s got to be such a great feeling as an author.
Ian: I poured so much time and energy into writing Sound of the Beast because I thought it couldn’t help but be hugely popular. Considering how much metal meant to me and so many people I knew, I just felt like how could it not rule the shelves? All I was doing was capturing the stories that were passed around from metalhead to metalhead like sacred scrolls. Looking back, everything worked out in an extremely lucky way. Total disaster would have been an equally likely outcome! But headbangers always need to know more, and books are the strongest method of pounding raw bleeding information into your brain.
APESHIT: Since hindsight is 20/20, is there anything that would change with Sound of the Beast? Any plans for an updated version?
Ian: I chose METALLICA as a central character because I knew that throwing 5,000 band names at a general interest reader, like some metalhead’s curious granny, would totally turn them off. I thought METALLICA was a great rags to riches story, and somehow they seemed to touch upon almost every major happening in metal in some way, so they became the familiar face to the reader. When I started writing that Napster and St. Anger stuff had not yet happened. That created so much ill will towards the band that it became polarizing, and Sound of the Beast took a lot of undeserved heat. Although I think I was blunt about METALLICA’s failings, maybe I could have been clearer, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just so partisan that people aren’t clear-headed any more. I think Sound of the Beast remains the most solid history of the different periods and styles of metal, and that much of what has happened lately fits right into the framework of the book.
APESHIT: Let’s talk about the publishing company you started, Bazillion Points. Why did you want to start a published company as opposed to something like the 1,000th metal record label?
Ian: Well, I have released music in the past, it’s fun and was good experience for getting Bazillion Points off the ground. Basically I had tons of great experience from releasing books with HarperCollins and Wiley, and I was sick of waiting around for mainstream publishing to catch on to what I was trying to do. I realized I had a chance to crack open the expectations of what small publisher should be, by introducing a whole new reading audience to books covering things about which they cared deeply and passionately. Plus, most importantly, I wanted to read these books! I can’t believe the pace we’ve set, I almost want to take a year off to let people catch up on our full range of offerings.
APESHIT: What has been some of the biggest challenges of running a heavy music themed publishing company?
Ian: The challenges of running any kind of company during this economic rut are huge! And publishing is a broken industry in many ways. The bigger we get, the more insanity we face from the big players. But our audience is growing, our books are praised and revered, and we’ve been able to give a very special family of authors the audience they deserve. The whole experience rules. The biggest challenge, literally, is freight. In this age of electronic communication, books still travel by train, boat, and truck. When our books travel near Somalia, we risk having them held for ransom by pirates. When deliveries come, we risk being crushed by 1400-pound wooden pallets of books. And then we have to move, stack, and store them. Which is why I’m strong as an ox!
APESHIT: What are some books that Bazillion Points has in the pipeline?
Ian: We are going to press now with Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, a photo book by Sub Pop Records cofounder Bruce Pavitt. That follows perfectly in the footsteps of our early thrash metal book Murder in the Front Row, and our early hardcore punk book We Got Power! Bruce is also collecting his legendary zine for us for Sub Pop USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology 1980–1988. We’ve got Heavy Metal Movies: Guitar Barbarians, Mutant Bimbos & Cult Zombies Amok in the 666 Most Ear- and Eye-Ripping Big-Scream Films Ever! coming by beast writer Mike McPadden. And Dianna Dilworth, who directed Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie, which we released on DVD, has just finished writing Mellodrama: The Mellotron Book. Mike Pinder from the MOODY BLUES has written a foreword for that, so he joins Henry Rollins and both members of DARKTHRONE as a Bazillion Points contributor!
APESHIT: How have the authors of the books you’ve published contacted you?
Ian: Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal author Jeff Wagner, and Hellbent for Cooking: The Heavy Metal Cookbook author Annick Giroux were people I’d known for a while that I thought could make great books. We Got Power!: Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980’s Southern California author David Markey got in touch because he liked what we had done with Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine. I guess the answer is every which way but loose.
APESHIT: For all the authors out there looking and hoping that Bazillion Points publishes their work, what advice can you give to them?
Ian: Make sure you are writing about a subject where you have unassailable authority. If you are writing about black metal, make sure MAYHEM’s Deathcrush is dedicated to you, like our author Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen. If you are writing about HELLHAMMER and CELTIC FROST, make sure you are Tom Gabriel Fischer. We basically want to cultivate and spread the purest stories and legacies straight from the source. From Laina Dawes to Tesco Vee to Andy McCoy to Tom Gabriel Fischer, we are talking about a bunch of unique experiences here, and we’re all better off for having their books available everywhere.
Follow Ian Christe on Twitter and visit Bazillion Points and Bloody Roots online.