Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rock This! Thursday: Interview With Roger L. Trott

Rock This! Thursday features books that are about or centered around one our favorite obsessions: Music!

This week, I got a chance to interview Roger L. Trott author of Getting In Tune. I reviewed the book a couple weeks ago here, and if you haven't picked up a copy yet you should!

1. How did the idea for Getting In Tune and the main character Daniel come about?

Getting in Tune is loosely based on a road trip I took with a band to the Seattle area when I was 20 years old. We played a club that was very much like the one described in my novel, full of crazy, wild, and wonderfully weird people. Our week playing at this club eventually spun out of control on about every level imaginable, but the coming-of-age experience of navigating through this chaos with my four best friends stuck with me, so I finally decided to write about it. The story started out as a kind of memoir but quickly transitioned to fiction so that I could better explore the transcendent power of music and friendship, which is what the novel’s really about. The character of Daniel, I will admit, shares some of my traits—both Daniel and I are big fans of the Who and of first-wave punk bands, and we’re both somewhat neurotic—but I believe Daniel really represents who many of us are at that moment in life when you’re forced to shed childhood and start grappling with the realities of being an adult—that moment when you’re forced to figure out who you are, who and what’s important to you, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to achieve your dreams.

2. Was this the first novel you have written?

Yes, Getting in Tune, published by New York’s Coral Press, is my first novel, but while Getting in Tune was going through the marketing and publishing process, I wrote a second novel, a mystery called A Hymn to Murder. This novel is very different in subject, tone, and style from Getting in Tune, but I enjoyed writing it and hope to find a publisher for it soon. I should mention that I have a lengthy background in writing, majoring in journalism at one point, and writing music reviews and features for a newspaper for several years.

3. How much of the novel was based off your own experiences as a musician?

Almost everything in the novel—the sex, the drugs, the fights, the cookie attack—is based on my personal experiences playing with rock bands over the years. (And, I should add, that I’m still playing music. You can go to my website at to hear a song I recorded with one of my bands.) The characters in the novel are composites of musicians I’ve known, and there’s an element of truth in virtually everything that happens in the story. But as I like to say, quoting Ken Kesey, “It’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen.”

4.Were there any parts that you found more difficult to write?

That’s a good question. Ironically, given my background in music, what I found most difficult was describing what it actually feels like to play music on stage. The experience of playing live music is unique, part physical, part emotional, part magical. As you know, having read the book, much of the story takes place with the band on stage, and it was critical to nail that feeling of being up there, the lights on you, adrenalin pumping, sweat running down your neck, shoulder aching from the weight of the guitar. But more important was figuring out how to describe what Daniel feels in his head when he locks in with the other musicians, connects with the audience, finds that magical space where he becomes the music, and momentarily transcends everything that’s messing up his life. Every musician knows that moment, but it’s hard to describe in words. I had to really let it bleed to find the right rhythms and emotions to describe those scenes. And I used Daniel’s search for the Universal Chord—the mythical perfect set of notes that will restore harmony to his life—as a metaphor for that transcendent moment that’s only found on stage in front of an audience.

5. Out of the band mates, Yogi was one of my favorites to read about. Which character(s) did you enjoy writing the most?

Yogi was fun, but other than Daniel, Mick, the lead singer with the fake British accent, was my favorite character. Every time Mick entered a scene, something seemed to happen. With his ego and unpredictability, he created problems for everyone around him, but he also brought a weird sense of joy and humor to scenes that were otherwise dark. No matter what happened, Mick was going to have fun!

6. Why did you choose the 70’s to base the book in?

The mid-70s were a very strange time in music. Rock music had become bloated with mega-million-selling supergroups and disco was taking over. I was playing music with my first band at that time, and the music business was a tough place for any band that wanted to make a living without completely selling out. As the writer Hunter S. Thompson described it, “The music business is a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” And then, in 1976, punk came along, stripped away the bloat, and changed everything, at least for a few years. Anyhow, setting Getting in Tune in 1976, when the music was about to change, seemed like the perfect conflicted year for a novel about finding salvation through music.

7. Five songs that we should be listening to right now:

Wow, that’s a tough one. I can give you a list of my all-time favorites—songs by R.E.M., Aimee Mann, the Who, and Steve Earle quickly come to mind—or a list of songs by artists who changed the music world—the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Nirvana—but your use of the word “should” ups the ante. There’s so much great music out there right now, but how about five songs from artists who challenge our notion of what popular music sounds like?

1. “Reckoner” by Radiohead: Every time I listen to this band I get chills. At times I believe the music world is divided between those who get Radiohead and those who don’t.

2. “The River” by P J Harvey: Polly Jean Harvey is amazing, creating music that is personal, frightening and beautiful. This song is all that and more.

3. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco: I don’t like everything Wilco does, but when they hit it right, they feel like the only American band that really matters.

4. “My Rights Versus Yours” by the New Pornographers: I’m a fool for a great pop song, and A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers is currently writing the catchiest, smartest songs out there. And you also get Neko Case in the deal!

5. “Chemtrails” by Beck: Talk about an artist who never rests on his laurels. This is your man.

8. What is one thing you love most about music?

Probably like everyone else, I can be immediately transported by a piece of music to a different time, a different place, a different world. I can be in a terrible mood, but then I’ll hear a song that will virtually change my body chemistry, helping me to transcend my own baggage and everything else that life is throwing at me at that moment. What else can do that? Looking at it selfishly, I love the way music makes me feel about myself.

9. If you could hang out with one musician – living or dead – who would it be and why?

I’d love to meet Pete Townshend of the Who. Not only did his thoughts and music greatly influence my novel, which is named after one of his songs, but his music kept me alive during the darkest days of my youth. He has amazing insight into the confused psyche of teenage boys. I’d like to thank him for that.

10. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I’m currently working on a story about a punk band that’s trying to navigate the challenges of the emerging punk rock scene in Berkeley in 1977. The 1977-78 period was an interesting time in punk, an era when the do-it-yourself ethic was really in play before the rigid rules of punk music took some of the joy and creativity out of it. I’m still working out several of the story details, but the Sex Pistols’ last show at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1978 will play a major role. It should be fun!

No comments: