Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Folks Behind the Music: Spotlight on Scott Rowley - Editor-in-chief at Classic Rock Magazine
One of the coolest things about the internet, is it gives you unprecedented access to folks you normally wouldn't be able to contact. Case in point, Scott Rowley, Editor-in-chief or Classic Rock Magazine, the world's purveyor of all things classically heavy in rock. Perhaps it was a bit of fanboy geekdom on my part, but I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Scott, the main man behind my favorite magazine. Check it all out at http://www.classicrockmagazine.com/
Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of spreading the word about music?
I wanted to write about *something*, was mad about music and the two things fell together, I think. I did work experience on my local newspaper the summer of the Piper Alpha disaster (an oil rig that exploded off the Scottish coast). A local man was killed and the News Editor, who was giving me a lift home, said "Let's go and knock on the widow's door, then you can see what that's like."
I couldn't think of anything worse. I left her to it, realised I didn't have the stomach for news reporting. Talking to a load of hairy wankers about rock'n'roll sounded much more fun.
We're all the product of our musical past. What's your musical history? First album you ever bought? First musical epiphany moment? First album that terrified the hell out of you?
First single I ever bought was either Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger or Madness's House Of Fun. I have an older sister - her boyfriend at the time was massively into Bowie and she'd come home with ChangesOne and Two, Ziggy, Hunky Dory, etc. Then all Bowie-related stuff: Lou Reed's Transformer, Iggy's Raw Power, a best-of Mott The Hoople. I became obsessed with all that.
My mate did a milk run (ie delivered milk) and a guy on it was older and gave him a loan of U2, Joy Division, Cramps, Sisters of Mercy etc etc records - it was the mid 80s. We formed a band and our drummer was massively into Led Zeppelin – we'd go round his and listen to Zep 4 etc. The guitarist – like all guitarists – started getting into Hendrix and soloing instead of just playing barre chords. Some of the bands we liked got heavier too: The Cult turned into a Zep/AC/DC parody at the perfect moment for us.
Later, when we were drinking age, we'd go to a club in Irvine called The Attic. It was basically filled with people who'd be out of place at the local mainstream disco: punks, goths, metalheads, psychobillies, indie kids. They would play the Cramps followed by Motley Crue followed by The Doors followed by the Sisters followed by Sabbath. The dancefloor would be packed whatever. I liked that mix and still do. I've never understood purists. (I admire some: I like music writers who have a definite aesthetic, but I can't manage it myself.)
And then there was John Peel - he would blow your mind on a nightly basis.
My tastes are still changing - and I think they *should*. I see a lot of people whose taste are frozen to what they were when they were 17. When I started on CR I thought Sabbath were just too *slow* - I just didn't get it. But I really like them now (Ozzy not Dio years, sorry). When I was a teenager I had a soft-spot for sad sack, bedwetter, oh-woe-is-me, no-one-understands-me, aren't-I-deep music? The older you get the less time and space you have in your life for that emotion, let alone music. I've got kids and a wife and a fucking job to do. I can't sit around moping, listening to some multi-millionaire with a film star wife blub about how 'sad' he is.
(This being the Ripple Effect I should talk about how much I love Captain Beyond, Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore, right? I really love Captain Beyond, Dust and Sir Lord Baltimore. And Bloodrock, Cactus, and Luv Machine. There. Now we can all feel like connoisseurs.)
Earth Rocker by Clutch. I was ready to dismiss it as "just another Clutch album" but it's brilliant: heavy, groovy, with Fallon on great lyrical form. Christ knows what he's going on about but he has great turn of phrase. (Albums don't get me the way they used to. There are loads of great songs around, but faaaaar fewer decent albums.)
What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?
Good: There is loads of great new music, and it's easy to get hold of, easy for bands to control their own fate. Bad: There's no label support so the very promising new band doesn't get snapped up and advanced some money to go on the road. New bands can impress/get heard but then they struggle to get through to the next level.
Good: the internet has given everyone a direct line to the thing they love the most, whether it's prog-metal, stoner rock or surf punk. Bad: It's turned them all into little purists. They're like Daily Mail readers who just want their tiny world views confirmed, not challenged.
Magazines - a collection of loosely-related stuff - suddenly can't satisfy them. They've got *other stuff* in them! Stuff outside of what *they* like! Suddenly everyone expects you to make their own personal magazine (there are solutions to this but they're a year or two away I think).
With so many music sites/magazines, how would you describe what you do?
We're the home of high voltage rock'n'roll, the patron saint of lost causes (no band too uncool, too naff, too obscure), The Last Great Rock'N'Roll Magazine, the only rock magazine with a hairy arse. (Alternatively, if you work in finance, we're a 'content creation and delivery business'. With a hairy arse.)
I think we ask good writers to focus on people who haven't been written about properly before. It's our job to redress the balance in some cases – many of the people we write about haven't been given the credit they're due, have never won an award, some never made any money. Many of them have been shunned and ridiculed by the music press over the years. It's our job to put it in perspective, let them speak.
In some ways we're less about the music than we are about the people. The music is what binds us all together (eww - that's one of the hippiest things I've ever written) but the people (their personalities and stories) are the fascinating thing.
(I'm really just talking about Classic Rock here - but what I do covers Prog, The Blues Magazine, AOR, Fanpacks, websites etc etc. Not to mention TeamRock Radio - we're looking at taking this attitude, this love of the music, this content across all platforms, across the world… But that's another story.)
I dunno: we have longer memories?
When I was Editor of Total Guitar magazine I spent a lot of time listening to back catalogues to find great riffs and solos for us to transcribe/tab. I'd literally be listening to Jaco Pastorius one minute, Pantera the next. Blind Blake to Blink 182, Dire Straits to Danzig. It was an education I think all music writers could do with (I don't mean to patronise - many of them do have it). If you're going to start ripping the piss out of musicians, or highly acclaim them, it helps if you have a bit of perspective - a long view.
At the same time, I'd interview some of rock's biggest names - guys I'd taken for granted for years - and find them more humble and interesting than any of the 'hot young things' I'd speak to. Guys like Mark Knopfler or Brian May would sit and be humble and funny and polite, while some critically acclaimed young hotshot - who hadn't achieved a fraction of those guys - would give you a load of ego and grief.
That said, I'm punk enough that I think a bit of disrespect to what came before is healthy. I hate the idea of 'the canon' - and as a result I think we chip away at what is considered 'classic rock'. We're not professors of literature jealously guarding the space next to Jane Austin and Thomas Hardy. We're not that precious. We see our remit as covering "rock music that endures". So that can lead to cross over with some blues, punk, goth, indie acts etc. Which annoys some people.
The thing is that I don't see rock as a museum piece - and the artists we speak to don't either. Ian Gillan and Deep Purple would rather be in a mag that had Muse, Metallica, the Black Keys and Deap Vally in it, than one that just lionised them alongside Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page see themselves as cool pioneers - not fucking relics that made old music for old men.
(There's a tendency to think of great old music as 'dad rock' - but it was made by guys in their 20s FOR guys in their 20s. The bands and their fans might have gotten older but the music is frozen in time - which is why it still appeals to kids. We shouldn't be telling those same kids that their music is shit. It's obvious to anyone who listens widely and with an open mind - there still is some great stuff being made.)
Illegal free downloads on your site. Yes or no, and why?
No. It's illegal and we aren't some dudes doing this out of a bedroom - we could be sued. I think there's an argument for it - it gets music out to people who wouldn't have heard it, a lot of the time the bands don't see the money anyway, it just goes to the record companies etc etc. But rule of thumb: if it's not yours, you shouldn't be sharing it with thousands of people you don't know.
What's been your all time greatest "Find"? That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?
I couldn't say. It's one of the greatest pleasures though, finding great bands, and helping them reach an audience. I think we've been important to Joe Bonamassa, The Answer, Rival Sons and so on - but equally we seem to be one of the few print mags covering Monster Truck, Cory Branan, Howlin' Rain, Big Wreck, Phantom Limb, Walking Papers, Hidden Masters, The Temperance Movement, Scorpion Child etc etc.
I could write 1000 words about a 1000 songs. And *will* if you've got the money to commission me?
Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.
Blues Pills. Beware Of Darkness. Black Spiders. That's just the 'B's.
What makes it all worthwhile for you?
It's not worthwhile.
How would your life be different if you weren't involved with music?
I might do something worthwhile.
Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?
No. But getting insulted online by a bunch of twonks hiding behind pseudonyms has become a daily part of life for music writers now. That can be a bit wearing if you let it get to you. Which I don't, but I see people who've spent time writing something clever, interviewing people, researching the shit out of something, putting themselves on the line; artists taking a risk, exposing themselves, having the balls to take to the stage etc etc - and in return they get some dipshit saying "This is crap. That's not rock" etc etc.
It's one of the biggest disappointments of the internet: the rock fans I knew were smarter-than-your-average-bear. We were proud to be different, we liked music that was exciting, clever, cool. The music was adventurous, experimental, ballsy, brave, underground, subversive. It made you feel superior to Joe Doofus and his bog standard assembly line pop music.
Then the internet gave a voice to these… *plums*. It's not what they say that's the problem, it's how they say it - the level of debate. Fair enough if you don't like a band, but explain why. Be witty, insightful, add to the debate. Have some fucking self-respect. Writing "That's not classic rock!" every time we cover something post 1986 doesn't cut it. It goes back to that thing about people's tastes frozen at 17 - some of these people seem to think it constitutes "selling out" to like something that wasn't approved by Kerrang! in the 80s.
In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?
Jesus fuck. I'm 42. I'm not writing my obituary just yet.
Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do. How do you find the balance?
I don't. The balance is off. And I have kids and a family to go to - I have an excuse to miss gigs, and listening sessions and acoustic sets - how the rest of the team do it, I don't know. I'm writing this on the train to work (while listening to the new Motorhead album). It's the closest thing to free time I get and I'm still basically working.
But, y'know, it's not like I'm down the mines. I'll live. On Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, Blues - we have a load of people who've given their lives over to this.
What's next? Any new projects?
We've just launched Country Music Magazine. It's a similar model to Prog, AOR and The Blues Magazine - a totally niche mag with a higher cover price. It won't change the world or make millions, but maybe it can give a focus to the scene in the UK and give people who like real country music something to read. (If you like Country, check out Sturgill Simpson.)
Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?