Interview with Author Kory Grow
Author of ‘Heavy Metal: From Hard Rock to Extreme Metal’
Interview by JP
Author Kory Grow is from New York, NY and is perhaps best known as the author of Heavy Metal: From Hard Rock to Extreme Metal. Kory is also a contributor to Revolver, Spin, RollingStone.com, MTV Hive, Guitar World and The Village Voice, and more.
Tell us a bit about how you got into writing about Metal!
I’ve been a metal fan for as long as I can remember. Like many people in their early 30s, I discovered Metallica, Ozzy, Megadeth and the like through MTV and then just became obsessed with learning everything about those bands through reading magazines and books. Just after college, I got an internship at CMJ, a music magazine that covered all genres. Being one of the few people there who had a background in metal, I lobbied with the editors to get to review some of the heavier bands. As I got the hang of it, I got a lot of encouragement and advice from another editor there who liked metal, Chris Weingarten. Eventually, I did some freelancing, which landed me a writing gig at Decibel, and upon leaving CMJ, I got a job at Revolver, where I worked as an editor from 2007 until last year. Over the past decade, I’ve also written about metal bands in some capacity for Spin, RollingStone.com, Guitar World, The Village Voice, MTV Hive, Metal Hammer, Alternative Press and several others. I feel lucky to have been able to turn my love of music into a career.
Is it difficult to make a living being a Metal writer?
Yes. The number of magazines that cover metal are diminishing and only a few publications pay well. Also, it helps that I don’t write exclusively about metal. I think diversifying my writing and befriending other editors and writers have helped me along the way.
Is there still a place for traditional print media?
Absolutely. You can’t look at nice, large photos on an iPad the way you can in a magazine. Also, it’s more enjoyable to read in-depth stories in print. Web media will always have the upper hand when it comes to breaking news, but I feel even in the era of “#longreads,” I still appreciate reading stories on paper.
Do you have an opinion about the industry massacre of the some of the bigger print magazines (Brave Words, Metal Maniacs) in the past several years and conversely the rise of the printed fanzine (Chips n’ Beer, Chromium Dioxide, Banzai) again?
It was a shame to see both of those titles go, especially Metal Maniacs for me, since I was a longtime reader and was writing for them around when it closed. I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between the shuttering of those magazines and the rise of fanzines, but it’s great to see some new bylines out there.
There has been a massive increase in Metal-related publishing in the past few years, specifically books. What do you attribute this to? Do you read other Metal books/magazines/fanzines to keep a finger on the pulse of the publishing industry?
I’m not sure why there’s been a big push in metal publications. Maybe it’s just because we are an outspoken group of people who won’t shut up. Hahaha. Metalheads love their music and their culture, and, as we’ve grown up, it would only make sense that we would want to celebrate it. It might also be the age of the genre, too. Metal is 40-some-odd years old now. Studying history is part of being an adult, and I think that goes with studying the history of metal.
I read as many metal books as I can, whether that’s autobiographies, historical books like Sound of the Beast, record guides like the ones Martin Popoff and Chuck Eddy have written or just those goofy funny books of lists. I’m especially looking forward to reading Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman’s oral history of metal that’s coming out. As for magazines, I read Revolver, Decibel, Terrorizer and Metal Hammer regularly and I browse the racks when I go to newsstands.
Can you tell us about some for the challenges of working at a big mag like Revolver?
Working at Revolver was a dream job. Previously, I’d worked at smaller magazines with little to no budgets, so to be able to work with great writers and have a photo department that would organize photo shoots was a godsend. I learned a lot from editor-in-chief Brandon Geist and former EIC Tom Beaujour about how a pro mag operates as well as how to cultivate Revolver’s voice. Now that Geist is the only editor on Revolver, I’m consistantly impressed with the issues he’s putting out—and I’m not just saying that because he assigns me work. I know how hard it is to get each one of those issues out, and it is not a one-person job.
As for challenges, the biggest ones were the things that were beyond our control: Things like the cost of distribution, the internal framework of working for a multinational corporation (Napalm Death reference intended) and so on. Other than that, there were your typical blown deadlines by writers and the occasional late night closing an issue, but I don’t think it’s any worse than anything anybody else goes through in the magazine industry.
Do you prefer doing freelance work, projects, or a steady gig editing?
Writing and editing are different disciplines, and I enjoy doing both. There’s an intellectual side to both, and each craft uses a different part of your brain. I can’t say I like one over the other. If the right editing job came along, I would take it.
As a writer, do you have any particular habits, styles or routines? For example, do meet the archetype of the harried writer, sitting up all night pounding away on a dusty old typewriter surrounded by empty bottles and cigarette butts or do you makes notes on a hi-tech tablet at the local coffee shop in the morning? Do you have a time when you feel most creative or inspired?
I wish my life were as interesting as your first scenario. In some ways, it’s a mix of those two tropes. Right now, it’s 1:15 am, I’m in bed, typing on my iPad while my wife sleeps. Generally, though, I wake up and see what’s on the agenda for the day. There’s not any particular time I feel more inspired than another, but I do try to keep somewhat normal business hours so I can spend my evening with my wife. I try to keep “work life” separate.
If I’ve learned anything from office work, it’s that “inspiration” is a vanity. If I have writer’s block on a subject, I just work on something else until there’s nothing else to work on. Sometimes I’ll start a feature in the middle or even the last third, rather than agonize over writing a clever lede.
Tell us about the creation of your book, Heavy Metal.
I got the offer to write the book the day after I got back from my honeymoon. One of my writers at Revolver, Gary Graff, had been in touch with the publisher and suggested me as a writer, so I’m very grateful to him for that. Luckily for me, my wife supported the hours of our newlywed life I spent listening to Black Sabbath on the stereo turned up to 11. When I came aboard, the publisher had already formulated what they wanted the book to be: a lavish coffee table book outlining the history of heavy metal, in the broad sense, with spotlights on some key bands. They suggested some bands they wanted covered, and I lobbied to include a few others, like Celtic Frost and Napalm Death.
One thing I wanted to emphasize with the book was the music: what makes it good and how it makes you feel. I wanted it to be a mix between a record guide and a music history lesson, imbued with my opinions. The tone of the writing was something I was very conscious of, and I was very happy to read your review where you called it light, effective and engaging. That’s what I was going for.
The most difficult sections to write were the genre overviews. I had strict word lengths but carte blache, as far as direction. The very first section, the introduction to the book—and to metal itself—was the hardest. From what I’d seen, a lot of other books focus on the history of metal and, with the exception of Deena Weinstein’s excellent sociological look at metal in the ’80s, few focused on the culture and why we’re metalheads. I worked hard to make the intro something that a metalhead would read and nod his or her head at in agreement.
Perhaps the most fun thing for me, was getting the foreword. Right from the very beginning, I knew I wanted Kerry King to write it. Slayer are one of my favorite bands, and I’d never seen Kerry King do anything like writing a foreword at that point, so it was a true honor. I still get stoked when I read it.
Anyway, all in all, the whole process of writing the book took about six months, as I had a strict deadline. I spent many, many nights up until 2 or 3 a.m. writing and then going to work at Revolver the next day. Red Bull was a close friend. Hahaha. I also had the revelation somewhere in there that I could write on the subway, to and from work, on my iPhone. I figured, since I’m going to be listening to Destruction and Mayhem and Metallica anyway on my commute, I might as well jot a few notes about how it sound and any thoughts I had about the bands. That was a very liberating and time-efficient discovery.
Was the editing process painful?
Yes, but maybe not for the reasons you’re thinking. My publisher is Italian, so throughout the entire process there were some lost-in-translation moments. They hired a copyeditor, and when I saw the galleys, I was shocked to see they had translated my writing into British English. I don’t know the first thing about British grammar rules, other than the fact that commas sometimes go outside of quotation marks. Anyway, I went over their edits, found some mistakes, and I hired a friend to copyedit and fact-check it, too. Luckily for me, he’s from England. Now the book is also available in Italian, Spanish, French and Czech. I hope the translations are accurate, but the reviews of those editions have all been positive.
How are sales of Heavy Metal. You don’t have to answer that! Have you had much feedback in reviews or from other writers in the industry? (Besides my hack-job review?) lol.
First off, as I told you over email, your review was fair. Many of your criticisms were things I didn’t have control over and were things I had tried to change. I’m very happy with how the book turned out and I stand behind the text, and other than a few comments from reviewers here and there about my occasionally snarky (and totally in-good-fun) observations, people seem to like my writing, so I’m happy about that.
The reviews I’ve read have been positive, and my friends in the industry who have it all have had nice things. The book has also helped me to make friends with some people, like a woman from Tennessee who found out about my book from my Twitter. She ordered the book and ended up sending it to me to inscribe to her, which I thought was awfully nice. It’s been great hearing all these nice things about it.
As far as sales go, it seems to be doing well. The only numbers I ever get to see are those on Amazon, and there was a huge spike around Christmas. I thought that was cool. The price really fluctuates on Amazon, so I suggest grabbing it while it’s cheap. Haha.
What was the most rewarding part of publishing something as epic as this book?
Actually holding it! The fact that I have a couple less inches on my bookshelf because I wrote a mammoth tome. It feels great! Also, the kind words and praise I’ve gotten from people mean a lot to me.
What other projects are you working on?
At the moment, I’m not working on any books or special projects. That one was enough for a while. Hahaha. I do have some ideas I may pursue down the line, and if and when they take shape, I’ll announce it then.
What last inspiring words do you have for young writers wanting to get into the industry?
Hard work pays off. There are a ton of opportunities for those willing to work. If you have the knowledge base, the charisma and, most important, the writing chops, you can make a living through hard work. The best advice I can ever give any writer is be likable and be available. Take your opportunities as they are presented and don’t take them for granted. Also, once you get your foot in the door at a publication, don’t give up or get lazy. And when you’re writing, be merciless. Manowar were right: “Death to false metal!”