Got any cool stories from the road?

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!

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23 Responses to Got any cool stories from the road?

  1. dustyfloors says:

    I think the “for those who haven’t heard you” question is probably the dumbest. I mean, who stumbles upon, and then continues to read an interview of someone from a band they’ve never heard of?!

    • Marty says:

      You might have heard of the band, but not heard the music. I read interviews of musicians I don’t know as they often have interesting things to say and stories to tell. It’s also a better way to get into the band rather than say, reading a review.

  2. Mike Henry says:

    This reminds me of “Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader”. It’s a compilation of all of a ton of his interviews where you can just feel his frustration. It really points out the struggle of answering questions like these.

    In Art I get questions like “Describe your art” or “What kind of art would you call this?” and it is probably the most frustrating question.

  3. Chick says:

    I think you need to stop whining. Your lucky enough to have people wanting to interview you.

    • prairie oyster says:

      Yeah, he didn’t concede that very thing in a hyper self-aware disclaimer opening this very blog entry, or anything. This is the equivalent of feeling A-list celebs should “quit whining” about paparazzi invading their personal space 24/7 on account they “should be so lucky” dumb, prying, vapid shitheads are so cuwwwious about every aspect of their existence. They’re human. Enjoying and feeling fortunate in one’s profession isn’t (and shouldn’t be) tantamount to loving the shit out of everything that tends to come part and parcel with it, like say, shitty interviews. You stupid or somethin? hehe

    • thesleepigig says:

      You posted the same shit on and still don’t get how that’s stupid ? Come on…

  4. Peter says:

    The Metallica name origin story is actually awesome

  5. Batman says:

    People ask me how I got my name all the time. I’m like duh. Fucking annoying.

  6. kanthackit says:

    That’s funny.. That really is how every band name is made huh.. I always wanted to call a band Taking Back Cans On Sunday or just Taking Back Cans.. My first band was called KantHackit of course hence the Alias..

  7. buuuuurp says:

    Beex ya think the sisters Lohan have ever passed a normal bowel movement between em? Stead of just aenemic lil rabbit pellets?

  8. Matt says:

    glad I didn’t ask any of those at pouzza fest last year. my questions may have been a bit shitty though

  9. vern says:

    check out my blog! It’s a magical blog! It’l make you breakfast. sausage. eggs. boiled goose.

  10. comfort in buns says:

    Aaalrighty anna kendrick, ya’ve had a good lil run! Now kindly move back to maine, marry a reeeal physically fit surgeon and go sailing all the fucking time, or something

  11. Kris says:

    This is excellent. Paragraph four…I love paragraph four. I agree with absolutely everything about this post except for one. Go ask Star & Micey how they got their name. It’s a cool story bro – and one I wished I had asked during their interview (on air) rather than while we were playing their music, but you know, I have a “rule” about band names and interview questions! That’s it, all I got. Except…excellent post.

  12. RealPressPass says:

    No offense to your statements. I know these questions are all asked a million times. I would argue that if you are working for a site or magazine you have to cater to your readers. The reason why these questions are asked a lot is because this is the junk a lot of uniformed people want to know about a musician. Here is why:

    You influences – so they can know if they’ll like you compared to what they normally listen to

    Your band name meaning – so they can know why you chose to fly your band under the banner you do.

    Your crazy tour story – so they can live in the moment of hearing a crazy rock story.

    What the worst part of all of this is is 90% of the time artists don’t want to answer these questions, and give a false answer or a say they are put on the spot so they don’t know. The truth is any band should be happy to get any kind of press. Part of the job of an interviewer is to get through some stock questions so readers know basic information about the artist then continue on to better questions that artist hopefully don’t answer a lot. The job of the interviewer is not to expect the readers to read it somewhere else and steer readers away from the publication they write for, but instead provide their readers with the information so they won’t go look somewhere else.

    Conversational interviews are great, but in press blast you can sometimes only get 15-20 minutes and it’s really fire and go. So it’s not always afforded.

    • Party says:

      I’ve never once given a fuck about who a band’s influences are. 99.9% of the time a band sounds nothing like their influences. It’s a bullshit question.
      A real journalist, as he said, does a bit of research and probably includes a short description of the band in an intro. That question is like actually printing the Q&A: “What is your name and can you spell it for me?” Information that might be important but sure as shit shouldn’t be part of a finished piece of journalism.

    • thesleepigig says:

      I’d rather get a really short but interesting interview than a short interview so generic and boring that it makes it feel longer than it is.

  13. RealPressPass says:

    I think asking about the recording process of an album gets overused a lot, but if you are promoting an album it’s a question that really has to be asked a million times. That’s just the game you always start at level one before you can get to level twenty. Level one usually consist of bad stock questions.

  14. kylewagoner says:

    I still exist and I still love ya, brah. These fuckers added me to some Facebook group the other day because I’m an OG Sandwich or some shit like that.

  15. Vin says:

    ‘Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.’ Frank Zappa.

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