Steve: ‘Every Record Tells a Story’

Every Record Tells a Story logo

When I embarked on what I now like to refer to as ‘the Words and Music project’, I did so with the dual conviction that: i) a lot of human experience in relation to rock music, and fan experience in particular, is neglected and under-described; and ii) such experience is both valuable and entertaining and ought to be captured.

It’s always a joy, therefore, to come across writers and other fans who’ve been inspired and motivated by broadly similar thoughts.

One particular joy is Every Record Tells a Story, a website/blogsite that is maintained and populated with considerable dedication and aplomb by a gentleman we may refer to as ‘Steve’.

Steve’s frequent, informative and humorous articles have not just provided succour to his regular music-loving readership, they have also caught the eye of national newspapers, rock magazines and television documentary makers. He also recently put rock music on trial! Want to know more? Then please read on, and check out the first Words and Music interview of 2014 …

Hi Steve! “Every Record Tells a Story”– excellent name, and very true, what can you tell us about it?
Chuck Klosterman - Fargo Rock City book coverI started writing Every Record Tells A Story a couple of years ago, but the genesis of the whole thing came in 2001, when I stumbled across the newly released book Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. Here was a guy who grew up in the middle of nowhere, listened to a derided genre of music – heavy rock – and could still talk about it with enthusiasm and with his critical faculties intact. It was brilliant. Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if I could do something like that, but talking about life in the UK? There were similarities: Klosterman lived in a part of the world that I pictured as a wilderness, whilst in the UK I grew up in a cultural wilderness, musically speaking, thanks to the national radio stations that played non-stop Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

Of course I did nothing about actually writing a book, but the idea remained. I can’t review new records as well as Pitchfork or Drowned In Sound and I can’t approach an artist and say: “I’m from Rolling Stone and can I have an interview?” But not many people write about heavy rock, and those that do tend to (rightly) take it quite seriously, and tend not to write about other genres. So I had something different, because all I want to do is make stupid jokes and write about Jack White as well as Whitesnake. The Blogs-With-Stupid-Jokes-About-Heavy-Rock-And-Indie-Bands-niche is not a large or particularly strongly contested niche in the blogosphere, so I think I have a free run at it. I am trying to make a virtue of a lack of focus.

I like to think that blogging is to writing what punk was to music – a DIY ethic – that whole “here are three chords, now go form a band”, only with words. It isn’t of course – it’s basically me, typing into a computer, which is about as far removed from punk as you can imagine. However, my blog is the culmination of years of  just being a fan of music, reading countless music biographies, storing up all these ideas and events – things that happened at gigs for example, and then gobbing them, carefully, onto the page.

I still have doubts about the name, but you have to call it something – and you should have seen the other ideas – they were far worse.

I’ve been following your blog now for about 18 months, and you’re pretty prolific – it must be quite a commitment?
I post something new every three days. It’s always fun, but the family and day job come first (I have a wife and a couple of young kids). I work in London and work long hours, but I write it all whilst I am travelling on the train.

Motivation is rarely an issue – it’s fun to do. Music is full of quirky things – from the idea of playing Dark Side of the Moon alongside The Wizard of Oz, to the daft song titles in Blue Oyster Cult records, so there’s never a lack of inspiration. It’s even better when people leave comments – it’s great to hear what people think. My favourite page on Every Record Tells A Story is something I wrote about the much missed heavy metal record store Shades, in Soho. Not so much because of what I wrote – the article is okay and The Guardian published a shortened version online on Record Store Day 2012 – but more the comments that people have left – including guys who worked there, former owners, people like me who visited to buy records and a former Kerrang! magazine scribe. It must be approaching fifty comments and has become a mini-shrine to a much missed record store.

Kerrang! WASP cover 1985You pointed out to me that we seem to have “ploughed similar furrows, musically speaking”. Tell us more about your own route into rock fandom.
The blog started with my looking back at early musical memories, which made it one of the few Status Quo-heavy blogs out there. Quo were my gateway drug to heavy rock. I also remember seeing Wham! and Queen on Top of the Pops once and telling a friend at school how great Queen were, whilst Wham! just left me cold. Buying my first copy of Kerrang! magazine in 1985 was what confirmed my interest in all things rock. It was all downhill from there …

So, is it possible to say what music means to you?
I’m part of a club of people who seem to be into music more than “normal” people. I have found a few of us. Music can be a pick-me-up or a calm-me-down, a thirst-quencher or a hangover-cure, an ice-breaker or a solo-pursuit, a mood-setter or merely background noise.

Has your taste changed much over time?
It has widened. In his book 31 Songs, Nick Hornby wrote that Led Zeppelin and loud music generally is something you grow out of. I disagree. I now find something to enjoy in most genres, but there’s still nothing quite like the sound of a Gibson Les Paul plugged into a Marshall Stack.

Three bands, three albums and three (music) books you rate highly?
Difficult to narrow it down … of bands around now, I really like Queens of the Stone Age – I think Josh Homme has built up an amazing body of work, including Kyuss and Them Crooked Vultures. Of bands from the last twenty years I think The White Stripes were outstanding. Jack White and Josh Homme together saved rock ’n’ roll in the last couple of decades, if it ever needed saving. And from the Sixties, it’s hard to look beyond The Beatles.

Masters of Reality - Blue Garden album coverAlbums-wise, my all-time favourite record is Blue Garden by Masters of Reality, although the follow-up Sunrise in the Sufferbus had Ginger Baker on drums and was quite brilliant. My favourite album of 2012 was Crown and Treaty by Sweet Billy Pilgrim – it’s a great record and deserved more attention. This year, I have chosen Drenge by Drenge – they’re a two piece from Derbyshire and make a great noise.

Ian Hunter - Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll StarBooks-wise, I have a list of fifty great rock biographies on the site but three of my favourites include: Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock ’n ’Roll Star, which is a journal of a slightly bewildered Englishman Abroad on a tour of the USA. It paints a great picture of the US in the early Seventies; STP: A Journey Through America With The Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield which is superb throughout and just pips Keith Richards’ bio for the best book on The Stones; and Billion Dollar Babies by Bob Greene – about a young Alice Cooper – which is  similarly close to its subject although is out of print and hard to find. On my “to read” list is Bob Stanley’s Yeah Yeah Yeah, which was released this year and is a history of the UK charts.

What, for you, makes a rock gig special?
Getting down the front, in as small a venue as possible. The best gigs are the ones where you are closest to the band, and you get the feeling of a communal spirit, everybody’s jumping up and down and singing along.

Your most memorable gigs?
There are many. Kings X played The Marquee a couple of times and absolutely blew the roof off the place on both occasions. In the second show the boys from Anthrax were in the audience, stage-diving into the crowd. Badlands at The Astoria was incredible because they were amazing, but had already split up acrimoniously before going onstage. Jimmy Page’s solo show at Hammersmith Odeon in ’89 stands out also when he played ‘Stairway …’ with just a spotlight focused on an empty microphone stand, and the crowd just sang along. Then there was Robert Plant playing a warm-up show at a tiny basement at Colchester University and I missed my last train home, sleeping overnight at the station on a cold January night covered only by jeans, denim jacket and a t-shirt.

They say never meet your idols. What are the best and worst encounters you’ve had with an artist?
I have had very few encounters to speak of. I think I have only ever met three or four musicians. I interviewed Will Rees from Mystery Jets last year. It was a cold day, I was the last of a dozen people he had met, and he was freezing cold – literally shivering. I had a quick chat – he was very nice – and let him get back into the warmth.

You put heavy rock on trial recently, tell us more about that.
I had been building up to those articles for a while. Heavy rock is an odd genre, and splits opinion like no other. I wanted to deconstruct rock’s appeal and work out why people like or dislike it. Why did I like it so much when I was growing up? Why do I look back at some of it with fondness and at other bits with embarrassment? I loved heavy rock when I was a teenager. Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi – all those guys. But for many it’s just noise, or stupid, or sexist.

Maiden's Maiden

Maiden’s Maiden. What’s wrong with being sexy?

I wanted to work out why the genre splits opinion, and came up with ten reasons why people dislike heavy rock. These included the way bands dress, the way they sing, the propensity of guitarists to show off, the sexism, the possible lack of innovation. I mean, look at the way Manowar present themselves. It’s ridiculous. But I had a couple of their albums, and I overlooked their farcical dress sense. Other questions asked include: Are you more likely to suffer a nose bleed listening to Mariah Carey or Geddy Lee? Were Kingdom Come influenced by more than just the sum of Led Zeppelin’s quiet songs, plus Led Zeppelin’s louder songs? And does David Coverdale really have to be such a dirty old man? Using the pretext of a “trial” allows me to present the arguments for and against in an engaging way, and lets readers be judge and jury by voting.

So, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Somewhere in between. There has been some great music inspired by the first two – Appetite For Destruction is a good example – but also some pretty dire stuff too.

How do you view the role of the rock writer, and the ‘blogger’ in particular?
If I have a role, it is to entertain people with the writing, make people laugh and hopefully get them to dig out a new or old record. That’s all. Every Record Tells A Story will appeal to gig goers, vinyl lovers, and fans of indie, rock and metal. It’s like a poor man’s Mojo Magazine, only not as well written, but with (hopefully) better jokes.

There are many very good music blogs out there, much better than mine, a lot of which tell you about new music and new bands, and they play a great role in promoting new bands. Well, that’s not the kind of blog I write. Who wants to only listen to new stuff when you haven’t heard all the old stuff? It gets exhausting to keep up with. I start to doubt someone when they recommend their eightieth new band of the year as being something special. So I’ll write about say, six new bands a year, and I’ll really like them all.

Of everything you’ve presented on the site, is there anything of which you’re particularly proud?
I once took on a bet that I could buy all the Beatles albums on vinyl in a limited time and budget – that was a good series and was as much fun to do as it was to write. I had to do a fair bit of research, which I enjoyed. It ended up being part record collecting, part Beatles history and part comedy caper. Well, I thought it was funny anyway. I enjoyed it so much I did a follow-up with Bowie’s records six months later. As a consequence, I now own a lot of Beatles and Bowie vinyl. Which is no bad thing.

Has the Every Record Tells a Story site led to any other opportunities?
One of the first pieces I wrote for the blog was a jokey thing about my memories of taping the charts off the radio. Somehow a BBC researcher found it and invited me to take part in a BBC documentary called Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top Forty. They found a boom box and got me to tape a recording of the top forty countdown from the early Eighties. It was a lot of fun.

More recently the editor of Classic Rock magazine got in touch to ask if they could publish one of the ‘Rock on Trial’ articles about sexism in rock. I pulled together a few Pie Charts to illustrate the point, so it had a quirky visual element to it. There are very few Pie Charts in music criticism, I find. It was very flattering to rub shoulders with “proper” writers. It was encouraging. Maybe, I thought, I should carry on doing this blogging thing just a little bit longer …

I had no expectations or ambition that blogging would lead to anything else, so these things are nice to do when they come up.

Are you involved with music in any other ways?
I play guitar at a rudimentary level – I can manage the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ on a good day. But I’m no Jimmy Page. Or even Patti Page for that matter.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Dick Rowe of Decca Records said that guitar bands were a passing fad back in 1962, just after he passed on signing the Beatles …

Manowar Into Glory Ride

Manowar: “farcical dress sense”, and records, one suspects, that have many stories to tell!

CHEERS, STEVE!

Please check out the excellent Every Record Tells a Story blog and Facebook page

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5 Comments

  1. Well I thought this was pretty good! Thanks Michael – and I hope your readers enjoy the Q&A too….

    Reply
  2. Much like Steve, one of the triggers for me was Klosterman. I had begun writing my stories down but without much direction, until a co-worker loaned me Klosterman. I was hooked just as Steve was, and I had the idea that I could do a book too.

    As it turns out I really enjoy blogging — the instant feedback from readers, the ability to embed cute links or videos.

    I think this is great. Steve’s getting the well-deserved opportunity to have exposure via Classic Rock and the BBC and it’s well deserved. I’ve been a reader for the last 18 months and hope to achieve similar things! As Klosterman was once an inspiration to me, ERTAS is one today.

    Reply
    • It’s not a book I know, to be honest Mike – but I’ll certainly seek it out now, after recommendations from Steve and yourself!
      Cheers!
      Michael

      Reply
  1. Let’s Start The Year With a Words and Music Q&A….. « Every record tells a story

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