DETROIT PROUD: Josh Malerman
Josh Malerman - you probably know the name from the band The High Strung – he provides the lead vocals and guitar for the Detroit adventure-rock band. Maybe you’ve heard their song “The Luck You Got” as the theme song for the Showtime show, Shameless?
What you might not know about the goofball-rocker, however, is that he’s also quite the writer. He grew up with a fascination for suspense and horror stories and always had an itch to write his own. Josh’s first major novel, Bird Box, tells the story of a woman and two children set in a post-apocalyptic setting, and the book was purchased by HarperCollins publishing company for wide-range distribution.
As if the book being bought by one of the world’s largest publishing companies wasn’t enough to make you go “WOW,” Universal Studios has also bought the rights of the book for a big-time movie deal. One could say musician Mr. Malerman is multi-talented, don’t you think? And you might want to add Bird Box to your reading list…
CW50 got the chance to speak with Josh Malerman about his book, the movie deal, and his band, The High Strung.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m Josh Malerman. Was captain of the track team in high school, was on a real straight path up until about age 19 when I experienced a sort of metaphysical monsoon, in which I saw it was possible for a man to become absolutely anything he wanted to. Truly, every option became clear to me at once. That day, I stopped running and started getting more serious about writing. Failed at writing novels for years (by failed, I mean I didn’t finish one), then I had a breakthrough, wrote one in 28 days. This was followed by a fantastic, maniacal run of 16 novels in 8 years. I’m still in the middle of that run now.
You’re the front man of the band, The High Strung. Could you tell us a little about that and your band?
The boys were already playing music by age ten. Derek (drums) and Chad (bass) were known a bit around school as being musicians. Rockers. I was a runner, but I was friends with them. In college, another friend of ours, Jon Gornbein, bought me a Farfisa organ, told me I should join the band, play with everyone. By then I was filling notebooks with poems and book ideas. Yet another friend of ours, Mark Owen, picked up the notebooks one day and began singing songs from them as the rest of us played (that includes me, a week into playing the organ.) Hearing Mark sing the poems revealed to me that we could write our own songs and things got really exciting from there. We moved to New York City, recorded some 100 songs out there, and then hit the road for what became around six years. Over 200 shows a year. We didn’t have apartments, didn’t “live” anywhere. After a while it started to feel like the whole country was our house. Like Alabama was the den, New Hampshire the patio, Michigan the bedroom. I remember, somewhere in the electric blur of that period, telling Derek that whether we broke up tomorrow or sold a billion records tomorrow, either way this period was the golden stretch. The salad days. A few years ago, we settled in Michigan again. That’s when Stephen Palmer joined the band. He changed everything, which excites me to no end, as I’m someone who regularly throws away all his possessions, tips too much, and often acts a lot like Dimitri Karamazov; I adore change and letting go. Especially when you can look back on the cannon, the body of work, and trace your path, where you were at, by the differences in the albums, made possible by reinvention.
Your song, “The Luck You Got” is the theme song for the Showtime series, Shameless. Could you tell us a little about that and how that came about?
How exciting, huh? A tiny band like us, penning the theme song for a hit show on television. We had a big fan at our publisher, Bug Music, named Mara. Mara heard about what Shameless was looking for, she knew our catalog inside-out, and so she submitted “The Luck You Got.” That’s that. Maybe my favorite thing that has come from it, are all the covers of the song on YouTube. I think they’re all better than the way we do it. Especially the Nintendo version.
You recently wrote a book, Bird Box. Tell us a little about the book. What made you decide to write a book?
The first book I tried to write was back in fifth grade. It was about a dog going to outer space as a sort of Earth ambassador. That was followed by a few years of one-panel comic books. By then I was smitten with horror. My big introduction was Twilight Zone: the Movie, the first horror movie I ever saw. After that came Saturday Shockers and sneaking in whatever I could at a friend’s house (Faces of Death, Psycho, Firestarter, Blacula, a Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night.) I was also reading a lot. There’s a great period of horror fiction history, before the novel-boom of the 70’s spearheaded by Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist, in which the short story ruled the genre. That period is golden and completely bursting with ideas. I read M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Blackwood, Bierce, et al. When you first approach it, the genre, it feels infinite, but it’s not. So, come high school, I was trying to write my own scary stories, weird poems, strange tales. Then came the band, as aforementioned. At the same time, I got into the classics, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Woolfe, Proust, McCullers, and so on. As I was handed off from one literary giant to the next, I was delivered directly to Dracula. It felt like I had come home. I had gone far from the horror genre and when I returned it was like a thousand withered hands patting me on the back at once. A cemetery applauded. “Welcome!” they said. “Now go finish a book already!” Like I said before, it was a real breakthrough. The original draft of Bird Box wasn’t indented, had no chapter breaks, and didn’t even feature quotation marks. I wanted nothing to slow me down. I just wanted to write that book.
And Bird Box has just been picked up for a movie deal! How did that come about?
After HarperCollins bought the book, my manager, Ryan Lewis, shopped it to studios. Scott Stuber (producer, Identity Thief, Ted) liked it and started to put a team together with the intention of bringing it to Universal Studios. Andres Muschietti (director, Mama) got on board and Universal picked it up. You can imagine how thrilling this is to a guy who, as a kid, snuck away from mom in the video store to walk through the horror section, equal parts afraid and elated to just look at the VHS box covers. A movie? Of Bird Box? I can’t wait.
Could you tell us a little about that? What motivates you?
As goes motivation, it’s terribly dangerous to wait for inspiration. I’d rather force myself to write every day than live with the guilt of waiting. Usually what happens is, when you look back, the writing from the days you were inspired is no greater than when you weren’t. You cannot escape your voice, whether you feel like it or not. For this, I try and bury “motivation” as far down as it can go and turn to “patterns” and “discipline” instead.
Do you still want to write more? What are your plans now, with music or writing?
I finished a rough draft for a new book yesterday. This is true. The plan is the same as it’s been since fifth grade. Get excited, stay excited, write. One crazy part of writing a novel is that you have to maintain your enthusiasm for the idea over the course of hundreds of pages. In a song, you’re in and out. But the book kind of demands you really like the idea you’ve chosen to write about. I like that and it scares me, too.
When you’re in Detroit, where’s your favorite place to be?
My mom used to take me to DIA when I was a kid. My brothers and I. I used to stand in the armor hall, you know, where the knights are. I liked to imagine myself climbing into one of the suits, then, after they closed for the night, I could step off the pedestal and walk around the museum in full armor. That way, I’d be prepared to slaughter any ghosts or demons who might emerge from the paintings on the walls.
What’s your favorite thing about being from Metro Detroit?
I don’t exactly know how to articulate this other than to say, the High Strung were on the road for six years, we lived in New York City for four, before that I was in East Lansing for four more, and no matter how I twist it, Detroit is my favorite place to be. I absolutely love writing here.
Find more information on Josh and The High Strung, here!
UPDATE: The High Strung released their new album I, Anybody on January 10th at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. The record is available locally, in hard copy, on vinyl.