Interview with Snowy Shaw, author of The Book Of Heavy Metal

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Interview with Snowy Shaw, author of The Book Of Heavy Metal

by JP

When did you first decide it was the time to write your life story?

Well, to actually make it into a book, to be released into the world all happened kind of gradually. It’s a long story but I’ll try keeping it as short as possible. What happened is that, I came home day before X-mas after a very turbulent full year of touring the world with Therion and my life was in shambles. I had nowhere to live basically, a long relationship had crashed and lots of other things. I was so stressed out of my mind that I felt it was of great importance I’d set off time to get my shit together, and as so happens this coincided with me turning 40. Which in itself was a BIG thing for a restless soul like myself with a Peter Pan syndrome afraid of growing old in a world based on youth culture/rebellion, as historically the world of rock/metal is. I totally crash-landed and had a major midlife crisis and felt like the biggest loser ever. There was no escaping of the fact that I was now a middle aged man and I thought my life was over.

Without revealling too much detail here and now, rather than spending a fortune and thousands of hours on professional therapy or jumping from that Gothenburg bridge like I was just about to when,.. call it divine intervention or whatever but I suddenly had an epiphany and was presented a third option. I was so scattered and fragmented that I couldn’t think straight, or finish a single thought but then somehow I figured that if I write it all down I’d be able to take a step back and look at my problems more objectively. I had more or less all my life rushed forward, always onward without ever stopping to reflect or think. Now I had come to a crossroad and it was time to look back and summerize on my life, if I was gonna be able to move forward.

At that point in my mind I was so dark and depressed that I couldn’t see anything positive or light in my life at all, but after having been writing 24/7 for several weeks I one day looked out the window and noticed how the sun was shining, (despite it being dark November in Sweden.) That to me was a sign. My home-made therapy was in fact working and I was on the road to recovery. I was ready to face the world again and to go back to work. Then a little later I decided to keep a journal and write down my thoughts and reflections when out on tour or working in the studio or whatever project I was working with at the time. Mainly because it’s a good way of getting perspective on things, and so gradually the idea of making it all into a book started emerging.

From start to finish, from your first draft to having it come off the press, how long did it take you?

Off and on over the course of a decade, or then a little more and far more intensively towards the end when it was eventually time to wrap it up, finalize and put it out.

Did you ever consider approaching publishers or was The Book of Heavy Metal always going to be  a WunderWurld production? 

It crossed my mind of course but I never made any serious attempts at it really. I have never written or published any books before, and I’d be lying if I said I have a lot of knowledge or insight in the book business. On the other hand, I dare to say I have loads of experience with the music and record industry and somehow I figured it must have many common grounds and are facing very similar problems in this day and age. So I reached the conclusion where, like so many times before I said – “Fuck it! I’ll do it myself” and self-published. More of necessity than desire I guess I’m the perfect ambassador for D.I.Y. I have a lot of integrity and I’ve never been a big fan of compromizing with the stuff I’m creating. Especially not in later years as I’ve discovered that I often have more expertis and business know-how then many of the so-called pros with all those fancy titles who are selected to handle certain things for me and my products. Which not rarely have only ended up being one great big waste of time and money. Not to sound presumptuous, but when it comes to promotion, marketing and so forth, in my experience a lot of people in the industry seem unwilling/incapable to re-evaluate, adapt and update to the current situation. Whereas I have other more unconventional ideas, you might say,…

In truth, I much rather be small scale, underground and handle things my own way straight to my loyal hardcore fanbase and following, than to sell out and have incompetent middle hands fuck up my “art”, and steal all the profit while they’re at it.

Were there any key revelations or ancient forgotten memories that occurred during the writing of your story? 

Yeah, bits and pieces of cloudy distant memories that I had forgotten or previously thought was just dreams or something but that now all of a sudden made sense and could be tied to specific traumas and incidents. I had to ask my mom and aunt about certain things to get a clearer view of scenarios and stuff but unfortunately my mom’s a bit senile or has like so many of that generation blocked out much of the unpleasant incidents. “If we don’t talk about it, it don’t exist and never happened”

It seems many autobiographies seem sanitized (not satanized!) Was it a difficult decision to include some of the negative events and circumstances in your life, for example your marriage and mental health? 

Good question. No, not really. I made a vow with myself from the beginning to be very candid, personal and open hearted, and to tell it like it is. Whether it was business, relations, personal failures and so on. First of all because it started out as a home-made therapy to come to terms with my inner demons and shit, and what good would it do if I wasn’t then brutally honest with myself. Then of course when I decided to make a proper book out of it, I did a bit of self-editing/censorship but normally in real life I’m a person that’s very frank without much filter and I wanted this lifestory of mine to be an extension of the way I am, like an open book.

I’m sure there are some people who think I’m being too outspoken when revealling dirty details on specific stories (especially those who ended up in the crossfire, and they are quite a few of them) but I felt it was necessary, if not essential to maintain that approach in order for the reader to better understand what the hell went down actually and why I did like I did. For better or for worse.

What is the most satisfying experience of being a writer and how does the writing process compare to the creativity of being a singer/musician/designer/photographer etc…?

The way I see it, it’s different branches of the same tree. I am that tree and I allow myself to branch out into different directions and areas in my personal growth. Hahaha! Damn! that’s the best comparison/explanation I’ve come up with in years.  With the use of my roots that are firmly planted in the ground.

Anyhow, I must say that this was definitely one of the toughest ordeals I have ever put myself through in life (and not being a follower I’ve fought many battles in my days). Somewhere in the middle of the writing process I remember thinking. What the hell have I gotten myself into? Had I had any ambition to be a proper author it would probably have been smart to start with something simpler, just to learn the various techniques of writing. Like a fiction or something where I could just let my imagination run freely. Not having to stick to the truth re-telling real life events with real people, that on top of everything else are well known and featuring people that are famous or well known, that can be hurt.

As you can read in the book, I’ve always had big problems following rules, authority issues or being told what I can and what I can not do. So I have do it my way and find out along the way. That being said, as for the writing process it took a lot of trial and error to get the hang of it, finding the tone and my ‘language’ (not referring to me writing in my second language English) but I kept at it until I felt it lived up to my own standards and I was satisfied. That’s all I can do really. So to answer your question of what was the most satisfying experience, I’d say it was to actually finish it. Then to receive all the kind of overwhelming response it’s now getting, that’s merely a bonus and the absolute greatest feeling in the world. Thank you!  🙂

The layout and design is magnificent. Do you do all that yourself?

Yes I do, as usual. But since I suck at the program In Design where you put together the print ready PDF files for the book I had technical support from my great buddy Peter Öberg who’s worked for many years at an advertizing firm. Apart from the technical expertise, it’s also very good to get a little constructive criticism and someone to bounce ideas with at the final stages. That’s what I usually do with my creations, like when I go to mix my albums together with someone competent that I trust. People that won’t shy away from speaking their honest opinion or be afraid to say – “Snowy, no offence but this sucks old man’s scrotum, I know you can do better” Like my wife for instance, she’s merciless and brutally honest, the way I like it. Naturally after having spent so much time working on something so intensively, you tend to lose objectivity and it’s very hard to “kill your darlings”. So it’s good to have an extra couple of fresh ears or eyes to look/listen to it from the outside, so to speak.

How has initial reaction been to the book? 

Man, I’m just over the moon with gratitude and joy here! I couldn’t possibly be any happier. Each and every day I’m getting personal messages from all over the world and every walk of life where people writes and thank me for writing this book. What’s possibly even more interesting and rewarding is to hear how much it differentiates from one person to another. Psychological aspects that I’m not even aware of myself sometimes but that may be so obvious to others.

Some are more than others capable of reading in between the lines and see the depth and the different layers of frustration, uncertainties and agony of
that comes from following your heart and dreams, pursuing an unconventinal lifestyle as a struggling artist. While others may first and foremost enjoy reading about all the crazy adventures, industry gossip and scandals. More typical sex, drugs and rock n’ roll stories if you will. I’m happy that in this my lifestory there seem to be something for everyone.

On a related note, I noticed you didn’t pull any punches when detailing the shortcomings and even failures of your industry peers, colleagues and business partners.  Have you had any backlash from people who have read it? 

In all fairness, I’m not exactly late to expose my own failures and shortcomings either. That’s the tone throughout. The harsh reality, uncensored and brutal truth, without too much insipid sugarcoating. That being said, I’m certainly not vindictive, vengeful or mean just for the sake of it. That would be unfair and pathetic and poor judgement. I give credit and compliments when due and the same with critcism. Then again, if there are essential details for re-telling the story I couldn’t just leave out integral parts, ya know. One thing you have to remember is that when it comes to criticism is that, one might say 4 positive things and one negative. Which will you remember and put the most focus on? Yeah, that single negative one. That’s just how it is, in general. As for backlash. How’s that saying? “Sometimes silence says more than a thousand words” right?  So far just a little, like the great Messiah who unfriended me on Facebook the day after he received the book. What can I say? Truth hurts, and some can’t handle the truth. Other than that, not so much – yet.

I’ve noticed that very few, hardly any,  Hard Rock / Heavy Metal artists from mainland Europe have written an autobiography.  You are one of the very first. Why do you think that is? 

Hmmm, your guess is as good as mine. I really have no idea but now when you mention it, it’s actually true. It’s mostly American bands and artists who have published autobiographies. I suppose it could have something to do with the great success of The Dirt some 15 years ago, which was probably the first one out that set the benchmark and inspired others from that era and generation. Or perhaps it’s more of an American phenomenon altogether I don’t know. On the other hand, that’s great news for me though it means my autobiography is even more exceptional and unique hahaha!

What is on the horizon for Mr. Shaw? 

Black Clouds,… to paraphrase Manowar’s Thor the Powerhead. Well, as we all know in these strange and bizarre times it’s a bit tricky to see anything else but black clouds up ahead. It’s really the decline of the western civilization, and the whole world as we knew it is upside down. I for one find it extremely difficult to have any positive outlook on the future and I’m not just talking about the damn pandemic or the corona virus. I mean, it’s not like it was all hunky dory and like the rock/metal industry wasn’t already suffering for years and years before that. I know how we all like to pump our fists and utter clichés like “Rock will never die!” but is this perhaps the death-knell?

I might come across as a pessimistic jinx but hadn’t I’ve been an incurable optimist I could never have survived in this dog eat dog business for over 30 years the way I have, always moving forward to new adventures, challenges, bands and projects. Truth be told, having already realized many of my childhood dreams and crossed out most of the goals in my bucket list and having then published my lifestory on it. I must admit I find it harder and harder to motivate myself to go on, but what else can I do, or for that matter what else do I know? I’ve spent my life chasing rainbows and living my dream. My love for music and being creative has dictated my fate, and possibly sealed it too.

Lately I have been playing around a little with the thought of opening an animal rescue, or dog & cat shelter and throwing in the towel for my “career” in music for good. But I still have a lot of music inside me that needs to come out, so I guess I’m ready for that quite yet. That being said, just the other day, for Halloween I released the limited gold edition vinyl album Live In Hell,..  suitably titled, as we all find ourselves living in hell nowadays, but it’s a Live album obviously with the best stuff I’ve recorded live with my namesake band between 2011-2014.

Before the Corona shit put a halt to everything I was booked to be on this special Book Signing Event tour, first in Europe from late May through summer. Then in the U.S from late August and onward, doing everything from book & record stores, Hardrock Cafés and rockclubs to festivals etc in a more intimate setting where I’d be signing books, meeting fans, Q&A’s and playing a semi acoustic set of songs with just me and another guy but it all got cancelled or postponed until further notice. Then a few days ago I got a call out of the blue from this great agency in New York, so we’re now looking into setting up a USA run starting March 2021.

I might also start looking into making an audio book of it, if I can get it right the way I want it. We’ll see.

Lastly, how can people find, buy and read The Book of Heavy Metal?

Thank you!