Below is a piece that ran recently in New Noise magazine on BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity. Below that is the extended, unedited interview.
Be sure to check out NEW NOISE MAGAZINE and connect as they are one of the only remaining true publications devoted to independent music.
Thanks to my man John B. Moore for writing the piece.
NN: How long have you had the idea to write a novel and when did you get the idea for Blaze?
ATK: I started really getting into geo-political spy thrillers about ten years ago. It started as a hobby and a way to decompress while enjoying a stiff drink and a fine cigar. I began voraciously devouring and thoroughly enjoying novels by Daniel Silva, Vince Flynn, Ted Bell, Brad Thor and others. But, as is my proclivity, I eventually was not satisfied with being passive about it. Ambition to write my own thriller began growing. Just like the record labels, or my passion for cigars, when I get into something I'm often compelled to go after it full throttle and integrate it fully into my life. For me, I see life, business, and art as an integrated trinity. When those elements are unwoven in my life, I don't have harmony or flow.
I started working on the initial character sketch outlines, thematic intentions, and plot broad strokes at a time when I was doing financial planning in the midwest back around 2008. The global financial crisis hit with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, and the AIG scandal. My business was suffering and I was losing clients left and right. My practice was in Toledo, Ohio and the old adage of 'as goes Detroit, so goes Toledo' was playing out as predicted. The auto belt was contracting and its participants followed suit with their investing habits. In this space I sought out, in the cracks of life, ways to begin weaving new career threads. Writing BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, and the start of a long tail writing career as a whole, was one of the threads I began weaving.
Also at that time the entire world was still grappling for its sea legs to understand the after effects of 911 and the geo-political implications of radical Islam. I was always more interested in geo-politics than domestic politics, particularly as the rapid increase in technology and travel continues to make the world smaller. The worldwide inter-connectedness we all now have makes the machinations of global politics all the more important to be aware of. Within that frame of focus, it became apparent to me that the seriousness in which global power brokers took their beliefs in the various tenets, and eschatological beliefs, of the three Abrahamic faiths was wielding strong influence on the shifting dynamics of the global political landscape. I recognized this in 2007 through much study and reflection. Only now is the West finally realizing what a Caliphate is, what Islamic eschatology professes, and how it is driving ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Iranian leadership in their ambitions and strategies. Only now is the west finally looking into the Islamic end times beliefs regarding the Twelfth Imam, both Sunni and Shia, and how their real devotion to the surrounding prophecies is the central motivational thrust driving much of the chaos plaguing the world. I decided to make that a prominent theme in my book back in 2007, long before ISIS existed and the lame-stream media caught on to what is really going on.
The book also touches a variety of other themes through the characters, scenes, and plot constructions. The novel is ubiquitous with tattooed characters, musical references to the hardcore punk scene, cigar culture trimmings and Irish/Celtic humor. Also, via the inclusion of an agnostic, non-racist, half Jewish SHARP skinhead mercenary character, Blaze's sidekick, Zack Batt, the novel endeavors in an apologetic effort to distance the skinhead culture from the infection of racism and facism that has intermittently hijacked the movement both in Europe and the US.
I didn't finish the first draft of the novel until 2012. So it was a four year journey. Then another year and a half of editing. I did four self-edits before hiring my main editor. Then later I had additional help from the editing team of an agent I had for a short time. I didn't write consistently and there were periods of time that I didn't write at all for six months at a time as life got in the way. I finally got real serious halfway through the manuscript and began writing consistently to finish the second half of the book within eight months. That discipline has now carried over as I'm writing new manuscripts.
NN: Obviously music plays a big role in the book and in Blaze's life. What did you listen to in writing the book?
ATK: I remember in my early writing sessions listening to a lot of jazz. Coltraine, Ellington, Davis. I was real tense in my early writing because I hadn't yet honed my process and realized how fun, malleable and fluid the editing and re-write process could be. I felt like I had to get it right on the first dump, and I thought jazz would sufficiently relax me to do that.
My approach towards the end of the novel was much different, I learned to write while my kids were running around, while the TV's white noise hummed in the background, and bellowing first and second hand cigar smoke towered all around me as I sipped Irish coffee. I learned to get loose and iterative. In those times, I recall listening to a variety of stuff like The Dubliners, The Creepshow, Old Firm Casuals, Waylon Jennings, Bishops Green, The Kings of Nuthin', Larry and His Flask, Madball, Dropkick Murphys, The Head Cat, Circus of Power, Stigma, Junkyard, Hank III, Booze & Glory, Koffin Kats, The Business, Everlast, Mastodon, Hatebreed, The Tossers, Blood or Whiskey, Sheer Terror, Wayne Hancock, Rancid, Bob Segar, Blood For Blood, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Pogues, and lots and lots of AC/DC and Motorhead.
NN: You are also working on a non-fiction book aren't you?
ATK: Yes. It's a book about the psychology and spirituality of entrepreneurialism, the value of failure, striving to leave a legacy imprint of positive immortal content, and the difference between simply earning a living and making a living. It's partly a semi auto-biographical excavation of the wild path of rugged entrepreneurialism that I've pursued in realms as diverse as traditional banking/finance, alt/shadow banking, fitness, music, and now self-publishing/media. It digs deep into the pain, thrill, perseverance, emotional strength, adaptive instincts, and unconventional thinking often indicative of an entrepreneurial soul.
The book also looks slightly outward to others I know in my life who have lived and embodied this spirit and have found ways to navigate to freedom and authenticity. These probes expose the viability of one pursuing the whispers and calling of their often-muzzled internal spirit voice. It illustrates the abundance in which we are surrounded by if we only strain to have the eyes to see it and the balls to seize it-and make it uniquely ours. To quote my man Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed, the book is essentially about harnessing the Divinity of Purpose. A Purpose that is realized by practicing the Divinity of Push.
The book then peers farther outward to examine the pathways carved by public figures, both past and present, who've realized their callings in unconventional ways and through overcoming a variety of tumultuous circumstances. It studies and draws on the lives, insights and careers of entrepreneurs, art-repreneurs, entr-employees and solo-preneurs and others who have successfully lived a life authentic. It covers a diverse swathe including the likes of comedian Rodney Dangerfield, James Altucher (Investor/Author/Master Chess Player), Vince Flynn (The late thriller writer), Henry Rollins, The Perdomo Cigar Family, tattoo legend Norman 'Sailor Jerry' Collins, Glenn Beck, Lemmy Kilmister, Victory Records' Tony Brummel, Jack Johnson (the first black heavyweight champion of the twentieth century), Srinivas Rao ('Corporate Misfit' and self-employed blogger/podcaster), Rabbi Daniel Lapin, John Joseph of the Cro-mags, billionaire John Huntsman Sr., Walt Disney, Johnny Cash, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Winston Churchill, the biblical characters of Job and Moses, Joey Vento (the late great owner of Gino's Steaks in Philly), Andrew W.K., Louis C.K., Bryan Dyson (CEO of Coca Cola), and many fictional character like Walter White (Breaking Bad), Tony Soprano (The Sopranoes) and Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire).
The book is entitled Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur.
I reckon I'll be done with the first draft by the end of 2015, edit during first half of 2016 and release Q4 2016 on my publishing company 21 Gun Publishing. The artwork is already done and looks great. My man Pete Macphee (Dropkick Murphys, Social Distortion, Hank III), did the design and kicked ass. He did the BLAZE art as well.
NN: Any plans for a follow-up to Blaze?
ATK: Yes. I have pages and pages of rough notes for the sequel. It will end up as a trilogy when I'm all finished. It's all coming together quite nicely in my head. The sequel will be less expository and cerebral and have a lot more action in it. There was a lot of set up in Operation Persian Trinity, but now that the characters are fully established, the sequel will dip less into back stories and internal monologues. Moving the story forward, the sequel will see Zack Batt getting his 'hooligan on' with his skinhead friends in London, Liam McCardle entangled with old IRA enemies in Ireland, and Blaze embarking on a full-on mission of vengeance against the Mexican drug cartels as he develops a new Latino love interest. All the while, things continue to get hot in the Middle East, Russia, and Israel with an urgency that begs both Blaze and Zack's involvement.
That said, I'm holding off on writing that for a while. I've really only done exploratory marketing on BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity, and I want to continue experimenting with different marketing for a while until I find the right special sauce to build a readership and implement a holistic plan for future books. This will take time. In the interim, I'll be working on a few other manuscripts.
As I mentioned, the next book will be Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur, a non-fiction book on the psychology and spirituality of entrepreneurialism. Once that's finished, I'll be working on an episodic series called The Lounge: Where There's Smoke, There's Family. Having spent a lot of time in cigar lounges, both in the Philly area and in Ohio, over the past ten years, I've internalized the unique bond and brotherhood that forms between the regulars at certain lounges. The series will be released in small episodic books around 7-10K words per episode and listed for a real cheap price. I haven't decided on the frequency of release, but I'm thinking I will release four episodes per year. At the end of each season, the entire season will be compiled into one book. A season will likely be eight episodes.
The series will be less about cigars and more about the raw, gritty, vulnerability of male vulgarity and authenticity that occurs when man can be themselves around one another. The cigar lounge will be the setting - the man cave sanctuary where everything gets real. The cigars themselves, and the booze that accompanies them, will be the accents and elixirs that provoke the raw authenticity of the characters. It will include a host of diverse characters from all walks of life and all ethnic and religious backgrounds - each one carrying distinct personality and a vortex of complex charisma and special issues. The series will marry ball-breaking male-centric humor with the grappling sting of sorrow and dysfunction that is unique to middle age men.
The series will largely be inspired by my own experiences, but will be shaped and influenced by my love for the TV show Rescue Me with Denis Leary, the barber shop scene dialogue in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, the comedy of Bill Burr, and more recently, Bill Murray's character in the film St. Vincent.
NN: Are Sailor's Grave and Thorp are still a focus for you?
ATK: Always. Last year we continued to work closely with The Koffin Kats and The Creepshow while releasing Booze & Glory's recent full length As Bold As Brass and a new seven inch for The Business called Back in the Day. Right now, we're gearing up to see Booze & Glory come stateside for their first US tour, kicked off by an appearance at Black N Blue bowl in NYC, as well as forthcoming tours by The Creepshow and The Koffin Kats.
Sailor's Grave has been the most active of the two labels simply by virtue of ongoing organic momentum. Thorp Records has been inactive for a while. We're not sure what direction yet we will steer that label. I've been discussing with my business partner and cousin, Duane Miller, about what the future holds. We're looking to broaden the scope of the services we offer into other verticals to make the label experience for future signings more of a full service cooperation. We've never really gotten deeply involved with tour booking, publishing, merch fulfillment, artist management, and other needed services sometimes offered by labels. We'll be looking for ways to develop each one of these services in the future. Also, we'll be looking to create other ancillary businesses to work in tandem with the labels, such as an online boutique distro, a clothing brand, music news site, etc. All these ideas are on the table right now before we sign any new bands.
NN: Any new release planned for this summer?
ATK: Not this summer. The Creepshow is working on a new record, but I'm not sure of release timing yet. Same with The Welch Boys. As I mentioned, we want to re-structure our model some before we endeavor in a new batch of signings. That said, we will always gladly release new records from the existing active roster. And if something new and irresistible comes our way, we'll, of course, seize the opportunity.
NN: How did you first get into starting and running a record label?
ATK: Actually, I tell this story in Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur in great detail and with wide context. The short version is that I was newly married, unemployed, and delivering pizzas. I had a dream of starting a label that germed during my last year of college as I got more and more passionate about hardcore and punk rock and was going to a lot of shows. When I was laid off, I used those circumstances to thrust me into taking the risk. I maxed out my credit cards, got some nominal advice from some people I knew who ran labels, and started Thorp Records. Breakdown's Battle Hymns For an Angry Planet was my first release. I lost money on it but kept pushing forward with releases while learning the ins and outs of the business while working my day job at Relapse Records, and later Lumberjack/Mordam distribution. Eventually the labels became successful after a string of records by Madball, Blood For Blood, Ducky Boys, Slapshot, Ramallah, Sheer Terror, Fordirelifesake, US Bombs, Mad Sin, The Kings of Nuthin' and others. I ran the labels full time for several years until hard times hit. After that, I pursued other things as the labels slowly made their way back in the black. During that time, we re-structured our model to now maintain what is a steady and workable long term business model. Between both labels, we've released over 110 releases.
NN: What's next for you?
ATK: All kinds of stuff. I always have a bunch of pots on the stove while leaving a few burners open for unseen opportunities. I'm currently wrapping up my manuscript for Failure Rules!, organizing notes for The Lounge and the sequel to BLAZE, and experimenting with marketing for BLAZE. Thinking about other writing ideas like doing biographies for iconic hardcore punk entrepreneurs. Dudes like Ken Casey, Lars Frederickson, Jamey Jasta, Duane Peters and the like. Of course, I've not approached any of them yet. These are just ideas in my head.
I'm currently looking into a variety of other possible business pursuits in online marketing/alt finance. I'm working out the details for a new blueprint for the record labels. Making plans for a podcast I'm going to launch, some youtube stuff, planning a revamp ofwww.andrewthorpking.com. Doing cigar reviews on my blog in conjunction with Famous Smoke Shop. All the while, I'm hanging with my three kids, my paisan girlfriend, hitting the gym, working as an operations analyst for an online commercial bank, and always fitting in time for massages, fine cigars, and good bourbon.
NN: Those are all the questions I had. Anything else you want to mention?
ATK: Mind your business. Never give in. Choose yourself and live authentically. Find a way to have leverage instead of being someone else's leverage in as many areas of your life as possible. Don't plagiarize the world view, religion, or politics of your family, your friends, the media, or even your scene. Find your own. Listen to your internal spirit voice. Live to win even as you fight against the reality that we're all born to lose. In all circumstances, be nimble. In all challenges, improvise, adapt and overcome. Nothing is safe, and if you navigate life with balls, this is a good thing.
For insights on how to fail to success, create chicken salad out of chicken shit, and to improvise, overcome and adapt with a balanced life, look for my forthcoming non-fiction book Failure Rules!: The Hard Times Handbook for the Die-Hard Entrepreneur.
To read a kick-ass spy novel with a tattooed, cigar-smoking Mick anti-hero protagonist who has a love for hardcore punk music, give a read on to BLAZE: Operation Persian Trinity and dive-in to some supernatural near-term geo-political forecasting.