One of the major appeals of Martin Popoff’s books on hard rock and heavy metal is the fact that they primarily utilize new interviews conducted by the author himself rather than relying entirely on older books and magazine/newspaper clippings. Indeed, Popoff is a prolific interviewer who has supplemented his publishing career by doing interviews for websites, various publications and record labels, the latter for the purpose of writing band biographies.
As a result, Popoff’s got a voluminous archive of interview material, including a lot of stuff not designed for book projects, and he’s done a series of Popoff Archive books to collect this material for devotees of different hard rock and metal subgenres. The third installment of this series was devoted to the topic of hair metal, collecting about 250 pages’ worth of interviews that Popoff did for various outlets between 1997 and 2002, an era one might consider the comeback period for hair metal artists who began touring to what had become a cult fanbase and recording for indie labels. Most of this material was only released piecemeal via band biographies or brief magazine/website news items so Popoff presents the full interviews in unexpurgated form in this book.
The result creates a pretty interesting snapshot of a once commercially dominant subgenre trying to lay down the roots that will allow it to become a legacy proposition in the music business. Several members of heavy hitters like Ratt, Poison, Def Leppard and Guns ‘N Roses appear in these pages alongside members of more cultish acts like L.A. Guns, Love/Hate and fellow travelers like Twisted Sister (not really a hair metal act in the traditional sense but a band who played the commercial game during the same era).
The heavy hitters tend towards ‘protecting the franchise’: Phil Collen from Def Leppard is the classic example of a company man who stays on message, talking up how great the band’s newest material is and gingerly sidestepping around topics that might yield controversy, and all four original members of Poison pop up to discuss the successful franchise of package-tours they create and how this proves they are worthy of being considered a legacy act (they also have a weird fixation on claiming there is a punk element to their sound, something Schlockmania has always found mystifying).
An interesting exception to the rule is Joe Elliott, who is quick to make a claim that Def Leppard was never a hard rock act, a concept that makes the blood boil for a hefty contingent of NWOBHM fans who love their first two albums. There are also some talkers who give up the minimum amount necessary to answer the questions, like Warren DeMartini from Ratt: he’s pleasant but not much of a storyteller.
The interviews that really make Popoff Archive 3: Hair Metal worth picking up are the ones where the participants recognize that they can maintain interest by being bluntly honest about their salad days. For example, Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot gives an impressively blunt rundown of the problems with the band’s vintage album catalog and Dee Snider not only frankly explores the mistakes he made during Twisted Sister’s time at the top but also tells some revealing tales about the treachery that can occur when dealing with the mercenary executives that dominate the record business.
Similarly, Jeff Keith is frank about the relationship issues that brought Tesla’s first era to an end and Jizzy Pearl provides a nostalgia-free portrait of what it’s like to be a performer who made it onto a major label but never found commercial success. Schlockmania’s favorite interview was the one with Bill Leverty from Firehouse, one of the last success stories in the subgenre before grunge took over commercial rock. He provides a candid account of record label capriciousness, including how a turnover in executives can doom a band and how bands are encouraged to overspend on producers, studios, etc. without a consideration for the impact of these expenses on their bottom line.
There’s plenty more of interest for hair metal fans here: the rivalry and dysfunction between Don Dokken and George Lynch, the good vibes of the early ’00s reunion for L.A. Guns, Mike Tramp reflecting on trying to create a career after the comet-style success of White Lion, etc. If you’re into this kind of music, Popoff Archive 3: Hair Metal is worth checking out because it captures a lot of the key players at a uniquely introspective moment in their careers and allows them to speak frankly about the travails they experienced in creating all that musical escapism.