Monthly Archives: March 2017

Does This Question Make Me Look Dumb?

During one of my trips to Canada to visit my Toronto-resident daughter, I was introduced to a Vancouver-based indie rock outfit called Said The Whale and began following them on social media. The band has a new album coming out soon (As Long As Your Eyes Are Wide, due March 31) and posted an intriguing message on Facebook earlier this month. The band offered to share an advance stream of the album with any group of 10 or more fans willing to host a listening party, or – this is where it gets more interesting – would be willing to Skype into classrooms to talk with arts students about music.

As it turns out, my best local pal and go-to plus-one music-loving buddy, Sally, is a high school English teacher and her journalism class is now studying interviewing techniques. I told her about STW’s offer and, the road to hell being paved with good intentions, not only will Sally and her teenage charges be talking with the band this Wednesday, but I will be visiting the class to talk about my so-called music journalism career, a.k.a. dancing about architecture. (TM: Steve Martin)

There was a time, Back In The Day, when most of my interviews were done live-and-in-person. Music magazines – in print! – had a valued place, just below TV and radio broadcasts, as an exposure tool for new music. But now that anyone with access to Spotify can pretty much hear whatever whenever they want and formulate an opinion, is printed advice on what to seek out even needed? If anything, my role now, if I still have one, is to act as a filter to the firehose of material that gushes forth in the age of information overload, traffic-directing people to sounds they may like.

It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I did a face-to-face interview, phoners being the modern way-to-go, or maybe a Skype call (see above) which at least allows for some facial recognition, and the need to wear pants. The last two interviews I did were email interviews. (Kirstin Hersh, once of Throwing Muses, and A/J Jackson, lead singer of Saint Motel) for the AXS.com site.

Email interviews are, to be honest, a great way to avoid the bane of an interviewer’s existence – transcribing! – since you need only cut-and- paste, with minimal corrections and proof-reading, text from your correspondence. If I were being paid real money for these stories, I would prefer to have a real conversation and really dive into the Getting To Know You business. But when you’re paid by the click for articles that are little more than intro to a list of tour dates (buy tickets here!), and the major effort is not finding the perfect phrase but negotiating a CMS (content management system), the email process is the cost-efficient way to go for all concerned.

My favorite pieces to do these days are concert reviews. I get to move close to the music in the photo pit, play/learn with my camera, enjoy the show, and share the memories. I did that recently, covering a concert by AJR, a trio of NYC-based brothers who opened for Ingrid Michaelson’s tour last year (I shot that, too), and are now on their own headlining club jaunt.

Still, it’s a long ways away from those heady days back in New York, when I lived in Brooklyn (before it was BKLYN) and rode the subway into Manhattan to meet Dire Straits in the studio, putting the finishing touches on their Making Movies album. I heard the amazing “Romeo and Juliet” in an early mix, booming from awesome professional studio speakers and chatted with frontman Mark Knopfler. I’ll always remember him as one of the nicest gents I ever encountered during a period when I actually made my living as a freelancer.

My recorder malfunctioned during the interview and, when I discovered that much of the tape was destroyed, he graciously repeated much of our conversation with a smile and genuine sympathy. His producer, on the other hand, dripped disdain, seemingly irked to have a writer (and a girl one at that!) in his sacred space.

I’m reminded of this interview in particular because the magazine I was writing for at the time, Trouser Press, recently posted a link on its Facebook feed, to the Dire Straits article I wrote for the November 1980 (ye gods!) issue. I read it now and remember a time when I felt I was really Writing a Story.

knopfler.jpg

In contrast, when I sent off my email questions to the frontman for Saint Motel, I had no chance for follow-up when he dodged a question about touring with Panic! At the Disco.

I wrote: How has the tour with Panic! been going? Can you tell us a funny – or strange – story from the road?

He answered: It’s been amazing!  These rooms are huge.  Funny story so far…    

and left it at that.  I checked with the publicist to see if something had been dropped from his message, but was told it was complete as is. It made little sense to me and drove home the sterility of such electronic conversations, so  I left the exchange out altogether. And yet, that article has been one of the most liked/shared I’ve written for the site in ages.

Since this little confessional has included a bunch of links to Recent Stuff I Wrote, I might as well end with my latest, hot-off-the-pixels article, a few words – and clickable links, of course! – on the subject of a new favorite of mine, Father John Misty, and the lust-worthy deluxe vinyl edition of his upcoming album, Pure Comedy.

It ain’t Pulitzer material, but it was fun to research and easy to write. I do what I do as best I can.

P.S. Speaking of research, if any of Sally’s students bothered to visit this site to find out more about me before Wednesday’s meeting, I have two things to say to you:

  1. Good luck with the journalism thing. You’ll need it. And we need you now more than ever.
  2. Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Say the secret word (“penultimate”) and I’ll tell Ms. Toner to give you extra credit.
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