S.W. Lauden Interview

Writing about music can come in all shapes, and S.W. Lauden has proven it: He’s the author of a series of books about a punk rock P.I. called Greg Salem. More recently, though, he co-edited a collection of essays entitled Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop. It features contributions from folks like Tom Petty and Michael Chabon “go[ing] deep on what certain power pop bands and songs mean and have meant to them.” I emailed with him earlier this month about the new book.

How did you get to where you are today, professionally?

I have a journalism degree and worked as a writer and editor for a few years after college, primarily focused on lifestyle, music, and food. Then I got the chance to pursue a full-time career as a rock drummer, so I left my journalism dreams behind (it wasn’t a tough decision). By the time I reemerged in the mid-2000s, the journalism world was changing. I freelanced for small community publications for a couple of years before finding my way into marketing. I did that for about a decade before a wrote and published my first crime novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, about a punk rock singer/private eye named Greg Salem. Rare Bird Books, an LA-based indie, published all three books in that series, including Grizzly Season and Hang Time. It’s mostly been about writing and music for me, one way or another.

How did you come to this subject for a book? What made power pop so interesting to you?

The publisher at Rare Bird, Tyson Cornell, and I were discussing what I should work on after the third and final Greg Salem book. Tyson suggested I try non-fiction given my background in journalism and music. One of the ideas I threw out was for a book about power pop, a musical genre I love (and have occasionally been accused of playing myself). Tyson said he had a similar power pop book percolating with Paul Myers, suggesting we team up. Paul and I spoke and decided it was a good fit. The result is Go All The Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop.

How did you go about finding the writers for the book? 

Paul and I both have backgrounds in music and writing, so there was a fairly long list of people we initially wanted involved (too many, really). Some we knew personally, others caught our eye because of their writing, or because we thought they had a unique perspective or interesting story to tell. I think one thing that really helped was wanting to consider power pop through a literary lens instead of straight rock journalism or pure fandom. We’re thrilled with the talented group of people who put their time and energy into this project. 

I imagine you like them all for different reasons, but could you highlight 2-3 contributions to the book that make it extra special, in your mind?

I think this would have been a much easier question to answer during the acquisition and editing process—when I had individual relationships with each of the essays—but now that it’s published, I think of the collection as a single body of work.

If I had to point to a few essays that might capture the attention of music fans who don’t know much about power pop, I’d definitely start with Michael Chabon’s “Tragic Magic.” Beyond his obvious and abundant talents as a writer, his piece is the closest this collection comes to “defining” power pop (not easily done, since arguing about what does and doesn’t qualify as power pop is part of the fun for many diehard fans). I’ve read Chabon’s essay several times and always find something different to connect with.

I also really enjoyed Rex Weiner’s personal remembrances of Alex Chilton from when they were neighbors in early 1970s New York (“September Gurls Had It Good”). And Kate Sullivan’s flowery, effusive piece about Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra (“Strange Magic: ELO and Power Pop”). But from a very personal perspective, it was great having my friend and on again/off again bandmate, Jeff Whalen, writing about the Beatles. We’ve known each other since college and have spent many late nights discussing/debating music in bars, rehearsal spaces, recording studios, tour vans and fleabag motels around the world. His excellent essay (“Power Pop as Beatles Obsession”) is like reliving some of my favorite discussions from throughout the years. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an extremely knowledgeable music fan and a great writer.

How did you go about editing the actual book?

I still have that aforementioned marketing career, so the bulk of the time I spent on this book happened late at night and on the weekends. It was a little over a year from signing the contracts to holding a book in my hands. It ebbed and flowed, but I would say there were three very busy periods: 1. Connecting with potential contributors and working with them on their essay concepts; 2. Reviewing early drafts of the essays and collaborating with contributors to refine them; 3. Working with the team at Rare Bird to edit the essays and finalize the book for publication.

What are a few tracks / videos / films / books we should also look at, in addition to your book, to get a better sense of power pop?

John Borack (who contributed “They Got The Beat: The Women of Power Pop” to Go All The Way) has written two indispensable power pop books, Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide and Shake Some Action 2.0: A Guide to the 200 Greatest Power Pop Albums 1970-2017. Ken Sharp (who contributed two pieces to Go All The Way, “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me: Paul Stanley’s Secret Power Pop History” and “The Strange Magic of Jeff Lynne”) has published several books on the subject including the multi-volume series, Play On! Power Pop Heroes. And, of course, Paul Myers wrote A Wizard a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio.

In terms of the music, a short list of songs to check out (or reinvestigate) includes “September Gurls” by Big Star, “Go All The Way” by the Raspberries, “No Matter What” by Badfinger, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” by the Rubinoos, “Too Late” by Shoes, “Teen Line” by the Shivvers, “I Want You To Want Me” by Cheap Trick, “Starry Eyes” by the Records, “Girl of My Dreams” by Bram Tchaikovsky, “Yellow Pills” by 20/20, “Hanging on the Telephone” by the Nerves or Blondie, “My Sharona” by the Knack, “We Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s, “Places That Are Gone” by Tommy Keene, “Valerie Loves Me” by Material Issue, “Girlfriend” by Matthew Sweet, “The Good in Everyone” by Sloan and “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. That’s really just the tippy tip of the power pop iceberg, but discovery is a big part of the fun with this genre. It’s a rabbit hole, for sure.

What's one tip that you'd give someone looking to write a music book right now?

Pick a subject you love or are deeply interested in because you’re going to spend a lot of time in that world. Not just the writing and editing, but listening to the music, reading other books and articles for research, watching grainy concert footage on YouTube, and boring your significant other and friends to death with trivial tidbits about bands they’ve never heard. It’s definitely an engrossing labor of love, at least in my experience.

Anything you want to plug?

I self-published a novelette earlier this year called That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist that combines my love of crime fiction with my love of power pop. I also played drums on the album, #1, by The Brothers Steve (which may or may not be a power pop band). That one’s available on vinyl and CD.

Lastly, Tyson and I, along with a few contributors and friends, recorded a couple of cover songs to promote the book under the (super original) band name The GoAllTheWays. “Silly Girl” and “Tourist” are available from Big Stir Records as a digital single.