my new book where are your sons tonight Contains material from over 300 hours of interviews with over 150 subjects.
Just typing it makes me tired.The book is his 460-page oral history, from his Y2K-era basement of emo to Warped’s rise to his tour and, ultimately, TRL And the VMA red carpet. It features bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out of His Boy, as well as scene stars, journalists, executives and die-hard fans who have watched the genre explode.
Oral history is daunting, but there is no other way. In his ten years as a full-time music journalist, I have written everything from essays and news articles to profiles and reviews. For me it all starts with the interview and that’s my favorite part.
Interviewing musicians is a skill in itself. Some musicians are avid readers themselves, eager to discuss how they fit into the discourse of the day. Others are tougher. Maybe they like to let their music speak for itself. Maybe they are too introverted. Maybe they don’t have a very good memory. But it’s my job to connect with all of them and communicate the value of sharing their stories.
Aside from a few teenage years playing bass guitar to Fall Out Boy and Arctic Monkeys songs in my bedroom, I’ve never been a musician myself. During my seven years on the staff of , I got to know many musicians. signboard And freelance for outlets like vulture and stereo gumBut most of my advice for interviewing musicians applies to creatives of all kinds.
The first question is about finding ambiance.
I like to start interviews with low-risk, open-ended questions. How’s your release week going? I saw your show the other day, what did you think of the venue? This answer probably won’t be final, but it will help both sides move the interview forward. You never know how a person’s day is going or what they were dealing with just before they came to you.
Interviewing musicians is a skill in itself. Some musicians are avid readers themselves, eager to discuss how they fit into the discourse of the day. Others are tougher.
This allows them to calm themselves down and also helps gauge their moods, such as whether they seem particularly excited or reluctant to open up. increase. Is this one of those interviews where they have to avoid rambling to make the most of the little 15 minutes the publicist has given her?
But be obedient. When I was an intern, signboard, I tried to make small talk with Duran Duran’s John Taylor, and he was basically like (in more polite terms), “Boy, don’t you want to ask the real question?” Yes, especially in interviews with big celebrities, you basically have to start with “Hello!” I know you have a busy day, but could we start now? “
Ask questions in a natural conversational flow, even if you’re working with a limited amount of time. You will write the questions down (printed or in your head), but you don’t have to ask them in that order. Specify some mandatory questions. it is better to Listen to yourself. And promise me you’ll hear from me someday. Once you’ve established that, treat the interview like a conversation, interspersing questions (and follow-ups) where you see fit.
Let’s talk professionally. But you don’t have to speak like a professor reading a notecard. Unless you have a specific reason to word the question carefully, let your curiosity take over. As I listen to your albums, I find myself wondering about this and that, but after all these years, I can’t remember you talking about this or that. Can you tell me a story about this or that?
This is pretty much how we asked Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance about the moment they met. This is an important part of my book, but it’s also what I wanted to know. The more sensible spontaneity you ask, the more likely you are to let the artist’s guard down and get a correspondingly honest response.
Compliments are great, but honesty and specificity go a long way. If an artist is doing press for a new release, they’ve probably heard the words “Congratulations on your new album” hundreds of millions of times. Do you have any riffs stuck in your head? Got a lyric you can’t wait to ask them? Let’s bring that up instead. They’ll appreciate you spending quality time with music, and that could lead to quotes that help your story.
Questions about which artists you’ve listened to, favorite albums of the year, etc. are often unanswerable. I think most people tend to freeze when placed in a situation like this. Besides, most musicians don’t follow the flow of new releases like journalists and critics do. If you really have to ask a question, ask it early and give it another chance when you have time to think it through.
You don’t have to feel obligated to ask lots of questions about the new project they’re pushing. Your work is inherently attention-grabbing. Unique questions keep you interesting. As a result of doing press conferences for my book, I learned how much fun it is to be asked thoughtful, unexpected questions after answering the same questions over and over again.
Are there any old songs that are beloved by their core fan base that would please their current point of view? Asking Gym Class Heroes rapper Travie McCoy about performing with Lil Wayne at her 2007 VMAs felt like opening a door to a world outside of my book.
When interviewing the band, try to interview the members individually.
It’s important to keep the whole band dynamic, but time is often wasted by one member monopolizing the conversation or insider jokes that aren’t funny outside the tour bus.
A more relaxed and sincere response tends to come from talking to people one-on-one. I once interviewed Billie Joe Armstrong, Pete Wentz, and Rivers Cuomo together. signboard cover story. Our time was cut short without warning, and it felt like it had taken a toll on my story. I couldn’t even ask some of the most important questions.
But this was fortunate. Their spokesperson agreed to set up one-on-one interviews to make up for lost time. Since the rapport had already been established, speaking individually made it much easier to ask personal questions.
Ask difficult questions.
I often hear advice to wait until the interview is over before asking particularly difficult questions. This is partly true. If it’s a question that’s so shaky that you think it’s going to flip the subject and end the whole interview, yes, save it for last.
However, remember that celebrities have media training and many of these people have already practiced their answers to the expected difficult questions. If you feel comfortable in the interview and the opportunity presents itself early on, ask questions in a genuine conversational manner.
You may get an honest response, but there’s no reason why you can’t ask for a serious follow-up. And how did you feel in that moment? Is there anything you think people should know more about this issue? If you can go beyond your clickbait duties and show that you’re a real human being passionate about this topic, you might be rewarded with story-defining replies.
One of the most moving anecdotes in my book comes from My Chemical Romance bassist Mikey Way, when a fan told me how his band saved a life. This was not a big, calculated request for me. We got there by discussing how big comic book culture has become and the costumes that MCR cosplayers have worn over the years.
If the subject asks to retract the citation…
If I were interviewing politicians, I would very much stick to the old (and important) journalism principle that anything that happens in an interview that isn’t marked off the record is on the record. without exception. They are elected officials who make policies that affect us all.
For people who work in the arts, I tend to navigate off-record/on-record with more leeway. I often listen when a subject contacts me the day after an interview and asks me to rephrase an answer they didn’t like. But be sensible and assert yourself as a journalist. Even if the publicist asked me to cut the whole interview down by an hour, he wouldn’t.
Find non-famous people who have spent a lot of time near celebrities.
So let’s say you’re interviewing a band about their new album…there’s no rule that only they are allowed to be interviewed!
Maybe your work will use quotes on your subject from artists you toured with 50 years ago, before they became famous. Or from someone who sold merch on that little tour. There’s a good chance that the big star you’re writing about spent a lot of time with the star long before he hid away in a fancy tour bus.
For those less interviewed people, the interview process will be more novel and exciting. Some of the best quotes in my book about My Chemical Romance come from Kate Truscott, who sold merch on their 2005 tour when they were at the height of their fame. For Paramore, I tracked down early producer Mike Green (2005). All We Know Is Falling) and David Bendes (2007) Riot!).
Whoever you are, try to find these hidden experts. They can reveal behind-the-scenes stories that the subject doesn’t want to tell or remember.
And for super-celebrities…
Celebrities who have answered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of questions so far often speak like media-trained robots. You have to make a real effort to ask them things that have never been asked before. This is how you shake them off the autopilot. And don’t forget that their fans — those who read your story — have seen them answer the same questions over and over again.
When I interviewed Pete Wentz for my book, I focused on an interesting thing I had never seen him talk about. In the late 90s, before Fall Out Boy, he briefly played bass in the ultra-confrontational left-wing hardcore punk band Racetraitor. The band recently reunited and got a bit of press, but with Wentz no longer involved, his perspective on the Racetraitor seemed lost to history, especially as a man of mixed race himself. (This is another mostly overlooked topic.)
Discussing all of this resulted in some of the most valuable quotes in my book.
Looking to the future…
Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to engage readers with new music. We have more media choices than ever before. Readers are more likely to be interested in content featuring well-known names, so publications are less likely to fund interviews with emerging artists.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for interviews with baby artists you think have potential. Many questions, even basic ones, they will answer for the first time, perhaps before they have had any media training. You will get their most sincere response.
Even if it’s just in indie circles, if you manage to do the first interview with an artist who is going on to an eventual stellar career, both you and the publication will circulate special interviews for years to come. will be
where are your sons tonight By Chris Payne, available from Dey Street.