'If You Want To Create, You Need To Suffer': A First-Person Remembrance of Joe Strummer's Historical Hero Worship...
Barry (The Baker) Auguste
In their prime, The Clash were rightfully known as “the only band that matters.” For the majority of the band’s crucial existence, Barry Auguste (left) enjoyed a perch like none other to witness the birth of their righteous revolution rock. As one of The Clash’s beloved roadies, Auguste became best known to fans via his nickname “The Baker” – that’s him performing as one of the bandanna-masked thieves in the classic video for “Bankrobber” above, and he’s the one squatting in the cowboy hat on the left in the vintage image captured by legendary rock photographer Bob Gruen below:
The Baker was there from The Clash’s formative moments in the nascent heyday of British punk’s first wave. In August 1976, after arriving at The Clash’s infamous Rehearsal Rehearsals practice space with his school friends in another early punk-era band, Subway Sect, The Baker would become a central part of the group’s existence, serving as backline roadie and drum-tech for both original drummer Terry Chimes and the band’s beloved sticksman Topper Headon. Indeed, once finding himself at the center of the maelstrom which was the Last Gang in Town, he was with The Clash every step of the band’s journey until September, 1983. That was the day that Clash co-leader Mick Jones was unceremoniously fired; after that inglorious moment, The Baker walked away from it all and has, until now, refused most requests for comment and interviews. Here, The Baker shares his intimate recollections and musings on the historical and cinematic influences that shaped Clash frontman Joe Strummer’s famously iconoclastic worldview – one which would go on to shape punk’s past and present as we know it.
Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin’ to the top
The sheik, he drove his Cadillac
He went a-cruisin’ down the ville
The muezzin was a-standing
On the radiator grille…
- The Clash, “Rock The Casbah” (1982)
After having had six weeks to deliciously digest my Prometheus Blu-ray DVD, it has become increasingly obvious that the deeper the layers I dissect, the more cryptic and mysterious it becomes. I find it at once provoking, stimulating, and exasperating to say the least; I’ve been particularly fascinated by the deliberate, direct references to the 1962 David Lean film epic Lawrence of Arabia. So I went back to watch Lawrence once again, and was astonished by the many connections between the film and some particularly salient memories I have of Joe Strummer.
In the film Prometheus, the android David (as played by Michael Fassbender) fixates on the character of T.E. Lawrence as played by Peter O’Toole, even going so far as styling his hair and imitating the mannerisms of his cinematic hero. A significant line in the film occurs when he notes, “Big things have small beginnings.” After extinguishing a match between his fingertips, David repeats this unforgettable line from Lawrence: “The trick is, Potter, not minding that it hurts.” Much of this reminded me of Joe’s particular eagerness for T.E. Lawrence, and I kept coming back again and again to curious conclusions. One of Joe’s most famous quotes was, “Lawrence of Arabia always was my hero. I think it’s great to come from England to lead the Arabs.”
All of this gave me pause, causing me to think back to when I took Joe to Western Hospital in 1978, where he was quarantined with hepatitis. It was all kept very quiet at the time – even the other members of The Clash were not aware of his location – as hepatitis carried an obvious stigma about it (although there were never any doubts in my mind that Joe had caught it from the nightly onslaughts of gob from the audience). Joe was deemed contagious for a while due to the advanced stage of disease, so I remained his sole visitor for the first week or two. The initial list he dictated to me of things he needed picked up from his room at Albany Street included, amongst his personal items, Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence.
During my daily visits to the hospital, we touched on the subject of T.E. Lawrence frequently. Joe seemed to have war stories on his mind at the time; he’d even outlined a rough draft of a story he’d written about a World War II bomber and its crew. It became obvious to me that Joe was well read on Lawrence, but I was not aware at the time of the huge influence that his writing and life story must have had over Joe, nor the correlations that Joe surely was aware of.
The concept of “not minding that it hurts” seems to be something Joe was very conscious of: every night onstage was a monumental battle with pain and exhaustion for him. Indeed, the only thing that saved his wrists from becoming a bloodied mess were his “strum guards,” but that did nothing for his fret hand. Years earlier, while squatting at 101 Walterton Road, Pat Nother – Joe’s then-bandmate in The 101ers – noted, “We used to piss on our fingertips to make them hard so that we could play our guitars.”  That was another clue to Joe’s suffering – something else that he didn’t mind hurting.
There was a great deal of that masochistic stuff gong on back in the early days of punk, with all the safety-pin piercings and open invitations to violence from others. I could never forget how Roadent, another Clash roadie, used to inflict nasty wounds on himself. I’d watch in amazement at the “Rehearsal Rehearsals” practice space in Camden as Roadent would nightly stub cigarettes out on his arm to prove that he “didn’t mind that it hurt,” in an obvious masochistic homage to Lean’s Lawrence. In addition to cutting and burning himself, Roadent seemed to delight in the vile treatment he got from both the band members and their notorious manager Bernie Rhodes back then – the worse the better, it appeared! While Joe was living at “Rehearsals,” he and Roadent would both go weeks without washing; in time, both smelled appalling, which of course invited more scorn. It all seemed similar in some ways to the brutality Lawrence suffered when he was captured at Der’a, along with the abuse he allowed and willingly encouraged at the hands of the RAF enlisted men after the war.  He allegedly even paid one of the men to beat him regularly. 
Joe went through his own short phase of masochistic indulgence when, in 1977, he would slick back his hair, dress like a Teddy Boy, and together with Sebastian Conran go off to rockabilly shows and pubs that were famous for being in “Teddy Boy” territory. This tempting of fate, of pushing the envelope further and further, resulted in him being badly beaten one night by a proper Ted in the toilets at The Speakeasy. As the story goes, the Ted responsible had quickly sussed that Joe wasn’t the genuine article, but instead merely a public schoolboy playing at being working class, and so gave him quite a pasting. One afternoon at Western Hospital, I asked Joe about his tendency to dress like a Ted and deliberately risk violence. I vividly recall Joe’s response: “If you want to create, you need to suffer.” At that tender young age, I did not fully understand or appreciate the meaning of the remark.
T.E. Lawrence tells General Murray in the Lean film that his manner looks insubordinate, “but it isn’t really.” Looking back, I find Joe’s lifestyle to be entirely consistent with this modus operandi. Born in Ankara, Turkey, his early childhood days would’ve been shaped within similar scenes to that from Lawrence of Arabia. The son of a diplomat, Joe spent his teenage years at a boarding school in Surrey, England, where he graduated with qualifications in English, history and art; this was a quite divergent adolescent upbringing from anything experienced by the rest of the band. Like Lawrence, Joe worked hard at keeping his previous life at arm’s length in adopting the punk persona. Lawrence also had had to forgo his own English upbringing to win over the native Arabs. Joe always played the rebel, and again, just like Lawrence, became the voice of a rebellious nation. Like many prodigal sons, Joe ended up going back to his roots, marrying well and renting a large house in Somerset on a part of the Rothschild’s estate.
Years later, Joe would pen the words to “Rock The Casbah.” On the surface, it seems a comical take on the Arab/Jewish conflict and the power of music to end religious intolerance. Upon closer inspection, it proves, in true Lawrence fashion, a thinly-veiled rallying cry to the Muslim world to rise up and defy their fundamentalist oppressors. In my opinion, this makes for one of Joe’s most cleverly crafted, and covertly worded, declarations of revolution:
Now the king [any one of the Western-appointed rulers in the Middle East] told the boogie men [the oil barons]
You have to let that raga [religious dogma] drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin’ to the top [we need to sell our oil, not promote war]_
The sheik [oil baron] he drove his Cadillac [US western decadent ways]
He went a-cruisin’ down the ville
The muezzin [the chosen person at a mosque who leads and recites the call to prayer] was a-standing
On the radiator grille [saying stop this blasphemous behavior]
Sharia [the moral code and religious law of Islam] _don’t like it
Rockin the casbah
Rock the casbah…
Joe later explained that the first line of the song was a reference to an offhand remark that Bernie Rhodes made in the studio. Questioning the length of the recently recorded songs, Bernie asked, “Does everything have to be a raga?” I believe Joe’s glib explanation served as a deliberate diversion, designed to obscure the rebellious message of the lyric. It has remained one of his most candidly incisive global calls for peace, expressing via subtly maverick poetry Joe’s radical sentiments on an already volatile and unstable situation. Notwithstanding, the lyric stands as a fitting tribute to the accomplishments of T.E. Lawrence during his military career, entirely simpatico with Lawrence’s own radical solutions, providing yet another link to Joe’s hero worship of the man.
It makes for an appropriate tribute that Joe’s life has ended up as much of an inspiration to millions around the world just as Lawrence’s actions were in his own time. The call to arms, standing up for the rights of the oppressed, and the laying aside of personal gain – all while never minding that it hurts – prove fully evident. The moral of these vanguard icons’ lives continues to be timeless, eternal, and uplifting, and the overlapping connections between them remain irresistible – as I’m sure they will continue to be to future generations.
If Adolf Hitler
Flew in today
They’d send a limousine
Anyway… – The Clash, “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” (1978)
1 Chris Salawicz, The Ballad Of Joe Strummer, Faber & Faber Inc. 2006. Page 117.
2 Simpson, Colin; Knightley, Phillip (June 1968). Sunday Times. The pieces appeared on the 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th of June, and were based mostly on the narrative of John Bruce.
3 Brown, Malcolm (1988). The Letters of T.E. Lawrence. Letter to W.F. Stirling, Deputy Chief Political Officer, Cairo, June 28, 1919
“How to be an adult” is not a pose we often ask our favorite pop musicians to strike. But what if they’ve just written a memoir and recorded a Christmas album – is it an appropriate set of questions to ask then? Three decades-plus into a life in the spotlight, Tracey Thorn is one of the few stars creatively well equipped, possessing the depth of experience and a publicly honest-enough disposition to give answers that won’t sound like PR bullshit.
Maybe it’s the practice. She started the twee-folk Marine Girls at sixteen; helped guide Everything But the Girl through nearly twenty years of musical changes, before quitting pop for parenthood with partner Ben Watt; and has, in the 21st century, balanced being a mother of three and a singer-songwriter as comfortable making house music as she is country, with a serious-ass Twitter habit to boot. In other words, she’s exactly the kind of person you’d want to record a holiday album and write a memoir – because she can invest each with some long-term sense and perspective. The former, Tinsel and Lights, features two great new originals alongside interpretations of songs by Dolly Parton, The White Stripes, Low and Scritti Politti (whose singer Green Gartside comes out the woodwork for a guest duet); the latter, the deliciously-titled Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star (to be published in February 2013), is a frank stroll through her accidental career. And, considering the season, we are seriously digging this advent calendar Thorn put together, too. All this is just the sort of activity that made this a perfect time to chat to this self-described “natterer” about issues more pressing than the “new album”... Though, of course, we did that too.
The Daily Swarm: Can you tell me about your relationship to holiday records in your life? Did you have any favorite ones? How did they affect making Tinsel and Lights?
Tracey Thorn: When I was a kid, I did not have any Christmas albums, but there were always Christmas singles. It was kind of a big deal: bands would release Christmas singles, and there was a competition for who would have the Christmas number one. I’m talking about the ‘70s Christmas musical landscape here – groups like Slade and Wizard. I didn’t own a Christmas album until I heard Phil Spector’s, which I bought in my late teens and thought was amazing. Recently, people have rediscovered the idea of doing them: there was that record Low made a few years ago that I really liked; then the Sufjan Stevens records started coming out. That opened my eyes to the fact that you could approach Christmas music in a sincere, serious way. It didn’t have to be a kitsch, jokey novelty record – you could actually make a proper album around the theme of Christmas, and use it to explore some interesting things musically. From that point, I started thinking, “You know there’s a lot of songs out there I like.” The great thing about making a Christmas record is that it gives you your theme before you start, and that’s often the hardest thing about a record. The story’s there – you just have to pick the songs that fit the theme. It was kind of easy to do, fun, wasn’t too grueling – just a little project that I could set myself up with, and enjoy doing. I made a long list of songs. At the top of the list were ones with “Christmas” in the title, then all the ones with “winter” in the title, then any that mention snow or even it being cold, or people ice-skating; I had a very long list. At that point, it became fun just to pick and choose the ones I most wanted to sing. It gave me an excuse to sing them all, with this thematic link that glued them all together.
The Daily Swarm: Was there anything on the list you really wanted to do but didn’t make it?
Tracey Thorn: Probably the biggest was Wham’s “Last Christmas” – that was near the top of my list of songs I wanted to do. I struggled with a few versions, and just couldn’t think of how to do it. Then I began to wonder, “Are people going to think I am being ironic or clever about it?” I love the original so much that I don’t want to do a lesser version. So I put it aside with a slightly heavy heart.
The Daily Swarm: Everything But the Girl had at least two songs that already broached Christmas themes, “Come On Home” and “25th of December.” Had you previously considered doing a project like this? And how did the writing of the Christmas originals for Tinsel and Lights differ from your approach to those older songs?
Tracey Thorn: Back in the past, making a Christmas record would never have occurred to me at all. Ironically, “Come on Home,” which has the line in it “Every day’s like Christmas Day without you/It’s cold and there’s nothing to do,” that was held up by my family for years as the great evidence that I hated Christmas. [laughs] I was never forgiven. I’ve had to live that down ever since, as someone who wrote an ironic lyric once about it.
Whereas “Joy” is the whole reason this record exists at all. I wrote it last Christmas. I do this sometimes, when songs just come into my mind fully formed. I was sitting in a café while my kids were ice-skating, with a hot chocolate or something, and looking out at this Christmas-y kind of scene, and “Joy” just came into my mind. I was scrambling for bits of paper to write it down on. And when I got home, I thought, “That’s it – now that I’ve just written this song, I can hang the rest of the record on it.” Because it was my song that says everything I wanted to say about Christmas, what it means to me, and why I like it. “Joy” was really the trigger point.
The Daily Swarm: Was the idea of playing a song that was completely yours at home during the holidays with the kids a factor in the making of the record at all?
Tracey Thorn: [laughs] What – you think they’re going to let me play my record here in the house? [belly laughs] They may have to listen to music that is on in the house, but if it was my music, I think that they would really put their foot down. It was recorded in a little studio we have in the basement of the house, just downstairs from the kitchen. So even with the doors shut, you can easily hear what’s happening in that room. And there were days when I would come up at the end of the day, and they would just be sitting stone-faced at the kitchen table going, “Have you stopped singing that song now?” So I imagine that they don’t want to hear it again, any time soon.
The Daily Swarm: You’ve now been making music almost continually for over thirty years, since you were a teen. What were your expectations of your music career when it started and when it was progressing? Did you think you were going to be a musician your whole life?
Tracey Thorn: I was in the Marine Girls already by the time I went to university. But really, it was very much a hobby. It was a time when the whole DIY scene was really exploding and there were lots of kids who wouldn’t normally have gotten involved in music who were drawn into forming a band and thinking they could make records. It was just what you did. We were not career-minded at all. I don’t think we looked at it in that light. When I went off to university I was deferring having to make the decision of what my career was going to be. I enjoyed studying English literature and I thought that would be a useful thing to do and maybe I’d wind up in, I don’t know, journalism or the media or as a teacher. I wasn’t thinking that music was how I was going to earn my living. It became my career largely by accident, just because once I met up with Ben and made a couple of records, they became successful.
The Daily Swarm: I ask this within the context of how your career has progressed and swerved pretty uncompromisingly. You and Ben made a conscious decision to stop the band and have a personal life – a strong, very clear-headed decision that not a lot of people make. It seems like it was always within your character to ask, “Is this really what I want to be doing?” Did those kinds of thoughts come up?
Tracey Thorn: A lot of the time I used to agonize over the career I found myself in. I thought that I was a square-peg in a round-hole. In many respects, I wasn’t cut out for the job. For a lot of people, what motivates them to get into music is a desperate urge to perform and to be in front of an audience. You hear people say they feel most alive or most themselves on stage, and I was just the exact opposite. I was someone who felt more alive in the library. I enjoyed writing songs very much. I loved being in a band. But the whole flamboyant pop star part of it – I never quite fit it. Some of the time, I was trying to move towards becoming something like that; some of the time, I would turn my back on it completely. But it was an ongoing conversation that I was having for years and years. In the end, I think I made peace with it, and I learned how to be largely myself and still do music. But the point that we stopped and had kids came at the end of a time where we were very successful, in the wake of “Missing.” That stretched me to my limit: I was very glad to take a complete break from it and say, “I’ve achieved an awful lot, and much of it was fun and great. Now can I stop for a while, please?”
The Daily Swarm: Did you feel the period before the international pop stardom hit full blast was in some ways easier for you?
Tracey Thorn: [pauses] Probably it was. That is not to say that I did not enjoy the stardom when it came. You’d have to be churlish not to find some of it enormous fun, and none of us are so puritanical that we don’t enjoy people making a fuss over us, telling us we’re fabulous. I suppose what I am describing is not a total dislike of it but a genuine ambivalence of it, a feeling that I was struggling to live up to what this required of me.
The Daily Swarm: Do you think this was as much due to your personality as it was to your indie/post-punk background and upbringing?
Tracey Thorn: It was entirely a personality thing. I outgrew that feeling that music should only exist at a more indie level quite quickly, and I felt that musically, Everything But the Girl did have a rightful place with a wider audience. I did have ambition in that regard. It was more of being able to live up to being a pop star – being somebody who feels happy on stage and enjoys making videos, and can actually present themselves as a star-type figure.
The Daily Swarm: Well, it’s a mask, is it not? As a writer, you can wear a mask when writing your song characters all the time, but not so much the one that was required of you to embrace being a pop star.
Tracey Thorn: Maybe. It was, I felt, a phony kind of mask. In the songs, I was trying to tell genuine, quite true, quite detailed stories that had subtlety to them – and obviously the one thing that you can’t be as a pop star is subtle. [laughs] In other performers, I enjoy a lack of subtlety. I enjoy larger than life, two-dimensional characters. I can totally see how that works. I just can’t really do it myself.
The Daily Swarm: Because I follow you in Twitter, I know that you are a huge fan of [the music reality TV show] X Factor. Can you talk a little about reconciling this derision of pop phoniness and the fascination of watching others reach with all their might for it?
Tracey Thorn: [sheepish laughter] It’s true, I am completely fascinated by it. Some people are appalled that I watch it. [assumes another voice] “Oh, it’s killing music – it’s the absolutely worst aspect of the music industry and you’re just lowering yourself by watching it.” I think people make a terrible mistake to regard all the contestants as being the same. They aren’t. They all come from someplace slightly different, with something slightly different to offer. And they are all at least partly deluded about what they think they’re going to get, and what they think it’s going to be like. So, as someone who’s been in music all this time, to watch other people engage with music and potential stardom, of course I’m fascinated [laughs]. It’s a human drama going on – people yearning for something they don’t even really know what. And then just on a fundamental level, I love hearing people sing who aren’t yet familiar voices – that moment from the auditions when someone walks on stage for the first time, opens their mouth, and you really don’t know what they’re going to sound like. I genuinely identify with that moment when a mic is put into their hand, they’re pushed out onto the stage, and they sing.
Now, there is absolutely no doubt that the show has a downward trajectory. You get these people who are sometimes really raw talents, and they’re given a mentor who is supposed to train them, and without fail the contestants get worse. It’s a shame; I wish the producers could find a way to actually enhance the raw talent. But that’s not what the program is good at.
The Daily Swarm: Is there one thing that you, with your experience, would want to tell all these contestants – a piece of advice you think they could all use?
Tracey Thorn: The only thing I would say – and I sort of hope they know it, but I don’t know if they do – is that they are walking into the lion’s den. They’re often very young; I expect they think it will be a slightly kinder environment than it is, and they’re probably not prepared for that. On the other hand, it’s just a microcosm of what the music industry is, and if they genuinely want to have a go, they might as well find out now. It’s a brutal introduction to that knowledge, and sometimes I do watch it feeling protective towards them. They seem vulnerable and you think, “Wow, they’re not old enough to take on board what’s about to happen here.” They have such high hopes, and you know that, in the vast majority of cases, none of those hopes will ever come to fruition.
The Daily Swarm: You’ve got an awesomely titled memoir about to come out. One of the things I find interesting about your career, and you alluded to it earlier, is that your biggest success came with music that was built more for the club than your previous music, and was recorded when you and Ben were already in your thirties – not old by any stretch, but older than the club culture of the past two decades expects its participants to be. You also continue to work around dance music with kids who are teens. So, tell me, how does being a Bedsit Disco Queen work in your life creatively and logistically?
Tracey Thorn: There’s a level at which these things connect to what I was saying earlier about the performance thing. This isn’t really a reason why we did it, but one of the things I really enjoyed about the point when our records started getting played in clubs is that it gave me a presence in front of an audience which did not require me to be present. Before that, when we did gigs, audiences were seated, people would listen, and it would be quite respectful and great and appropriate to the music we were making. But after a few years, that become a little tame, and you start thinking, “We’re getting older and our audience is getting older with us – is this it, now?” It was a whole new, exciting, active context – people were actually dancing to our songs, but I wasn’t required to stand up on the stage being a big-time performer. I could do my bit back in the studio, and with the right production on the track, the song had an existence beyond me. I really liked that: it made me feel the music could go out into the world and do something, and do it without me.
The Daily Swarm: Around the time of Todd Terry’s remix of “Missing” became a hit, did you find yourself going to the clubs to see the context in which it was being played?
Tracey Thorn: Yeah. Ben started DJ’ing around the same time, so that when I did go out, it was because he was DJ’ing at some point, and it was quite exciting. Again, because we were inevitably older and because we thought life was going to start quieting down a bit, it was like a new lease on life: Ben was playing records, and I was on the dancefloor. People were around me whispering, “Oh, that’s Tracey Thorn,” so I felt ten years younger than I actually was. It was reinvigorating. But it couldn’t go on forever, and I have to admit that I don’t do that now.
I still do feel that connection though. And at the moment, as I am at a point of thinking what to do next; the last couple of things I’ve done have been more acoustic based, and Love and Its Opposite was a more downbeat kind of thing, I’m thinking that maybe the next thing I do should be a lot more electronic again. I still find it quite inspiring: it’s a kick up the pants having to work to that level, and it makes you write slightly differently, because there are different requirements. Although our songs have always been very song-y, even when they were on the dancefloor, there are still different demands if they’re going to work there. You make more use of repetition and refrains. When I write acoustic songs, they’re more pieces of prose really that I happen to set to music. They have different functions.
The Daily Swarm: It’s fair to say that you’ve had an unconventional career: in the underground, in big-time pop and club music, stepping away to have kids, and now being a working-mother musician. There was an article that came out in The Atlantic last summer that re-started a new conversation around the very loaded topic, “Can women have it all, careers and families?” So I’d be interested in hearing your take on what you’ve seen change from a gender perspective, and how you’ve approached it.
Tracey Thorn: The thing is, I’ve been around for a long time, so I suppose I’ve seen lots of different changes. The era I started in, in the wake of punk and post-punk, we were very much a ‘70s generation, dogmatic in our politics: vehemently anti-racist, anti-sexist, right-on lefties. It became increasingly difficult to hang onto that during the ‘80s because, by the mid-‘80s, those kinds of ideals got swept aside; a more ambition-based, commercial approach to pop music started to take over, even among bands. So you began to seem out of date hopping on about sexism when you discuss Madonna or something, because it sounded like an old-fashioned argument that you were having. And it felt like the era I’d come from, the women who inspired me – whether it was Patti Smith or Siouxsie Sioux – were quite unconventional looking. I had plenty of role models when I started for the idea that you could be an unconventional-looking woman but still have your place on stage; you had a right to be there, and you got on with it. But from the mid-‘80s on, the more conventional idea of what women performers were supposed to look like began creeping back in. For a while, I felt out of step from the way things had gone, still a remnant from a previous era.
The other thing that I think affected my experience was that I was operating as part of a duo, with Ben. At times, I was protected from some of the expectations because I wasn’t seen as being something representative on my own. I think that spared me some of the speculation. Most of the time, I wasn’t expected to be sexy in videos, because I wasn’t regarded as being in that area of music.
The Daily Swarm: That speaks a lot to the significance of the appearance of women in music. Could you talk a little bit about your career arc, about consciously choosing one life path as opposed to another, and how people in the music industry who were in the business of Everything But the Girl met that decision? That’s a pretty unique case for somebody who was as popular as your group was.
Tracey Thorn: Well, certainly no one ever said to my face, “That’s appalling – you can’t do that.” I can only speculate what was said behind my back. We had a woman manager, which made it easier, and she was having kids at the same time. To be fair, I think people saw it coming. In the last year, I was becoming increasingly reluctant in the work I was doing, starting to say no to things, and withdrawing a little bit from the promotional stuff. People saw I was slowly starting to pull out of it. I imagine there was a great deal of annoyance that happened because of the timing. The point at which I actually announced to people that we were stopping was when were offered the support slot of the U2 tour in America. It almost crystallized for me that we either got on this treadmill properly and went with it wherever it was going to take us, or it was time for me to be honest and say not just the fact that I want to have kids, but that I don’t really want to be doing that. Stopping and having kids was what I actually wanted to do, but it also gave me the perfect excuse to stop. I took that as an opportunity to change my life completely.
You asked about women “having it all” in this business. The thing that made it particularly difficult for us was that we were a couple in the band: once we have those kids, we both have those kids. It wasn’t even a question of being able to leave the kids with the other parent and go back on tour. We actually did a tour where we took the girls on tour with us when they were eighteen months old. It was hell, you know? It was just horrible. [laughs] The thing is, we took a nanny, so logistically it all worked; I got myself on stage every night, but kids just want your attention every waking hour of the day. And I found that the split I was talking about before, being a self-conscious performer anyway – this was thrown into relief: I found I was really happy with the kids during the day, when I was being mom, enjoying that role. At the end of the day, I’d put them to bed at the hotel, go back to the gig, and get on stage; I found that I didn’t enjoy being that person as much. I never had totally, and now I was confronted with this slightly schizophrenic experience of being mom and a pop star. I thought since I enjoy being mom, maybe I should concentrate on that instead of feeling like I’m not doing either one of them really well. At that point, I said to people properly, I’m going to stop now.
The Daily Swarm: And now with a recording studio beneath the kitchen, and a memoir coming out, it seems like you have almost a novelist’s lifestyle.
Tracey Thorn: It is a little like that. Sometimes I get cross with the kids because they think I don’t work at all. I try to do most of it in the hours that they’re at school, and I don’t go off on tour, so that doesn’t infringe on their life. But that suits me. That’s the choice I’ve made. People sometimes say, “Your kids are grown up now – you can get back to touring,” and I think, “There’s obviously a reason why I’m not doing that.” It’s not really down to how old the kids are.
In the past week, the cast of the hit television show Glee released its new Christmas album, its third holiday-themed collection, and fourteenth full-length effort – capping global sales of more than twelve million albums and nearly fifty million songs in the three-plus years since the musical series became a phenomenon. Nearly simultaneously, the pop-rock group fun. set records with the announcement of their six nominations for the upcoming Grammy Awards: they are now the first rock band to garner nominations in the elite music prize’s top four categories, including “Record of the Year,” “Album of the Year,” and “Song of the Year” – the latter for “We Are Young,” fun.‘s worldwide #1 smash that became an inescapably viral pop-culture anthem since its release in fall 2011.
The two events are not mutually exclusive – neither might have happened without the efforts of one PJ Bloom. Bloom is one of Hollywood’s top music supervisors, belonging in the rarefied company of Alex Patsavas, who put together the Twilight soundtrack successes and also places the songs in hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy, and Randall Poster, the musical savant who guides auteurs like Wes Anderson towards memorable tracks and also gives Boardwalk Empire its appropriate sonic patina. As such, Bloom’s most massive success stems from his work on Glee, where he helped reincarnate nostalgic hits of yesteryear like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” into cross-generational smashes. At the same time, Bloom pushed Glee‘s musical choices into the present with his early championing of fun.‘s “We Are Young”: having the show’s cast sing the song as a pivotal plot moment in the previous season proved the first salvo that helped launch “We Are Young” into the stratosphere.
Bloom’s recent triumphs build on a two-decade-plus career studded by savvy choices and forward tastemaking, resulting in numerous platinum plaques and industry honors. In addition to overseeing every musical aspect of the Glee franchise, Bloom has worked on series like American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck, CSI: Miami, and The Shield, shouldering prestige projects like HBO‘s Angels In America, and blockbuster films like Eat, Pray, Love alongside edgy indie fare that sometimes never makes it far beyond the festival circuit.
Indeed, in addition to the seemingly never-ending Glee enterprise, Bloom never quite seems to sit still for long. He continues to work on Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s ever-expanding television empire, including recent successes American Horror Story and The New Normal. Elsewhere on the small screen, Bloom will also oversee music for True Blood/Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball’s upcoming new show Banshee, as well as a six-hour documentary series on the 1980s for National Geographic. Bloom’s also ventured beyond music supervision into publishing, signing acts like Far East Movement well before they had top 40 chart/radio hits like “The Rocketeer” and “Like a G6”; he recently signed buzz band Dead Sara to a publishing deal just as major labels are knocking down the band’s door, but not before Muse chose them as opening act for much of their 2013 arena tour – a pretty amazing feat for an as-yet-unsigned group. Moving into multimedia, Bloom is collaborating with film director/famed Michael Jackson choreographer Kenny Ortega and mogul Steve Wynn on a huge, immersive, hi-tech show for the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas to premiere in 2014 (“Think The Great American Songbook meets EDM,” Bloom explains). It’s all a part of Bloom’s fascinating run as one of the music industry’s most innovative figures, one whose livelihood has taken him from shoegaze soundtracks and getting wasted with Ministry’s Al Jourgensen to championing teenage vocal choirs and beyond – as this immersive, intimately sprawling interview makes abundantly clear.
The Daily Swarm: How did fun. become the first band to debut an original track on Glee?
PJ Bloom: It was an incredibly poignant thing to happen in my world. Those guys in fun. and [top Warner Music Group executive, soon to be Interscope presidential something] John Janick are friends of mine. A few months before, John came to my office in L.A. He’d just gotten the “We Are Young” track mastered right out of the studio, and was like, “Dude, you have to hear this song! It’s absolutely perfect for Glee.” Which I hear all the time – a thousand times a day.
The Daily Swarm: Indeed, songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’” aren’t exactly growing on trees.
PJ Bloom: Well, no. We don’t break bands on this show: we shadow popular culture. We don’t typically play an A&R role, but if you have had a hit song from the last forty years then we probably are going to touch you at some point. But when John played me “We Are Young,” it really was a perfect Glee song, with this huge chorus and big choral group thing happening. I sent it to [the show’s creator] Ryan Murphy and said, “Look, it would be amazing if we did anything with it.” So, fast forward two months later, and Ryan calls me and says “I want to do it.” I’m, like “Really?” It was one of those rock and roll, very unusual star-aligning moments that just don’t happen very often.
The Daily Swarm: Was the song out yet?
PJ Bloom. No. I think they were teasing radio on their preliminary radio campaign, dropping it to program directors who were familiar with the band, but not giving it the big radio push yet. I called John and told him we’re going to do “We Are Young” in the next three weeks. He flips out and can’t believe it, because it’s going to time out perfectly with everything they are doing. Atlantic put their machine into motion and start driving traffic toward us, and we start driving traffic toward them. The big thing that everybody was saying was Glee is taking a different turn because they never do this – they never put their stamp on a band, but they’ve done it, and it worked. You know, who the heck is fun. and how did Glee find out about that song before anybody? It was a huge victory for me, a huge statement about Glee that we actually can take an A&R position and be involved in breaking a band.
The Daily Swarm: There seemed to be a shift on Glee to slightly newer songs.
PJ Bloom: Probably the closest thing we’ve done like that is using “Sing” by My Chemical Romance, which is certainly a band that people already knew, who had hit singles and a fan base. What went from me throwing something up against the wall to see if it sticks has now become my marching orders, and the model. Ryan Murphy called me and said, “I want to do this five times.”
The Daily Swarm: That’s smart.
PJ Bloom: It is smart, and an enormously uphill battle; if the stars align one more time, I would be shocked. But I like the fact that the show, the producers and the studio and the networks are like, “This is great! We can do this! We can change the model!”
The Daily Swarm: Well, Glee changed the model of music on television.
PJ Bloom: Its interesting: when we were making the pilot, I wont say I didn’t get the concept, but I didn’t want to know what the glee club was. In high school, I wasn’t a glee kid, or in the choir, or any of that stuff; I was the stoner kid that ditched class.
The Daily Swarm: Did you grow up in L.A. and engage all of the youth-culture modes that dominated the city at that time?
PJ Bloom: Yeah. I was punk, then new wave. I had the Flock of Seagulls haircut, but then got into Priest and Saxon and grew my hair down to my ass.
The Daily Swarm: So you went from new wave to New Wave of British Heavy Metal?
PJ Bloom: I was kind of out of it by the time hair metal took over. I never subscribed to one scene; I subscribed to a lot of scenes. I was just a music freak. It was a great time for music. It was fifth or sixth grade when my best buddy at the time showed up to school with two cassettes: David Bowie’s Changes One and the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks.
The Daily Swarm: A life-changing moment.
PJ Bloom: I can picture in my mind like it was yesterday, him handing me the Sex Pistols cassette, me seeing the cover and saying “What is this?” He said, “Just listen to it. My older brother gave it to me, and it’s changing my life right now.”
The Daily Swarm: What was the kind of music your family played at home?
PJ Bloom: My parents had albums like The Man of La Mancha – maybe they had a Hair soundtrack somewhere.
The Daily Swarm: Did you haunt the local record stores, back when there were record stores?
PJ Bloom: As soon as I was old enough to get on the bus, I would take any ounce of change that I could scrape together and I would just go through the record store bins. I would dork out on the liner notes, lay out the gatefold sleeves just like the characters in High Fidelity. I would totally re-alphabetize and rearrange my records all the time just to touch them and smell the cardboard. I acquired all this useless knowledge that I was able to parlay into an actual living. No one’s more shocked than me. Someone will mention a band or song, and I’ll start rattling off some obscure piece of trivia about the particular session and the guitar player and how they recorded and all that, and my wife will just stare at me and ultimately say something like, “What is the matter with you?” It’s only within the last five-to-seven years that people are directing their efforts at becoming music supervisors. People like from my generation who were music geeks, we just kind of like fell into it. We always had the record collections
The Daily Swarm: How did you go from teen music obsessive to working on Glee?
PJ Bloom: I’d been working with Ryan Murphy and the guys that created the show for about eight years already. We had done Nip/Tuck together, which was on its last season. Ryan calls me up and says, “All right, I know what my next project is. Why don’t you come to my office on the Paramount lot and let me tell you about it.” So I go to his office, sit down, and he says the words “glee club.” I just kind of stared at him, glassy eyed; it was not registering. I usually have some witty rhetorical comment, but when he said “glee club,” I remember thinking, “Man, I got nothing!” Then he pulls up YouTube on his computer, and literally starts showing me high school auditorium performances, filmed by moms in the audience with their video cameras; all I’m really seeing is some decent white people singing popular songs, doing decent white-people choreography. Ryan kind of looks at me, so I say, “Well, you’re the genius: I’m not sure I’m connecting, but I trust you and I’m here to serve. Let’s do this.” Once he kind of explained the concept, we spent the next eight months of preproduction discovering how we were going to create the mechanism that was going to allow us to make a full-blown musical from week to week.
The Daily Swarm: I imagine there was a lot of technical and logistical work you had to do, like securing rights and so on.
PJ Bloom: Yes, all that stuff. I was the one who was managing the initial demo process for “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Ryan knew early on that this would be the anchor song for the initial pilot episode and series; it was really going to be the theme song for the first season. I probably worked through fifty demos of this song with different arrangements, different arrangers, and different producers, trying to find the right sound and team. Ultimately, I locked into the personnel that are still on the show now, and we figured out the way we were going to do it.
The Daily Swarm: Did you know then you were tapping into the Zeitgeist?
PJ Bloom: We ended up making the pilot, and it was really one of those moments. I’ve done this for a lot of years now, worked on hundreds of hours of television, and it’s very unusual when you have those special moments where a collective conscience really believes something special is going on. It was very clear to all of us at that point that something special was happening.
The Daily Swarm: How did that manifest?
PJ Bloom: Just through the performances and everything Ryan had written, all of the songs that we’d chosen, all the recordings we had done, the no-name actors that nobody knew, the sets, the sort of hyper-reality world that we created. Once the cameras started rolling, it was really an amazing thing for everybody. It looked great. It felt great. Even if nothing happened, if nobody got it, if the audience didn’t take to it or whatever, I still very much believe that that moment for me and those involved was a really special thing.
The Daily Swarm: When people think of music supervisors, they think they’re the specialists who are able to find that rare jewel of coolness – who know the trendiest stuff that’s going to turn into a hit before anyone else. But with Glee, you got to play with the fabric of classic songs for once, as opposed of being the go-to “cool” guy.
PJ Bloom: In the spirit of my career, that was an odd thing. I had really developed a niche for myself within the framework of music supervision as, like, that tastemaker – the cutting-edge guy into electronic music or whatever was two years farther out in the future than anybody else was. That was fun, and I had success at it; I was able to find a public forum where I could exploit my passion for and knowledge of music, which was neat for me. And then the most success I’ve had, that was recognized by the entire world, came from the poppiest of in the history of pop television shows, which could not have been less my bag. I certainly know and love all those songs, and they have meaning in my life, but I’d since tucked them away. Suddenly I found myself re-immersed in that stuff, and it was an odd manifestation of the pinnacle of my career. Like, wow, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey has now changed my life – not just spiritually, but literally: it changed my economic status, my tax status. All of it was hugely bizarre to me. Alternately, I just put Throwing Muses in American Horror Story, by the way. It was weird, it just kind of happened. There’s a character on the show who’s this dark goth chick, and when you go into her room, she always has an iPod on or something in the background, so we put Throwing Muses “Hate My Way” in there. Kristin [Hersh] was over the moon. I’m an old, freaky goth 4AD dude – that moment right there is so much more me than Glee would ever be.
The Daily Swarm: The genius of Glee is that it takes classic songs, but they manage to hit the young psyche in the sweet spot. That’s pretty nuanced, finding that balance.
PJ Bloom: Ryan creates these relatable characters and storylines, and is able to interweave these songs into plot points and keep things interesting. I don’t think any single element works; it’s a collective of all the things happening together. You have old foxes like me who know all these songs and can point to the moments when they came out for the first time – where we were, and how we feel about them. Then this teen generation, who is really the core audience for the show, they’re learning about this stuff from our versions, which is amazing. They’re becoming attracted to these songs through the context of Glee, going back and finding the original artists; that makes you realize that a good song is a good song – it doesn’t matter when it comes out, or who’s recording it. It really unites the generations: parents watch the show with their kids and get to share t moments like, “If you like this version of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” let me tell you about this other band, Journey.” It’s really amazing for me to be caught up in this phenomenon.
The Daily Swarm: In an era of downloads killing physical sales, what has Glee meant for the music industry?
PJ Bloom: The tours have been huge, and the records are selling like hotcakes; at one point, we’d sold 30 to 35 million singles, and 15 million albums worldwide. Four days from the episode where we had the fun. song, we pushed a quarter-million singles. Every time an episode hits the airwaves, I own five spots in the top ten on iTunes; those songs would just sit there for days.
The Daily Swarm: Some of them become seemingly permanent fixtures in the pop-culture landscape.
PJ Bloom: Yeah, we’ve had really absurd milestones. We’ve had more singles on the charts than any single artist, ever – The Beatles, Elvis, James Brown, all that stuff. It’s kind of amazing that nobody ever figured out how to do this before. Television musicals before tried to do it with original songs; we’re tapping into something that’s already had cultural success – that has an audience. But then we started doing original tracks in our second season: we reached out to some major songwriters, and they wrote a couple of songs for us that became hits. I also have to hand it to Fox. Another reason that a lot of these shows fail is that they don’t put the money into it that Fox have.
The Daily Swarm: When I first saw Glee and noticed the marquee value of the songs you were choosing, I thought, “Wow, what is this fucking costing?”
PJ Bloom: It costs a lot of money. The pilot alone was seven million dollars, if not more. It’s the kind of money that doesn’t get spent on television. And the television musical has never been successful; as a genre, it’s failed so miserably – like crashed and burned in a fiery explosion on at least two different occasions. So to their credit, Fox said if were going to do this, were going to do this right, and they spent money! They hired the right personnel, and allowed me to bring in the amount of people that it took to do it so that one person wasn’t doing the job of five people. One person was doing the job of one person, which is how it should work.
The Daily Swarm: That sounds like a lot of money, but at the same time, those songs are doing a lot of the marketing and branding legwork.
PJ Bloom: Well, I’ll tell you another story. When we made the pilot, we knew we were going to do the iTunes thing and release our songs and compilation albums; that was absolutely always part of the model. So we start going around to majors, soliciting a record company partner. I’ve probably produced twenty-five soundtracks you know. Maybe three percent of the soundtracks I’ve produced ever had an advance attached to it, and I’ve never had multiple people fighting over them; it was always me begging, “Please put out this record. Please make this record with me.” This was four years ago, so I think there were still six major labels around – and I had at least three of them in at high seven digits, and the rest of the majors were in at high six digits, which is unheard of. I couldn’t believe the amount of money that was getting thrown around on a show that hadn’t aired yet – something for which they’d only saw the pilot, that had actors in it that nobody had ever heard of, and we were doing cover songs. Expensive karaoke! Columbia Records ended up being our suitor and soundtrack partner; a lot of money they threw at this, and I was fucking shocked. But they made their money back, almost on “Don’t Stop Believin’” alone: within the first week of the show airing, our cover of that song went gold. Corporations don’t think like that, like “Lets spend this money because were going to make it back.” Everyone’s still counting every fucking penny. All the other majors who didn’t get the gig were either really pissed off or were looking at Columbia like, “You guys gotta be the biggest suckers in the world – I can’t believe you’re spending that kind of money.” Three or four episodes in, Columbia made their money back. Done.
The Daily Swarm: The thing is about Glee songs, they’re tied into the narrative – that’s the art of music supervision. The tracks that have an emotional impact on the show are the ones that seem to really take flight on the charts.
PJ Bloom: There is no standalone soundtrack. People don’t buy soundtracks just because they have good songs. And that’s the Glee experience: people love the songs wholly – not just the songs, not just the characters, not just the storylines but all of it. Everything has to be intertwined into the whole piece. If I’m doing an independent film or some hipster show, I’ll usually have the producer, director, film studio that I’m working with always convinced that something is great for the soundtrack – that people are going to want it. In the most political way possible, I respond, “Honestly, soundtrack success isn’t tied into songs. It’s tied into the audience wanting to relive the experience that they had in the movie theater, or relive the experience they had sitting in front of the television.” If we’re creating a film or show, hopefully we’re making the right one that tells an incredible story, and the characters are amazing. People attach themselves to it, and the soundtrack is equally amazing, so when people come out of the movie theater saying that was the best fuckin’ movie I’ve ever seen, they want to relive that experience. It’s only then they’ll go to iTunes.
The Daily Swarm: A great example is Reservoir Dogs. When it first came out, it was filled with no-name actors and an unknown first-time director. But it blew people’s minds, and the soundtrack followed suit.
PJ Bloom: It was a great movie, and the music was genius. Tarantino harvested old ditties and obscure songs, and the imagery attached to them was amazing. So much of it was playing against type – an innocuous pop song would be playing while some guy is getting his fucking ear cut off.
The Daily Swarm: Drive is another recent example of the soundtrack meshing with people’s experience of the movie.
PJ Bloom: The backstory of that film getting made is that it was supposed be a huge eighty-million-dollar summer action film, and they had a major star attached to it. All of a sudden, the star drops out, and the studio doesn’t want to put any money behind it. It goes from an eighty-million-dollar special-effects blow out to a ten-million-dollar art film. But that’s where it became real for a lot of people. I’m still a huge proponent of music supervision; I’m a believer that a soundtrack can be effective. I’m a believer that you can have cool, hip things that the general public responds to, and has mass success. But I then flash back ten or so years ago, when I was way more cool – when I had way more hair dye and was doing hip independent films. I would mine the fields for the coolest shit out there: I knew that these soundtracks were ultimately brilliant as compilation albums, not as a whole experience. I was so certain that the general public would attach themselves to my music supervision brilliance and all the cool things that I know about music and my ear for the new of the new. And it never happened. Not once. My nerdy friends might tell me something I did was cool, but that’s it – and that’s actually more than I need! But the stuff that I thought was some of the coolest stuff in the world, people didn’t really care about.
The Daily Swarm: Like what?
PJ Bloom: If someone asks me what my favorite project that I’ve done is – you know, “Which is it, Glee or Nip/Tuck? – I say nope, it’s a movie from the ‘90s called Joyride. It was one of Tobey Maguire’s first films, but no one’s ever seen it; I’m pretty sure I never got paid. But that’s my favorite soundtrack because I had the idea to go to 4AD Records: I was just a geeky 4AD Records fan, and I felt like this movie lent itself to what they were doing, so I reached out to [founder] Ivo Watts-Russell and Robin Hurley, who was managing the label at the time, and actually got to them. Ivo watched the film and said, “Yeah, I’ll do the soundtrack for you.” My partner and I got to spend three weeks in an office on Hollywood Boulevard, with Ivo smoking three packs a day, pulling out DAT tapes of Cocteau Twins material no one’s ever heard – all kinds of incredible 4AD tracks that never made the albums. I just got to geek out with somebody who singlehandedly started movements – who’s created one of the most significantly important record labels of our time, and that still holds up today. We had the classic 4AD album logo on the soundtrack, with my name sitting right there on the friggin’ album art next to it. That was an OMG moment for me, in my life; in terms of true music geekiness, there’s just no other moment that really compares. I’ve certainly had a shitload of wins, more than a lot of people and it’s been fantastic – but when people ask me what’s the favorite thing I’ve ever done, it’s an obscure movie that nobody ever saw, and a soundtrack that nobody ever bought.
The Daily Swarm: How has doing what you do brought you into contact with experiences you might not have had doing a more straight job?
PJ Bloom: One of my favorites was meeting Al Jourgensen – oh my god, the single greatest meeting I’ve ever had. Al had just shorted his longstanding Warner Bros. lawsuits and got his albums back, and a mutual friend was taking him around. He said, “I think you’ll appreciate who Al is, and his art form and all that stuff”; I was like, “Fuck yeah, I’d love to meet him!” Al came to my office in Beverly Hills, looking exactly what I wanted him to look like: huge combat boots, tight jeans, crazy fucking beard, graying long hair all dreaded out – It’s just Al mutherfuckin’ Jourgensen sitting in my office. It got loose pretty fast: we’re geeking out on different music, I’m acting like a geeky fan, he’s connecting with me, asking me questions – and then he asks if I have any alcohol. I said, “As a matter of fact I do!” I pull out a bottle, and pour a couple of couple glasses, and he starts smoking weed. Flash forward three hours later, the whole office is filled with smoke, we’re both drunk and stoned, and he’s my buddy, my pal. He still sends me Christmas cards.
The Daily Swarm: Did you ever place any of Al’s music?
PJ Bloom: Maybe I have. I never really make it about that; those are just some of the pinnacle things that a very small set of people would truly appreciate.
The Daily Swarm: A lot of people’s formative music experiences occur in college. Was that the case for you?
PJ Bloom: I went to community college here in L.A., which was a big fat waste of time. I was hanging with a bunch of losers, developed a huge cocaine habit, and was completely fucking up and wasting away. Ultimately, I figured out that the only way I’d be able to fix that is to leave Los Angeles. I ended up reapplying to a bunch of colleges, and went to the first one that accepted me, which was University of Colorado. I moved to Denver, which happens to be the only other city other than Chicago that had a Wax Trax! Records scene. I’m like, of all places, this shit-kicker city is the second hub for the goth-industrial scene, which is crazy; I had no idea. I lived two blocks from Wax Trax! and it was just bizarre. I discovered Lard and all of that crazy shit that was going on.
The Daily Swarm: Did you ever do college radio?
PJ Bloom: No, I’ve never done college radio. I did work at a radio station doing sales in college: it was one of the pinnacle ‘triple-A’ stations in the country. It wasn’t really how my love of music was manifesting itself. I was kicking around trying to figure out what I wanted to do. My parents were trying to convince me to be a a lawyer, a doctor – just something professional. I don’t even know what that means. It really took kicking around L.A., messing around with drugs and going deeper and deeper into this black hole to finally make me realize there is this music business. I played in garage bands and did that kind of stuff; it never really turned into much partly because I so completely idolized rock stars and songwriters. I certainly had fun playing in bands, but I knew I’d never be that good, nor did I ever have the wherewithal to work the craft to become that good. It hit me that there has to be a business that kind of drives this whole thing: somebody is making the records that I buy, somebody is writing the liner notes that I read, somebody is promoting this material. I had to believe that if I wasn’t going to be a rock star, there’s got to be a job somewhere in the backbone of this music culture that will allow me to surround myself with it, be around other people who do it, and make a career out of it. I figured I could be a kid in the mailroom and get a job at a record company, or I could go to college, which was what my parents really wanted me to do; I wanted to do that, too, because I liked learning and wanted a degree. I got into a fledgling music-business program – it was young, but there are many accredited ones around the world now.
The Daily Swarm: Did that degree translate into an actual job?
PJ Bloom: I came back here to L.A. with this degree and this supposed music-business knowledge: I’m like, “Oh man, I’ll be president of Atlantic Records in one year!” I thought I was going to take over. I wanted to be an A&R guy, which most people who don’t know anything about the music business think they want to do – like, if you’re not going to be a rock star, the next best thing is to discover rock stars. I couldn’t get a job at all; I ended up at Louise’s Trattoria, serving pizza and top salad to blue hairs who are leaving me like six-percent tips, paying in coupons. I hated myself: I was in debt from college, with so much drive and desire.
The Daily Swarm: How did you turn that around?
PJ Bloom: I finally succumbed to the internship concept; if I couldn’t get anyone to pay me, I was just going to work for free – I had to get in the door. I went to Columbia Records to apply to their internship program, and they said I had to be in school, so I go to UCLA and buy a $300 internship credit. So now I’ve paid $300 dollars to get a job in the music business: pay to play, in its purest form. The job was in a subdivision of the A&R department called “soundtracks.” I had my Grease and Saturday Night Fever soundtracks, but I had never thought of it as a business. Maureen Crowe was running Columbia’s soundtrack department; she’s still doing stuff like Chicago. Maureen was a an ultimate screamer: she got people do to things by putting the fear of god in them. Immersing myself in this world, it really hit me like a ton of bricks that I could have one foot in music and one in a visual medium. I wanted to dedicate myself to that craft.
The Daily Swarm: What was the state of the music business then? And what role did music supervision play?
PJ Bloom: At the time, the music industry was flush, and radio was huge; people were making money hand over fist, still breaking records. But nobody gave a damn about soundtracks. The Bodyguard was huge, but licensing income and placements in television and ads hadn’t really broken yet. There’s a crazy story about how when Michael Mann wanted to license “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins for the Miami Vice TV show, they gave it to him for $500: the record company didn’t have time to care about it because they were too busy collecting bags of cash on all the other records that were selling. The notion of “selling out” was big, and the income stream that we provided just wasn’t sufficient enough to move the needle. From there, I discovered independent music supervision. I just kind of sat under the radar, doing the thing that made me happy for six or seven years. I was able to develop relationships. There just weren’t that many people that did it; we were all friends – we’re still all very close. It was a niche thing, cool and fun, a great calling card. I was making survival money, and having a good time. Then the record business crashed, starting in the early 2000s. Now it was like, how are we going to make money? People slowly realized licensing songs had both promotional value and an income stream attached to it.
The Daily Swarm: How did that change your existence?
PJ Bloom: I went from being like the redheaded stepchild of the industry to having a spotlight put on me. They realized this instantly huge enormous audience by which to make records happen. There’s ten million people that watch Glee on a daily basis; 25 million people will see a commercial during the Superbowl. All these A&R guys started losing their jobs and said, “Well, I’ll just be a music supervisor now.” But there’s a certain skill set that you need to learn beyond how big your fucking CD collection is, or how much you know about Radiohead. You have to understand publishing, copyright, and the mechanics of the music industry: business affairs, negotiating, money flow, how campaigns are run. I find that A&R people only know A&R people. Radio promo people only know radio promo people. I was kind of centralized, so I knew everybody.
The Daily Swarm: When did music supervision become a viable, stylish profession people aspired to be in?
PJ Bloom: I think it started to change when Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place started to use songs. There were some blockbuster movie soundtracks that featured hits, and Microsoft was using The Rolling Stones and Madonna for their campaigns. The general public began to recognize these songs that they were hearing, and wanted to relive that soundtrack by buying it. A lot changed internally within the business. During the beginning of the digital era, what I did became a focal point for the business. There were less conversations about “We gotta get into this retail market and get placement at Tower Records” and more like “Who’s doing the music supervision at this show? What big summer action flick can we attach ourselves to?” We started to get taken to fancy dinners and shown some of that radio-program-director love. I kind of miss the cocaine years. Being a music supervisor was becoming hip. All that kind of good stuff that we were harvesting would find its way on the radio. Soundtracks, indie, all that stuff was cool again. It was total timing for me.
The Daily Swarm: At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be the kind of competitive douchebaggery in music supervision that you find in other music-industry gigs.
PJ Bloom: There’s enough work to go around for those who are making it happen. There’s not a lot of jealousy. People ask me all the time is it frustrating that Alex [Patsavas] is considered the leader of the music supervisors. Absolutely not! First of all, bless her for bringing more attention to this thing that we do – she’s great, and worked just as hard as the rest of us. It should be her.
The Daily Swarm: Another highlight from your career is the fact that you managed to license “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones for Nip/Tuck. How did that come about?
PJ Bloom: It was their first license to scripted episodic television, if I remember correctly. Funny moment with that actually: I’m really close with the Stones camp now, and the woman who runs their publishing company is a tough gal, but she’s fair, and I do a lot of business with her. We laugh about me coming to her for Nip/Tuck; there was just this air of “This is The Rolling Stones – you want to see the wizard? You can’t see the wizard!” I asked her why she allowed this whole thing to happen, and she told me, “Because you asked. Everyone’s afraid to talk to The Rolling Stones, but you came to me and asked.” It was just good timing, and it worked out. It’s not like I pulled off some freakin’ miracle: I was just a guy who stepped up, walked through the door, and said “Can we do this?” “Paint It Black” was a great moment, but I don’t think I’ve had some of the major victories like some of my other music supervisor friends, like what Alex did for The Killers. My career is not consistent of moments like that, where a band went from relative obscurity to being super huge solely based on something that I did. I’m hoping that this moment with fun. is going to be that moment for me. CSI: Miami, meanwhile, gave me a wonderful platform for me to really explore my electronic music side – the atmospheric, experimental end of electronic music, which is exactly what Michael Mann was doing in Miami Vice. You don’t have to be a fan of Nosaj Thing to hear one of his songs on a TV show and think, “Wow, that is cool.” That’s the thing about music supervision: it’s like an alternate-dimension radio station. At the very least, what I try to do is push the limits as much as I possibly can with the music without losing my job.
The Daily Swarm: What are the biggest ongoing challenges of what you do?
PJ Bloom: As I grow to be a successful music business participant, I realize I don’t really just get to be a fan anymore; I have to navigate this music-business field. When the curtain pulls away and you start to realize what this business really is, that’s a difficult thing for me to deal with on a daily basis. Truth be told, I don’t really know what this whole music supervision thing means for me anymore. I’ve pretty much conquered any creative demon that I may have. I’ve signed an act that has sold millions of records, I’ve sold millions of records now; I have plaques on my wall, and there’s money. Far East Movement was interesting because I signed them way before “Like a G6” ever existed; I definitely want to sign more acts and break more bands. Did I think that a 6.5 million-selling single was going to happen? Absolutely not. So I’ve satisfied my need to be cool to my peers and be cool to a mass audience; where I’m right now is struggling to figure out what the fuck is next. But I’m in an enviable position: organically, I kind of sit back in my chair with my catcher’s mitt on and stuff just comes to me. We’re all searching for that moment where we hear something that really just knocks us out of our chair. That’s very unusual, and doesn’t happen very often. If it happens to me 2–3-4 times a year, that’s a good year; if it’s more than one song from the same band, its surprising; if it’s an entire record – that’s like every four or five years! We’re all looking for that; that’s what drives freaks like me.
A Rational Conversation: Chris Ott On Marketing Premature Nostalgia, Circa Interpol's 2001 Breakthrough...
A Rational Conversation is a column by editor and writer Eric Ducker. Every week he gets on iChat or Gchat or Skype or whatever with a special guest to examine a subject that’s been on his mind.
When does premature nostalgia for music that is already based in nostalgia get gross? And what does it say about our current cultural tastes? Case in point: this past October, Saddle Creek reissued Danse Macabre, the 2001 album by The Faint. Meanwhile, Matador Records reissued Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights this past week to mark its ten-year anniversary, which has resulted in oral histories via both Pitchfork and Paste. Alas, such celebrations of albums that are just over a decade old – ones that themselves fetishized earlier landmarks of post-punk and new wave – can seem kind of suspect; conversely, do these re-releases provide crucial windows into how we consume the not-so-distant pop-cultural past? Ducker discussed this accelerated canonizing of cool with “Chris Ott”: https://twitter.com/shallowrewards, the highly-opinionated man behind the Shallow Rewards videocast. Ott is almost absurdly qualified to such matters – he was on the firing line when these records had their initial impact: he edited Pitchfork when the site, in a post also written by Ott, called Turn on the Bright Lights the best album of 2002.
Eric Ducker: Do you think it’s premature to start reissuing albums from around ten years ago for reasons other than remastering or fixing technical issues with the original recording?
Chris Ott: Absolutely. Turn on the Bright Lights is a catalog Gold record; it’s been recognized by the RIAA for sales over 500,000, but what percentage of those records moved in 2002, I can’t say. I can say that The Eminem Show sold 7.6 million copies that year. That to me is what makes it weird: Interpol never charted significantly in the U.S. But the band had a lot of buzz, toured very strongly, and MTV loved the video for “PDA” at a time when MTV was still trying to help with the new generation of rock music.
ED: So you’d argue that, on a purely practical level, such re-releases don’t make sense?
CO: When I see something that wasn’t really a big deal unless you already paid attention to independent music, a record that didn’t crossover or break in any meaningful way, getting this treatment – yeah, it doesn’t make practical sense to me. It’s a big back-patting exercise, and I don’t think in the scope of recorded music, Turn on the Bright Lights is something that merits an NYU/IFC/Pitchfork roundtable victory lap. Assigning that kind of stature to a record that didn’t establish it on its own seems pretty suspect to me. I mean, I loved that record: it was so important to a lot of people, and definitely worked alongside the moment of 9/11. Whether it represented any kind of broadly important social phenomenon, though, I would dispute that.
ED: Then what do you think is the purpose of these reissues? Is it just a way for the labels and bands to say, “Remember when we did something awesome that you guys were super into?” Can indie labels write that off in 2012? Is it to set up something in the future – to make these acts still seem relevant?
CO: My contention is that this is a misplaced marketing idea. Everyone is trying to figure out how to sell CDs in 2012; they’re still the best price point for everyone involved. Labels continue to make packages and sets, which have been the strongest sellers throughout the digital era. So per your point, yeah, they advertise the idea that this record is important, and deserves such treatment. But the main driver is trying to appeal to people who are older, because marketers believe older people still buy CDs. They think because I’m 37, I buy CDs, when I haven’t bought a CD in 10 years. I’ve donated money to bands that have sent me CDs, but I already had their music. The CD was superfluous.
ED: You really think they’re that naive? I can maybe see them thinking you’d purchase, say, a 180 gram vinyl reissue that came with a free digital download.
CO: They expect that of someone like me, a music obsessive; but I’m saying the trend of the last three years, in music marketing, has been to get yourself on the racks at Target because they still sell CDs. If the CD is marketed in such a way that it lets “grown ups” know it’s not some no-wave screechfest or dubstep – if they have a little trailer for it that plays that kind of sweet Echo & the Bunnymen sound – then the people in their 40s and 50s who listened to “She Sells Sanctuary” and didn’t go digital might buy it. And Matador and Interpol stand to make a shitload more money off of them than the Tumblr generation. And those people definitely read Pitchfork, too, so this feature is a 360 kind of thing. They’ve certainly found out about Pitchfork by now: it kind of serves as an Amazon Wish List for them.
ED: Do you think the same situation pertains to The Faint reissue that came out earlier this year?
CO: No, that one is just… I don’t know what anyone at Saddle Creek was thinking. I didn’t even know this was happening until Tuesday of this week and they’re midway through the tour. That is really sad. I mean the first song from Danse Macabre, “Agenda Suicide,” is fuckin’ great. I love that line, “Like a cast shadow…”
ED: That may be more of a situation of trying to generate interest for the new tour, and so on.
CO: The situation with Danse Macabre is that No Doubt took them on tour as an opener to buy their “cred”, as it were, in 2002. And so, as far as The Faint goes, that was the biggest thing that ever happened to them, in their entire career. But I suspect those audiences don’t remember it that way, and that they didn’t make a lot of fans off that decision. When Saddle Creek and The Faint look back on ten years ago, perhaps they remember that tour and maybe almost getting mainstream attention. But The Faint weren’t My Chemical Romance, and it was never going to happen. There’s a very distorted memory there, in trying to celebrate Danse Macabre and that moment, which I experienced as a complete failure.
ED: A failure in terms of crossing over to even broader audiences?
ED: Obviously you’re not buying these releases in terms of actually purchasing them, or accepting the idea that they deserve to be reissued right now.Do you think you’re an exception, or indicative of most people’s opinion?
CO: I couldn’t really venture a guess, but I would point out that the period between 2003 and 2005 when DGC was doing all of its deluxe editions of, like, Sonic Youth’s Goo and Dirty and Weezer, those trailed off pretty quickly. Today? I don’t know what audience there could be for a deluxe edition reissue. And considering the lengths you have to go to to put together posters and buttons and four DVDs of in-studio footage, it’s not worth the upfront investment for any label.
ED: Let’s separate this from the commercial question for a little bit. Do you think it’s emotionally premature to do ten-year anniversary retrospectives on releases?
CO: My gut response is more about the perceived significance of the record than the amount of time that’s passed. I’m not slamming Interpol; the reissue that completely mystified me was the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic, which Rhino reissued in 2006, which was almost twenty years after the record was released. Seeing that, I was just like, “Seriously?” That record is reviled by most music snobs; people who are big-time JAMC fans can’t stand it, either. The idea that JAMC were so consistent that they warranted a whole-catalog reissue exercise is nuts: they’re not Bowie – they’re not even The Cure. But pressed on the time idea, yeah, ten years is way too short. You hear the record at 18, and then someone tells you at 28 it’s being reissued, as if it went away somehow? Especially since it’s been on iTunes and Spotify from the moment those services came online? There’s nothing obscure about Interpol’s music, and moreover, they’ve been celebrated nonstop, along with The Strokes and the Arcade Fire, as the standard definition of indie rock’s legitimacy for the last decade. Antics was basically Turn on the Bright Lights, Part II: they should just append that and do a retrospective of “The Good Music Interpol Made Before They Lost It.”
ED: Do you think readers want to read about an album from ten years ago that probably hasn’t been totally out of their rotation for the past ten years? I ask that as someone who is generally happy to read, and will totally write, retrospective pieces (though I’ve never actually pitched a ten-year anniversary story).
CO: I’m definitely the wrong guy at the wrong time to ask that, because right now I’m sort of convinced people – kids, fans – are completely exhausted by music writing. There is way too much of it, and the playing field is very stratified. I don’t see very much in the way of challenging or inspiring writing on music on the Internet of late. I see a lot of ambulance chasing; I see a lot of refinement pieces that are just trying to hitch their “brand” or blog to others who are chattering about whatever topic of the moment. It’s really gotten to the point where I just see the subject of a piece and I’m like, “Next, yeah” because everything is so drenched in slant and an effort to collocate with an artist’s reputation. Specifically, I would point to Chris Weingarten’s Band of the Year feature in SPIN on Death Grips. There will not be a year-end issue of SPIN, as I understand it, so this is comically the shallowest approach one could take to the shallowest award you could confer. And by approach, I mean his suggestion that Death Grips are too “real” and “authentic” for anyone but SPIN magazine to deal with, which really offended me.
ED: Presumably there will be a year-end digital issue of SPIN…
CO: Yeah, but there’s an every day digital issue of SPIN, you know? If you mean like an eBook thing like SPIN Play, eh…
ED: To get a little bit back on track, do you think the labels and the publications are manufacturing this accelerated canonizing nostalgia? Or do you think there is a 28-year-old somewhere, bummed out on his or her day job, who is scrolling around Pitchfork going, “Oh yeah, 2002 was totally an awesome year for music. I’m totally going to put some Interpol and The Datsuns and The Walkmen’s first album on a Spotify playlist right now? No one gives those bands the credit they deserve.”
CO: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking stock. A band like Interpol definitely had a legitimate moment where they stood for something and were important to a lot of people. But yeah, where things are at now, anyone musically curious or likely to enjoy Interpol’s music will have no trouble finding it. And it’s been interred by critics like me that Turn on the Bright Lights is a very significant, decade-marking record for the 2000s. As far as the acceleration goes, that’s also sort of an Internet problem. In 1990-something, when The Feelies’ first album was reissued, that was a huge deal for a lot of people because it was out of print; there was no digital library to store or save it. Reissues were people doing God’s work in the 1990s, because there was so much stuff that you literally could not get. Look at Messthetics, and what Twin/Tone was doing burning CD-Rs for people – I have that Yung Wu record on CD-R from them. Fans were clamoring for this kind of thing – obviously not in huge numbers, but there were still mysterious, out of print, impossible-to-find and simultaneously good records to track down. Today, you can’t turn around without six people telling you which records matter. I look at the reissue thing as a way for the classic, outmoded music industry to toot its own horn and say, “We might have a way here to force the gatekeeper websites to promote our catalog.” Advertising is everything; so, in a way, the reissue is a very powerful advertisement for catalog sales. Catalog sales dwarf new music sales in terms of physical media: they overtook them this year, statistically, along every measurable line. But it was already the case for ages: that’s why Billboard had the “Heatseeker” bullshit inside the chart, so your new hip-hop protégé doesn’t notice his record is two positions lower than an old Michael Bolton album.
ED: I agree that if labels are doing a reissue on such a truncated timeline, I wish it would be to celebrate something that people may have missed, rather than to celebrate something that is already acknowledged as important.
CO: Definitely. Fog! Ether Teeth!
ED: I feel like that’s also an opportunity for labels to redeem themselves a little bit.
CO: It is, but if you’ve got the stuff out there digitally, it’s my job to tell people what they might be missing or have missed. Not to be a capricious dick about it, but I just see the whole attitude around the past as a lot received ideas and really generic commentary and presumptions of the music’s importance. If the record was that big a deal, it would have been a big deal.
ED: I’d like Matador to release live recordings or footage of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion touring in 2002 with Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as openers, when JSBX were still the headliners, but all the heat was shifting to the supporting acts. To me, that would give a greater insight into the era than what is already readily discussed.
CO: That’s a fuckin’ brilliant idea. In 2002 to 2004, that period proved so raw for exactly that reason. You saw the kind of shirky attention-comfortable media-friendly blog bands coming up so fast, and the stalwarts who had an “us vs. them” mentality with the media were getting blown out the doors. There’s a whole other conversation there, around how “punk” and “DIY” were ripe for the taking by attention-seeking, unserious and insecure people, versus people with something to say.
ED: You did do the Pitchfork write up for Turn on the Bright Lights as the best album of 2002. Do you still think it’s the best album of that year?
CO: I wrote that as a staffer to try and deliver Pitchfork’s view of the indie landscape. It was sort of an advertisement for our allegiances. I rated the album very highly on my personal list, and still do, but if you read my blurb on The Streets’ Original Pirate Material further down the list, I sort of intimate I was more personally taken with it. Ten years later, I’m even more convinced that was the best record of 2002.
Grimes isn’t really a musician. Not exactly. That’s not to take anything away from her musical talent – her breakout third album Visions has made multiple “best of 2012” lists – but music is just one of the things that Grimes, known to a select few as Claire Boucher, does to occupy her time.
In an alternate universe, Grimes is probably drawing covers for Marvel, or directing big-budget sci-fi epics – and don’t count her out yet on either count; if she turned into some version of Lady Gaga with authentic indie/avant-garde cred, we’re cool with that, too. The Vancouver-born, Montreal-based genre-bending synthpop wizard was a visual artist long before she even looked at a keyboard – in fact, she created the cover art for Visions – and says that she was making comic books “before I did anything else.” She only started making music because it seemed “easy.” She also directs her own music videos, a move she says came as much out of her dissatisfaction at working with other directors as anything else.
Indeed, in addition to being an artist, director, singer and producer, Grimes is also a full-time iconoclast. She introduced the world to Brooke Candy, the California-based rapper/stripper who’s become an Internet sensation since starring in Grimes’ video for “Genesis,” has been experimenting with fashion since elementary school, and once tried experiment with “alternative ways of living” by setting up house in a boat sailing down the Mississippi. (She claims the online accounts of the houseboat episode are completely false. Read on.)
Here, Grimes breaks down her most significant “firsts” – in the process, her irreverent voice becomes clear as she succinctly explains how she got to be the consummate, compelling multimedia savant she is today.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first piece of art that made you want to make art?
Grimes: Probably a comic book, likely Spawn. I made comics before I did anything else.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first record you ever bought? And what was your first download?
Grimes: Bought? Either Stankonia by Outkast, or Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. As for first download, I think it was a Muse record! LOL!
The Daily Swarm: What was the first book you read that you felt reflected or expanded your worldview?
Grimes: Lord of the Rings.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first anime you ever watched?
Grimes: Probably My Neighbor Totoro. My first visit to Japan was a revelation, that’s for sure.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first sci-fi/fantasy film that had a profound effect on you?
Grimes: The Fifth Element or Dune – two of my favourite childhood movies.
The Daily Swarm: Describe the first Grimes show.
Grimes: It was bad. I think I vomited.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first hip-hop record you ever heard?
Grimes: Probably Biggie or Outkast. I was really into hip-hop in elementary school.
The Daily Swarm: What was your first impression of the Arbutus folks when you met them?
Grimes: Well, they weren’t the Arbutus folks then. I met the founding crewmember on the first day of high school because we were both like, I don’t know, weird raver goths. Heh.
The Daily Swarm: How did you first meet Brooke Candy?
Grimes: I met her at a Grimes afterparty. I was captivated by her beauty.
The Daily Swarm: Tell me about the first time you ever heard Skinny Puppy?
Grimes: I heard Skinny Puppy probably in grade eight or so, and I became obsessed immediately.
The Daily Swarm: What did you think when you first learned that key Skinny Puppy collaborator Dave Ogilvie produced ‘Call Me Maybe’?
Grimes: Finding out that Dave Ogilvie produced “Call Me Maybe” was a beautiful moment.
The Daily Swarm: When did you first start to develop your own sense of style? Did you even know it was a style? What did it incorporate?
Grimes: Probably in grade one. I went to a school with uniforms: it was the bane of my existence at the time, so I started cutting holes in my shirts and drawing tribal tattoos in sharpie on my arms because I thought it looked cool.
The Daily Swarm: When did you first get the idea to go the Mississippi in a houseboat? What did you learn from the experience? And what was your first clue that said boat wasn’t going to make it to New Orleans?
Grimes: Nothing you’ve read about that story online is true. There was no Huck Finn crap: I was trying to live on a boat because I was interested in alternative ways of living, and I didn’t like paying rent. It’s legal to live on a boat as long as you use an anchor and aren’t tied to shore. I had a full boating license, the boat was insured and licensed, my friend was a mechanic, and everything was in full working condition. The police attacked us at five in the morning, smashed the windows and told us they didn’t give a shit about our safety. They were just going to fuck us over because they “Didn’t like the way we looked.” So no, I was not planning to sail to New Orleans, because I’m not an idiot. I’ve been operating heavy machinery, including boats, since I was five years old.
GRIMES X LYKKE LI / SPRING 2011 from
The Daily Swarm: What was it like the first time you played in Montreal after having opened for Lykke Li on tour? Grimes: Hmmm… I’m not sure. I think I might have played an afterparty after that tour. We always do after parties after tours end. The Daily Swarm: What did you think the first time someone compared you to Kate Bush? And when did someone first make what you felt was a relevant comparison? Grimes: I think I was compared to Kate Bush in the first article ever about Grimes which was probably a Weird Canada review, which is a cool independent website that reviews Canadian underground music. In retrospect, I do feel like its a pretty relevant comparison; at first, I was put off because every experimental female musician ever has been compared to Kate Bush or Björk. I guess I felt like it was kind of lazy journalism on some occasions, but I don’t know… At least Kate Bush and I are both producers who flirt with pop sonics and make vocal-heavy, beat-heavy weirdo music. The Daily Swarm: Why did you decide to release your first album on tape? Grimes: Because I had found like 200 tapes and a tape copier in the alley behind my house. The Daily Swarm: What was the first computer you ever owned? Grimes: I think my dad had a desktop computer at our house when I was in, like, grade three, but I personally got a laptop in 2006 or 2007. I ended up destroying it accidentally, but I think Doldrums was able to make a record on it, still. The Daily Swarm: What was the first thing Diplo ever said to you? What was touring with him and Skrillex like? Grimes: Um, I think he said I had a “pretty voice” or something to that effect. Then he asked me what my goals in life were. That tour was awesome – one of the best experiences of my life. The Daily Swarm: What was your response when Skrillex first asked you to go on tour with him? Grimes: I cried. He’s one of my top ten, all-time favorite producers. The Daily Swarm: When did you first think about directing your own video? What was it actually like directing your first video? Grimes: I started doing it because I kept having to work with directors who tried to make me do things I felt really uncomfortable doing. Everyone was really pushing the “be sexy” angle at first, or were cruel to the crew, or just didn’t really have good ideas. I started doing it out of necessity, but then I realized I loved it and it was really fun. The first video I directed was for the song “Vanessa.” I realized that directing is really easy: it’s just about eliciting the best performance possible from the cast, which basically means getting them to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t get directors who yell at everybody – videos are better when everyone’s in a good mood. The Daily Swarm: What was your first Tweet? Grimes: I’m not sure. Probably my friend D’Eon wrote something because he set up my Twitter account. I subsequently did not check my Twitter for about a year. The Daily Swarm: When and why did you first decide to call yourself Grimes? Grimes: It’s a secret. The Daily Swarm: Why did you first start making music? Grimes: Because I realized it was easy. The Daily Swarm: When did you first think you might need to drop out of McGill University to do music full time? Grimes: I was kicked out, so I pursued music full time because it was my only choice at that point. The Daily Swarm: Tell me about the first time you went into a recording studio. Grimes: I’ve never been in a studio. The Daily Swarm: What was your first synthesizer? Grimes: Ha, ha! Oh Jesus, I have no idea… Like a cheap Yamaha. I still have it. I got it for Christmas when I was in high school, and made the first two Grimes records with it. The Daily Swarm: What was it like to start writing new material after the success of Visions? How was it different, and the same? Grimes: Well, I never really stopped. I always work on music. It’s just kind of one long process. The Daily Swarm: What was the first time you realized you might actually be having an impact on culture? Grimes: When people started being Grimes for Halloween.
The Daily Swarm: What was it like the first time you played in Montreal after having opened for Lykke Li on tour?
Grimes: Hmmm… I’m not sure. I think I might have played an afterparty after that tour. We always do after parties after tours end.
The Daily Swarm: What did you think the first time someone compared you to Kate Bush? And when did someone first make what you felt was a relevant comparison?
Grimes: I think I was compared to Kate Bush in the first article ever about Grimes which was probably a Weird Canada review, which is a cool independent website that reviews Canadian underground music. In retrospect, I do feel like its a pretty relevant comparison; at first, I was put off because every experimental female musician ever has been compared to Kate Bush or Björk. I guess I felt like it was kind of lazy journalism on some occasions, but I don’t know… At least Kate Bush and I are both producers who flirt with pop sonics and make vocal-heavy, beat-heavy weirdo music.
The Daily Swarm: Why did you decide to release your first album on tape?
Grimes: Because I had found like 200 tapes and a tape copier in the alley behind my house.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first computer you ever owned?
Grimes: I think my dad had a desktop computer at our house when I was in, like, grade three, but I personally got a laptop in 2006 or 2007. I ended up destroying it accidentally, but I think Doldrums was able to make a record on it, still.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first thing Diplo ever said to you? What was touring with him and Skrillex like?
Grimes: Um, I think he said I had a “pretty voice” or something to that effect. Then he asked me what my goals in life were. That tour was awesome – one of the best experiences of my life.
The Daily Swarm: What was your response when Skrillex first asked you to go on tour with him?
Grimes: I cried. He’s one of my top ten, all-time favorite producers.
The Daily Swarm: When did you first think about directing your own video? What was it actually like directing your first video?
Grimes: I started doing it because I kept having to work with directors who tried to make me do things I felt really uncomfortable doing. Everyone was really pushing the “be sexy” angle at first, or were cruel to the crew, or just didn’t really have good ideas. I started doing it out of necessity, but then I realized I loved it and it was really fun. The first video I directed was for the song “Vanessa.” I realized that directing is really easy: it’s just about eliciting the best performance possible from the cast, which basically means getting them to be as comfortable as possible. I don’t get directors who yell at everybody – videos are better when everyone’s in a good mood.
The Daily Swarm: What was your first Tweet?
Grimes: I’m not sure. Probably my friend D’Eon wrote something because he set up my Twitter account. I subsequently did not check my Twitter for about a year.
The Daily Swarm: When and why did you first decide to call yourself Grimes?
Grimes: It’s a secret.
The Daily Swarm: Why did you first start making music?
Grimes: Because I realized it was easy.
The Daily Swarm: When did you first think you might need to drop out of McGill University to do music full time?
Grimes: I was kicked out, so I pursued music full time because it was my only choice at that point.
The Daily Swarm: Tell me about the first time you went into a recording studio.
Grimes: I’ve never been in a studio.
The Daily Swarm: What was your first synthesizer?
Grimes: Ha, ha! Oh Jesus, I have no idea… Like a cheap Yamaha. I still have it. I got it for Christmas when I was in high school, and made the first two Grimes records with it.
The Daily Swarm: What was it like to start writing new material after the success of Visions? How was it different, and the same?
Grimes: Well, I never really stopped. I always work on music. It’s just kind of one long process.
The Daily Swarm: What was the first time you realized you might actually be having an impact on culture?
Grimes: When people started being Grimes for Halloween.