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Interview with Brent Jensen
14 March 2012
Interview by Neil Daniels
Bren Jensen is the author of No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury, a memoir about the Northern Ontario rock scene during the 1980s. It is available to buy from all good online book stores. Visit the official Facebook site for details.
What inspired you to write a book about the rock scene in Northern Ontario in the 1980s?
Probably the fact that there was no rock scene there! I grew up in a small, isolated town with little stimulus with which to occupy my time. Music was the most compelling stimulus available back then, and it came to be like an absent friend during my childhood. As a really young kid in the ‘70s I got into KISS, because they bridged the gap between cartoon fantasy and heavier music. From there it seemed a natural progression to get into bands like Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest, bands that added a visual component to the min to complete the overall fantastical concept that makes hard rock and metal what it is.
I decided to write No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury after recently considering the very significant impact this music had on my formative years. I thought a lot about the reasons why we loved hard rock and metal so dearly back then, and why we still like it now. The book is written in a narrative style that’s a bit different from the typical recitation of rock history – it’s more about what the music felt like as a result of how it sounded and looked. The text is written with the intention of being almost conversational, so that the reader can relate. People who’ve read the book tell me they smile and nod their head ‘yes’ a lot, so I think I’ve succeeded on that front.
How long did it take you to write the book?
Probably about three and a half years. I balanced it with a full-time career by locking myself away every Saturday from noon until around 5 or 6 until it was done. The wife questioned my sanity during many of those Saturdays. A good portion of the book was also written on my BlackBerry, because there would be times when an idea would pop into my head and I’d want to capture it right away. I had reams of notes all over the place, and eventually I threaded it all together into something readable.
How would you best describe writing No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury?
Cathartic! There’s plenty of hard rock and metal treatise factoid geekery in the book, loads of analysis, but it’s all woven together by the retelling of my experiences as a diehard fan that lots of folks will relate to. It was a tremendous feeling to be able to share my personal perspectives, some in fact very personal, and to be able to tell stupid stories about meeting people like Gene Simmons and Lips from Anvil.
What are your fondest memories from that period of your life?
The fondest memories all stem from that beautifully wanton abandon of being a kid without a care in the world, and for me this music was the backdrop through all of it – driving around in the summertime with Faster Pussycat blaring from the tape player, seeing Iron Maiden and a fledgling Metallica live for the first time at The Sudbury Arena, blasting Motley’s Shout At The Devil at full volume and screaming along with the words. All absolutely glorious.
Who are your favourite Canadian bands?
I liked the obvious ones like Triumph and Helix, but my interest in Canadian metal bands was a bit more granular mostly because I’m from here. Never really got into Rush, and I explain why in the book. I was more interested in lesser known Canadian bands like Hateful Snake, Eudoxis, Exciter, and so on. Loved Lee Aaron too. My favourite all-time Canadian metal band was Sword, a fantastic group out of Montreal. Blew me away the first time I heard them. One of the chapters in No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury tackles all of these bands and a few others. I’m a proud Canadian. (laughs)
Who’s the most underrated Canadian band and why?
Anvil without question, poor chaps. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have been much bigger than they were. The best thing about the recent Anvil documentary was that people other than diehard metalheads learned that guys like Lars Ulrich from Metallica and Slash were huge Anvil fans before they took over the world themselves. Lips and Reiner deserve every single accolade.
Hmmmmm….could there be such a thing, really? We Canadians tend to acquiesce more often than not. Except maybe Rush, but even those guys are shy. And they could never be overrated.
How did you get into rock music in the first place?
As a small town kid in the ‘70s with choices like Olivia Newton-John, Seals & Crofts, The Brothers Gibb, and KISS, I took KISS. It was all downhill from there.
Can you name some of the best gigs you attended in the 1980s?
My very first concert was Iron Maiden at The Sudbury Arena in 1984. I was so astonished to be breathing the same air as the guys in Maiden that my heart nearly burst with excitement! (laughs) That experience is recounted in NSTS, along with my seeing Metallica headline Sudbury with Metal Church and Canadian act Kick Axe opening in 1986, and also Alice Cooper with Sword opening, requisite drinking stories included.
What music magazines did you read growing up?
I started out with Creem, Circus, and Hit Parader for the posters, but as soon as I found about Kerrang! I never looked back. I read a bit of Canuck mag Metallion as well, and Metal Forces and Faces later on. It was all about Kerrang! though – chapter eight in No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury is dedicated to it.
Who are your favourite rock writers?
All the Kerrang! guys. Xavier Russell, Malcolm Dome, Krusher Joule, Geoff Barton, Dante Bonutto, Dave Ling, Mick Wall. And Paul Suter, who was a big Canadian metal fan. Their point of difference was that they wrote in such a laid-back, counterculturally fun way that it came across as so much more entertaining than anything else that was out there. They wrote like early Van Halen sounded. All the Cockney stuff was interesting reading for a young sheltered Canadian kid too. I envisioned the Kerrang! offices as this big raging party that I wanted to be part of. In fact, I loved Kerrang! so much in the ‘80s I actually listed ‘to meet the Kerrang! Krew’ as one of my ambitions in my yearbook in my graduating year. True story. Jeez, how metal is that!??!
What are your favourite books on rock and metal?
Ian Christe wrote some great insightful metal books, and I’ve read most of Mick Wall’s stuff and thought he did a great job. Fellow Torontonian Martin Popoff is such a prolific and perceptive writer, and I’ve admired his unique style since I picked up his first book Riff Kills Man almost twenty years ago. Recent favourites have been Slash’s and Scott Weiland’s autobiographies – they were told in a very unassuming, refreshingly plaintive tone that allowed the information I’m looking for as a reader to come through without being distorted by egomaniacal noise. And that’s important.
What’s your rock/metal collection like? How do you store it all?
I still have all my old cassettes from the 80s, and I give them a going over in chapter eleven of NSTS. There’s lots of fun and obscure stuff in there, like Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning pre-Elektra Banzai releases, TKO’s In Your Face, Slayer’s Show No Mercy (also Banzai), Queensryche’s EP, Malice’s License To Kill, some Rage, some Jaguar, some Samhain, every cassette Lizzy Borden ever released and much more. Of course, I bought most of this stuff over again on CD where possible, and I have a music room upstairs that houses all of it in addition to my guitars and other musical gear.
I’m a traditionalist, and I still buy CDs. I love my gadgets and iPod docking stations, but buying singles on iTunes just isn’t my thing. The sound of a CD playing through a stereo receiver with two powerful speakers positioned on either side of your head so that you can distinctly hear Tipton on one side and Downing on the other is a beautiful thing. That’ll never change for me.
What’s the current state of Canadian rock and metal?
It seems to ebb and flow, but there are still some great bands in Toronto playing great venues. Nicholas Walsh, formerly of Slik Toxik, is fronting a band here called Famous Underground right now. The interest definitely seems to still be there. And Canadians like Sam Dunn are doing a lovely job of revisiting the genre with things like his Metal Evolution series.
Is there a future for the printed rock/metal magazine?
As long as there are guys like us around, I think so. As I mentioned earlier, I’m old school. There’s a certain beauty in that tactility of the printed publication, be it the morning paper, a magazine, or a book. The smell, the way it feels in your hands simply can’t be replicated by digital media. As I say in the book, for all of its perceived advantages, technology has a terribly pious way of homogenizing things like print media.
Do you have any more books planned?
Everybody asks me that! I’m kinda focused on No Sleep ‘Til Sudbury right now, but the answer is yes. Nothing terribly specific at the moment. I left a lot of material on the cutting room floor during the writing of NSTS, so maybe something will come of that. I have some ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head as well. Stay tuned…!