A Rational Conversation: Matthew Perpetua of Buzzfeed and Fluxblog on the Evolution of MP3 Blogdom...
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.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the Fluxblog, the influential MP3 blog created by Matthew Perpetua. Over the past ten years Fluxblog has distinguished itself not just for being the first site of its kind, but for exposing new talent and for the quality of the writing that accompanies the featured songs. Perpetua recently celebrated a decade of Fluxblog with an event at Housing Works in New York City. He was also just hired to be the first music editor of Buzzfeed. Perpetua and Ducker discussed the history of Fluxblog and how MP3 blogs have evolved over the past 10 years.
Eric Ducker: Going back to the beginning of Fluxblog and the motivation to start it, was it because there was a change in technology that allowed you do something you had always wanted to do, or did you just realize that this was now something you could do?
Matthew Perpetua: The format basically came about because, at the precise moment when it became fairly easy to host MP3s somewhere without hassle, I had a parallel desire to talk about songs, rather than albums or the larger culture of music. I was, at that point in time, some obscure person from message boards and stuff. At most, I was entertaining a small group of friends and acquaintances.
ED: How quickly did you notice that your audience was expanding beyond friends and acquaintances?
MP: Nothing was quick early on. But I would check out my traffic, and it would very gradually pick up – from hundreds to thousands, and up from there. I stopped looking at traffic around 2005 or 2006, though.
ED: When did you start noticing other MP3 blogs?
MP: This is where my memory gets a little hazy, but maybe a year or so after I started doing Fluxblog it became more of a thing. John Seroff is a better person to ask about this; he was doing a site called Tofu Hut and was much more on top of tracking all the new sites that popped up. I do remember Sean Michaels emailing me before he launched Said the Gramophone and asking for advice. He’s still at it: those Gramophone guys are the ones I look at as being the closest to doing the same thing I do, and sticking to it for the long haul.
ED: Did you have a circuit of MP3 blogs you would check out – both for the music, and to make sure you weren’t posting the same stuff as other people?
MP: I never really read other MP3 blogs, honestly. I still don’t. I read a lot of music-oriented Tumblrs and what people do at Pitchfork, stuff like that. I went through a phase when I was worried about posting what other people were posting, but eventually I just stopped caring about that, or caring about being ahead of any kind of curve. The early phases of the site were more about being on top of new things, but I’m “old” now and just focus more on writing, or whatever strikes my fancy. It’s always been sort of a diary of my musical taste, and so it just reflects that, no matter what my focus is on.
ED: I wanted to talk to you about that shift, where the site became less about discovery and more about reflection. Was that something that happened consciously, or just something that evolved?
MP: It was mostly a natural progression, but it was a response to a few things. I stopped caring about breaking anyone or anything, especially because that was so much of the focus of other sites. And within that, PR really was gaming the system and aiding this FIRST mentality, and that just was no fun. I started in a time where this thing just didn’t exist, and it really was just stumbling upon stuff around the world. A lot of the best stuff I dug up early on was just from talking to other people online and having stuff passed to me, or finding stuff in the folders of cool people around the world on Soulseek. It was also a thing of respecting labels and artists, and deciding I was going to stick to writing about things around the time people could actually buy them. Most importantly, I just wanted to get out of some weird arms race and focus on what I realized was the real reason anyone was following my site, which was the writing. If I was constantly just chasing some new thing, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. A lot of the early writing is very vague and “hey, this is cool”; in retrospect, that makes me cringe.
I feel like people abandon a lot of career artists or ignore older records just because they are caught up in this endless cycle of keeping their ear to the ground, and I reject that. That mentality is about the ego of the writer, the institution, the listener, and is very consumerist. It’s anti-art.
ED: Do you remember getting your first email from a publicist trying to get a song on Fluxblog?
MP: Not really, but I remember when major labels started doing it. It was some Secret Machines MP3, and they hit up a bunch of sites at once. I think Music For Robots was the first to go with it.
ED: When you started being approached by publicists, did that feel like a validation of what you were doing, or a potentially corrupting force?
MP: I was always skeptical of it, and kept a distance from it. I did appreciate having people send records and MP3s. It was hard to keep up with all that, but I found so many great things that way, so that was only a good thing.
ED: How did you react when you started seeing magazines, websites of magazines, or digital music publications (jeez, that’s clunky, but you know what I mean) start to cover the artists you had featured – presumably because they had discovered them through Fluxblog?
MP: That was gratifying – not so much because it validated me, but because it meant that stuff I cared about was getting more popular. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve only ever wanted other people to like the stuff I was into. I’ve never had the mentality of “No, it’s mine, you can’t have it.” The guiding principle of doing the site has been about sharing something and hoping other people like it. When I was in junior high, I was dubbing cassettes of Pavement and things like that and desperately hoping other people would like it too. I’ve always been this way.
ED: You didn’t even want a hat tip, or an acknowledgement it came from you?
MP: Nah. Because who is to say that it came from me? I can’t take credit for what any artist is doing. And ultimately it’s very bad for any artist to be closely associated with some blog or website or magazine.
ED: Coming from my perspective, as someone who was working at a magazine during that time, it always felt a little tricky when we ran something bigger on an artist that had been discovered from blogs, and who wasn’t really wrapped up in a label situation yet. I mean, we were discovering music from all kinds of other places – friends, DJs, managers – but it’s not like we would shout them out in a piece. And we definitely wouldn’t acknowledge the publicist who had sent a CD. But at the same time, at least for me personally, I always felt a little guilty. I didn’t want it to seem like we were ripping off the work of people who weren’t being paid for what they were doing. I think that’s partially why you saw so many articles during that era referencing “blog buzz.”
MP: Yeah, but on my end, I was discovering things from friends, managers, DJs, radio people, writers, publicists, and so on. It’s all the same ecosystem. That’s just how things get around. The most influential people in music, people never really know who they are.
ED: When did you start getting paid writing gigs because of Fluxblog?
MP: That was in 2005. The first thing I was ever paid to write was a review of The Kills’ No Wow for Seattle Weekly. Michaelangelo Matos reached out to me and asked me if I was into doing it. (That’s a great record, by the way! I really love The Kills.) I have never had a good hustle as a freelancer, and to be honest, most of the things I’ve done in my career happened because people reached out to me because I had a good reputation. So thank goodness, right? Because if I didn’t, I simply would have to be in a different line of work, and I’m not really sure what that would be. I’ve had opportunities over the years to go into the music-industry side of things, and that has never, ever appealed to me. I have entertained it, but it just seems like a drag and not the best use of my actual skills. I’d be an awful A&R person, for example. But yeah, every single job I have had since 2004 has been a direct result of doing Fluxblog.
ED: What’s your take on MP3 blogs deciding to become brands, as it were?
MP: That’s cool for them. I never really had the interest or aptitude to do that. I have always seen Fluxblog as this thing where I do what I want on my own terms, and going in that direction is giving all of that up.
ED: How so?
MP: I am friends with Scott Lapatine, and have seen how Stereogum has evolved as he professionalized it. And you know, the first thing that goes is the freedom to write about any song you want, because it has to be cleared and above-board. I had to do that when I wrote a weekly column for the Associated Press: you are hemmed in by labels and PR. That’s fine, but if I did my site that way, the majority of the best stuff I’ve done would have never happened. And then you have to build up traffic, and to do that, you have to bend over backwards to draw readers and game search engines. That would just take me away from just following my whims. I am fine with doing that stuff for jobs with other companies; those are fine compromises in a collaborative or work-for-hire situation. But Fluxblog is like my weird solo album, forever.
ED: Why don’t labels tell you to take down MP3s, even when you’re posting album cuts or stuff that they’re putting up for free download but listeners have to give them their email addresses?
MP: They do sometimes, but it’s pretty rare. The only times I’ve really had take-down notices were when I posted stuff ahead of things being commercially released, which is part of why I just stopped doing that. It just was not worth the hassle, and when those things would happen, I would sour on the artist a little bit.
ED: You said that you don’t really check other MP3 blog sites now, but to what extent do you think they’ve been incorporated into the music publicity system?
MP: A lot, but I think MP3 blogs are kind of a declining thing in general at this point. I think it’s been a little while since it was a real force, and if there’s any power now, it’s entirely in aggregate via Hype Machine.
ED: I agree. It’s also been interesting to see, especially with dance-music blogs, how they’ve almost gone entirely to SoundCloud. I don’t know if that’s because they want to stay on the good side of the labels, or if that’s just how people listen to music now.
MP: I think the technology just changed. Everyone wants things to stream now. MP3s are really old fashioned! I feel very retro for still wanting MP3s on an iPod. Somehow that seems more old fashioned than buying vinyl at this moment.
ED: Going back to the aggregate point you mentioned, and I’ve seen you discuss this before, but in the music blogs realm, there does seem to be a further distancing between posting music and actually commenting on the music.
MP: I mostly read about music on Tumblr blogs now, and there, it’s very heavy on writing: it’s more personal or big picture, more in my wheelhouse. I really like things like One Week One Band. My friend Daniella just did an amazing week of Radiohead posts where it seemed like she was actually finding new ways to talk about the most talked-about band of the past 20 years. Chris Ott did a great week on The Cure, right at the moment when I happened to be like “Hey, what about The Cure?” Joey Pheiffer, a really young guy who works for Tumblr, did a week of posts about Weezer from the perspective of someone who never listened to music before a few years ago, and fell in love with Weezer and that was his entry point; that was so much more interesting to me than someone who has always been a music nerd and is jaded by it. That’s what I look for now – I want to read about connections and impressions that aren’t about critic culture. I will always have a leg in critic culture, and I work in that field, but it’s only one part of the bigger picture of how people relate to music, and to art in a broader sense.
ED: So, you just got this new job at Buzzfeed. Do you think getting it had more to do with what you’ve done on Fluxblog, or with what you did at your last job at Rollingstone.com?
MP: Working at Rolling Stone was a big part of this because, for most of my tenure there, I worked with Doree Shafrir, and she’s the Executive Editor at Buzzfeed now. We had a really good working relationship. After Rolling Stone laid me off, she was one of the first people I told, actually. And that led to Buzzfeed reaching out to me, asking if I had ideas for how to cover music there. I came up with a proposal, and we were all excited about it, so that’s how it came together. But I think Fluxblog factored into it, in the sense that a lot of what I pitched was kinda like taking the philosophy of that site and applying it to what Buzzfeed is already good at. Fluxblog is very purely of the Internet, and so is Buzzfeed, so it flows together really well. It’s very based in having broad tastes and reaching out to a general audience, and embracing the social aspects of how music exists online. A lot of the thrust of Fluxblog over the past few years has actually been in Tumblr, which is obviously a very social platform. The Fluxblog Tumblr is very popular; I’m sure that the vast majority of my current readership only really follows what I do on that platform, and doesn’t actually read the stuff on the proper site unless I “reprint” it on Tumblr.
ED: Does it bum you out that most of your current readership doesn’t follow the mother site?
MP: Not really. It would be more intelligent of me to just have all of it go out over Tumblr, but I don’t feel like dealing with the mess that sort of transition would entail.
ED: Are you ever going to switch from .org to .com?
MP: Probably not. Someone else has that domain, and I’m too lazy to bother to go get it. I have always avoided doing the website stuff myself! The technical stuff, anyway.
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.
Stand-up comic Marc Maron has been doing his highly successful podcast WTF from his Los Angeles garage since 2009. The format is usually an hour-long, one-on-one conversation, and his guests usually are drawn from the comedy world. In February of 2012, however, Maron featured pop genius Nick Lowe as his guest; in subsequent months, more musicians followed, including Jack White, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Carrie Brownstein of Wild Flag and Sleater-Kinney, James Mercer of The Shins, and Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. This week, he posted his interview with Fiona Apple. Here, Maron discusses what’s behind this increase in musician guests, and how he approaches these episodes differently.
Eric Ducker: You’ve been having more musicians on the show recently, starting with Nick Lowe. How did that come to be?
Marc Maron: The guy who directed the video [for Lowe’s “Sensitive Man”] asked me to be in it. Then I hooked up with Nick Lowe and was very excited by the possibility of having him on; when he was out here, we just sort of made it happen. The fact that he played “The Beast in Me” in my garage far transcends any of my expectations in life. That was pretty amazing.
ED: Had you been looking to broaden the show beyond comedians?
MM: We’re very comedy oriented, but from the beginning there were shows where I have talked to writers, as well as people like Henry Rollins and Todd Hansen. As time went on, I realized some of these music guys might be into doing it, and that we could figure out a way for them to play in a very stripped-down fashion. I don’t think it was that much of a stretch.
ED: With the artists you’ve had on more recently, did you approach them, or has it gotten to a point where they’ve started approaching you?
MM: With Wayne [Coyne], I was going to Oklahoma City, someone on Twitter said I should go interview him, and I thought that was a great idea. I tweeted at Wayne and his tech guys listen to my show, so between those few things happening, we set it up. I had one night in Oklahoma City: I landed at the airport, and within an hour Wayne was over at my hotel, talking in my room. Doing Craig Finn and Nick Lowe and Wayne sort of opened doors to more musicians. Musicians aren’t always the easiest interviews, but I think those interviews put something out in the world that this might be a good place for musicians to open up about stuff, if they’re capable of doing that.
ED: How hard was it to get Jack White? He’s known for not always being the most interested in doing interviews.
MM: It wasn’t that hard. I was going to Nashville, I knew he was a comedy fan, and some of the same people who were involved with The Shins are involved with Jack. We lucked out in that he was doing, relative for him, a lot of publicity for Blunderbuss. I was very nervous, but I find I do better with musicians, much like with comics, where we’re kindred spirits or have similar musical tastes.
ED: With a lot of your interviews with comedians, your starting point is your personal relationship with them as people. With your interviews with musicians, however, the starting point is usually your personal relationship with their music. Is it harder for you to start that way?
MM: It is, because there is a little more on the line. There’s no common language of living the same life for a long time. I have played music for a long time and I’m a fairly obsessive fan of some music, but it is different. I’m a little more fanboy-ish around musicians. But with Craig Finn, the Boys & Girls In America album really resonated with me, and I like the way he writes. From his songwriting, I could kind of glean that we had something in common. With Jack, we had the blues in common. With Mercer, I had Albuquerque in common. Nick Lowe, you can talk to him about anything – he’s like the history of modern pop. But it is different, because it starts more as an interview than as a conversation. Most of the shows are not interviews, they’re conversations. With musicians I sort of have to establish myself, because they’re not used to what I’m doing. They’re used to being interviewed.
ED: You mentioned earlier that you don’t think musicians are the easiest people to interview. What do you mean by that, and why do you think that is?
MM: I don’t know that I’ve interviewed enough to say that I know the answer to that. The ones I’ve interviewed, I’ve generally had a pretty good time with them. Artists of any kind generally, given the opportunity, like to talk about themselves. But with music, a lot of times, there’s a bit of a mystique to it. These are artists who can actually step aside from their work a bit more. They live in the songs. I really assumed that when a songwriter writes a song, that he’s talking about himself. It was a big education for me when Nick Lowe told that even though he wrote “The Beast in Me” for Johnny Cash, that his intuitions about there being something inside of you that is that beast weren’t coming from his own experience. Songwriters can distance themselves from their songs; I don’t know if comics can do that as much.
ED: Then there’s the question of whether you would want to talk to comics who can distance themselves that much from their material.
MM: Well, I still know what’s under there. And with Jack White, I think after talking for an hour we got into some genuine conversation about him. What you come out from that interview knowing is that he’s very hard on himself, that he’s very hard-working, that he has a tremendous respect and awe for what he’s messing with, and that he’s got a pretty good sense of humor.
ED: In your interviews with other comedians, you get the sense that they’re either very familiar with your show, or that they’ve at least heard about it. With the musicians, do you get the sense that they know what they’re getting into?
MM: Not really. To be honest, my entry into the music world is through handlers – outside of Wayne, which happened sort of organically. I don’t know if James Mercer had listened to my show at all. I know that the people around him listen to it, and that maybe his friends listen to it. There’s not that sense of familiarity, except with Wayne, where there was an immediate sort of comfort. I don’t know if that has to do with the way he is, but there was something that clicked almost immediately. I recently interviewed Fiona Apple, and she’s a big fan of the show, so I guess it’s sort of a random thing. The weird thing is that I do have a lot of musician fans. I get a lot of emails from dudes in bands. There are bands that listen to the show while they’re travelling as a group in the car. That’s very flattering to me, because I always wanted to live that life. And I think that’s what I bring to a lot of these interviews: my own inability to rise above my fears early on to really pursue music in a real way.
ED: Is your curiosity about the musician lifestyle center around the recording aspect or the touring aspect?
MM: It’s just that music is so amazing. Music is magical. You can go back and listen to a song over and over again at different intervals through your entire life and have a different experience, or the same experience, with a song that is visceral and real inside of you. That’s an amazing thing. I’ve done some playing and singing in public over the past few years after overcoming some of my own fears around that, and it was completely gratifying. It’s the most revealing thing. It was my biggest fear in the world to sing in front of people. I don’t know how you do that without it being so vulnerable. I’m amazed at these guys. Rock stars are astronauts to me.
ED: You interview some comedians who are more famous than the musicians you have on, but because you’re part of the comic world, do you not have to go through handlers as much as you do with musicians?
MM: Going through handlers is never that effective. In the music world, having the outlet of WTF is exciting for them – the format and the visibility of it. A lot of people aren’t up for doing an hour-long interview. I think it speaks to the body of work that I’ve been generating that they want to do it. And I’m glad that I’m on their radar. With comedy, I’m usually one or two people away from almost any comic. It’s easier to go through friends or reach out directly. And if they say, “Yeah, I’d like to do it, but you have to go through so-and-so,” then I’ll do it that way. There are a couple publicists who bring me people that I would have never thought of, but because I’ve been in comedy for 25 years, I know these publicists as well. But I don’t usually have to use them as much. Comedy is a world I’m living in.
ED: It’s interesting to hear interviews you’ve done with comedians where the subject you connect over the most is music. I’m thinking particularly about the Killer Beaz interview.
MM: That was an interesting thing, the Skynyrd connection. Beaz is sort of an interesting cat. He’s been around forever, but he’s not a hugely respected comic in any way. He’s a road dog, but he’s very specific. I was happy to find common ground.
ED: Are musician interviews something you’d like to do more of?
MM: Absolutely, I love doing them. To address what I was saying before, I think with musicians, and especially rock stars, there’s a mystique intact. Comics’ egos are a little more fragile in the sense that the mystique for a comic is their persona on stage, and usually it’s not that far from their guts. Sometimes with rock stars and musicians, part of their magic is their mystique. How much of that is genuine, and how much of that are they going to keep intact during the interview? Are they going to be difficult for the sake of being difficult? I don’t know if those questions come up with comics. Musicians don’t have to talk at all. In approaching them, it’s a little more challenging. If I could interview Thom Yorke, there’s always the question of, “Do I want to interview Thom Yorke? He’s such an interesting, dynamic, freakish talent – if I talk to him will I realize he’s just a guy?”
ED: You kind of make it a thing that you don’t usually do research before your interviews. Do prepare for these interviews with musicians differently?
MM: I’m not in the music press, and I listen to what I listen to, so I want to make sure I’m at least familiar with the full range of their work. Sometimes that doesn’t necessarily make a difference, but out of respect, I want to make sure I’m on top of stuff. And I’ve made mistakes before. I had Dave Alvin in here, whom I love, but most of The Blasters stuff I listen to is from their greatest-hits album. I thought they had two records, so when I was talking to him, I said, “You guys made two fucking great records.” And he was like, “I’d like to think we made three.” And I didn’t even mean that as a shot. Just to protect from myself from moments like that, I try to do a little more research.
ED: As someone who’s part of the music press, I know that sometimes engaging with the music itself isn’t our primary preparation for interviews. Instead it’s reading articles or websites or press releases to know the backstory and the career narrative. Often we don’t engage with the music enough. Your approach is probably more common sense, but sometimes I don’t think we do it enough.
MM: With Jack, my obsession early on in my life with blues music and that weird haunted feeling you got when you heard Leadbelly or Son House or Robert Johnson for the first time and how baffling it was – I shared that with him. To go from there was interesting. I was very insecure with that interview when I left it. As with any interview, afterwards I was like, “Why didn’t I go a little deeper…” But what I’ve grown to realize about interviewing in general, especially in the format that I’m in, is that whatever my needs were that were met or not met in the conversation, I just have to let that be and let go of it. The truth is that the people who are going to listen to an hour of a conversation with Jack White and who love Jack White are going to love it.
ED: And the truth is that there’s hardly anywhere else available where you can listen to Jack White talk for an hour. It’s interesting to hear a conversation with him develop over time.
MM: And it was interesting to be in his environment. When he said categorically that he didn’t like triangles, I thought that was the greatest thing ever.
ED: What musicians would you like to talk to in the future?
MM: I’d love to talk to Iggy Pop. I just heard that John Darnielle from The Mountain Goats loves the show and wants to talk, so now I’m getting up to speed on him. It’s actually fun, because when somebody like him is interested, I start listening to more of their music and I’m like, “How did I not listen to this before?” He lives in North Carolina and I’m going down there, so maybe I can hook up with him. I had Mike Doughty on recently; we have to put that up. We go way back – he used to do my Air America show. Sometimes the guests let me play with them, and that’s a perverse thrill. Dave Alvin let me play with him, and so did Mike.
ED: What’s your etiquette in seeing if you can play with them?
MM: I was certainly not going to ask Nick Lowe, and I wasn’t going to ask Craig Finn. Dave Alvin and Mike asked me. I would never just pick up my guitar and start playing.
The Week In Hate: Frank Ocean Vs. Lil Scrappy, Samantha Ronson Vs. Paris Hilton, Hank Williams Jr. Vs. Sanity...
Where is the hate, y’all? In the tsunami of love that’s been heaped upon Frank Ocean ever since he released “The Letter,” all the regular venomous bile has been in somewhat short supply. Well, that was until rapper-turned-reality-TV-clown Lil Scrappy started flapping his gums at TMZ (see him in all of his ignorant glory on VH-1’s shameful “Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta”). While everyone from Russell Simmons to Jay-Z and Beyonce to seemingly every music writer with a job were busy tripping over themselves to support Ocean, Scrappy shotgunned a fresh can of haterade and went on a good old-fashioned tirade of rampant stupidity:
“I’m glad that he came out… so all the real women that love to mess with real men, straight men, we can keep the AIDS situation down, you feel me?”
Scrappy continued, ”[homosexuality] is a doorway to AIDS, scientifically.”
Obviously! But he saves the best part of his tirade for last, adding that despite Ocean being the gatekeeper of all things HIV (shudder, sigh), he would still “collaborate” with him, with is shorthand for “I’d phone in a wack-ass verse and cash the check as long as I didn’t have to stand in the same room as that freak.”
There was a much more casual display of hate on the sun-baked streets of L.A. this week courtesy of walking quote-machine, punchline and loser-winner Charlie Sheen. The actor found the time in his schedule of daily self-immolation to reminisce about cocaine benders and take a swing at Axl Rose while Slash received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
“It’s quite fitting that Slash is getting a star on the very street Axl Rose will one day be sleeping on”
Hey, as long as Lana Del Rey can afford a room at the Chateau, Axl will always have a place to sleep.
Seasoned curmudgeons like Hank Williams, Jr. are always reliably bilious and vile, and he didn’t disappoint during a recent question-and-rant with Rolling Stone. The guy is so full of hate that he can even project the stuff, like Spiderman with wrists full of sticky rage. Here he claims that President Obama “hates” America. Just don’t ask him to clarify his statements:
Why do you think he hates America?
Oh, you know I don’t know. I don’t know about that but it’s kind of obvious. I guess when you take a tour, a world tour, to apologize for America. He did that, you know?
Which tour was that?
You know, “We’re sorry.” Going on a world tour saying, “We’re going to be be even with everyone else, we only have 6 percent of the population.” Yeah. I wouldn’t be going to the duck blinds with any of those guys. It was some of the greatest inspiration I ever had that because that song of mine, “We Don’t Apologize for America,” there’s a guy named Marcus Luttrell that was a lone survivor of the Navy Seals, and he said, “I want to thank you for writing that because every military person in this country is going to buy that song.” That’s the ones that I care about. Barack and his? I could care less. I’m writing for the ones that mean something to me. Oh, we’re pulling in here. Adios, cousin!
We all know Chris Brown is never far from a sterling ice bucket of hate. While he topped the Billboard charts with the release of his new album, Fortune, he’s had to endure a host of critical beatdowns along the way. Even Reuters took notice, compiling Brown hate from a host of media outlets:
Time Magazine‘s Melissa Locker gave both Brown and Fortune a damning review, questioning why the music industry had forgiven the singer for his crimes and calling the album “boring.” She urged readers to avoid buying it.
It’s Chris’s own fault. He changed, man.
It’s simply not “Week in Hate” without a hit of EDM madness, right? Thanks to Paris Hilton’s recent train-wreck of a “DJ set” in Brazil, the fallout is endless. Most recently, even fellow celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson felt the need to join the chorus:
“She’s tried everything now. Just put some quality behind the s*** that you do, put some effort into it. [Hilton DJing] just insults the people who work really hard at it… That’s me calling myself a doctor after reading WebMD twice.”
Take a look for yourself…
To compare and contrast, here’s Samantha Ronson working the DJ decks.
Deadmau5 is still hating on the cretins who ransacked his mom’s house, but Mommau5 just wants to let bygones by bygones. Deadmau5 has enough to deal with already:
“There’s no stopping Joel from what he says. For a man of few words, the words he chooses are spectacular,” she said, describing her son’s candid posts. “I think it’s why his fans really like him. He just speaks his mind.”
Then again, it doesn’t take much to get this guy worked up.
In a much more subtle form of hate that’s better known as apathy, music fans in and around Somerset, Wisconsin ignored the second annual SoundTown Music and Camping festival so much that it’s no longer happening. The cancellation, officially blamed on poor ticket sales, came in spite of a line-up featuring Florence & the Machine, Girl Talk, Andrew Bird, Mayer Hawthorne and Weezer. Ouch.
With so much hate flying around, it’s a good time for a little context. With BuzzMedia snapping up the recently revivified music magazine SPIN, we were reminded of the now-legendary “Rock Critical List” from 1998, a scathing attack on a series of music writers many of you know by name. In many ways, it’s the flashpoint where modern music hateration came into being, a textbook on ripping people to shreds from behind the cloak of anonymity and precursor to the dark, dreaded “Comments” section on any web page. This thing is the Player Haters Ball of music journalism. Do you remember who wrote it? (Hint: Yuck.)
The SPIN connection? You’ll figure it out. Don’t hate!
The Daily Swarm Interview: Gil Reyes, Director of 'Searching for Elliott Smith,' Talks About His Eight-Year Project...
Gil Reyes directed and funded the documentary Searching for Elliott Smith. The film has not been slated for commercial release yet, but the director has offered screenings in Los Angeles with another in Denver soon (info can be found on the film’s website). In the film, Reyes examines the artist’s life and work through various interviews and archival footage.
The story of Elliott Smith’s life and the morose, intricate beauty of his music – and certainly the circumstances surrounding his death – couldn’t be better fit for a documentary. His story may have ended tragically, but he left a legacy of timeless music to be enjoyed for generations to come. Sadly, the breadth of that great body of work can get overshadowed by the dark circumstances surrounding his death. Fans, close friends and Smith’s family have been beset by the unanswered questions surrounding the artist’s early demise.
At the core of these unanswered questions? Smith’s fiancée/manager at time of his death: Jennifer Chiba.
Chiba was the only person there when Smith stabbed himself in the heart – twice. Chiba claims she pulled the knife from his chest. Smith died two hours later after being rushed to a hospital in Los Angeles. Many people close to Smith immediately pointed the finger her way – they were living together at the time and Chiba claimed that he injured himself while she was in the bathroom (none of this has been proven). This is where Reyes’ direction of the film shines; perhaps it took a person who wasn’t a diehard fan of Smith’s to tell this story. I got a chance to ask Gil Reyes some questions about the film, and with so much controversy surrounding Smith’s death all these years later, I figured we’d get into some territory never before explored in public.
Michael Mercer: You told me you were not a big Elliott Smith fan before you made this film, but that you became a bigger fan after getting involved in the telling of the story. Why did you embark on this particular story in the first place?
Gil Reyes: It was a combination of things.
When I began the project I’d already been working in TV news for years already, mainly as a writer and reporter. Your job is to condense sometimes complex stories into 30— to 45-second scripts for the anchors – or minute and a half packages if I voiced the story myself. I loved my job, but for once I wanted to tell a story that was completely my own, independent from my supervisors at work.
So it was October 2003, another celebrity had died in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t a household name. An Oscar-nominated musician who, the press reported, took his own life in nearby Echo Park. I had seen Elliott Smith perform on TV at the Oscars a few years earlier, but aside from that I never really listened or knew who he was. From what I gathered, his death deeply impacted a lot of people in L.A., particularly the music and arts communities of Echo Park and Silverlake, not to mention fans worldwide. Elliott was not only a respected musician, he was beloved. He gave money to the homeless, helped out struggling musicians and even started a foundation for abused children.
Local print media mentioned his death, but L.A.‘s television press did not. Why would they? Wildfires raged in Southern California that week so TV had bigger breaking news to cover. Also, Elliott was obscure compared to other big name stars, and TV news usually didn’t cover suicides.
Two months later, the L.A. Weekly updated Elliott’s story. It reported that the L.A. County Coroner couldn’t determine for sure if his death was suicide or homicide. Based on that the L.A.P.D. decided to keep the case open. Though police are no longer actively investigating, the case remains technically “open” to this day.
In Los Angeles TV news, where celebrities and homicides often lead the newscast, Elliott’s story now seemed worthy of at least a 30-second script… at least that’s what I thought. But still, TV news wasn’t covering. So I decided to cover Elliott on my own.
Public radio station KCRW began playing songs from his upcoming Basement on the Hill album. I bought the CD and was hooked, eventually buying his other solo albums and his Heatmiser stuff. What began as listening for research became listening for pure enjoyment. His songs cut pretty deep emotionally. Listening to Elliott was like talking through problems with an old friend, even though I never met him. I got an intimate sense of his good natured but troubled soul through his songs. The complexity of his lyrics was also supported by the simplicity of lo-fi recording equipment, especially in his early work.
I wanted all that reflected in the tone of my documentary, but I did not want to voice the story. It would be told entirely by the people who knew him best without any reporter narration at all. In TV news it’s called a “nat sound” piece.
Before I started, three friends around my age also died tragically. The last one took his own life. So my project allowed me to talk to others who experienced what I experienced, the idea of young death. Or that time in your life when you start realizing friends around your age can die or have died, and people’s reactions to that. Looking back, it was really cathartic for me to pursue.
MM: You made the hard choice to include Jennifer Chiba, risking the blessing of Smith’s family for the film and the rights to use his music. I salute you for chasing the story, but do you regret making this move?
GR: I don’t regret including Jennifer Chiba.
I felt it was only fair that she be allowed to speak her mind about Elliott and the controversy surrounding his death. I also thought people can listen to Elliott’s amazing music anytime, but to get Chiba’s account about what happened was unprecedented. That’s when I realized making rock docs can be tricky, especially if the deceased artist’s family owns the music. To get their permission, they have to like or approve of your project. In my opinion, this can compromise a filmmaker’s need to stay impartial.
The executor of Elliott’s estate, a family member, was originally open to my project. This person requested a rough cut as soon as it was ready, and also said it was important to mention the L.A.P.D.‘s open investigation in the film. I totally agreed. But when I later told the executor I secured a Chiba interview, she said no music would be allowed if Chiba was included. I asked why. The executor stopped communicating with me after that.
I ended up applying fair use, which allows limited use of copyrighted materials so long as the clips are commented on or critiqued. In the film critiques came from Elliott’s friends who collaborated with him on these works. I had an entertainment lawyer look through the edits. Where I needed longer music clips my brother Vinnie composed original music.
I could’ve excluded Chiba while mentioning the open investigation like the executor asked, but I don’t think that would’ve been fair to Chiba, especially since she wanted to respond. Or I could’ve totally swept Elliott’s death under the rug, which wouldn’t be right either. It happened. I wasn’t going to pretend it didn’t.
I also invited Elliott’s family, the L.A.P.D., and the L.A. County Coroner officials to appear on camera. And though I communicated with reps from each group either by phone or email, they all declined requests for on-camera interviews.
MM: You got a great deal of feedback from people in Smith’s life, from one of his high school teachers to Gus Van Sant. How did you choose who to include and who to leave out?
GR: I originally got a lot of rejections for interviews when I attempted to start in Los Angeles. Elliott had just passed away and everyone was still grieving. Then came all the buzz about possible homicide, and it seemed no one local wanted to speak up. I was ready to quit, until I got responses from some of Elliott’s crew in Portland, Oregon. So I started there.
The Portland people agreed to participate in waves, not all at once. Two years later I made a rough cut with mainly just them. I showed it to some of the L.A. people and they eventually agreed to help. I told everyone we’d only cover topics they’d feel comfortable sharing. And if questions became too tough to answer, we’d simply move on to another topic or stop the interview. So it really surprised me that people opened up like they did.
MM: How long did this film process take? Do you feel ready for an official release at this point?
GR: We began filming in August 2005. Before that, I’d spent six months to a year researching. This included tracking down contacts and requesting interviews. Also, reading and listening to everything I could find on Elliott.
Looking back, from a professional standpoint, that’s how research should be: when it doesn’t seem like work, because you truly enjoy being immersed in it. I think I also got into Elliott’s music because I was dealing with my own loss and it became a great diversion. I read one quote on his memorial wall on Sunset Boulevard once. Something like: “It’s more than just music. It’s like medicine.” I agree. His songs helped me cope with personal issues a little better.
The documentary became a work in progress. After one person agreed to be interviewed, then another person did, and so on. In 2009, we debuted a completed rough cut at the CMJ Film Festival in New York. Since then, we’ve tweaked the film a bit in between screenings across the U.S. and in South America. I think it’s finally finished.
As far as a DVD or online release date, I really don’t know. I’m not in any rush. There’s really no need to release it yet, especially since film festivals are still requesting. We’re also still benefitting from this sort of cool, underground buzz. I love the idea of screening in theaters/art houses in communities that support independent music and film. And then to be able to visit these neighborhoods, and meet like-minded people cool enough to buy a ticket – it’s really a great feeling.
Logan Crow, the director at Long Beach Cinematheque, originated the idea of having local musicians play Elliott covers before screenings. Not only do they gain some local exposure, they also contribute to an all around better program by showcasing their talents, all in honor of Elliott. The plan worked out really well in Minneapolis, and we plan to do it again in Denver this summer. We’re really excited about Denver. We’re screening at The Oriental Theater in July and our headlining musical guest will be Mary Lou Lord. She’s a respected indie folk singer who was very close to Elliott. She also appears in our film.
MM: If you could change anything about the film, what would it be?
GR: I wish Elliott was still around. Other than that, I wish authorities could’ve reached a definite conclusion about his case so we could include it. The only person alive who truly knows what happened the day Elliott died is Jennifer Chiba. At this point, I have no reason to doubt her story.
Here’s something interesting that’s not brought up in the film. I mentioned three friends of mine who died tragically before starting production, but since I met Chiba in 2007 three people I met through her have also died tragically. These were her friends. Two of them took their own lives. The last one died two months ago from a drug overdose. All of them were young, smart and good-looking. I don’t know. It’s just weird. And again, like Elliott, such a waste.
Do tragedies like this attract certain types of people? Is Chiba’s background as a mental health professional and former patient the reason? If I had explored this in the film, it would be less about Elliott, so I’m glad I didn’t. Still, I thought the coincidences were too weird not to mention. That’s a lot of grief to carry around, and that’s just from the few years I’ve known her.
I also wish Elliott’s family participated in the film. Also, authorities to speak on camera and on the record about the case. Beside that, I’m satisfied with the film.
MM: Have you guys thought about the commercial release yet? Are you looking for a Netflix/Hulu debut or shooting higher, like HBO?
GR: We don’t have plans for a commercial release yet. One really big company had approached us early, thought about us for months, but eventually rejected us. I’m not really concerned, though.
I could distribute the film myself. My co-producer Robert Manciero did that with his last film and recommends it, but that could also take take too much time and too many trips to the post office. Other distributors have requested I pay for their service. They seemed nice enough, but right now I think I want to avoid paying anyone. I could also wait until the L.A.P.D. officially rules on the case so we can update the story. But a conclusion may never happen according to one source.
I didn’t make this film for the money. I did it because I wanted to make something cool, independent and respectful.
It’s about about an artist I came to admire. Both as a musician and a person.
Alex Koenig (Chunklet)
As “The Week In Hate” typically demonstrates, hate is a potent thing. Hate can get a few heads kicked in, tear apart families, maybe even wipe out an ethnic group or two… but most importantly of all it is one of the core components of the Internet. So when Chunklet was asked to take the reigns of this beloved column we – rather than diving headlong into a series of pithy remarks and petty comebacks [Ed: We hate this already] – elected to probe into what was really sticking in the craw of the people; the average Joe, the masses in the street. But instead of going outside and deciding to actually physically talk to someone, we came to the decision that it would be best to stay at home and watch YouTube. After all, the comment section is the nexus of all Internet hate and unrest. And while you could very well do this yourself, it wouldn’t be recommended without the white rubber gloves of our cool journalistic professionalism.
We begin with Black Flag, simply because they and their fans are often such a cheery lot that finding a tussle in the comment section of one of their videos truly surprised us. The hate begins with a user by the name of LewDude45…
LewDude45: this is why all time low is better
NorrisGeez1986: please educate yourself…
LewDude45: i am educated. this band sucks, he is wearing short shorts
Now the clear lack of punctuation and reference to All Time Low (a band so far off anyone’s radar screen that we can’t even think of a sufficient insult) would indicate that this particular user is one of those Internet trolls and, even though he might be right about those short shorts, successfully gets the blood boiling…
Darrin McFarlain: Are you on crack? If it wasn’t for bands like this punk would have died a long time ago.
MrAaronhovey: punk is dead
Darrin McFarlain: Is it dead because its not on the mainstream? I’m pretty sure its alive and well bud.
TheIllegalKind: all time low is the gayest band to walk the earth nothing is worse than all time low you emo butthole
MrAaronhovey: hardcore punk was NEVER in the mainstream, i’m not saying there aren’t shows going on and music being put out, i’m saying its dead, not the same, never will be
Darrin McFarlain: Its not dead, if there are still hardcore shows being put on. And I know hardcore punk wasn’t in the mainstream, but you said punk is dead. Not hardcore is dead. The Genre is a live and doing well, just have to look.
forward300: all time low? that band is a fucking joke lol what a terrible example of a band better than black flag. they are an obsolete fucking speck in comparison. non-existent next to the unstoppable force that is Black Flag. Seriously man, how could you have fucked up so bad?
My my, in just one sweep we have quite the sampling of web bickerings as well as the poor grammar, numerous spelling errors and excessive profanity that are the hallmarks of the Internet commentariat. Let’s move onto a related video, which contains quite a bit of hate in and of itself…
Here Henry Rollins accosts a group of “hipsters” and manages (as impeccably as ever) to be both right and fundamentally wrong at the same time. (If they really wanted to make him mad, they could have just recited the spoken word portions of Family Man.) So essentially, Rollins reveals himself to be the big, loud, and secretly terribly insecure blunt instrument he’s always been. To the peanut gallery!
seymoresaymore: Dear Henry, from one old punker to another, you are one insufferable prick. You sound like those old men who put down punk rock back in the day, thinking they were all dropouts and calling the music “unlistenable shit”. How quickly you forget. This is like you wearing a Sonics shirt and having Gerry Roslie come up and berate you. It must be said, Black Flag were OK, but Husker Du, Minutemen, and Meat Puppets blew them out of the water. Because they didn’t sound like everyone else.
auggie87: Henry Rollins = Dane Cook of Punk Rock
mblader2k3: He just hates hipsters, and their ego bullshit and everything else. Remember this is a guy who has 30 years of unadulterated anger and punk rock fuming through his veins. Im sure Danzig has the same attitude
MrGreycharles: Hipsters have one thing in common: They’re all pussies.
And speaking of pussies, let’s move onto another band not far removed from the last in that the term “hipster” is bandied about frequently in reference to them –and Henry Rollins probably doesn’t like them.
(Get ready to void the bile you’ve been accumulating while reading this article, because things will, for a moment, get positively lovey-dovey…)
AmericanGirlDolls: Love is caused by a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s the connection we feel towards one another. There are many different types of love – family, friends, and lovers. Many say that your first love isn’t true, or real, but I beg to differ. It’s just a strong emotion two people share, and if anything your first love should be the truest of all. It’s pure.
Real love is when you love someone and your life doesn’t mind, and even if it did, nothing would break you apart from that person.
And then we have the prompt retort…
nylonbazooka: throw yourself down a well please
Then things proceed to get oddly Biblical…
IKillGoliath: God stepped down from his throne in Heaven, and came to rescue me and you, By dying on the cross, that you and i, may have eternal Life, with him forever: Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. the John 10:10 .The theif in these verses is the Devil showing he is real and an enemy to the truth i have shared with you.
And as if once wasn’t enough, in reply to 101ohok’s fairly astute remark that “No one cares”...
IKillGoliath: Those in Hell do! Thats not to make you scared, but to wake you up , He Rose From The Dead do you think he will not return, when he says he will! Will you care then but then it will be to late.Wake up! or his return with thunder and lightning and the Archangels voice will, wake you up. REVELATION 19: 11–16 google it.The Gospel of Luke if you care, even though he doesn’t.
In fact, IKillGoliath’s seemingly random missionary journey via the YouTube comment section almost makes you fail to notice the second highest comment:
FajitaSoldier: Like This if you’ve come searching this because of The Good Wife!
Okay, let’s get a little more focused and turn to something a touch more gentle…
Who knew that Skrewdriver’s “classic” “White Power” would ruffle so many feathers. Here are the comments, out of context and out of order as if that matters…
GAMINGgrungey: Its not that fucking racist, you moronic fuck-tard. All its about is giving more control back to the whites due to the crimes commited by the blacks, and the unfair treatment towards whites. Trust me when I say that the whole ‘Hate Crime’ Idea, was fucking retarded because if a black hits a white guy he just gets charged for assault. If a white hits a black he gets charged for a hate crime and thats even more of an offense…Your ignorance is bollocks.
misfitsmama: Amen, Reverse descrimination!
feeldanny13: Im a spic and I condone this message.
GodHatesNaziFags: Immigrants are taking your jobs and fucking your wives, girlfriends and daughters!! HARD! While you are at the bar pissing and moaning about a WHITE GENOCIDE (mass suicide) FACT!
alopez3202: Kill the spics, burn the jews. White power, white power (robin william’s voice)
Let’s turn our attention to a more domestic source for our right-wing hate speech. Now if you were to guess that a relatively harmless live performance of “Cat Scratch Fever” from 1978 would be a conduit for a lively political discussion then perhaps you are a bit more learned and cynical than a large bulk of the Chunklet staff…
DEC0Y0CT0PUS: America hasnt sucked for the last 232 years. Its just started sucking when we’ve started electing politicians instead of military figures to office. A politician is the rat of the world. Why are you arguing with me anyway? You call me stupid then you still struggle to compete with any of my statements. All you can say is basically “how can you expect the PRESIDENT to fix the US when other presidents have come before him” I dont know what you think his job is but its to fix the US. He’s failed.
vlamaypab: You shouldn’t flatter yourself, like the rest of conservative bullshitters you don’t see reality. I have 500 spaces to say what I need to and you have never dealt with those who messed this country up, only one who hasn’t fixed it. Then you speak lewdly and when I respond to that bullshit you try to be intelligent. However like FOX you are unbalanced because you don’t believe truth in history just repeating what YOU say over and over to be true. USA reaping what they’ve sown prior to Obama
butuh13: Ted says if Obama is re-elected then this time next year he’ll be “dead or in jail” Well consider me a one issue voter! Four more years!!!
Xalena831: Who the Hell cares.. I love his music.. and his right.. don’t touch my guns.
And, as if Neil Young with severe brain damage and the previous “dialogue” wasn’t gun toting or patriotic enough for you, let’s end with the most patriotic-est song to ever grace our proud American airwaves (and quite possibly the only YouTube comment section with rhetoric so dubious)…
What a slideshow! It’s the ultimate song for wearing your jingoism on your sleeve. At this point the song has become so obvious a punchline that our poking fun at it any further would only make us look bad… so let us have the commenters play us out. And as a final note, it would really help the ambiance if you let the song play while you read the comments…
Thescreensaverr: 1617 Democrats disliked this.
sharksldw: EVERYONE is a sinner and while the USA may not have done the best things, I must say a one thing. Like Lee Greenwood, I, Lee Wood, am proud to be an American, and I am looking forward to serving my country in the United States Air Force or the United States Navy. THIS IS THE BEST COUNTRY ON EARTH! One last thing. GOD BLESS EVERYONE ON THIS EARTH!!!
888777888x: Who’s ready for WW3? CIA, MI6, & Mossad are directing armed groups to carry out massacres inside Syria. GOD BLESS HUMANITY!
Adam19822000: Anyone that doesn’t like America can suck my balls
CorThunder1: I don’t care if you don’t believe in God or even a religon. If you think that this song is un-patriotic, offesive or untrue then go live somewhere else for a change. Mabye Greece, I hear they have a great welfare plan you can leech on.
Mary Williams: ok,2the guys and girls that are saying “usa sucks and where the live is awsome” just shut the fu#! up cuz no country is perfect, and WTF are you doing on this page anyway?! im proud 2 be an american because there r soldiers out there dieing for us, but you guys have 2 be black hearted terrists and complain about it, and dont even get me started about your countries becuase they are not the best either!!!! at least i am not on a page about ur country and if u r against this post, i am right here
That was indeed quite a journey and I don’t know about you but I think we’ve all officially lost faith in humanity collectively. Thank you and good day. [Ed: Only on the…]