Michael Azerrad is one of the most respected and acclaimed music journalists in the business. Known for books like Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana (the only essential Nirvana book in the great big sea of Nirvana books) and the definitive Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, Azerrad has also had high-profile writing gigs at Rolling Stone, Spin and the New York Times.
His newest role is that of editor-in-chief at the Talkhouse, a music website that offers something more than the regular album reviews and rating systems. At the Talkhouse, Azerrad provides a place for musicians to write about other musicians. All of the pieces are quality, smart adventures and the writer/artist combinations are frequently mind-blowing. (Lou Reed reviewed Kanye West's Yeezus, for example.)
We contacted Azerrad and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the website and to give us some insider information about how the artists are paired and processed.
Jaime Lees: Explain how the Talkhouse functions. Do you contact the writer or do they propose ideas to you?
Michael Azerrad: I reach out to the smartest, most notable musicians I can think of and ask them if they'd like to write for the Talkhouse. And more often than not, they're into it. But they're not professional music critics and they can't be expected to write about whatever album I throw at them. So they look through a listing of upcoming releases and find something they're excited to write about, positively or negatively. Sometimes there are albums I know they'd be into, and I suggest those. A good example is that I knew Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend is very knowledgeable about hip-hop, so I asked him if he'd like to write about the Drake album. And he wrote a brilliant, hilarious piece of satire about it.
The interesting thing about this process is that the Talkhouse winds up being a very reliable index of the music that musicians are actually interested in -- as opposed to the music that the industry is hyping. So we'll get Luke Temple from the excellent Here We Go Magic writing about a real songwriter's songwriter, Cass McCombs, who isn't really a super-buzzy artist but is very respected by his peers. And that's one of the things that makes the Talkhouse special.
You're known for your books, but the Talkhouse is a frequently updated website. Which of the two formats do you enjoy more and how are they different for you as the person in charge?
It's apples and oranges. A long-term project like a book has its charms and a daily updated website is also really fun. Obviously, there's a lot of glory to be had by getting your byline on an acclaimed book. But writing is really, really difficult, and with the Talkhouse, I get to delegate that laborious and heartbreaking task to other people. With writing a book, you don't really have to depend on anyone but yourself to get the job done, which can be great; on the other hand, editing a website means you depend on other people to be diligent, and that can be great too -- when someone turns in a piece, it always makes me so happy that someone went through all the trouble of writing this thing, really putting themselves on the line because they're passionate about the music. So writing a book is about outdoing yourself, and editing is about helping other people outdo themselves. I love doing both.
How do you deal with the issues of quality control? Are you wary of writers who might just want to praise their friends? More to the point, have you ever had any writing turned in that you didn't want to publish?
Continue to the next page for more of our interview.
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