In a change from our usual posts offering advice to bands themselves, over the next couple of weeks we’ll be looking at those whose idea of a career in music focuses less on rocking the stage and more on capturing the magic of rock ‘n’ roll through the written word; the music journalists.
[NOTE: This is an archived post from Almost Famous, a music blog for unsigned musicians which I ran from 2012-2013]
It was 2001 when I first slapped a battered old Dictaphone down in front of a band in some long-forgotten Manchester bar.
Since then, I’ve lost count of the amount of bands, artists and other such folk who’ve I harassed and interrogated in order to entertain the kind of people who like to read music interviews.
I’ve interviewed the well-known bands and the not-so well known, the bands who would go on to great things and the bands who would split up seemingly immediately after our chat. I’ve done good interviews and I’ve done great interviews and I’ve done interviews that were almost immediately forgettable,, but I’ve learned from them all.
What I’m about to share isn’t intended as a definitive ‘here’s how you should interview a band‘ guide. Variety is a good thing, and if everyone out there interviewing bands could develop their own style, then all the better for the music press if you ask me.
No, the following posts contain just a few things that I’ve learned over years that, if anybody about to interview a band did ever ask me for any advice, is probably what I’d tell them.
I was planning to pass on all this advice in one single blog post until I realised that it would take me forever to write and you even longer to read, so instead, I’ll do this over a series of posts focusing on one main point per post.
Be enthusiastic and confident (or at least confident).
It’s this point which prompted tonight’s blog after my brother recently asked me if I’d seen an interview with a certain band. According to Little Skoyles, the band had come across as bored and uninteresting, resulting in a pretty crappy interview.
I was surprised by this since I’d interviewed the same band myself and found them to be keen, talkative and enthusiastic about their music and plans for the future.
So, curiosity getting the better of me, I checked out the interview myself and saw the problem; the interviewer himself looked bored, uncomfortable, and like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world talking to this band.
I’m not saying go bounding in like Timmy Mallett on crack (though to be fair to Timmy, he was pretty good at talking to bands), but if you act like you couldn’t really give a shit about the band and/or your job as an interviewer, the band are hardly likely to open up and talk to you.
Smile and shake hands with everyone as you meet them, thank them for talking to you and even exchange a bit of banter before you switch on your recorder/camera/whatever and say ‘so, tell us about your new album..’
The more you can show a group that you are interested in them and you do care about what they have to say, the better your interview will be.
Don’t Fake It
I’d say it’s important not just to act interested, but to be interested. For one thing, people can tell when you’re faking it, though more importantly, to repeat an earlier point, if you don’t care about what you’re doing, you’re going to end up with a pretty crappy interview.
And besides, if you really don’t care about this band, why the hell are you there to interview them in the first place?
Make eye contact, nod, show that you’re interested.
Pay attention to what people are saying and ask follow-up questions if a band mentions something interesting you hadn’t planned to ask them.
Let’s say you’ve just asked Band X about a recent gig, and were planning to follow that up with a question about their next gig.
If someone just mentioned that they had a near-death experience en route to that last gig, forget about your next question, follow that up!
Unless the near-death experience was that they were almost bored to death by a rubbish interviewer, the story is likely to be much more interesting than something along the lines of ‘yeah, our next gig is gonna be awesome, we’re very excited.’
Even more than enthusiasm, I’d say confidence is the one thing you absolutely can’t do without if you’re off to interview a band.
Usually, you’ll be a complete stranger going to penetrate a very tight-knit group of friends who care very deeply about what they do. What’s more, no matter how much you know about this band, if you’ve never met them before, they’ll be strangers to you too. Yet still, you have to go and penetrate this tight-knit group of strangers and ask them questions and you’ll often need to do it on their territory.
You can see why that might require a little confidence, right?
To get the best out of any interview, not just with a band, it’s crucial that you make sure your subjects are as comfortable as possible in talking and opening up to you. If you’re shuffling about with your hands in your pockets, eyes either on the floor or constantly looking at your notes, you’re going to come across as uncomfortable and nervous, hardly a great way to put this new group of strangers you’ve just met at their ease.
Committing the questions you want to ask, and any research you’ve done, to memory rather than going in with a sheet of paper and saying ‘ok, question one,’ always helps too. That way, it becomes less about conducting an interview and more about having a chat which again puts people at ease.
To sum up then; acting like you don’t want to be there is only going to make your interview subjects less willing to talk to you, which means your interview is likely to suck.
I’ll be back soon with another post about the importance of research.
Chris Skoyles is a bitter and cynical former music journalist. He promoted bands for a while, sucks at guitar, and pretends to write for a living.