Kevin Emerson: Exile Q&A Part 1


Today. we are thrilled to bring you part 1 of our exclusive Q&A with Exile author Kevin Emerson. Kevin actually sent me his interview responses in the very early morning from an airport in Phoenix, from the first leg of his book tour. Talk about dedication! Thanks for taking the time to visit with us, Kevin.

Kevin Emerson - Author Photo - ResizedSeattle has a pretty notable history when it comes to contemporary music. What (if any) influence did the history of Seattle’s music scene have on you while writing EXILE?

I moved to Seattle in 2004, so I completely missed the classic grunge scene. Those musicians I know who were here describe it as a weird time. On the one hand, bands were blowing up, on the other hand, the scene was getting scoured by record labels looking for the next big thing.

Right after I moved to Seattle though, I joined this indie-pop band called Math and Physics Club. I started playing drums for them and we made an EP in the guitarist’s basement and within two months, we were getting played on KEXP and signed to a small record label. That was a whirlwind experience the coincided with blogs and Facebook really taking off, so I saw how all that worked. I also started my own pop band about a year after that called Central Services. As opposed to MAPC, we toiled in Tuesday night shows to ten people and DIY gigs that all-too-often turned out lame (we actually did pretty well; it just took a little longer). All those experiences are right between the lines in EXILE. My band a couple years ago even briefly had a high-school-girl as our band manager, which is the point of view in EXILE.

Exile KCEmersonWas there a specific reason you chose to set the book in LA as opposed to, say, Seattle?

Yeah, a couple reasons:

1) I had already written a music book based in Seattle, but for a bunch of reasons, it’s not coming out until next winter. It’s called Breakout and it’s like the moody younger brother of Exile.

2) Part of what I love about writing is the chance to travel to other places. I have a little crush on L.A. Writing about it gives me a chance to go there for research. Fun!

3) There is a more seductive and cold-hearted feeling to the entertainment industry in LA compared to Seattle. The aspect of the novel that concerns Candy Shell records and Eli White and even the Pop Arts school felt more like something that would happen in LA than Seattle.

What music did you listen to while you were working on EXILE? What band(s) do you think best represent the vibe of Dangerheart? How about Allegiance to North?

I tend to listen to a selection of mopey pop music while I write. The playlist for Exile was a heavy dose of Beck, Deathcab for Cutie and Aimee Mann. But then if the lyrics are distracting me, I like Pandora stations made from old jazz, like an Astrud Gilberto station or Duke Ellington Money Jungle.

You and your band actually wrote and performed some of the songs from EXILE. Tell us a bit about that process. What’s it like blending your book with your music?

That was an amazing process. Normally I write lyrics and music/melody at the same time, but I’d written the lyrics that appear in EXILE before I ever thought about what the songs might be like. So when I went to bring them to life, the results were pretty surprising. It led me to some new places I wouldn’t have gone if I’d started on guitar like I usually do.

Putting the songs together was kind of like writing new chapters of the book. We (my bandmate Jon Goff and me) thought a lot about what Dangerheart and Allegiance to North would sound like. Like: what do these teens listen to? What kind of bass would Val play? What kind of beat would Matt, the drummer, put on this?

There are two versions of the songs: the studio versions that you can hear on iTunes and such, and then special versions that only appear in the audio book. These are versions of the song as if they were happening in the story: One song is supposed to sound like someone’s first take while hiding in a bathroom (yes, we recorded in a bathroom). The other is supposed to sound like the band’s first-ever run through of a song. So we had to imagine what each character might instinctually play, even what mistakes they might make. All of that was so much fun! As I’m writing EXILE #2, which I can officially reveal is called ENCORE TO AN EMPTY ROOM, I’m already thinking about what kinds of songs to do if we are lucky enough to get that chance again.

Tune in for part 2 of our interview on Wednesday!

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