A Few Words With Martin Popoff:
Rock's Most Prolific Scribe

Martin Popoff has 71 books to his name and counting, including Rush: Album By Album, Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers: The Rise Of Motörhead and Led Zeppelin: All The Albums All The Songs, to name just a few. In addition, he has worked and consulted with Banger Films on their documentaries Metal Evolution and Rock Icons, as well as on the Rush documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage. As if that wasn't enough, he continues to write album liner notes and reviews.

Yes, you could say Martin Popoff is a very busy guy, perhaps one of rock's most prolific scribes. Thankfully, the amiable music journalist was willing to give us his time to talk about what it is he does, how he does it, and what’s coming from him in the future. To learn more and purchase his books, go to Popoff's website at martinpopoff.com. In the meantime, read what the man has to say below.

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You write a lot of books. How do you find the time?

Well, combination of factors. I write fast, I work maybe a 55-hour week and books is pretty much all I do. A few other little things get thrown in there, like magazine and website writing, maybe some liner notes, and the only big disruption is when Banger Films calls me back to work. So I had some years where I was there full-time working on Metal Evolution, Rock Icons, the Rush movie, and then even when I’m not doing that stuff, I do a little bit for them on the side, mostly transcribing. But what else?

I tell myself that I have my heavy lifting hours, which is between 8 AM and about noon or 1 PM. I’m pretty useless after 1 PM, just lazy and stupid, so I kind of talk myself into doing pretty intense writing work within those limited hours. Try to keep the "C" priorities to a minimum. Oh yeah, I guess the other thing — I do quite a bit of is packing up and mailing books, signing them, taking them to my mailing service. I cringe to think how much time that takes and I try not to. I’m just delighted anybody wants to buy anything from me.

Tell me about your painting and drawing, and what you are presently into in that regard.

It’s pretty much all I want to do. I’m quite obsessed by it, reading artist biographies, art magazines, stuff on YouTube, and then knuckling down and doing some when I can. Right now, I’m just doing drawing with pencil, because it’s a pretty big ordeal getting back into all the paints. Unfortunately, my office is really an office, a nice condo and it’s crammed full of stuff anyway. But the painting is pretty messy. I have to commit to it to get back into it, but I really want to commit to it. I keep telling myself I’m making room by selling off crates and crates of records a couple times a month, but then I put a new book out, and I have to keep a few boxes of that around. So there are lots of heavy cardboard boxes full of books everywhere.

Do you think there will ever come a time you give to painting entirely?

Yes, next year, I aim to spend at least half my time doing it; treat 55 on April 28th as a semi-retirement thing. I still love a good half of what I did in the 90s, and most of it’s sold, and that plus what’s not sold, I pretty much figure is the coolest thing I’ve ever done with my time across any platforms — anything I didn’t like or indeed don’t like after 20 year now, I’ll use as a base and paint over. I do truly love about a dozen paintings I’ve done, and that high makes me want to do more, lots more.

The painting is a mix of oil and acrylic and this evil pink liquid called Liquin. I stretch my own campuses, lots of layers, lots of priming. Drawing is just...it feels a little bit like it’s merely killing time, but I do love when I finish something and I like it. Actually, what I’m drawing a lot of lately is reproducing the old record ads from the English entertainment weeklies from the 70s, plus because one of my hobbies is looking at cheap van living and tiny houses and tiny condos, I started drawing heavy metal vans, and I’m actually going to have eight or 10 of those show up in a magazine soon. I read van mags in the 70s, Cartoons mag, plus our family had a very ingenious camper van.

And writing beyond rock?

Long story, but I want to do some writing at some point on a trend I want to invent, a lifestyle of living in the most expensive cities in the world with almost nothing, and doing all of it outside of your living space — which ideally would be a luxury 100 foot condo. Essentially, the idea is tiny houses, but in Manhattan, Toronto, Vancouver, London, San Francisco.

When did you start writing about rock music?

I started with a self-published book in 1993 called Riff Kills Man! 25 Years of Recorded Hard Rock & Heavy Metal. That was about 2,000 record reviews. And then right after that myself and a buddy of mine, Tim Henderson, we started a magazine called Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles. And it’s been no looking back since then. Lots of interviews, to the point where I have about 1,700 now, and they’re all in a database, all transcribed — this isn’t video stuff, but all into print. And that actually helps with getting lots of books out. I really don’t like to write a book unless I’m offering lots and lots of my own fresh interview footage, so having that archive of 1,700 interviews helps.

I have lots of buddies who started in the 80s and even the 70s, and I really envy them. People are pretty surprised when I tell them I only started in 1993, and frankly, I’m a little embarrassed by that. But I have been a super crazy fan of hard rock and heavy metal and classic rock since about 1972, 1973, 10-years-old kind of thing, so I come by it honestly.

What makes a good review?

Well, I guess that depends on who your audience is. But in terms of me receiving the wisdoms from a good review, I want it to be pretty philosophical and insightful, and written by a deep fan, for a similarly crazy and obsessed fan, me. Nothing simple. Plus, I suppose, a great review makes you appreciate the album on a deeper level than you would have without the review. Which is, of course, why I love reading book reviews in the New York Times book review section. Sometimes, that’s as far as it goes, and I know those people are thinking that. It’s entertainment in its own sense. But, of course, many, many times it’s prompted me to go out and get the book.

But no, okay, so there are reviews that make you go out and get the album. But again, the best review for me is one that makes me appreciate the album on a deeper level, that makes me go look for the little nooks and crannies on the record, be it a lyric or a guitar solo or some production ear candy. I suppose, bottom line, I want someone who I think is cooler than me to turn me on to an album.

If you could have seen any band back in the day, who would it have been?

Boy, it’s hard for me to be disciplined and stop at one, so I’ll say the Grateful Dead during the Donna period only, Thin Lizzy, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush, Magazine, The Jam, The Clash and top of the list, These Trails, who I’m pretty sure never played live. But to be in the studio with them in Hawaii, top of the list.

Was there any particular interview that surprised, scared, thrilled and/or disappointed you?

Interviews with Zakk Wylde were always epic and gut-busting hilarious. Ted Nugent, same, although a little less on the funny, and a little more inspiring and charmed, I suppose. But weirdly, in a similar zone. Wow. Okay, it’s all coming back to me. Shawn “Clown” Crahan in person was pretty intense, and the whole vibe around that band (Slipknot) at their peak was kind of scary, but that’s usually something that’s happening around waiting, managers, road managers, attitude. These guys can wind you pretty tight by the time you meet “their star.”

Pretty cool getting to yak it up backstage with Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek. Pretty scary was John Cale, just because what a legend he is, but he was entirely pleasant. Also quite scary before it happened, but thoroughly enjoyable was speaking with Arthur Brown. Oh, I’d have to say Malcolm Young in person, the day after the Toronto Rocks concert, where they (AC/DC) played to 400,000 people. This was back at the hotel. Rest in peace, Malcolm.

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