How did you come up with the idea of "The First Time I Heard" series?
I've had the idea to do a book series like this for many years. I've always been intrigued by how people remember the details from that first time they heard the artists who shaped the way they appreciate music. I decided to approach other musicians about this, because I thought it would be fascinating to hear how certain iconic artists directly affected others, and how these artists ultimately made them pursue their music careers.
Who was the first musician / band that came to mind for the project? (either as the subject or the object)?
I think it was The Smiths, actually. This wound up not being the first book I finished-- that was the book on Joy Division / New Order, because it got the most submissions in the fastest amount of time-- but yes, The Smiths was the first one that started taking shape in my head. I might have read a few interviews with Smiths fans somewhere, and these made me remember the idea I'd always had about doing this idea of "the first time I heard." I certainly had powerful and nostalgic memories about the first time I put the needle on that debut Smiths album, and I was really interested to hear the memories that other people had about those feelings, too.
What about the process? Did you let them write whatever they have to say? Or did you guide them with questions like an interview?
For the most part, I let people do what they wanted. I told them to be mostly conversational if they wanted; I also said that the essays didn't have to be too long and involved. Some people went slightly out of the ordinary-- a few poets wrote their essays almost as though they were prose poems; Kurt Feldman (of Ice Choir and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) wrote his Cocteau Twins piece as a kind of erotic fantasy where a specific song became human; Michael McCabe and David Read (of the band Coldharbourstores) wrote their essay in the form of a dialogue between them. I liked these pieces, because they added variety to the essays I was already receiving.
Was there any obstacle from the musicians, that eventually you have to let them go off your list?
No, not really. There were a few essays where I acted the part of the editor and asked the writers to expand on their words, or insert a bit more about the emotions involved or other details. And of course I did all the usual nitpicky line-editing work, some essays more than others. But in general I was really elated and very pleasantly surprised with how polished the pieces were. I suppose I wrongly assumed that many of the musicians wouldn't always be stellar essayists, but time and again, I received essays that were complex and meaningful and exciting and fun.
Was there any writing from the musicians that was below your expectation? Maybe because it doesn't sound like there's anything special about their first time experience? Or you'd just take whatever they have to say about it?
I suppose in a few cases, essays dealt with some of the technical, musician-jargon details of songs and albums, rather than the details of time and place or the specifics of the emotion involved; however, I knew I should expect this occasionally, as I was dealing with a lot of musicians whose main business is making music, not writing essays for a book. Some of the essays that focused more on the specifics of, say, the instrumentation in a Bowie song, or the production details of a Joy Division album, may have been different from other essays that discussed nostalgic emotion, but once again, these wound up providing a nice contrast and variety that I hope make the series more interesting overall.
What book from the series is your most favorite so far? And why?
To be honest, I'm not completely certain! For a while, I was really partial to the Cocteau Twins book, because I was very proud of some of the musicians and writers I convinced to contribute (for example, the legendary pianist Harold Budd, or the longtime Cocteau collaborator and live guitarist Lincoln Fong); then I grew pretty fond of the David Bowie book because of some of the high-quality pieces that are in that one. I also love The Smiths book for a lot of reasons, out of the introductions I've written so far for each book, I think I like the one I wrote for The Smiths book the best.
I read about My Bloody Valentine is among the bands for the future "The First Time I Heard" series, who'd you ask to write about it? Any progress on this particular edition?
This one is coming along slowly, but yes, it will be one of the future installments. For the MBV book, I'd really love to get a mix of musicians who were part of that British music scene at the time and musicians who are in alternative and "shoegaze"-style bands of the present, people who were directly influenced by LOVELESS and will no doubt write passionately about hearing that album. (I'm also very excited to see what sort of cover design that Joel Westendorf, the designer for all the covers in the series, comes up with for the MBV book.)
Is there any plan to release all of "The First Time I Heard" series in physical format?
Hopefully, eventually, yes.
The First Time I Heard series are available here and get the updates about the series here