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What does Martin Popoff, who has written over 100 books on Metal, listen to at home?

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

By: Brett Hoag

Photography: Martin Popoff

Author in front of his books
Mr. Popoff at home

I first came across the name of Martin Popoff in some Dio liner notes back in the 80s. I liked what he had to say and the way he said it. I was not the only one as he has gone on to write over 100 books on the subjects of classic rock, hard rock, and heavy metal. He is considered by many in the music industry as the "world's most widely recognized journalist covering heavy metal". Mr. Popoff was generous enough to agree to a Zoom interview with me the other day.


Hello, Sir. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.

My pleasure, thank you.


You turn out so many books, so obviously you are incredibly busy researching, talking, interviewing, all those things. Do you have any spare time? What are your hobbies?

You know, this really doesn't take that much time. People tend to think, Yeah, it looks like a lot of books and I used to think the same thing too. Like, how do guys do it? 10-15 years ago I would see someone with 100 books and I would think, "Wow. Do they have a little writing mill with a staff?" LOL It's not really that hard when it's your only job. You know over time with the changes in the music industry and stuff, the way it affected me the most was the loss of physical magazines. In the past, I would write for magazines as well as record bios and liner notes. Most of that stuff has all fallen away, now it's just purely books, though I do a lot of internet shows as well and I have an audio Podcast that takes up time, although they don't really pay. I'm one of the guys where this is a full-time thing, and I happen to be fast. There is this term amongst writers, "stonecutter." It means someone who doesn't write very fast. I see my wife write these emails and she takes forever to do it, right? She has to make it absolutely perfect and I am sending dozens of e-mails every single day just bang them out. It's the same thing with the writing. You just get down to it and do it and these things really don't take that long.


Coffee table full of Popoff books
A sampling of Martin Popoff's Literary Output

For those readers who don't know, you are Canadian and live in Canada. Are you into fishing or hunting? Or any outdoor activities?

Not particularly. In the old days, I was a big skier. I grew up in a small town, Trail, BC. It had about 15,000 people then, so not exactly rural, but it was a small town. I was a skier and mountain biker, but I eventually moved to Hamilton, Vancouver, Victoria, and Nelson, BC. I lived in Ottowa for a summer job and then Toronto permanently, so unfortunately the skiing has dropped right off. I've skied a couple of times with my dad and a couple of times out here in Ontario, but it's not very good compared to growing up ten minutes downhill from Red Mountain, BC! I am into watching a lot of sports. I'm a big F1 guy, a big NFL guy and I still relive the glory days of the Raptors winning the NBA Championship. Every once in a while I have to watch the buzzer-beater against Philidelphia and the game 6 win against Golden State.


Who is your favorite NFL team?

The Bills. We live in Toronto, so that's our home team.

As a Vikings fan, I'm sorry to hear that...

LOL Yeah, it's been harrowing being a Bills fan, but ever since we moved here in '88-'89, we've gone to at least one Bill's game a year. We've gone with my son a bunch of times as well as to NFL games in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and all over the place. I also enjoy the CFL, but it feels kind of minor league with only 9 teams. We are also into MLS, however, our Toronto team is in the basement right now, though they have won the title in the past.


So, you are the King of Metal journalism. What do you listen to when you're futzing around the house on a Saturday afternoon?

Nothing. That's the sad part about all of this. I literally don't listen to music for pleasure. If I'm listening to something, it's because I have to work on it. Sometimes, if I have heavy work to do in front of the computer, I will play music for pleasure, if the work isn't super heavy. But, if I'm just packing up books or something? I'm a huge political guy. I listen to tons and tons of political talk stuff. Just a whole bunch of different talk stuff as well. When I get into arguments with people, over music, and they recommend a new band or a new song to me. When you do that, you are assuming I actually have music as a consumable entertainment and I don't. Forget recommending a band to me. Don't even tell me about music. The other thing that happens is when I am interested in exploring different bands; I have this theory or philosophy and it's proven so true. I could probably for hours and hours and days, weeks and months exploring the music of the 1980s, or the 1970s, or even the 1990s and find tons of music stuff I didn't know about and it's already got that extra sheen of "wow, it's from my era", right? So, even when I'm doing that two things happen. A: If I got nowhere to write about it, well, it's just like fluff knowledge going in one ear and out the other. B: However I listen to new music, and most of it is on Spotify these days. If it's not there I listen on YouTube, I'm rarely pulling out CDs or Vinyl anymore. So, I don't even have a playlist. Even if I go, "Wow, I really like these songs from 1985 or 1986, I have nowhere to store them so I'll even forget about that after a while. Yeah, it's kind of a weird one, but I don't read music books anymore either, I read a lot of other stuff, newspapers, and magazines. I'm a big Bigfoot guy and a big paranormal guy, so I like reading about all that stuff, as well as stuff on the occult. I listen to loads of shows on all that. Generally, I just listen to a circular diet of politics.


In today's world of extremist talk shows, how are you able to maintain your sanity in this hyper-politized era we are in?

It's funny. I agree with most of the Left stuff and some of the Right stuff and I actually listen to about half and half. And I have to tell you, all the Right stuff is way more entertaining LOL I remember back in the 90s, I was listening to way too much of the "George Bush was corrupt" stuff and reading a lot about it, like these really deep political books that were extremely cynical about everything. So, I was reading all this stuff and I was listening to all this stuff and it was remember, the years of Bill Maher and the Atheism wars and all of that sort of stuff and then there is race stuff and abortion stuff. At one point I was like, I am listening to way too much of this stuff and I made a conscious decision where this weird thing hit me, I'm going to stop listening to anything where you could have an opinion and write it on the back of an envelope and everybody can have that opinion or as I say, "It's an opinion you could form and be 80% informed on just by the time it takes you to walk a block". So, I don't listen to anything like, "Is there a God?" anymore, or Roe vs. Wade, or racism stuff. We know racism is bad, right? I mean, it's really simple. After reading some of the early Matt Taibbi stuff in Rolling Stone, these were really in-depth articles with a lot of numbers. I thought, "I'm only going to listen to stuff that's really complicated and has numbers in it and that I don't understand". So, I took these massive blocks of all this political debate stuff and chucked it. Then I got this snobby idea that whenever I listen to a pundit and they are talking about any of these lazy topics I won't listen to them because they are easy to do and don't require any homework. I would rather read or hear some complicated stuff like the housing crisis, the banking crisis, what to do in Sierra, what to do with Ukraine, all this stuff. That's one way I keep my sanity; whenever I hear someone talking about something mushy and simple, I get this picture in my head, back of an envelope, back of an envelope, you could ask anyone in a Dollar General their opinion on these things and the opinion they have is 80% the same as the most informed opinion you're going to get.


Martin Popoff listening to pundit.
Martin listening to someone drone on about a "hot button" topic.

Well put! We do have something in common and that would be our favorite album of all time, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. The reason it's my favorite is that my two favorite bands are Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Physical Graffiti is the only double album by either of them, not counting live or compilations. Why is it your favorite album?


Led Zeppelin album cover

I've gone back and forth between that one and [Black Sabbath's] Sabotage and Queen 1. If I want to stick up for Sabbath or Queen, I can say that they had just as many good ideas, but in a concentrated form. But, Physical Graffiti I would say I've often called that an aircraft carrier of an album. It just reminds me of this massive juggernaut rolling through the waves. It really doesn't have anything I would call filler on it. I think everything is great on it. It breaks a lot of rules, it's fantastically varied and it doesn't sound dated in any way. I never really thought of that before, but it's kind of true, it doesn't really sound dated. It has novel song constructs. It has really interesting, well-put-together songs with weird sounds on it as well. It is an absolutely amazing album. But, I don't know, sometimes I think Sabbath kind of beats them out in just how much they packed into a single album.


Black Sabbath album cover

I never thought of that before and it's interesting. Like you, Sabotage is also my favorite Black Sabbath album. Every single song on it is unreal, especially Megalomania. So, yeah, if you just take that one song and compare it to Physical Graffiti, I absolutely agree with you and see exactly what you're saying there and Sabbath did do that for sure.

You know, when you think about it, something like Don't Start (Too Late) on Sabotage. You could argue if you were in the mood that that is cooler than anything Jimmy Page ever did. You could take Supertzar and you could say that that is more ambitious and daring and genius than anything on Physical Graffiti. You could take Megalomania and say it matches up against any big epic, maybe something like In My Time of Dying. You could say that the production is better. You could say Am I Going Insane (Radio), anything you might think is weak on it stacks up. Take Symptom of the Universe going into that acoustic jam at the end, totally changing what you're doing. In a head-to-head matchup, you could make a point that it wins.


Which band do you think has better lyrics?

Wow. Better lyrics, huh? The funny thing is I'm doing a Robert Plant panel book right now where I assemble a panel of people who know this stuff and I've had to read a lot of Robert Plant lyrics and I am pleasantly surprised with how good his lyrics are. When it comes to Zeppelin though, they are not as good in Zeppelin as they are in his solo stuff. Boy, that is a good question. I would probably give the edge to Zeppelin. I think in both cases they are not the best lyrics in the world.


What is your least favorite album?

LOL, That's almost impossible, but I know the most famous one that I get called out on all the time is Def Leppard's Hysteria.


I'm with you on that as well. I can't stand anything after their first three offerings.

Yep. So, when you say least favorite, you have to think of about a dozen things that make you angry about an album and Hysteria definitely fits that for me.


Do you have a favorite genre of metal?

I don't know. That's a really good question. I mean, NWOBHM isn't exactly a genre so they tell me all the time LOL Yeah, but it is. LOL So, that one. 70s metal is certainly one for sure. But then we have Power, Black, Death, Thrash, Nu and we got Hair Metal. I would almost have to lean toward Hair metal as to what has lived on longest and gives me the highest percentage of bands that I like. Which is a crazy thing to say...I haven't really thought of that question before.


Hair Metal? Do you like Poison?

No. I like Poison the least out of most Hair metal bands. I mean, Bon Jovi is way at the bottom, but Poison is at the bottom as well. I have to say though that I have had a funny relationship with Poison. I never was into their first couple of albums. I just paid them no attention. I basically hated them. I was becoming a grunge guy during that time, but later on, as I got to interview the people from Poison and meet them and hang out with them and listen to their later material, like the stuff they put on Crack a Smile...and More!, Hollywierd and all that stuff as well as see them live, I've got it more. I've got into it more and with that distance of it being 10-15 years later it seemed to work better.


You are widely known for your Rush and Blue Öyster Cult Books, among others. How many Rush books have you released?

The first one was back in 2003, which was an Authorized short Biography called, Contents Under Pressure. Later on, one of my publishers had a concept of these panel books like album-by-album books, so I did one of those. Then I did an illustrated history that was one of their [publishers] concepts as well which was to give them a shorthand history of the band and they put a bunch of pictures to make a nice coffee table book. And then the trilogy, the three together is taking all the stuff from the original Rush book and outside press, but mostly I made a deal with Banger Films. I worked on the Banger Films Rush movie. Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland and we had so much stuff that I asked them if I could use the material that we didn't use in the movie and they said yes so that's how I got three big hardcover Rush books. It's the ultimate story in 360,000 words. That is six.


Author at a book signing
Martin Popoff at a book signing for Rush, The Illustrated History.

You are also known for your Blue Öyster Cult books. You just released a new one. How many is that now on B.Ö.C.?

Four. There was an original version that just got updated two more times, now it's called Agents of Fortune, the Blue Öyster Cult Story, but that's the same book. Then this publisher in the U.K. we do these visual histories and I did a detailed timeline for a coffee table book. This new one is a straight-panel book and then I have this whacked-out conspiracy theory occult one called, Flaming Telepaths: Imaginos Expanded and Specified which is a weird, weird timeline book where I did all these illustrations for it. I love it and I'm working on a follow-up and it's going to be the best thing I have ever done. The follow-up is amazing. I just have to get 14 more pictures done and it will be finished.



That sounds great! I will certainly keep my eye out for that one. You've written books about bands from AC/DC to Yes. How do you pick a band to write about? Do your publishers come to you and say, "Hey, we want a book about this." Do you go to them with an idea, or do you just write one and go, "Here, I wrote this."

A little bit of all of that. When I was self-publishing one in the old days, it was, "Hey. I've now talked to these guys 25 times. I could put a book together here and it would be fresh content." I always prided myself on having lots and lots of interview material. But, sometimes the publisher comes to you with ideas that aren't even interview-based and you're like if I didn't write this book on David Bowie right now, I would never be able to do a David Bowie book, or a Pink Floyd book, or a Queen book. That's happened a few times with this great publisher I'm with from the States, Voyager Press. We've done 5 panel books with them AC/DC, Floyd, Rush, Queen, and then the Bowie at 75 is a big plush book in a slip cover. We recently did the Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon 50th Anniversary book, and The Who Quadraphenia Anniversary book. It's great when they have an idea or a band they want a book about and it's not even supposed to be interview-based because I don't have interviews with a lot of those bands.


What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing?

You have to get down to it and just get writing because it's easier to edit a page that is loosey-goosey and has a lot of typos in it than to work on an empty page. Every different book has its challenges from research to to other stuff. Sometimes you spend 20 minutes looking for an answer and you end up not finding it so you write it kind of vaguely to get around it that way. That's annoying. How to end a book is really tough. Sometimes it's hard to come up with those last couple of sentences to close off the thing and you sweat over those. You end up reading those over and over again, changing a couple of words here and there and it's still not great.


Do you have a research staff?

LOL No, I do all my own.


How do you do an album review? Do you go song by song and analyze each one?

The funny thing is that one of my publishers looked into this once. Because I did those huge massive review books of all those decades. I have apparently written more recorded reviews than anyone in history in any genre. I have to spend the time to go get a Guinness World Record for that, but you have to send them all the books and other stuff. I just haven't gotten around to it. It's all different ways. You don't have to talk about every song. You could if you want, but it's not necessary. Your word count is important. Knowing who your audience is is important. I used to write reviews for Guitar World and they wanted 80-word record reviews. One neat piece of advice a buddy of mine gave me that he got from a music teacher is, "If you're going to analyze an album, go through it five times. The first time, go through the whole album and listen to just the lead vocals, then go through the whole thing again and listen to just the lead guitar, etc. Make notes on cool things you hear and take it from there. By the time you do that, you will be an expert on that album".


All I've ever read from you has been on classic rock or heavy metal. Has anyone ever approached you about writing a book on Death Metal, for example?

Here's the thing. A: I don't keep up on new stuff. B: On many, many bands I write on, and I have been called an "expert" on I totally keep up on their new stuff, but I won't be that guy who is going to write on something I really don't know about as it's a generation or two behind me. They have their journalists and I've seen some amazing books on bands that started in the year 2000 or so.


OK, final question. Who do you think is the most underrated band?

The poster child everyone brings up when we do our video shows or whenever we talk about this kind of thing is King's X, they constantly come up.


Oh, I like that answer. I was expecting Anvil or maybe Riot.

I wouldn't have gone either of those, even remotely. Anvil is a thrashy, scrappy kind of band that never particularly grew after those early classic albums and Riot changed their singer all the time, changed their sound all the time, and had a weird mascot. Six weeks after Fire Down Under you could make a case, but the rest of their career, not really. Enuff Z' Nuff is another one I think of. They're like the Chigaco hair metal version of Cheap Trick. They were amazing songwriters and it was super accessible.


So, why King's X?

Well, it's just really, really well produced, with great hooks, accessible music, great lyrics, super-super sweet accessible singing, they've got this neat look about them, and the lyrics are really positive and uplifting. You can listen to a King's X album and go, in an alternate universe there are like six absolute smash top ten singles on this album. You have to step back when you get asked that question and go, I can see a lot of reasons why Budgie [a Welsh heavy metal band] wasn't big. I love Budgie, but there are like ten reasons they weren't big. So, when you get asked that question you have to put your A & R hat on, you have to be corporate about it.


What about the religious overtones they can't seem to escape?

Yes, that too. But, that was so slight, you had to be a pretty deep thinker to even know that existed.


Very true. Well, Sir. That is all the time we have today. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to do this interview.

Not at all. I'm just a fan who managed to scrape out a meager living doing this. I'm literally like the guy you hear about who started the fan club for the band. It just happens to be multiple bands in my case.


Martin Popoff at home
Martin in his home office

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Guest
Feb 21

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Billi Jean
Billi Jean
Nov 02, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks for the informative article, Brett! I have always admired the talent of writers like Martin. Unfortunately I don't have such skills. Therefore, I usually use various typing services when I need to convert text to another format or edit my draft. This is a convenient way to make text more readable and accurate.

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Curtis Brown
Curtis Brown
Sep 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic. B.O.C. stuff was interesting and cool. Good job Brett. Curtis Crown from Wisconsin.

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Brett Hoag
Brett Hoag
Sep 10, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for your generous words, Curtis!😎 Horns Up! \m/

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Guest
Sep 10, 2023

Fantastic. B.O.C. stuff was interesting and cool. Good job Brett. Curtis Crown from Wisconsin.

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Brett Hoag
Brett Hoag
Sep 10, 2023
Replying to

Thank you again, Curtis for your very kind words. I had a lot of fun talking with him. Horns up! \m/

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Guest
Sep 09, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great interview!

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Brett Hoag
Brett Hoag
Sep 09, 2023
Replying to

Thank you! Horns up! \m/

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