L.A. Record celebrates its 100th issue with a month-long festival kicking off this weekend
L.A. Record is the city's liveliest bastion of grass-roots, punk rock, seat-of-your-pants music writing. It's the kind of magazine where the writer can ask an audacious question of a musician and instead of that ending the interview with an unceremonious click of the recorder, the musician just goes with it and amps the level of freaky a few notches higher.
After five years and 100 issues, the magazine published by Charlie Rose and founded by rockers-about-town Chris Ziegler, Rose, Dan Monick and Sean Carlson, has interviewed scads of performers from all ends of the musical spectrum, including Flying Lotus, No Age, Billy Joe Shaver, HEALTH, Genesis P-Orridge, Fever Ray, Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola, Stephin Merritt, Terry Riley and Yoko Ono. The one uniting factor here might be that all of these musicians traffic in a certain iconoclast spirit, rebels and sass-talkers operating just a little or a lot off-center from the norm.
The next issue is L.A. Record's centennial rag -- and its first as a quarterly, instead of monthly, incarnation -- and in honor of such an auspicious accomplishment in today's withering environment for the printed word, the magazine will be kicking off a month-long citywide slew of events. Buy an L.A. Record 100 card for $24.99, and you'll get free or discounted admission to 120 events, including shows with Nite Jewel, Nora Keyes, We Are the World, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, the Growlers, Dum Dum Girls and Blitzen Trapper, plus some multimedia events, gallery shows and screenings. This weekend the party kicks off with the Dublab System DJs, Abe Vigoda, projections by Videothing and a special guest at Nomad Gallery. All proceeds go toward CalArts Community Arts Partnership, which provides free, after-school programs for youth.
We talked with Editor in Chief Ziegler about the history of L.A. Record. His story of talking to GZA after an earthquake memorably illustrates the kind of singular encounters that can happen only to a music writer living in California.
On the anniversary of your 100th issue, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about putting out a paper?
That it can be done! Which is sometimes a hard lesson to learn!
You’ve been making a print product and a Web product for some time now. What are the strengths and weaknesses of those different forms? Do you believe “print is dead,” especially for music criticism/writing?
I don’t think print is necessarily dead, but I think the old model of printing a newspaper is probably about to go under. But then I also don’t think it necessarily has to — or "had to" if it’s time to use the past tense? Print will probably have to be free and have to work as an artifact and not just an information delivery system, but there’s still value in hard copy. The Web is great because it’s fast and far-reaching and can deliver any kind of content — if you can hear about a band, you can actually hear them. But print works better for things like huge artwork and long articles. And the information lasts longer. I worked at three different newspapers in the last three years, and two of those went out of business, and the hundreds of thousands of words I wrote for them exist now only in whatever isolated back issues are still out there. So — lesson learned? I don’t think work should be that easy to erase.
We do run essays in our review sections, but I like Q&As for a few reasons. First, it makes the paper accessible. If you can ask a question, you can be a part of L.A. Record. You don’t have to have experience in long-format features. I always wanted L.A. Record to be as open to people as possible. We have a lot of contributors that other publications might consider "untrained." I like to think of them as "untamed." Some of them are musicians themselves and have only been on the other side of interviews — No Age, Jared Swilley from Black Lips and Nobody all did great work for us, and Michelle Suarez from Mika Miko helped me find some of my favorite bands. I would hate to lose those kind of voices.
And Q&As are fast. When we were publishing weekly, it would have killed us to do two 1,000-word reported features every few days.
It’s also direct — there’s very little interference between the reader and the musicians. You open up the paper, and these conversations just come roaring out at you. Pure Henry Rollins or pure Ariel Pink or pure Jennifer Herrema. I like the documentary aspect of it too. It’s the raw transcript of a particular moment in L.A. music. They said it, and we printed it and here’s as much as would possibly fit. The format just works for us — simple, flexible and effective.
What are some of the most beautiful, strange, possibly violent, etc. encounters you’ve had with musicians through L.A. Record?
Violent? In the 100th issue, Harmony Korine stops the interview to go Tazer someone — but not our interviewer! Mika Miko met me in some crazy sculpture park while they were shooting each other (and me) with water pistols full of whiskey. I was supposed to interview GZA the day we had a decent quake. My building was evacuated, and I’d just walked back in when the phone rang, and I was still kind of adrenalized and confused, so I was like, "Uh — who is this?" And he shouted, "It’s the GZA, fool!" Honestly, I leave interviews pretty energized. The musicians I talk to are dedicated, educated and inspired to do what they do and it makes me do my best to be as dedicated, educated and inspired in my own work. Just about every 72 hours I am reminded why music is such a powerful positive thing — it happens on the lawn eating mangos with Chicano Batman or as I’m getting scolded for putting my laptop on the Brite Spot dinner table with John Carpenter or when I’m learning how to order "the Flying Lotus" at Subway with Flying Lotus … over and over again! There are real people out there doing real things. It reminds you that although you might have to struggle, you don’t have to settle.
Where do you see L.A. Record at issue 200?
As a quarterly, that would put us 50 years from now! So I’ll say… as the last hope for human civilization.
Photo of Chris Ziegler by Dan Monick.
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