Monday, July 29, 2013

Not-About-Writing Interview: John Joseph Adams

I've been gone for the past few months, but to tide you over, here's an interview with John Joseph Adams, editor of various magazines and anthologies. The point of this interview though is to not talk about writing! So without further ado...  

Hi John! I know you're a fan of metal, so what music are you currently listening to?

At any given time, I typically have a group of several albums that functions as my "current listening" playlist; usually, these are the last several albums I've acquired, and thus they're all new to me.

Currently, it contains the latest albums by Baroness, Killswitch Engage, Holy Grail, Mutiny Within, Ensiferum, Epica, Firewind, Soilwork, and others. I've also got a singular non-metal entry on the list: Muse's latest. Here's a link to the whole thing:

The latest Baroness album -- the double album Yellow/Green -- is one of my favorite records...I was going to say in recent memory, but given the number of times I've listened to it I would have to say calling it an "all-time favorite" would be more accurate. I just love the hell out of that album. Their first two albums -- The Red Album and Blue Record -- were both amazing too, but it feels to me like they really elevated their game to another level with Yellow/Green. Arguably Yellow/Green isn't even metal. Red and Blue certainly are -- and probably not particularly accessible metal either -- but Yellow/Green is much more mellow, which doesn't at all detract from how awesome it is, even as a metal fan.

Could you elaborate on what's the appeal of In Flames for you? How did you first hear about them and what made you listen to them again recently?

I think I first heard of In Flames courtesy of an MTV2 Headbanger’s Ball compilation CD. I’m pretty sure it was this one. Actually, though, now that I think about it, I may have first heard them on a different compilation -- I know I had bought some metal movie soundtracks around then. Looking at this track list for the soundtrack for Freddy vs. Jason (which I never even saw or had any interest in seeing), I think this must have been where I first heard them. Because before I looked I would have thought that the first In Flames song I heard was either “Trigger” or “Minus.” I’m now pretty sure it was “Trigger,” so I must have discovered them on that Freddy vs. Jason CD. It might have been encountering them subsequently on the Headbanger’s Ball CD that made me decide to check out one of their albums.

Those Headbanger’s Ball CDs (there were a couple compilations) really helped me expand my metal horizons. They were all double albums, with the first one being sort of more familiar metal bands (i.e., more commercially successful ones), and the second disc was full of bands that were more underground types, on smaller labels. I ended up discovering a ton of bands because of those CDs, including several bands that are now among my favorites: Killswitch Engage, Trivium, Lamb of God, Arch Enemy...

Although I usually only have recent additions to my library on my playlist, occasionally I'll rotate older material back into my playlist; for instance, I went to an In Flames concert a couple of months ago -- which was awesome, by the way -- and prior to that I sort of binged on In Flames for the weeks leading up to it, and added their most recent albums to my regular playlist for a while. When I go to see a concert, I like to be really familiar with the band’s material ahead of time. And of course I’ve listened to all of In Flames’s discography a ton, but I hadn’t in a while, so I wanted to make sure they were all fresh in my mind.

As for what I like about In Flames, I’m not really sure how to answer the question, largely because I never did quite figure out how to write or even talk about music. I tried taking a music review class once in an effort to figure it out (since I seem inclined to turn my hobbies and interests into work), but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. It probably doesn’t help that when I read reviews of music they almost never actually give me much of a sense what the band is like, unless they compare them to some other band I already know. If I were to take a stab at trying to explain, though, I guess I would say that what I like about In Flames--and more generally what I tend to like about the metal that I like--is the blistering guitarwork and the dynamic ebb and flow of the melody and the vocals as they alternate between harsh and mellow. Lyrics are kind of an afterthought for me when it comes to music, which is probably one of the reasons I connect to metal so much since it’s often so hard to understand what they’re saying. I may just be musically or tonally impaired, but I have a terrible time actually understanding the lyrics in MOST songs, even pop songs where they’re just singing, so not being able to understand the shouting and screaming vox in metal isn’t a big deal to me. Sometimes I seek out the lyrics so I can read along as I listen, when I have a band or album that I really like, and it’s cool to discover that the songs I like so much actually have cool lyrical content too. But I’m just as often disappointed to discover that the songs I like are either vapid or just don’t make much sense. So it’s not something I indulge in often. It’s usually better to just think I know what the song’s about  based on the limited amount of the lyrics I can decipher on my own.

And speaking of the Baroness, not a lot of musicians (especially in these post-iTunes era) release double albums. In what situations do you think are they apt, especially when it comes to the packaging, the track sequence, etc.?

I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. In the case of Baroness, I can’t really tell the difference between Yellow and Green stylistically or musically--the songs all sound like they’re part of the same album to me. Actually it’s funny, because I mentioned how Yellow/Green is so mellow it’s barely even metal at this point, so it occurred to me that one use of a double album could be if, as a band, you wanted to experiment with some wildly different direction (say a metal band doing an album that was much less heavy), they could do one part as a regular album and have the other part be the experimental album.

I have another double album, from Dark Tranquillity, that is one part a B-side compilation and one part a live album, so that’s another way to do it. I’m actually really glad they did that as it kind of opened me up to buying live albums more often, as I previously hadn’t liked a whole lot of them. That one, though, is amazing, and I actually prefer listening to those versions of the songs to the studio versions in some cases. (Pantera’s live album is a similar case; that version of “Cemetery Gates” is hands down the definitive version of the song in my mind.)

All this talk of double albums kind of makes me want to do a series of “double anthos.” They could be done up Ace Doubles-style, and one side would be original stories, and the other side would be reprints. Although actually I guess that’s almost what I do in every issue of Lightspeed (minus the double-sided aspect). Whoa. I just blew my own mind.

Speaking of Ace Double-styles, I hear some editors talk about them (never saw them on my end because genre books were scarce here back then). Did you read a lot of them? Were they books your sister passed on to you? Why do you think they're gone now (with the exception of independent publishers who employ that format)?

I actually never encountered them until I started working in the industry. Without cheating and googling to find out, I couldn’t tell you when they stopped doing those, but it must have been before I started seriously reading SF/F. I expect had I identified as a genre reader earlier, I might have encountered them, as I do think they were around in the ‘80s. Though I--and a lot of people--often refer to them as “Ace Doubles” some other publishers did them too; Tor, for instance. And the format actually does have a name: it’s called “dos-a-dos binding” or “tête-bêche.” Wikipedia has an article about the format that explains it all pretty well.

I don’t really know why they’re gone now. I assume it’s just because that format stopped being successful commercially. It seems like it’s such a great idea, though, because it allows authors to write shorter novels and have them still be marketable, and also allows you to pair up a more well-known author and a lesser-known author, to help expose that newer author to a wider audience. I guess there are some issues with shelving such things though; where do you shelve it, and how does anyone looking for the “B Side” know how to find it in the store? That kind of problem would probably be irrelevant with online bookshopping, though, so, who knows? Maybe we’ll see them become popular again some time soon.

You recently moved from New Jersey to California. How is it going for you so far? What's the biggest adjustment you had to make?

It’s going great. I moved to the Central Coast of California because I met and fell in love with the lovely and talented Christie Yant. Location-wise, I guess the biggest adjustment has just been the lack of local culture that I had ready access to when I lived so close to Manhattan. But overall it’s been a definite upgrade; where I live, there’s just basically nice weather all the time; it never snows here, and I really hate snow so that’s a real plus for me.

And we’re not THAT far from culture if I really want it; we live about two and a half hours from Los Angeles by car, and an hour away from Santa Barbara. Plus there’s always conventions to help fill that socialization void, and of course since Christie is also immersed in genre publishing, I can also talk with her whenever I want and so that also basically negates that loss. And earlier this year Christie’s sister Kate moved in with us (after Christie’s eldest, Danni--now an adult--moved up to San Francisco). Like Christie and I, Kate’s also a huge geek and into genre publishing (she’s an aspiring writer). Heck, even the little one, Grace (who is almost eleven), is a big geek, and as I sit here answering this question, she’s working on her Harry Potter fan-fic story. So we basically have a little convention right here in our house whenever we want one

Otherwise, the biggest adjustment has been that I went from being single to having not just a girlfriend but a whole family, since Christie has two kids. So that was kind of a big deal, but it’s all gone really well, largely I think because we’re all awesome people. And then, of course, Christie and I got married--at the same place in Reno where George R. R. Martin got married!--and so now I’m a stepdad, though honestly that transition seemed even easier just because it seemed so natural.

Is there anything you miss from New Jersey? How about something that you really look forward to in California (aside from your new family)?

There’s nothing really I miss from New Jersey specifically, except that my mom still lives there, so I miss her. Otherwise, though, there’s nothing really about New Jersey I miss except its proximity to Manhattan and all its culture.

Here in California, I’m mostly just looking forward to never having to shovel snow again, and maybe a periodic trip or two down to Disneyland and Universal Studios with the family.

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