Interview with Axes of Evil Editor Alex S. Johnson

Axes of Evil is an anthology inspired by the world of heavy metal.This monster of an anthology features two New England writers, Anna Haney and myself (Morgan Sylvia.) It was edited by Alex S. Johnson, who let me pick his brains for this interview.

Where did the inspiration for Axes come from?

The specific impetus to create Axes of Evil was my desire to create a benefit anthology for a musician who was facing charges on a narcotics rap. He was the leader singer for a punk metal band with a lot of influences, from DarkThrone to G.G. Allin, and his incarceration would put the band on hold indefinitely. I started putting together a book that was called, at that point, Gore Beyond Bizarro. Because of the stigma surrounding the singer’s offense, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the anthology idea, and I put it on hold, during which time the singer was imprisoned. People kept asking me about the concept–a heavy metal horror anthology–and whether or not I intended to continue with it. Gore Beyond Bizarro would have been a self-published venture; however, when I decided to give it a go again, under the new title of Axes of Evil, I approached another publisher with the project. He expressed great interest but a week later dropped the ball. By this point I had begun to accumulate material from the first and second tries, sufficient to interest Timm Tayshun at Chupa Cabra House, who agreed to put out the anthology. I then created a new call for submissions, and the book that appeared this April is the result of those three generations of manuscripts, after I had filtered through them and selected the cream. The line-editing was done by Charie D. La Marr, who pored over the manuscript to ensure that it was fit for publication. Much credit is due to her for the way the ultimate product looks and reads.

You have a pretty extensive history with metal …. Tell us about it!

Where should I begin? I’m a lifelong metalhead, first and foremost, and I think ever since I was 13 I wanted to be involved in metal somehow. I was inspired by bands like Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Judas Priest, UFO, Scorpions, Metallica, Slayer, Rising Force, Manowar, Motorhead, Iron Maiden–inspired to aspire to a place and a stance in life that somehow reflected or incorporated the power, speed, conviction and martial spirit of metal. I practiced playing guitar and keyboards and wrote and recorded songs on very primitive equipment, played in the usual high school bands that never quite get it together, and voraciously read everything I could find about the music and musicians. Around 1994 or so, after trying to get my writing career off the ground and finding it was a lot easier to publish nonfiction than fiction, I started interviewing bands like Cannibal Corpse and Mercyful Fate for print and online zines. I found that I really enjoyed the art and craft of the interview and over time accumulated an extensive clip portfolio which I sent to Metal Maniacs and Metal Hammer. For a brief period I edited a magazine called Juggernaut, which attracted a lot of attention in the industry but wound up folding or imploding in the wake of a lot of bullshit drama. However, I was able to use my short tenure as editor to form friendships and relationships with people at record labels and other magazines, and again, for a very brief period, I published articles in Hammer and Maniacs. After a personal crisis forced me to split town, I again plunged back into the fray and gradually built back my connections and alliances with music journalism. During that period, from about 2001-2009, I published a great number of articles with magazines like Zero Tolerance, Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles, and Maniacs. I stayed on with Maniacs until they too folded. Other than a single article for Hails and Horns that appeared in 2011, I haven’t done any music journalism since.

With some exceptions, my experience as a music journalist was incredibly positive. I’ve had immense fun, spent time with some of my personal heroes, forged lasting friendships such as with the great Karyn Crisis, and pushed my skills as a journalist as far as I could. As a fiction writer, heavy metal influences and concepts have always been part of the mix, so when I had the opportunity to publish Axes, I was chuffed, to put it my mildly. Axes of Evil is my personal tribute to heavy metal, the music, the artists, the personalities, the myths and legends around the genre, all of it. It’s a synthesis of everything, the highs and lows, the ridiculous and the sublime, reality and fantasy.

What drew you to metal?

It’s just so fucking powerful. Ever since I was a kid, metal has been my number one mood elevator. All I have to do is put on Judas Priest or Maiden or DarkThrone or Mayhem and I am in the place, the zone. It feels awesome, like I’m going into battle. I think there must be some objective physiological explanation for the effect metal has on the nervous system and why for some people it doesn’t work at all, and for others like me and the millions of fans around the world, it’s a happy pill–including doom metal. Modern life is incredibly oppressive and sometimes it feels like metal is the counterbalance. When I’m listening to my favorite bands I don’t feel isolated or hopeless or powerless. I feel like I can do something incredible, whether in writing or in my personal life or just in relationship to the cosmos. I’m sure you understand, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation!

Who are your favorite authors?

Ah, there would be so many. I love and admire Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Charles Bukowski, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry Miller, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert, Lewis Carroll, William S. Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Juvenal, Truman Capote, Anthony Burgess, Mark Twain, and so many more. I read constantly, but not so much popular lit. The older I get, the less time I feel I have to devote to ephemera, whatever form that may take. But the classics never fail.

What are your favorite albums?

Master of Reality, Black Sabbath Volume 4, Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath, Kill Em All by Metallica, British Steel, Defenders of the Faith by Judas Priest, Ace of Spades, Iron Fist by Motorhead, Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath by Mercyful Fate, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Deathcrush by Mayhem, Pagan Terrorism Tactics by Acid Bath…that’s the very, very short list.

Other than me, who else is in Axes?

Del James, Lindsey Beth Godard, Charie D. La Marr, Jeff O’Brien, Joel Kaplan, Andrew Freudenberg, Jim Goforth, Chuck Rios, Chris Kelso, Michael Faun, Mathias Jansson, John Claude Smith, MP Johnson, Kerry Lipp, Jacurutu23, Christine Morgan, Christopher Hivner, Martin Garrity, Anna Haney, Mimi Williams, me, Sephera Giron, Terry M. West, Robert Holt, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, Selene MacLeod, G. Arthur Brown, Grant Wamack, Ray Van Horn, Jr., Sean Leonard and Lucy Taylor.

What was the hardest part about putting this together?

The final crunch to ensure that the manuscript was delivered to the publisher in time for the April 1st publication date. It was a whirlwind. Again, I am indebted to Charie for her help in ensuring the book was scrubbed and polished of errors.

What is your weirdest personal habit?

That I would be willing to reveal in a public forum? Wow. Ok, well I am a compulsive coffee drinker, and often I have several cups of coffee in various stages of completion around me while I drink coffee. Then I’ll go out for coffee, come home and resume the drinking. I also smoke, which is a horrible addiction that I haven’t been able to break, although I’ve set aside alcohol and substances successfully and have been clean and sober for more than two years now. So yeah, as far as weird personal habits I can talk about, I take coffee breaks from drinking coffee.

Are writers weird?

Artists are batshit crazy in general. You almost have to be insane to do what we do.

What else are you working on?

Doctor Flesh and Other Stories and another short story collection to be announced. Mainly, though, I’m trying to get a real job.

Axes of Evil can be purchased at Click here.

Author’s Note: Charie D. La Mar is no longer affiliated with Axes of Evil.

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