A Conversation with Everett True, October 2013
By Jasmine Darlington-Rielly
It’s a sunny spring day in Brisbane, about 10 in the morning I get a text from Everett True with whom I had asked to interview for a research project I was undertaking for my undergraduate journalism degree at the University of Queensland. The project is based about the current state of music journalism. He asks to meet at the Woolworths at Kelvin Grove at 11:30, a strange place to meet for an interview, but I agree nonetheless. I’m nervous despite the fact I’ve met Everett a few times before and he’s been nothing but lovely to me, he still terrifies me. I’m always afraid I say something stupid or I’ll wear a band T-shirt he won’t like or something. I try not to think about it as I start my trek through QUT’s campus from the bus station. I’ve never realised how hilly or big this campus was before now. I arrive at the Woolworths without getting lost, a victory in my case! I sit on a bench and wait for Everett to arrive, looking at every crotchety grey-haired man (I jest, I swear) who walks past to see if it’s him. Ah that hat I’ve seen it before! He arrives.
“So what’s your project about?” Music journalism, I reply. “Ah I’ve never been able to get a job as a journalism lecturer, even though most have less experience than I do, I bet some of yours work for the Courier Mail”. Yes, I concede although most are from the ABC. “When I first moved here five years ago, I got a job at the Courier Mail doing music reviews, I lasted three articles, because I turned in a negative review and I forgot you’re not supposed to do that”. I admit that I used to write for Fasterlouder and it frustrated me that I would be sent to a show that was sponsored by them, and even if the band sucked, I wouldn’t be able to write a negative review.
“We’re having a discussion at Collapse Board at the moment about pop music, and how funny it is that all these writers are suddenly in love with pop music, and audiences are really important online and so if you’re going to write about Miley Cyrus then you’re going to get a lot more traffic than if you’re going to write about Tiny Migrants”.
Speaking of Tiny Migrants, I really enjoyed your Song of the Day review of them that you posted this morning.
“Really? I wrote it on the hoof, I like to think that I can still write well like that, but I tried not to do it as much as people will only read it if they know the band and it just seems like they [Tiny Migrants] don’t understand where I’m coming from. Although I’m probably wrong”.
Yeah, I know like half the band, and I disagree with you about them being the closest thing in Brisbane to hipsters.
“I think they are though”.
No, no the guys in the East Brisbane scene are more so hipsters.
“East Brisbane scene? Where’s East Brisbane?”
Like around Woolongabba.
“So like Bedroom Sucks?”
I don’t think so… The bands don’t like using Facebook and they’re really anti Brisbane pop music.
“Oh well, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that hipster has become such a derogatory word, I’ll never understand to the day that I die, why being a hipster is a bad thing. Wallace Wylie wrote a piece for Collapse Board in which he explained that hipsterism is accused of blindly following fashion whereas people who ‘just listen to music’ are far more ‘authentic’ and so hipster has now become a dirty word. The idea that hipsters are somehow more inauthentic than people who buy Miley Cyrus records purely because they are making choices for themselves and not following what they see on tv is plain weird. It’s fascinating that one is more acceptable than the other.”
Yeah I must admit that I have so many friends that are like, fucking hipsters ruin everything!
“It’s because no one wants to be considered elitist, but I like elitism, I am discerning in my tastes and I don’t think it’s wrong to like what I like… although I will never see eye to eye with a Smashing Pumpkins fan, I’m sure you’re one, coming from Brisbane.”
I’m not actually, although I may have listened to them when I was 13, I admit to him.
“I didn’t listen to music when I was 13, but when I was living in Seattle, I invented this character and I can’t remember his name, who was 9 and a half (which was the whole point) who liked Smashing Pumpkins and Sunny Day Real Estate and everything just followed from there”.
So what’s your research thesis been about?
“You know music journalism and web 2.0, the usual stuff, what everyone is doing around the internet and will for years to come. Although I’ve had a few print media presses ask me to do stuff in print again, but it’s just so unfamiliar to me now. When I moved here, I predominantly worked in print and couldn’t fathom the idea of working on the web now it’s reversed and although there’s a part of me that will always love the artefacts, you can have so much more fun online, there’s more possibilities.”
Is it to do with the interaction?
“Urgh, in some ways that’s the worse part of it. In some ways the smartest thing that Pitchfork Media did was not to allow comments on their articles. The main problem with the internet is that it’s very difficult to establish authority and why would anyone listen to you more than anybody else. Before there was a clear barrier and Pitchfork has kept that barrier and kept that authority. When I contributed to Mess + Noise, and I stopped for quite a long time because of it, people would comment kind of maliciously and it didn’t matter personally, but it also isn’t very constructive so what’s the point? People leaving comments kind of see themselves as equal, but if you try to engage them in discussion they’re like “What are you doing? You’re the critic”, but I’m treating them as an equal and apparently I’m not supposed to do that, but at the same time quite often the commentary is far more interesting than the article by itself. For example that Miley Cyrus VMAs performance was really boring in itself but the dialogue around it is really interesting. Dialogue was what critics and journalists used to provide or at least they’d lead it.
“A couple of things that really bother me. First is about Collapse Board is that there are virtually no female contributors, which is something I really believe in and if we don’t get more I may have to shut it down.”
Do you think that there is a white middle class male bias?
“Yeah but I don’t think that it’s intentional, it happens naturally unfortunately. It makes sense that if you’re a white middle class male that you’ll ask other white middle class males you know. It’s the approach they are used too. One of the conversations I’m having with a couple of UK and US based music critics at the moment is about Scott’s approach to criticism. It’s just so alien to them and therefore it’s bad.”
Well I think that why Collapse Board is one of the few music criticism sites I read and respect.
“People keep saying that but I’ve never met anyone who actually reads it”.
Well now you have.
“I never believe them, although I believe you. When I say that we have a lack of female writers it’s not really saying much as we only have about three writers.
“The Second is that there’s not enough comments [on Collapse Board], which I think might be because people are used to it. I don’t mind when people call me out on the internet when they use their real names; it’s when they hide their identities it gets tiresome and invariable it’s the difference between writers and commentators, writers will normally use their real names. Not that I care that Collapse Board is unpaid but it really bothers me that our readership numbers are down when we publish [much more interesting] stuff that say themusic.com.au or WhotheHell who get 10,000 hits per blog entry compared to Collapse Board’s 1,000 or less. Sometimes I wished we’d monetized it or at least marketed it better. Because of that I don’t know how much cause and effect we have on anything, which is the only reason I ever write. Scott Creney did pretty well with that with his reviews of Iceage and Savages, because there was a possibility of harming their careers. Although Scott and I know that the damage we could do is limited. We’re just one of a multitude of voices.”
I’m trying to think of where to go from here as I did write down a bunch of questions but they now seemed irrelevant given the drift of the conversation, so I decided not to use them and just have the conversation.
What have you been listening too and how do you discover new things?
“One change I’ve noticed since starting Collapse Board is the way I listen to music. It used to be through CDs. Now I don’t really do mailing lists. Do you work as a music critic?”
I used too, but not really anymore. I was writing for RAVE for a while so I used to pick up cds from the Rave storage locker. Do you have independent bands sending you stuff themselves?
“Sometimes, but I usually discover all my new music through recommendations from friends, colleagues etc [on social networking sites like Facebook, and via direct messages]. It’s always been that way to an extent.”
How did you discover The Creases?
“Well they’re signed to Rough Trade, I know a few people there, in fact that may be one of the few mailing lists I’m on. The Tiny Migrants thing was I think I had an EP of theirs in my iTunes that I forgot about and then discovered again. It might have been sent to me by Mere Noise or the band themselves, or maybe even Darragh. But yeah as I was saying, the way I listen to music is different; I used to listen to albums now I only listen to individual songs and the way I review is I listen to the song and start the review then I do a rudimentary search of the band to see any other interesting stuff.”
Yeah, I noticed that with your Migrants review when you mentioned the Keep On Dancin’s. As the two girls are from Keep on Dancin’s and the three boys are in Velociraptor.
“Yeah I can usually tell where the band is from by their sound. You can heard different towns in bands. There’s this thing in Brisbane where a lot of female musicians are in a support role, Tiny Migrants are a good example of this the girl who shares lead vocals (Jacinta Walker) is still a support character to her male counterparts although she has a stronger presence.
“I find it really weird that websites and magazines still carry end of year album charts. Listening to whole albums has become irrelevant due to the immediacy of the internet.”
“I’m a fan of hype, how can I not be a fan of hype considering my past? I love hype, I think it’s wonderful that music journalists can wield the power they’ve been given, the problem is most of them don’t. It’s why I find Pitchfork so frustrating, they have all this power that they try to downplay and really they should be abusing it. The problem I have with them is not that they have too much power it’s that they don’t use the power they’ve been given. I mean, why do what you’re going in that case? I hate when people talk to me solely because of my power.” Yes I’ve noticed. “But at the same time, it like, this thing about using and abusing power, and I know people misunderstand me when I say that, it’s like for fuck sake, I helped change the world, you know? And it was by abusing my power. I absolutely abused it, of course I did. But I helped change the world, I mean how many other people can say that?”
That’s true, but at the same time isn’t it strange that you can have this claim that ‘I changed the world’ but then you’re like don’t talk to me about Nirvana or grunge or whatever.
“I don’t care if you talk to me about Nirvana, it’s just it gets a bit boring.”
You don’t seem to like it very much when people ask you about Kurt and Courtney?
“Well, it’s like he was a human being, what else do you want to know? It’s just I’ve been asked the question to many times, surely you can just read about it. I mean, I’ve seen tens of thousands of great bands in my life but no one ever asks me about them. It’s always about the same one or two people and then people complain that all I ever talk about but actually it’s the only time people ever read me is when I talk about Nirvana. I actually got sent a Facebook message a couple of weeks ago by this company who’s making a documentary on Kurt Cobain that has been approved by his family, asking if I had any old interview tapes etc.”
Really? Which family member approved it?
“Frances, I assume.”
Do you still keep in contact with any of them? “
“Well something I really noticed about when I moved to Brisbane, is that Brisbane being the city that it is, there is a lot of grunge bands and the like that come through here like the Lemonheads, Pavement, Mudhoney, The Breeders, Sebadoh and I never go to any of these fucking shows, it’s like I’m friends with them, but they’re still doing what they do, I’m doing something different, why bother going? I’ve got nothing to talk to them about, OK well maybe the ones who have started families I could talk to about our kids. Which is fair enough. But on the whole that’s not how they know me. I probably will go see The Breeders because the magic of Kim and Kelly Deal is that they’re always themselves, especially Kim that’s why she’s so cool. I must admit I’m actually more excited to try and see Beyonce; I’ve never seen Beyonce and I think ‘Crazy In Love’ is one of the best singles released in the last 10 or 20 years, it’s just got so much energy, as much as any rock band I’ve ever heard…..”
Interruption …(Everett you were telling me something about M. Ward, I think about him coming to town, in this section but I couldn’t hear it very well over back noise)
“Most of my former ‘famous’ friends aren’t famous anyway, like most people in The Gap wouldn’t have heard of any of these bands. By some people’s standards I’m famous, but it’s like an Almost Famous fame [I take that title to refer to the music critic, not the band – Ed], it’s fame by association, which is crap! I mean as shitty as it would be to be Johnny Rotten for 30 years, at least he’s known for being Johnny Rotten!”
Speaking of names, why do you have so many names for yourself? Why did you call yourself Everett True?
“In the 80s I was writing for NME as The Legend!, and then I was fired and went to Melody Maker where they wanted me to write under another name due to the association with NME and a particular genre of music I was writing about at the time.”
So why not use your real name?
“I’m a performer, and you wouldn’t ask that of any other performer would you? At the time I didn’t realise how good a name Everett True was, until much later. But I was conscious of the need to break away from The Legend! as I didn’t want to be predictable; otherwise people assume what bands and genres you’re into.”
But people do that with your name now; Everett True is associated with Grunge!
“Yeah but must have noticed I’m pretty down on grunge. At the time I started using Everett True as my writing name, one of the Melody Maker staff writers I was working with, David Stubbs, kept telling me to be like the character in the comic strip and be really belligerent and to tell everyone to fuck off so I kind of inherited the persona.”
Yeah, I think people who have read your writing still think of you that way, like despite the fact I’ve met you a few times, you still terrify me.
“Yeah it’s kind of interesting that there’s this disparity between me and my writing, at least now that I have kids I don’t swear as much. It’d get really boring if they went round saying fuck all the time. Sometimes I think I’m a letdown in the flesh. I’m think of changing my name again and playing up the cranky old man persona.”
But you can continue doing that with Everett True though!
“Well I’m aware of that but, it appeals to me because I’m not really performing at the moment. Anything else?”
No, I don’t think so…
“You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”
No, not really.
“That’s fine. That’s how it works. What are you doing with this interview after you finish?”
Um… Using it in my research so I can graduate (nervous laugh).
“Fair enough. Well when you write it up you should submit it to Collapse Board.”
Okay, I might just do that!
After we finished the interview we continued to chat as we wandered back up the hill to QUT and while I was relieved that the Interview wasn’t completely disaster as I had feared beforehand, I was now dreading the long process of transcribing this bastard of an interview with a crotchety grey-haired man.
SEAWEED, SEVERNA PARK, POLECAT
(Velvet Elvis) I’m so fed up with bands who scream loudly and pretend to be all strong and macho on stage and drink alcohol, when we all know the reason they’re doing that is because they’re only trying to scare us. Well, it doesn’t work! I’m not scared of any band who thinks it’s cool to hang out in shacks with smelly hippies and goes kayaking. It’s not big and it’s not clever to do that–or to play your guitar loud and fast and look like Henry Rollins. Anyone can do that. You need to be deep as well, write lyrics that reflamesect your inner turmoil and social angst. Or so Billy Corgan said recently in an Internet interview. I like Billy because he’s a real tormented poet. He’s been ridiculed by the media because they don’t really understand the real him–much the same way my freaky cousin Alex ridicules me because she doesn’t understand the real me–but Billy doesn’t care. I don’t either, no matter how much other kids make fun of my “William Goldsmith is King” lunch box. My friend K. J. says that the only reason Seaweed is still playing is because they’ve obviously all got secret trust funds stashed away somewhere, and they think they’re still at school. They’re not! They’re sooooo old, man! Anyway, if I came from Tacoma, I’d stink too!–Tommy Pickett age 9 1/2
Up & Coming, SATURDAY MARCH 20 1999, The Stranger