Go Forth (vol. 2)
Adam Robinson is a poet and publisher of a magazine and a press. I thought people who write and also want to run a magazine and a press would like to look to him for sage words.
NICOLLE ELIZABETH: Adam, what is Everyday Genius?
ADAM ROBINSON: Everyday Genius is an online journal that gets updated with a new poem or story or drawing or _____ everyday, Monday through Friday. Usually I get someone else to choose all the pieces for an entire month, so the styles change regularly.
NE: How did Everyday Genius begin?
AR: One night I was driving home from work and thought, Online journals are cool, I should do one, and it should be updated everyday, instead of just four times a year or whatever.
NE: How long has Everyday Genius been going?
AR: Since April 2009. The first few months were kind of spotty (though awesome).
NE: What kind of writing is Everyday Genius interested in?
AR: Well, because of the guest-editing system, the interests vary. I think of my role as an editorial curator, choosing people who I think will choose work that is different from what’s been done recently. Like right now, Jackie Wang just put together an interesting month that includes a lot of political, queer, transgressive poetry. In September, Michael Kimball will present what I’m sure will be a more traditional month of unconventional fiction.
AR: I like to keep it different, because there are so many different things out there, and though I might not be an expert in all of these things, I sense the keen importance of everything.
NE: What is Publishing Genius?
AR: Publishing Genius is a small press. With PG, I publish about four books a year, I think. I’m not sure of this.
NE: How long has Publishing Genius been going?
AR: I started it in earnest in 2006. It was a chapbook publisher initially.
NE: What kind of writing is Publishing Genius interested in?
AR: My whole thing, my entire purpose here, is to find things that make me go, Whoa, how did that happen? I guess I like trick endings, extraordinary storytelling, and stuff that makes me get kind of emotional.
AR: Because there are a few ideas in the world that I keep coming back to, keep rolling around in my brain. Like, Cat’s Cradle, by Vonnegut. I’m not sure if I read that novel again right now it would affect me like it did when I read it fifteen years ago, but I’m desperate to find something else that does.
NE: What is Everyday Genius/Publishing Genius’s stance on literature, as a whole?
AR: Literature is important and holds the key to a brighter tomorrow. Also, movies are literature, and TV shows.
NE: Are Everyday Genius and Publishing Genius available in print as well as online, and where can one find both and/or either/or?
AR: I guess all the Publishing Genius books are available in print, but not Everyday Genius (though The June Issue is a print issue which just came out). A person who is interested should go to publishinggenius.com and there are links to the many different aspects of the press there, including Chapbook Genius, too, which is an online chapbook series that’s been going since 2008 or ’09. There’s a nice piece by Nicolle Elizabeth in there.
NE: What are Everyday Genius and Publishing Genius’s plans for the future, aside from taking over the world?
AR: Everyday I ask myself, will I be doing this next year, too? Sometimes I want to be and sometimes I don’t want to be. I will be, though. My immediate next step is to get a business partner, someone who knows more about startups and business than literature. There are a lot of ingenious people like that here in Baltimore.
NE: Anything else you want to say whatsoever here, given that it could have been a little more comprehensive on my part (sorry)?
AR: I would like to reiterate that literature is important and holds the key to a brighter tomorrow.
James Brubaker and Joshua Cross both edit and write for the music section at The Fiddleback, an online journal of literature and the arts. Cross’s fiction has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal and Evening Street Review. Brubaker’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Indiana Review, Keyhole, Barge, Vector Press, elimae, and elsewhere. The Fiddleback, founded in 2010 by Jeff Simpson, can be found at thefiddleback.com.
BRANDON HOBSON: The Fiddleback is pretty prolific with music reviews. As editors, how do you decide what to review when there’s so much music out there to choose from?
JAMES BRUBAKER: There aren’t very many of us writing for The Fiddleback, and we’re just starting to receive outside submissions and queries to write reviews, so we have to be somewhat selective in what we choose to cover. That being said, our selectivity largely revolves around each of us deciding what we’re excited about at the moment. As a result, the majority of our reviews are positive. Sometimes, though, we cover albums that feel “big” or “important,” but more often than not, someone on staff wants to write about those anyway. Sometimes, but not often, we’ll review something that frustrates us—a recent example of this is the new Best Coast album. I loved Crazy for You when it came out in 2010, and I wanted to like the new one so badly, but I just couldn’t get into it; that became a review. When it comes down to it though, when deciding what we’re going to cover, we always begin with what is exciting or interesting to us, and then if we need to add or subtract albums from our lists, we look to what albums are getting attention and ask if we want to be a part of those conversations, or look at what albums aren’t getting a lot of attention and cover them to try to increase their profile as much as we can.
JOSHUA CROSS: A lot of times, I choose albums to review before I’ve even heard them, based solely on how much I’ve enjoyed the band or artist’s past work. I like to choose albums I’m eagerly anticipating. That’s why I chose Dirty Projectors and The Antlers for the most recent issue—Bitte Orca and Hospice are two of my favorite albums from the past few years, so I was excited to hear their new work. I think that’s why most of my reviews are generally positive. But it also explains some of the more negative reviews I’ve done—the Shins and Iron & Wine come to mind—when artists disappoint my expectations going into an album. If an album by a band I’m not familiar with catches me, then I like to review it too, so I’m not just writing about bands I’ve had history with. I really like that DIIV album that came out recently, and I thought about reviewing it too, so I was glad to see Brian Flota’s review in this issue.
BH: Many of the reviews from The Fiddleback are of albums with indie record labels. Do you pay much attention to record labels when you decide what to review? Similarly, do you feel a need for more reviews for albums from indie labels?
JB: I don’t know that I pay attention to labels before I review something, but I have noticed my own biases toward particular labels. I’ve probably reviewed more 4AD and Subpop records in the last few years than everything else combined. But a great deal of that is because those labels are in the midst of impressive hot streaks right now. I don’t often buy records or even necessarily seek out records based on their labels, but that’s beginning to change.
I have a hunch that labels, especially smaller labels with a clear curatorial purpose and consistent aesthetic, will become more relevant as the music industry continues to fracture. I just finished an interview for our October issue with a guy named Keith Rankin. He has his own recording project called Giant Claw, and he co-runs a label called Orange Milk Records. Their label does a great job of releasing obscure, experimental electronic albums, and the artwork for their releases all has a consistent aesthetic—it’s very retro-futurist and a little kitschy, like hipper, prettier versions of old Trapper Keeper designs, almost. They primarily release cassettes and vinyl records, and if I had the cash, I’d buy everything they put out. I like having that kind of relationship to a label’s output and that kind of thing has been important in the past (I’m thinking way back to Sun, Stax, and Motown all the way to Dischord, SST, and 4AD), and I think we’re going to start seeing more of this, again.
As for the importance of reviewing albums from indie labels—I’m not sure this is as important now as it was ten, or even five years ago. Indie music has become fairly significant, at least with people who read album reviews. It’s certainly important to seek out weird little albums that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks and tell people how great they are. This is probably one of the most important functions of writing reviews, but unless you’re one of the super-big sites (ie., Pitchfork), I’m not sure reviewing indie albums is going to have much of an impact on the industry. And even for Pitchfork, indie vs. major label probably isn’t that big of a question because their audience, I’d imagine, already has a pretty clear sense of what they like and what is available to them. The right review from the right source can push an Ariel Pink, or a Grizzly Bear, or a Bon Iver, or a Beach House to a high tier of success, but they’re still not going to be on the same level as Taylor Swift or whoever.
JC: Quite honestly, I don’t pay much attention to labels. Most of the time I don’t even know what label released an album I’m reviewing until I look up that information to include in the review. There are some truly fantastic labels putting out consistently stellar work, and that may persuade me to listen to a band that I’ve never heard before, but it doesn’t influence my decision on whether to review something. The only time I pay attention to labels when I’m reviewing an album is if the artist has moved from one label to another. Then I try to figure out if this coincides with a change in the band’s sound, and how one might explain the other, in terms of production or sound quality. It’s a means of establishing context for the review.
BH: What is The Fiddleback’s stance on music reviews in general?
JB: I’m not sure we have a clear stance toward our reviews, but I know that what I like personally, what I tend to try to include in most of my own reviews, and what I look for in the reviews I read is an emphasis on context. I’ve read a great deal of backlash against some of the big-name music websites for not writing enough about the music, and focusing too much on the culture surrounding an album or artist. That is precisely what I think is great about music writing right now. The music—it’s not irrelevant, but it’s the music—is something we’re going to experience and react to on our own terms, and while reviewers can and should assess albums on a formal level, to some degree, such assessment is impossible without accounting for the knowledge and experience of the reviewer, as well as the circumstances of an album’s release. Nothing bores me more or more quickly than a review that walks through each of an album’s tracks, tries to describe how the tracks sound, then talks about if each song is good or not. I don’t learn anything from that, and it doesn’t change the way I’m going to listen to that record. I find this “stick to the music” approach boring and arrogant. It assumes an objectivity that doesn’t exist in how or why we react to art. What excites me, though, are reviews that teach me, that provide some historical context, some social context—I like hearing how an album fits into our cultural moment, to explore the conversations happening around particular albums and to situate an album into a context. Even reviewers that situate albums in a personal context can be fascinating—I may not share the same life experiences and tastes as a reviewer, but by reading how and why a reviewer is hearing an album in a particular way, I can get a sense of how I might react to an album. At this point, how can anyone even begin to think about the new Passion Pit album without at least reading Larry Fitzmaurice’s stunning Pitchfork cover story about Michael Angelakos? It doesn’t make sense.
One of my favorite things to read for the past nine years have been the 33 1/3 books, put out by Continuum. A big part of my interest in the series is how many of their best books do such a great job of situating albums within historical or cultural contexts, and then saying some interesting things about those albums within those contexts. In fact, some of my least favorite books in the series are the volumes that just go song by song, describing and reflecting on what makes each song so great; who cares—tell me why an album matters, why it makes you feel the way it does, why I should care about it. Teach me something that makes me hear an album differently if I’ve heard the album before, or instructs me on the best way to hear it for the first time. I’ve always said, my favorite books in the 33 1/3 series are the ones that make me go back to an album with which I’m intimately acquainted and hear it with new ears. So, in short, while we aren’t always successful in pulling it off, one of the most important things I like to see in any review—including ours—is context.
Nicolle Elizabeth is a first-generation college graduate from the middle of nowhere and is a contributor at the Brooklyn Rail, Bomb, and a whole bunch of fine places. She is the poetry editor at Word Riot, also a bike mechanic, and you should follow her on Twitter because she is a cornball: twitter.com/thismighttank.
Brandon Hobson’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Believer, NOON, Puerto del Sol, Post Road, New YorkTyrant, Web Conjunctions, Forty Stories: New Writing from Harper Perennial, and elsewhere.