Interview: Mike Henneberger

Mike Henneberger

Recently I was able to have a phone conversation with author Mike Henneberger before he released his new memoir, Rock Bottom at the Renaissance. I previewed this book in the form of a review a few weeks ago, and it was enlightening to hear firsthand Mike’s take on what I had read in his memoir. We discussed other bands that have had an influence on him over the years, everything that went into writing his book, and the creation of his new company called Berger Media. The book is available to purchase everywhere starting today, and more details can be found at his official website.

Thank you for your time today, Mike. I really enjoyed reading through your memoir, Rock Bottom at the Renaissance and hearing your life experiences. So, what are you most proud of as you look back on this published work?

I guess just that just that it’s finally coming out. I mean, I held onto it for a really long time, partially because I was scared of putting it out, because it’s so personal. And I mean, I think in the beginning I was still dealing with a lot of the stuff in a really unhealthy way or hadn’t started dealing with my depression and anxiety in the healthy ways that I do now. And so I just didn’t want that out there because I still related. I still thought this person was me and hadn’t discovered that I could move on from it. Then I met my wife a couple years ago, actually, about a year after kind of putting the finishing touches on the book, and then I was just afraid to put it out because, you know, it’s not like these are things that I kept from her but these are things that we didn’t talk about in detail. She’s very aware of my mental illness and kind of my past, but not in details, and she didn’t want details. And that, you know, was very hard for me. I didn’t want her family to see me differently and so I guess I’m proud that I’ve changed so much from the person in this book and that I feel healthy enough to put this out and not be afraid of it. So it means more to me that it can help somebody than whatever bad or negative effects, it’ll have on me, because I don’t really see myself as the person in this book anymore. So I’m just proud that I can say that.

Yeah, definitely. And there are some parts that are definitely tougher to read than others, just kind of going through each chapter and everything like that. So are there certain parts of you come back to that you’re like, I don’t want to relive that part even by reading it? Or what is your thoughts on that?

No, not at all. I mean I don’t relive it. You know, it’s so strange that for the last probably, because I started this book in 2011, the weekend in the hotel that it takes place in happened in 2011 and then over the next couple of years I finished it, you know, after that weekend in the hotel I didn’t touch the book for probably over a year, because I didn’t want to put myself back in the dark headspace I was in in that hotel room. And so it was a number of years that it took me to finish writing it and then a number of years have passed since then. And so in the last few years that I’ve re read it, I’ve actually felt like that’s not even me in there. So it’s very strange. It’s not like I relive it. And because I have that view of it now I look at it all as like a learning opportunity, you know? So I don’t know if happy is the right word, but I am glad that it came out the way it did, because it also helps me see how bad it was for me at that time and it helps me see how far I’ve come from it. You know, I talked to a therapist and, you know, that would still come up sometimes where he has to point out “look how far you’ve come”, you know? I’m taking medication or the progress that I’ve made. Sometimes it’s hard for all of us to notice that we’ve made progress and somebody has to point it out to you. And so I have this book I can look at when you know, I still have plenty of times where I feel down and like I haven’t made any progress. But I look at this and I’m like, holy crap, I’ve made so much progress, you know, maintaining my mental health and trying to stay healthy. I mean of course there are parts of the book that I hate that my family is going to see. But I don’t relive it and I didn’t take it out. But that’s the effect it has on me. It’s the effect I want it to have on people who read it. You know, we’ve all made mistakes and I just want people to know you can get past them. Even if I did relive it when I read it, I’d be glad that it’s there for me to see how far I’ve come from it.

So in your book, you describe the difference between being a writer versus an author. I love the quote that you had in there, too. So has your perspective on the two labels changed at all recently?

I don’t think so. I mean it’s very obvious how much I beat myself up about writing. It’s the first thing I ever remember wanting to do when I was a little kid. I used to love to draw, I used to love to write but the first thing I remember wanting to be was a writer. And I’ve always written in different ways through songs or short films, stories or journalism. I have so much respect for people who write consistently and can do it as a job, who are disciplined enough to do it, to do it well. I have so much respect for that that I would never give myself any more credit than I’m due and so I want to keep that standard, too, because I don’t want to let myself lower that standard in my future work. It’s the same thing as like somebody asked me why I don’t call myself a musician. The first lines in my book talk about how I would never call myself a musician, even though I played in bands for seven years, I toured the country a few times, I was the singer in those bands and I have so much respect for musicians that I wouldn’t call myself a musician. So the same thing goes for like writers and authors, which I guess are just really titles of a kind of profession. But yeah, I don’t want to give myself any more credit than I’m due. Maybe somebody else will someday.

Yeah, definitely. So as people begin to read through this memoir, what do you think readers will find most surprising about its contents?

I guess this may be kind of a spoiler, but it’s also something that I want people to know, there is not a lot of hope in this book. You don’t get a lot of silver linings out of it. There’s not a lot of optimism in it. And I think that might be surprising because a lot of people expect books like this to have a happy ending and I’ve taken screenwriting and creative writing classes in college, and I’ve read plenty of books on this stuff and I listen to podcasts about it all the time. And the protagonist is supposed to overcome their obstacles and challenges. But I the way I see it is that me, who I am now, that’s where the hope is. I didn’t want to change this book because that end result didn’t happen for a long time. So it wouldn’t have been authentic if I had put that in the book. So I think people might be surprised by not having a lot of hopefulness in it.

Sure. So let’s talk a little bit about how the book is actually organized. Each chapter is outlined by a specific song in a mixtape of sorts. So as this book was coming together, what came easier for you: The songs, or the story?

You know, man, it’s like I say in the book, that’s just how my brain works. I have this, like, musical brain and I describe it in the book as not like a musical where there’s music happening all the time. But it’s musical in a way that I kind of always associate music with something that’s going on. So some of this stuff I realized when I talked to A.J., the singer from The Dangerous Summer about the book because he read it and he’s a big fan of it. I realize that every time I use a Dangerous Summer song it’s a present day chapter, whereas there are a lot of flashback chapters, and that’s just because a Dangerous Summer has always been a band that I listen to all the time, but especially in my downtime. Almost every year on my Spotify end of the year thing, The Dangerous Summer is my most listened to band and his lyrics are so comforting to me. So I listen to them in situations like this in the book and so I was listening to The Dangerous Summer then. The book starts off with “23” by Jimmy Eat World and it explains why, because that song was actually playing when I was going through that situation in Chapter One, so that just happened like that and it influenced the way I thought. So they just kind of go hand in hand, it wasn’t something that I necessarily manufactured. The Two Door Cinema Club chapter is because part of it takes place at a Two Door Cinema concert. So it’s not really manufactured, it kind of just like happened that way, more easily on some chapters, but it came hand-in-hand. It wasn’t like I forced it or had to force it on any of them.

No, definitely. So you kind of alluded to the next question, which was the role music has in your life to this day. You describe some of the artists that really stood out to you as mediums for inspiration and are influential, such as the Dangerous Summer. Are there other ones that are not on the mixed tape that you would be gravitating towards to this day?

Oh, yeah. It’s actually crazy because I’ve sent this book to so many bands or people in bands and when I’m writing to them I’ll put an inscription in there and I start to feel bad because they’re not in it and I don’t want them to feel left out. But also, some of my friends or people I know ask me, oh, am I in it? And I’ll tell them no, because none of them really are, and I’ll tell them you don’t want to be in this book. Like this book is about a horrible time in my life. If you’re not in it, that’s a good thing and that’s probably why you’re still in my life. I sent it to Mike Herrera from MxPx because that band is so huge for me. It was the second concert I ever went to when I was 13. The first CD I bought was MxPx’s Teenage Politics. And so they had a huge influence on me growing up. I did Mike’s podcast awhile back for my charity so he’s been really cool to me. I also sent it to one of the guys from Less Than Jake, which is a huge band for me, and that was kind of when I felt bad that they’re not in it. I sent it to a couple of guys from the Juliana Theory who get mentioned in a chapter but they just get a short mention, I still go to them all the time. Their record Emotion Is Dead, which turns 20 years old this year, still holds up so well and it’s so beautiful. I listen to it all the time. Another band is Explosions in the Sky, I listen to that band all the time too. Their music is so beautiful. They are the band that really calms my head because I can’t do anything while listening to music with lyrics. I can’t write while listening to music with lyrics, I can’t work while listening to music with lyrics, I can’t sleep while listening to music with lyrics because I always focus on them. Explosions In The Sky doesn’t have any lyrics and that music is so soothing that I listen to them so much. So they’re a big band for me, too. But the ones that are really huge for me got in the book; The Dangerous Summer, Bayside and Jimmy Eat World, those are definitely my top three. And I listen to them all the time.

That’s really cool. And I’m glad to hear some of the other connections that you made along the way. Is. So tell me a little bit about your new imprint/company, Berger Media. How did this come together?

So Berger Media started out as a production company because I’ve been a video producer and director and writer for a very long time and I was working at Billboard magazine producing videos for them and I just decided to start my own production company to start doing side work. I got laid off from Billboard and I needed to keep making money so I just kind of immediately jumped into video production through Berger Media. And since then, I mean, it’s only been a few years that I’ve been working through that and I work with a lot of brands to make videos and stuff, but I’ve always seen myself as a content creator, which I hate saying, but I like I said I’ve always been a writer. It was the first thing I ever was. And then I was a photographer and then I got into video and I also worked in digital marketing, social media, and social media management. So I’ve just been creating content on different platforms and different mediums for a very long time and so I don’t want to limit Berger Media to just video production so when I decided to put this book out, it just made sense to put it out to Berger Media because that’s what I want to do everything through. That’s what I want to make films through and hopefully write more books through, too.

It’s really cool how it all came together. So what are some other areas of writing you’d still like to explore as you progress in your career/writing path?

So I’ve written screenplays. Nothing that’s been made or anything but that’s actually where I first, at least as an adult aspiring writer, when I first started writing. I wrote like six episodes of a TV sitcom that me and a buddy came up with. I wrote a pilot for an hour-long drama show. I wrote a short film. So that’s what I always wanted to do as an adult and I never thought I’d write a book. It’s just when you read this book, you see how this book came together and then I had a book. So I like to think I’ll write another book, and I know that I can, but it just was never my plan to write books. But what currently I’m thinking of is I really want to adapt this book into a series. So I thought about a film, but I kind of think just in the way with all the flashbacks and stuff. I think it has to be a series. So I’m planning on adapting those into a TV show, whatever that means today. So that’s the next plan and I’ve got a few other series ideas in my head that I’m planning on writing as well. I do have another book idea, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it. So I hope this book gets noticed enough to where I can do that other book, because it won’t be as dark as this one but I think it’ll be just as music-related. And it’s something I want to read and again, like I say in the book, that’s all that matters to me. It’s good to me and that’s all that matters. Which isn’t entirely true. It’s true in the good or bad conversation. Like, if somebody doesn’t like it, I don’t care. It just means it’s not for them. So I think it’s the same thing for everything. I don’t like a band. It’s just not for me. It doesn’t mean they’re bad. So like all that matters to me in the creative side is that I’m unhappy with it now. So, yeah, I hope this results in opportunities to write more. Because it’s very hard when you have a job and don’t have a lot of time and, you know, I have a wife right now. But we’d like to have kids. So, yeah. And that’s hard to do. Hopefully I’ll keep doing it.

So the last question I have for you today is a fun one. Since this book is so closely tied to music, what would you narrow down your top five records of all time that you would never tire of listening to?

Man, I should be prepared for this…Top five albums?

Yeah. Basically like a desert island type of question.

Definitely Bright Eyes, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. Definitely Jimmy Eat World’s Futures.

I actually have thought about this because, my answers are all this emo stuff and I’m like, God, I’m going to be so depressed on this island. (Laughter) But it’s like this stuff that I love. I would take the Dangerous Summer’s Reach for the Sun, for sure. And I’m not just saying this because of this stuff in the book but it’s in the book because these are like my favorite albums. And that’s three… I really love Taylor Swift, Red. And I feel like that would change it up from all this emo stuff, too. So I’m gonna take Taylor Swifts’s, Red. And I want to take Rancid, And Out Come the Wolves.

Solid answers, solid mix.

Cool.

Was there anything else you want to share with your audience today for when this article comes out on www.janewhitemovie.com?

Just that, you know, all the info and stuff could be found at rockbottombook.com, and I’m also throwing up some chapters of the audiobook on my podcast, which is just A Berger Joint. I started a podcast to throw my extended versions of Zero Platoon interviews on there because they’re usually like an hour long. So there are interviews on there. But also there are some audio chapters on there just to kind of tease the book and, you know, give people a way to check it out before they buy it.

Nice! So I wish you nothing but the best. I hope the book does well for you, and let’s keep in touch.

Thanks so much, man, and I appreciate all you do and all you’re going to do for this.

Happy to do it. It was a great read.

Have a great day, and take care.

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