In this interview, Ricardo, a writer and music journalist with a fascination for the darker side of literature and music, shares his insights with us. Ricardo talks about his childhood, growing up with an interest in horror and heavy metal, and how this interest inspired him to pursue a career in writing. He shares his literary and musical influences, from Stephen King and Clive Barker to Black Sabbath and Nine Inch Nails. He also discusses his latest book, Culto Eléctrico, a collection of essays that explore the connections between music and literature. Throughout the interview, Ricardo provides an intriguing glimpse into his world and what drives him to write about the darker side of life.
Good day, Ricardo. Thank you for joining us. It's great to have you here. To start, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you first became interested in writing about the darker side of literature and music?
Hello Neda, it’s a pleasure, thank you for having me. I was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1980, and developed from an early age a passion and curiosity for the darker side of things. I became an avid reader ever since I learned how to, and transitioned from children’s books to comics and, when I was 8 years old, I saw The Exorcist on TV and had many nights filled with nightmares. Instead of avoiding it, I developed a strange fascination and nurtured it, not only by movies but also by books, in particular by Stephen King.
Around the same time, and by influence of older friends from my neighborhood, I also started to listen to heavy metal and, as I begun understanding English, I realized that not only the artworks were inspired by horror and sci-fi but also the lyrical content. Music became my guide to discovering new books to read instead of school. Stephen King, Clive Barker and the Marquis de Sade were way more fascinating for me than whatever author was being taught in classes – and of course that had a direct reflection on my school grades.
What inspired you to pursue a career in writing, and how did you get started in the industry?
“A career in writing” is kind of an overstatement for my situation, and I hardly believe I will ever have something like that. I really like having food on the table and a roof above my head, and somewhere to keep my books and records. The image of the starving writer is not one with much appeal to me. That being said, writing is not what I do as a career but something that I do as pleasure. I started writing about live music because a friend of mine was a photographer and didn’t have a reporter to write about the gigs she took photographs in, so I kind of tagged along with her. Suddenly I was writing record reviews and interviewing bands in fanzines and then professional music magazines. So I felt I needed to improve my skills and started studying the subject matter, reading everything I could about rock n’roll. Throughout my teenage years and young adult life, I broadened my horizons, but one thing remained constant: I always preferred the dark side of things, but now I found reality much darker than fantasy. Authors like Charles Bukowski, Hubert Selby Jr. or William Burroughs were so influential to so many records I listened to, that led me to read them and remaining some of my favorites to this day.
What drew you to the darker side of literature and music, and how did you develop your fascination for it?
I could say that it’s because “I was born past midnight 'neath the gloom of the darkest moon. My mother was a burning witch and my father was a preacher”, but I just wanted to quote the Swedish band Witchcraft to give you a cool answer. But that’s not really it and it’s a really hard question to answer because I don’t have a very straight answer for it and never really gave it much thought. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t like that, since it’s so natural for me. My guess is that the most accurate answer would be: fear. It was many things, like the fear that the movie The Exorcist instilled in me, Skeletor being so much frightening (and cooler) than He-Man, the image of Eddie rising from the grave on the «Live After Death» album that I held in my hands as a kid. But the fear didn’t repel me, because I understood that if a movie tried to scare me, it was because someone probably liked to be scared so I faced that fear and became obsessed by it.
Who are your biggest literary and musical influences, and how have they impacted your writing?
I have many influences and try to absorb as much as I can from everything I read. I would risk saying that my biggest literary influence is Hunter S. Thompson, since I’ve only writen nonfiction, and I really appreciate his style. I really admire Hemingway’s prose too, the way he says so much in so few words. Not so much what he writes but how he writes, stripping the sentences to it’s bare bones. Although I also admire writers like José Saramago, they influence me in other ways and I can’t say they have a great impact on my writing. I’m very influenced by Hubert Selby Jr. too, that kind of stream of consciousness style is something I really admire, much more in Selby Jr. than in other writers like Jack Kerouac. And there’s also Charles Bukowski, of course, who has been an influence for many years, but I don’t think that shows in my writing.
Regarding music, that would be a big answer so I will just namedrop some bands and artists that have had a big impact in me. From the classics Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Stooges and Iron Maiden, to Killing Joke, Swans, Melvins, Neurosis, Godflesh or Nine Inch Nails. Just to name a few.
Could you tell us about your latest book, Culto Eléctrico, and what inspired you to write it?
Culto Eléctrico (only in Portuguese for now) is a collection of essays in which I explore some of the connections between music and literature. Topics like how David Bowie always had such a strong literary influence on his creations, in particular from sci-fi, and the impact an author like JG Ballard had on so many artists from the post-punk era, in particular to Joy Division. And how William Burroughs became such an iconic figure for rock n’ roll, worthy of praise from musicians like David Bowie, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Keith Richards or Kurt Cobain.
I became so obsessed with music at an early age that I started buying all the music magazines I could, and reading the interviews gave me new insights from the creation process and the lyrical influences. Many times those lyrical influences were drawn from books, so I would search and read those books, and music quickly became my reading guide. But then I also found out that it happened the other way around, and that some books were very much inspired by music I liked. For example, the masterpiece that is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son has it’s title taken from The Velvet Underground’s song «Heroin»: “When I’m rushing on my run, and I feel just like Jesus’ Son”. So, in short, Culto Eléctrico explores some of these music/literature connections, and for each chapter there’s a great illustration by my friend Pedro Sousa e Silva, which gives the book a great visual impact.
Your first book, Wolves Who Were Men, is a biography of Portugal's most famous metal band. What was it like researching and writing about the band's history, and what challenges did you face?
I started writing about music in fanzines and magazines in 2001 and, throughout the years, I became acquainted with most of the musicians in the Portuguese metal scene. And this work I did in magazines led me to be invited by Moonspell to write their official biography. It was a big challenge, since I’ve never written anything in a long form, as in a book opposed to a magazine article, which are entirely different things in terms. I did multiple interviews with all the band members (past and present) and also friends and business associates, hearing all the different sides to every story. These were all pieces of a giant puzzle that I had to assemble in a narrative form, but that was something I had a thrill doing, although very demanding. The biggest challenge is the research, to know when to dig deeper or when to let it go, to understand when it’s something relevant to a career history or just a minor episode with no real impact. Or when to insert one of those minor episodes to give the narrative more dynamic or just for a comic relief moment. I would like to believe that such a book can almost be read as a novel, with a narrative arc, and not just a chronological description of facts. The book came out in 2018 and since then it has been published in UK, Mexico, US, France, Brazil and Russia.
How do you approach the process of writing, and what methods do you find most effective?
I only write by candlelight and I drink absinthe to get my blood pumping. No, not really, I just sit with my laptop and press the keyboard and I don’t know nothing about different approaches to writing or methods. The only thing I can say is that I make a constant use of the copy/paste functions in my word processor, since I write paragraphs and then move the order in which they are written, and sometimes I cut sentences out and paste them to other existing paragraphs and delete the original paragraph. Can I say that it’s a modern way of the cutup technique of William Burroughs to look cool? Maybe I should invest more time in studying methods and techniques, but maybe those just don’t work for me. My approach is to get the job done before deadline, basically.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are just starting out in the industry?
My advice is to not listen to advices, especially from someone like me. But if, at gunpoint, I would have to give an advice to someone is to write a lot, read even more, and find your voice. It takes time but, if you have it in you, it will eventually come out. Writing is not inspiration, it’s muscle work and you have to lift those damn weights. Publishing is a whole other thing and you’ll face rejection many times (just got a rejection email myself a few minutes ago), but if no one is interested in publishing your work, you can always go DIY – do it yourself.
What are your plans for the future, and what can readers expect from you in the coming years?
I’m working on a new book that I plan to have ready by mid 2024. I can’t really say anything about it at the moment, but it feels good to being involved in a project again and I’m looking forward to see what comes out. I have a vision but it always gets morphed into something different as it develops, and always better than the original idea.
Finally, if you could collaborate with any author or musician, who would it be and why?
In completely unrealistic terms, I would answer that I really admire Trent Reznor, but the holy grail would definitely be Tom Waits. He’s a such a great and unique artist, I would love that one day he authorizes someone to write his biography, with his full cooperation and insights. Obviously it wouldn’t be me, but if someday that book is written by someone I will be waiting in line at the bookstore, all black-Friday-raging my way in to get that book in my hands.
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