Why you should never interview your heroes

The maxim about never meeting your heroes is true – doubly when it comes to interviewing them.

As a fan, you connect with an artist’s work on the deepest of levels, but as an interviewer there’s no guarantee that you’ll even like the person behind it.

The relationship between hero and worshipper is almost always one-way. To them you’re just another huffing, puffing participant on the promotional treadmill; 40 more minutes of mild inconvenience before the drudgery of doing press ends and more pleasurable concerns, such as playing a show or drinking heavily, begin.

It’s tempting for interviewers to over-compensate when dangling their Dictaphones in the face of someone that they respect. Being star-struck isn’t necessarily the problem. Even the most experienced journalists will still cop to that. But maintaining a sense of professionalism often is.

Both of you are there to do a job, and you’re unlikely to come away with the right result if your mind is on the albums you’ve brought along to get signed. Typically these are all things that an interviewer learns the hard way.

My formative lesson came from an unlikely teacher: Dicky Barrett, the foghorn-voiced frontman of Nineties Boston ska-punk legends The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Offered the chance to grill them as a young staffer on Metal Hammer, I immediately set about preparing a list of questions that were aimed more at proving my love for, and knowledge of, the band than getting a good piece.

Crushingly, Barrett spent the bulk of my interview idly leafing through Loaded and distractedly dissipating my enthusiasm with pat answers and patronising comments.

The key to successfully interviewing your heroes is to approach the exchange in exactly the same way as you would any other. Never forget that beneath the shroud of genius is an ordinary person who will appreciate being treated as such. You’ll almost certainly come away with a better piece as well.

In an ideal world, your hero will be so in awe of your insight, wit and charm that you become best buddies. But the writer’s prime responsibilities must always be to the story and reader. Anything else is ego gravy. Friendship is the enemy of true journalism. Ask my mates in Metallica…

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