#030: A Non-Participant (And Fine With It)

I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. I highlight some of the best stuff I hear, read, and watch every week; publish news about the industry; and interview writers, scholars, and editors about their work. My goal is to share knowledge, celebrate great work, and expand the idea of what music journalism is—and where it happens. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime at music.journalism.insider@gmail.com.

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Today: I know it’s hard to imagine, but there are a bunch of interviews! Four podcasters / writers who focus on very different things: Anupa Mistry (creative sustainability), Christina Lee (Southern hip-hop), Tony Rettman (hardcore and punk history), and Kelly McCartney (bluegrass and roots music). Plus: A chat with J.J. Anselmi, the author of the new book Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-Metal; links to great writing and podcasting from this week; and much more! But first…

Writer Life

Q&A: Anupa Mistry

I’ve admired Anupa Mistry’s work for a long time. Whether it be on radio, as a writer, or interviewing people on camera, she’s quite clearly comfortable in a variety of formats. I was surprised, then, to find in our interview that it’s only in the past few years that she has actually begun to believe in herself. “It’s kind of amazing that I managed to do what I did for the first decade of my career, given that I was so disconnected from my creative mind and my body during that time,” she told me. In this excerpt from our interview, the Torontonian talks about her latest project: a podcast called Burn Out

Burn Out is a podcast about creative sustainability and work in progress, that really just began as an exercise in experimenting with format, having conversations that made me feel good as a human being, and sharing work without the expectation that it would, like, “become my brand.” I’ve never been interested in, or any good at, gaming the viral content machine, and I think I started to feel really victimized by that as a barometer of success!

But also, I really wanted to keep telling Canadian stories because I think there’s this idea that you have to leave to be successful—and I think that’s true for many people, but I also think that narrative is a disservice to people who are here, making work as part of a larger community, and are redefining success on their own terms. 

I felt it was important to share that experience, and also I wanted to learn how to build a creative life long-term because that was not something that had been modelled to me at any point in my life. So far there are 12 episodes featuring artists like Shad, L CON, Zaki Ibrahim, Cold Specks, and AKUA, and the newest season just launched with Rosina Kazi of LAL, an amazing long-standing electronic duo.

Read the full interview with Anupa here.

Reading List

  • Duncan Cooper explores the cheerleading music scene, which sounds… complicated and loud

  • This article about Kanye living and working in Wyoming has a lot of interesting details throughout, but the kicker is the thing I’ll be thinking about for days

  • Ruth Saxelby collects a bunch of recent albums / recordings / live shows that deal with distortion in interesting ways

  • Steven Hyden probably didn’t need to do much work to get Sturgill Simpson to say quotable things in this interview, but Sturgill Simpson still said a bunch of quotable things in this interview

  • Robin James takes a long look at “interdependence,” an idea that's been floating around the electronic community for the past few years

  • Gary Suarez has kicked off a new column in Remezcla that aims to highlight Latinx contributions to hip-hop

  • Another week, another infuriating article about country music radio’s woman problem. Marissa Moss is doing great work on the subject, but it must get exhausting. This quote from a representative from Woman Nashville pretty much sums it up:

    “We are in the same place we’ve been for two-and-a-half years now, which is women trying to pile data upon data upon report upon listener feedback upon artist feedback, all to try to disprove something that appears to have never been proven by the industry itself. Why are we all having to work so hard for something that seems to keep being revealed as fictional?”

Please Consider This Text A Trigger Warning For Progressive Democrats

Q&A: Christina Lee

Atlanta resident Christina Lee is one of the foremost experts on Southern hip-hop. When she’s not writing for outlets like Bandcamp Daily, The Washington Post or Delta Sky magazine, she’s the co-host of two podcasts—Bottom of the Map and Sum'n to Say—both of which celebrate the sounds of the American South in one way or another. In this excerpt from our interview, I asked her to highlight one of her favorite pieces of the past few years.

In 2016 Pitchfork's The Pitch ran a posthumous profile I wrote on DJ Nando: “How a Strip Club DJ's Death Marked the End of an Era in Atlanta Hip-Hop.” I pitched the story because after Nando was fatally shot in 2014, outlets posted tweets by Russell Simmons, Jermaine Dupri and 2 Chainz expressing their condolences. But they didn't explain why Nando had been so well known, how he rewrote the logic of Atlanta's nightlife calendars as he drew music industry crowds to Magic City on Mondays and Onyx on Fridays. I spent the better part of a year interviewing folks like Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas of Quality Control Records, Jeezy and Nick Love, as they were still grieving. That story is why I still think about black Atlanta strip clubs as a launching pad for hip-hop records, but also a uniquely Atlanta symbol of American capitalism, to this day.

Read the full interview with Christina here.

Podcasts! Podcasts! Podcasts!

ICYMI

Yesterday, I sent out a special edition of the newsletter featuring an interview with Jeremy D. Larson, the reviews editor at Pitchfork. In case you missed it, you can check it out here.

Also Worth Considering: Instead of “References,” Include An “Enemies” Section

Q&A: Tony Rettman

Tony Rettman is obsessed with hardcore, punk, and basically anything scuzzy. A few years ago, his book NYHC received a lot of attention. And nowadays he’s documenting that scene (and much more) in his excellent Substack newsletter (and podcast) Sandpaper Lullaby. He also has a wicked sense of humor, which is on full display in this excerpt from our interview.

Where do you see music journalism headed?

I’m the last person to know the answer to that question! I haven’t been to see live music in maybe a year. I don’t read Pitchfork or Noisey or Brooklyn Vegan or any of them. I still find out about music through looking at new arrivals on distro websites or my older brother. I’m a non-participant and fine with it. After the hype of the NYHC book, I found myself in rooms with schmoozers promising me the world that just reeked of being fairweather. It was a supreme bumout and don’t wish to return to such nights. 

But on a smaller level, I’d like to think Substack could provide the catalyst to return to the more personal approach to music writing that’s my bread and butter. If I can collect some money from people I respect while turning them onto some weird goth band from Australia or the re-issue of an ’80s anarcho-punk group’s demo, that’s more than fine with me. I just wish there were more people I respected! 

What's one tip that you'd give a music journalist starting out right now?

Take up welding. 

What's one thing you'd like to see more of from editors, in general?

A trend in taking my pitches! 

Read the full interview with Tony here.

Academic Stuff

Sounds About Right

Q&A: J.J. Anselmi

J.J. Anselmi is the author of the new book Doomed to Fail: The Incredibly Loud History of Doom, Sludge, and Post-Metal. The book started out, though, as something else entirely. In this excerpt from our interview, J.J. discusses his love of metal—and how he got from a 33 1/3 pitch to a large-scale book detailing the history of three sub-genres. It’s a great lesson in how reconsidering your original idea can lead you to an even better one.

From the first moment I heard a sludge band, I could feel on some fundamental level that this was the music for me, both as a listener and musician. I love how the punk ethos of “anyone can be a musician” applies to sludge and doom. People often think of metal as a spectacle where fans are relegated to the sidelines, but that couldn’t be further from the truth with these sub-genres. I want to show people that.

About five years ago, I wrote a proposal for a 33 ⅓ installment on Eyehategod’s Dopesick. When that got rejected, I sent the band a biography proposal, and they weren’t into it. From there, I realized that what I really wanted was to write a book about the evolution of heavy music instead of one individual band. There are so many larger-than-life characters from this world, and I wanted to highlight them in addition to the music they’ve made. This music has shaped who I am in a lot of ways, so I wanted to pay homage to it.

Read the full interview with J.J. here.

Bits, Bobs

Q&A: Kelly McCartney

Kelly McCartney has been in and around music journalism for a long time, but her career is hardly a straightforward one. For Kelly, writing was a side hustle for many years. In the short time that she’s been doing music journalism full-time, however, she’s become a major voice in the roots music community, most notably with her Hangin' & Sangin' podcast, which combines interviews and live performances. In this excerpt from our interview, she explains her career so far.

Music was a huge part of my childhood, as was writing, so as a teen, I decided that I'd be a music journalist and write for Rolling Stone which was the holy grail of the form back in the '80s. I moved to L.A. for college and got my degree, but an internship at Entertainment Tonight, in a round-about way, led me to a job as personal assistant to Susanna Hoffs right after the Bangles split up in 1989-90. From there, I started booking clubs, repping artists, and working all over the music industry. 

It wasn't until 1999, I think it was, that I got my first gig as a music journo with AllMusic.com. That was the early stages of building the whole database, so we basically got to pick and choose what we wanted to write. It was a blast and it jump-started that side of my career. For the next, gosh, 13 or so years, I kept writing as a side hustle while I worked with artists and pursued some activism. Then, in late 2013, I finally committed to making “music journalist” my primary job and found a really nice fit for myself within the roots music community.

Read the full interview with Kelly here.

I Laughed

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