2018 was a crazy year for Detroit author and musician Josh Malerman. After having his debut novel, Bird Box, released to critical acclaim in 2014 and then optioned for a movie, the film was unleashed by Netflix at the end of last year. Starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich, the movie became an instant sensation with memes all over the internet, while breaking all sorts of viewing records on the platform.
Meanwhile, the new album from his band The High Strung, called Quiet Riots, will be released on Friday, Feb. 22. His band can be heard singing the theme tune to the Showtime show Shameless, and this new full-lengther is their 16th. We spoke to Malerman about the glorious madness that is his life.
L.A. WEEKLY: The last year or so has been insane…?
JOSH MALERMAN: Yeah. I’m grateful for every second.
How did you find time to record Quiet Riots?
Well, we recorded it a year ago with Jim Diamond at Tempermill Studios [in Ferndale, near Detroit]. Mark Owen is the other singer-songwriter in The High Strung — he was on our first album, and he was on whatever you would call the songs we recorded before our first album. Mark left, and 12 years later he called me and said he’d love to play with us again. There was never any animosity — he left for normal reasons. So I said that it sounds amazing. But what I didn’t really predict or recognize at the time was I was really swamped with book stuff. His return and being a songwriter made it all easier, in terms of putting albums out. No. 2, he came with great songs. No. 3, he comes with a zest from not having recorded an album in over a decade. He turns up, he’s got some songs, and I would say that Mark’s return made this whole thing happen. We would have recorded another album, but it would not have been now, and it wouldn’t have been this one. I attribute the engine behind it to Mark’s return.
How has the sound evolved in the 19-ish years you've been together?
It’s funny, because I played the album for a friend who had been around in the early days, and he was like, “This album is the closest thing you’ve ever done to your first album.” I don’t necessarily hear it that way but he does, and I heard a few other people hear it that way. Well, it makes sense, because we now have the same two singer-songwriters as that first album. But it doesn’t make sense because it’s been 15 years since our first album. I see it more as the evolution, the next step, from our last album than a hearkening back to the garage thing of our first album. I definitely do see it as the next step. What I see this album having the others didn’t is there’s a lot of three-part harmony. That makes sense to me, because Stephen [Palmer] and I were singing together for years, and then another singer-songwriter returns and now all three of us are singing. So for me, Quiet Riots is the most harmony-laden album we’ve had so far.
Why did you call it Quiet Riots?
It was Mark’s idea. And oddly enough, the first album title was also Mark’s idea. He was making a joke about how he plays and writes these bright, poppy songs but if you put a guitar chord into his mind, it’d be like death. And we were talking about how Quiet Riot is actually a very loud band, and how we should actually be called Quiet Riot. Our insanity in our band is actually kinda quiet, in how it’s presented. So Mark was like, “Dude, let’s call the album Quiet Riots.” So we did.
Has there been a noticeable increase in interest in the band after your book and movie success with Bird Box?
It’s hard to tell. Bird Box [the book] came out four years ago. There were four years of awesome, steady sales. The newer books — there was this gradual building up of a career. All through there, I don’t know — the band didn’t seem to benefit from that period. But now, this movie thing, obviously this is a whole different universe. I think it’s just too soon to say whether or not that attention is going to go to the band. I will say this — our last show is the first time we've ever sold out a show before. Maybe the answer’s yes, but it was also a smaller venue, so I don’t know. To me, pop songs and horror novels have always been coming from the same youthful, playful place. The same 15-year-old who loves a scary novel and also loves the Ramones.
What do the other guys in the band make of it all?
Obviously they’re really excited. We’ve all been best friends since we were 11. I think it’s natural for them to hope that the attention on the books will transfer onto the band. I think right now, they’re just like wow. This is happening to a friend of theirs.
What did you think of Trent Reznor’s Bird Box score, and did you want to be involved in that at all?
When I saw the movie, I thought it was good, but I also thought it wasn’t in a lot of it. Then we downloaded the score, and dude, it’s totally awesome. Have you heard the whole thing? You have to do it. It’s so much more elaborate than what was used in the movie. There was a point in time when the director of It, Andy Muschietti, was attached to direct Bird Box. I met up with him for lunch in Los Angeles, and he asked if I was interested in doing the score. I had a moment of horror — the pressure. But then I asked what he was thinking, and he said that he was interested in getting the girl who did Under the Skin [Mica Levi]. I was like, get her. But if you don’t, I’ll try it. He ended up working on It instead of Bird Box. Now, though, I’m 100 percent ready to do it. Two other books have been optioned, and we’re shopping three of the other ones right now. I’ve already talked to the boys [in The High Strung] — we’ll try to make it happen for one of these. If the door is open, we should do a soundtrack for sure. It would be amazing.
With the new album out, will The High Strung be touring? Any chance we'll see you in L.A.?
Not any plans yet, but we are thinking of it. I may be going out there for some book and film meetings. We’re not sure when I’m available right now, but we want to come out there. I just don’t know when yet.
What's next for you, both with the books and movie, and The High Strung?
The High Strung are well into recording another album, although you know what that's like — it could still take years. I have a book coming out in March called Inspection. That’s a really exciting thing, on the heels of all this Bird Box phenomena, to have a book already finished, done. This will be the seventh.
The High Strung's Quiet Riots is out Feb. 22.