One of the things that I hope to do with my blog over the next few months is to interview some of my very interesting and talented followers and highlight their accomplishments. So if you are reading this, look out, because I may mean you. But you’re getting a break this time because the spotlight is on….(drumroll)….that terrifically talented Texan, Matt Syverson! Matt has a background as a musician and a chemist (a real one!), and over the past five years, he has written and self-published some very creative and well-crafted novels. His hilarious book, “Band on the Run”, was a #3 bestseller in Amazon’s “Rock and Roll Books” category and “Black Dog” was also very well received and highly reviewed. But his latest book, “Blue Whiskey”, may be his most outstanding work yet.
Matt also does a weekly podcast series that is chock-full of advice and information for writers that are interested in self-publishing, along with cool rock ‘n roll trivia and anecdotes about his days as a musician in Grunge-era Seattle. I hope that you will enjoy getting to know Matt a little better by reading the results of our email interview. Take it away, Matt and Barbara “Marie” Walters!
1. I’ve met musicians, and I’ve met writers, but I haven’t met that many musicians that are also writers. Can you tell us a little about the journey you have taken from making music to writing books? How did your interests evolve and change direction over the years?
In school, I was always a creative writer. When the teacher instructed us to write sentences using vocabulary words, I would take the opportunity to craft an epic tale. In particular, I remember one involving Zamfir having his pan flute stolen by a demon. I also won a creative writing competition at a scholastic meet in high school, for which I received a scholarship.
Music was always an important part of my life, but during my teenage years it became an obsession. When I discovered Metallica, I decided to be a professional musician. I pursued that dream with total dedication, but around the age of thirty I tired of the long nights and lack of commitment from my bandmates. I drifted for a while without an artistic outlet, and those were the worst years of my life, in retrospect. After a particularly traumatic year (2009), I decided to once again pursue my artistic passions, and I have been writing and publishing books ever since.
2. One of the things I admire about you, in addition to your many versatile talents, is that you seem to have a larger than average dose of determination. I mean, you actually follow through with your dreams and make them happen. You want to start a Grunge band, so you move, all alone, from Oklahoma to Seattle, guitar in hand. You want to write books, so you actually write them, and finish them, and publish them, and sell them. What advice can you give to pathetic half-asses like me so we can be more like you and achieve our so-called goals?
This calls for a little tough love, as they say. Finish your damn projects. That’s the best advice I can offer. Nobody is going to do it for you. Make writing (or whatever it is you’re doing) a part of your daily routine. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you take a day off, but you should feel bummed out that you didn’t get to do what you love. There has to be a passion, or you won’t care if you finish or not.
Having said that, I often speak of the ‘joy of completion’. This is the best feeling an artist can have, above five-star reviews and accolades and all else, because it is a pure feeling attached only to the creation of art. When you feel that joy once, you will pursue it again and again. It’s like what they say about using drugs, but of course I wouldn’t know anything about that.
And you’re not pathetic! (Insert Barbara “Marie” Walters shaking her head sadly and smirking knowingly to herself here.)
3. Speaking of Grunge and Seattle, I find it endlessly cool and interesting that you were a part of “that scene”. Looking back on that time now, what would you say were the best and worst moments or aspects of the Grunge scene and all that was taking place around you? Feel free to name drop. We won’t mind. Really.
As far as name dropping, I was able to eavesdrop on Chris Cornell as he wrote his first solo album, which was mind-blowing, since he was one of my biggest musical influences. I’ll refer readers to the archives of my Paperback Rocker podcast for the full story. I met tons of rock stars over the years and played the same places in Seattle as Pearl Jam and the rest of them, but finding success as a writer has been far easier. Distributing music and developing a fan base before the internet was next to impossible.
The grunge thing was a worldwide phenomenon at the time, but it was small at the epicenter. On a show on Tuesday night, only five people showed up. The house parties were some of the most fun times I remember, because every room would have an acoustic jam session. Everyone was an artist of some kind, but it was an intimate thing. I’m glad I did it and proud of the music I made. Readers can hear some of my songs on my website, PaperbackRocker.com.
The only bad thing about the grunge scene was all the jaded people left behind after the first wave of successful bands got signed and weren’t around any more. They had toxic attitudes.
4. One of the things I have heard you mention is how the “business side” of music limits and constrains the artist, and how this affects the type and quality of music to which the average listener has access. What parallels do you see in the publishing business, and what role does self-publishing play in breaking down these barriers?
To put it succinctly, the music business is a huge rip-off, followed closely by publishing. That’s coming from an informed perspective, not that of a jaded musician who didn’t ‘make it’. The artist is taken advantage of contractually, because all the costs of promotion, videos, touring, and everything else are funded by a loan from the record company against future profits. It’s like the trap of a payday loan for a minimum wage employee and hard to get out from under. The ones who make it through to renegotiate the terms – Metallica and Stephen King, for example – make lots and lots of money, but it’s not that way for most.
Coming from the music biz to publishing, I recognized the similarities. In addition, many writers fall prey to the vulture companies of vanity publishing, possibly the worst of all these situations. We are in the golden age of self-publishing, but writers need to educate themselves and do it the right way, which means forming a publishing company and working with a book printer. Notice that I said printer, not publisher. I talk about these things on my podcast, and anyone can drop me a line if they want me to address something on a future show.
Regarding access, the consumer can choose from the goods offered by the big labels, studios, and publishers, which will be mostly boy bands, rom-coms, and vampire novels, or one can delve into the worlds of independent music, movies, and publishing. And that’s not to say all indie stuff is great and traditionally offered stuff is crap, because neither is true.
5. In your new novel, “Blue Whiskey”, the main character, Stanton Wheelhouse III, had several mentors that helped him along his rocky way to becoming a “one hit wonder”. Is there anyone that you would identify as your own mentor, either in music or writing, or both? How did this person or persons inspire and help you to reach your goals?
Strangely enough, I did not. I grew up in a one stoplight town in Oklahoma, so I barely found anyone to show me the first chords on the guitar. Again, this was pre-internet. I’ve always attempted to elevate myself to the level of my influences, so that I could view them as contemporaries, rather than idols. I met a lot of famous musicians early in my adult life, and I saw that they were regular people, so that helped. One thing I love about writing compared to playing in a band is that I don’t have to rely on anyone else. I’m not the typical introverted writer, having been the frontman for a rock band, but I am passionately independent and self-motivated.
6. One of my favorite passages in “Blue Whiskey” is where Stanton talks about the zeitgeist of the sixties, and zeitgeist movements in general, and how this translated into the subsequent decades, eventually dying out completely with the advent of the modern information age and the internet. I thought this was a really interesting concept. Can you elaborate on this a little?
I often incorporate short contemplative essays in my fiction, and this is an example. The primary purpose of the narrator in my first novel, “Black Dog”, was to deliver such meditations. “Blue Whiskey” is a fictional autobiography, and Stanton pontificates on and explains many of the same subjects we have covered here. To sum up his thoughts on zeitgeist, the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show spawned a million musicians. In those days, there were about three channels on the tube. The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video was probably the last thing that will ever do this musically, since the advent of the internet and the splintering effect it has had. On the bright side, if you’re a brony you now have a community.
Stanton did a lot better job explaining this.
7. Stanton also kept track of his “lessons learned” throughout his journey. What would you list as your top lessons in the amazing creative journey you have taken as a musician, author, and podcaster?
Be nice. Don’t publicly criticize other artists. Don’t get ripped off. Finish your damn projects.
And that’s it! Thank you Matt and Barbara!
Now let’s go finish our damn projects, everyone, and be sure to check out Matt’s podcasts and books!
A cool song from Matt’s CD – here’s “Chemical Marriage”…
Questions? Comments? Please Share!