Views and Interviews from a Few New Zines

When I started doing zines as a teenager, interviews were an easy way to get something no one else had. I could get in touch with a band, ask them questions, and write up an original piece of content. It was fun and it lead me to magazine writing. When I moved the operation online, my first site (frontwheeldrive.com) was almost all interviews.

Bend #24: QuestionsAndy Jenkins and I have had a similar relationship with interviews. We both started off doing them for journalistic purposes, then moved away from them for various reasons. “Interviewing folks meant that I was drawing a line between myself and the interviewee,” he writes in the introduction. “So, instead of being a peer, I was sort of an outsider” (p. 3). For Bend #24: Questions (Bend Press, 2015), Andy returned to the interview format to check in with a bunch of people who’ve inspired him over the years: He asked 27 people the same 24 questions. Interview subjects include Johnny Knoxville, Megan Baltimore, and O; skateboarders Jerry Hsu, Ed Templeton, Tod Swank, and Marc Johnson; artists Lori Damiano, Ferris Plock, Kevin Wilkins, Thomas Campbell, and Evan Hecox; and one of my favorite character actors, Bob Stephenson; as well as many other creative folks. Questions is inspiring, entertaining, and funny. Andy’s introduction says he did these interviews “not feeling the line” because he knows all of these people in one way or another. His art and designs have always been inspiring to me, but this time it’s the minds he’s assembled that make me want to go do stuff.

Life from a window
I’m just taking in the view
Life from a window
Observing everything around you
— The Jam, “Life From a Window”

Life From a WindowI met Tobin Yelland twice: once while I worked at SLAP Skateboard Magazine in San Francisco and once while I worked at Skateboard.com in San Diego. He’s a super-nice guy with a keen eye through the camera lens. Life From a Window (Deadbeat Club, 2014) is Clint Woodside and Tobin’s travel log from Asia, including pictures from Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou. Candid expressions, odd artifacts, and haunting cityscapes adorn its 40, full-color pages. It also comes with two 4×6″ prints, one from each photographer.

Bogus Rendition #9

I picked up a copy of Bogus Rendition #9 from the merch table at a the Watain/Mayhem Black Metal Warfare tour stop at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago earlier this year. Split between hopping trains and black metal, Justin Curtsinger tells great stories and does solid interviews. He’s traversed the US by train several times and toured with Watain and many other black metal acts, so his stories and  interviews (with members of Watain, The Devil’s Blood, Soulgrinder, et al.) come from a far more personal place. The lengthy transcribed talks in BR #9 are as meandering as they are interesting. These are not promo-copy fodder. They’re just regular chats with the guys behind the set and sound. It’s a welcome change from magazine interviews. Reflecting on Watain’s 2013 tour for The Wild Hunt, Curtsinger writes, “I’ve found it harder and harder as time has gone on to write about other people who happen to be friends as if they are ‘characters’ in a story.” Though he admits that he’s not the biggest Watain fan, he acknowledges their importance, writing, “The reminder that life is whatever the fuck we want to make it and that following one’s heart on whatever obscure path one wants to take is not a pipe dream.” The 108 pages of Bogus Rendition #9 document parts of Curtsinger’s obscure path(s), and the world is better off for the glimpses it provides.

We Want Something MoreA member of both the black metal band, Light Bearer, and the hardcore band, Momentum (two of my recent favorites), Gerfried Ambrosch is also a prolific writer. Not surprisingly, his writing is ideologically in-line with his music. Among his zines are Atheist Morality: Why We Don’t Need Religion to Be Moral (Active Distribution, 2013) and Vindication of a Vegan Diet (Active Distribution, 2013). We Want Something More: The Poetry of Punk Rock (Active Distribution, n.d.) is a 100-page pamphlet-style zine that could easily double as a master’s thesis. It’s also informed by interviews — with some of the most important people in punk rock. Its back copy reads,

We Want Something More is an extended essay about punk lyrics. It features exclusive interviews with well-known punk rock and hardcore artists such as Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Ray Cappo (Youth of Today, Shelter), Greg Bennick (Trial), Brian D. (Catharsis), Dan Yemin (Kid Dynamite, Paint It Black), Chris Hannah (Propagandhi), and others. The essay investigates the connections between song lyrics, poetry, visual and acoustic aesthetics, musical conventions, the D.I.Y. ethos, and radical politics in the context of punk and hardcore. Its goals are to demonstrate that punk rock and hardcore song lyrics are a fascinating literary art form and to give punks and hardcore ‘kids’ an understanding of lyric analysis and close reading by reference to some of the songs that have changed their lives. Moreover, the essay discusses the particularities of punk culture and the things that set it apart from other subcultures. Given its focus on radical politics, is punk a serious counterculture, or at least part of a wider countercultural movement? This essay attempts to answer such questions by looking at song lyrics and how they have both reflected and affected the political discourse of punk and hardcore. If you have a passion for punk culture and/or the written word, there is a good chance that you will find We Want Something More to be a very interesting read.

I don’t do as many interviews as I used to, but I’m still biased toward them and read them regularly. I mean, I do teach a class on interviews now, and my first book is a collection of them. Interviews can be weird and indulgent, but they can provide keys to someone’s work you admire. They also let that someone know that you admire them. In Bend #24, Andy Jenkins asks, “Do you like answering questions?” Ed Templeton sums it up, saying, “Yeah. It means someone is asking.”

Zine pile

Sonified Solipsism: Digital Economies of Sound

One of the many lessons of chaos theory was that the limits of numerous traditional scientific and mathematical approaches had been reached. The elements filtered out by the methods in use kept edging in, refusing to be ignored. Information theorists, physicists, and mathematicians were all grappling with similar, persistent problems: noise in phone-lines, measurements that varied wildly at different scales, fluctuations in computer-generated weather, the onset of turbulence in vastly different dynamical systems. New lenses were needed to see a more finely grained world. New tools were needed to measure it.

As a discipline, media studies has been struggling with a similar filter bubble (Parser, 2011). Its sister subdiscipline, sound studies, has been vying to help fix it (Sterne, 2012). Music journalist Alex Ross (2015) writes,

Shortly before his death, in 1992, John Cage said: “We live in a time I think not of mainstream, but of many streams, or even, if you insist, upon a river of time, that we have come to delta, maybe even beyond delta to an ocean which is going back to the skies.” Stream, delta, border, boundary: we keep reaching for geographical metaphors as we speak of genres and we sense that the real landscape of musical activity ultimately has little to do with our tidy delineations, or indeed with the dismantling of them. Fluid and shifting, music is spread out like populations around urban centres, and certain communities could plausibly be assigned to one city’s suburbs or to another’s. Genre may be a kind of gerrymandering practised by musical politicians. Indeed, composers routinely complain when they are described as busters of genre or crossers of boundaries; they tend to view themselves simply as artists working with various kinds of material.

Ross is writing about Björk and musical genres, but thinking outside of the usual boundaries, the usual filters, is exactly what makes sound studies at large so compelling.

The Tones of Our TimesIn The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology (MIT Press, 2014), Frances Dyson writes, “It is really only in the last half century that, à la Cage, we have created an environment from our inner workings, that we have sonified a form of solipsism… Mobile media might move us out of the house and into the world, but the world is now domed by a data cloud” (p. 119). The borders, the boundaries, the bounds may blur, but we still try to draw discrete lines between sound, music, and noise. We still try to control what enters our ears. Earbuds. Noise-cancelling Bose. Beats by Dre.

Félix Guattari wrote in 1989,

Contemporary human beings have been fundamentally deterritorialized. Their original existential territories — bodies, domestic spaces, clans, cults — are no longer secured by a fixed ground; but henceforth they are indexed to a world of precarious representations and in perpetual motion. Young people are walking around the streets with Walkmans glued to their ears, and are habituated by refrains produced far, very far, from their homelands (2015, p. 97).

Chaos MediaAs Stephen Kennedy points out in Chaos Media: A Sonic Economy of Digital Space (Bloomsbury, 2015), these theoretical viewpoints “periodically cohere to form a ‘refrain'” (p. 130): “The refrain calms the chaos — settles things down — resolves anxiety…” (p. 130). Kennedy uses Foucault, Bergson, Bachelard, and Latour’s Actor Network Theory to draw his lines. He writes, “This is a book about space, digital space. As such, it is concerned with boundaries, thresholds, and borders” (p. viii). Music went from strictly live performances to portable recordings. Playback went from ephemeral events to the home hi-fi to the pocket player (see Bartmanski & Woodward, 2015; Bull, 2005; Frith, 2013; Levy, 2006; Zagorski-Thomas, 2014). Lines may be drawn, but they are not so easily maintained.

Ross (2015) continues, “…it becomes clear that for all of her career Björk has created a body of work in which the landscape around her, she herself and the landscape inside of her – her blood, her organs, the sounds made by her and perceived by her – are all one universe of objects and subjects, subjects and objects, robots and humans, plants and animals, stone and volcanoes and oceans at the same time.” With nothing filtered out, we are the tone of our times.

References:

Bartmanski, Dominik & Woodward, Ian. (2015). Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age. New York: Bloomsbury.

Bull, Michael. (2005). No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening. Leisure Studies, 24(4), pp. 343-55.

Dyson, Frances (2014). The Tone of Our Times: Sound, Sense, Economy, and Ecology. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Frith, Simon. (2013). The Industrialization of Popular Music–Part II. In S. T. Horsfall, J-M. Meij, & M. D. Probstfield (Eds.), Music Sociology: Examining the Role of Music in Social Life. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 223-231.

Guattari, Félix. (2015). Ecosophical Practices and the Restoration of the “Subjective City.” In G. Genosko & J. Hetrick (Eds.), Machinic Eros: Writings on Japan. Minneapolis, MN: Univocal, pp. 97-115.

Kennedy, Stephen. (2015). Chaos Media: A Sonic Economy of Digital Space. New York: Bloomsbury.

Levy, Steven. (2006). The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Parser, Eli. (2011). The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin.

Ross, Alex. (2015, February). How Björk Broke the Sound Barrier. The Guardian.

Sterne, Jonathan. (2012). Sonic Imaginations. In Sterne, J. (Ed.), The Sound Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, pp. 1-17.

Zagorski-Thomas, Simon. (2014). The Musicology of Record Production. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.