how did you get into making zines?

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive and found this document from around 1999. The second comics issue of Flotation Device wasn’t going to be a comics issue originally. I wrote the entire issue about how I got into zines and sometime in my editing process I decided it wasn’t working. So I put it on hold until the time came to revisit it a couple years later in comics form. Part of the original idea was to intersperse my experiences with zines with a few brief stories of how other zinesters got into making zines. Only two made it into the final comics version – Jon Resh and Travis Fristoe. Some of the people I knew and some people were beyond generous to give answers to a dumb kid. I apologize to everyone else who took the time to answer these questions only to be excluded from print. Thank you very much to Owen Thomas, Emily Larned, Abby Koch, Jon Resh, Andy Godzilla, Joe Biel, Rita Brinkerhoff, Katherine Raz, Eric Nakamura, Dustin Krcatovich, Mark Maynard, Jeff Wiesner, Jake Austin, Alex Wrekk, and Travis Fristoe. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Owen Thomas – Ten Page News

When I did Gloat magazine with Andrew McGarrell in 1968, we didn’t know we were making zines – but I’d sure count ’em as such today. Gloat was produced on a spirit master machine (better known as a ditto machine) at school and distributed mostly to our math class. It ran for four issues. A few years later, I made the first issues of the Ten Page News (but only one copy of each issue, which circulated among a small set of my friends; it’s not so clear that this should be called a zine). The first zine I saw that I knew was a zine was Steve Romilar’s Tussin Up which ran from 1985 to 1989 in my home town of Bloomington Indiana: this billed itself as a magazine promoting constructive and wholesome alternatives to illegal drugs because they encouraged the kids to use cough syrup containing dextromethorophan recreationally (e.g., Robitussin; hence the title). From then on, I always enjoyed reading about zines in publications like Ivan Stang’s High Weirdness by Mail but, for no very good reason, never sent for any. When Factsheet 5 hit the bookstores (the Friedman era), I picked up several issues and browsed ’em avidly, but again never sent for any (for which I kick myself now). Finally, I just sort of up and decided to make one in fall 1996 and there was no going back. I like making my own for what I suppose is the usual reason: unfettered self-expression. And I like getting ’em because they continue to surprise me. You never know what the heck is gonna show up in the old p.o. box next. Plus I get to correspond with, and now and then to meet, some of the hippest people in the whole country. What’s not to like?

Emily Larned – Memory Town / Red Charming

[I learned about zines] through Sassy magazine, actually: they had a feature Zine of the Month. I never got it though; I thought zines were still magazines. So it wasn’t until I got Mike Gunderloy’s (of Factsheet 5 before Friedman) book on zines that I got very excited about them and wanted to do my own – before, actually, I ever saw one in person. I’ve always been equally engaged by writing and art, so that was a big part of it. But what was most compelling was the complete autonomy of zines from the corporate world of slick magazines, television, and my high school, where I was, of course, miserable. The variety and the enthusiasm miraculously manage to make up for the mediocrity.

Abby Koch – Chatty Pig

I got into zines at the ripe old age of 29 when I went to Quimby’s one Saturday. I guess I knew about zines already, at least I had heard about them in the context of punk lifestyle and riot grrrls. I already read indy-type magazines like Bitch and Bust, but I had never actually run across a zine before. I bought a bunch from Quimby’s that day (including yours) and then just kept going back for more. I like to read zines because I’m a natural voyeur and I’m drawn to the little glimpses of other people’s lives that I would otherwise not know about. I tend to read perzines more than music or poetry or any other kind of zines, although I have read and enjoyed zines of all genres. I guess I just like to read what people have to say about their lives and how they feel about it. I started doing my own zine because I wanted to put my own voice out there, too. I like to write and it seems like I’ve always got a running commentary going in my head, so why not put some of it on paper? It’s cool to have something to trade for other zines. I guess I have also used it to work out some of my lingering teen angst-type stuff. I’m currently working on Chatty Pig #4 and contemplating a new project. I’m thinking of doing a low-tech (no computer) mini that deals a little bit more with my life now instead of stories from my past. Chatty Pig has gotten to the point where my parents and coworkers expect to see it, but this would be for a different audience (i.e., an audience that won’t be offended if I’m not as nice as I am in Chatty Pig). I’m thinking of calling it something like Yuppie Bitch, but I haven’t really gotten going.

Jon Resh – Viper Press Presents / Amped

The first zine I saw immediately changed my perspective of the world, and I guess the reason I still read them heavily is because they have continued to shape and enrich that perspective. And in creating my own zines over the years, I was afforded the opportunity to express myself in any way that I chose – total freedom of communication, total art and action. I’d say a great deal of my education has come from zines, and some of the most brilliant and wonderful individuals I’ve yet met was through a shared love of this amazing, vital medium. Essentially, reading zines and creating them is among the things that, from my standpoint, simply makes life worth living.

Andy Godzilla – That’s Like Fighting Godzilla with a Squirtgun

my friend King Anal (not his real name) passed on to me copies of Underdog Zine and Retrogression Zine. I thought they were the best zines around, big, fat newsprint mothers of invention, brilliant and informative. And I still think so. Retrogression has since passed on, but Underdog Zine is still alive and well, and strangely enough, I now write for them. After reading their work for so long, they invited me to become one of their writers, which really meant a lot to me because they were one of the zines that inspired me to do my own. Initially my curiosity was sparked by the massive amounts of information they contained. Albeit, most of the zines I ended up reading were crusty-punk-hardcore-political types and that wealth of knowledge kind of called out to me. Look at how much I dont know about whats going on in the world. And interviews with stupid punk bands I idolized at the time (and now think are worthless) were simply supplemental. Some of the smaller, indie-emo-personal zine things I originally thought were cool in how they played with a closer level of intimacy in the writers life, but I now think emo-personal zines are shit. I don’t want to read the diary of some boring kid’s life. I love it when zines cover topics that no one else wants to touch. Transgender, satanism, religion, ufo’s, the history of the Third Reich; weird little snippets of history and information that probably only old people would care about. But then again, I’ve been going through quite a history kick as of late. I mean, seriously, as long as the author knows what he/she is talking about, and makes a clear effort to bring their knowledge from them to you, as long as they’re without pretense, its’ worthwhile. What I want from a zine is to read a few of the articles, learn a little something, and then want to do my own reading on the subject. What I don’t like about zines is when kids use them to whine and rant about how their parents suck, or why they dumped their boy/girlfriend. I can understand how aspects of those things would influence one’s work, but, when you have the power, the opportunity, to spread your words like a media virus to an audience, why would you want to clutter up your writing with references to when your mom threw out your Green Day albums or when your girlfriend cheated on you? Needless to say, I don’t read many zines anymore.

Joe Biel

I got into zines when the local crazy kid, Jake started doing a great zine called Summer. I had never heard of the idea before but I loved his zine, every new issue I would bring to school with me and share with all of my friends. Jake is still crazy and still does zines but not so often anymore. The underground networks were very appealing and the ability to have a voice and vehicle for my messages and concerns received by people that were truly receptive to them was incredible as a teenager. In my opinion some of the best writing is in zines, there is no red tape involved. You get, pure uninhibited writing from caring, honest people looking to share and connect with other people. What’s not to love?

Rita Brinkerhoff – Terrorist

When I was 13 (1994), a friend from Nebraska brought a box of zines to a unitarian church youth conference in my town (Kansas City). I read Girl Germs, WAD, Goddess Juice, and a few others. I was into the punk rock by then; listening to Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, The Tourettes, you know. I knew what zines were, but that was the first time I actually saw one. I was so psyched that people could just get up and do something by themselves, without anyone’s approval. I’d made half an issue of a “newsletter” called Code Blue Bitch when I was barely 12, and when two of my friends saw zines, we made up Majjik Marrrkerz, which lasted for three issues, and that was more than enough, believe me. When they lost interest after 6 months, I was doing one called Estrogen Terrorist, trading with people, etc. People were really supportive when I sent our little 3 page Majjik Marrrkerz out – all constructive criticism, people sent me trades even though ours was fuckin ridiculously tiny. So I’ve done zines ever since; I just put out the tenth issue of Terrorist. But punk and friends got me into zines. Going to rock shows. That I could say whatever I wanted, as a 13 year old, and there was a whole community of people who were interested. Being challenged and challenging. Learning to stick up for my work. It’s totally shaped who I am, at this point (almost 21). I’m a library lady now, and I go into schools in Kansas City, KS in the inner city, and these kids (around age 13) are seeing that they can speak their minds and people will listen. That might sound super-saccharine, but they are awesome kids, and being able to work with them and get them to think and express their ideas effectively is so fucking great. Meeting people I admire, trading, etc, is also always awesome. Long live the Underground Publishing Conference!

Katherine Raz – Retail Whore

The first zine I ever saw was The Scaredy-Cat Stalker, which was done by Krista Garcia out of Portland I think. I went to school with Nicolette Liebermann, Jonie Liebermann of Psychoholics Unaminous‘ daughter, and she brought it to school to show to me because she thought it was right up my alley. I was way into celebrities at the time. So anyway, I thought it was pretty cool, and after a few experiments, I came up with a zine of my own – Apple Scruff. I’m not too sure why I decided to do it. I guess I’ve always known I could write, and I love attention and that seemed to be a good way to get it. Apple Scruff folded when I moved to Chicago because I couldn’t afford to do it in the city. But, if you have the bug to do zines, and you spend tonnes of time reading other people’s zines (as I did: whenever I went into record stores I skipped the music and went straight for the publications), you have a compulsion to keep publishing. So I started Retail Whore. What attracts me to zines? I guess the fact that anyone can do them. It sounds simple, I know, and I could launch into a big First Amendment thing and Freedom of the Press and all that, which is important, too, but what I really like is that anyone with a decent narrative skill and access to a copy machine can achieve this cult status. Also, in all the time I spent at Columbia reading magazines like Magnet and Rolling Stone and Time, whatever, I never really got into reading until I read zines. They suck me in, I don’t know why. They can really be about anything.

Eric Nakamura – Giant Robot

I think I saw one at a record store, and thought they were cool. Actually the zine that got me thinking that it would be cool to do one, was Ain’t Nothing Like Fuckin’ Moonshine. I met Brandon Steppe at a show in SF, I saw the raw energy in his publication. It was an awesome feeling. It made me think my life could change.

Indie ability to do anything you wanted. Plus, some have a great aesthetic. It’s great to see some zines look great. That’s always a bonus. Zines are just cool. Websites are an easy way to make a zine. But I think when someone digs into their pockets to make something with paper, it’s just better. I think if a zine is good, it can be entertaining. But the downside is that there’s not enough good zines out there. And another downside is that there’s a lot of zines who say they’re the best out there. It’s not a contest like some publications make it. It’s just doing it that counts, sometimes. I’m also guilty of high expectations with zines, which is unfair. That’s like expecting someone to be a good athlete. But trying does count and some don’t.

Dustin Krcatovich – Shuttlebus Zine

I actually started with “minicomics”, which is a fine line to draw, but I started when I was 12 going on 13. There was a thing in my local newspaper about these local comic guys, and one of ’em, Robert Lewis, used to be pretty prominent in mincomics. He started teaching classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, and he kinda mentored me. So, I started with that, which is pretty much like it would be with zines, just a different “network”. I got into zines in a more proper sense because of my friend Randall’s high school zine Scapegoat. Pretty much the fact that most mainstream media sucks. I have my beefs with zines, actually, and I think eight outta ten of them are bad, but it’s like communism: it’s good in theory. There are no constraints, and you can do whatever the hell you want with them. And that those two out of ten are really, really good.

Mark Maynard – Crimewave USA

I don’t really remember. It was over a dozen years ago. I was in college, in Michigan, living with friends. We were drinking a lot and we were bored probably. We did a few issues of a zine back then. We spent our own money on it. Then, years later, when Linette and I were living together, I got a job at a copy shop and one thing lead to another. I started by publishing a short autobiography and then Crimewave happened. That was about seven years ago now. Having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder doesn’t hurt. I liked the fact that they were honest, the works of people who cared about something quite a bit. I like self-taught art and DIY music, so this the written equivalent. People do zines because they have to. I like that. If we didn’t lose money on Crimewave, we’d probably lose it somewhere else.

Jeff Wiesner – Double Negative

I got into zines because of kids I met growing up who put together zines. Two in particular influenced me, neither of which are still in publication – Wonder Rolling News, and Media Locals. I was attracted to the idea of creating something to share with friends and strangers, something to distribute and have some means of communication. I like the opportunity to put together writing, artwork, illustration and design. I love the fact that zines give you an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise, and share artwork and ideas with people who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see it. I also enjoy being able to publish work by othertalented artists, give them a chance to get some exposure.

Jake Austin – Roctober

I always read zines and xeroxed comica, and made a few small ones when I was a kid (one compiling Mama Jokes, e.g. Your mama is so…) and the others just comics. The reason I began seriously doing my own regularly published zine was that some punk kids were putting one together when I was about 20 and I did a great interview with Sleepy Labeef for them. When it became apparent they weren’t ever going to do their zine I put my own together and it was rewarding enough that I kept it up. By being available at only stores that sell the best stuff (punk 45s, underground comix, etc.) they inherently seemed like they must be worth checking out. I like the voices of the writers seeming so undiluted and direct.

Alex Wrekk

I read a few local mags and a few poetry type things then my boyfriend’s dad actually was getting zines from people off the internet back in 1993. I read some of his. We started putting stuff together for our own zine that we didn’t put out till 1994. It was called Fun in a Bucket and by that time it was just my little sister and I. I saw them and thought I can do that . And that I can make connections with people and keep in contact with people who are always moving around. The community that surrounds it. And how I can say what I want in the way I want to say it. The only editing is up to me.

Travis Fristoe – America?

This kid Erik Grotz, who I sort of looked up to in high school in Dumfries, Virginia did a zine called Action Time. It focused mostly on the D.C. hardcore scene and it blew me away. I was on the newspaper staff, but a self-published zine was unthinkable to me until I met Erik. Zines were part of the punk rock mystery to me, but they weren’t as scary as leather-jacketed thugs asking for cigarettes at shows. People with glasses wrote zines but they weren’t as passive as me and my comic book / AD&D friends. Zines tapped into something that I very much wanted to know about and become a part of. Too many things to put in a short answer, but the writing is way more relevant to my life than the New York Times or Details or The X-men. Of course, the bulk of zines (like any art form) can be trite, banal, predictable, etc. But stuff like Doris, Scam, King Cat, Cometbus, Scenery, etc. Ranks up there with my favorite hardback books. Zines are a tangible embodiment of d.i.y.

interviews with zinesters – katherine raz

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Katherine Raz – Apple Scruff and Retail Whore

What was the name of yr zine? What was its purpose? What was it about? How long did it last? Were you the only person working on it? Where was it based out of?

It was called Apple Scruff, and it was mostly about people who were overly-obsessed with celebrities. In the zine world I think there are a lot of people who have unhealthy crushes on famous people, so that’s what Apple Scruff celebrated – the sick celebrity obsession. It lasted for about a year, my senior year in high school. Based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. While I had contributors, I was the only one doing lay-out, photocopying, mailing, etc.

Why did you start making yr zine? What were yr goals and did you meet any of them?

I started doing it after I’d been reading zines for about a year. I just wanted to do it myself. You can’t make a profit so that certainly wasn’t a goal. I was written up in Factsheet Five, and they liked it, so I guess that was pretty cool. Otherwise, just a broad base of subscribers and enough people to send sad letters when I said I wasn’t doing it anymore. It just gave me a lot of personal satisfaction to get my own stuff out. It was like therapy.

How large did your zine get? How widely read?

At its peak I think Apple Scruff had about 50 on the mailing list. Read as far and wide as New Zealand. People at my high school read it, too. Once it was written up in FS5 I had a lot of people writing in for single copies which were one dollar.

Do you still read zines? Do you feel like there’s a zine community in Chicago? is it strong or weak? Would you improve it?

Yes I still read zines. There are some particular ones I pick up whenever I go to Reckless or the Clubhouse. I think – yes, to a certain extent Chicago has a good zine community. There are a few organizations that actually are trying to collect zines for posterity here. One in particular is the Chicago Great Lakes Underground Press Collection (headed by Kathryn DeGraff). It’s a part of Depaul that is trying to collect zines from the Great Lakes area. You can go visit it whenever they’re open – I think they’re part of the library up there. Quimbys is a great place to pick up zines. So there’s no lack of support for zinesters. I think the improvements should come from the authors themselves. There needs to be more zines – and the people who write their own should continue to do so with more regularity. Because it’s getting kind of scarce out there since the downfall of FS5 two years ago. I think there needs to be more communication between zine writers – more of a community.

Were you happy with how yr zine turned out?

Yes, I was very happy. I didn’t expect it to get the strange cult following it did. After all, I was only 17 when I started it.

Why did you stop making yr zine? or did you? Were you fed up with it? Tired of it? Bored of it?

I stopped making it because I started to get really big into music, not celebrity crushes. I felt like I was reaching for things to write about. Like the guy who does Rock’n’Roll High School zine here in Chicago – he was an atheist and wrote about punk/hardcore. Then he “found Jesus” and had to change his zine. People’s tastes change. It takes all your passion and all your free time and a lot of your spending cash to do a zine and get it out there. If you’re no longer willing to dedicate all that time to it, it doesn’t work anymore. Also, because I moved to Chicago I couldn’t make copies for free at my job anymore. I didn’t have space in the apartment for layout, etc.

What zines did you read or do you read? What zines inspired you to do yr own zine? Or was there an event or something else that inspired you to do the zine?

I read anything I can get my hands on. I love to go to Quimbys and just sit there reading for an hour or so. I’m sure they hate me because I never buy anything. Same with Reckless. Right now I’m big into the local Chicago zines, music zines, and the zines about zines (Zine Guide is a great one). A few titles everyone should check out: Puberty Strike, Cometbus, Scaredy Kat Stalker (now defunct), and there was this one called 1544 West Grace that was all about this apartment buidling in Chicago.

Was yr zine a personal zine? Did you consider it a personal zine? Or something else?

It was personal, but all zines are. It dealt with a subject. It wasn’t about me, per se, but then it was my zine, so of course it was about me or whatever I wanted to talk about.

Did you have any horror story experiences making yr zine? What were they? Will you ever do any other zines? Or are you done forever?

My zine was about celebrity obsession but there was an article I did about someone who I was obsessed with in high school (an upper classman who had graduated). The article basically detailed all the stupid stalking techniques I had developed in order to see him more often, collect artifacts from his friends (pop cans, homework, etc.) and “drop in” on his classes, etc. It was basically done tongue-in-cheek, but later on I found out he moved to Chicago and went to Columbia College. Then I saw him at a party and he was like, Yeah, I read your zine… HORROR! Zines are so personal that doing them is very self-divulging. People who you don’t know can learn a lot about you and you just have to be willing to put yourself out there.

I will probably be involved in the zine community – I support it, I read zines, I still write for other people’s. But it’s something that I have put on the back-burner because, as you know, Columbia takes up a lot of time. I’m a real journalism student now, so I have to focus on getting my clips out to a more broad audience. I’m not done forever. Who knows, maybe I’ll do one from the nursing home when I retire.

What was yr step by step process from brainstorming to final product and distribution? Did you have any rituals for yr process? Like did you start by writing in a notebook or computer or did you just improvise straight to the zine page? How did you print yr zine? Xerox? Offset? How did you pay for the cost?

I took 10-20 sheets of blank computer paper and folded them in half. Then I cut and pasted computer-generated articles (and typewriter generated as well) onto the blank sheets. I used the copy machine at my dad’s office for free. The layout was a long process. The room at home where I did it was a disaster area (paper shreds, clippings, gluestick, stapler, address books, other zines). Rituals: CD player! Lots of music (probably how I started listening to music so much) – at the end of every zine I had a section called Audio Survival which said which CDs I’d been listening to while preparing that issue.

I came up with ideas for articles and wrote most of the articles during Pre-Calculus, American History, and Psychology class in my senior year of high school. Also at my job, which was at the periodicals desk at a library. When I had free time, I just wrote about whatever came to mind.

The cost of postage was covered by the one dollar people sent me to send it to them. Inmates got it for free, so a lot of prisoners read it. It actually was pretty cool because prisoners become very obsessed with celebrities. There’s not much else to do. But I never went into debt because of it.

What makes a zine good to you? What elements make a zine good to you?

Zines are good when they’re personal. When they have rants and raves, and they touch on the ever-human trials and tribulations that real life involves. Good writing is of upmost importance. You have to have a good, conversational writing style. Organization, while some zines are cut-and-paste and hard to read, the ones that have some sort of organizational flow to them are usually the most interesting. Diversity. Have a number of different writers and opinions.

interviews with zinesters – julie halpern

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Julie Halpern – Cul-De-Sac

Why did you start doing a zine? What made you decide that you wanted to put a zine together and all that? What were your goals? What was your mission?

Liz went to college in Oregon, and I went to Madison. She sent me a copy of The Scaredy Cat Stalker and I thought it was hilarious. When she moved back to Chicago, we talked about how we should do something creative. We’ve known each other since we were five, and we always did lots of kooky, creative shit together. Since we were both done with school, we wanted something to do that was still somewhat intellectually stimulating for us. At the time, I was dating a guy who wrote a really crappy zine, and when we broke up, I thought it would be the perfect way to one up the dude. Not like he ever saw it, or anything. I felt very proud to have created something, though.

How small did you start? Print run, circulation, sales. And how far have you come? Is circulation and size and cost important to you?

We are pretty much just as puny in circulation as when we started. We make 200 copies each issue and more once they run out. The Zine Guide seems to increase our mail and orders, especially since they put a picture of one of our covers. Liz and I both have contacted people and stores in other cities, so the zine gets sold in other places besides Chicago. We have some in a store in Australia, and we’ve already gotten a few letters. People actually recognize the zine’s name sometimes, which is like mini-stardom. The cost is pretty important to me and Liz, since we have no money. Office Depot used to be really cheap, but they doubled the prices. Still, we do some shifty dealing here and there. And the infrequency of our printing makes it easier to save up.

How long does it take you to put an issue together? Is it fun? A chore? What distracts you from doing the zine?

The actual issue doesn’t take so long, especially at this point. We know what to get together and how to do layout and clip art, so it’s getting less painful. We start by thinking of a theme, and then we give each other assignments and brainstorm. We set a due date for the rough drafts, we read them, we make final drafts, then do the layout. But it takes us fucking forever in between issues these days because we’re busy. Distractions include school, work, boys… I’m getting my masters and working full time; Liz is in school full time and student teaching.

Do you think of Cul-De-Sac as a personal zine? Something else? An outlet?

Yes. It’s a personal zine, but it’s not like I wouldn’t just tell those stories on an everyday basis. I’m a pretty open person, but I’ve gotten to the point where I know I can’t be as open as I once was. People don’t deserve to know every bit about me. It’s weird. Matt [Cordell, of The Plan] and I are dating, and the way we hooked up was through him reading my zine. So he knows all these things about me, like sexual things and stuff, before I know dick about him. But in a way, that’s good, because he already knows I have some of these issues. We haven’t really talked about anything in the zines. It’s almost like the zine us are different from the real us. I never really thought of that before.

You live in the suburbs, right? Is that a hindrance? A help? Does it inspire you? Do you hate it? Do you identify with it? Why don’t you live in the city?

Actually, we both live in the city. That address came when I was living with my folks for 3 months after I got back from living in Australia. I had more time on my hands, so I opened it. Plus, Chicago mail sucks ass.

Do you feel like there’s a sense of community among Chicago’s zinesters? Do you feel like you’re a part of it? If there’s a community, is it strong or weak and how would you improve it?

No. The thing is, you can’t tell if someone writes a zine just by looking at them. Plus, being an indie venue, I’m sure a meeting between zinesters would be like going to a show where everybody tries to out-cool each other by how different they are. It would be fun if we tried to do a zine fest again, but that one a few years ago was shit cause no one came. Too cool, I suppose.

Are you happy with Cul-De-Sac? Would you improve it? How? Where do you see yourselves and Cul-De-Sac in five years?

I’m very happy with Cul-De-Sac. We get so much nice mail, it’s hard not to feel good. I wouldn’t improve it cause I don’t like to improve things. In five years, I’ll be a librarian. Liz, who knows? We’ll probably be doing the zine still. What the fuck else are we going to do?

Can you take us step by step through yr zine making process from start to finish?

Big question. Here goes: The easiest thing for us to get started is thinking of a theme. That way there’s some sort of focus. Otherwise, we have trouble thinking of what would make sense. Also, it brings that issue together. Then we give each other assignments. We talk to each other about things that go with the theme. Since we grew up together, we can remind each other of things that have happened.

Then we choose a date where the rough drafts are due. We meet with typed drafts and exchange. We edit and make suggestions. Then we set a date for the final drafts. On that date, we come and exchange finals to make sure it’s all good. Then we go through these clip art books we buy and get from the library. We pick the clip art and mark them. The next time we meet, we photocopy all the clip art and place them correctly. We don’t use any computer programs for this. We are so good at it by now, it doesn’t take that long. Plus, we don’t have the resources, such as scanners and Photoshop.

The next day we take the finished product to Office Depot. We choose a color for the cover, have the office dudes make a copy and check it. They fuck up and we check it again. This happens several times. Then they start printing, and as they go, we take chunks and staple them. It takes a few hours.

Distribution: we take bunches to Quimby’s, Reckless, Earwax, etc. Then we mail them to various zines that we trade with. Then we find zines that review, and we send them there.

Do you have any horror story type experiences making your zine?

Once, Office Depot’s machine broke, but they gave us a bunch of free copies. No, I don’t really have any horror stories.

interviews with zinesters – karl erickson and gretchen larsen

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Karl Erickson and Gretchen Larsen – Cakewalk

Why did you start Cakewalk? What made you decide to do it? Was there some event or some thing that made you want to do it? What were your goals? What did you hope to accomplish? Do you feel like you’re filling a void in Chicago’s zine scene?

Karl Erickson: Mari Eastman, Elliot Joslin, Liz Mayer and myself started Cakewalk a few years ago. Mari, Liz and I all worked at another art magazine and, I at least, felt a bit of dissatisfaction about content. Not that that magazine was doing anything wrong, they were and are serving their audience just great. But I wanted to see different stuff and I wanted to have more of a decision making role. Plus, I thought it would make me look cool. I’m really not sure why anyone else has joined on, other to bask in the warm glow of the Cakewalk machine.

Gretchen Larsen: Yes, the glowing machine was definitely a draw, but for me it was an opportunity to do some cool design. We all have a very similar aesthetic, attitude and sense of humor, so it’s way more fun to produce something with your good friends than for your no-good, unimaginative boss.

KE: But what I think what really started it was that Mari and I were having an unsupervised, over-caffeinated day and decided to do it. Our goals are to, from my point of view, continue to have artists and people interested in art talk about this interest and their other interests. It builds a sense of community and, I hope, allows people to get to know each other outside of more professionally orientated magazines. I like to see people talk about whatever in a more informal, but still critical way. Also, the more strange drawings we can publish, the better.

As for filling a void in the Chicago zine scene, I’d say sure we do. I only know of a couple other art magazines in Chicago and each has their own flavor.

How long ago did you start Cakewalk? Is it your first zine? Were there other zines, are there other zines that you work on?

KE: I think Cakewalk started in 1998, but it may have been 1997. It comes out very sporadically. All of us have worked on a variety of magazines.

How large is your operation? Do you employ anybody? Is it mainly just you? How do you feel about that?

KE: We have a revolving cast, but there is a 5 or 6 person core (Steve Anderson, Mari Eastman, Gretchen Larsen, Liz Mayer, Josh Rothkopf on drums and myself.) We don’t pay anyone, though I have used some of our advertising money for bus fare. I would love to make money and pay people, but I’d also like to be Hugh Hefner.

GL (Designer & Karl’s girlfriend): The hell you would!

Is everyone friends? Is it larger than when you started?

KE: We are all friends and the great thing is that we get to be friendly with the writers and artists involved. It is larger now in that we actually get around internationally. People are always saying Oh, I saw you in Singapore or UNICEF was including issues in a drop. Kind of surprising, really.

Do you think of your zine as a Chicago art magazine or an art magazine that happens to be in Chicago? Why?

KE: Definitely an art magazine that is based in Chicago. And not even that too much, as our writers are from all over, Mari is in LA. There is so much complaining in Chicago, particularly in the art scene, that we don’t get enough attention, blah blah blah and one of the things I think that Cakewalk does is just ignore the idea of regionalism. If it is good (or not good but we are interested in it) then it is in. This brings the world to us and us to the world.

Do you feel that there’s a sense of community among Chicago’s zinesters? Is it a strong community? Weak community? Do you feel that you’re part of it? How would you improve it?

KE: I really don’t know if there is a community among zine producers. If there is, I don’t feel part of it. That said, the folks at Quimby’s are very nice and supportive and I imagine are a focal point of the scene. Cakewalk is more centered in the art world then in a zine world, if there is one, so most of our contacts and sense of belonging are there. It would be interesting to hear how everyone else gets their magazines out in the world and into the hands of those who thirst for their brand of knowledge. But I hate group meetings. If somebody asked me to be part of the zine scene, I would say sure.

GL: I can’t say I really feel like we’re doing “‘zine” in the proper sense anyway. I’d say, rather, the “independent publishing” scene in Chicago has been pretty great, but I don’t know if I often feel part of a scene either. We all just sort of do our own thing and maybe run into each other every now and then. Karl mentioned Quimby’s, has picked up a few of our articles, Punk Planet has given some good advice, Reckless Records has been super nice to us – anyone interested in printed matter, really – which may or may not qualify as a community. The reaction has been pretty positive and most people are like This is cool, can I mention/sell you in my ‘zine/website/bookstore/shout from the rooftops? Everyone has been very giving and sharing and they play nicely with others.

Are you happy with how Cakewalk turned out? Is it what you had envisioned when you started it? How would you improve it? Where do you see yourself and your zine in five years?

KE: I am pretty happy with Cakewalk. I think it is great because sometimes it doesn’t make any sense and confuses me and sometimes it does make sense. I love our covers. I think Cakewalk has an internal logic that we just haven’t figured out yet. Oh, there could be all sorts of improvements. We could have more money, we could become “legit” and be business-y and probably have people give us money and it could be in color and have more than a thousand issues printed and people would turn stuff in on time and I could be super organized or hire organizing monkeys and actually present more new ideas to the world that make people think. In five years. Good God. If we are still around, it should be quarterly, at least, we should not be doing it from our mother’s basements or “borrowing” office supplies from other jobs, and have a nice website like and we should be able to impress people by saying I work on Cakewalk. And have meetings in hot tubs.

GL: It would be dreamy if we could make enough money to do it for a living. But it would probably take more than five years for that to happen. I could see it continuing casually as we have for another few years. Maybe more color, better print quality. But I can’t see the feel-good factor ever changing, I think that’s our biggest asset.

Is there a step by step process that you go through in putting together your zine? What is it? This includes everything, from brainstorming to final product and distribution.

KE: Kind of. First we talk loosely about what the magazine should be about. Then we take this loose idea and present it to different writers we are interested in who might be interested in us. Then we start to get in a few article suggestions and that usually spurs on other article ideas. Sooner or later we end up with most of the articles we need and we go about designing it. We usually have an internal theme that we work with that doesn’t really have anything to do with the article themes. For instance, last issue, a lot of the articles dealt with rebellion and the artists place in our society. But we decided that the internal theme would be all you can robot. Before that, it was country western. This just gives us the structure we need to have a cohesive design. So after it is all designed we send it out to be printed. Then we get it back, send some to our distributors, who take it and do something with it, I am not sure what. They don’t tell us. The rest we self-distribute, putting them on consignment and sending them to friends around the world. Probably the easiest thing to forget but the most important thing to do is send issues to people who are in the magazine or who have helped you out.

Has it changed since you put together your first issue? Is it smoother now? Is it always evolving or do you have it perfected?

KE: It is far from perfected, though we are moving away from doing the editing and designing at the same time. That is a recipe for pain. So, it is smoother.

interviews with zinesters – matt cordell

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Matt Cordell – The Plan

What’s your zine making process? Do you start in a notebook and then move to the zine, do you write directly into the zine, what? How do you print? Do you xerox, do you actually print? Do you scam? Do you have connections or do you have to pay, like me? Do you have any advice on any of this?

I was writing everything, hand-writing everything, in a legal pad and on notebook paper and on backs of old photocopies and other scraps of paper, then editing all of it, over and over. Then when I was finally done, I would jump onto one of my old typewriters and start typing away. I typed on the pages, actual size (1/2 of a letter size sheet of paper), made some paste ups and on to the copies. Now I’m typing it on the computer. It’s easier for me that way, with all my editing time. I think I’ll still end up using my typewriter for final type. I have a formula for printing the zine. I pay for half of the ones I print, and the rest I, uh, acquire through other means. It’s all photocopied. I don’t have the money or the quantities to have it offset.

Once you start a zine, how do you keep the momentum going? How do you finish the issue? How do you keep making more issues? Any advice?

With me, it’s hard cause my zine isn’t my number one priority. Primarily I’m working on paintings. But I love to write, so I’m finding time to do both. The zine will be much less available than my paintings, but I’d like to think I’ll keep it going. I always have these ideas of things I want to put in it. The main thing, for me, is getting the stories down when I’m thinking of them, or soon after, or I’ll just forget. It’s hard to get started on doing anything like that, but once I’m started it rolls.

What makes a good zine to you? What are the elements that you look for in a zine?

I just like good stories.

Could you take us step by step into the process of making your zine, from beginning to end? Like, say you were giving a workshop or class on how to do your own zine or something for a bunch of people who have never done a zine.

Okay. I’m presently fucked up on an over-the-counter drug named Drixoral. And that’s not in a cool way, like, I didn’t buy it to get fucked up, it just sort of happened that way – by default – since nature picked this (2000) for the first year she’ll fuck me down with a springtime allergy problem. I don’t understand it. Maybe it means I’m getting old. At any rate, I went out on a limb and bought a box of this so-called Drixoral and it’s got me all the loopy. This person in a desk beside me, she just said David Duchovny. Indeed she did.

My process is very simple, and it goes a little like:

I write the stories. I pick 3 or four or however may make a meaty little magazine and I start jotting them down on pieces of paper or backs of pieces of paper and then edit. Oh the editing. The editing is a thing that I do not like, but it does tell of my problem with not being able to let a thing go. I edit til the cows do come home. Then I make it into a readable piece of thing. I.E., I start typing on some sort of machine. I like to stay away from the computer on most occasions, cause everyday at work I must bond myself to one of those. Computers. I used a typewriter (sans correction tape or ribbon or film) for issue one and it was a bitch. I might not do that anymore, but it does look nice. Then after I get it all typed up and ready to reproduce, I have to make a little mock up (about the size of a wallet sized photograph – that is, when the mock up has been folded) and figure out what page goes on what sheet or back of sheet (you have to do this thing with a saddle-stiched book). Once I get the idea of how it works, I make a master – a paste up. Then I figure out how to do it as cheaply as possible – meaning creative ways to acquire cheap if not free copies.

Soonafter, it’s money, money, money. The zine is on the shelves (oh, I distribute it to the few zine-y shops of Chicago, just before the whopping payback arrives). I take a bath in the paper moneys and bite all the coins to test that they’re real gold.

interviews with zinesters – dan sinker

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Dan Sinker – Punk Planet

Why did you start Punk Planet? What were your goals, did you meet them? And in the beginning did you feel like a Maximum Rocknroll clone or did you always feel different, like you had a different slant or philosophy behind you?

Punk Planet started because there were a bunch of us that didn’t feel like our voices or what we felt was important or interesting was getting covered in the nationally distributed punk zines at the time. This was back in 1994, the scene was undergoing a lot of changes – parts were getting more commercialized, other parts were finally coming into their own – and we didn’t feel like anyone was writing about the stuff that was exciting and new. I think as far as being a “Maximum RocknRoll clone” goes, we definitely looked to MRR for a template and for an idea of what was possible, but we were also looking at that magazine for what we didn’t want to do.

How large is your entire operation now? How many people work for you? How large is your print run? Are you turning a profit? Is there a difference in how you accept people’s submissions and how you hire employees now as opposed to the beginning?

There is only one full-time person here, and that’s me. We have another person who works on the editorial end of things, Joel Schalit, but he does it part time and lives in California. Everyone else is either freelance or volunteer. We have three designers that come in when that time in the production cycle runs around, and we have probably about 10 or so writers that I know I can turn to and they can churn out good stuff. All writers, designers & editors are paid for their work on Punk Planet. The pay ain’t great, but I feel like it’s important. Reviewers aren’t paid in cash, but get to keep the records they get. The only person that is completely volunteer is a guy that comes in and does mailorder once a week. We are currently printing about 9,000 copies of Punk Planet. The magazine turns a profit, albeit barely. As far as how the magazine has changed in the last six years, I’d say it’s become a completely different magazine a few times over.

How do you feel about Chicago? Do you feel like you’re a Chicago music magazine or a music magazine that just happens to be based in Chicago? Would you or do you put an emphasis on Chicago bands?

I love Chicago, but we’re not a Chicago music magazine. We don’t put any special emphasis on Chicago at all. I don’t feel that that’s our role. There are magazines that cover Chicago music very well. For that matter, I’m not even so sure that we’re a music magazine. We cover a culture, of which a part of that is music, but is also art and writing and politics and ideas.

Do you feel like you are part of a zine community here in Chicago? Do you think that there is a zine community in Chicago? Is it strong or weak? How would you improve it or would you?

At varying points over the last six years, I’ve felt like I’ve been a part of a strong Chicago zine community. But right now, I think that community is at a low point. That could be because I’m so busy that I don’t have time to keep up with it anymore, but I think that the zine scene on the whole is at a low point right now.

Are you happy with how Punk Planet has turned out? How would you improve it? What are your new goals for Punk Planet? Where do you see Punk Planet five years from now?

I’m ecstatic about how Punk Planet has turned out. The last year or so, it has finally achieved a level of consistency and quality that I’ve wanted it to have forever. Where do I see PP in five years? I don’t play that game. I work one issue to the next. It’s been successful so far, I don’t want to jinx it by looking too far into the future, because inevitably you can’t meet those kind of goals.

interviews with zinesters – andrew scott

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. I think this interview is from an article I was working on for a magazine writing class. I am not sure. I only vaguely remember working on this project. You can tell from my repeated questions that I had some thesis that I was trying to cover, but I can’t remember what it was specifically. I think they are from 1999. At that time, I was a dumb kid, so I probably didn’t appreciate the time that these people took to answer the questions. But I do now. Thank you very much to Andrew Scott, Dan Sinker, Matt Cordell, Karl Erickson, Gretchen Larsen, Julie Halpern and Katherine Raz. If you are one of the interviewees and want your interview taken down, please let me know. I am putting them here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Andrew Scott Sobstory

What made you start your zine? Was there some incident or some thing that happened that made you want or need to make a zine? What did you hope to accomplish when you first started? What was your mission?

Throughout highschool I read Maximum Rock n Roll religiously. I loved punk rock, I identified with it and was so inspired by it all. I bought the records, the zines, and attended the shows. The next step was to start contributing to this scene that meant so much to me. But after three failed attempts to play in punk rock bands, I decided that maybe a zine was a better option. So rather than scream my thoughts through a microphone, I decided to write them down and xerox them. A zine was a creative outlet that I could do entirely on my own. Then later on it turned into an addiction, I had to make zines to keep my sanity. It was a relief to empty out the thoughts in my head and put them on paper. Like John Lee Hooker said Let that boy boogie-woogie, cuz it’s in him and it’s gotta come out.

How do you feel about Chicago? How long have you lived here? Do you think of your zine as a Chicago zine? Do you feel like there’s a sense of community among Chicago zinesters? Is it strong? Weak? Do you feel part of it? How would you improve it?

I’ve lived in Chicago basicallly my entire life except for the one year I spent in California. I grew up about 25 miles west of the city in Dupage County, but moved to the city six years ago. I’m not too fond of Chicago, but at the same time I love it. Every year I vow to move away, but something always keeps me here. Chicago is my home, as much as I curse it, this city fuels me. Chicago is filled with real people that have real problems. Walking down the street you can see it in their eyes, I’m sure they see it in mine too. It’s not easy to live in this city, it weathers a person, but I think that’s what gives it it’s character. It’s all surface level, what you see is what you get in this town.

Sobstory is inevitalby a Chicago zine, because that’s where I reside, but I think that people everywhere can relate to what I’m writing about. It’s about experiences and life. Like how people understand love songs in every region, we’re all humans right?

If there’s any sort of a zine community in Chicago, I’m not aware of it. I know a few people that do zines, and we’ll talk about printing methods, or other insignificant issues. We’re not really helping each other produce our zines.

When did you first start making zines? I know you did Kumquat before Sobstory, when did you start that? Why did you switch over to Sobstory? Do you think of your zines as personal zines?

I started Kumquat zine in the fall of 1992. Six issues were printed up, and the last one was released in 1998. I switched to the name Sobstory, because I felt that the feeling of the zine had matured. I was 18 when I printed up the first Kumquat. You can imagine the difference between an 18 year old’s zine and a 25 year old’s zine. It was time for a change. I’d liked the name sob story for a couple years, I was into the idea of a title that said this zine tells a story. So Sobstory it was.

I hate the name personal zine, it sounds too sissy. Like this is my private little story I’m sharing with you. Yeah, I may talk about experiences that move me, but it’s no different than someone singing a song about romance, gun fights, or being a rambling man. They don’t label those songs as personal songs. Most things that inspire people touch them personally. I don’t think it’s any different than an author writing a story. I do like some zines that might be labeled as personal zines, these are my all time favorites: Reality Control, Notes from the Lighthouse, Scam zine, and Beer Powered Bicycle.

How have you grown as a zine maker over the years? How have your zines improved over the years? Are you happy with how Sobstory came out? Were you happy with Kumquat? If you could improve Sobstory how would you?

I’ve grown as a person and inevitably my zine has followed the same path. My zines have improved as far as design and printing techniques. When I first started, it was entirely a cut and paste layout. And I hope the writing is a little better. I’m happy with all of the zines I’ve ever printed, even though each one has a lot of room for improvement. I always think the next one I print will be a little bit better. I suppose if I had an editor to read my stuff before it was printed that would be an improvement.

Where do you see yourself and your zine in five years? What do you hope to accomplish by then?

In five years I will be probably be dead, but at least my zines will finally be recognized. Just kidding, I don’t know. I hope to keep putting out zines, and busying myself with other creative projects. My head is always conjuring up these ideas in which I can waste more money. Nonetheless they keep me going, I’ve found that involving myself in these projects sort of puts more meaning into life, like maybe I have a greater purpose than working some shitty 9-5 job for the rest of my life. Well, I’ll still be working that 9-5 job, but hopefully doing stuff on the side.

interviews with dylan posa and weasel walter

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. These two are from when I was working on the college magazine for two semesters. A friend and I did a piece about working musicians who still had day jobs. There were others that she interviewed, Dylan and Weasel were the ones I interviewed. It was done in the fall of 2000, I think. If you happen to be Dylan Posa or Weasel Walter and you want this taken down, just let me know. I’m putting it here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Dylan Posa – Cheer Accident – Reckless Records

One of the things that helps about working a retail job is the tremendous amount of freedom you have in terms of leaves of absence and so forth. It’s also the lack of real responsibility, as sometimes you really need to not think about anything else. Also, Reckless happens to have a really generous policy on employee purchases, so musicians being music freaks that they are can amass a huge collection of stuff. I happen to also like working, because I don’t really manage my time very well and it imposes a schedule on me. I can’t really face a whole week with nothing set, so it’s nice to know that I have to sandwich song-writing sessions in between day shifts.

What shit jobs have you had in the past. how does yr current one stack up? Which was the best? Most accommodating one for yr rock n roll lifestyle? Any horror stories?

The current situation is by far the best and most accommodating. I think the worst was Blockbuster Video – lots of supervision and very few perks. I think we got free rentals (but only a certain amount a week). We had to be clean-shaven (there was a razor and shaving cream in the bathroom), you couldn’t wear gym shoes, there was a monitor up in the manager’s office where he or she could monitor the cashier’s every step. We were expected to stop thieves ourselves. I’ve never had a temp job, but I imagine those would be even worse. That’s probably better for musicians who are skilled in computer stuff, because they can drop a job in a minute and still pick up something else at any time.

What do you feel it takes to survive as an independent musician in general and in Chicago?

Well, that’s tough for me to say because I happen to like the position I’m in. The record label doesn’t pay my way so I don’t feel beholden in any way to alter what it is that I do for them. So many bands get burned this way, I’m still surprised that bands don’t just do it themselves nowadays. I think in terms of survival, Chicago breeds a sort of incestuous cross-pollination where everybody plays in everybody else’s side-project. That seems to work here.

How hard is it to balance yr passion with yr need to survive?

Not very hard for me, as it turns out. I work pretty slowly anyway, so I like to have something to do. Of course, this could all be justification until my amphetamine addiction becomes affordable.

I think I asked this already but what are yr five favorite songs relating to or that help get you through a shift at work?

Ex-French T-Shirt – Shudder To Think
Now That’s The Barclords – Urge Overkill
Freddy’s Dead – Curtis Mayfield
The Sidewinder – Lee Morgan
Daddy Needs a New Throne – Camberwell Now

Weasel Walter – Flying Luttenbachers – Unemployed at the moment

What kind, and how many shit jobs, have you had in the past while working in music. Were they awful? Good? Beneficial for your music schedule? Traumatizing? Which one was the best?

At this point I see any occupation that doesn’t directly further my creative goals as a waste of my time unless if it pays a substantial amount. I am not independently wealthy and I’ve done what I’ve had to to survive and devote my life to making things. I’ve worked as a record store clerk, a bike messenger, a telemarketer, and other crappy jobs like that in the past 10 years. Those last two jobs were so terrible I wanted to kill someone. Creating music and the various processes that surround it soaks up the majority of my time, although it does not pay well.

How long did it take until you could live off of yr music? How did you feel after you realized you could?

I haven’t had a job in more than 2 years, but I’m going to have to get one soon to level off my growing debt. I have been extremely thankful for the time I had and I didn’t squander it. It’s great to wake up every morning and concentrate on what I want to do. Unfortunately, what I do isn’t at all in style, so the income is extremely sketchy. I’ll probably try computer temping. It’s not worth my time to work at some dumb job for less than 20 bucks an hour at this point… my time is extremely valuable to me and I’d rather starve than have it wasted!

What do you think it takes to survive as a musician in general and as a musician in Chicago? Do you feel you have it?

I am not the average musician. I have focused on creating the kind of art that is has proven to be largely unpopular and uncommercial. I think the thing that it takes to be a well-paid musician anywhere is the ability to conform to the musical roles that fit the demands of what is desired by the paying public. I refuse to do this. I am not interested in
compromising my aesthetics for acceptance. I have the ability to survive as a human being, but I am not making a good living off of my music. I accept this as reality. I do not recommend trying to be a professional musician unless if you’re absolutely sure what you want to do and you are ready to accept the consequences for making that choice. This society has no respect for culture, so most people doing experimental or truly creative music will have to be prepared to starve.

How difficult is it (was it) to balance yr passion for music with your need to survive?

Very difficult. So-called “Musicians” are a dime a dozen – close to worthless, really. The market is saturated with mediocrity and much of this is rewarded because most American consumers are mediocre people and that’s what they relate to. The music business is a conspiracy run by a wealthy and powerful minority who call the shots on what the majority have options to digest. This way they can control it to their advantage. It’s very difficult to fight this.

Is signing to a ‘major’ label an issue for you?

No. My attitude and creative goals do not meet the requirements of pleasing rich guys in suits and making them lots of money. I want to destroy them. That’s why Napster is so important — it takes money out of these parasite’s pockets (much less than would come out of the artist’s pockets). This is why you hear so many industry weasels complaining.

Being on a so-called major label sure doesn’t mean you make any real money per se. These labels are set up to make lots of profit for the suits and hardly any for the artists. A lot of the money is advances that have to be paid back and often can’t be, putting the artist in a position of debt and impasse. You’d be surprised how many “big” artists don’t really have a pot to piss in. Don’t kid yourself about the music business. It’s who you know, half the time.

interview with don de grazia

Note – I am slowly going through and cleaning up my folders on our hard drive. I just came across a bunch of old interviews I did with people while I was a journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. This one was from when I was working on the college magazine for two semesters. It was done in the fall of 2000, I think. If you happen to be Don De Grazia and you want this taken down, just let me know. I’m putting it here for posterity and nerdy archival reasons.

Don De Grazia is the soft spoken (and deep voiced) author of the recently published book, American Skin. It’s a story of a young kid coming of age (and becoming a punk) in Chicago in the 80s. Don is currently a fiction writing teacher at Columbia College Chicago.

What made you want to be an author?

I read a lot of fiction as a kid. I think, like a lot of writers, I’m a sort of natural born introvert – but one with a strong desire to interact with society. Reading and writing fiction are solitary ways to join the fray.

What books have influenced you the most?

That’s easy – Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye. I picked up those two books as a kid, and since that time I’ve gone through a lot of phases – from Dostoyevsky to Bukowski to Fitzgerald to Shakespeare to Cormac McCarthy – and they’ve all changed me as a writer. Even authors I hate have influenced me. But I’m amazed at the way Huck Finn and Catcher have stood up over the years. Those two novels, along with Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio are currently my three favorite works of fiction.

Have films influenced your writing?

Yeah, and any writer who says that film doesn’t influence his writing is either a liar, or mistaken. The novelist Charles Johnson says that when you write a novel it’s a dialogue between you and all of the novels you’ve ever read, which I think is an excellent way of putting it. But I would expand that to a dialogue between you and all of the stories you’ve ever been exposed to, regardless of the form – the one your friend told you that night at the bar, that Belgian film you can’t remember the name of, that performance of Henry V you saw at The Globe, the funniest column Mike Royko ever wrote, that one episode of Bonanza, and so on. Every form of communication you come in contact with has its influence on you as a writer. It’s not always a positive influence, but it’s an influence nonetheless.

It is true that film is in many ways a very different way to tell a story than prose fiction, but so is oral storytelling, and who can deny the relationship there? Where the filmmaker might use a soundtrack to get something across, and the oral storyteller might raise an eyebrow, the prose fiction writer will have to do something else. But to deny that they are all first cousins is silly. I think that a lot of writers of literary fiction resent film because it’s clearly the dominant storytelling medium of our time. And the fact of the matter is that watching a film is, creatively speaking, a much more passive mental experience than reading a novel. Whether it’s a supermarket romance or Tolstoy, the demand is put on the novel audience to use their own life experience to sort of co-write the story, so each reader’s experience is absolutely unique. And that’s why novels will always be an important part of the human experience. Just look at all those zillions of Internet-Generation kids who devour every Harry Potter novel. And just wait – when the movie comes out, they’ll all say it sucks.

How has your writing process developed over the years?

As a student at Columbia College I learned how to re-write. And not just edit, but re-see and reconsider the possibilities of what I initially put down on paper. That was not initially an intuitive part of my process. In fact, I resisted the whole idea of it. It’s a classic beginning writer’s copout: Kerouac didn’t rewrite! But even that’s bullshit. Kerouac rewrote. And, in my opinion, he should have rewritten more.

Where’s your favorite place to hang out?

You mean besides the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot at Clark and Belmont? Probably the Caribou Coffee place down the street from me. I also like to drop in and bug the artists Tony Fitpatrick and Teresa Mucha at Tony’s Big Cat Press studio.

What’s the best thing about Chicago and is that what keeps you here?

The best thing about Chicago is that it’s a better place to live than anywhere else. It’s all relative. I mean, LA is some kind of glad-hand stripmall nightmare, and New York is filled with disaffected New Yorkers who need to be forcibly sent to charm school – preferably one that relies heavily on the cattle prod. I’m not just being glib. New Yorkers – and I’m referring here to the Manhattanites who run publishing – make my skin crawl. Chicago is a world class city, but it’s truly unpretentious. However, that does make it a little harder place to be an artist or a writer or a filmmaker or whatever. Chicagoans are more likely than most other big city people to say stuff like: You’re a POET? What kind of money can you make doing THAT? And I don’t like this slick Disney turn Chicago has taken with the fiberglass cows and the iron fences and the gondolas. But whatever, it’s the best city in the world, the archetypal American city, the city of writers. But the main reason I stay here is because I lost my drivers license.

Where were you from originally?

I was born in Chicago. I spent part of my childhood in rural unincorporated Lake County, Illinois, so you can see why I spent a lot of time reading fiction.

Is there an overall theme, from story to story, that you come back to in your writing?

That’s a good question. When I first started out writing there certainly was a theme very close to my heart that kept popping up – Girls. But as I look at my writing now I see the theme of the individual who keeps trying and failing to find his place in society. But he never stops trying.

Does music kick your ass? What kind?

Yes, if it wasn’t for the music of The Mentors, I would not be a writer today. Actually, yeah, I love music, but it’s not a lifestyle. I was one of the tens of thousands of kids who got into the Chicago punk scene in the eighties and thought Naked Raygun was the coolest. I still think Naked Raygun was the coolest, but I’m repulsed by the idea of people who live their lives according to music subculture. I mean, it’s understandable for kids, but I see people who are pushing forty who still wrap a lot of their self-esteem around the fact that they were the first person at their high school to listen to Minor Threat, or whatever. It becomes this sort of competitive, fascistic, intellectually empty attempt to turn pop music into some kind of scholarly discipline – to make music appreciation a tightly controlled clique – and that takes all the fun out of it. Also, I like a lot of music, but I truly love very little – at least enough to buy it and listen to it again and again. I’ve probably only listened to a half dozen albums in the last six months, but I’ve played each one hundreds of times – Hank Williams, Sr. Rare Demos, Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown, some Memphis Slim CD, Elvis’ Sun Sessions, Mike Ness’ two solo albums, and a couple compilations of old classic country heartbreak songs I picked up in England of all places. Oh yeah, and every once in a while – Throb Throb by Naked Raygun.

Do you speak or read in a language besides English?

Yes, Keith, the language of love.

If you were to collaborate with any other authors – who? What?

That’s a hard question. OK. It would be a book of essays meditating on race and class relations in America, and the limitations of the Liberal-Conservative paradigm. The featured authors would be me, Jim (The Redneck Manifesto) Goad and Larry (The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America) Elder.

Have you ever found true love?

Yeah, the Chicago skyline from about fifty different vantage points. Don’t groan. I mean it.

When you die, what do you want to be remembered for?

Honestly? My first thought was: Who cares? I’ll be dead. But I suppose if I’m survived by any loved ones I’d like to be remembered as a writer whose work lasted, so my people can live large off my royalty checks.