Everett True in the UK, part one – Southampton
The following is reprinted from ATTN Magazine, with the kind permission of the editor Ben (who also conducted the interview). I’ve tidied it up a fraction. (Force of habit, sorry.)
It’s a grim and grimy day in Southampton, tying in nicely with ‘the most depressing week of the year’. The ground is sludgy and the dour grey light makes every scene look like a collaboration between Ingmar Bergman and Mike Leigh.
I’m here to speak to Everett True, who is giving a guest lecture entitled “What’s so wrong with dancing about architecture?”
When I first booked my interview with him, I did some asking around for what to expect. Responses ranged from ‘He’s a legend mate’ to ‘Please, please, please ask him to stop.’ But of course, he polarises opinion. We knew that already. Whether as Editor of some truly great music rags over the past few years, or as the anti-sycophant ranter working inside the mainstream (something he both admits and denies numerous times over the course of our conversation), or more commonly, as that bloke what introduced Kurt to Courtney (“humiliating”, he says).
About two and a half years ago, Everett upped sticks to Brisbane, “an entirely random decision” he claims. It wasn’t long before the Jerry Thackray soaking up the Gold Coast sun morphed into Everett True, ranting about the poor state of the Australian music press in his weekly Guardian blog.
Outrage was prompted, and soon the revered British music journo was an Aussie-bashing imperialist pom. As it transpires, an unrepentant Aussie-bashing imperialist pom. “I was really shocked by the reaction, everybody thought I was just trying to be controversial, I wasn’t – I thought I was picking an obvious target. I didn’t expect anybody to particularly care about my opinion to be quite honest with you. I was just some bloke up in Brisbane.”
Until now, Everett had the body language of a man above me. Slouched back, sipping his coffee, offering half-formed, monosyllabic answers that skirted the question (actually, over the whole interview he skirted around giving actual answers, but more on that later). As soon as I mentioned Australia, he changed. He leaned forward, halfway across what was an already small table, and developed the affectation of constantly touching his face or playing with his hair, Rain Man style.
Everett currently works on Collapse Board, a Brisbane based music blog, where his self-perceived role as a “…tastemaker, and more importantly, an institution” (his words, not mine) is diluted to nought but the occasional blog and daily ‘song of the day’. The tagline for Collapse Board is “Whatever happened to the music press?”. Well, what?
“It’s not really a question that’s meant to have an answer. Some people say the music press isn’t what it used to be, well that’s true isn’t it? Of course it’s not what it bloody used to be, everything’s not what it used to be. There’s nothing wrong with that, everything changes and mutates.
“Everybody’s always like ‘Oh yeah the music used to be better in the 80s’. No it fucking didn’t, you just used to be younger and you used to have more energy. You know, I’ve got no time for that at all. Music in particular is always as good one year to the next. There’s always fucking great stuff. Always way more music to be discovered than anyone’s ever going to write about.”
So, the press? “Alright, it might look different, and it might not be in the print titles all the time. You might have to look around for it, but it depends how you want it… But to me, music criticism is found in the comments section on Mess And Noise and DiS, it’s found in bloggers – not all of them by any means – it’s found on websites like Collapse Board, it’s found in street press titles like The Stranger from Seattle, it’s found in blog aggregation sites – even though I don’t like them – it’s found in people giving talks, y’know like Chris Weingarten does, it’s found on Twitter… So the question, whatever happened to music criticism is not meant to be answered, it’s just a question.”
So if music criticism is found everywhere, surely there is a dividing line between the words ‘criticise’ and ‘critique’? “Yeah, yeah, critique is what you do with food right?”
Not quite what I meant. To me, I explain, critiquing something is to be constructive, and is – as far as you can be – objective. I reminded him of a quote of his, that “musicians are the dullest of breeds”, something he sticks by – the idea that his ‘art’ is of greater importance and worth more than anything created by the people he writes about. That to me, is criticising, not critiquing.
“I do see what you mean, I don’t think I’m clever enough to critique something… First and foremost I’m a music fan, I don’t hold much truck with music critics to be quite honest with you, because I think a lot of them aren’t music fans. I’m always on the side of the enthusiasts.
“To be honest I wouldn’t really split the words that way. Criticism can be constructive, it can be destructive. It depends how passionately you feel about something… You see, my take on it was that I really cared about music when I started writing about it – I still care passionately about it. And so, there are two sides to that coin, and the negative side to that was if I really didn’t like something I tried to destroy it, I wouldn’t try to be constructive about it, why would I? Who cares? Somebody else can go and be constructive. I was trying to get rid of it so I’d never have to fucking hear it again.
“So, the thing is, the music criticism, I don’t understand the point of being fair. That’s what it comes down to, they’re not fair on me – they make bloody horrible music so why shouldn’t I say that?”
The legend of Everett True seems to put him in a different situation to the canonisation of the Kents, Murrays and Morleys of the world. All writers who have had a large impact on either the music press and in some cases, the music they are writing about. But in his mind, does he see himself as one of them?
“People have compared me, or mentioned me in the same breath often enough to make me think that other people see that. I never liked any of those writers, never read any of them either.” He hastily corrects, “sorry, it wasn’t that I didn’t like them, I just never particularly read any of them.
“They’ve had pretty successful careers, and I don’t see myself as having had a successful career. I certainly don’t work within the mainstream. So I don’t know where the parallels would be.”
There it is again, that refusal to be party to the mainstream. Is writing copy for Amazon part of the mainstream? Definitely so. Is writing for the two biggest-selling music magazines of the past 40 years mainstream? Arguably so. Either way, I don’t get a chance to move onto this because Seattle has cropped up.
“I mean, if [people] have heard of me tend to know of me because of my association with a couple of famous people. It’s pretty humiliating really just to be known as the +1.”
Isn’t that the case for most critics though? I counter.
“Yeah, quite possibly. But at one point, that wasn’t the only reason I was known. But then again there’s a lot of people who operate from a set platform. And I guess it’s my own choice if I’m not working within the mainstream now.” He pauses for thought, then concedes, “Yeah it probably is the case, but I always contended that what I did was way more of an art than what I was writing about because I could make musicians seem interesting.”
Like mythologising them, as Paul Morley did with Joy Division?
“That’s a better parallel. Look, if Morley hadn’t just done 30 years of crap straight after his early NME stuff I would be happy to be compared to Morley when he was at the NME in ’82, but certainly not afterwards.”
By now I have him fully engaged, gutturally intonating his speech to be heard over the sound of Lady Gaga’s consistent failure to turn off her phone. This, I felt, was a good time to bring up Seattle, and his legacy with that scene. Does he miss it? And has he searched for that kind of experience ever since?
“If I did have an influence in helping break bands, it was probably because I was having conversations with these people all the time and obviously I was quite informed in my taste, so I turned quite a lot of these musicians onto bands that they might not have heard of. As far as Kurt goes, everybody knows that he loved Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese, all of these bands.
“Now why do they know this? Well I’ll tell you why they know that, it’s because of interviews he did with me. They might have come out in other interviews afterwards but it was because I’d directly asked him about those bands, because I knew what his taste was. We shared common taste.
“I think John Peel played all the records at the same time and had a lot more impact. I think it was more the fact that I was able to communicate directly with these people and I brought scenes together… For example, Courtney Love used to go on about how she first discovered Riot Grrrl. No, I had given tapes of Bikini Kill to Huggy Bear in the first instance. Huggy Bear, they would have discovered them anyway, but I was living in the same house as Huggy Bear of course I gave them the tape.”
So, I dare to say, you were effectively a scenester? Not a scenester in the pejorative sense of ‘Shoreditch Twat’, but a scenester none the less.
“Yes. I’ve always thought of that as a compliment. You can use it as a pejorative, I’m totally aware of that, but why? You’d only use it as a pejorative if you call someone a scenester because they’re not into music, they’re just into hanging out. But no, I always just used the word scenester as a fact that someone was really into a scene, because they loved it. It’s as straightforward as that.”
A couple of decades on, Everett was heavily involved with both Plan B and Careless Talk Costs Lives, two magazines he remains “really fucking proud of”. As he rejects mainstream, and well, most modern music media, does he not wish there were something like that still circulating?
“Only if I were involved with it. I’m not interested in reading other people. I’ve always had severe tunnel vision about that. I’ve only ever been interested in what I do, I can’t help it – it’s just the way it is. I miss writing for a magazine like that for sure, I miss editing a magazine like that, yeah of course I do.
“It’s funny, the NME had a little slide show up at the end of 2010 of 20 music magazines from the past 2 decades. 16, sorry. And 5 of them, I’d edited. I was like ‘fucking hell, I don’t think anybody else has got that record, Jesus’. Because I never think of myself as being part of the establishment, or having been successful. I think I’m a complete failure at this. I haven’t earned a living from this for years and years and years. And that’s part of how I judge it.”
Throughout this whole interview, creeping paranoia kicks in. Why is he being so evasive and off-topic? What he’s saying is interesting, for sure. Is it the sign of a fragmented middle-aged mind battered by too much speed and acid? After all, his writing can be concise when it needs to be – at its most acerbic.
As I wrap up, I try my hardest to get a straight answer. Was he ever part of the establishment? I think he was, he says he was, yet in the same breath says he has nothing to do with it.
“To me, Pitchfork is the establishment, and I’ve never really had much truck with the establishment, I’ve always looked to change it, if I can. But then again I’ve been part of the establishment so what is that all about? The way you abuse your position when you’re there. If you’re part of the establishment you try to abuse your position.”
So do you hold onto that potential to abuse your position when feeling guilty about writing for a mainstream press?
“You use your power, you take advantage of your situation and you just do everything you can to try to turn people onto something that’s new. You don’t just write about everything else, if you’re in a position where you can write about whatever you want you do! You just don’t follow a herd, you write about whatever you want… You’ve got to know what you like. Most music critics don’t, it’s the weirdest fucking thing. Most music critics are reading other music critics to find out what they should like.”
Finally, closure. Is that the issue with the music press today? “I think when anybody sits down to review a record these days, they look at all the other reviews that are online, particularly Pitchfork, and they look at 8 different reviews and go “oh, ok, alright now I’ll do my review”. I’m sure that’s what happens. Absolutely certain. And nobody’s thinking for themselves. Somebody must be. Somewhere.”
I’m feeling drained now and shaking from too much coffee. I thank him for his time, and he apologises, “Sorry I didn’t answer your questions, that’s what you wanted though”. In a way, I say.
We pop outside so I can smoke, and in a moment of flippancy I ask, “Who made that dancing about architecture quote?”
“Some cunt… I would fucking love to dance about architecture. Or see architecture inspired by dancing.”
Later on, when he is regaling a semi-full lecture room full of aspiring music hacks with tales of acid, L7 and Courtney Love (and most of my interview); he makes a statement which to my mind, perfectly sums up Everett True – the persona and Jerry Thackray, the person.
“You must have no perspective. Assume that what you are doing is the most important thing in the world, but it isn’t. But you have to ignore that second half of the sentence.”
Which worried me, because without perspective, where are you as a human being? But, maybe that’s less important than music. Just maybe.