Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talented Writer & Musician Josh Malerman

Where were you born and raised?
It was a suburb of Detroit called West Bloomfield. Then, went to West Bloomfield High School and then went to Michigan State University and moved to New York City with my rock band. I was out there for 4 years. Then, I hit the road for like 6 years and at some point I found my way back here to Ferndale.

As a kid, where were some of your best memories?
Making up adventure games with my brothers.  This chases easily through the life of a writer’s life. We would make up characters  and situations and act them out in the yard. During rain, snow, sun .. whatever. Essentially it was us just making up characters and acting them out for the day.

What were some of the horror films you watched growing up that stuck with you?
I have a real seminal moment with Twilight Zone: The Movie. It came out around 1985 and I was like 10 years old. My uncle said you have to see this movie and put the VHS tape and I watch it alone. It was like the first horror movie I had ever seen. That was it. I was blown away. I was scared. I was excited. I told my brothers about it and everyone at school . So, my love of the horror genre is so rich and varied, but it all definitely started with Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Let’s switch from films here to music. What were your favorite bands growing up?
I have a weird history with music. I was kind of a square for a long time. I would listen to whatever mom and dad were playing. My dad was playing Doo Wop and early Beatles. My mom was playing mid to late 60’s psychedelic stuff. It was good stuff, but I didn’t really thing back then , “Go forge your own path and discover your own music.” It took my band mates, who I was friends with since 11 years old, to really introduce me to stuff.  I was late in my teens when my drummer, Derek, said I had to get into The Ramones. You got to get into this band or that band. I just never sought it out on my own. I was one of those guys that was like, “It’s on the radio, so it must be good.” I just didn’t know. My band mates really opened my eyes infinitely. I remember my first album I bought was A Nightmare on My Street by Will Smith and the only reason why I got it was because there was A Nightmare on Elm Streetish cover.

Where you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m not sure when I was a kid that I could recognize that you could be do anything you want or become anything you want with your life.  It was more like, “I’m going to school. I’m getting really good grades and I’m the captain of the track team.” And then, I thought Dad’s an accountant and maybe I’ll be something like that one day.  Who knows? I had sort of a psychic break at the age of 19. Something struck me all in one evening that resulted in a panic attack. It was the absolute realization that I can really do whatever I want right now. Some things have repercussions and other things have infinite rewards .. and it all hit me at once. It was sort of overwhelming. Man, I told my mom about it and it my freak out moment it was like,  “Don’t be afraid of this. Actually now go out and do what you want with your life.” I had been writing my whole life because it was fun. So at age 19, when I was doing that thing that was really fun, I realized I could actually do this.  That is when it all settled in.

Do you remember that time when you rounded that corner and fell in love with reading?
Yea, I do. My parents had gotten me this book about these weird primitive animals that eat all the food in town. It was a bit scary. I remember opening the book and reading the entire thing. My folks were like, “You read an entire book. You can read!” And I remember it was that little sliver of encouragement that mom and dad were impressed. It was then that I immediately took to reading. There was a thing called The Pine Tree Book Awards. It was a contest to see who could read the most books in the school district. I came in third. There was a big ceremony and mom went with me and I got third place and it was so upsetting.

Why do you write? What is it that makes you feel complete to write?
I used to say that I felt completely motivated  by guilt if I didn’t write. That really paints a dark scenario though. To satiate something versus to celebrate something. At some point I realized that sure you do feel guilty if you don’t write, but you also feel really fucking good when you do write. So for  me , it’s like, I’m not a realist in any way. I’m the kind of guy that when I watch a documentary I think ‘Well this is great, but it’s biased.” Of if I watch a movie about a struggling mom I think it’s OK, but it’s still fiction. I’m always aware with art that no matter how realistic it is trying to be, it is still fiction. With that in mind, I kind of walk the path of if it’s fiction .. it’s all fiction. So, let’s strap on the imagination catapult and fire! Let’s just let it go. When I’m doing that, it just feels like the right thing to do.

When did you decide that making music was something you were going to do for the rest of your life? 
Again, I had been writing forever. So, I had this pile of really terrible poems. They were all trying to be really dark and deep. All of my friends were already playing instruments and I just didn’t think anything of it. And I didn’t. So, we had this one day where we were all in the basement and another friend of mine started singing all of those poems over the music my friends were playing. And that right there was a huge moment. And that was the first moment that I heard someone singing my words to music and it was like these could be songs. So, this big impenetrable wall of music suddenly had a door and I thought ‘Wait a minute. You can go through this. You can write songs.” It was so thrilling. I think that would be the moment. I remember where everyone was standing at that moment, the color of the basement .. it was that kind of moment. I credit my friends and Mark specifically for picking up those poems and singing them. It just showed me that anyone can write a song if they want to.

Your band, The High Strung, has to be one of the most talented and least known bands out there today. Talk to me about the band and how it started.
One time the LA Times voted one of our albums as the 2nd most overlooked album of the year. So, Derek says that maybe next year we will be the 2nd most looked album of the year. But, it all began that day with Mark in the basement with my poems. From there, my younger brother’s friend, Chad, who’s my bass player .. we all said that we should play together. So, at 23 years old we all decide to move to New York City and write songs. So, we went out there and we were broke. And I would call Chad constantly and tell him that he had to quite college and come out to New York and be in the band. Chad kept saying ‘no-no-no.” And finally, one day the doorbell rings and Chad is standing there. He said that he had finished school and a friend from Vermont drove him out for some Phish show. He asked the dude to drop him off and there he was. So, Chad moved into the loft and we had a year of non-stop recording and writing songs. That led to a friend of ours getting us a gig in Ohio. We didn’t even know what that meant back then .So, we drive from New York to Ohio and play the show. On the way back, we were like, ‘Wow. That was awesome. That was amazing.”  We have played a small town with 30 people there and they danced and we had fun .. we all drank. What a night. So, we said lets go on the road.  That idea ballooned into 6 years of being on the road. We were touring for like 240 shows a year. We were going non-stop. From like Miami to Seattle. Man, it never got old. You have relationships growing with people in all these different cities. It really showed me that America was much smaller than I always thought it was. We circled the country like 20 times. In hindsight is sounds like a real linear story,  but while we were doing it there was no real conscious decision about how things were going. It just kept going and going and momentum and ballooning. There were shows where we would play for like 10 people and have the time of our lives. It was always fun. I always joke that we played like 2,000 shows for about 2,000 people. Man that was 6 years. Nothing could replace that. It was like high school and a half. Just playing with your buddies and the fighting was minimal. We had already gone through all of that in like 8th and 9th grade. We never got sick of each other. We always had our eyes on playing our songs in Minneapolis was better than working that day job when you got home. We never lost sight of that. We got a little bit older. I’m 39 years old now.  Man, I remember waking up in somebody’s laundry room. Opening my eyes and seeing the bottom of laundry tubs. That idea sounds a little crazy to me today. Other than that naturally getting older thing, we have a legitimate love for making music and albums.

From 2000 to 2014 you have 15 albums and these days you have the theme song for the Showtime Show Shameless and now millions of people are getting exposed to your music .. How does that feel? 
First of all, I have zero regrets or animosity that we’re not quote/unquote famous. Our music life has been magnificent, but with this whole Shameless thing – I think oh my god this is our moment and now we are gonna be well known. We have some money from the song in the show and thank God. But, in terms of fans, it’s exactly where it’s always been. That said, when this actually happened, we had just finished a practice. Derek left practice and I got a call from him while I was still at the practice space. He tells me that he has some weird news for me and we got asked to do a theme song for a Showtime show with William H. Macy. I said, ‘Come on. What are you talking about? We are a tiny from Michigan.’ Then, we were like ‘Really? This is happening.’ We were almost nervous that whatever this news was, it was going to change things. We thought if that show does not come out tomorrow, this whole thing could fall apart. There was just this huge joy and anxiety. Then it happened and it’s awesome .. we have a theme song on TV.

What is a typical day like for Josh Malerman?
Like today, I’m working on book two for Harper Collins. The follow up to Bird Box. It’s already written. I’m re-writing it and I’ll work on that for a few hours. I just did a Kindle single and  hopefully I’ll do another one soon. Generally it’s either editing, writing or writing from scratch – which is my favorite thing to do. Somewhere in there I will pick up the guitar and work on some songs. Then somewhere in there I will talk to my friends about making movie ideas. I will definitely say that I am 100% living the life of an artist. From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to sleep it’s either reading, writing, playing the guitar or talking about things. Honestly, that’s all I really do.

What do your band mates think about this new lineage of Bird Box fame?
You know, we are all best friends so they were ecstatic. I wrote eight books while riding shotgun in the tour van. I would be in the passenger seat tearing away at the keyboard. They’ve seen me writing books and songs for years and years. I think they were all like, ‘Holy cow!’ I do think we all have an ‘aw man’, I wish this was happening for all of us. Everything is great though. All is working out fine. The one thing we cannot do is stop now. Come on, the book thing is amazing, I got to write us another album .. so let’s make it. Who knows, maybe more attention from the book will give us exposure.

How did you come up with the idea for Bird Box?
I’m constantly thinking of not just horror ideas, but something similar to that. I just don’t think that I have anything yet to add to the werewolf and vampire universes. I just find myself looking constantly for a more abstract monster. At some point, I loved the concept of infinity personified. The idea that there is an entity that you cannot fathom. You cannot understand if you were to encounter it, it would be the same as understanding infinity. Kind of like man at the end of the space boundary .. you would not be able to understand it. So, I went with that idea being on your front porch. Like standing outside. So, you wake up and go downstairs and you open the door and infinity is out there. So I randomly .. not sure how .. had this image of a woman travelling down a river blindfolded and her kids were blindfolded. They were fleeing from something. The original draft started with Mary and the kids on the river and they weren’t blindfolded yet, because I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing yet. Then it was like, ‘Where are they going? What are they fleeing?’ Oh man, I thought, they are fleeing infinity. That was kind of like my Aha moment with Bird Box. It happened pretty early. About three sessions into writing it. The rough drafts from there were like an explosion.

Did you at any point during the writing of Bird Box did you blindfold yourself and type?
There were times where I would walk around the apartment with my eyes closed and all that. Yes, I think I did actually, but not to the extent that I wish I had. I should have walked around the block. I was dating a girl at the time, she could have been near me and made sure that I wasn’t unsafe. I wish I would have done that. What I did have in that room I was writing was prized finches who I never put in their cage. So these birds were flying back and forth in this big loft space .. kind of like a ball room. So these birds would just be flying back and forth the whole time I was writing. That was outstanding. It was really cool.

The journey to getting book published is typically a long road. How did Bird Box get published?
The story of how I met Harper-Collins is almost ridiculous. It’s a testament to stick to itiveness and it’s also a testament to luck. Not sure if you know this, but I have written about 20 novels now. I would write on Facebook that I finished another book today or I finished a rough draft and then say how excited I was. A friend of mine from high school called me up and said he knew an entertainment lawyer that specializes in authors. So I said ‘wow’ and my friend, Dave, said he would send him one of my books. I gave Dave this book called Goblin and he sent it to this lawyer. The guy then called me and said he would like to represent me. I thought it was amazing. So, he said I think we have a good manager for you .. so, send the book to him. And now that fella is currently my manager. And between the two of them and an agent now, this team was assembled and shopped to a publishing house. So it really all did begin with this friend from high school who said he had read all of these posts I put up on Facebook. So, it looks like it’s lucky. Yes, it is lucky. At the same time, the reason he called was because I was writing. I believe in a theory of momentum. You may not end up with the exact thing you are dying for, but if you stay in motion, there’s gonna be some ripple effect. You’re going to end up somewhere with it.

My wife Carrie contends that the force in Bird Box could just be overwhelmingly benign, whereas I’m convinced that it was a sinister force of evil. What do you think about this?
Oh man, I love that. It’s funny because while I was writing Bird Box, there were moments where I thought ‘wait a minute’ I’m not convinced that these creatures mean any harm. It’s possible that they are just clumsily observing what’s happening. I can almost imagine these entities completely observing this wreckage that they are causing. To me, that is a really awesome idea. But, it wouldn’t explain certain things. For example, if they were aware of what they were doing, why would you enter the house. Why would you keep it up? There has to be flat out uncaring malice going on. Otherwise you would be like, “We are causing a lot of harm here .. let’s stop.” First of all, that’s assuming they think anything like that and they don’t. Tom mentioned in the book I don’t think these things mean to do what they do. So, I think about that all the time. I wonder if Tom is right. I’m not sure, you know. To me, that’s a possibility. I think if I just read the book and walked away from it, I would say that’s a possibility, but I think something malicious is afoot.

Let me paint a Rockwellian picture for you. You just had Bird Box get picked up to be a movie and on opening night you sit down .. Do you think there is going to be anything better that watching a good representation of your book?
No I don’t. You know, people always say ‘That’s beyond my wildest dreams.’ Well, I think that would be my wildest dream. There’s something almost mafiaish or clubish about the horror fan. The Conjuring has been rolled into the group. We can all agree that The Conjuring is a good one.  So, The Conjuring is there forever. There will be a 30th Anniversary and folks will talk about it the same way we are now. It’s a made man, so to speak. There are a lot of horror movies where you think, ‘aw man.’ The point is, there is a lot you have to sift through in horror to find those gems. So, to sit down and see that Bird Box has the potential to be welcomed into that horror fraternity .. oh man, that would be it right there.

If you had to pick music or writing right now,  .. which would you pick and why?
I would absolutely take writing. From the start, that’s what actually got me into music. Like I said earlier, I wrote poems and all that. That is interesting because if I pick music then I would still be writing, right? If I chose writing, I could still sort of hedge that fence and write poems and make ‘em a little more lyrical .. or songish. If I chose music and turned it back .. oh no. It would have to be writing.

Let’s get into some hero talk here. If you could meet one person .. alive or not, who would it be and what would  you talk about?
I have a few. I think you know this one is coming. I would love to sit down and talk with Stephen King. I would ask him how he felt in the early days when he realized that he was becoming trusted author of the horror genre. I would ask him how satisfying that was, how much pressure did that put on his next book and did he feel like he was being over-edited in the early days. Did he feel loose as a goose? Did he feel he wasn’t edited enough? I would ask him a lot of questions about what it was like before he became a quote/unquote brand name. That moment must have been so bizarre, so surreal and so profound for him. I wonder. Even if you were that guy that knew you were going to be that all along, when that happens, it has to do something to you. I would also love to have a sit down to dinner with one person. I would love to have dinner at Agatha Christie’s house and ask her to tell us a story. We would all be blown away a paragraph into it. We would say that’s the best story we ever heard. I love her. There’s some other guys to. Like Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Bob Pollard from Guided by Voices. I actually have met Bob and hung out with him. I would love to talk to those people.. they were actually chastised for being so prolific. I would love to talk to Woody Allen about putting out a one movie a year for 60 years. I would love to talk to Hitchcock about workmanship. There’s always this workmanship thing about the prolific artist. There always has to be that eternal flame of inspiration going on also. I would love to see that flicker in Hitchcock’s eyes. I would like for all al not to be that they are just a business man. They are really consistent artists and I would like to  talk with them about that.

What’s the greatest thing about being a musician?
I used to think it was making an album. The idea that you are documenting where you are at emotionally and technically how good you are. So, bands in the 60’s put out like two albums a year. Nowadays it seems that bands put out an album every two years.  With bands like The Beatles and The Who, we were able to watch them grow because they were documenting their growth. Whereas a band like The Strokes puts out an album and like two years later there’s an incredible pressure, but their next album sounds like their first album. Now it’s playing in front of anybody and  in any city is the most rewarding thing I can think of. It’s so great, man. When you’re standing on stage with your friends and you nail it .. and you can feel it. My answer to that is the live show.

You get to live on the lit and dark side of earth. You get to witness people being pleased by your music and hear people talk about your books .. a pleasure you will never witness. What is that like?
Man, the book only came out 6 months ago. I still really don’t know how to respond to it all. I get messages every day from people who have read the book. I really struggle with how articulate how much it means to me. You come off like, ‘oh, thank you.’  But, you are thinking inside that this is the greatest thing ever. There have been some reviews online where people don’t like it, but the good is far away more than the bad. The interesting thing is to be having this happen in this era versus the 1980’s . Not only do you see everyone’s opinions online, but if you want to, you are a click away from engaging with people. Sometimes it’s tempting when someone writes an incredible review to reach out and say thank you. So what do you do if someone writes a review that really isn’t bad, but they just got it wrong. There was one particular review on Amazon that referenced my influences and mentioned a book that was published after Bird Box. What do you do now in 2014 when you are a click away from engaging? There are guys and gals that are known to engage and others that don’t say a word no matter what. And so far, I have been the latter camp and I’m not convinced I want to stay there.

Describe to me who you are in the length of a tweet?
I’m an optimist who’s in love with the imagination in all its forms. That’s what ties together the rock-n-roll with horror stories with silly cartoons & crazy esoteric movies.  I know I’m well over the tweet limit now, I have been asked how I reconcile these scary novels with these bright pop songs .. and the way I see it is that it really comes from the same place. I’m an optimistic clown in love with the imagination.

For more on Josh Malerman and The High Strung:

For more interviews via Famous Interviews with Joe Dimino:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Talented Trombonist Reggie Watkins

Welcome to another episode in our Neon Jazz interview series  .. Meet Jazz Trombonist Reggie Watkins .. From West Virginia, he has gone on to travel all over the map giving people his unique blend of jazz. He got plenty of experience touring with Maynard Ferguson .. and gave me one of the best jazz stories we have ever heard here on Neon Jazz .. He also talks about his latest album - “One For Miles One for Maynard”, along with a whole lot more .. Dig it, my friends ..

Click here to listen to the interview.

Neon Jazz is a radio program airing since 2011. Hosted by Joe Dimino and Engineered by John Christoper in Kansas City, Missouri giving listeners a journey into one of America's finest inventions. Take a listen on KCXL (102.9 FM / 1140 AM) out of Liberty, MO on Saturday Mornings from 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. and Sunday Mornings from 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. Listen to KCXL on Tunein Radio at For all things Neon Jazz, visit

Monday, November 3, 2014

Internet Royalty Free Music Man Kevin MacLeod

Kevin MacLeod is an American composer and music producer living in New York City. MacLeod is best known for his distribution of royalty-free music through his website, MacLeod has made over 2000 pieces of music available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and in the Public Domain. He is the subject of a documentary film scheduled to be released in 2016, entitled Royalty Free: The Music of Kevin MacLeod -

Neon Jazz is a radio program airing since 2011. Hosted by Joe Dimino and Engineered by John Christoper in Kansas City, Missouri giving listeners a journey into one of America's finest inventions. Take a listen on KCXL (102.9 FM / 1140 AM) out of Liberty, MO on Saturday Mornings from 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. and Sunday Mornings from 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. Listen to KCXL on Tunein Radio at For all things Neon Jazz, visit

Jazz Star Bob Mintzer

Welcome to this edition of the Neon Jazz interview series  - We spent some quality time with jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger, and big band leader Bob Mintzer discussing a wide array of topics pertaining to a long career that has been going strong since the 1970’s ..  He is a force in jazz and discussed his cool years with the Yellowjackets, how jazz matters, great stories from the road, the effect he has on his fans and a whole lot more .. Dig it, my friends ..

Neon Jazz is a radio program airing since 2011. Hosted by Joe Dimino and Engineered by John Christoper in Kansas City, Missouri giving listeners a journey into one of America's finest inventions. Take a listen on KCXL (102.9 FM / 1140 AM) out of Liberty, MO on Saturday Mornings from 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. and Sunday Mornings from 7:00 – 8:00 a.m. Listen to KCXL on Tunein Radio at For all things Neon Jazz, visit