Brian Paone

Author // Musician

(My band) Drop Kick Jesus' "Depress the Heart" album turns 18

Eighteen years ago this month, my second band, Drop Kick Jesus, released our second album, Depress The Heart. Grammy Award Winning Producer Neil Kernon recorded it in Haverhill, MA, and then mixed it in Tornillo, TX. We moved into both studios during the recording, and it was one of the best times in my musical career.

I was in a weird place during the writing of this album. I was very angry at a lot of things: myself, religion, the state of the world … and I think of the 6 albums I have been the lyricist for throughout my life, this album is the #1 album that shows that level of anger and frustration through my lyrics toward things I couldn’t control. This is also the last album I wrote where the lyrics weren’t cryptic or in story form. The 4 albums I wrote after this (the Grave Machine album, the 2 Transpose albums, and the latest Yellow #1 album) all were conceptual and thematic. Depress the Heart was the last album where I was writing individual songs, and the words I chose were very specific about what I was angry about. No reading between the lines.

The album is harsh, aggressive, in-your-face, and even after 18 years, it still sounds current and relative. I’m glad I was the front man for a band and an album that seems to have stood the test of time. Too bad this was our last album before we broke up. I think if there wasn’t so much in-band fighting after we got off tour for this album, we could have written a 3rd and even better album.

When a celebrity seems out of reach and you wind up working with them ...

Remember that 90s dance-rock band Jesus Jones? Name not ring a bell? How about that massive smash hit they had called “Right Here, Right Now.” I can see the lightbulbs turning on. I was a huge Jesus Jones fan—well, I am still am, but I meant when that album Doubt came out in 1991. As a young teenager, I wore out that cassette (and later the CD). They were one of MTV’s golden children, and they seemed to be superstars. I have remained a die-hard Jesus Jones fan since 1991, following their career and buying each new album on release date, even when they were no longer “cool".” (And for those who don’t know, yes, their 7th album just came out this past May, titled Passages. And it’s fantastic)

Back in 1998, the singer of Jesus Jones—Mike Edwards—wrote a book called Death Threats from an Eight-Year-Old, which chronicled pretty much everything from his childhood, through forming Jesus Jones, to their rise in stardom, to their sharp decline. The main part of the book acts like a diary as the band writes, records, and promotes/tours for their 4th album, Already. The book is hands-on account of how cutthroat the music business is and what a short memory pop culture seems to have. I received a copy of the book as a PDF in 2001 via email, and then there was no talk about it ever again.

Since then, Jesus Jones has released 3 more albums, but the book hasn’t ever found its way out of the proverbial sandbox. I contacted Mike at the beginning of this year and offered to edit the book for him and publish it. I honestly didn't know what kind of reaction I’d get. Here was a man who I’d spent years as a teenager listening to his music, a band who was all over MTV and seen as superstars. When Mike replied enthusiastically about breathing life back into his novel and allowing me to take the project’s helm, I was ecstatic—not just as an editor, but as a fan.

Well, I finished editing Death Threats from an Eight-Year-Old last week and now we start working on the artwork. And I have been in direct contact with Mike through the entire process. If you told 14-year-old Brian that one day he’d be spearheading a project, working side-by-side Mike Edwards of Jesus Jones, he would have told you to get lost—and then would have fainted.

But here we are. What a strange journey it’s been for me throughout my life—how my career as either a musician, author, or editor has brought me face-to-face with so many of my heroes and idols, and sometimes even in a working capacity.

Moonlight City Drive turns 1!

Of my four published novels, nothing has compared to the journey of Moonlight City Drive; my supernatural crime-noir thriller. What started with a Facebook message back in October 2016 turned into a year of the fastest and most grueling writing schedule I've ever had to keep in regard to the writing process of any of the novels so far. It was the first novel that had a strict deadline and a confirmed book release party months in advance—in Cleveland no less!

The book, a rock-fiction novelization of Dog Fashion Disco's Adultery album, is not only revered by the band's fans as their masterpiece, but even some say it might be the greatest concept album ever written. I knew I was stepping into some of the largest shoes one could step into as a rock-fiction author and that the potential for disaster or being blacklisted as a rock-fiction author was a very good possibility if I didn't get it just right. I know, unequivocally, if I mucked up this story and didn't ride the wave of the fans' expectations right on the crest all the way through, there would be public backlash. And the possibility of a large, bearded man hiding in my bushes with a machete, Annie Wilkes style.

So, I did what any good and professional rock-fiction author would do: I drank a lot of alcohol and used the fans with me, not against me. The band members themselves got involved and were always available and transparent with what they expected from me as the author and were willing to answer any questions I may have had with some of the more ambiguous lyrics of the album. (Is all their hair REALLY on fire? -- okay, that was never asked, but I use it as a humorous example).

Fast forward to November 2017. Moonlight City Drive is finished, edited, printed, and shipped en masse to Cleveland for the big weekend. Dog Fashion Disco hosted a two-day concert event at the Agora Ballroom and brilliantly realized we could make it the book's official release party too. The band and I signed 200 copies of the book as a limited-edition version, which was a trip. Sitting in a lobby of a hotel with the members of the band who had written the album that I had adapted into a novel, all signing the book. Todd Smith, the vocalist and lyricist of the band, during the signing offered me the best review of the book I could ever receive: "Brian, you really hit this one out of the park …" That was all the validation I needed for the six months of outlining, four months of writing, and two months of editing that had gone into the novel.

This is also the first novel where I had merchandise available for sale as companion pieces to the book. The band approved the "Top Gun For Hire" campfire mug (which is the exact mug the detective main character was given as a birthday gift by his secretary and drinks out of throughout the book), the "Rippetoe's Jazz Lounge" shot glass (which the reader can own the shot glass from the main character's favorite drinking spot throughout the book), and "Desert Palms Motel" and "Rippetoe's Jazz Lounge" matchbooks (which play an important role in the book's action.) 

The reaction from the crowd about the book, once doors opened on both days, was amazing. Nothing but love and hugs from the real Mushroom Cult. Which, this book was really written for. The reviews have consistently remained positive so far. I guess I don't have to worry about the large, bearded man in my bushes anymore.

On stage during the second night, before they went into the Adultery portion of the set, Todd officially announced and endorsed the book to the fans, saying the bands' "great friend" and "an amazing writer" wrote the Adultery novelization. From a professional standpoint as a rock-fiction author, THAT is the promised land; having the band publicly endorse your work to their fans. It means they recognize it as part of their "canon", and your work is considered quality enough to add to their brand.

What else could I ask for as a rock-fiction author? Oh yeah … when I wrote Moonlight City Drive, I had no plans whatsoever for there to ever be a sequel. I have never written a sequel to any of my novels yet, and to be honest, I always thought of myself as a one-and-done author. Until, that is, a few months after Moonlight City Drive had been published and the enormous amounts of emails and messages I received from readers who wanted to know what happened to these characters after the final chapter had ended. So, I did something I had never done before: seriously contemplated turning Moonlight City Drive into a proper trilogy. So, On July 12, I started my first sequel to any of my novels.

Part 2 starts just six hours after the ending of Part 1, dragging all the characters you love (or hate) from the first book right into the action of Part 2, along with introducing new and unsavory characters into the mix. I wanted a seamless transition into the sequel—not one of those "15 Years Later …" beginnings, where all the characters and locations feel disjointed and it feels forced and contrived.

The release timeline will follow a strict two-year schedule: Part 2 in 2019, Part 3 in 2021.

And yes, this will only be a trilogy. I have zero interest in making Moonlight City Drive into a series that extends past three books.

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