Ben Myers is something of an enigma.
Part author, part journalist and part label boss, he filters through the shadows of the music world, interviewing some of the biggest names in rock, enjoying critical success as a band biographer and still finds time to write novels and runs Captains of Industry, the people’s champion of indy labels, with a fast growing stable of bands to boot.
Comparisons to Hunter S Thompson have been bandied about, as well as rumours involving Jack Osbourne and a gun, and so before disappearing into hiding to finish his latest biography, on System of a Down, Ben took some time out to lay his cards on the table.
You’re a total jack of all trades – writer, music journalist, running a record label and a well known face in the London music world – how the hell do you juggle everything without losing the plot?
I think I’d get bored doing one thing, and as some close friends could surely confirm, do frequently lose the plot and flee the city. But it’s all good. I work from home and work for a minimum of eight or nine hours a day, dividing my time between writing and runnin! g the label. Also, I gave up drinking and found I could be a lot more productive without hangovers. So now it’s all about caffeine and marijuana – for medicinal purposes, you understand. The weird thing is, I’m inspired by the work ethic of straight-edge types, like Rollins and Ian MacKayepeople whose artistic and business endeavours are all-consuming – part of who they are. I think once you resign yourself to poverty for the foreseeable future, it opens up a whole new approach – living for yourself, scraping by and doing what you want to. You’d be surprised by the number of successful writers and rock stars who are in debt up to their eyeballs in order to create.
Which part of your life do you enjoy more, the writing, journalism or record label…and how did you end up working for News of The World?
Writing fiction is my main interest and I’ve been doing it most days since I was ten, or certainly regularly for the past few years when I retired from office life at the age of 23. It wasn’t for me, taking orders and helping other people get rich. No doubt I’ll have to get a job someday, but it won’t be today. Everyone should try their hand at writing – it can be good therapy and a good way to get to know yourself. Writing is freedom. Read Charles Bukowski or Henry Miller at 16 and your life will never be the same again. But music is such a large part of my life I can’t do one without the other. When we set up Captains of Industry three years ago we never imagined we’d make so many new friends, discuss so many ideas and feel like we’re part of something self-created. I’m also lucky in that I get a lot of free music sent to me, something I never take for granted. If I didn’t I’d have to become a shoplifter and its awfully hard these days.
As a teenager I did a few weeks work at News Of The World, and was sent undercover for them to infiltrate a suspected paedophile ring in East London.
The main thing I learnt though was, while the freedom of the press in the UK is a wonderful thing, the people who run the tabloids are cunts. They’re not writers. I refuse to buy their dirty rags for all the hate they spread. They continually perpetuate racist and xenophobic ideologies and I want no part of it. The power they wield over people who can’t be bothered to think themselves is alarming. Fuck them all. And fuck the celebrity-obsessed masses for being so subservient to false dreams. I have a novel written called Celebricide which will be the nail in the coffin of this vacuous age of famous non-entities. If I can just get it finished…
How did you get involved with writing for music magazines? What publications do you actually respect and read?
I forced my winning personality on the good people of Melody Maker (RIP) until they had to relent and give me a job. I got lucky, because I clearly could barely string a sentence together at that point, but my shoes were pretty good. Infact, the day I left college they offered me a full-time job. Yes. I did a little sex wee that day.
The best reads today, I think, are Plan B and Loose Lips Sink Ships. DrownedInSound and Playlouder are the two best music websites and are great at discovering new bands. www.3ammagazine.com is great for literature and music too. Kerrang! still has metal and punk at its beating heart and is run by people who live it. The notion that rock journalists are on the payroll of the big companies just isn’t true. I should know – I’ve been waiting for someone to try and bribe me for years, but it just doesn’t happen. I enjoy writing for Kerrang! and you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer motley bunch of freaks. Rock Sound is also a well-maintained mainstream music magazine, also run by genuine lovers of music with an understanding of what it is to be a fan of The Rock. I also saw a couple of good new mags recently, Kruger and Nude. Plus, The Idler is good, in a noncey Grouch Club type way.
You’ve spent time with some legendary bands/artists – who’s been your favourite subject? And the hardest interview subject?
I suppose my favourite interviews have been with people who have significantly impacted modern culture, whether that’s Chuck D, Slash or System of A Down, or people like Hanif Kurieshi or film-maker Danny Boyle. The biggest bands are usually professional, courteous and like hearing their own voices, so you just have to learn to nod at the right times and smile at their nuggets of wisdom. The hardest bands to interview are usually the smaller ones who’ve had smoke blown up their arses by their record companies; ‘nu metal’ produced a fair few of those. Total numpties. I once had a run in with Goldie, which was pretty unpleasant and turned a little nasty. It’s good to see he’s doing so well now though…
Rivers from Weezer was a complete nightmare to interview. I flew to LA for 36 hours and he said ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to every question, then got a bit pissy when, after twenty minutes, I stood up and told him I was going home. He had nothing to say. And years ago a band called Jonathan Fire*Eater (now The Walkmen) were spoilt little brats, which was a shame because I was and still am a fan. I didn’t lose any sleep over it though. In fact, I slept very well that night.
Matt Bellamy – guitar genius or self indulgent soloist?
Neither. But he is a pretty amazing songwriter and, the few times I’ve met him, a pretty engaging individual. Funny nostrils though…
The Book of Fuck – autobiographical? What were your main influences when writing it? How do you feel about the comparisons to Hunter S Thompson?
The Book Of Fuck was a snapshot of my life at the time – living in a sub-zero squat, a Northern boy in the city, struggling to make ends meet, drinking and drugging, involved in a tumultuous but highly pleasurable relationship, travellin! g around with bands, having the time of my life but also addled with worry and doubt. In fact, I’ve just described my life now. Nothing changes. But I did make up some situations and characters, because you can’t give your whole life away too soon.
Being compared to HST was very flattering. I was more inspired by a gentler, more poetic writer called Richard Brautigan, whose style I appropriated heavily, plus tonnes of others like Bukowski, Miller, Billy Childish, John and Dan Fante, Knut Hamsun, Bret Easton Ellis, Jack London, Jean Genet and Jim Carroll, who wrote The Basketball Diaries. If you can find a writer who speaks to you or for you, you have a friend for life – and without the obligations a usual friendship demands. Everyone’s a winner.
Captains of Industry – How did you get involved with that? What were the main catalysts in starting your own label? What’s your mission statement for the label?
Captains Of Industry was started in 2002 and is run by myself, my brother Rich and our pal Lee. Those two are up based up North and I’m slumming it with oiks in London. Between us we cover all bases and play to our strengths. Like, I know nothing about business, finance and economics but fortunately Rich does so that takes care of that. Lee is a design whiz and excellent drunk. Plus, we have no office, no official label stationary or any of that superfluous expenses that labels indulge in in order to look good. We exist only via a network of laptops and phonecalls, all overseen by the mysterious fourth Captain, Gary, something of an enigma and technical wizard.
We started the label for the same reason most people do – to release some cool new bands we’d heard. But we also plan on turning this into a cultural force and revolution of sorts – like some of the great art/political movements that have gone before, like the Futurists of the 1920s who shocked people into thinking in new ways via visceral noise and confrontational art. Our mission statement was to DESTROY and CREATE. Destroy the old methods and practices and create within a new landscape of idealism, naivete and discontent. A label is only as good as its bands and we have some right fucking mentalists on our roster, all of them easy to work with, all pro-active, all great in bed. We have a long way to go but the acorn is already sprouting into a sturdy oak. If we can keep afloat for a few more years, we should be in Number 10 by 2020. We’ll remove the front door and invite everyone round for a party, with fruit punch and dancing. Then we’ll install a number of Prime Ministers – black, white, gay, straight, young, old – so they can be in several places at once, that way the problems of the world will be sorted out so much quickly. Naturally, Bush will have to go, but he seems to be doing a good job of that himself. We like to think our limited edition punk rock releases are giving him a nudge. We like to think that, but it’s clearly not true.
Then we’ll all go to a Gay For Johnny Depp show and get wreckless.
So really, on paper we’re a record label, but in our hearts we’re cultural revolutionaries flying the flag for freedom and libertinarism. Currently the flag is flapping at half-mast but what the fuck, we’re free. Like, I said, naiveitie and romance is at the heart of what we! do. We’re idiots, basically.
What do think of the state of UK music scene at the moment?
I think large sections of it are trend-driven, but that’s OK. It’s fertile. Having spent time in LA, New York etc I can safely say that the UK truly does have the best music scene / industry / press / radio in the world, even if there are lot of shady Simon Cowell figures running it all. We should remember that whenever we’re grumbling. Some countries don’t even have electricity.
Hell is For Heroes were signed to Captains of, after being dropped by EMI, and as a result their second album was a huge step forward for them. Do you think majors constrict band’s creativity? And what can an indy offer that a major can’t?
The whole indie versus major argument is an on-going one, but is of little importance unless you’re prepared to change it, or get involved in some way. The only thing an indie can offer is a closer working relationship with their bands and greater artistic control, but that’s not much use without the finances to make it all happen. I know lots of folk at major record companies and most of them are nice people doing good work, some of them are friends, though as pan-international companies they do have a totally different mentality – profit above all else. We at Captains Of Industry believe in art above all else and as such we’re extremely skint. But we’re still here….still living the dream, baby.
Hell Is for Heroes have conducted themselves impeccably and are now signed to the rather super Burning Heart Records. Will still does the best windmill moves when playing guitar and Justin still performs like a kamikaze pilot; we love them and wish them luck. They’re leading by example, doing what they want to do.
What’s this rumour about you, Marilyn Manson and a marmoset?
There was no penetration.
Lastly anything to say to the readers of Crossfire…
Zac Crossfire and James Sherry are the punkest people in London. Peace and fucking…believe! Thanks Dee – it has been a pleasure!