Monday, May 24, 2004

More questions, more answers.

Franklin Bruno:

What do you make of the fact that each of your top 3 is quite lyric-heavy?

I noticed this immediately upon realizing that it was my top three, a couple months ago; I guess it just means I like singer-songwriters a lot right now. (With Ghostface right underneath, it’s a lyric-heavy top four, actually.) That might be a function of getting older (I’m 29), and it might not. I prefer to think, though, that in this case it’s just that the most interesting stuff being made, or that’s reaching me, happens to have lots of words in it, but maybe not. In either case, I’m less surprised by it than you might think, because I love lots of singer-songwriters, I’m just picky about it. Since my writing niche is more or less dance music---it’s what I’m best known as a critic of---people assume I don’t care about lyrics, which 90% of the time I don’t. Lyrics have to be pretty notable in some way or other to get to me, either good or bad or annoying; usually they zip by, which is as it should be.

How did the writing of your (fine) Prince book go? How much research (beyond living your life to this point), how long to get a draft, how many drafts? Whole thing and then polish, or more concentrated work on smaller sections before going on? How much other work were you doing at the same time, and how did you manage (or fail to) your time?

When I got the deal to do the book, I planned to spend two months on it; I deliberately got ridiculous numbers of assignments for the early part of 2003 so I could spend all of May and June on it (it was due July 1). I took a lot of notes on various aspects of the album and on the guy himself (including stuff on the SOTT movie, none of which made it in because I ran out of space and/or time), including most of the “Little Red Corvette” video and plenty of album-dissection stuff. I figured I’d just write riffs and they’d turn into mini-essays and then I’d piece the whole thing together. Then I began talking to Seattle Weekly about coming back as music editor, and in May they made their move, while I was on vacation in Minneapolis. I went back to NYC, packed everything I owned in a week, got a deadline extension to September 18, flew out to Seattle, and started work three days later. After restructuring the section, breaking in new writers, overseeing the Music Awards (which had not been adequately explained to me prior to my arrival) and the Bumbershoot issue, I finally sat down to write the book---on September 2. I wrote it on nights and weekends over two weeks, spent a weekend revising it, and that’s what went to press. I owe my bosses thanks, incidentally, for letting me blow my budget sky-high during that period because I literally had no time to write for the section while I was working on the book.


Jon Kapper:

top three albums of '04 so far

The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free
The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me
The Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed
the new Ghostface is getting up there, too.

three favorite corner bars in ny

The Magician, Hi-Fi, and Siberia.

which elvis do you prefer

The one that made “Burning Love,” his best record---though I actually prefer the drummer on that one.


Douglas Wolk:

1) What was your best interviewing-a-musician experience?

The Signal to Noise magazine Sound Unseen I did with DJ /rupture was extremely fun; once the interview was done, we shot the shit for about an hour, and he’s a pretty great guy.

2) Describe a "conversion experience" moment--when you started to like an artist you'd previously not liked.

In early 1994, “Loser” had just come out, and I was mostly indifferent to it. I was 19, and extremely distrustful of what was being sold to people my age as “irony,” which was pervasive in alt-rock, especially in Minneapolis (or any town that large, I imagine). So “Loser” vaguely annoyed me, and when my friend Aaron Worrell, who cooked at the café where I washed dishes (I’d abjured college), told me he really liked not just the song but the album---and Aaron was someone whose tastes I trusted implicitly---I recoiled slightly. Then I went to First Avenue on a Sunday night---I went there every Sunday for their all-ages dance nights---and while I was on the floor, dancing with a bunch of other people, the DJ put it on. At the time I had a really stupid, very uptight, rockist policy of refusing to dance to songs I had decided I didn’t like, whether they were better to dance to than the ones I liked or not (and house/techno aside, most of ‘em were), but I kept moving. And pretty soon I was smiling like a fucking idiot. I bought Mellow Gold the next day and was blown away. I still think that’s a great album, by the way, even though Beck-bashing is pretty common, especially on ILM; I also think it’s the best thing he’s done by a friggin’ mile.

3) Who are your favorite arts critics who aren't music critics?

Of the former rockcrit school: Tom Carson, Joy Press, Paul Lukas. Of the non-music writers: Dave Hickey, Roger Ebert (probably the single most influential critic of my life; his program w/Gene Siskel was one of my favorite TV shows as a kid), Pauline Kael, Ruth Reichl (though I’m not very familiar w/her criticism; I’m a big fan of her two memoirs), Louis Menand, A.J. Liebling if he counts (again, I know his memoirs better than his criticism. I’m sure there are others I’m missing.


Geeta Dayal:

1. how have you been doing?

Pretty good, though I’m thoroughly sick of my dentist now---I’ve seen him five times in two weeks, and go back Wednesday to have my temporary crown replaced by a permanent (gold) one. And I need to sell CDs and get dinner, which I’m going to do really soon.

2. what was the last song that made you cry, and why?

Dusty Springfield’s “So Much Love,” which overwhelmed me after not hearing it for years---and not getting it when I did hear it then. Plus I’d just met a woman I was interested in, and, uh, I’m kind of a sap. The woman didn’t work out, as it happens. I still like the song, though.

3. if you had access to unlimited funds (money, time, resources, etc) how would your section change? would it?

The section I edit, you mean, right? I’d write a lot less, for one thing---and I don’t write that often. I’d just write for other places and do a long piece every few months, if that. And I’d probably get even better (and more expensive) writers than the ones I use now. I’d probably also raise my rates. And then there would be world peace.


Brian Sholis:

A two-parter: How often do you read over your earlier work? Do you ever try to re-write pieces a few months or a few years after you have published them?

I try not to read too far back---too embarrassing-slash-painful, just hideous at times, especially when I realize how much I overrated something or how completely off the mark an observation was. I don’t try to re-write pieces, generally, though I’m always a little surprised, and dismayed, at how, in tackling the same subject, I use the same phrases I did before, without realizing it.

How--if at all--has becoming an editor changed you as a writer?

I think I’m a far better editor than I am a writer, in part because I’m a natural reactor---if someone else has an idea I like, I can see where they fall short and help them hone it, or if I don’t like it I can pinpoint why. That’s one reason I’m a critic---I really don’t have many ideas of my own, and I say that without any false modesty or pleasure. (I’ve never wanted to write fiction for that reason, either, outside of a vague abstract desire to, you know, have written fiction.) In that sense, it hasn’t changed my writing that much---I still make the same mistakes when I’m filing copy (as it’s charmingly called in the trade) as I did before I got this job. But even when I sucked my copy was pretty clean---maybe not at the very beginning, but certainly within six months of writing for print most of what I turned in was fairly printable in format if not content. A lot of that is the doing of my editors---primarily Jon Dolan at City Pages (he’s at Spin now) and Kiki Yablon at the Chicago Reader---but just as much is down to my own sense of perfectionism.


Steve Hyden:

1) I noticed that tons of alt-weeklies did a blow-by-blow acount of the recent SXSW festival. I think this is all fine and good if you live in Austin, or have an interest in music insider dish, but do regular readers really care about stuff like this? I understand getting hip to an artist there and possibly doing a feature, but it seems like the whole hourly diary treatment I saw in so many rags was excessive. Maybe it was the only way to justify going there in the first place? Am I wrong?

I tend to agree with you about this; we ran a SXSW piece this year because Andrew Bonazelli, a staff writer here, went with a local band and wrote the piece about their experiences there. My basic feeling is that a story like that is only of interest if there’s a local angle, or if the writer is also a columnist, or if it isn’t just another blow-by-blow thing. The thing is, SXSW is the biggest one of them---over 10,000 people went this year, and while I’m sure most of that is bizzers it’s can’t all be. (Can it?) But I don’t run festival coverage of non-local events as a matter of principle.

2) My problem with alt-weekly music writing can be summed up by the following excerpt from a review that ran in City Pages recently: "There's no parking on their dance floor, so cut, like, several rugs or grab some wall, critic. That's the way things go in depressed industrial college burgs like VCR's hometown of Richmond, Virginia--the unalloyed desperation of backyard black-light keg discos manifests itself as the last thin reason you'd choose to stay there, aside from really cheap tobacco. In a city like a hangover, VCR binge on the future like a headache in reverse." (Read the rest here.) First of all, I have no idea what the fuck the writer is talking about. (A headache in reverse? Um, what?) Secondly, I get the feeling that this sentence has less to do with the band than with the writer trying to prove how clever he is. Maybe I'm stupid, but I have no idea who VCR is. This review gave me no context. I'm also not sure whether the writer even likes the record or not. I'm not saying I need a letter grade or a star system, but a review should AT LEAST tell you whether their record is any good, shouldn't it? ANYWAY, I feel like a lot of alt-weekly freelancers aren't really writing for readers, they're writing for other freelancers and their music buddies. Am I wrong?

That piece is by J. Niimi, and I completely disagree with you about it---it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read about music this year anywhere. The excerpt you cite makes perfect sense---the first sentence makes fun of the band’s implicit playing-dumb hipsterdom, and “a headache in reverse” describes a particular kind of small-town malaise excellently. And no, a review should not AT LEAST do anything but succeed in what it sets out to do. J.’s review set out to describe the atmosphere generated by the record in question, and he does it admirably. As far as the whole “freelancers aren’t writing for readers” argument, it’s almost always code for “I need a letter grade or a star system,” even (especially) when people take pains to state otherwise.