by Dan Bolles
Hey, Solid State. How's it hangin'?
This evening I'm participating in a panel discussion at UVM put on by Alaina Janack from WRUV. The topic is "The Art of Interviewing" — or something along that line, anyway — and will feature some other pundit-types from various media sources. I'm typically not a huge fan of doing these types of things, especially at colleges. More often than not, you end up speaking to a room full of apathetic students who couldn't care less about who you are or anything you have to say. Or maybe I'm just a crappy public speaker . . . hmm. I guess there's a reason I make my living behind a keyboard. But I have high hopes for this one.
Interviewing has been one aspect of this job that has consistently scared the shit out of me. As such, it's a skill I've worked very hard at improving upon. But like any skill worth having, my interviewing prowess is a work in progress. So I'm really curious to see what other folks who regularly conduct interviews have to say about the subject, and also to field questions from kids just getting started. It should be pretty cool. And it's always good to have an opportunity to take a step back and speak objectively about what you do. It often helps to put things into perspective, at least for me.
On that note, this morning my editor sent me an interview with Village Voice music editor Rob Harvilla, conducted by Academy for Alternative Journalism fellow Ling Ma. The piece is part of an ongoing series published by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) called "How I Got the Story," which profiles writers who won first-place 2008 AltWeekly awards — our version of the Grammy, or at least the Juno. (Note: 7D writers Ken Picard and Suzanne Podheiser both won top prizes this year. This writer did not . . . sniff.)
Harvilla has some provocative things to say about his approach to the job, and the distinct peculiarities of music criticism in general. Personally, I was shocked — and a little tickled — at how closely Harvilla's sentiments mirror my own. Check out the snippet below. And read the entire interview here. It's a good one.
LM: How have you seen your style of music criticism evolve over the years?
RH: Oh, I'd like to think I've improved. Honestly, it's pretty frivolous. I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way, but you know.
LM: Something I've noticed in your reviews is that you do more than just evaluate how a band sounds; you also try to entertain the reader.
RH: I think that most people, like my parents, don't have much experience or interest in music criticism. For people like that, who just like music, they don't react so much to me saying, "It was fiery; it was energetic." They're not persuaded by adjectives. It's more engaging to them if you can describe the people, the atmosphere, and even the weather; if you can sort of set the scene. So I think it's more important to do that than straight criticism.
LM: How do you describe sound?
RH: I think over time rock critics have come up with their own lexicon. There are words we use that no other person in any other profession uses. "Angular" is always a good one. Most of the time, what you do is just draw an outlandish analogy to some actual physical objects. It's a really strange form of creative writing, and it definitely lends itself to overwriting. It's a weird way to make a living.
No doubt, Rob. No doubt.