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The second installment of Katie’s investigation into musical fandom / by Katie Alice Greer

My investigation into musical fandom continues this week as I speak with Matt K of Yellow Green Red. Readers of this burgeoning column may already be familiar with Matt's work in Pissed Jeans, so I thought I would ask about a different project he puts his time into: Yellow Green Red. The website’s diligent, bi-monthly coverage of all sorts of sounds one might find under the large umbrellas of "punk" and  "electro" is incisive, honest, readable, and often very funny! Like the sort of thing where sometimes I actually laugh out loud! I thought, "this person will surely have worthwhile things to say on musical appreciation and exploration," and I thought right. Our conversation is as follows.

Do you ever get bummed out on new music, and only wanna listen to stuff you already know and like?

I do get bummed out on music! A lot. Mostly because I get so many records, and the vast majority are "good". I feel like good is the last type of music I want to hear, like I want it to be either really awful or really spectacular, so listening to so much white-bread good music really wears on me.

So, let's talk about "good" vs. "spectacular" music. I think this record I have been listening to a lot this week is good. But maybe it is spectacular? What is the difference for you personally? Do you think the differentiation comes down to subjectivity and depends on personal taste, or do you think there are some more objective guidelines for parsing out the two?

The difference between good and spectacular, for me, in regard to music, usually means the artist finds a way to transcend standard genre exercise, and do something special, be it through their personality, or sound, or approach, or whatever. Like there are a million really good hardcore-punk bands out there now. I feel like that's a sound that people have really figured out how to completely nail, and while I enjoy that, I need something more than just that. It's kind of like eating a really good meal, but then having that same meal for dinner tomorrow, and the next day... I just need something to spice it up, to get me thinking.

Right. It has a lot to do with packaging, in a sense. I saw a new band's first show last year with some friends, and everyone was really floored by the experience. We all talked about it for a long time afterwards. One friend argued against the band and said, "The only reason everyone liked it was because they were girls. A bunch of boys could've stood up there and done the same thing and you wouldn't have thought it was so great." A second friend said, "No, that isn't true! That has nothing to do with it!" A third friend said, "that definitely has something to do with it, but it isn't the only thing. Every element of the band has something to do with why we like it or we don't." Do you think 'everything' is fair game when considering a piece of music, or a record, a band, whatever, or are some things irrelevant?

I don't want to dictate how anyone else evaluates art -- that would make for a boring world indeed -- but for me, I generally consider anything and everything in a piece of art or a band or whatever. If the band is teenagers who live in Montana or 30 year-old Brooklyn hipsters, that can definitely change the way I feel about it. I enjoy knowing, or not knowing, details about bands I love and enjoy. To just hear the music, and evaluate it exclusively on that end seems like you're being a little too scientific.

Why do you write about music? (Or, why did you start writing on YGR, if that is easier?)

I used to write record reviews and interview bands for a print zine called Skyscraper. It stopped existing as a magazine, and after a few months off, I figured I could just start writing about the music I like on the internet, because why not? It's really easy, and I enjoy being a loudmouth. Music is definitely my biggest passion in life, and I like taking an active role in my passions - I also play in a band, put out records, have booked shows... it's infectious!

What determines inclusion in YGR reviews? Do you only review what is sent in, or do you sometimes write about a record just because you found it and had some thoughts about it?

Since I started it, I've reviewed any and all vinyl records I've been sent in, one or two tapes, and a small handful of CDs, in addition to records I buy on my own and seek out. At first, I was shocked to ever receive any records at all, and now I get lots, more than I can possibly review in a month. I was thinking about it lately, and plan on changing my policy - I've been getting a lot of records lately that make me feel nothing - they are adequate genre exercises that certainly don't suck, but are as meaningful to me and my life as like, the last glass of water I drank. I worry that people are going to be bored reading about records that I find uninteresting - at least a record that sucks is often INTERESTING, you know? So for the sake of covering music I care about one way or another, and not bogging myself down, I think I am gonna change that policy soon, to more of a "send at your own risk" sort of thing. I'll still probably review most of what I'm sent, but honestly if I was sent zero promo records, I'd still have plenty to talk about - I'm constantly seeking out new music.

What's your process for writing about a record? Do you listen to it a bunch (are you a turntable-only type or mp3 person) or do other stuff, or does it just depend?

I listen to it a bunch, on turntable and possibly in my car if I obtained MP3s, and just try to get a feel. Sometimes it takes one spin, but usually it's more than that. Or often I'll get a promo, listen to it, forget what it sounded like, and then re-listen a few more times. Those are the records I'm trying to cut down on. Once I come up with at least a couple suitable puns for the record, I start to write.

Was going to ask about what you do when a record is so bland/nothing you want to turn it off (do you abandon ship or keep going) but deleted it--I keep returning to this negative theme of "ew but sometimes music is bad", but I don't want to focus on that! Because one thing I really appreciate about your reviews is the absence of this really dark cynicism present in a lot of music writing. Some reviews can be so caustic... I have to wonder if it somehow benefits the writer to hate more things more deeply? Like does this sensationalized, negative review generate popularity amongst peers, or ad-revenue? Your tone, in a negative review, is very honest, much more in the vein of, "This didn't do anything for me but maybe it will do something for you! Or maybe not!" As someone who appreciates music and writes about it, do you feel any sense of duty to help people better appreciate more things? Or simply to say something about a record a person has sent you?

I think as a reviewer who is faced with tons of mediocre records, it can be easy to get really bitter and angry and want to make everyone feel badly for the efforts. I really try to avoid that, because it's not a good look, and I don't think anyone really gets anything out of it. Like, for as much as I am faced with boring records, it's still fun to be in a band with your friends, or mess with some loops on your computer, you know? And I want to acknowledge that, and not try to act like music is one big professional competition where it's so important that it be harshly judged.

You mentioned there are a ton of good hardcore-punk bands right now. Notice any other trends going on, or anything you'd care to elaborate on of that nature? I mean, you do get crap-loads of records.

It seems like there is nothing but trends, sometimes! Which is why it's really exciting when I get records by bands that seem to exist outside of any trend. Maybe trend isn't the right word though, so much as 'tradition', maybe? Like there are plenty of great traditional punk and hardcore bands out there now, so much quality synth-wave stuff, lots of fantastic industrial techno, and more Animal Collective Jrs. than you can shake a stick at. I don't mind when people follow a specific format, so long as they are good. But I also really love when bands buck that entirely.

As a side note.... Wow: so you get craploads of records delivered to you for free, but a lot of them are just so-so. What a weird problem! 

Receiving mediocre free records can be daunting, and leave you feeling worn out by music in general, which isn't a nice feeling. But there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's called "a used record store". I love turning 15-20 mediocre records into one or two good ones that I cherish! It's the circle of life.

Where do you live and what's the music scene like there? 

I live in Philadelphia. I would say the music scene is booming here! There are like half a dozen large-scale venues that are all mostly cool, a million basements with a thriving DIY scene, plenty of lousy bars where bands are constantly playing, and apparently enough local bands to keep it all going. Besides beer, live entertainment seems to be one of the most successful industries in the city. 

What are the differences between writing for a print versus web 'zine'? What do you think about music blogs in general?

I like writing for a web "zine" -- if you want to call it that. On the positive side, it's way easier, far more immediate, and I have a much greater chance of reaching a wide variety of people, many of whom I don't even personally know! I think that can also be kind of its downfall, though - it's so easy to do, that EVERYONE does it, and no one puts in much of an effort, either in their writing or the design or whatever. I think effort is kind of a necessary ingredient in punk, because it helps you appreciate what you've got, and it means more to everyone involved. I have made and contributed to paper zines before, and it is infinitely more of a pain in the ass than posting on the internet, but it's always way more rewarding in a way, to have this physical product that you are responsible for. I will miss those days, but I try to acknowledge all the good that has come with the internet, and everyone being able to access all information at all times.

You put "zine" in quotes also -- do you see YGR as a zine? If not, what makes that different? 

I don't think YGR is a zine! I would say it's more of a blog. I dunno, it's only a couple different things for the most part, just one interview and a bunch of reviews a month. And I feel like I don't deserve the title of "zine", because I am not stealing copies from Kinkos. That is an intrinsic part of zine-making for me.

Do you see a place for print publications, like zines right now? Is there a reason to localize information, or does it just make more sense to go the online route? I don't really read many paper zines. Shame on me for that! I think that with the speed of today's information, they quickly become irrelevant, but great writing will never be irrelevant, so there will always be a place for paper zines that are done well.

Why the name Yellow Green Red?

Not sure where I came up with "Yellow Green Red", but I like it! To me, it's kind of friendly and basic and meaningless, which works. Like if I went with "Studs N' Spikes", it might not make sense for me to talk about Tamaryn or Shackleton. I just wanted something open ended, that would hopefully be memorable. It also reminds me of reggae, which is nice.

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FAN CLUB is Katie Alice Greer’s recurring column investigating the concept of MUSICAL FANDOM. In the first installment, which ran last week, Katie spoke with Calvin Johnson about the Neo Boys. Check it out here.

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