I’m sure y’all have noticed that the majority of my Kiwi Cowboy blog activity is now chattin’ with talented musicians in Austin; one’s that I enjoy conversing with about their music and what they have to share and say about it. I enjoy talking to people in general, and that musos give me the opportunity to talk to them about music is something I thoroughly enjoy. I recently discovered a 12 year-old blog post from my Myspace page archive (it’s not easy to unearth, but Myspace does let you dig it up), and despite the fact I was a musician at the time I did mention that one of my other dreams was to be a journalist, especially one of the music variety. This might have something to do with reading Tintin as a kid (journalists get to punch people and have drunken bearded sailor friends right?), but I’ve always been fascinated by the creative process that can go on in our brains and always enjoy investigating it.
I suppose another reason was that over 10 years ago I lead a band in New Zealand, and while my lyrics were pretentious af, if someone wanted to interview The Glory Sea I was over the moon. I got to explain myself and give some sort of background and insight into what goes on when we create our work. I was trying to form us into this brand of indie neo-Victorian steampunkers, and rattling on about how I was influenced by various poets and bands gave listeners more understanding when listening to or when throwing our CD in the trash. So I’m hoping to pass that conversational excitement on when my time allows. Would I want to do interviewing and writing as some form of employment? Absolutely. Would that be a reality? Not likely in this digital pro bono day and age, but one of my biggest inspirations that it can be done is a fellow New Zealander who has a number of the biggest musical acts in the world rush to talk to him. That man is Zane Lowe.
I loved watching Lowe on New Zealand’s ‘Max TV’ in the 90s (he also went to my high school), and after moving to London for MTV UK and then LA for Apple Radio 1, he progressed from talking to shortly lived garagebands in NZ to having Kanye West happily chat with him for over an hour. I don’t know how I’d fare having my interviews on film, having a guy who mumbles his words and twitches his face every 3 seconds would be troll cannon fodder, but that’s always the challenge an interviewer personality has to face; how much do I want this to be about me and my ‘brand’ and how much is this actually about whom I’m interviewing? And Lowe’s gift is how well he balances this (alongside not holding cue cards or asking generic talk show questions about how their kids are doing). He wants to have a conversation with the musician, put them at ease and let them know that there’s no time limit to adhere to, no producer in his ear saying they have to move things along so they can start the karaoke skit. He wants us to know what this musician experiences when creating their art from the heart.
All of these thoughts of talk show comparisons came from a recent Splitsider article I read about The Lost Art of the Unscripted Interview. While it focuses on how late night interviewers are not probing their interviewees enough, it showed me how for all the assumption we want everything in our lives to be in quickly consumed chunks, there is actually a movement away from scripted, short interviewing. Talk show hosts are switching to more vaudeville segments as their pulling point, and how three hour podcasts of two people talking is actually becoming what people are now aligning to as an ‘interview’. Talk shows are for fun and promotion, interviews are for learning things about each other. So in a time when we complain our attention span reduction, it is interesting how Youtube interviews and podcasts that go for hours long are gaining in popularity when we would assume it to become the opposite. Vapid quick chat doesn’t seem to quench the personal insight a listener/reader/viewer wants to experience from an interview.
The undisputed king of interviewing is of course, Larry King. He’s apparently conducted over 60,000 of them in his career, a veteran like no other. When asked about the key to a good interview he said the host should never use the word “I”. Not easy to do. And the draw of Larry King is that he has no genre boundary for who he talks with. Actors, politicians, musicians, athletes, artists, authors, thinkers, inventors; there’s few brands of person he won’t have on his show. A good interviewer can talk to anybody if he primarily has to listen and guide the conversation.
I have to confess that when I’m in a group conversation and I start to catch onto a topic everyone is sharing, I can find myself no longer listening but instead planning in my head my own anecdote to share and be admired for. Of course the thought I should have is that I’ve come to spend time with other people and I want to hear what others are thinking about. I think about myself while on my own all the time, so life can be much more interesting if we listen to people and unearth wisdom or hilarity that we might not have seen coming. And if in my patience to share my funny story the topic may have moved along and I have to make myself accept an opportunity is gone (unless it’s a seriously awesome story). Because it shouldn’t be all about me.
Which has been good practice for my own interviewing. I almost feel proud when at the end I realize a few of the questions I prepared I didn’t end up using; because the interview is about what they’re up to and directions of conversation change all the time. Which is exciting. And that I didn’t ask the questions in a strict order of what I had prepared, that also feels great. It’s smart to research ahead and plan the integral things you want to know, but an interviewer can (sometimes) enjoy a chat going off script.
So I aim to get better with my interviewing in the future, I enjoy it and can tell others enjoy it too. All musicians like to talk about their creations. The funny thing is the better and longer an interview goes for, the harder I’ll be working at transcribing every slow motioned word. But I can assure you this is a complaint that shortly goes away when I see the trimmed and polished finished product I’m proud to share. Maybe I should just film an interview at some point? Though I can’t confirm or deny whether it will end in a burst of Kiwi Cowboy Karaoke…