Savage Beasts is out! And the authors are actually talking to each other. Writers? Talking? To each other? Yes, we are! And here’s the proof in the form of my interview with Max Price, who penned the tale ‘Poor Mal’, featured in the anthology.
Maxwell Price lives in upstate South Carolina, USA, where in addition to writing he performs and records a variety of music. Formerly a columnist and music editor for one of those prehistoric beasts known as an “alt-weekly”, he now blogs over at The Halftone in Your Soul. You can find him on Facebook… somewhere? I’m told.
His story “Poor Mal” appears in the epic Savage Beasts anthology from Grey Matter Press. This is his first published piece of fiction.
What was the musical inspiration behind your fantastic tale ‘Poor Mal’?
“Poor Mal” was inspired by Syd Barrett, who was the frontman and chief songwriter in the original line-up of Pink Floyd. It’s not based off of any one song of his in particular, just the general outlines of the myth that has sprung up around him. For the uninitiated, the gist of it is that Syd was a visionary who penned the band’s early psychedelic pop classics, until he was laid low by a mix of drug use, mental illness, and the pressures of fame. Fired from the band he helped to found, Syd released a handful of progressively more disheveled solo albums and then basically dropped out of music altogether, becoming a cult figure and a cautionary tale in the process. My story features a very Syd-like character called Malcolm Marriott, and looks at what kinds of craziness might cause someone to come unglued at the height of their success.
In the story, you juggle drug abuse, time slips, spiritualism and war zones, all anchored in music-wild 1960/70s London. That’s quite a cocktail. Where on earth did the idea to put these themes together come from? How did you blend them in the writing process?
If you listen to the English psychedelic bands, some of those same themes pop up. There’s lots of mysticism, tongue-in-cheek Victorian and Edwardian tropes, etc. And drugs. Lots of drugs. A fair number of those albums have a song about World War One, too – there’s “Some Mother’s Son” off of the Kink’s Arthur and “the Butcher’s Tale” off of the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle – so obviously that goes in, as well. Time travel and spiritualism were also necessary, to smash the two eras together. Somewhere in there I made this connection between the stereotype of an acid casualty, somebody just totally zoned-out, and how close it was to shell-shock. That became the hook. Beyond that, I just let my anglophilia run rampant.
What role does music play for you creatively? Do you listen to music when you write? Are there any artists you find particularly inspiring when you need some atmosphere or ideas?
I would say music is actually my main creative outlet; I feel like a musician, songwriter, and recording engineer who writes sometimes, not the other way around. Most of what I’ve written tends to have a connection to music, but usually that’s because it’s the world I live in. I very rarely find myself pulling imagery or abstract ideas out of music. The opposite usually happens, and I end up sneaking stuff I’ve been reading or writing about into songs. Like, every one of the songs that Mal writes in my story, I had to sit down and write those songs.
Sometimes I do listen to music when I write, but it usually ends with me spacing out or wasting huge gobs of time curating a playlist of songs. And of course, there’s also the ever-present danger that I’ll end up grabbing a guitar and killing a whole night’s productivity stroking the damn thing.
Who are some of your favourite writers and musicians? If you could match them up, which writers do you think would listen to which artists?
I grew up reading a lot of pulp horror and fantasy stuff: Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, etc, etc. Monster stories, most of the time. I went through a weird phase after college where I didn’t read anything but new journalism and anti-corporate screeds (stories about different kinds of monsters, really). Read a lot about music, especially by guys like Nick Kent and Nick Tosches. Started reading fiction again, got into Neil Gaiman, Joe R. Lansdale, Joe Hill, and Norman Partridge. Now I’m starting to read some older, pre-pulp writers like Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Been going through Shirley Jackson’s stuff, too.
As for music (hoo boy): Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Curtis Mayfield, the Small Faces, the Who, Bowie, Link Wray, Chuck Berry, Mott the Hoople, the Everly Brothers, Squeeze, the Supremes, the Buzzcocks, Tom Waits, Lefty Frizzell, XTC, Desmond Dekker, Joseph Spence, the Smiths, Thin Lizzy, blah, blah, blah. You get the idea. I could go on forever here. Also: I believe Billie Holiday and Fats Waller’s various small group jazz recordings from the 30s/40s might be the best music America ever produced.
I couldn’t begin to tell you where all this stuff might overlap, although I would single out Norman Partridge as a dude who puts his love of 50s rock-and-roll out there all the time, in big neon letters. Besides just dropping in references to old songs and singers, his novel Dark Harvest and his collection Bad Intentions both evoke some kind of wild rockabilly/greaser vibe throughout.
What are you working on at the moment? What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
As far as prose, I have a novella called the Rockabilly Singer that I’ve been working on, but mostly I’ve spent the last couple months writing new songs. My new goal for productivity is at least one novella-length story and an album’s worth of songs every year until I croak.
I had the revelation this past year that my life will continue to suck if I’m not fronting my own band again, so hopefully I can get that going again. I’m playing bass right now for a friend of mine, his band is called James Wesley Nichols & the Limbs, we might have an album of his stuff out sometime later this year. Who knows, maybe I’ll have an album of all the “Poor Mal” songs out for Halloween. I’m also recording other local bands and singers all the time. Sleep – who needs it, right? (I do.)
There we have it. If literature and music combos get you piqued, or to read ‘Poor Mal’ and the stories alongside it, grab yourself a copy of Savage Beasts as soon as you can.
Max will also be interviewing me on his blog at some stage, so if you’re curious, please do check it out, too!