Jay Kristoff is the author of The Lotus War; a fantasy trilogy set in a Japanese-inspired steampunk dystopia. If it sounds awesome, well that's because it is awesome. Stormdancer & Kinslayer are already available, you can check 'em out here and follow Jay's blog here - do it, it's ace.
Jay was kind enough to give up his time to answer my rambling questions on music, metal and writing. Some of you will already know what a big fan of metal Jay is, and while the writer within me wanted to hail him with questions about writing and his books, I also loved asking him about music too.
So here it is, hope you enjoy and thank you, Jay!
AC: I’d love to hear about the role music, particularly metal, plays in your life, both in terms of writing and beyond. As you’d know, some writers use it to cut out distractions, some customise playlists for characters and some need silence to write. How do you use music?
JK: I generally can’t listen to music while I write, it’s too distracting. Though I recently found an Italian composer named Ludovico Einaudi who writes amazing stuff and I can actually tolerate playing while I’m writing. So that’s a win. Usually I need TOTAL FUCKING SILENCE. Like, if my wife drops a shoe at the other end of the house, I curse all the gods in the sky and below it that I was ever born to this wretched existence.
Yeah, I’m a drama queen. :P
In terms of life, metal helped me through a lot of tough times when I was younger. I was an angry kid, and heavy music helped me get that aggression out in a healthy way. It gave me a community to be part of. Nowadays it’s a venting system, really. People hear the music I have in my car stereo and ask “God, doesn’t listening to this stuff make you angry?” and my stock response is “No, it calms me down.”
AC: Followers of your twitter (@misterkristoff) know you’re a big fan of some of the more blistering forms of metal, I’m curious to hear about what attracts you to those genres. The energy?
JK: Energy, yeah. Channelling negativity into positivity. I like that I can’t listen to metal when I write, that it DEMANDS I sit and listen to it and it alone. Lyrical content is a huge draw for me, too. A lot of the bands I listen to are singing about issues close to my heart. What’s wrong with the world and people. How to fix it. Taking something that makes you angry and making art with it. You listen to a lyricist like Randy Blythe or Winston McCall or Zack de la Rocha and they’re asking you to THINK. And sure, you get some pretty silly lyrics in metal too, I’m not holding the genre up as sacrosanct, but in general, it’s a thinking person’s kind of music. And hell, screaming along to “middle fingers up if you don’t give a fuck” is a lot healthier than going out and actually wrecking stuff.
AC: I agree. And urging people to think for themselves is probably a pretty awesome message to take from any genre, huh? In light of that, if you were to pinpoint any issue common to metal lyrics that's been reflected in your own work, what would it be?
JK: Hmm. Probably the power of the individual to change the world. That’s a big part of the Lotus Wars.
AC: A couple of years back you posted a link to an orchestral score for a chapter from Stormdancer as composed by Will Musser, who contacted you about writing the music. How does that feel as a writer of fiction, to have your work spark creation in another medium? Can you speak a little about how it happened and how collaborative the process was? Have you considered working on an audio companion to the Lotus books? (Big job, I know, but wouldn’t it be cool?)
JK: Oh yeah, Will’s brilliant. I’d like to say I had something to do with that awesome piece of music, but really, I just said “HELL YES” when he asked if he could do it. And yeah, any time someone takes something I’ve made and makes something new with it, be it music or art or poetry or whatever, it’s amazing to me. But then, I’m amazed anyone other than my mum reads my stuff.
Audio companion to the LW books is a great idea, but I’d probably get arrested for copyright infringement. And I’m FULLY aware that 98% of the population consider the music I love to be obnoxious noise, so I don’t imagine it’d be a big seller. :D
AC: In lieu of a companion, reckon you could share some ideas on bands or albums that might suit the Shima Isles? (Strapping Young Lad sprang my mind while reading Stormdancer, as did Twelve Foot Ninja.) Or what about Yukiko or Akihito perhaps, what would their personal theme songs be?
JK: Well, probably the biggest influence on Stormdancer would be Rage Against the Machine’s The Battle of Los Angeles album. I was listening to that pretty much on constant rotate during the period I wrote SD’s first draft. Songs like Guerrilla Radio and War Within a Breath totally shaped the narrative. But I like to throw in a few metal easter eggs, so quite a few chapter titles are favourite songs of mine. Descending, Gravity, Purity, etc. I do this kind of thing all the time, just to amuse myself.
(Nobody else finds them, but hey, I’m having fun :P ) [AC: Awesome, I totally missed those!]
AC: Again, on your blog you discuss music as free of the burden of language, as something that creates understanding between people. Anyone who’s been to a good gig has seen it, has felt it. The last show I saw was an awesome Japanese funk/jazz band Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro, and they were amazing – the whole crowd, of varying ages, backgrounds and whatever, the whole crowd was unified.
Would you say that music, especially live music, is a useful contrast to the oft-times solitary life of a writer? Do you feel like you need it sometimes, just to break from the writing cycle of ‘quiet’?
JK: Oh yeah, I love going to live shows, that’s where the energy is. I love seeing the weird mix of hyper-aggression and affection you only find in a metal pit — these kid just smashing into each other like they’re out to kill one another, but if someone falls over, everyone stops and helps pick them up.
As I’ve got older, a lot of my buddies have stopped going to shows, settled down, had families and all that, but I hope I never stop. I wanna be the 60 year old dude in the pit. Live shows are really one of the few occasions I get out of the goddamn house nowadays. And yeah, I love that connectivity being in the crowd brings. It’s one of the few occasions I don’t object to the mob mentality. And it’s one of the few places you can scream/roar your lungs out and nobody looks at you like you should be locked up.
AC: You've also described music as one of your top 5 reasons for living – can we hear about the other 4?
JK: My wife. She’s pretty much my everything.
Writing. Not sure what I ever did before I did this.
My friends. You get older, you really start to value the people who can still tolerate your bullshit.
My family. The blood is the life.
AC: To finish, how about a quick head to head on Australian progressive metal band Karnivool – Sound Awake vs Themata?
JK: Oh maaaaan, hard call. Ghhggghhhnnnnnnnnn . . .
I think I’ll go with Sound Awake. It was a little more experimental. Songs like Change and Deadman are just sonic lunacy. The arrangements were a little braver, a little more complex — not that bravery and complexity is always a good thing (left unchecked, you end up with an album like Asymmetry). But they’re both great albums. Love em.
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Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
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