So, I recently did a few interviews regarding my band and some upcoming shit we’ve got going on. For those of you who don’t know but still care (and I’m guessing that’s a pretty small piece of the Venn diagram, but whatever), my band, the Lawrence Arms just played a big hometown show at the Metro, we’re demoing songs for a new record and we’re going to Australia in February with Metallica and Slayer (technically, this last point is true, though it’s under the umbrella of the rather large and sprawling Soundwave festival, which features tons and tons of bands, so it’s disingenuous for me to say “hey, we’re touring Australia with Metallica and Slayer” but it’s not a lie, and it’s such a hilariously awesome thing to say that it’s what I’m telling people. Fuck it, right?). Anyway, that’s what’s up. We’re doing some writing, which will lead to some recording and we’re doing some trans-continental globetrotting. Also, the end of the year is coming up and all those ‘best of the year’ features need people like me (vague notoriety, nothing much to do, lots of opinions, kind of a dildo) to espouse on my faves and disappointments from 2012 for their ‘year end roundup.’ As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to journalists, which is cool, but man…there are interviews that kick ass and there are interviews that just blow. I’ve gone over this before in this very space, but it bears repeating, so I’m gonna tell you what makes an interview shitty by way of a few examples.
Okay, at this point I should mention that I have, in the past couple of years, conducted a few interviews myself for JBTV and I’m well aware that I’m much better at being interviewed than interviewing people. I tend to be unnecessarily challenging when I interview people, and I don’t know why that is. Part of it has to do with the fact that I think the best stuff comes from really pressing into things, but as an interviewer, I seem to have trouble distinguishing between exploring a concept thoroughly and just asking profoundly stupid, shocking questions. I mention this because I’m about to talk about what makes for a really bad interview question, but I want to be transparent about the fact that I know that in practice I’m a shitty interviewer, so yeah, who the fuck am I to tell people how to do something I can’t really do very well myself and who the fuck do I think I am to dare have a problem with this brief moment in my life when people actually give enough of a fuck about what I have to say to put effort into getting words out of me? I get it. I’m an asshole and an armchair quarterback. Whatever.
So, here’s the worst possible interview questions that you can be asked, in no particular order: “What does your band sound like, for those people out there who haven’t heard you?” “Who are your influences?” “What does your band name mean?” and finally, my personal least favorite “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?” Let’s go through these one by one and discuss why they’re questions that suck.
The reason you’re interviewing someone is presumably to hear them talk, right? A good interview is like a conversation where the interviewer gently steers while the interviewee kind of goes off on tangents and generally lets his or her guard down enough to be conversational and maybe reveal greater truths or naturally recount anecdotes through the course of the conversation. These questions don’t do that. Here’s why: “What does your band sound like, for those people out there who haven’t heard you?” is a question that will immediately put your subject at odds with you. It’s my opinion that if you’re gonna take the time to interview me, whether you give a fuck about my band or not, you can at the very least go listen to a song or just read a review. Bands are notoriously bad at describing their own sound, and it’s not interview body material anyway. The way a band’s “sound” should fit into an interview (if at all) is like this: “I sat down with Brendan Kelly, the loudmouthed know-it-all shithead bassist from everyone’s least favorite gritty, midwestern punk band that only sings about beer and crying. Here’s how the conversation went:” It’s intro paragraph shit. Not interview shit. You don’t need to go into sound in a printed interview anyway. It’s dumb. It’s a waste of time and it shows that no amount of effort whatsoever is being put forth by the interviewer to A) do even a little bit of research or B) write a compelling piece.
“Who are your influences?” is even worse. This question is extremely lazy and reductive and it forces people to just make a list of bands that they think they sound like which is at best obvious (“Oh, the Lawrence Arms are influenced by Fifteen”) and at worst, totally fucking stupid (“Oh, the Lawrence Arms are heavily influenced by angular, esoteric mod 70’s shit”). This question, once again, forces the interviewee to do a bunch of heavy lifting. All of a sudden, he or she has to go through their brains and try to list off bands that they’ve listened to that they think has effected their output. It may sound like a small thing, but it’s fucking obnoxious. This SAME kind of question, reframed in a much more inviting way, would be “Are there any albums that you got when you were a kid that made you think, ‘Man, I want to do this?’” or “Do you remember the first time you saw a live show that totally, unexpectedly blew your mind?” Do you see why this is different? It’s asking to recall a specific memory, one that probably has a revealing story attached to it. It’s not a request to make a list of bands. It’s a pointed reminder of what are certainly pivotal moments in someone’s life.
“What does your band name mean?” is such a stupid question that I shouldn’t even have to go into why it’s bad, but if you MUST know, firstly, it’s very lazy (see “What do you sound like?” and “Who are your influences?”) and beyond that, the answer is always fucking stupid. Always. There has NEVER been a good story about why a band is called what it’s called. Here’s the fucking story: a bunch of dorks were sitting around and trying to think of what to call their shitty new band. At one point, someone said something, and the other people in the band went “hmmmm…that’s not too bad. I’m cool with that” and boom! That’s the band name. This is 100% true 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter if a band has a great band name or a shitty band name. This is how it came about. Period.
Finally, we come to “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?” This question is just as lazy as all the others, in that it’s asking the interviewee to just pluck a good story out of the ether with no sort of real reference frame, but it’s even worse because there’s a subliminal “wow me with this story” element that’s so fucking irritating I can’t even really explain it without getting angry. “What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on tour?” is a challenge that essentially says “hey, come up with a story right now that will wow me and my readers.” It’s the interview equivalent of shooting at someone’s boots to get them to dance. It sucks and if you ask this question, you are A) bad at interviewing people and B) bumming out everyone you interview. You know how when you come back from a long trip and people ask you what you did, or if there were any good stories, you go “hmmmm…so much happened, but it’s all kind of a blur. I dunno, I fucked some dude in Berlin, but that wasn’t really that cool.” but later, conversationally, the real stories emerge? That’s the difference right there. “What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?” and the rest of these questions for that matter, are nothing more than the journalistic equivalent of the shitty conversation you have with your aunt at Thanksgiving that goes nowhere and sucks because neither of you want to be having it.
Okay, that’s all. As you were. Just wanted to throw that shit out there.
Have a nice weekend, y’all!