Interviews

Neil Daniels – Linkin Park – An Operator’s Manual

February 21st, 2010 by Anthony CW Morgan

Based in the North West of England, freelance writer Neil Daniels obtained a B.A. Honours degree in Film Studies from Middlesex University in North London in 2004. Daniels subsequently entered the world of music journalism, writing about classic rock and heavy metal for a range of online outlets, including BBC Manchester Online, Unbarred, Drowned In Sound, Carling Live and musicOMH. Commissions from physical outlets were to follow, with the man gaining writing credits in Rock Sound, Big Cheese, Record Collector and The Guardian, not to mention Fireworks, Powerplay and Get Ready to Rock.

Daniels’ inaugural book, The Story Of Judas Priest: Defenders Of The Faith, was published in September 2007 via Omnibus Press. The scribe’s bibliography includes Robert Plant: Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page & The Solo Years (January 2008, Independent Music Press) and Bon Jovi Encyclopaedia (May 2009, Chrome Dreams). Through self-publishing service Authors Online Ltd., Daniels has released All Pens Blazing – A Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook (August 2009) and Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries – Interviews with Rock Stars Volume 1 (December 2009). Dawn of the Metal Gods: My Life in Judas Priest and Heavy Metal (June 2009, IP Verlag), the autobiography of original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins, was co-authored by Daniels.

Linkin Park – An Operator’s Manual was issued in October 2009 through Chrome Dreams. The reference guide is split into five sections, and begins with a biography. Following a biography of Linkin Park, a section covers the group’s music, videos, tours, films and DVDs. In addition, the book is illustrated by more than two hundred photographs. To discuss Linkin Park – An Operator’s Manual, Neil Daniels was interviewed via email.

In 2004, you obtained a B. A. Honours degree in Film Studies from Middlesex University in North London. However, the bulk of your work lies in music journalism. What caused most of your journalistic work to be in music, as opposed to film?

Simply because after Uni I needed to take a break from film. Uni can really drain you of your passion whether it be film, literature, art or whatever. I just wanted to view films for fun and so I started to write about music. It was at Uni that I got into bands like Sabbath and Priest et al. Before that I was (still am) a fan of more mainstream rock artists like Queen and Meat Loaf. Plus, the internet makes it possible for anybody to write about their interests. There’s a lot of good stuff on the net but an awful lot of crap too.

After graduating from Middlesex University, how did your journalistic career develop?

Well, I started to write for websites like musicOMH and Unbarred and one or two others. I had some reviews published at Planet Sound on Channel Four teletext. But I really wanted to get into printed work. The net is great but there’s nothing like a printed magazine. I didn’t realize how little money there is in music journalism, not that I wanted to be a “music writer” for the cash. I just like listening to music and writing about it. I contacted Bruce Mee at Fireworks and he liked what I had previously written. Fireworks is a bi-monthly fanzine dedicated to melodic rock and metal and AOR. It brings the spirit of eighties Kerrang! into the noughties. I have stayed with the mag ever since. I have also written for Powerplay for a similar amount of years; it’s another great mag but with more extreme tastes than Fireworks. I have also written bits for Rock Sound, Big Cheese, Record Collector and The Guardian. The only website I write for now is Get Ready To Rock.

Your first book was 2007’s The Story Of Judas Priest: Defenders Of The Faith, and that led to you helping original Judas Priest frontman Al Atkins write his 2009 autobiography, Dawn Of The Metal Gods: My Life In Judas Priest & Heavy Metal. In what ways did this richen your understanding of Judas Priest’s earlier years?

I’m not sure if “richen” is the right word but working on the two books certainly showed me how wrong a lot of people have been about the early years of the band. The fact that Priest existed for a few years before Halford joined is not common knowledge. The band’s history dates back to 1969 and it’s funny / coincidental that Rob Halford recently said the band are celebrating their fortieth anniversary. I mean, they had never really appreciated the fact that the band’s name dates back so long. I guess they want to keep the Halford era as a separate and single entity.

How did you come to write Linkin Park – An Operator’s Manual, and for those who might be curious, can you please explain what “an operator’s manual” entails?

It’s basically like those Rough Guide books you see everywhere but obviously we couldn’t name it that for legal reasons. It’s not a straight biography or an A-Z book but made up of separate chapters dealing with different aspects of the band, so a potted bio, info on their solo projects, associated personnel, discographies, and tour dates, etc. It’s not a book you’d read from cover to cover but you’d dip in and out of for reference. I was asked to write it by Chrome Dreams after I did the Bon Jovi book for them.

Inevitably, the book begins with a group biography. What methods of research did you undertake in writing the biographical section, and how did you go about unearthing previously unknown information about Linkin Park?

It has become a cliché but it is the main source of info for all writers these days: the internet. I have a load of rock and metal mags so I used those but I used the internet for this book more than any others. What’s the difference between reading through shelves of books and magazines than searching through a similar amount of websites? I hate the term “cut and paste”. I’m not prejudiced and use a variety of different sources for research material as most rock writers do.

The book contains more than two hundred photographs. How did you go about compiling such an amount of photographs for the book, and also, did seeking permission to use photographs provide you with any initial stumbling blocks?

I didn’t… and most authors don’t. Publishers have photo journalists / researchers for that job. With the Priest and Atkins ones I did provide some photos but it was mostly down to the publishers. They have the final say so. Iron Pages did a great job with the Atkins one, which included lots from Al’s own archive. I think there are some great pics in there. With Linkin Park it was entirely down to Chrome Dreams ditto Bon Jovi. With the Plant one IMP gave me access to some agency photos and we worked together on choosing the right ones for the book. Basically, it depends on which publisher you work with.

Of course, the book discusses each Linkin Park album in detail. With that in mind, I’d like to gain your thoughts and feelings on each Linkin Park studio album. Let’s begin with 2000’s Hybrid Theory, the group’s diamond-certified (by the US’ RIAA) debut. In your opinion, what made Hybrid Theory the best-selling debut of the twenty-first century?

I still think it’s their best album. It was totally unlike anything at the time and still sounds fresh and energetic to this day. There is even a metal sound to interest metal fans and the rapping brought in the rap fans. I don’t really care for rap / hip-hop myself but it works well in Linkin Park’s stuff.

Second studio album Meteora arrived in 2003. In what ways do you feel this built upon Hybrid Theory? Or perhaps you feel it was merely an attempt to replicate the success of the debut?

It has its own merits but it was the band’s attempt at replicating the first album and for that reason it didn’t do to well with critics though it sold a shed load of units. I enjoyed it and still have a listen to it every now and then.

Late 2004 saw the release of Collision Course, a collaborative EP that mashes up the group’s songs with material by Jay-Z. Was this an inspired move, or a great mistake?

In terms of creativity it provided an outlet for the band to experiment more with hip-hop and rap. But it did alienate the metal side of their fan base and the critics were not too keen. I really don’t like it and would never listen to it out of enjoyment.

2007’s Minutes To Midnight was arguably an attempt to change the group’s musical style somewhat. Do you feel a successful transition was made, or that Linkin Park was confused about its identity?

I actually really like Minutes To Midnight. It has a classic rock sound which Rick Rubin obviously brought to the table. It’s got some fantastic melodies and catchy choruses. OK, it may not sound like Hybrid Theory but so what? When they do sound like that they get annihilated for it (i.e. Meteora). You can’t win. It’s good for bands to explore new musical ventures. Those songs on Minutes sound great live too.

All Pen’s Blazing – A Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook collects sixty-five interviews with prominent metal journalists, and is your first self-published book. Of course, this originated with your official website, which has a section that features interviews with writers. What sparked your interest in the tales of various metal journalists, and subsequently caused you to issue All Pen’s Blazing?

I got the idea from Clive James’ website and thought it would be a nifty idea to do a similar thing but with music writers for my own site. The book was never my intention. I just got the idea from a few writers I’d interviewed. There are only some interviews that appear in the book which were initially included at neildaniels.com so the book is mostly fresh material. There were so many ex Kerrang! and Metal Hammer writers that I wanted to include that the list went on and on. People like Dave Reynolds, Paul Suter, Derek Oliver and Dante Bonutto are legends in the field. It meant the size of the book would be far too big so I had to reduce the size of the text. It’s not that small but some (older) readers have complained. The next one – dubbed All Pens Blazing: A Rock & Heavy Metal Writer’s Handbook Vol II – will have around fifty interviews and normal sized text and with a broader scope of subjects. It’s been getting some great feedback and all the reviews have been positive.

Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries – Interviews With Rock Stars Volume 1 is your second self-published book, and collects some of the rock interviews you’ve done in your career. What prompted you to collect some of the interviews you’ve done in book form, and in this book, who can we expect interviews with?

I suppose they have the tiniest bit of historical significance. I mean, the artists / writers’ have stories to tell and now the internet is taking over the printed word, and books like All Pen’s Blazing and Rock ‘N’ Roll Mercenaries are like historical documents. Well, any excuse is good to produce books in my opinion. OK, this one includes interviews with members of Thunder, Saxon, Annihilator, Journey, Foreigner and Stone Gods et. al., so it’s pretty broad. Forty interviews in total. Plus I’m really getting into print on demand. It’s a great way of getting your books out and they pay for themselves because the costs are relatively small.

And finally, how would you personally summarize Linkin Park’s musical achievements in the music world throughout the noughties? In what ways have they possibly shaped the musical landscape? A press release written to coincide with the book claims Linkin Park are “spoken of in the same breath as Bon Jovi, U2 or Nirvana”.

Well, I didn’t write that press release. They certainly deserve more credit than they’ve been given. I think they have their own distinct sound that was totally different from any of their peers and they’ve shown a thirst for exploring new ideas and changing their own “soundscape”. It baffles me why they’re not as critically applauded. Sure, not everything they have done is great but they deserve more applause and their live shows are truly exhilarating. They’re certainly not a corporate band contrary to popular belief. They’ve had help from record company personnel but they were not created by any label. Lots of bands are derided during the first decade (or two) of their career and then they become hugely popular… take a look at AC/DC. It’s swings and roundabouts.

For more information about Neil Daniels, visit his official website.


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