Category: Books

Interview: Josh Malerman discusses The High Strung’s New Album, ‘Quiet Riots’ and writing ‘Bird Box’

Photo by Doug Coombe

Josh Malerman and the rest of adventure rockers The High Strung have unveiled the band’s eighth full-length release, Quiet Riots. The fourteen-track album is the group’s most harmony-laden to date, as it sees them reuniting with guitarist/vocalist Mark Owen, who’d been on hiatus for more than twelve years. Songs like the guitar-driven “Legion” and the effervescent “If You Wanna Roll” conjure up images of free-spirit and cross country drives, while tracks like “Riots Of The Mind” are a reminder that this world is still a very unsettled place.

The High Strung is: Josh Malerman (guitar/vocals), Mark Owen (guitar/vocals), Stephen Palmer (guitar), Chad Stocker (bass) and Derek Berk (drums).

Josh Malerman’s artistry not only lies within the craft of music but also as an acclaimed novelist. His post-apocalyptic thriller, “Bird Box,” a New York Times Bestseller, was recently adapted into a Netflix original feature. Since its release last December the film, which stars Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich, has become Netflix’s biggest hit to date.

AXS recently spoke with Malerman about The High Strung’s new album, Quiet Riots, “Bird Box” and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: How does the new album, Quiet Riots, relate to some of the band’s previous work?

Josh Malerman: This is the most harmony-laden album so far and a lot of it has to do with Stephen, our lead guitarist, who was more involved in this singing. Then there’s Mark Owen, one of our two singer-songwriters, who had left the band for twelve years and returned. For me, this will always be the album that was kickstarted by Mark’s return and our first real attempt at a harmony album.

AXS: What’s your songwriting process like?

JM: Usually either Mark or I will come in with a little hook of an idea. Whether it’s a chord change or a lyric one of us will bring it to the table and we’ll finish the song together. [Mark] Owen is also great at lyrics, and when you have a songwriting partner who cares so much about them as he does you can’t help but step up your game.

JM: Let’s talk about a few tracks from the new album beginning with “Riots Of The Mind.” What can you tell me about it?

JM: Mark brought that one to the table. It’s a wonderful way of saying things are crazy without being too hazy or political. There’s something pocket poetic about it. There’s a lot of crazy sh#t going on in the world right now and it would be wrong to not even wink in that direction.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Josh Malerman by Clicking Here!

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Interview: Thompson Square’s Keifer Thompson discusses the duo’s new children’s book, ‘Time To Get Dressed’

Photo by Garrett Merchant

As new parents, the multi-platinum, Grammy-nominated duo Thompson Square (Keifer and Shawna Thompson) have discovered a new layer of creativity with the release of their first children’s book –the appropriately titled “Time To Get Dressed.” The book, written by Thompson Square, illustrated by Ana Patankar and inspired by the duo’s two-year-old son, Cooper, features a sing-song storyline with whimsical pictures designed to teach children how to get ready for their day.

In addition to “Time To Get Dressed” Keifer and Shawna Thompson continue to ride the wave of success and acclaim from their latest album, Masterpiece. An eleven-track opus that features more of the duo’s infectious vocal blend while sonically exploring landscapes of R&B, reggae and rock.

AXS recently spoke with Keifer Thompson about “Time To Get Dressed,” music and more in this new interview.

AXS: What inspired you to write “Time To Get Dressed?”

Keifer Thompson: Our son, Cooper, was a few weeks old and I was putting him in his crib one morning. I started putting his socks on and just started singing, “Socks, socks, one by one… Puttin’ on socks can be so fun.” Shawna was there at time and asked me if that was something my mom used to sing to me as a kid. I told her it was something I had just made up and she told me I really needed to finish it. I’d never written anything like that before so I went downstairs and a few hours later went up and showed her. Then we played it for management and everyone agreed that we needed to make it into a book. We got an amazing illustrator, sent a few photos and suggestions of how we wanted it to look and she knocked it out of the park. What’s interesting is that it’s not just a song. It’s a learning tool and application that helps with the whole process of getting dressed. It’s been neat to see people gravitate toward the book. We’re very excited at how it’s taken off.

AXS: What’s the biggest thing you and Shawna have learned as new parents?

KT: There’s a level of love that’s unparalleled and something that can only be experienced by a parent. You often hear people say they can relate, but you really can’t until you know that you’re responsible for the life of someone every day. Before Cooper came along my mornings usually started early in the house thinking about songs or writing. As a creator, you’re always looking for that next emotional roller-coaster. This is a built-in inspirational vault and has given life a purpose.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Keifer Thompson by Clicking Here!

Go Jimmy Go: 2018 Year in Review

As a musician and writer, 2018 has been the best of year of my life. Not only did I complete more than 124 interviews for this blog, GuitarWorld.com and AXS.com over the course of these last twelve months, but 2018 also marked a trifecta of amazing milestones for me.

I began this whole writing journey with a single, simple Facebook resolution I made to myself on New Year’s Day in 2011. If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog over the last seven years, you’ll know that its the same one I post every January 1st to remind me of how it all began and just how far I’ve come:

Keeping that promise to myself over these last seven years has been an amazing ride, but 2018 saw three of the biggest, pinch yourself moments ever. Things I only ever dreamed about doing. So, as this year comes to close, I’d like to revisit them one more time.

2018 started out with a trip to Los Angeles in February for a once in a lifetime experience at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. Not only did I get to jam with two guys from my all-time favorite band, REO Speedwagon, but I also had the rare opportunity to perform on stage with Night Ranger at The Whisky A Go Go! Joining me that night were Craig Goldy (Dio) and three guys, Bobby, Rik and Tom, who I’d never met before but who quickly became friends and bandmates I’ll never forget.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: all the while I was in L.A preparing for Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp, I was also busily putting the finishing touches on something I think every writer dreams about doing, and in May of this year that dream finally came to fruition with the release of my first novella, “Neapolitan Sky.”

The story about Nica Mitchell’s journey actually began in the Summer of 2017 and took nearly six months to complete. It was a labor of love, pain and constant rewrites and second guesses. When I finally put the pen (or in this case, the lid of the laptop) down, I had the good fortune of having more than a dozen of my friends help me by being test/proof readers and editors. Their input and experience was invaluable in getting the story ready for publication. Following the release of “Neapolitan Sky,” I also had two amazingly successful book signings in Bethlehem and New Hope, PA.

Equally as surreal as the physical book was the release of an Audible version, which was read by one of my favorite artists and actresses, Ashley Watkins. Where I had brought the words of Nica Mitchell and her friends to the page, Ashley literally brought them to life!

But perhaps the biggest, and most exciting, event of the year came just a few weeks ago with the release of my first two interviews in the pages of Guitar World magazine. As a guitarist, I’ve been absorbing this magazine like religion every month since 1985. It’s a bible for any aspiring guitarist. Having already been blessed (religion – bible – blessed, get it?) to write for the website for nearly six years, getting the opportunity to contribute content to the physical magazine was another dream come true. When you open the magazine and see your name printed on the page right next to some of your guitar heroes its not only poweful, it’s humbling. Moreover, it’s proof that hard work, networking and kindness pays off.

Next year will mark another major milestone as I’ll be turning fifty years old. But as I look to that day with both fear and wonder I’m reminded that each and every day is part of the journey. Collectively, I look back on these last seven years and can’t believe some of the things I’ve accomplished. I’ve met so many amazingly talented people along the way. Not just actors, musicians, artists and filmmakers. In many cases, these are people who’ve become dear friends to me. Friends I’m proud to have in my life and ones who inspire me to do better.

Here it is in a nutshell: Since 2011, I’ve done nearly 2,000 interviews and articles, released three children’s books with one of my dearest friends, wrote my first novel, and have rounded out 2018 with two interviews published in the pages of Guitar World magazine. Even with all of that it still feels like I’m just getting started. There’s so much more to do, and I can’t wait to get started. As a preview, I already have an interview on deck with Def Leppard, who will be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. I’m also halfway through my new book, a prequel to “Neapolitan Sky” that’s set in the year 1986!

Please don’t read that last paragraph and think I’m tooting my own horn. I’m nobody special. What I’m trying to say by writing it down is that if I can do it — so can you. Dreams don’t just fall into your lap. You have to go out and make them happen. And sometimes, all that can start with just a simple resolution:

“I’ve resolved to do some writing. So here goes:”

I hope reading this blog will inspire you to do the same thing I did on January 1st, 2011, and that is to make a promise to yourself for 2019. A resolution to do something you’ve always dreamed about. Take the first sentence of my resolution and change the word “writing” to something you’re passionate about. Then go out and make it happen.

Here’s wishing you peace, love, music, art, writing….and all the best for the New Year.

Interview: Author Mark Eglinton Discusses Working with Ken “K.K.” Downing on guitartist’s Autobiography, ‘Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest’

Mark Eglinton is a best-selling author and biographer with an uncanny ability to perfectly capture a subject’s voice on the written page. His musical accomplishments include co-writes with such artists as Pantera bassist Rex Brown, and his acclaimed 2017 biography on James Hetfield, “So Let It Be Written,” used exclusive, firsthand interviews to construct a definitive account of the life of the Metallica frontman.

Eglinton’s latest project teams him up with former Judas Priest guitarist, Ken “K.K.” Downing for Downing’s insightful new autobiography, “Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest.” In it, Downing takes readers on a journey from his impoverished childhood to some of the biggest stages in the world. Along the way, Downing gives an emotional recounting of his life and discusses all the highs and lows of his career, including a re-telling of events that led to his departure from the Priest following their epic 2008 double album, Nostradamus.

AXS recently spoke with Mark Eglinton about “Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest,” and more in this exclusive new interview.

AXS: When did the idea for doing a biography with K.K. Downing originate?

Mark Eglinton: The first contact was somewhere around 2015. I’d seen interviews with K.K. and always thought he was a soft-spoken, sensitive guy who had a good story to tell. At the time, K.K. was involved in his business, so getting time with him was difficult. We were limited to talking on weekends, where we got to know each other. The initial feedback was really good and from there the project was on.

AXS: As a music fan, tell me about your relationship with Judas Priest.

ME: Priest was one of the first bands I became aware of when I started listening to heavy music. I was at boarding school and was struggling with being homesick. Another guy who was a few years older than me gave me a tape with some music on it to keep me going. On that tape, among other things, was music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Free, Boston, and a track from Sad Wings of Destiny called “Victim Of Changes.” It was something I’d never heard before. From that point on, I started digging into Priest. I’ve always been a fan of the band and K.K.’s part in it. He’s so down to earth and the same guy no matter how good or bad things are going.

AXS: What did you love most about their music when you listened to that tape?

ME: The darkness. I loved Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” Those harmonies were a whole new world, and it was the same with the good-time feeling of Skynyrd. But Priest had something else. Sad Wings of Destiny had darkness and space. You could hear all of the instruments and it sounded so great. Those early Priest albums had the ability to conjure a world that really appealed to me at that point in my life.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Mark Eglinton by Clicking here!

Shira’s Story Corner: Brooke Josephson Discusses Daughter’s Inspiring Cause

Shira Josephson

There’s an old adage that says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in the case of acclaimed singer/songwriter/artist Brooke Josephson, that sentiment couldn’t be more true. Josephson’s creative gene has been passed down to her daughter, Shira, in a uniquely wonderful way.

Shira Josephson, a book lover and Junior Ambassador at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, noticed that many of the hospital’s patients were so ill that they didn’t have access to the hospital’s first-floor story corner. So the resilient eight-year-old did what any forward-thinking artist would do — she created one of her own.

Last summer, Shira and her mother started Shira’s Story Corner, a video series where the young girl reads some of her favorite books that are later shared with patients. Shira’s weekly series was an insant success; bringing comfort and virtual companionship to many of the non-profit hospital’s isolated patients.

The Junior Ambassadors are the hospital’s youth fundraising group, and following a recent trip to New York City where she befriended another girl, Shira wrote and illustrated her own book, “The Girl On The Subway,” to help raise funds for the hospital. To date, Shira has raised more than $13,000 from book sales and other fundraising efforts.

On Saturday, October 6th, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles will hold its annual Junior Ambassador Action Day, where every donation made will be matched dollar for dollar. This year, The Josephson Family and Shira’s Story Corner are the matching donors. In addition to other fundraising activities planned for the day, Shira will be selling copies of “The Girl On The Subway” as well as her brand new book, “The Fickle Cat Called Pickles,” with all proceeds benefiting CHLA.

As for Shira’s mother, Brooke Josephson, the songstress will be back in New York City on September 21st for a performance at Prohibition. The show will be in support of her amazing new EP, “Sexy N’ Domesticated’. She’ll follow it up with a trip to Amsterdam to shoot the video for a remix of her song, “Mr. Fix It”, with DJ Rocky G.

I recently spoke with Brooke Josephson about Shira’s cause and much more in this exclusive new interview.

How did your family become involved with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles?

A few of Shira’s classmates in pre-school had been patients at the hospital and were blown away by the work they had done for them and their families. Then, two weeks before Shira graduated from pre-school, she fell and broke her arm pretty badly. It required her going under anesthesia for surgery and having to wear three different casts. The time she was away from us was very brief but it left such an impact on her. Then she started thinking about her friends who had been born with heart defects and needed to have surgery every few years. That’s when we started donating and getting involved. 

When did Shira’s love of reading originate?

I’ve always loved books. Even when I growing up, I’d always volunteer in our school library re-shelving books while everyone else was at recess. When Shira was a baby, I’d read to her every night. Then, once she started reading on her own, it became a passion for her as well.

How did she become involved the Junior Ambassador program and what inspired Shira’s Story Corner?

When Shira was going into first grade, we started looking into other ways of getting involved instead of just writing a check. That’s when we found out about the Junior Ambassador program, and Shira loved it right away. The program is a mixture of kids from the community as well as current patients. Shira was able to work alongside kids her own age right up to high school seniors. It was during her second training session, when they were doing a tour of the hospital, that they came to the end of the hall, where doors led to floors where the kids were too sick to have visitors.

Afterwards, Shira seemed sad, so I asked her what was wrong. She explained to me that the tour had ended because they couldn’t go past a certain point. Then she lit up and came up with an idea. There was a story corner on the first floor of the hospital; and even though the sick kids couldn’t go there, what if she could make her own story corner and bring it to them? One where she could read books and I could make videos for them to watch. It took off from there! 

What inspired Shira to write her own book, “The Girl On The Subway”?

Part of being a Junior Ambassador is creating your own fundraisers, and it was at one of the brainstorming sessions that Shira decided to make her own book. Part of that came from a story she’d read called “The Chocolate Bar” that a little boy had written for his friend who had a rare disease. They had sold the book to raise money for his friend’s treatment. Since we had recently taken a trip to New York, Shira wanted to write a book about a girl her age she met on the subway. To date, she’s raised more than $13,000 between her book and other fundraising. Even other kids in her elementary school have joined the Junior Ambassador program after seeing the work she’s done. It’s been exciting to watch the ripple effect.

What can you tell me about her new book, “The Fickle Cat Called Pickles?” 

She actually came up with the idea when she was being interviewed about “The Girl On The Subway” for the hospital. She loves to eat pickles and always wanted to have a cat, but because of allergies, we can only have dogs. One of the cool things was when she was drawing the characters. She wanted the middle part of their bodies to be in the shape of a pickle and the cat’s head to have a heart-shaped face.

Let’s talk about this year’s Children’s Hospital of L.A. Junior Ambassador Action Day.

It’s one day set aside where every dollar donated to the hospital is matched. This year on Action Day, Saturday, October 6th, you can purchase copies of Shira’s books, or you can also go to the CHLA website to make a donation.

Is there a message you’d like people to take away from Shira’s work?

I’m blown away by kids and their courage, even with Shira’s book, “The Girl On The Subway”. She literally just met the girl, and when the adults saw how well they were interacting they asked her how long the two of them had been friends. Shira told them, “We just met.” Then everyone started asking each other why we can’t do this as adults. It was humbling and inspiring. We all need the ability to look each other in the eye and make the world a better place.

FREE Kindle Version of Neapolitan Sky

You read that correctly. From now until Friday, August 31st you can download a copy of my 172-page suspense/thriller “Neapolitan Sky” on Amazon Kindle absolutely FREE with no strings attached! All I would ask is that you consider writing a review of the story after you’ve finished reading!

Here’s a brief description of “Neapolitan Sky”:

“Dreams of becoming a professional writer are abruptly put on hold for college student Nica Mitchell following the unexpected death of her mother and her father’s cancer diagnosis. Forced to return home when he’s hospitalized after encountering a near death experience, Nica learns that her father has been keeping a dark secret. Something in between the stages of life and death that, when revealed, will change her life forever.”

Click here to download your FREE copy! Hope you enjoy!

NS

 

‘Neapolitan Sky’: Actress Ashley Watkins Discusses Voice-Over Project

Photo: Josh Daugherty

There are few artists with the ability to successfully transition between the world of dance, feature film and commercial work. Even fewer can successfully maneuver these mediums with desire, versatility and charm.

Ashley Watkins, a professional actress and dancer, and a fixture of the entertainment industry for nearly ten years, meets all of this criteria.

An accomplished artist and performer, her resume encapsulates the full spectrum of drama, comedy, horror and dance/music videos. Her versatility, prowess and beauty are matched only by her innate ability to draw deep emotion.

Watkins takes on multiple roles in her latest project; providing the voice-over narration for James Wood’s suspense-thriller, “Neapolitan Sky”.

In “Neapolitan Sky”, dreams of becoming a professional writer are abruptly put on hold for college student Nica Mitchell following the unexpected death of her mother and her father’s cancer diagnosis. Forced to return home when he’s hospitalized after encountering a near death experience, Nica learns that her father has been keeping a dark secret. Something in between the stages of life and death that, when revealed, will change her life forever.

Watkins’ entertaining and infectious voice can be heard on the Audible version of “Neapolitan Sky”, which is available now!

I recently spoke with Ashley Watkins about her work on “Neapolitan Sky” and more in this exclusive new interview.

Was voice-over work something you’ve always done as an actress?

I’ve done some voice work in the past but never voice-over narration. So, this was totally new for me. It was fun to delve into the characters and find out who they are and then bring them to life. At one point, I didn’t even have to look at my notes to see how to do each voice. It came very naturally.

What are some of the differences between typical acting and doing voice-over for a book?

In a film, there’s typically one actor with one character. This was one actor playing multiple characters. So, I had to focus not only on the main character, but the side characters as well and then bring them all to life. They all come up very quickly in the book, and I remember at one point five of the characters were together on one page! Having to distinguish between the voices when the men were having a conversation was also a bit of a challenge.

Was there anything you had to do to prepare to take on this project?

Just like a movie script, I had to read through the story and then break down the acting in each of the chapters. I used a different color highlighter on the page to mark each character who was speaking. That way, I could prepare by seeing in advance who I was going to be speaking for while I was recording. I also had to make sure I was able to pronounce words correctly, so I did some research beforehand. After I had recorded each chapter, it then went into the editing process where I would clean up any excess sounds. I didn’t want any breaths or smacks and wanted only true silence between every space and at the end of each chapter.

What did you enjoy most about the story?

I liked the twist. It was something I never saw coming. I’m reading this book with a character I can completely relate to: a girl with a military dad who grew up in the military and had a close group of friends. I related to so many things and then, out of nowhere, the twist just blew me away. You think everything is comfortable and then something happens that makes you re-think about life. You’re asking yourself, is this real? I felt for every character in the book. 

You began your career as a figure skater. What made you make the transition to acting?

When I moved to Northern California when I was twelve, I had to quit ice skating because there wasn’t anywhere to skate that was within driving distance. The closest thing I could do that was similar was cheerleading and dance. As I started doing that, I also fell in love with drama and theater, which eventually opened the door to film. At the time, I was really into leading lady characters like Neve Campbell, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Julia Ormund. I went to college and got a theater degree and as soon as I graduated college, I went straight to L.A..

Are there any other projects you’re currently involved with?

I have a movie called “Professor Dario Bava” where I play the villain, Camilla. We’re going through an Indigogo phase right now. Our director, Phil Mucci, also wants to turn it into a comic book series to build the fan base. We’ll probably start filming in the spring. 

What gives you the most satifaction about doing “Neapolitan Sky“?

I liked that I was able to add all of my touches on it. A writer brings the story to life and I got to bring the characters to life, vocally. Normally, there’d be an audio expert coming in to edit when everything is finished. But since I also did the editing, I learned a lot about the process. It was fulfilling to know I could put all that work into something and people will be able to hear it. It was fun to start the project and see it through to completion.