Which bands/performers initiated your love of music?
Kiss was the first heavy rock n' roll band I enjoyed (discovering them in kindergarten). From there, I enjoyed the likes of Queen, Joan Jett, AC/DC, and then I was a prisoner of heavy metal from roughly 1984-1989. Then I started venturing outside, thanks to the likes of Faith No More, Soundgarden, Primus, Chili Peppers, Living Colour, etc. By the early '90s, I was listening to a variety of music - which I continue to do to this day. I suggest one should listen to as many musical styles as possible, as it's very healthy for human beings!
Which music journalists inspired you to want to follow that career path?
I became a writer completely by accident, so I can't say that any journalists inspired me to become a writer. But that said, I think David Fricke is a fine journalist (I enjoy reading his articles and interviews), and I think Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain did an amazing job with their book, 'Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk,' which is one of my all-time favs.
How did you break-in to the industry of music journalism (internships, 1st jobs, 1st gigs, etc.)?
I took a job at a music publication (which shall remain nameless) as a customer service rep. I saw up close how bloody easy it was to write music reviews and articles via the writers there, and when my boss made it clear that they were not going to give me a shot as a writer, I jumped ship. I've managed to stay afloat!
What was the first time you got to see Blind Melon perform?
That would be a headlining performance at a now-defunct, itty-bitty NYC venue named Wetlands, on March 25, 1993. Along with seeing Faith No More and Soundgarden for the first time in 1990 (my first-ever club show), this Blind Melon show was one of those special/life-changing concerts, where you listen to music/view live performances differently afterwards. This performance and the last time I saw them with Shannon (opening night of the U.S. 'Soup' tour, at the Tradewinds in New Jersey, on September 19, 1995) are my 2 favorite Melon gigs.
How do you go about varying your questions between different interviews, so that you ask different questions of different musicians?
It depends - if I'm working on a book, some of the questions will be similar (so that the major topics are covered), but will throw in slightly different questions for each person I interview. For instance, when I was doing 'Devil/Angel,' I wouldn't ask the same questions to a road crew member as I would have to one of Shannon's old friends from Indiana. A few set questions, a few new ones I'd say is how it works out. I usually start each book with an outline and piece of paper with a few reminders, but by the final interviews, I'm usually doing it sans reminders.
Getting to write for Rolling Stone is quite the achievement. When was your first job for them?
I can tell you the exact date my first article for Rolling Stone ran - February 4, 2004, which was about shock rocker GG Allin. You can check out all of my RS articles by going to www.rollingstone.com/contributor/greg-prato - I am currently up to 122 articles total!
When trying to contact well-known musicians, what is your best advice at landing an interview opportunity?
It's always different. Sometimes a management/record label contact can help set up an interview, or if I interview someone and they're friends with someone else and they put in a good word for me, also corresponding via the internet. . . all are different.
You must have had the idea of putting together a book about Blind Melon for quite some time. How was that idea born, and how did it develop?
Well, even before I was ever a writer, I would have been the first in line to purchase a book about Shannon and the band. Especially after Shannon's passing, there was very little substantial info about what exactly happened, the band's future, etc. By around 2004, I wrote for a while for the UK magazine, Classic Rock, and one of the first articles I suggested was a study of Blind Melon's career, for which I interviewed Christopher Thorn, Brad Smith, and Rogers Stevens (I had become an acquaintance of Rogers due to the fact that he had moved to NYC and was playing in such bands as Extra Virgin and the Tender Trio, that I would go see at such places as CBGB's and Arlene's Grocery). I guess I realized at some point that I had a good start for a book if I chose to go that route (and I recall Christopher telling me that he thought it was one of the best Blind Melon articles he'd ever read - which was really an outstanding compliment, coming from a member of one of my all-time fav bands). So around 2007/2008 I started work on 'Devil/Angel' - I actually worked on this book concurrently with another book of mine, 'Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music.' As far as how 'Devil/Angel' developed, I had a good understanding of Shannon's life and Blind Melon's history beforehand, so I had it mapped out in my mind, and just had to fit together the cool stories that I was receiving from the people interviewed - kind of like one great big puzzle.
What were some of the biggest challenges in writing A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other?
I would have liked to have interviewed Axl Rose for the book, and I had a request in to interview him through G n' R's manager at the time, but the gentleman wound up getting fired before getting an answer back from Mr. Rose. Other than that it was pretty smooth sailing - I think because most of the band members already knew me and knew that I was knowledgeable about the band's music and history.
You mentioned that Travis Steever from Coheed & Cambria had read the book. Have you run in to any other musicians who have had a chance to read it?
I know that all the surviving members of Blind Melon read it obviously (and all told me that they enjoyed it), and copies were either sent to or personally delivered to Kim Thayil and Duff McKagan (both of whom were interviewed for the book). But I can't recall ever discussing what they thought about it afterwards. I should ask them at the next opportunity!
What is your preferred method for capturing an interview over the phone?
I used to use cassette tapes up until a few years ago, then I got wise and invested in a recording device that plugs into your phone and saves each interview as a file, which is an "Olympus Digital Voice Recorder, WS-110." There is actually a pic on the internet of me interviewing Judas Priest's Rob Halford in person from a few years back, and I am indeed holding the device in my hand!
The music industry has changed a great deal over the last two decades, due to technology. How have these changes affected you as a journalist that covers this industry?
It has changed drastically. I used to spend large amounts of time going to such record stores as Tower Records, or locally, a great shop called Slipped Disc Records - both of which are now sadly closed. As far as how it affected me as a journalist, it hasn't that much - other than it's more common to receive a download of a band's new album from a record company rather than an actual physical CD, like I used to back in the good old days.
In a place like NYC, how do you decide what new bands to go see? There are so many good venues with great talent that you could go out every night and still only hear/see a portion of what's out there…
I have to admit, I don't really go out much anymore to see young bands! Perhaps that's the sign of becoming an old fart - I'm not sure. But I know some of my favorite places to see live performances in NYC include Irving Plaza, the Best Buy Theater, BB King Blues Club & Grill, and the Beacon Theatre. There are also two nice and new venues on Long Island that I was pleased seeing shows at - the Paramount and the Emporium.
What are your thoughts regarding publishing books in this new age of digital media. Do you prefer hard-copy books over digital copies?
At this point I personally prefer hard copy books, but I'm sure we're headed towards a time where digital is going to mostly - or completely - replace hard copies. It's the same as CD's - I used to have hundreds of CD's, now I have none. . . thanks to digital files. Time shall tell. . .
What do you think of the self-publishing given the new options that are open to authors?
It has given authors great opportunities and options. I personally enjoy the fact that it puts the author completely in control as to how he or she wants their book to turn out - from the cover design to its content. Also, you can release a self-published book so much faster than if you were to release a book through a traditional publisher. I'd say it's a win-win situation.
Thank you very much for your time and willingness to answer these questions!
You are most certainly welcome, Mr. Conway! Anyone who is interested in checking out more info about the Shannon/Bind Melon book and also my other books can do so by clicking HERE.