In 2007, independent bookseller Ian Christe deduced a need in the publishing market for nuanced books covering multiple modern music genres. No stranger to the worlds of book publishing—and, specifically, the heavy metal music scene—Christe had already authored Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and honed his own musical chops in a metal band called Dark Noerd the Beholder.
The following description of the indie publishing company on their own website sums up the bookseller’s mission best: “Bazillion Points presents authors of a submerged reputation to a rabid and otherwise overlooked readership over a bazillion points of interest.”
Interested in learning more about the story behind Bazillion, as well as what books to keep an eye out for in the future, I tracked the busy Switzerland-born Christe down at his current headquarters in Brooklyn for an interview.
I’ve read in a couple of articles that you started your indie publishing company after the frustration you experienced trying to get your own books published. Can you tell me briefly how Bazillion came to be and what your background is as a musician and writer?
I started writing for magazines as a teenager in the 1980s, and somehow slowly wound that pursuit into a livelihood through the 1990s. When the chances came to tackle some nonfiction, I wrote two books that did very well for HarperCollins and the trade division of John Wiley & Sons. Though both Sound of the Beast and Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga were successful, the process in both cases was extremely frustrating. I started to see other writers around me working on much more narrow but valuable books, and so I threw my experience behind them and started publishing books on a modest scale in 2008. Our operation has grown from there, finding books that I have a hunch will appeal to some core audience plus a curious crowd of supportive eager readers.
“I wanted to create similar small, intense documents of beautiful moments in music history.“ – Ian Christe
Honed books about specific trends in music are a boon to anyone wanting to know the nitty gritty of music history in their favorite genre, in my opinion. For one, I never would’ve known much in depth about the Krautrock music style—out of West Germany in the late ’60s/early ‘70s—without the help of Krautrocksampler by Julian Cope (although it being out of print right now is another story). Listening to Can blew my mind open and showed me where many of the musicians I admired had gotten their influence. I’m sure you have examples you feel the same about.
Are there any particular indie music books you would recommend that have helped you cultivate your music collection?
Julian Cope’s labor of love Krautrocksampler was definitely an inspiration to me as a publisher. Before I really began, I wanted to create similar small, intense documents of beautiful moments in music history. I think Bazillion Points has captured that spirit again and again, through some kind of streak of incredible luck, with Swedish Death Metal, Norway’s black metal scene in METALION: The Slayer Mag Diaries, Los Angeles hardcore punk in We Got Power!, San Francisco thrash metal in Murder in the Front Row, 1980s New York in NYHC, and right on down the line. I would love to reissue Krautrocksampler, for sure. That is exactly what Bazillion Points strives to do with every release, except that we deal in much better known genres of modern music.
Metal and punk music books in particular have been hot lately, with everyone from major labels to major label imprints and very niche indie publishers putting out books by musicians in seminal punk and metal bands as well as compiling comprehensive histories of black metal and the like. How do indie presses lend to a more inclusive synopsis of what came before?
When Bazillion Points began, we really had free reign, with little to no other hard rock or heavy metal books on the shelves. Nowadays there is a glut, but we are carrying on and delivering way above expectations in every way we can. We stick with core authors that helped create the music scenes they are documenting and books that are written with passion and authority. We have had the astronomically good fortune to publish the most original Metallica, AC/DC, Black Flag, and Nirvana books available—this has been a walking dream!
As an indie publisher do you feel that you truly have more creative liberties than a major publisher?
I think major and indie publishers start at equal footing, but we have been able to go all-in and produce more overwhelming books about music that is surely overwhelming. The scope of our books is more easily adaptable to the content, I guess. The majors have more money, for sure, so they are capable of anything. They just use their resources in different ways.
What obstacles, if any, do you face in putting out music books in particular? Who does your market consist of?
The obstacles to the Bazillion Points operation are physical exhaustion. I designed and edited our six-pound METALION book, and then personally unloaded thirteen pallets from a tractor-trailer. But we’re just now moving out of the garage and taking things to an industrial scale, moving all books to a central US location for the first time. The physical part of running a book company has been daunting! But there’s no need for an employee gym plan. We just listen to hard rock records and lift boxes for exercise. In the early days, we even delivered our own book to Barnes & Noble and Bookazine and so on.
You recently published a book by Subpop founder Bruce Pavitt, called Sub Pop USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology, 1980-1988. What’s on the horizon for Bazillion Points in the near future, anything we should be looking out for?
After the success of NYHC, Heavy Metal Movies, and Sub Pop USA in 2014, we are overrun with submissions now. Our next books will be a UK hardcore punk memoir by Ross Lomas of GBH, a history of the peculiar analog sampler the Mellotron, and several key reprints of our hard to find books. As always, bazillionpoints.com will be updated with info constantly.