Sylvie Simmons has written for most of the leading rock mags
including Sounds, Kerrang! and now Mojo magazine.
How did you become involved in the music business?
I've been obsessed with music ever since I can remember. The first
time I heard my voice on tape when I was a tiny little girl I thought
I sounded like Billie Holiday. As my brain outgrew my ego, I realised I sounded
like Minnie Mouse. So, in time-honoured tradition, I became a rock
critic. Since I was sick to the point of insanity of London's grey skies and rain,
I moved to Los Angeles and became the correspondent for Sounds (after getting the cold shoulder from called NME and Melody Maker,
who I offered myself to first).
What are you currently up to music wise?
I write for and am Contributing Editor of MOJO magazine, and I write
pretty regularly about music for The Guardian. I'm the UK
correspondent for Rolling Stone in Germany and Aloha in Holland and I write features off and on
for a number of different magazines in the US, Japan and Europe.
I wrote a book on Serge Gainsbourg that has been published in the UK.
US, Japan (and in the coming weeks) in Italy and Brazil and I've
written a book on Neil Young that's, as far as I know, no-one's
bothered to translate.
I've got a book of rock-related short stories coming out in October
in the US (on Grove Atlantic) called 'Too Weird For Ziggy'. (It WAS called
'Too Weird For Iggy', but Mr Pop, although he has retained his
sixpack, has apparently lost his sense of humour). There's blurbs on
the dust-jacket, I'm proud to say, from Slash, Lemmy and Sharon
Osbourne, but not from Iggy.
And I'm working on a book about Johnny Cash's last decade, at the
behest ofRick Rubin for whom I wrote that nice little black book that came
with the Johnny Cash 'Unearthed' box set.
What were the highlights of your time at `Sounds'?
So many I don't know where to begin. As L.A correspondent I got to
cover anything and everything, so one week I'd be on a tour bus
crossing California with The Clash, the next in a helicopter with a
coke-snorting Steven Tyler, and the one after that wading, fully-
dressed, in a hotel swimming pool with Tony Iommi at 3am, helping him rescue frogs from a
nasty chlorined death (this last thing happened on Sabbath's final
tour with Ozzy as vocalist; I got to go along for the ride).
Doing the first published interviews with the likes of Motley Crue and Guns N' Roses was nice,
but even more memorable was interviewing Muddy Waters (lovely) and
Michael Jackson (er, different). But the whole deal with Sounds was
great - it was an era of non-stop gigs and parties (which I'd cover in my column
Hollywood Highs) and endless free drinks (which, in the immortal
words of Kerrang!'s Malcolm Dome, "it would be rude to turn down").
It was also an era before MTV, UK rock radio and glossy magazines existed, so the weekly
music papers could make and break a band. If a rock writer believed in a band
enough, Sounds would put them on the cover even before they had a record
deal. Hey, it would GET them a record deal! Which is why we were all such raging
egotists - when we weren't being raving drunks, that is (there was a
lot of free alcohol and stuff back then too).
Seriously though, if it wasn't for Sounds and the early Kerrang!, the whole L.A stadium glam
metal deal would have been just another cult.
How did you become to be involved with `Kerrang!'?
When Geoff Barton was Sounds' editor at the height of the NWOBHM
scene, the Metal content of the mag rose considerably. I don't know, since I was
thousands of miles away in L.A at the time, what the politics of
giving him a glossy metal magazine of his own were, but as I recall, it was the
beginning of an era of glossiness (and Sounds, as an 'inkie', was
decidedly unglossy) and an era of spin-offs. Kerrang! was one that,
While I was living in LA, the glam metal scene had just started up,
and I was writing about it for Sounds. Geoff Barton asked me to write
about it for Kerrang! too, so I did so - initially under the
psuedonym Laura Canyon. (Someone told me the name's now being used by a porn star. It's NOT
ME. I've hardly ever been THAT blonde! Oh, and a delusional music
writer from L.A also occasionally likes to claim she was Laura Canyon. Don't believe
her. It was me and I have the battlescars to prove it). When I moved
back to London and soon afterwards quit Sounds, Laura Canyon disappeared and I took
What was it like working in a near all male environment of `Kerrang!'?
A fuck sight better than any other environment (and, being rock, most
of them were near as dammit male) I've had anything to do with. Some
might find it hard to fathom, but of all of the people, from all corners of the
music business, I've had dealings with over all these years,
musicians, editors and otherwise, the metal men were for the most part the easiest-goin,
the most (excuse the word) gentlemanly, and often the least sexist.
Who was a pleasure to interview and anyone that you would rather not
I've been lucky to meet just about everyone I ever wanted to meet, so
it would take a lifetime to list which ones were a pleasure. As for
the pains, incredibly there's actually been very few insufferable
dicks and divas and even they (take a bow, Diana Ross and Glenn Benton of Deicide - now
THERE's a duo!) are usually good entertainment value.
Have you noticed your taste in music changing down the years? Any
band/album you raved about in the past that you can't believe you
liked in hindsight?
Since MOJO is very heavy on the research, someone (usually Fred
Dellar) is always coming in with a xerox of someone I gushed over who
nowadays I'd flush down the toilet. So yes, I have been guilty of enthusing over
things I'm so embarrassed to think about I can't even name them.
Okay, okay, I admit, I said some pleasant things about Survivor!
But to my credit I ALWAYS hated Loverboy and am proud of my achievement
of getting the WHOLE OF THE BRITISH PRESS banned from talking to them.
And yes my taste has changed, in both clothes and music. I wear a
cowboy hat a lot these days (okay, so does Lemmy) and listen to a
great deal of alternative country music. A lot of those old cowboys
have more attitude than the new rock guys.
What makes for a successful CD release in your view? I.e. What are
labels doing right/could be better at.
Almost everything good I've heard in recent years has been an indie
or small label release. It's hardly an original thought (then, there
aren't many original thoughts going on at major labels either) but
the big companies are basically selling biscuits and toilet rolls. In
the (increasingly distant) past, musicians seemed able to lie down with businessmen without
getting totally fucked or bitten to death by the fleas. With rare exceptions, that's history.
Who are your musical heroes and why?
A long list of people but I'll pick the one that came to mind first:
Johnny Cash. Because he stuck by his beliefs and he stuck by people and he
had a voice that could rattle your bones. I spent five days with him
last year, just weeks before he died, interviewing him for Rick Rubin's box set.
It was an indescribable experience. He was like Abraham Lincoln, Joe
Strummer and Moses rolled into one.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I'll go with the first one I remember. I was interviewing Eric Bloom
Blue Oyster Cult for Sounds at a N. California festival. I was, er,
in a state of chemical alteration and he wasn't.
Due to my temporary loss of plot, I continued to ask him the same question over and over again. Being a
sardonic New Yorker, he simply answered it with the same reply each
time. At one point, becoming aware that I'd heard the same words several times, I
stopped and said to him, "You're really boring." He was a gentleman
about it. Like I said, the rock men always were.
Interview © 2004