Christopher Norris is probably best known as his alter ego, Steak Mtn. An accomplished artist, he's behind many of your favorite record covers, including titles by Assholeparade, Orchid, and Against Me!, a band he's worked with extensively throughout his career.
On the musical side, Norris fronted Combatwoundedveteran, a '90s punk band that was recently featured on No Echo via their Digital Youth Crew digital reissue.
I spoke with Norris about all of the above, his time working in the pornography world (no, not as a performer), and his thoughts on reuniting with Combatwoundedveteran.
When did you decide to try writing books and how have things changed since then?
In 2012, having returned to New York after three years in San Francisco, I took a job at a French digital capture company where I had a lot of free time; my position mostly being an available body in their Lower East Side office on weekdays. And so, in that pervasive downtime, I decided to try and write a few screenplays, just to see if I could do it.
Turns out I could and they were not too bad… but also knowing I’d never try to make them, I thought to mash one of two (and a bit of a third) into a book, see if that could be an easy thing to do, which ended up being my first novel, Hunchback ‘88.
Tell me about The Holy Day.
The Holy Day is about a former, failed teen detective that, now in her late 40s/early 50s, after a life of total misery, goes on a combination One Last Case/doomed vacation.
Think Nancy Drew if Nancy Drew botched her young sleuthing career and for most of her adult life has been knocking around the humid fringes of the Florida Panhandle before getting a chance to fuck it all up one last time.
It sounds very different from your previous novel, Hunchback ‘88.
Hunchback ‘88 is a messy, violent, maybe “weird," book that was fun to write, and that people have seemed to like since its first printing in 2018. This has been/still is surprising to me as there is a lot of patience testing pretentious bullshit in it… but also: it’s horror, and proves to me that, much like pornography, if you give people the essential elements they need from a beloved genre, you can sort of fuck around with where you stick those essential elements.
I'm curious to learn more about Inside the Castle, the DIY publisher you worked with on the reissue of that book.
Inside the Castle is a Lawrence, Kansas-based independent press run by author John Trefry. He reissued Hunchback ‘88 as a deluxe edition (featuring original art by Mark McCoy, Sammy Harkham, Tony Stella, Johnny Ryan, and a handful of others) in 2022 after the 2018 Permanent Sleep Press run had gone out of print.
Now, if you consider yourself an adventurous reader, or are craving something different from whatever “normal," basic bitch, plot-driven civilian writing you are used to, then find your way to the ItC site. Tons of challenging and/or fun books for you there.
Or to better illustrate the vibe coming off the ItC empire, here is a bit of the mission statement (call to war?) from the splash page: “Books are not places apart from this world. They are impossible places within it.”
This time out, you're working with Rose Books.
The Holy Day comes out on October 11, 2023 on Rose Books an independent press run by author Chelsea Hodson. But before mine, on July 25th, Geoff Rickly’s emotion-mincing novel, Someone Who Isn’t Me, is dropping and I highly recommend ordering a copy if you haven't already. Rickly fucking rules. Rose Books fucking rules.
Chelsea is operating at a Great Taste = Great Books level—something I think her peers in the publishing game are not so cool at—and it’s that considered curation that’ll be giving readers amazing, interesting, impactful books for years to come. Mine included… obviously. Mine’s great. So come on and say you were there by ordering the first two Rose Books books today!
The average person thinks of House of Leaves when they think of books with “odd layouts," what was your inspiration for The Holy Day?
As someone who has never read House of Leaves, barely even looked at it, I can confidently say that House of Leaves is a stupid, corny book that no one should put any time/effort into. I am probably wrong about that. I am sure it’s rad. People seem to really like it. It’s definitely cool and weird to a lot of people. Especially puzzle heads. I can respect that.
I can’t cite a direct influence on the odd layouts of Hunchback ‘88 or The Holy Day. I can say they were designed by fucking around until it made sense—with zero regard for a possible reader—and that the design is just as important as the words in them. Maybe more so.
I also consider the design of each book to be a bit of a sticky trap… as in you maybe hate what you’re reading but at least there’s a (possibly) cool page to look at now and again. I know I overlook a lot of stupidity when something is “...at least it looks cool.”
You recently had Combatwoundedveteran merch reprinted, what was it like to go back in time with that?
I wasn’t across the merch reprints. That was Ponch, The Last Punk standing from the band, and it’s awesome he made moves to resurrect the designs. He has all the old acetates and shit.
But I am working on designing (actually the word should be “redesigning”) the forthcoming vinyl reissues that Brent Eyestone is putting out on Dark Operative. They are turning out hilarious. Not sure on a timeline, but would guess they’ll trickle out over the next year or so.
Any other plans to live in nostalgia?
Nostalgia is a degenerative disease so that’d be a hard “No.” to any Combatwoundedveteran reunion garbage. It’s been boring af to see all these tragic midlife crisis babies shining shit from their youths, seeing how fat or how fitness everyone has resurfaced, trying to relearn their dimensionally dumb music, and hoping someone out there still cares about that dimensionally dumb music (don’t worry there seems to be so many like you that have missed you!)
But also, whatever, if someone has figured out how to exploit their younger selves for a little burrito money… who the fuck am I to talk shit? I still, almost 30 years on, photocopy skulls for my burrito money so I obviously don’t have a whole fuck of a lot of road to be mean about others shocking their glory days back to life. Do what thou wilt blah blah blah. Who cares.
You said in a previous interview you wanted to make a horror movie, is that any closer to happening?
I don’t remember saying that but it tracks. Truthfully, I’d rather have a fun, nice, generic idea for a romantic comedy or musical instead but I dream about killing people more so horror movies seem to be the best “let's make a movie” option.
But closer to happening? Nah. There’s a lot of heavy lifting involved there, and while I may be inching towards it, it's more a war of inches.
OK, but let's say it was doable, what would be the perfect horror movie for you to make?
There is a fragment of screenplay in The Holy Day for a slasher called Bikini Wax about an adult film actress who is flown to Lisbon to shoot some scenes and ends the trip being chased by a hunting knife-wielding maniac. I’ve been thinking I’d finish that and see what could happen. Probably nothing but also dumber things have been made so who knows!
What’s the perfect project for you in general? One of your well known mediums or one you haven’t tackled yet
I wish my path from set decorator to directing pornography hadn't been cut short. Kink.com was the best job I ever had, will probably ever have, and directing smut was the only thing I actually wanted to do in life and is why I jumped at the chance to move to San Francisco to get it going.
I’ve done a lot of cool shit over the years, had some incredible opportunities that I make fun of but know I’m lucky to be have been involved in, but that brief time in adult film, and the tiny amount I was able to direct in that time, will go down as the only creative thing that has made the most sense to me, my interests, etc.
So… perfect project? A staff job directing pornography for a successful studio. Easy. But it’s obviously not as easy as all of that.
Have you done any more work with Kink.com since leaving the company?
I am still close with a few people from that time but haven’t been creatively involved since 2012.
How did that work help you with where you’re at now?
The most useful thing I gained from my Kink.com days, other than knowing I was able to do at least one thing I wanted to do as a creative person, is having stories to tell at parties, dinners, family functions, in interviews, etc. People love to hear about working for/with people who fuck for the internet.
What inspired you to make music? To write? To design sets? To direct? To draw? Is there any crossover between the mediums?
Music? To make a shit ton of noise with my friends and get out of Florida for a bit. It worked.
Writing? Because books have been easier than trying to make movies and I love when things are easy.
Porn set design? I knew it’d be a step closer to directing pornography… which sort of worked for half a second. Directing pornography? I love the genre, as art and entertainment, maybe the greatest of all the commercial arts, and is also a cool way to make a living. Making art? I’m a big fan of con artists and snake oil salesmen.
Crossover? The corniest thing to say, that is also true, is creativity. That’s the crossover.
Finally, you’re pretty well known for your visual art. What has changed for you with visual art since starting to write books?
Not because of the books, but I’ve consciously been less active with Steak Mtn. in the past decade, some years not doing any work at all, or rather doing here-and-there work that was not as visible as the Against Me! stuff I’d done.
If anything the books have made it so I talk more about how I used to do a lot more visual art. I’m fine with that.
How does it feel knowing you’ve inspired a big chunk of visual artists for years?
Considering my first-hand knowledge of the cynicism and laziness behind a lot of the Steak Mtn. work? Fulfilled.
The Holy Day will be out on October 10th via Rose Books (pre-order).