Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Folks Behind the Music - JJ from The Obelisk

The Obelisk. What needs to be said?  They're one of the main staples of the heavy rock scene, the main forum for discussion and one all around badass site. And JJ runs it like a Swiss Train.  Simply perfect.

In fact, it's the photo below that inspired this entire series of "Folks Behind the Music" interviews.  I saw JJ, at Stoner Hands of Doom, writing feverishly between performaces, scribbling out notes that he'd then go back home and post as a day-of-the-show update.    It was that dedication to his site, his devotion to the music, that uncompromising passion that captured me.  I had to know what made this guys tick.

So here we go. 

Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of writing about music?

I wish I could take credit and say I knew it was what I wanted to do all along, but I can’t. In college, I worked at my school’s radio station and sort of flopped into an internship at The Aquarian, which is the longest-running alt-weekly newspaper in New Jersey, and  from there I became a columnist, then the editor – which is one of my professional gigs now – and just kind of fell into doing criticism.

I had always loved writing, kept journals like I think a lot of people do (more than will admit it, anyway), and loved music, but I just wanted to write all the time. From when I was about 11 years old on. As soon as I could do it, I wanted to do it. I still just want to write – be it creative nonfiction, fiction, whatever – but writing as a career isn’t really feasible since I’m neither that talented nor that good at marketing myself. Writing about music as a career path wasn’t something I knew you could actually make a life choice to do – and I think probably in terms of lifetime earning potential, future prospects for growth and several other levels, it isn’t. Or at very least it’s a choice anyone who’s thinking about getting into it wants to ponder long and hard before making – but once I found out, there was really no other choice for me.

Basically, I’ve discovered over the course of the last decade or so that I’ve been doing this for one outlet or another (I left The Aquarian for a couple years to work at Metal Maniacs but went back after the latter folded) that I’m completely inept at everything else, and that writing about music, for better or worse, it’s pretty much all I’ve got. It has been a startling realization, but I consider myself lucky to have come to it before my bridges were completely burned.

We're all the product of our musical past. What's your musical history? First album you ever bought? First musical epiphany moment? First album that terrified the hell out of you?

Couldn’t tell you what the first album I bought was as a kid. I was the younger of two siblings and so took some significant influence from my older sister. Somehow I got ahold of a copy of The Beatles’ Past Masters Vol. 1, and that was the first CD I ever owned. I had it before I had a player to play it on. Shortly thereafter, I swiped a bunch of her CDs that had recently come out – C.O.C.’s Blind, Rollins Band’s The End of Silence and so on. Soon after I bought copies of Master of Puppets and Alice in Chains’ Dirt and Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese and that was the end of me. Lost to it. I got into metal early-enough on in high school, listening to the shitty bands that the mid-‘90s had on offer, and then a coworker at the KB Toys where I was employed at the time (store #1051 in Morris Plains; gone now) told me I should check out Amorphis. Their Tuonela album was one of the first conscious explorations I had of underground metal. Shortly after, I was given a mix tape (yes, on tape) with At the Gates on it. Heavy stuff for a 16 year old. I’d heard Clutch at that point, dug White Zombie, Type O Negative, Fear Factory and stuff like that, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I really began to dig into heavy rock, Kyuss, Sleep, etc., or even really gained an appreciation for Black Sabbath, though Ozzy’s earlier solo stuff had always been a good time. I was basically a metal kid. A lot of heavy rockers, as I’d later find out, come to it through punk.

New Jersey of course was home to one of the best heavy rock scenes in the country, mostly in the middle part of the state, in Red Bank, which birthed the likes of Monster Magnet, Solarized, Core, Halfway to Gone, The Atomic Bitchwax, Solace, and on and on. Simply put, I was late. I missed its beginnings. Similarly, New Brunswick has a history of putting on hardcore house shows that at this point goes back more than 20 years and has launched the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan and probably a dozen others whose names I’ve no real interest in tracking down. I missed that too. I’ve never felt like I was a part of a scene. None of my friends in high school really liked the same music I did – or if they did, it was a passive thing – and by the time I was doing college radio, metalcore was starting to come up and that got a lot of attention. I don’t want to paint myself as some kind of righteous outsider who was in on some cool shit before everyone found out about it. That’s not the case. I was a loser then and I still am in much the same way. I’ve always felt apart from whatever is happening around me. The only difference is now it happens at stoner rock shows because people actually show up.

The first record that scared the hell out of me was Covenant, by Morbid Angel, which recently turned 20. I heard it when I was 11 years old and had never encountered anything so extreme before. One of my parents’ friends’ kids was into death metal, I remember. Death posters on the wall, and I heard Morbid Angel for the first time and wondered what was going on, if his record player was broken or something. Similarly -- and I expect this is something a lot of headbanger-types can relate to -- the first time I heard Slayer, I wasn’t so much scared, but completely dumbfounded. I had no idea what to make of it. I had been rocking my Primus tapes (nothing against Primus; even though Les Claypool decided the jam circuit was where he wanted to be, the first couple Primus records are heavy rock classics in my eyes) and along came Seasons in the Abyss and I felt like the album punched me in my prepubescent kidneys. Maybe that’s not an epiphany, but it was wild.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

Clutch’s Earth Rocker seems like a fair pick, though really, I feel that way about a lot of albums that I hear. Even for records that don’t spark a deeper kind of resonance, there’s usually something I can wind up getting stuck in my head. I felt a bit like I was a sucker for how much I listened to it, but the new Queens of the Stone Age grew on me after a few listens and became pretty essential for a while. I don’t think it’ll hold up over the long term like their earlier records – I still listen to Songs for the Deaf on probably a semi-weekly basis – but even in its adult-pop form, I think there’s merit in Josh Homme’s songwriting.

Those are higher profile, I guess – particularly the QOTSA – but even recent outings by The Flying Eyes and Borracho struck a chord with me that I’ve been really digging. I’d say it’s been a strong year for music, but the truth is there’s no such thing as a “bad year” if you keep an open mind and are passionate about searching out those things that will stick with you, trying to find that perfect vibe or groove or whatever it may be.

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

I see a lot of good things happening. It’s easy for people to say they think things used to be better way back whenever they were too young to be jaded and/or 10 years before they were born, but that’s a copout as far as I’m concerned. You can either make the most of what you have in the moment or it’s your loss.

It’s an interesting time when you have a wider market taking interest in what until this point has been underground music. The difference is accessibility, but as bands have come to put more of themselves out there via social networking, videos, online promo, etc., that wall between an elitist underground and the casual listener has broken down – somewhat. I don’t think it’s bad or good, I just think it is. Genre will always exist – you don’t say science fiction isn’t science fiction anymore because they make big-budget movies out of it – so I’m fascinated to see what happens in the next few years as the sort of wider fascination with doom and underground heavy expands, shifts and gradually affects the genre as a whole. Look at bands like Pallbearer and Pilgrim, who’ve been able to present a modern take on what, to doomers long immersed in the style, are pretty traditional elements, to a wider audience while at the same time others who’ve been at it longer or were a part of influencing those bands in the first place continue to toil in obscurity. It’s interesting to think about what makes those differences, what allows one band to reach a level another won’t for whatever reason.

Part of it is generational, and of course it’s not just music. There’s bound to be a gap between what an older age group enjoys and what a younger group enjoys, and the context for that enjoyment is going to be completely different based on the experience. The 1990s are ripe for nostalgia to people in their teens and 20s now who weren’t born when they actually happened the first time. It’s easy to see culture as a downward spiral into some unknowable horrible oblivion, but for as long as there’s been culture, that’s been the view of some about it, and we haven’t crashed yet. If it seems lame to me, I won’t listen, watch, read, or whatever. Maybe the best thing about the glut of media in which we now reside is that we can have more control over to what within it we expose ourselves. People tell me about pop songs and I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’d just as soon keep my head down and keep working.

With so many music sites, how would you describe what you do? What's your unique take on the music and writing?

The best description I can come up with for what I do is “a work in progress,” and I like that sentiment. Some days I feel like I have a ton to offer people who come to the site, like it’s a really unique project and that it gives something anyone who happens by can’t get anywhere else, and then other days I feel like it’s crap, like I’m never going to catch up to where I want to be with it, like I don’t have enough time to make it what I want it to be, like I write hack reviews and have nothing to contribute to the underground community and am basically just jerking off and wasting time I probably should spend growing the hell up.

Basically, what I have is my perspective and my voice as it shows up in my writing. Even if I’m saying the same thing as someone else – as I’m sure I do all the time, including in this interview – it’s my manner of saying it and the frame I’m putting it in that makes up my point of view. If I can stay true to that and be honest in my writing and in conveying my opinions, I feel like I’m at least headed in the right direction, which is all I can really ask as I seem to permanently lack any semblance of a master plan for the site – again, “work in progress.” I don’t know where that progress is leading, but I do like how the site has changed over the four-plus years it’s been going, adding the Forum, the Radio, and just the changes it’s brought about in my writing and my approach to criticism in general. I’ve been writing about music professionally for a decade and I’m happy I still feel interested in doing it and like I’m able to continue to refine what I do and hopefully add a creative or at least interesting spin that someone will think is worth coming back to read again.

One thing I do: I make mistakes all the time. Even without Wordpress changing things that should be bold or should be in italics to be not at all bold or in italics (it is maddening for someone as prickish about format as I am), people’s names are constantly screwed up, lineups, who plays what. I’m thankful that people are quick to correct me, and I take it as a sign of investment in what I’m doing that they would think enough to make sure it’s correct when it’s posted. I rely on that and use it as a reminder to be humble in my assumptions and to back up my opinions and facts with due research.

Illegal free downloads on your site. Yes or no, and why?

Absolutely not. Not ever. I won’t do a download or a stream without permission from the band or label. Probably the closest I come is YouTube audio, but even that I’ll use the band’s account or the label’s where it’s available. I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve never illegally downloaded an album, but if it’s something I’m trying to critique, promote in some way or even just spread the word about it, it seems antithetical to the interests of professionalism and the goal of that promotion to put something up without permission. If an underground band can make even five bucks off selling mp3s from Bandcamp, I’d be a prick if I undercut them by giving that away for free.

I guess downloading is useful for bootlegs or something long out of print if you’re not into tracking down a physical copy, but I’d just as soon stick to actual media – CDs, vinyl, tapes, whatever form it might take so long as it actually has a form – anyway and use streams and YouTube videos and whatnot as the promotional devices they ultimately are. I get paranoid about the watermarked downloads labels send out and most of the time, I’ll forego listening to a record if it comes in that way. Let’s say I get a download, get hacked and something gets out with my watermark? Am I supposed to think that Relapse, Metal Blade, whoever, is going to be like, “Well, that’s cool, we know you didn’t mean for it to happen?” Hell no. They’re going to sue the shit out of me. I was on the wrong end of something getting out years ago (long story, but no, I did not rip the album and release it online), and it fucking sucked. Obviously my aversion to digital promos hasn’t hurt the “bigger” labels, so that’s fine. I’d rather support the people who are going to take the time and make the effort to give me the full product to review anyway. You don’t watch half a movie and review that. You don’t drive half a car and review that. If an album was just its music the form would’ve died out already.

What's been your all time greatest "Find"? That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

Good question. I have no idea. There have been acts along the way that I feel like I’ve caught onto pretty early, but I’m hesitant to claim to be first at anything. There’s always someone there before you.

I do have bands who I think of in my head as “Obelisk bands.” I’m not going to name any names, because I would never lay claim to someone else’s work or say I feel proprietary about it, but there are definitely bands who I feel like I’ve been supporting what they do for a while and at least in my mind, there’s some unofficial affiliation there that I’m happy to be loyal to them and do what I can to help, when I can or when asked. I think other sites probably have the same even if they don’t realize it or think of it a different way, and ultimately I don’t imagine it’s any different than someone who’s a fan feeling like there’s a connection to a given creative work. I have stuff that I’m a fan of too, and when I’m approaching something from that perspective, I’ll generally say so. If you check in on the site regularly, I think you can probably get a sense of where my personal tastes lie.

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why? What makes that song so important?

I think I probably came close a couple times in reviews last year. I know with the track-by-track breakdown of the Neurosis record, I hit 600 more than once. That’s about as close as I’ve gotten, though.

There are a few songs I can think of off the top of my head that this might be fun to do with. “Into the Void” by Sabbath, “Dopesmoker” by Sleep seem obvious choices, or maybe “Flood” by Boris. It might be fun to break down the milliseconds of each of the breaks at the end of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” by Kyuss. It’s not really a question so much of if I could -- I write a lot of wordy stuff, this interview included – it’s probably more about if I have the time and energy to do it and if I do, am I better served spending that time and energy talking about something new instead? My brain gets pretty fried by the end of the day. I have to kind of budget out my mental energy.

Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

You Ripple types are pretty hip. I’m not sure I’ve got any secret bands no one else is in on, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t be keeping them to myself. As I said, the new Borracho and The Flying Eyes records really took me aback with how good they were. Admiral Browning’s new one – it’s called Give No Quarter – is bad ass. And I’m eagerly anticipating the full-length debut by Beelzefuzz in all its weirdo-doom-prog glory.

Tell us about your personal music collection. Vinyl? CD? What's your prized possession?

I’ve done reasonably well avoiding buying vinyl, despite the resurgence of the format and the current dictates of trend. I’d still rather have a CD any day of the week. For the volume of music I want to acquire in a given month, I’d be vinyl’ing myself out of the house in no time. It’s expensive and less durable. I have some, and whenever a band sends me some for review or something like that, I certainly appreciate them going the extra mile in effort and expense in doing so, but in general terms, if I’m going to track down an album, I’m tracking it down on CD.

Currently it’s all in boxes because my wife and I just moved, but I have bins of old promos and things I figure I won’t want to listen to anytime soon, and then what I want to have ready access to I keep on shelves. I had one shelf that held somewhere around 2,500 discs that I couldn’t move (we built it in the room and it was too big to get out) and another that holds about 1,800 and that’s enough for me to work with for the time being. Eventually I’d like to set up a library for music and books, but I don’t see myself being able to afford to do so anytime in the near or even mid-distant future. In boxes for now, but for promos that have come in for review and a few recent acquisitions.

Not sure on my prized possession. I was glad after a couple years of searching to find a copy of the first Colour Haze album, Chopping Machine, on CD. I’d love to get my hands on the second one, Seven, which the band released in 1998 on self-burned CDRs. I think they only made 50 of them or something. That kind of thing is awesome, but for me too an album is as much a prized possession when it’s something I really love to listen to. Delmar by (Los) Natas comes immediately to mind. It’s out of print but it’s not especially rare. You can get it. But it’s a record that I love and wouldn’t want to part with for anything. I’ve got a couple copies. Ditto that for Dozer’s albums, my Sabbath bootlegs, the Clutch catalog, Kyuss stuff, and many others.

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

I’ve met a lot of really great people along the way, and for it being the internet – which I think we all know can bring out the worst in humanity at times – I receive far more encouragement than I do derision, and when someone leaves a comment on my site it’s more along the lines of, “Hey I love this band” than “Hey blah blah something racist, sexist and/or homophobic,” and I’m thankful for that. That’s not universal, but it’s the case the vast, vast majority of the time. And the people I’ve met in-person, whether it’s at shows, or at a record store, or at Roadburn or something like that, or even who just emailed me or messaged me on Facebook out of the blue to say something positive about what I do, are amazing. I find that completely astounding and gratifying that somebody would see my work and feel strongly enough about it to reach out and say so to me. Especially on the internet where it’s so easy to jump from one page to the next with no thought or even stop-time, that means a lot. To meet someone in the Netherlands or in London and have them know what I do well enough to ask me how The Patient Mrs. is doing, or for them to tell me about their band or their site and what they’ve got going on or whatever it might be, or even just to shoot the shit about some record, I love it and I’m humbled by it. I don’t know that I would have been able to go as long as I have without that support and I feel lucky to have it.

I take a tremendous amount of inspiration from someone like Walter Hoeijmakers from the Roadburn festival, who’s dedicated years of his life to his greatest passion without knowing where it might carry him and found that not only can he support himself doing it and gain the respect of the community, but continue to thrive in the creativity of what he does and grow his project year after year. There are few people out there like him, and I’d never go so far as to compare what I do with the Obelisk to what he’s doing with Roadburn. He’s someone who has gotten to where he is by doing what he believes in and I greatly admire the strength in that.

Also, when a band tells me that I’ve gotten it, or thanks me for taking the time to listen – that’s incredibly gratifying. Because it does take time. I won’t review a record I haven’t heard front to back at least six times (don’t ask me why, but six is the magic number – listen to an album six times and on the seventh you know it), and every review I write takes a couple hours out of my day. I try to write to the standard of the review being seen by the band itself. It means that if you’re going to be critical, back it up, and it keeps me honest about the things that I like and the things that I don’t like, and moreover, why I think something is or isn’t working. I’ll also very rarely just rag on a band. If there’s something I feel that negatively about, I’d just as soon not waste my time when there’s so much other good stuff out there.

But “worthwhile” is a big question, and a lot of days, I wonder the same thing. I’m not a kid. I’m an adult. I work full-time, I’ve got a wife, rent to pay, responsibilities. It’s not always easy to remember the things that keep you going, but it makes it that much sweeter in the end when those things find you again or you find them, however it might happen.

How would your life be different if you weren't writing about music?

Ha! Picture me 80 pounds lighter, driving a nice car, short hair, no beard, decent income and maybe – just maybe – a sense of value to what I do. No, that’s a fantasy and I know it, though in my worst moments I go there, and not irregularly. Truth is, I have no idea. By now, I’ve spent a decade, which is a little less than a third of my life, writing professionally about music. Never mind the Obelisk, I mean for work; as a means of (sub-)gainful employment. I have 10 years of managerial and editorial experience under my belt and no idea what I’d do with it if I wasn’t able to keep doing this. The Obelisk is a passion project, and it’s something I put a tremendous amount of time, effort and myself into making. I didn’t realize when I started out how much of an extension of who I am I would come to think of it as being, but that’s how it wound up. I worry on days when I get less than three posts up. I fret about the design (oh I need a new design terribly), about Wordpress unbolding things I put in bold, about image sizes, placement, have I done the daily backup (which I actually just stopped writing to do, mind you), etc., but I don’t know what I would do without it. I could say shows would be less stressful, because I wouldn’t have to worry about taking pictures or remembering things or taking notes or whatever, but maybe I wouldn’t go to shows at all. I’d be a completely different person. Maybe I wouldn’t even listen to music if I wasn’t writing about it. I don’t know.

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

No way. People are fantastic. I’ve had a couple bands over the years who haven’t taken criticism well, and I know there are plenty more who are disappointed after mailing me their CD and it not winding up being reviewed – and to them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry; please know that at very least your album has a good home and I’m on board for next time or helping out in some other way if I can – and some probably think I’m a dick for not wanting to spend five hours writing up the Bandcamp stream they took 30 seconds to forward to me without bothering to learn my name, which is right above the contact form in bold on my site, but nearly universally, everyone has been great, whether it’s regular readers returning to comment – people like Mike H. goAt, TVsRoss and even Bill from The Soda Shop, who’s always been crazy supportive – or someone sending me an email with, “Hey I just found your site, thanks for hosting such-and-such.” I’m incredibly fortunate both on the blog side and the forum. No threats. I think most people get a sense of what my project is and of where I’m coming from in terms of wanting to support bands and the “scene” as a whole, and their support mirrors that. It’s awesome.

Thinking about “scenes,” I go back to something Dave Wyndorf said when I interviewed him about the last Monster Magnet album (and I know I’m getting off topic here, but I don’t get interviewed often, so you’ll have to forgive me). He said, “It sure would be nice to see a physical scene instead of, ‘We have our scene, it’s on the internet.’ That’s not a scene. That’s an idea.” I know he’s talking down the notion of online community instead of something like the Red Bank, NJ, scene that launched his band back in the ‘90s, but it’s a quote that’s stuck with me the last few years. I love ideas. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of an idea? A physical scene of bands and others helping and promoting each other is a beautiful thing – I won’t ever say otherwise, and hell, if I could be a part of something like that, why wouldn’t I want to be? – but who says it has to be limited to one or the other? If I can be a part of the ideas side, then why shouldn’t I put everything I have into that? “That’s an idea.” Hell yeah it is. It’s a great idea. Let’s do it.

In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

Remember when Mötley Crüe put out that shitty song, “If I Die Tomorrow?” God damn, that was bad.

Well, if I die tomorrow, I have no delusions that the internet would even burp at the loss. Take music and imagine a pie. Heavy metal is a small piece of that pie. Then heavy rock and doom and psych is a tiny piece of that already small piece. Little more than a crumb. A crumb-plus. It’s a niche within a niche. If my work over these years with the Obelisk has helped a band in some way, I’m so glad and I think that’s incredible, but the thought of “being remembered” doesn’t make any sense to me in terms of writing about music. Who remembers genre music writers? “Oh yeah, that dude who got our bassist’s name wrong in his review got hit by a bus yesterday. Super-duper.”

At some point, I’d like to write a book. Really any book’ll do. But I’m not the kind of person who gets to do that. NPR writers, Pitchfork writers – people like Brandon Stusoy, Kim Kelly, Sasha Frere-Jones, even Fred Pessaro from BrooklynVegan and now Invisible Oranges – they’re the ones who touch on the wider market and expose bands to people who aren’t ingrained in the genre. They don’t get to go as deep into it as I do (and likely they’re not that interested), but I don’t get to reach as many people as they do and I have a lot of respect for that. It’s a balance and I don’t know if I’m on the right side of it or the wrong, but it’s where I’ve ended up, so right and wrong is moot anyway. They get to write books though. Not me. If resources (read: money) weren’t an issue, I would travel and write about music. That’s what I would do. I applied for a Fulbright a couple years back to go to Sweden to write about bands and the community there. Naturally, I didn’t get it, but if I could, I’d go places and write about music. I find that to be the most satisfying kind of work and because of that it also brings out the best in my writing and perspective. Imagine record shopping in Stockholm. Why not? Going to see The Grand Astoria in Moscow. My Sleeping Karma or Wight at some club in Germany. How amazing would that be? Or just to go and be at Duna Jam. Just once.

These thoughts are my version of escapism. I’m a niche in what’s widely regarded as a dead-end industry and what I do is relevant to a very select – admirably passionate, but limited in number – group of people. I won’t complain about it, but that’s the fact. I would much rather be remembered as someone who wasn’t a total piece of crap than someone who wrote a review of a band’s album. I’d like to be and try to be the best husband I can to my wife and a good person to my family and the few friends I have in and out of music. I’d hope and not ask for anything more than to be remembered by them for trying to be a decent human being – even if I’ve failed, which I do all the time – than for having contributed something grand to a creative sphere, which is an assessment I’m neither qualified to make nor comfortable making and which I’ll say flat out that I don’t feel I have. As regards the Obelisk, I have my thing, I do it, and I guard it closely because it’s an extension of who I am and my thoughts and feelings, but I consider it no more immortal than I consider myself. This too shall pass. What matters is people.

Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay. Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

The Obelisk eats up a pretty decent portion of my everyday. Depending on the album and how much I think there is to say about it, a review can take between two and five hours to write, and then in the interim, there’s news posts, videos, audio, interviews and whatever else. Email interviews take me forever to put together because I want to be precise in my wording and not have the person on the other end take a question to mean something I didn’t intend. On the phone, it’s much easier because you can inflect your voice. But so the whole thing rounds out to be more or less a full-time job, and yeah, there’s no pay. Even with the site’s in-house label, The Maple Forum, I never made a profit off any of those releases, and with the last one, the Clamfight album – which was brilliant and sold quickly, which was awesome – when the post office doubled the rate to ship to Europe, I pretty much had to throw up my hands and take the loss. I don’t know yet whether I’ll do another release. It would have to be something really special.

My job is the aforementioned gig as the managing editor of The Aquarian, where along with my associate editor, I run the editorial department and have a staff of about 30 freelancers as well as five or six interns working under me. We put out a new issue every Wednesday and it is a full-time position for sure. I’m in front of a computer all day – two computers, actually; a desktop for the Aquarian and my laptop for the Obelisk – so I can work back and forth between tasks. Some days the rhythm is off and it takes me forever to get anything done, but other days I function pretty well. My average Monday-Friday I work from about 9:30 in the morning until 7PM and by the end of that I’m usually pretty braindead. When the words get cloudy on the screen I know it’s time to call it a day.

I don’t make a lot of money. But the way I have my existence organized – no kids yet – allows me time to do what I want to do on the side, so that counts for a lot. As even the time it’s taken me to turn this interview around shows though, I don’t have a lot of space for much else. Even things like answering emails or writing band bios, which I’m asked to do from time to time and am happy to whenever I can. If it’s either that or get another post up on the site, it’s not really a choice for me. And very often it is one or the other. I’m very fortunate in that people ask me to contribute to different things sometimes, and I appreciate it and often I say yes because I actually want to be a part of what they’re doing and contribute as much as I can, but I wind up disappointing them and myself when I’m unable to make it work with the limited time I have.

What's next? Any new projects?

Well, I like the way the site has evolved over time, so I’m less inclined to jump headfirst into some drastic change rather than let it shift naturally the way it has all along, kind of grow as I continue to grow as a writer and hopefully continue to be of some use for people who are looking for something to check out or for bands to get word out about what they do. I hope over the next month or so to get back into podcasting on a semi-regular basis, as I feel like that’s something that’s been missing and for the few people who dug that, it can offer something that even the 24-hour stream of the Obelisk Radio doesn’t – which I guess is the element of selection and recommendation; me saying, “Here, this is cool, check it out,” as opposed to the Radio, which is more random. Though I like that a lot as well.

As I alluded to earlier, my wife and I recently (not to place myself temporally, but “recently” like last week) moved to Massachusetts from New Jersey, about half an hour south of Boston, and so I anticipate that will bring some changes. I’m closer now to Boston than I was to New York, so that will be handy for going to shows – two this week coming up – and I’m lucky enough to know good people up this way whether it’s the Roadsaw cats, Cortez, Black Pyramid, Gozu, Elder, Olde Growth, someone like Johnny Arzgarth and others. Great bands and great people, and though my family still lives in New Jersey so I know I’ll be back in NYC soon enough (Aug. 19 for Truckfighters and Kings Destroy being next), I’m excited for the prospect of a new place, new venues, new bands and what that will inevitably bring to The Obelisk. It’s an enviable community up here, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever be “from Boston” – I spent three decades in New York and was never “from there” – I was made to feel welcome before we even moved in, and that was awesome.

Ideally, what I’d like to do is find a spot to open a bar/venue. Boston has so many great places – clubs like the Great Scott, O’Briens, Radio, and so on – but it seems to me like Providence, Rhode Island, which is only about an hour away from where we are, might have some opportunities and as there are many tours that don’t cut far enough north to come to Boston (Orange Goblin aren’t and Truckfighters aren’t, which are the two that come most immediately to mind), I think I could make a place work in Providence to pull people in from the area and offer something cool that maybe other people aren’t at this time. AS220 in Providence does some awesome shows and there are other spots as well, but there is a creative community of local artists and musicians there that I’ve found to be really turned on during my limited time in the city over the last couple years – hell, for Armageddon Shop alone, Providence rules – and I think it would be a great place to try and put something together and make a go. That’s probably a longer ways off, but whether it’s bands coming up from the south to do weekenders or putting on local shows, I can very easily see myself in that role and I’d like to be able to contribute and help promote acts in that way. Of course I’d tie in the site as well, whether it’s recording sets, reviewing shows, whatever I might feel inspired to do in that space until I can finally go retire and live in the woods somewhere.

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

My wife, who not only has the generosity of spirit and pity to continue to support a creature as physically and emotionally wretched as I am, but who compels me to think critically about myself and the world around me and makes me a better, richer person than I know I could ever be without her. I am the luckiest boy I know. I’m 31 years old and at this point we’re coming up on 16 years of being together, so for about half my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have her support, and indeed, her patience, which I test on an almost hourly basis. Right now, in fact, as there’s a full to-do list of chores and I’m sitting on the laptop, as ever, typing away. I do not know how or why she bothers putting up with me, since the return on investment of the effort on her part is… I don’t know what… but she continues to be both my link to reality and the only force that can draw me even temporarily out of my own skull, where for sure I’d otherwise have long ago drowned in the inch-deep puddle of solipsist goo that is my brain.

Which is why I’m going to stop with the clacky-clacky now and go break down some boxes left over from the move. Thank you to Ripple, to Pope and Racer, whose work ethic continues to inspire (and who were kind enough to give me this opportunity to run my mouth), and to anyone still reading and anyone who’s helped support the Obelisk along the way, even if it was just reading half a review, popping in to check out a track and


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this interview and the Obelisk! Much love and respect from Greece

Mike said...

all the websites I regularly check are sports the Obelisk. Thanks JJ!!

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