You may remember our post on California hardcore punk zine compendium We Got Power, an amazing chronicle of a dynamic place and time in music history. The outfit behind the title, Bazillion Points Books, is celebrating five years of being America’s “smallest but heaviest publisher,” putting out great stuff for anyone interested in the heaviest of music subcultures. Founder and author Ian Christe sat down with us to talk about where Bazillion Points came from, what they’ve accomplished, and where they’re going.
Dangerous Minds: So how did Bazillion Points come about?
Ian Christe: Many moons ago, I wrote a long history of heavy metal called Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal for HarperCollins. That was back when heavy metal was at a low point, but metal had meant everything to me growing up, and I wanted to carve out some room for those thousands of bands on bookstore shelves. The book was very popular, so I learned the power of paper. Fortunately, I got involved and learned a lot about book production, and repeated that process over a dozen times as the book was licensed overseas.
I realized I knew a lot of people who could write powerful personal or musical histories, but they didn’t have a chance in hell of getting a publishing deal as things existed then. My friend Peter McGuigan really got the ball rolling when he explained to me that I could easily license the English rights to Hanoi Rocks guitarist Andy McCoy’s Finnish autobiography. Hanoi Rocks were incredible, Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe admit they owe them everything. I figured the only way I could ever read that book was to publish it myself. Same goes for our Swedish Death Metal book. Daniel Ekeroth had done a small printing himself in Sweden, but I didn’t want to pay 80 euros for a copy. Five years later, I’m really amazed at the consistent incredible impact made by these books.
DM: What made you start a publishing company instead of a record label?
IC: I guess publishing books was something I thought I could do better than a lot of people, where the record business is totally crowded. Plus I’m ethical, which is a total disadvantage in releasing records, right? And with publishers, I was instantly the youngest one in the room, (ha ha). But along with Feral House and 2.13.61 and New Directions, I was inspired by legendary indie record labels like Megaforce, Earache, Dischord, SST, Touch and Go, and Sub Pop, because those are the operations I knew. Now we’ve done the Touch and Go book with Tesco Vee, who started Touch and Go, and we have two books upcoming by Sub Pop cofounder Bruce Pavitt—those are Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, and Sub Pop USA, an anthology of his writing from 1980 to 1988. But our books are sold alongside CDs and records in good record stores all over the place, so maybe we are part record label at heart.
DM: You’ve made some surprising choices- a cook book, a documentary on the Mellotron, a book in Spanish on death metal and grindcore- do you seek out diverse new projects, or do you just take opportunities as they come to you?
IC: Personally, my life has been a series of intense periods spent in different places, followed by a lot of times getting deep into different kinds of music. So books are kind of the perfect length to fully experience a writer’s viewpoint or obsession on a subject. I knew some of our authors beforehand. Jon Kristiansen, who wrote Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries, and I were pen pals twenty-five years ago, back when Norway only had one black metal band. And I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Tom Gabriel Fischer several times before his manager came to me with the manuscript for his Hellhammer history Only Death Is Real. So some of our authors are friends, others become friends. And there are a lot of strange coincidences and unlikely connections between them.
DM: A lot heshers I talk to around NYC say that while you can find all manner of punk here, metal is still considered a bit gauche. Do you find that metal is often denied artistic legitimacy in the way other genres often are not?
IC: Not any more, no. I mean, it will be a while before the Met has a metal fashion gala to match their recent punk exhibition, but that’s vastly preferred! Thankfully! First of all, metal measures its legitimacy through music, which is actually pretty rare among popular forms. So media coverage or even record sales isn’t always the goal. There are a half dozen metal bars in Brooklyn alone, Matthew Barney has appropriated the sound, black metal photos hang in galleries, and the papers are paying attention. Compared to ten years ago, when metal was shunned like a plague, there’s actually kind of an elite cachet now to listening to French black metal like Deathspell Omega or even good old Bolt Thrower. Suddenly, metal is being taken kind of seriously!
DM: You’ve made a really concerted effort to show the diversity of Metal’s appeal, from Laina Dawes’ What are You Doing Here? to updating your own book to include material on metal in the Muslim world. Is this intentional, or just a natural extension of really researching the genre?
IC: We’ve also been talking with a Swedish brother and sister team about releasing their beautiful book of Southeast Asian metalhead photos. Metal is such a broad style, it unites everything from tuneless bashing to ridiculous virtuosity, and from fascism to total anarchy. If someone can represent a point of this constellation with brilliance and intensity, I’m all for it!
DM: The diverse taxonomy of metal is one of its hallmarks, but every culture has its pedants. You’re pretty inclusive, and have always paired hardcore as a relative, but do you ever encounter any “Death to false metal!” puritans?
IC: Yes, for sure, and I imagine we’ll deal with some of that when Bruce Pavitt’s Experiencing Nirvana book comes out this fall. But all the original thrashers got into the Seattle bands like Mudhoney, Tad, and Nirvana. Brian Lew, who took the photos of Cliff Burton’s first jam session with Metallica that appear in his Murder in the Front Row book, is going to be a first-day buyer of Experiencing Nirvana. I was just on a plane with a Seattle band called Black Breath. One dude was wearing a Nirvana longsleeve and a big molded metal logo badge for the classic Swedish death metal band Nihilist. That’s what I love to see, voracious minds chasing omnivorously after all forms of enlightenment, indulgence, and excitement. In the end, our books have been pretty much untouchable in terms of contributors as far as real metal and hardcore go. Both members of Darkthrone and four members of Black Flag are Bazillion Points anointed!
DM: What kinds of responses have you received from musicians?
IC: I think it’s safe to say that Bazillion Points makes books that musicians enjoy. The books look good, and then, maybe surprisingly, they deliver. So we’ve gotten the nod of approval or a quick thumbs up from members of Slayer, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne’s band, Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, Blink 182, Pantera, Lamb of God, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth… It’s a common misconception that metal and punk fans and especially metal and punk musicians don’t read. But for a few decades there was no other way to communicate, these are literally some of the most literary-minded people around.
DM: You’ve put together some a couple of amazing zine anthologies- how did you expand from “traditional” books to (basically) reprinting historical documents and primary sources for public consumption?
IC: When collecting the full run of a zine, each issue is basically like a chapter in an unfolding story. The design changes over time, the writing, the content. But we’re dealing with some of the best zines of the 1980s, with Touch and Go, Sub Pop, Slayer Mag, and We Got Power!, so again I’m creating books that I know I want to read. Collecting every issue of Touch and Go or Slayer Mag would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
DM: What’s on the horizon for Bazillion Points Publishing, in the near future and beyoooooond?!?
IC: We are wrapping up production on a handful of new books: Experiencing Nirvana, as I mentioned, is Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt’s photo journal and diary of eight days across Europe with Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Tad in 1989. Mike McPadden’s Heavy Metal Movies is an over the top compendium of over 1,300 films based around heavy metal, sorcerers, road warriors, zombies, vikings, and witches. And Dianna Dilworth’s Mellodrama is a hugely expanded book version of the Mellotron analog sampling story told in her popular Mellodrama: The Mellotron Movie. After that I guess we should take over an abandoned place like Wheeling, WV, and make a city of books!