Chris Callaway was an obsessive lover of music at a young age. While still in high school and through college, he wrote for Christian heavy- metal magazines before graduating to highe- profile publications like Boulder Weekly and Westword. His first book, Reel to Real by Reel, is a selection of pieces that Callaway wrote between 1999 and 2011. More than a mere collection of interviews, though, the book is part autobiography and contextualizes the music and often the interviews with Callaway's own experiences.
In each interview, Callaway deftly susses out the human being rather than focusing on the cultural figure. “I figure it's better to be off-setting and to get the person to reveal their humanity and ask them something different, like how often do you see your family,” says Callaway. “Something that grabs part of that human experience and puts it at the forefront. I don't want to know the answers to the same old questions.” Callaway makes good on that premise in his conversations with important pop-music figures and personal heroes, like Ray Davies, Mike Peters of The Alarm, Bruce Cockburn, Neil Finn of Crowded House and Alex Lifeson of Rush. In advance of a book signing this weekend, we sat down with Callaway to talk about how the book came about.
Westword: What was the impetus for this book of interviews?
Chris Callaway: I have a really good friend, Greg Glasgow, who for years was the books and entertainment editor for the Boulder Daily Camera and now he works for the University of Denver as, I believe, the periodicals editor. We had known each other from playing in bands. I was in Crash Orchid and he was in Fortywatt. Our bands never took off but we remained friends. A few years after our bands broke up, I told him I had a box full of interviews and he had never saved his. He asked what I was going to do with them because, “You don't want to just toss them or forget about them.” He suggested writing a book and compiling interviews.
I wrote introductions to each interview and initially I had thirty-two interviews. He became the editor of the project and I sent him stuff and through different editing processes he suggested, I did them chronologically and included my story of growing up listening to music. As a musician myself and a music lover, I identify parts of my life with what I was listening to at the time. Then the interviews became more personal. I always loved writers like David Sedaris, who can talk about nothing for a long time and make it interesting. So I decided to do these personal introductions and tie it in with musicians I liked.
Some of your interviews are from the '90s. How did you record them?
When I first started I worked at the Boulder Weekly with Dave Flomberg. Back in college I had written for Christian heavy-metal magazines but wanted to expand my horizons. When I knew I was going to move back to Denver from Nashville and talked to Dav,e that's how I got started. He told me I needed to buy a microcassette recorder, so I did. I was current then and people used it. To this day I think I have problems with my thumb from pressing fast forward so many times. Even the MiniDisc was a pain in the ass.
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So a lot of these interviews were on microcassettes and I went through the process of using one of those CD burners you hook up to your stereo and I would take the microcassette recorder and burn the recordings to CD and then take the CD and turn it into an MP3. I then hired someone to transcribe them. It's funny because the last interview of the book is my friend Bill Mallonee from Vigillantes of Love. And he was the only interviewee that knew what I was trying to do and he knew how long it would take to transcribe a fifteen-minute interview and knew how to do an e-mail interview properly.
[Normally an e-mail interview has its limitations] because there's no emotion there and the follow-up questions is where I always got the best material. It's not what you go in with. The worst interviews I did were when I had twelve questions and would go in. The best were when I had three questions and built upon them. It just rollercoasters.
I've found artists, a lot in the book, with whom you figure out their personality in the first question. For instance, Neil Finn of Crowded House is a funny guy — and I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't asked him an off-the-wall question and not had any questions to back it up. We happened to talk about hearing his music in a supermarket and how it freaked him out and how his wife would give him a hard time about it. And how the song would sound annoying to him until he realized it was him. That would have never come out in an email interview.
Chris Callaway will celebrate the release of his book from 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at Former Future Brewing Company, 1290 South Broadway. The event is free and books will be available for $15.95, credit-card payment only. For more information on the event. visit formerfuturebrewing.com or call 720-441-4253. You can contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.