Following on from last week’s post about listening to the music, today’s slice of interviewing wisdom also concentrates on doing a bit of research.
[NOTE: This is an archived piece from Almost Famous, a former music blog for unsigned musicians which I ran from 2012-2013]
This is actually one of the first things I was taught when I got into this whole writing/journalism/pestering rock bands business, and it’s one piece of advice that I’ve found highly invaluable over the years.
Check out other interviews your subject has done in the past.
If your subjects are a small, local band taking their first steps to stardom, then chances are they won’t have done many -if any- interviews in the past. In this case, most of what I’m about to say may be fairly redundant. I apologise for wasting your time an wish you all the very best with your future endeavors.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself faced with an act who’ve had at least a modicum of success, be it on a regional, national or even international scale, chances are that doing the whole interview process won’t be anything new to them.
This is good for you – it gives you a wealth of stuff to help you with your research – but perhaps not so much for a band who’ve maybe spent years being asked the same tired, old questions.
We’ll tackle both points here.
Getting the most out of your interviews
In my first post in this series, about confidence and enthusiasm, we talked about how going into an interview with these traits will:
- Put your subjects at ease
- Make them more keen to open up to you
- Result in you producing a better interview
Asking something different does pretty much the same thing. If your interviewees have been interviewed before, it’s likely that they’ll have already answered some of the most obvious questions.
‘When did you form?’ …’Who are your influences?’ …’You’ve been described as the best band since a loaf of sliced bread picked up a Fender, how do you feel about that?’
In and of themselves, they’re not bad questions, but unless your subjects are brand new on the scene and haven’t volunteered much of that information on their press materials or website, try and think of other stuff to ask.
Chances are they’ll have answered things like that before, perhaps many times before, and be tired of giving similar responses. Not only does this result in a band growing all the more weary and disinterested as the conversation goes on, but it’s also likely to result in a crappy interview that nobody’s going to want to read.
After all, why read your interview when the band have already answered these questions in countless previous interviews?
Find an angle
A couple of years ago, I was given the opportunity to interview Brian Tatler, the guitarist from NWOBHM band Diamond Head. Now, Diamond Head are an awesome group in their own right, but they’re still probably best known to a lot of people as the band whose songs were covered by Metallica.
Before our chat, I scoured through previous interviews with Brian and the band, and though there were mentions of the Metallica-Diamond Head connection, I hadn’t found anything where DH went into great detail about this.
Even though we’d scheduled the interview to talk about an upcoming gig and new album, the chance to quiz one of the founding members of Diamond Head about something they’d never talked a great deal about was something I couldn’t pass up.
There and then, I had my angle for the interview: Do Diamond Head feel as though they’re living in the shadow of the band they inspired?
The subsequent interview was a big success, and for all of five minutes my name was famous among the heavy metal Internet community as the guy who asked Brian Tatler about those Metallica royalty cheques.
Finding more questions from past answers
Whilst all that was great, and even had old metalhead friends from school who I hadn’t seen in years suddenly sending me messages along the lines of ‘Dude, did I just see you mentioned on a Metallica website?,’ that surprisingly wasn’t my favourite part of the interview.
I’d read an old article which featured an interview with Brian during a period of time when Diamond Head were on hiatus and he was playing in (if I remember rightly) a folk band.
During this interview, Brian mentioned that he didn’t really miss metal at all and wasn’t all that interested in playing it again.
As someone preparing an interview with Brian now that he’d abandoned folk and was back in the metal scene , this was gold.
When I pulled him up on this, Brian laughed, very loudly.
‘Oh, fuck off!’ he exclaimed with great delight.
On a personal level, this made me very happy indeed. The guy who wrote Am I Evil? just told me to fuck off! On a professional level though, this gave me another exclusive that really helped make the interview.
Even now, many years and countless interviews on, the chat with Diamond Head remains among my favourite, not only because it was fun to do personally, but because it was one of my best, and most successful pieces of work.
Honestly though, it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t read Brian’s previous interviews, avoided stuff he’d talked to death about, and found new and interesting stuff to ask him.
To close then, here’s Shoot out the Lights performed by Diamond Head in my home town of Wigan.