All photos by Jolie Maya-Altshuler.
Ben Charles Trogdon is the creator of long-running punk fanzine NUTS! The entire publication is handmade by Trogdon, who has been sticking to a pretty similar ethos and method since he started making the fanzine in in high school as just one photocopied sheet. Since then, NUTS! has evolved into a large-format newspaper, publishing a mix of interviews with hardcore punk bands, scene reports, underground “news” columns, illustrations, paintings, comics, and more. Ben assembles every issue entirely by hand using 35mm photos, artwork and text that is all cut-and-pasted together. The paper is even hand-delivered to the local newspaper factory in Brooklyn.
Over the years, NUTS! has covered artists such as Dawn of Humans, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, Pharmakon, Sex Vid, Hysterics, and countless others. Ben has also started releasing other publications like Rock And Roll Forever, a photography zine, and more recently Tattoo Punk, a fanzine about "outlaw and underground tattooing and culture." Tattoo Punk #1 is available now and Tattoo Punk #2 will be printed this fall. When we chatted with Ben last year, we spoke about the history of his publication, what makes a good fanzine interview, the importance of doing things by hand and the minutiae of putting together one issue of NUTS!
The Media: Can you start by telling the history of NUTS and some of your initial inspirations?
Ben Charles Trogdon: I started doing NUTS when I was 16. It was just a photocopied piece of paper that I gave to my friends and sold outside the local punk shows in suburban Maryland for ten cents a piece.
I found out about punk through the internet when I was 12. I was a lonely little kid, obsessed with TV and just—depressed. I didn’t have a lot of friends for a long time so punk was like, ”oh my god, I can have friends, somehow. These people think similarly to me.” The internet wasn't really a big thing back then. It was hard to find people. I found Slug and Lettuce and Maximumrocknroll and some other zines like that. I thought I could do a similar thing.
When you say you discovered punk on the internet when you were 12, what do you mean? What did you discover?
I became obsessed with Green Day in third grade. I heard my buddy’s cassette and wanted to be closer to whatever this feeling was that this band Green Day had. Before that I was obsessed with rap. After Green Day, I got into Rage Against the Machine and Beastie Boys really hard, and then Blink 182. I was talking about stuff I liked to one of my classmates, who I didn’t really even know, and she was like, “You can’t listen to that stuff, you’re not even punk!” And I was like, “What’s punk?” I had no idea. We had just gotten the internet at our house. I was 11 or 12 and I just typed into Yahoo, “punk” and “punk magazine.” And then this whole world opened up in front of my eyes.
There was no one around me who looked like that. I was like, “Oh, this is what Green Day is. This is what what all of these things that I love have in common. How can I get closer to this in any way possible?” And that’s when I started obsessively reading anything I could, researching it, ordering millions of CDs and stuff like that.
What were the first issues of NUTS like, when it was still a Xeroxed one-sheet thing?
I did a web zine when I was in 8th grade called Pure Nastiness. It was on Homestead or Geocities or something. We interviewed bands. I interviewed Dillinger 4 over email, which was a really big deal to me. I interviewed Reel Big Fish outside their tour bus when I was like 14. It was right after 9/11. I remember asking the lead singer of Reel Big Fish what he thought of 9/11. Which is an insane question. A 14 year old is asking this 30 year old man about 9/11.
Then I got pretty into mail order. I didn’t know paper zines existed, because I found everything through the internet, but then I found out and got issues of Slug and Lettuce and actual newsprint issues of Short Fast and Loud and Maximumrocknroll. And I got Cometbus. And I realized, “oh this is actually a paper thing, and it’s way better when this is on paper.” So I stopped doing my webzine and I decided to do a paper zine.
I’ve been doing zines since I was 11 or 12 years old. The first issues were just folded up pieces of paper that I would photocopy and sell for like 10 or 20 cents or something like that, which is ridiculous. I put all the dimes that I would get in a bubble tape plastic container, one of those little pink things. For a long time I would just change the name of the zine every single time. It was called Puke for a while. It was called Burn Your Guitar, which i think is a Clash reference. I didn’t think of a future. I still don’t really.
The coolest interview I did was interviewing This Bike is a Pipe Bomb when I was 17 in Washington, DC. And interviewing the Bananas. I interviewed a lot of bands by going to their shows. I would write the questions on a piece of looseleaf and hand it to them and they would write their answers and then I would just photocopy it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else do that, but it was fun because you could see their handwriting and they wrote short, funny answers usually.
When did the name NUTS stick for the first time?
When I was 16 or 17. It’s a high school thing that went really far. I did soooo many issues of NUTS like one issue a week for a year. I’m an obsessive person. I got tired of changing the name all the time, so I thought, whatever, I’ll just stick with one. Originally it was going to be like Mad magazine or Cracked [which] I was obsessed with. My early years in the newsprint I wished I’d named it something else but I don’t even think about it anymore. For a long time I really wanted to name it Naturally High magazine.
When did it switch from being a photocopied zine to being the newspaper version it is now?
I always wanted to do a newspaper, ever since I was a kid. I was kind of disillusioned with punk after moving to Olympia. I was traveling for a long time and I kind of ended up in Olympia. I was still doing NUTS as a photocopy thing, but I didn't have any interviews with bands anymore. I was just drawing all these weird doodles. I didn't have a job and was just wandering around and making collages. Then all these bands started forming in Olympia and I really wanted to document them because I thought they were amazing. So I was like, I’m gonna do a newspaper. So I just did it. It was really expensive and it didn't make any money but it was really cool.
I originally wrote a scene report. I was like, “hell yeah, these are the best bands ever, I’m gonna do a scene report and send it to Maximumrocknroll and everyone is gonna know about all these amazing bands!” And then I sent it to MRR, and they denied it. They said it was bad. And I was like “whatever, I’m just going to make my OWN newspaper cause you guys did not want to print this cool ass scene report about the best bands of all time!” It was like Sex Vid, HPP, Broken Water—Sisters actually, pre-Broken Water—and Son Skull. I had a lot of encouragement in Olympia. There was a lot of independent minded [people] and were all so into ourselves too, we were like, “Fuck everywhere else, Olympia’s got the best bands!”
When did you move there?
I think maybe 2006 or 2007. I graduated from high school in 2003 and I traveled and lived all over the place for a bunch of years. And I ended up in Olympia when I was 21.
The conversations in NUTS are pretty candid. It’s almost like a document of people hanging out. What do you think makes a good interview? What are some of your favorite interviews you’ve done?
I’ve always considered myself a huge music fan. All of the bands that I’ve ever interviewed, it’s because I’ve been really into their music, or their performance, or their aesthetic, and I have all of these questions burning in my head when I listen to their music or I see them play. I think that’s what makes a good interview. Being really into it, and having real questions just from listening so much.
Like the band Mommy, for example, I know all of them, and had all of these questions for them. When you’re just hanging out, there’s no formal way to ask all of those questions. So doing an interview, to me—Mommy is one of my current favorite bands—it’s an excuse to be able to ask these questions that I’ve had, in a more formal way. It’s really cool. Just as a music fan. That was in an issue that came out a year or two ago.
My other favorite interview I ever did was Sex Vid. That was the first time I ever did an interview with a band. I was obsessed with Sex Vid. I was so nervous beforehand. And I went up to Seattle to interview them at their apartment that Sue and RJ lived at. At the time I thought they were really hard questions. It felt like a really magic moment. A bonding moment with these people. A cool time period. People have quoted it quite a bit. I think affected other people. I remember getting phone calls after being like, “Wow Ben, that is a good interview.” And I think that’s because I was just so into Sex Vid. They were my favorite band for years. Any time they played I would go out of my way, take off work, go anywhere to see them.
It’s cool to see the different roles a publication can play when its purpose is within a specific community rather than a mass audience or for a product.
I’ve always been about DIY and punk culture. This is not for anyone else at all. I’m not trying to sell it. It’s been around long enough that hopefully people realize it’s for the betterment of the community.
Another section of NUTS I like is the News section. How do you put together the news section?
I haven’t really done any news columns in New York. Living in a small town like Olympia, you can get a grasp on what’s going on. I always loved reading funny gossip things. And scene reports, like Cometbus scene reports. I just feel like reading them, you get a pretty good sense of the town. I had so much fun writing them.
Can you explain the process of making the newspaper. Like, “Time for a new issue of NUTS. This is what happens.”
I go to a lot of shows. There’s bands I like, and I think, “This band needs to be interviewed. No one else is interviewing them. Or if they have been interviewed, they haven’t been asked the questions I want to hear asked.” I just think about what should exist on planet Earth but doesn’t. Or what expression I think really could be used, or should be more available. I do NUTS because I want to see it exist on this planet.
When I look at an issue of NUTS, and it’s done, it’s a funny relief. I feel very relieved that something like this exists, and I’m including all of these different people. It’s like when you go to a party and see all of these different people hanging out and they’re all amazing artists and everyone’s kind of talking. It’s like the newsprint version of a really fun party or show. It’s hard to capture that essence. NUTS, at least in my mind, is like my way of capturing that cultural trade.
An issue of NUTS is usually me going to a bunch of really fun parties. You see stuff and you’re like, “What does that guitarist think about while writing these riffs? Or, that guy looks so cool, that girl’s voice is amazing, I would love to ask them [about it].” You could ask them just sitting down but it’s way more fun in a formal setting.
That happens. A bunch of inspiration. I ask people to do stuff. Then physically I get all of the stuff together. What happens is: I print it all out. And I go to the Kinkos at Astor Place, next to that Starbucks and that Pret. I love that Pret Au Mangier. I prefer the Pret coffee to the Starbucks coffee. The light roast is nice. Then I usually stand there for like nine or ten hours. And I have these huge pieces of paper and a bunch of glue and scissors and lay out the whole issue. It usually takes me a couple weeks. Like three or four days in that [first] week. Each time, like nine or ten hours in a row. I usually start drinking a lot of coffee, and then I go across the street to the Walgreens on the corner and I get some diet cokes. Caffeine is very important. I go and I go and I go.
When you are making the layouts, do you lay it out the size of the newsprint? How does it get from the xerox cut/paste phase to at the printing plant?
I don’t know how to use computer programs. My computer is very old. I lay it all out with glue and scissors, glue it all together. And then I scan it all in. I pay at kinkos to scan it in because it’s usually all oversized. And they scan it all in for me. All the images are taken on 35mm film so I insert those images in digitally, and then I kind of bump up the contrast on photoshop to. And then I send it to the printer.
You print it at Linco right?
Yes. they’re very generous with me. I live in Greenpoint so I walk to Long Island City [where the printer is located]. I walk to Long Island City like a million times or I ride my bike there, because I do press jacket tests all the time. I go there and I bug them so much, and Linco is so gracious about it. I try to bring them donuts every time because I know I’m a pain in the ass. And my files are all weird because I don’t know how to do color and I’m not professionally trained and my computer is so old. Also, I print such a low volume, and they usually deal with people who print thousands and thousands of things. So I try to be nice. Honestly they’re the reason why anything gets done. Because they’re willing to deal with me.
How many do you print?
I print 1,000. So I go there and I pick them up, get a cab and take them home. My main distributor is this guy Sam Richardson who lives in Richmond, Virginia. I owe him so much. No one makes any money off of NUTS and he only makes like 20 cents per issue he sells. I’m so honored that he does it. He helps me out so much. He does all of the wholesale distribution which is really cool. Other than that [distribution] is just by hand. I’ve been doing it for a long time but I don’t really like buying or selling stuff on the internet. The other people, thank god for them. They’ve been so great in helping me distribute.
It seems like it’s really important that everything is done by hand, especially with the layout.
I moved around so much and I never really prioritized buying a nice computer. Especially from moving around, and everything being in a box, or broken. I never had Indesign or anything like that. I kind of lay out every page in my head when I’m just walking around town. When I have tried to use Indesign or Photoshop for laying out, I would look at it and know [I couldn’t translate what’s in my head through] the medium of the computer. I spent 10 years not on the computer at all. There was one computer in my life and it was at the punk house next door to the punk house I lived at, in the kitchen, and it was from like 1994. I would check my email there once a week or go to the library. I tried to push it pretty far out of my life for a long time. It just wasn’t important to me. I’m not sure if that’s a positive or negative thing.
I’d think, “I know how I want this to look. The easiest way to get it how I want it to look is to just do it with a photocopy machine and scissors and drawing and painting.” And I think it looks the coolest. It’s a little more work. But you have a piece of paper in front of you and there’s so many different options. Whereas when you have a computer in front of you, there’s only a certain number of things you can do. It’s not unlimited. The computer is going to tell you what it wants to be like.
You look at every single magazine and they almost all look exactly the same. There’s like 20 different ways you can lay out a page. If you go to a modern art museum, there’s unlimited paintings. Everything is so different. I want to be able to do whatever I want.
I was listening to someone talk recently about how so much of digital culture is just choosing between different presets, or choosing between a bunch of options that are just handed to you. It requires a lot of effort to have autonomy against that digitally.
What other materials do you use to make NUTS? You mentioned paint. Anything else else of note?
I use elmer’s school glue, scissors, sharpies, ballpoint pens. And then photocopies and ink, like India ink. Usually it’s black and white because that’s the cheapest way. I would like to start using way more different colors but we’ll see when that happens or if that happens.
You used to do all of the interviews yourself, but it seems like now there are more contributors. Do you have a process for keeping track of everything?
I’m just a really pretty obsessive person. And I choose to point my obsession to something i can control. Which is this art project that I’ve been doing for so long. I lay everything out in my head while I’m walking around. I have these crazy looking notebooks that i’m sure if someone else saw them they’d be like “What.” I have a new project coming up and i’ve pretty much already laid the whole thing out in my head -- at leas the front cover, the inside, the back. Most of it’s pretty much laid out which is funny because I haven’t even taken the pictures yet or asked any of the people about the articles. I’m a very visual person and I love thinking about how to make things beautiful. And looking at beauty and trying to harness that in my head and make it real. I love doing that.
Also when I ask you to do something and you tell me you’re going to do it -- for the zine -- I’m really good at making sure it gets done. I’ll send you a bunch of text messages and ask you about it non-stop. I’m pretty good.
Do you ever feel just like super burnt out on doing this or like you need to take a break?
I’ve always been really driven. It’s also the one thing in my life that’s been static since I was a kid. I’ve never felt burned out about creating a zine or a newspaper because it’s my way to deal with my anxieties and excitements. It’s always been there. My go-to. If i didn’t have it, I don’t know what would happen. I always joke that when I knew i had to leave Olympia was when the one photo place in town closed down. And right after it the one newspaper place in town closed down too. So I was like, I have to go.
Recently I have been somewhat burnt out about, or disillusioned by, DIY punk. And I’m not sure if that’s because of my age or what the climate is. I still feel very inspired by people and culture. But DIY punk. Maybe a lot of bands have broken up, everyone’s been getting older and prioritizing different parts of their lives. I have to keep going but instead of talking about DIY punk, which is a very specific small bubble… I just need to slightly enlarge my focus to include hopefully more, different people who express themselves in still raw and honest ways.
You mentioned earlier this idea of running a publication as a way to channel your anxiety, and I feel like that’s kind of connected to what you were saying as running a publication being like putting together a party. It’s a document of a time and a place but also a way to connect to a creative space.
I think it kind of relates to being a lonely little kid and wanting to be around like-minded people. And also as a young person in American society. I hate society. And I’ve always wanted to destroy it. That’s a huge part of creating NUTS. It’s something I want to be a part. It’s more inspiring than the mainstream society that I feel so disgusted by. That’s what NUTS has always been. It’s this place that I can see in my mind. I see that it exists, but I want there to be a physical thing, and I want to show it to other people. Because hopefully they will be inspired too. To de-shackle themselves from society’s norms.
As a sad, angry little kid, as an outsider I was always just trying to find my people and create a real place for that. I think it’s the same thing with DIY music venues, places for people to be where they don’t have to spend money.
They’re all just different ways of opening up spaces for people and letting people in, and making things that are DIY and participatory. It’s inspiring to me the physical form of NUTS because there are some things on the internet that are cool but the internet is so ephemeral, you never know when everything could just shut down. It’s scary. Newsprint will stand the test of time even if every server in the world crashes some day and none of this exists anymore.
I think it’s a prime time for good magazines and zines to exist now. Over the last ten years, the internet seemed like a pretty great place, and I’m definitely on it too. You could download free music, you could watch any youtube video ever, there were no restrictions. But it’s getting so corporate and the algorithms are making everything extremely personal. And you could put a picture up on instagram and it will get taken down because it’s too lewd or extreme. I feel like now is a great time to take culture back from the internet and take it back from the corporations and make it more underground. And with things like shows getting busted more often because they’re [listed] on the internet—you can just make paper flyers. I think its a prime time for everyone to just realize, either the internet needs to be different or we need to start going back to real life interactions.
Any hopes and dreams for the future of NUTS? Or other publications? How can people find NUTS?
The future of NUTS... I’m not really sure. I just finished a big project that’s a newsprint zine of photography. I’ve been taking pictures for 10 years and I did a collection of some of my favorites. It’s called Rock n Roll Forever. I finished that and now I’m working on what’s next. I might try to work on something new. I don’t think I’ll ever not do NUTS because DIY punk is so important. But I might just take a chill pill and try to focus on broader scope [stuff].
If you wanna buy any of this stuff, you can go to Feel It Records which is Sam’s distro page. NUTS has a website and I have an instagram now too. You can buy it from Dripper World, Paper Town, Punk Alley. They have back issues and stuff.