Saturday, February 19, 2011

How to Interview a Band or Musician

How to interview a band
I have been interviewed many times over the years, by local and nationally recognized writers. There is nothing more exciting than seeing your photo on the cover of an online or printed music magazine, and reading your words on the pages inside. What I have come to learn however, is that writers tend to ask the same questions. Good writers and not so good writers would be wise to avoid certain questions.

My favorite interviews tend to be the ones where I can tell that the author did solid research before meeting the band. They checked into our past projects, listened to our our disks, attended our shows, or went so far as to interview our friends and family members before coming to us. If I'm squirming during an interview because someone just asked me a question that I didn't expect, I'm usually impressed. If I have to pause and think before answering a question, it's a probably a great question.

The following is a bit of what I encountered during past interviews, or interactions with the press or promotional writers.
  • There was a time when the writer started the interview by asking us what the name of our band was, after he had set up the meeting a month prior. You would think that he would have looked up our name, or listened to the CD he was given by our record label.

  • The writer who just had to interview us in a bar, even though it was nine a.m. on a Sunday morning. Milwaukee does have bars that are open that early, but trudging out of my house on a cold winter morning to go to a smoky bar for a band interview didn't put me in a great mood. Was the writer trying to put us in some sort of agitated mental state?

  • I recall a staff writer for a national magazine who actually tracked the previous bands of each member of our current project, even the trivial stuff that went nowhere. That was impressive. This is why some people rise above their peers.

Ask Good Questions When Interviewing a Band

I never want to hear the words "What are your musical influences?" during an interview ever again. Do I answer that by telling you the first albums I purchased, then move on to the live shows I attended? Do I talk about the high school buddies that I jammed with, the musicians that I was jealous of, the songs that my mother played on her record player? Do I talk about the horrid 70's music that I was forced to listen to while I stocked grocery store shelves as a teen ager? I grew up on prog rock, but played in a hardcore band. Do you think that the fans of my band want to know that I loved ELP? This question still comes up, and I wish it would die. It's as bad as the next question that I never want to be asked again.

"Describe your sound." Aren't you supposed to describe our sound to your readers? Aren't you writing this piece? Aren't you the one being paid to paint a picture for your readers? The next time someone asks me to describe my sound, I'm going to tell them that it's a mix of spoken word and ambient sounds recorded on a subway platform, just to see if they actually listened to our disk before sitting down with us. If they nod their head in agreement, the interview is over.

Don't write about who I worked with in the past. Who cares about the people I worked with in the past. Milwaukee is the most incestuous musical town I know of. If we stayed in it this long, we probably worked with dozens of musicians. That's what we do, we work with others. It's how we learn, it's how we stay fresh.

I don't want to read the words "The band has stayed busy, despite their breaking up 14 years ago." What you are really saying is "This band broke up 14 years ago, but I have to interview them and make them seem topical and plugged in to the current scene." You don't have to do that. Tell your readers that the band broke up 14 years ago, and they are getting together to have some fun. The fans who loved them 14 years ago will understand.

Finally, get me to laugh. Say something funny to me. Bring doughnuts to the interview. Pick up the tab. Have dinner with the band, and space your questions over the course of the evening. I'll give you more, if you just give me the time and respect.

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