All posts in Conversations

  • A Conversation with Scott Bagby and Carter Adamson of streaming music service Rdio, February 2012

    The concept of paying month-by-month to stream music from your computer and smartphone remains a relatively new idea in Australia. In the last year or two, a number of contenders have emerged. Nokia has had their ‘Comes With Music’ service for a while now. Sony launched their ‘Music Unlimited’ product in February 2011. Hulking, canary-yellow retailer JB Hi-Fi launched their own streaming platform in December 2011, dubbed ‘NOW’. BlackBerry, Samsung and Microsoft all have proprietary systems operating in some capacity. Rumours abound of Spotify’s Australian launch. A site named Guvera offers a slight twist on the idea: ‘guilt-free’ mp3 downloads. None of these services have yet gained any real traction in the Australian market.

    Clearly, it’s becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace, as app developers and record companies alike cosy up to the assumption that most people don’t give a fuck about music ownership anymore. That whatever CDs, vinyl and cassettes they own gather dust on a shelf somewhere, immobile and largely useless in the era of interconnectivity. These companies believe that most music fans – ‘consumers’ – simply want the ability to take all the world’s music with them, wherever they go. For a monthly fee, of course.

    The newest contender on the Australian market is named Rdio [pictured above]. It’s web-based and also has apps for the main phone platforms (iOS, Android, BlackBerry… Windows Phone?). It was founded by a couple of the guys behind Skype, it’s been public in the States since August 2010, and it’s pronounced exactly like it’s written (‘radio’ minus the ‘a’). For AUD$13.90 per month, you get access to unlimited PC and mobile streaming of their library, which apparently consists of over 14 million songs. Ahead of a launch party at Bondi’s Beach Road Hotel in early February 2012, a couple of the Rdio guys flew me to Sydney, bought me lunch, and answered my questions as best they could.

    Andrew: How long has Rdio’s Australian launch been in the works?

    Scott [Bagby, VP Strategic & International Partnerships; pictured left]: I first came down to Australia to start the discussions at Easter 2011. We were pretty much sewn up by the end of the year. So not quite a year.

    There’s been a few streaming services available in Australia over the last few years, but none of them have had any real success in terms of market penetration. Is that fair to say?

    Scott: Streaming services on the whole, globally, are quite nascent. I was just hanging out with a bunch of labels. I can’t verify these numbers, but this label guy told me that worldwide, there’s only about 7 million subscribers, to any streaming service. It is very much in the early days of all streaming services. But the potential is huge. They’re planning on massive growth in the area, especially this year. I think you’ll find that here in Australia, as well. There’s still an education that needs to happen for the user to understand streaming services. [They need to] just learn about ‘em, and use ‘em, and get what I refer to as the ‘a-ha’ moment, of why streaming services are so much better than buying individual tracks.

    Carter [Adamson, co-founder; pictured right]: But seven million music subscribers in a world where everyone loves music? There’s a lot of room to grow. For ten years, we’ve had various fits and starts with digital music: DRM, tethered CDs, and that kind of stuff. We have services like Rhapsody in the US, who are stuck at around 600,000 subscribers. Now within the past year, you have more than a handful of services that have well over a million subscribers apiece. That only happened within the past year. You have markets like Australia, where 40% of all music revenue is digital music revenue. Korea’s over 50%. For the first time, digital music revenue globally is growing quicker [than physical sales]. I think we’re now at an inflection point with digital music subscription services.

    Scott: The timing’s also great, because of the iPhone and other smartphones. People want to take their music with them. Back in the old days, when I was travelling around I used to have a CD case [for a discman], but that’s just too much of a hassle now. With this streaming service, we have 14 million songs at your disposal, no matter where you are in the world. You can download songs to your phone, switch ‘em out; every Tuesday, there’s new releases [on Rdio]. These sort of things – that’s the education that has to happen, and that’s the ‘a-ha’ moment when you get all of that going. The perfect alignment of the ubiquity of smartphones is what’s really helping it along.

    Carter: Well, connected devices. Any single device that can talk to the internet is a playback device now. Whereas before you had one device; a record player, CD player, 8-track player. Now there’s a wide array of devices that are effectively playback devices, so it no longer makes sense to buy one song for each device. It no longer makes sense to port all the downloads that you bought a la carte via external hard drive to every single device that you have. The only thing that makes sense is for you to access it seamlessly wherever you are, using whatever platform or device you have.

    Using the US service as an example, what percentage of users are using Rdio on their phones?

    Carter: Over 85% of our subscribers are on the higher-priced tier. [Note: PC-only access to Rdio is AUD$8.90 per month – five bucks cheaper than the PC/phone combo.] And that makes sense, because the value proposition has always been seamless mobility. People always wanted to move their music around. No-one’s ever bought a song on iTunes to just play it on their computer. They’ve been waiting for 10 years for this whole seamless mobility thing to become a reality. Now it’s finally here.

    Scott: I think that’s one of the reasons that the music industry faced such a piracy problem in the past, because they didn’t offer it in a format in which people wanted to consume music. Now that it’s coming into that format, you see a lot of people moving into services like ours. They wanted to listen in several places at once, but they couldn’t, so the only way they could do it is to steal it. It was still happening up until a month ago in Hong Kong. Everyone was saying, ‘I want to buy music, but there’s no iTunes, there’s no digital services here. I can’t buy what I want; you leave me no choice but to steal it’. These people were lawyers, bankers – people that had the means [to pay], they didn’t want to steal it, they just didn’t have it.

    Carter: And also, the price has never been so low. We’re talking about 34 cents a day for access to the world’s music, across all your devices. That’s an insanely low price.

    Tell me about that education process you mentioned earlier. How do you turn seven million streaming music subscribers into seven billion?

    Scott: [laughs] Well, one of the benefits is to have your music everywhere and anywhere. Part of my job is to go around to all the different countries and get the rights sorted, so at least it’s available to everyone. Once it’s available, the education process is an ongoing one. And it’s one for the entire industry to be involved in. The best way to get there is to allow people to get that ‘a-ha’ moment. That moment comes at certain times, like when they’re at their friend’s place, they’re sitting around and they want to hear that song from their childhood that they’re all laughing about. Obviously no-one has it in their collection anymore, but then you – boom – you stream it down, you get a big laugh, and it kicks off. You can almost have Rdio and some beers, and you have a party.

    I think a lot of people would be using YouTube for that purpose at the moment.

    Scott: But YouTube, again, isn’t all that mobile. I mean, not as mobile as Rdio is.

    Which labels do you have on board for the Australian launch?

    Scott: We’ve got all the major labels, and we have some indies like Shock, MGM and Inertia. We won’t open up in any market, anywhere in the world, unless we have the domestic music, as well. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying the content. That’s what makes a good service – the titles that you have. We have a whole team who just make sure that we have as much music as we can on the service. Funnily enough, I was just in Germany, doing a radio interview with a DJ. She is in love with Australian music, specifically Australian hip-hop. She used to fly out here, buy the CDs, then play it on her station. What she loves about this now is that she can now follow Australian influences [using the service], get the music that she wants, and find new music just through the service.

    Will Rdio have an Australian office?

    Scott: Yes.

    In Sydney, I suppose?

    Scott: We’re looking for some key players. Who’s the best person to hire? Once we find that person, they can determine where the office is going to be. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth… they’re all options. It all depends on who the best person is to run [Rdio] Australia.

    You talked about the ‘a-ha’ moment earlier. For me, when I was testing out the app, that moment was when I realised that Rdio had taken over the iPod player interface on the iPhone [ie the screen that appears when you’re playing music]. I thought that was pretty clever, how similar and familiar that screen was, even though I was using a web streaming service.

    Carter: Two of the most common pieces of feedback we receive: “I just deleted my iTunes collection because I no longer need it,” and “I’ve discovered more music on Rdio in the past two days than in the past two decades”. We’ve obviated a lot of what you would’ve needed iTunes for, and we’ve made it even better with the whole discovery [aspect].

    Scott: How we discovered music in our teenager years is we’d go to our mate’s house and you’d wait to hear their song. It wasn’t until you’d heard it a couple of times that you’d go out and buy it. It’s rare that you’d buy a song without hearing it first. That was one of the disadvantages that iTunes has; you couldn’t hear it without purchasing it.

    Carter: Every Tuesday, new music comes out [on Rdio]. You don’t have to pay a dollar a song, or eighteen dollars an album: you can play literally everything that’s out on Tuesday. You can save it to your mobile device, you can un-save it and throw it back into the water if you don’t like it. People are consuming more music now. I’ve never seen higher retention or engagement metrics in the 17 years I’ve been doing consumer software, or consumer services. It’s insanely high. People get on it, they love it, they use the hell out of it.

    The recommendation worked really well for me. It’s probably a simple thing, but it seemed to work better than most other services I’ve tried.

    Carter: We wanted to be the most comprehensive service out there. Unlike the other services, we offer a little of everything. We not only have the social music discovery stuff, which is always front and centre, no matter where you dial up the service; we also have the algorithmic recommendations, which you were playing around with. They’re getting better and better every day as we see more data, and learn more about you. We also have the on-demand aspect; “I know exactly what I want to listen to,” whether it’s a song or a playlist. And we have the passive listening stuff; “I like an artist, but I don’t really know which song or album to play. Just play me some of this artist’s songs, and maybe mix in related artists.” Or you can play your ‘heavy rotation’ or your entire collection as a radio station. Or your network’s ‘heavy rotation’, or collection.

    In the US… we haven’t carried it over anywhere else because no-one uses it, but we have built our own iTunes store. So you can buy [songs] a la carte in the US, but we found that no-one uses it, because once you’ve used the streaming service, there’s really no reason to buy stuff a la carte.

    How does the Australian subscription price point compare to the American version?

    Carter: Scott, I’ll let you take that one…

    Scott: [laughs] Thanks. The price point is heavily influenced by the rights holders. Between different markets, we have similar… every market to us is the exact same. So the price point basically was just taking into [account] what we had to pay the artists, the labels and publishers. How does it compare? Unfortunately it’s more expensive than the US market. That was just due to market circumstances when we came here. But we personally didn’t treat Australia any different to the US.

    How do you pitch the service to fence-sitters? Those people who say they love music, but rarely pay for it. They might go to a lot of shows, but most of the music they download is via torrents and other shady methods, not via iTunes or equivalent stores.

    Scott: I think in general, most people want to do the right thing. Music lovers want the artist to get paid. I’ve never come across a music lover that says, “Screw the artist, I want to steal from them”. I think the key is making the service as easy and quick to use that it’s almost the default. So that you’re almost paying for the convenience. Instead of researching on BitTorrent, I have ‘social discovery’ [on Rdio]. I’ve built my playlists around my influencers. I like a particular DJ, and a good friend of mine knows a lot about music, so it just kinda bubbles up [in my playlist]. What used to take me a half hour of reading different music blogs and listening to their tunes, it just comes to me easily, now. As Carter says, discovering more music in two days than in two decades – that is what’s going to engage these music lovers, and make it worth them spending the money that they would otherwise gain through BitTorrent.

    Can the service be used offline, or do you have to be connected to a 3G network or equivalent for it to work?

    Carter: You can save as much music as you want to your device’s memory card. So if you have a 32gb iPhone, you can save that much. Again, for 34 cents a day – instead of spending $10,000 to fill up your iPhone or iPad…

    The mp3s are saved onto the device’s hard drive?

    Carter: They’re locally cached, yeah.

    Has that been hacked yet?

    Carter: Not yet. [laughs]

    What are the most common comments you get when people are engaging with Rdio for the first time?

    Scott: The people who’re born before 1980, their concern is: “why am I just renting my music? I want to own it; I want to have a collection.” I think that’s just a lack of understanding of the access model. It almost goes back to the heyday of having a massive CD collection, and looking at it, touching and feeling it. But more and more, as that moves on… there are a lot of 21 year-olds who’ve never owned a CD. So that question is more of a theoretical until they start using the service, and then they realise, “Hey, I can hear all my songs, and it’s actually better because I can hear my entire collection no matter where I am, not just in my house.”

    Carter: I think there’s a general lack of knowledge. Most mainstream consumers don’t understand why they need a service like this, but strangely, they’re already doing it with other types of services, like movies, videos and books.  You have a digital book reader; you pull down your books electronically, you don’t have a physical copy. Same with video. They’re getting the fact that, “Oh yeah, this is what I do with other forms of content. Now I have this wide array of connected devices, I don’t need to buy one song for every device.” But I think there’s a general lack of education on why you need the service. I don’t think it’s a resistance, per se.

    The desktop client – which is optional to download – has a matching feature, which looks at the music on your iTunes or your computer, and if we have the rights to stream it, it automatically moves it to your Rdio collection. It’s kind of like a locker service, for those people who’ve paid a ton of money – or any money at all – buying digital downloads a la carte. We do that as well. We make it an easier transition.

    Going back to what you were just saying about existing libraries; part of my job is being a record critic. It shits me to tears when labels still insist on sending me a CD – which I’ll rip to mp3 immediately anyway – rather than supplying the mp3s so that I can hear the music instantly.

    Scott: The industry itself is still in a physical mode. It’s turning around. I get CDs all the time, but I don’t have a CD player. My laptop doesn’t have a CD drive. I can’t rip the CDs. I say “thank you very much” and I usually hand ‘em over to the maid at the hotel. [laughs] It’s a transition period.

    Carter: In general, we’re leaving a hit-driven business when you move to services like this. It’s a more personalised view on music. You follow specific people because you like their taste in music. You don’t go to Rdio and look at a ‘top 50’. You go there and you look at what’s relevant, what your friends are listening to. That is a fundamental shift in the industry – along with the mobility [the app allows].

    I want to touch on what artists are being paid through Rdio. As I’m sure you’re aware, Spotify had some bad press about how little artists were being paid per-stream. What’s your model like compared to Spotify’s?

    Scott: The model’s similar, because the tariff is going to be similar.  There’s a couple ways to approach this question. First and foremost, we don’t know about the labels’ relationships with their artists. Those are confidential. I have no idea how the labels are paying the artists. I know the majority of our revenue goes to the rights holders. How that’s being distributed afterwards is a black hole as far as I’m concerned. Having said that, there’s other ways to look at this. Net present value of money and all that other stuff aside, if you buy a [music] download, you only get paid once. That person can listen to that song thousands and thousands of times and you don’t get paid for that. On Rdio, you get paid every single time that song gets played. If it’s a good song, and it goes on for a long time [in terms of popularity], you’ll get paid a lot more than you’ll ever get paid than by a [single] download.

    The second way of looking at things is, there’s been cases where artists or labels will pull their music off streaming services off Spotify. It was funny, because this label guy I was talking to – the one I mentioned earlier – was talking to a big artist of his. He turned around and said, “OK, you want me to pull it off streaming for these reasons? That sounds good. So you want me to close YouTube as well, and also the radio?” [The artist] was like, “No no no, keep those open…” The label guy was like, “Hang on a second. You make 200 times more on the streaming service than you do on YouTube, and 150 times more on the streaming service than you do on the radio. So… I don’t understand your reasoning.”

    So I think there’s another education [required] on how these [services] can help and build the labels. The actual money pool for these artists, as of 2011 – two months ago? It probably was too nascent, too small to be anything significant to walk away from. However, the way that the ‘hockey stick’ [graph] of digital music and streaming services are going? I don’t think you’ll see those same stories this time next year, because the pie is getting bigger. That is one of the biggest complaints – that dollar-for-dollar, they’re not getting as much from our service as they are from iTunes. But the iTunes pie is a hell of a lot bigger than seven million people worldwide. I understand the gripe now – again, I don’t know what [the artists] are getting from their labels – but if they look at it in a promotional way and also that this is a nascent service and it will grow, you’ll see more and more people come online and stay online.

    Carter: In a nutshell, we’re driving up music consumption. Once people are on this service, they’re listening to a lot more music. As Scott said, there’s been a model shift in terms of how they’re paid. So you’ll no longer get paid from only one transaction; you get paid each time you play a song. And we’re driving up consumption. So theoretically, that should even out very soon, as we get to scale. The other part of the equation is, we’re hitting segments of the music value chain that have never paid for music, or only pay $30 or $40 a year through iTunes gift cards. We’re reaching new segments. More people will be paying for music again, as we reach scale.

    Scott: And not only that, but the smaller independent labels in each country – because we do worldwide deals – we’ve now given them reach, very quickly and with no cost to the label or artist. In America, in Brazil, in Germany. That exposure can translate into a great opportunity that they’ve never thought of before.

    Carter: They can be big in Japan.

    Scott: Yeah – it’s not just a t-shirt! [laughs] Going back to our Skype days; when we first launched Skype, we had no idea that Brazil was going to be as big as it was [in terms of users]. It was huge. I’m sure there’s some artists sitting here going, “I don’t know if we can do stuff in Brazil.” Now they’re getting feedback from streaming services and they’re like, “OK, everyone in Brazil is streaming our music, now it makes sense for us to tour there, rather than taking a blind punt.” Or maybe they wanted to go to Rio anyway, which is an understandable blind punt. But this sort of exposure is global, at very, very little cost.

    Those are some well-rehearsed answers to a very hard question.

    Scott: [laughs] Well, we think about it. It is a concern for us. Because if all of a sudden, the artists don’t want to be on streaming services, we’re in trouble. But we’ve thought about it. It’s an industry-wide discussion.

    ++

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) is a freelance journalist based in Brisbane, Australia.

    For more on Rdio, visit their website.

    Edit, June 2012: I wrote a feature story for The Global Mail named ‘Unchained Melodies’, which examines the streaming music market in Australia following the launch of Spotify. Click here to read it.

  • A Conversation With Trent Dalton, 2011 News Award-winning Features Journalist Of The Year, November 2011

    A year ago, I wrote the words, “Trent Dalton is the best feature journalist in Australia.”

    Absolutely nothing has changed.

    Last Friday, 4 November 2011, Dalton [pictured right] was awarded Features Journalist of the Year at the 2011 News Awards for the second year in a row. (He won the same award in 2008, and was a finalist in 2009 and 2007, too.)

    Two months earlier, he was awarded Queensland Journalist of the Year at the Clarion Awards. These accolades are a result of his feature writing for The Courier-Mail‘s Qweekend magazine, where Dalton is a staff writer. He’s also an assistant editor of the newspaper.

    Earlier this week, Dalton and I met to discuss a recent pair of Qweekend cover stories over sushi and green tea. Simply named “Story of a Teenage Boy” and “Story of a Teenage Girl“, these features delve deep into the lives of two children who live in Queensland: Casey Tunks, 15, and Chloee Gwynne, 16.

    In a way, they’re companion pieces to the last pair of stories I interviewed Dalton about in 2010: “Story of a Man” and “Story of a Woman“.

    I highly recommend clicking the below images to read both stories, before moving onto our extensive interview, which was 90 minutes long and runs to 13,000 words. (Clicking the images will open the stories as PDFs in a new window.)

    ++

    Andrew: When we last spoke a year ago, it was just after you were awarded the 2010 News Features Journalist of the Year. This is not really part of why I wanted to interview you today, but – which stories did you put forward this year? I believe “Home is Where the Hurt Is” is one of them.

    Trent: Yeah, and also a story called “The Longest Night,” where I spent 24 hours alongside [Queensland premier] Anna Bligh, when Cyclone Yasi was coming in. And then “The Long Goodbye”; lots of ‘longs’ this year! “The Long Goodbye” was about a guy, Scott Sullivan, who is dying of motor neurone disease.

    Then five Queensland flood stories, which was where I tracked the up and downs of one particular street n Rosalie [suburb of Brisbane], throughout the whole Brisbane floods; in the days preceding the flood, during the flood, and also afterwards.

    And then a story all about kindness, a story where I went around and asked people to share random stories about kind acts they’ve done, or people have done to them.

    You were just putting together that kindness story when I interviewed you last time.

    That’s right! I had just interviewed a girl who dresses objects in wool. So yeah mate, they’re the ones, those five. They responded mostly to the “Home Is Where the Hurt Is,” the domestic violence one. And Anna Bligh. Oh, they said kind things about all of them but probably mainly that one that really broke through this year, which is great. It’s such an important topic and really close to my heart. It’s a great thing.

    Anyway – yeah. I feel like such a dick…

    I don’t want to talk about any of those stories. I want to talk about “Story of a Teenage Boy” and “Story of a Teenage Girl”. I want to talk about the mechanics of how you write things, as well as how the stories came to be. We’ll start with – how did you find Casey?

    Here’s the brilliance of always hanging out with work-experience people, because they make you seem like you’re a bit nicer than you probably are. It was really a handy thing, that we had this wonderful work-experience girl with us, Rose, who’s just out of high school or university, or something. She was with me on the day and we were just walking around talking to potential people who could be the teenager. We were walking through Queen Street Mall.

    It was very difficult to find in the sense that I had to find someone who… maybe a lot of kids might be up for it, but then you had to convince their parents. Basically I said, “I want to do this story where I spend time with you, and you share with me every last thing that’s on your mind, your hopes and fears, your dreams and your worries, and what drives you, and where you want to be, and what’s it like to be a teenager.”

    Eventually, after asking several people, this amazing guy Casey said, “Yeah, I’ll do it,” and I said, “I’ve got to ask your mum,” because he was 15. Then he said, “No worries. Here’s my number.” I called his mum and thankfully she had read “Story of A Man” and “Story of a Woman” and she knew I wasn’t a complete crackpot, and that I was trying to do something worthwhile and something that would hopefully give some insight to people, and be done in the sort of way that won’t be exploitative or going to be a horrible experience for the family.

    She said “yes”, and so from there we spent all this time together. The mum welcomed me into her home, basically, and said, “Yeah, you can come around at 6am and watch as our family has breakfast, and be there just documenting in the corner what people do.” [laughs]

    Is that weird?

    Well yes, it is, but I’ll tell you about my next big… I’m very excited… no, I won’t let it out of the bag. What I just said leads into that idea of the anthropological study really driving where I want to… hopefully, the story I want to do next, which is going to be really exciting.

    We’ll talk about Casey to start with. You start the story by saying “he’s afraid of two things”, and then you list a bunch of his traits and characteristics. Was that the first intro you came up with, or did you try a few things?

    No, these sorts of stories in particular have always been riffing on a whole bunch of intros. I don’t normally spend that much time but these ones I really spent a lot of time on. I don’t think that was my first. I knew I wanted to get in there something about his fears, so hopefully the reader would be mums and dads; looking at the readership going, “Well, the readership is going to be these certain types of people.” You want to get them in, hopefully, by saying something like, “here is an insight into what fear a teenage kid in Queensland might be feeling”.

    But I think I was going to go with more of a “here we are”-type thing; something that detailed, gave context, some contextual sort of introduction. Something about the smell of his room; everyone can connect with the smell of a teenager’s room, and that sort of thing, and the fact that it was 6am so we’re basically waking up with this kid. Then I thought, “no, let’s get to the heart of it really quickly.”

    And that whole line was just all about the livewire brains of a teenager. “Man, I’m really scared of spiders, but I’m also really scared about my future,” this big thing. “I’m only scared of spiders and my future” – yeah, right. Fucking massive, ‘the future’, that’s what it was all about. It was also trying to be empathetic as well, sort of saying, “I’m with you man, because the future scares me as well, it scares everybody.” It probably scares a teenager even more.

    That’s why I chose that. Then that leads into all those traits, a throwback to the style of “Story of a Man,” “Story of a Woman” which was all just… these ones were much more “this happened, and then this happened”. But the “Story of a Man” and “Story of a Woman” were really just all about their character. I was really trying to tap into, or get a bit of the guy’s character.

    That’s classic screenwriting sort of stuff. The first 15 minutes of the film will offer you a little insight into your character so you know either you’re really rooting for this character, or you’ve already worked out their… you don’t like the character or you do, but either way you’ve invested some sort of emotion in him pretty early. That was the idea about writing all those traits.

    I sound like a wanker. I feel like a dick talking about my stupid magazine story.

    You’re not allowed to say that anymore, because this whole thing is about you. Relax!

    [laughs]

    I’m not sure if it happened this way, but the way this story appears, you’re spending a Saturday with Casey. Why a Saturday, as opposed to a school day?

    As you know, getting access to schools is really difficult. It could have been done, but I just knew I wasn’t going to get the access to him that I needed for the piece if I had done it on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday because it was just going to be… “okay, he gets up, goes to school.” It would have been great if I could have sat in the classes right with him and been right next door to him every time, but I think that would have made him a bit uncomfortable, as well as I couldn’t imagine the Queensland Government giving me the okay. I would have had to have written probably 300 emails that would have gone back and forth to allow that to happen.

    In the end, it was a matter of speaking to his mum and saying, “Look, can I just hang out on a Saturday?” when a kid actually does do stuff. Like you know the school day goes from… school’s very interesting. That’s another whole world I’d love to explore one day, but that Saturday; all I said was, “is there a time in the near future when you’re doing something with your friends?” He just went “Yeah, two Saturdays from now we’re all going to the mall.” I went “Okay great, that’ll be perfect,” and then we’ll just track that from start to finish.

    Then also one or two catch-ups around that, so you get to know him as well, but then focusing on that day, if that makes sense, using a couple of different days, and sort of knowing the guy. We had a good discussion when we first caught up, but then I realised this was going to be the day; ‘showtime day’. As it turned out, he had a fairly interesting day, for him, coming from Wamuran [a town near Caboolture].

    He doesn’t always go into the city, certainly not as much as the girl did. It was a pretty big thing him and his mates going to the city… well, not a big thing, but maybe a once-in-a-month thing. That’s how it came to be on a Saturday. And just the given thing that his parents would be home as well. His dad usually worked, but it just worked out pretty well on a Saturday. People are a bit freer and fun. Weekend work is always really good because everyone is appreciative of the fact that everyone’s out on their weekend, and just a bit more relaxed.

    You’ve got a few good lines about his mum in there. “She lets him know she loves him by telling him she loves him.” That’s a fucking great line. There’s also a line about, “she loves him so much that whenever she thinks of seeing his face for the first time, she bursts into tears”. That’s really nice.

    Yeah, and I guess that all just comes from, again, the beauty of arriving somewhere at 6am, and you’re there. Can you imagine a kitchen in those early hours? A mum in a kitchen; it’s just a really safe space. It’s a beautiful spot to have a chat to any mum. So you’re there and she’s just in her own kitchen. She’s thinking about her boy. It’s a really wonderful place, and then she gets teary when she mentions him.

    A question I’ll often ask people, “Do you remember the first time you saw his face?” That’s always an emotional space to go to. It’s a beautiful thing to talk about. I remember the first time I saw my kids’ faces. I’m sure it was going to be the same for her, and then that was a beautiful moment.

    Then you’re just getting the insight into the deep, deep love that she has for this boy. Then he comes out [of his room], and he’s just this 15, 16-year old boy who’s just a knockabout sort of guy. She’s in this space of “he’s an angel,” so it’s a really great thing to see. That wonderful thing that a teenager has no idea how much their parents are just totally in love with them, and just worship them. They have no concept of that. I mean, they have a concept of it but it was just perfect. In this kitchen she had tears in her eyes, and he’s just going “Oh, they’re all right.” It was just great juxtaposition.

    His father Warren gave you and Casey a lift to the train station. You glossed over that a bit in the story. Was there a reason behind that?

    There just wasn’t much happening, for one thing. It was probably a lot more talk about practicalities, like, “Have you got my number in your phone?” and all that sort of stuff. I guess it’s also timeframes. [pause] A lot happened in that conversation that maybe came out later on in the piece. You go with trying to take the most important things.

    It was partly on that trip that Casey started talking about this time he came home drunk, and I think it was sort of a sensitive area. I was consciously trying not to make his parents look like they’d ever done anything wrong. I can’t even remember what was exactly said in that conversation, but it was more riffing on their sort of fear, their terror, at seeing their son come home pissed, and then he passed out.

    It was glossed over, and you could write about a 4,000 word story on any father and son, taking a trip somewhere. I think I probably should have, but it was more I wanted to get to those friends pretty quickly, and really keep it about Casey, not so much be a father-and-son relationship. I don’t know, but Warren was cool.

    He didn’t really know what I was about, just going, “What? Why the hell are you following my son around?” I’m sitting in the backseat of his car taking notes. [laughs] He’s this earthmover, sort of ‘tough dad’ type guy. He’s driving his son, this really great loving father, just trying to get the best for his son. He was constantly befuddled at why this journo would want to do it.

    The mum really understood and was like, “Yeah, I can see,” because she had read those pieces she was like, “I know exactly where you’re coming from.” As has been the case with these, there’s great trepidation there, but they always say, “I think what you’re trying to do is probably worthy, or worth it if it adds national insight into our teenagers”. I think that’s where the mum and dad were coming from, and God bless them. They were so wonderful. He was cool, the dad.

    In the end, after a while he sort of ignored me, forgot I was there, which was really cool. That was the whole idea, that he’d just be going “All right, back by 2pm,” and he’d go “Yeah, yeah,” and pops out of the car. He maybe gave him a “yes Dad,” and that was it. It was a funny dynamic to see that. There’s probably another great story in there between fathers and sons that I probably should have dwelled on a bit more. Anyway. [laughs]

    There’s a lot of Casey’s language in this story. Is that important to you?

    Totally. That was the big thing I love about teenagers now, and I’ve always loved about teenagers – they’re creating their own words, and creating their own dialogue, and having their own little language. I think that’s such a special part of being youthful. I think it’s so brilliant and something that we all… I feel like I’m so far removed from, even though I’m 32, but I feel so far removed from all the things that he was saying. I had my own language with my friends at that age, but I thought that was brilliant.

    From my anthropological journalism style stuff, this is magic. I kept going, “what does that mean? What’s that?” And also – I couldn’t keep up. My notepad couldn’t keep up. I was just going, “Man, gotta get all this stuff.” It was gold firing out of their lips and I only got probably half of the great stuff. You speak to any teenager, and they’re just invigorated.

    Casey and all his friends were just amazing. There were some classic moments I had to leave out because I didn’t want to bring myself into it. But for example, when I turned up at the train station… one of the girls looks me up and down and goes, “Ugh, you soooo need some Vans.” [laughs] It was just stuff like that. Then one of the boys told me that he was going to meet these two girls, Danielle and Beth, so when he introduced me I said, “You must be Beth.” It wasn’t Beth, it was Danielle. She goes, “Are you kidding me? I would never, in my life be called Beth.” I said, “Oh, that’s funny, because that’s my daughter’s name.” [laughs] She was mortified, but it was a great little ice breaker.

    No one quite knew what I was doing hanging around this guy. But Casey knew where I was at, and he thought it was kind of cool that he had this guy following around documenting and asking him about every aspect of his life as well. Then in the end the girls found it cool as well, so they were going, “Casey does this,” and, “you’ve got to know this about Casey,” and all that sort of stuff.

    On that train trip, you’ve got the old ladies, Bev and Shirley, who are “staring at the group like they might regard a Reeperbahn burlesque show”. Did you consider speaking to them, or were you happy to let them sit in their own world?

    Maybe in a different story… like, I’ve been following around Campbell Newman a lot lately for a story I’m doing down the track. Everywhere you go, you have periphery people that you’re constantly asking, “What do you make of Campbell Newman? What do you think about this policy?” With Casey, this was telling his story. Casey doesn’t care what Bev and Shirley think. They’re not even on his radar, and that was partly the point of me not going there. These people, you see them on the train, and they don’t even know, or care.

    That’s what I love about it. In the girl’s story in particular… I love her so much in the fact that she does not give a shit. All four kids on that train didn’t give a shit either. They’re just talking loud and they have no concept of, “Gee, I better not talk too loud because Bev and Shirley might …” They were just curious. I kept on looking at them. It was priceless. They had the name tags “Bev,” “Shirley.” Even their names were clichéd. It was brilliant.

    They had these amazing outfits like they were going to the races. [laughs] Casey and his friends represented the complete opposite to where they were heading on that train, but yet Casey was in this exciting place, heading into the future. The world’s going past outside, and it was such a great little moment. I just loved that.

    [quoting the story] “A look of bewilderment on Bev’s face, as this alien world rushes by in blurs of green and gun-metal grey.”

    Cool, man. [laughs] Thanks man! That’s great. Just that whole concept of: Casey’s going one way and not really realising that he’s heading somewhere, he doesn’t know where it’s going. That was the thing about the whole piece, too. A teenager is going somewhere really, really fast, but not really knowing where. That’s really exciting.

    Bev and Shirley know exactly where they’re at. That’s beautiful, too, but it was this great thing to have them side by side, these two generations. And Casey and his friends were being so oblivious, to the point where they’d be dancing and singing songs, and throwing out F-bombs, not even realising there were two women over there going, “God, who are these creatures?” That classic generational difference, it was right there.

    Where were you? If they were sitting in the four train seats, the four teenagers, where were you sitting?

    Where you hop onto a train, turn right, and the first place you sit down; you know, the two-seaters? That one there. Bev and Shirley were diagonally across from them. Casey probably could’ve seen them. Casey had his back turned, but his mate Jade could’ve seen them. He was aware of them, but I guess the two friends, Casey and one of the girls, they were just… it was them probably most of all who were completely oblivious.

    That’s what I was doing. I was just there and I was taking notes. They were having the most amazing conversation over an hour’s journey from Caboolture to the city. It was a really great get-to-know-you period, really cover a lot of territory, and get a lot of chatting out of the way, and get to know why they were going into town and who Casey was, and stuff about their teachers, and all that.

    The whole point was just being fly-on-the-wall as well, and not probing them too much because, in the end, they are 15-year olds. You don’t want to be going too weird, too in-depth, or giving them a hard time. It was more presenting the reader with this moment, taking it and going, “This is what I saw.” It’s classic, “this is it; this is all I saw. I’m not even commenting. This is just what I saw.”

    At different points they do discuss drugs, divorce, and cyber-bullying. Casey said, “I’m not sure why any 15-year old would want to kill themselves”. Did they just come naturally, or were they prompted by you?

    No, those were prompted by me. Those sorts of topics aren’t even on their radar. I asked those questions because I knew somewhere along the line, in any sort of conversation with a teenager or in-depth piece on teenage life, you probably should ask those questions. Though I guess parents worry about it more. Honestly, they were almost like, “Man, why are you even asking that?” They’re that cool with themselves, they’re that together, that they were like, “yeah, whatever, drugs.” They were so savvy that it was like yesterday’s news. And the whole suicide thing too, which terrifies me, and cyber-bullying and all that stuff is wrapped up in that whole horrifying end of suicide.

    I remember getting all serious and tense, like “Let’s talk about some issues.” And they glossed over the heavier stuff in a matter of 30 seconds. It was like, the stuff that mattered to them was actual grief. Then Casey brought up his mate who died. I guess the whole heaviness of a topic like that led to another interesting place; here’s a young man dealing with the total weirdness of losing a friend. I found that fascinating, how he was dealing with that.

    That went to a whole different place as well. It was cool, that whole side of it. All those things were prompted by me. Particularly drugs and suicide; they weren’t even going there. They’re just interesting. They had this complete need for entertainment, in many forms. “Look, there’s a guy there picking his nose with a straw! Great!” And then that filled them up for a bit. [laughs] Then they were bored, then… “Oh man, look at this freakin’ King Kong outfit!” That fills them up for a bit. It was this constant need, like those computer game energy bars of excitement. It would go down, something would happen, and it’d be back up. It was really great to see that.

    There’s this line where Casey says, “I just wish mum and dad knew that I was going to be okay.” Was that prompted by you?

    No. I thought that was such a great line. That was when we were talking with his mate. It’s so great to have a mate of his around to make him feel comfortable about talking, so he’s not just… it was almost said towards his mate, almost like “Don’t you just wish they knew we were all okay?” I thought that was so great and such a meaningful thing for any parent. You know how we worry. You put so much pressure on them, and so much stuff. You bring so much of your own stuff to [parenting]. I think that’s what he was sort of talking about.

    He’s got this super-loving mum who’s constantly telling him, “I love you,” and constantly asking all about his life. But he was just saying, “I just wish she knew I’d be okay, and that everything’s going to be all right.” Basically he was saying, “I’m not going to do anything stupid.” He was almost saying, “I’m not planning on doing anything crazy.” I thought that was a great little moment I wanted to definitely get in there somewhere.

    It came up in a conversation about… I remember asking a few times this question, like, “what do you wish your parents knew?”, and maybe that’s where it came out. That sounds like it was prompted. But I think it was in an overall discussion, like, “Sometimes they don’t get you, but what do you wish they knew?” Maybe it’s easier, sometimes, telling a guy with a recorder than it is to tell mum. I don’t know. It was cool, that one.

    It’s at this point, where you’re at the photo booth with them, that I first realised that you’re invisible in the piece. You’re not there at all. Now that I think about it, I think that’s the case for “Story of a Man” and “Story of a Woman”, as well – you were invisible.

    Yeah.

    So that was a conscious choice?

    Definitely. I’m the first person to put myself in the piece; I’m the biggest egomaniac frickin’ idiot journo. I don’t know, I hate it about myself that sometimes I go, “I’m going to put myself in here.” But I only do that when I feel like it’s necessary and that it adds something to the piece. This was totally all about them and it was all about being, as you say, invisible, and just seeing these magic moments, going “I’m not here,” and hopefully getting to the point where they feel like I’m not here.

    At that photo booth, maybe four hours had passed by that time, and then they really felt like I wasn’t there. I’d gotten boring. “We’re over that, there’s other things, let’s go to photo booth and get some pictures.”

    Then this incredible moment happens where they’re talking about, “should we put ‘best friends’ on the caption?” You’re documenting these interactions, and this wonderful moment in any teenager’s life where you’re weighing up your friends. Beth had asked, “should we put ‘best friends?’” I remember that feeling. “Am I your best friend?” I remember that whole concept, that beautiful thing between relationships between teenagers. You never quite know where you stand.

    Then Casey, that beautiful kid, I just love that kid so much, he made her feel so good and goes, “hells yeah!” or whatever he said. It was just an amazing response, like “yeah, of course.” Just a brilliant… the wisdom of him knowing what she was trying to ask. But to be so cool about it. It was such a great moment and such a rare thing to see those little moments.

    If you just passed by that moment, you’d have no idea what was going on, but the journalist has that… this is the great thing about feature writing. You spend time with these people and understand what’s going on. One little moment becomes huge and can be significant. I thought it was so beautiful. Probably my favourite part of the whole piece, that there.

    So you spent that Saturday with him, and there was about a month gap between that time and the school holidays, I think.

    Yeah, and that was purely because I felt I wanted to get even just a little bit more insight, just a bit more. I didn’t want to end it in the mall again because I knew the girl one was going to be very mall-centred. I called his mum up again…[laughs] And asked them to go through it all again and we did it. We went back and I went over in the early hours of the morning and spent more time with him.

    That’s always the best thing you could ever do – go back. I strongly recommend that. Leisa Scott, who writes for Qweekend, told me that years ago: “always keep going back”. You learn more and more, and then by the time you come back next time they know you even more. Then you see even more insights.

    It was great; the best thing I ever did. One of his other best friends had been there, so I was getting even more insights. Even in the meantime, all these things had happened to him. He’d got a girlfriend and he’d had a party. All these things had happened, and it was getting closer towards the end of the year so he’s sort of… I remember in high school, any end-of-year time… he wasn’t even in his senior year, but you’re thinking about where you’re going, or even in grade 11 you might have to start making those decisions about what you’re going to do, and all that sort of stuff.

    When I came back, he was a different sort of guy, almost. He was a little bit more weighed down by a few more worries, bizarrely, even in that short timeframe. I really got that feeling. He was answering really honestly. It was so cool to do that, he was going, “I’m worried about…” And then he started… that’s probably my favourite bit in the piece, when he starts talking about, “I think I’m really good at English, you know? I think I could do something in English.” I just thought that was so cool, this kid trying to figure out in his head space, “where am I going,” but also trying to work out that inside him, there’s a whole world of possibility, and trying to grapple with that.

    What did you advise him when he said he wanted to go into creative writing? You wrote, “Like any writer worth the title, he’s curious about life and the people around him.”

    Yeah, well I had said, “Man, you’ll be brilliant. You’d be amazing. You’ve got enthusiasm, you’ve got drive, and you love words. You’ve got a great nature.” I said, “If you’re thinking about it, you should completely do it.” I totally said, “Whenever you decide to, give me a call at The Courier-Mail,” because he was such a great guy. I basically said, “Yeah, come into the office and I’ll show you around,” or something like that. I was really trying to go, “If you’re thinking about that, go for it and chase your dreams.”

    I don’t want to sound like too much of a tosser, but he really mirrored my life in many ways. I grew up in Bracken Ridge, which was not far from Caboolture, where he grew up. It was that idea of, in that sort of world you’re knocking around with mates and stuff. No one’s really ever talking about writing, and things like those sorts of ‘cultural pursuits’. A guy like him, he was still thinking, “I think I could do it,” so I wanted to say, “you could do it, and you could do it really well.”

    That really inspired me, from a writer’s perspective. I was so pumped that he was into writing. I was going, “Yeah, you’re really good!” That stuff I said in the piece later on about, “It’s the reason why you’re so good with your friends and you’re so good with those girls; they love you so much because you’re a great listener and you care.” I was just watching this kid. He had all this stuff that makes a great writer and he had time for people. I was like “You should do it.”

    I really made a point of even writing that, but also that whole… there’s something great about that and I’ve always loved this in teenage movies and stuff, where someone’s battling with their family history. Maybe there’s a long line of Tunkses who used their hands and worked in trades and stuff like that, and done very well, but he’s sort of going, “Maybe I could step out.” I love that.

    It was a hard one to put in where he said, “I hope I don’t just become another Tunks,” because I was worried about writing that and saying would that be an insult to his wonderful family. But I still put it in because it was more of an insight into him saying, “I just want to do something different. I want to become my own man.” I thought that was wonderful to hear a 15-year old kid say that sort of stuff, to be there for those sorts of insights. Cool kid. I’ve really got so much time for him. He’s really a wonderful guy.

    Did you ever get to see them de-stressing, with the life jackets and the exercise ball [which they referred to in the story]?

    Oh no, I didn’t! That was him and his mate. They’re going, “Man, we do this thing. Now we’re about to do it.” I think it rained. They went out on the go-kart and it started raining or something, and they decided not to do it. They were going to go do it. They were going to go stand there with those life jackets and then the exercise ball comes down and hits them. It would’ve been hilarious. I decided as far as activities go, the go-kart was a much more symbolic sort of thing, about movement and taking chances. I went with that.

    He offered to introduce you to his Nanna. Do you think that was a sign of trust for him at that point?

    Yeah, definitely. That was when I came through on the second visit. After spending a couple of hours with him that morning, and then him going, “come meet Nanna,” it was totally natural, like when you’re around a mate’s house – especially when you’re in high school – you end up doing all sorts of crazy stuff. You go around someone’s house, you go meet Uncle Joe and then you find yourself in the back of a ute, or whatever.

    It just reminded me of a high school visit to a friend’s house. “Oh, let’s go get a go-kart.” “I’ll just go say g’day to Nanna. I guess that you’re with me, so yeah, you come along too.” That was brilliant too, because you get to peel back more and more layers of this guy’s personality, this guy’s life. Seeing this other wonderful side of him that loves his Nanna dearly and she loves him. It was great, really good moment.

    And just texture-wise, you constantly want to have all these different people, whether they’re speaking to or not, but just places to go. That’s great in a feature article, different places.

    You’ve got this line about going to Warren’s shed where there’s “a calendar showing 12 months of buxom women in togs.” Why did you use the word ‘togs’? That cracked me up when I read that. You hardly ever see ‘togs’, it’s such a Queensland term.

    [laughs] I think it was because that’s how I remembered it. I think it hadn’t been taken down since 1987, back when women were wearing a full one-piece tog. Not even so much like a bikini. I don’t know, I think that’s maybe why I said togs, as opposed to… what would you call it?

    Swimsuit?

    Swimsuit, yeah! Togs… I dunno. It’s such a hokey term isn’t it? [laughs]

    Based on what you’ve told me – with the momentum of the piece, and Casey going somewhere, but he doesn’t know where – it feels like you had to end it on the go-kart jump. A freeze-frame picture.

    Totally. And what eventually did happen was, he landed heavily. His mate hops in the thing and then we went and rode some horses or something. He got a horse out. But you’ve got to think, “where’s the best, most lyrical, amazing place that says everything?” I really thought hard about that. I thought, “I can, being the writer, end this anywhere I like.” I thought, “well, let’s just take it right up to there.” I thought “Wow, that’s so Casey.” Everything’s up in the air and everything… I thought, symbolically, that was just magic.

    I admired him for even doing it. It was insane, what he was doing. I was going, “I shouldn’t even be around for this.” I was just going, “Nah, this is really bad. If something happens here…” There were no adults around at that time, and I remember just thinking, “Nah, this is probably wrong that I should be party to this, that these guys are doing these crazy jumps on this go-kart.” That’s magic, too, and that’s the balls of a teenage kid that I really wanted to get in there as well. It was all about – “man, don’t lose that.”

    I was constantly thinking, all the way through, how I’ve probably lost that. I used to do crazy stuff all the time but sadly, you get married, you have kids, and you go, “No, I better not do that crazy thing.”

    The end scene is like the great endings of a million different movies. I just loved that; he’s there, mid-air, and the outcome’s his. The rest of the story is only his, like, “we’ve been looking into it, and now we’ve stopped now. I’ve stopped now. The rest is his journey.” That’s what I’m trying to say.

    Did he ask you much about the mechanics of your job, or your approach to the story during the whole process?

    No. He totally couldn’t care less. It was so funny and so amazing… the girl was even moreso. Particularly with Chloee, it was like “Of course you want to come!” It was that great Gen-Y or Gen… I don’t know, are they still Gen-Y? I don’t know, they’re probably something earlier… but Gen-Y, that great, “Yeah, fuckin’ oath man, cover my life story, great! It’s fascinating, my world’s awesome!” It was like, “I don’t care how you tell it, or what you need from me.” It was just, “Come along for the ride, man, and strap in.” It was really funny.

    Even after the story, it took a long time between the story, me actually doing it and then it actually running. It took a long time. Casey didn’t care. I’d call up every now and then and go, “Mate, that story, it’s going to run, the dates got shifted and all this stuff – but it’s going to run.” He was like, “Yeah, whatever, no worries.” He’s just living his life! It’s this heavy thing on my mind, but he couldn’t give a shit. It was brilliant. It was so them, for both of them, they’re like, “yeah, whatever, no worries.” It was funny.

    Were you happy with him as a subject? Did he give you enough; could you have asked more?

    No I couldn’t have, in terms of… this is the big thing, and I’ll probably tap into this more about the girl, which got a hammering. It got smashed. It copped a pasting. The intention was, whoever said yes [out of the teenagers], just cover it, and that would be it. That is the idea, similar to the way “Story of a Man” and “Story of a Woman” were just about random people. The big thing was, I never wanted it to be like, “Here’s Qweekend, coming along and telling you, the reader, what it is to be a teenager these days.” But what we’re doing is, “here’s this teenager, this one guy, and this is his story. Take from that what you will.” In that sense, he was brilliant, in terms of showing me his life, his story, and giving me access into his life. He was amazing.

    He still gave me everything I’d hoped for and more, he was an amazing kid, but as far as what it is to be a teenager, he didn’t really dwell on because he’s almost too cool for that. He was just like “I’m moving so fast, I don’t even have the time to think about what being a teenager means to me.” So the whole process of him was a snapshot, and it was movement and capturing that.

    In answer to the question, he totally gave me that and more. He was amazing, but maybe not what other people wanted, like if you’d come to read the story you might go, “Oh, I wanted to know more about what teenagers think about politics,” or all that sort of stuff. With the girl story, a colleague of mine said, “I love that piece you did on the girl, but I wish you did more insight. I wish you sort of showed more of your own analysis,” she said. I was just going, “Yeah, but that wasn’t my intention.” It wasn’t me bringing my thoughts on teenagers, or commenting or judging, or anything like that.

    So – the story ran eventually. What kind of feedback did you get from Casey and his family?

    Um… [pause]

    Have you spoken to them?

    Nah, I haven’t. I’ve sent them massive letters, and magazines, and that’s it. They either were…

    Shocked?

    Or… it happens all the time. You send them the mags, and go, “Thank you so much, and the family moves on.” You just go – that’s it. It’s an interesting sort of discussion. You go, “Do I keep probing them, and asking ‘how’re you going?’” and all that sort of stuff, and take it to the level, or… yeah. So my thing was, “mate, thank you so much.” I wrote this big letter saying, “Give me a call at The Courier-Mail when you graduate,” and all that sort of stuff. We sent him magazines, and did up a disc of images; every photo that we took. We were like, “Okay, we’ll get out of your lives now.” I tend to leave my card, and say, “If you want to call me, please don’t hesitate to call.” But I don’t want to keep hassling them, you know? It’s always a strange sort of thing.

    But I should probably… I’d love to catch up with him again. I basically said to him, if he wants to catch up, come in anytime. I’ve left it up to him. It’s an interesting one.

    I called Chloee, because I was a bit more worried about her as she revealed a bit more stuff. I called her, and she was really cool, and tough as nails, which is great. But the whole thing, the whole stories never sit easy with me. You’re putting these people’s lives out into a magazine. With Chloee in particular… Casey’s life was pretty straightforward, but Chloee’s was really an eye-opening insight into her life, so that was a whole different story. And also, you call them up to let them know the feedback. I did that with Casey, too. I sent him a whole bunch of feedback from people, saying, “You’re the most amazing, inspiring kid, and you’re parents should be so proud.” That kind of stuff. We make sure we keep all those letters in there.

    With Chloee, it was more like – “We’ve had great letters, and we’ve had really bad letters.” My whole thing with her was more to call her up and say, “You are an amazing teenager, and don’t let anyone ever change or stop your drive, or individuality. Keep being interested, and curious.” It was that sort of conversation. It’s that area of reaction that you always worry about, because when they come to that moment of seeing themselves in a magazine – it’s not easy.

    With Chloee, was it the same process of finding her?

    Yep, same process. Much quicker, in the sense that, like I said before, she was more like – “Cool, that’ll be awesome!” Sort of sensing something ‘rock and roll’ to it all. She was right into everything that it was about: a raw account of a teenager’s life. She was going, “Yep, this’ll be brilliant.” She gave me her dad’s number. I called him, and explained what it’d be, and asked, “How do you feel about that?” He thought about it, and said, “You know what? I would like her story to be told.” Because, he was saying, he wanted people to get an insight into what it is to be a single dad in charge of a teenager, and what it’s like to be a parent.

    That’s brave on his part.

    Very brave. I mean, it’s very brave of anyone to put their faith in a journalist, it really is. Jeff is an amazing guy; I take my hat off to that man. He’s an amazing father, and I tried to get that in there. Chloee sort of realises it. There were elements in there of the sacrifices he was making as a dad, and I really tried to get that in there, as well. How much of that came across, I don’t know. It might get overshadowed by the other stuff. It’s tough. It was a really tough one, Chloee’s story, in terms of – what do you write in? What do you keep out? And there was a lot of stuff that I kept out. It was a funny process, that one.

    You basically walked into a relationship deteriorating; Angela was in the process of leaving Jeff. Was that awkward for you?

    Yeah. She was so good about it. But it was an amazing time to start the morning. It was also a great insight into Chloee. Angela just went, “Actually, I’m leaving.” You go, “Can I interview you?” She said ‘yeah’, so you sit there interviewing this woman. It was amazing to capture this relationship in a state of flux, and get an insight into the dynamics between Chloee and Angela, but also the dynamics between her home life and her city life, which were completely different things. It was fascinating. Journalistically, it was an interesting moment to turn up at her house.

    You open this one with Chloee’s language; “A boring home on a boring street, in a boring suburb”.

    Yeah – “douche”, and all that.

    “Douche newsreader reading douche morning news.”

    Yeah. That was more just language stuff. I love their language. I hope, though, it didn’t seem too cynical, like I was the cynical journo yet again paying out on a nihilistic teenager. That wasn’t the intention. It was more just going – ‘this is the world you’re about to get into’. It was stepping briefly into her mind, going, “This is Mt Gravatt to me.” And it’s true; Mt Gravatt is so anything but where Chloee’s at in her mind, and I loved that. When we were walking down the street, she lights a fag as we walk out of the house. This street is just total Leave It To Beaver. She’s blowing smoke, and I said something like, “What do you make of this place?”. She just goes, [exhales] “It’s fucked.” And then she’s looking around, and there’s nothing about that street that had any connection for her at all. She wasn’t even acknowledging anything around her. She was totally in her mind, or in her phone.

    Were you working on the two pieces in tandem?

    They were in tandem, because I had to get them done at the same time. They were always going to be back-to-back, so you have to get the ball rolling on one. That helped in terms of where I took the two pieces, too. You go, “I can set this one here, and go over here to keep [Casey] away from the Queen Street Mall.” But they were written in separate chunks. As it turned out, I had to overlap Casey after I’d written Chloee, because I had to go back to Casey and get more. After Chloee, I knew that there was definitely more than enough, to the point where there was so much that I had to leave out. I knew that it’d definitely sustain a full piece, from start to finish, about her day.

    They’re wildly different kids; Casey’s clean-cut, and Chloee’s pretty rough. Did you notice any similarities between the two?

    Yeah, definitely. They sort of mirrored each other in the key sense of not knowing where they’re going. They’re not conscious of… ah, no, that’s not fair on Casey. Probably just that key factor of not knowing where they’re going, and trying to find their way, and sort out where they fit in 21st century life in Queensland. That was a common thread. And the sheer influence of friends on them, or how much friends play a massive part in their lives. Their whole worlds revolve around their friends. Everyone remembers that. So those were the two big things – the bonds they had with their friends, which were tighter than brotherhood and sisterhood.

    You left a fair bit of space for Angela’s views toward Jeff, in particular, but you didn’t really have a rebuttal from him in there. Did you hesitate before doing that?

    Oh, that’s only because she was there at the time. These whole pieces were – “this happens, this happens, this happens”. I could’ve had Jeff, but there was nowhere to put him back in, because I had to talk to each person… I was thinking about having Jeff at the end, because at the end of the day, I called Jeff and said, “Listen mate, she’s still in the city, she’s OK,” and I was going to have that conversation, and there it would’ve been OK. But then it’s never… I don’t know. I just don’t like dropping quotes in somewhere, you know what I mean? Taking it out of context, and bringing in some quote that I’ve gotten down the track. I really enjoy just talking about whatever happens there. And that leaves me out of it, again.

    I could go, “Jeff, what do you think about that? Angela said this about you…” But I’m just telling what I see. I have a moral issue with the whole process of feature writing anyway, so it makes it a bit easier on my conscious if I go, “This is what happened,” and I leave any judgments or anything from me completely out of it. It is what it is. If people take things from it, they can. If they take a bad thing from it, that’s fine. That’s the only real thing about it; it’s genuine reportage, going, “Here’s this moment – this is what I saw.”

    The bit where Chloee is getting ready, and says, “I’m going to cake my face to the shithouse” – did you learn a bit about make-up and piercings?

    Oh, totally. I don’t know whether she was intentionally trying to. It was so cool, because I knew that that sort of stuff would come into it. I really want to do that, and god bless that girl, because she was like, “Yeah, of course, come in!” to her bathroom, and watch a teenager getting ready. I totally learned terms that I never knew. I’m so out of date; I’m out of touch. Different piercings, make-up, hairstyles, hair dyes, bandannas… a million different things. Such an insight, you know? That was the stuff that I was most fascinated with, and it probably came through in the piece. Constant references to – “this guy’s got this,” and “this guy’s using his headphones as a belt”, and this other guy who had a shirt saying, “drop dead”. I don’t know whether it was a band, or… it was like, “Are you just telling people to drop dead? Brilliant!”

    I loved that whole teenage life. It was that whole emo scene life, but it was also fascinating from a fashion sense, too. The most interesting thing to me, for the whole thing, was that it wasn’t about the foul mouths, and some of the perhaps-horrible things that they do to people, but it was all just the lingo, and the atmosphere, and the way that they interact with each other. That’s beautiful stuff, from a feature-writing perspective.

    There’s a bit of you in this one. You ask questions, like: “I ask…”

    That’s true. I’m always puzzled by this: how do you get to somewhere deep in a story, to bring it somewhere, without bringing yourself in there? So that goes against what I said earlier. I tried very hard not to, but there were some places where it had to be in there, where she was talking about her father, or where I had to ask her about her terms. Like ‘FOBS’ – “fresh off the boat” – which I’ve since learned is a fairly common term. But I guess it’s a way, in that sense, to talk about an intimate discussion. I really wanted it to get to that point where I asked, “What was the saddest moment of your life?” I wanted to get to that point where she said, “When my mum left Brisbane,” because that says something about her and I wanted to bring it up. It was hard to get there without going to some discussion… if you want to get there quickly, that’s all that is, actually. A really quick way is to just go, “I ask.” It sucks a bit, and maybe it’s a bit lame, but I don’t mind if it’s a little bit personal.

    Or if you can picture the subject and the journalist in the back of a bus, having a little quiet – well, not so quiet, because her radio was blasting out – but having a little discussion between ourselves. It’s personal. Saying, “I ask” is almost like ‘the reader asks’. I don’t know; that’s probably why.

    Tell me about that scene, where Chloee is playing the iPod out loud. Was that extremely awkward for you?

    Yeah, it was. It really was. There were some really awkward moments on both of these stories, because people are looking over at me, going “Why…” [interrupts himself] Oh, this came into it constantly in this piece, though; the girl, in particular. Later on, awkward wasn’t the word. I’d be hanging out with these kids who were just letting people have it on the street, yelling out, and I’d be standing there next to them… It was just so funny. People would look at me and think, “Why are you standing there, being party to this sort of behaviour?”

    On the bus, I could see this woman in a business suit come in and sit down. Chloee was completely oblivious. They just don’t care. It’s not that they’re trying to be smartarses or attention-seekers; they’re just completely oblivious to the fact that their behaviour is being slightly rude, or would be considered inappropriate. I just couldn’t believe it. She had the iPod, and just didn’t worry about it. Don’t worry about earphones. I don’t know whether she didn’t have any, or… maybe she was doing it for me, so I could jive to the song as well? All these classic emo songs ripping out from the back of the bus, and this woman constantly turning around, but Chloee’s just oblivious because she’s texting or on Facebook.

    Me, as a traveller, I’d pick up on that woman looking around in a second. Chloee – nup, no way. That woman was going to have to stop, turn around, and say, “Excuse me.” You can’t give subtle hints to our teenagers these days.

    After the bus, you get off in the city and she says, “I’m home.” The first quote from the next section is like, “Fuck you cunt, what kind of friend are you!”, when the guy is talking to his drug dealer on the phone.

    Yeah – “Fuck your arse then, cunt!

    You had to include that, obviously, because it’s what he said. Although I note the contrast between Casey’s piece, where there is no swearing, and Chloee’s, which is quite vulgar in that way.

    Yeah, it probably was. There was a great lesson in that. That really disgusted people, that teenage girl piece. It was a good lesson for me. You can go so far in the name of… “OK, this is the truth, this what was said,” but – are people ready to read that in print over their Saturday morning cornflakes? In the end, probably not, but I still totally believe, and I’m so grateful we did keep them in there. I know Matt [Condon], my editor, would’ve had to probably fight to keep them. I think there were discussions about how many F-bombs we’d keep in there. Funnily enough, originally I had no ‘dot dot dots’ [censorship] in F-words. I thought, “Nah, let’s just put it all out there!”

    That was never gonna fly!

    Nah, exactly. [laughs] But the whole point was – hey, this is reality. They have incredibly foul mouths. But not in a way that they’re trying to be foulmouthed or anything; that is just the way it is. When they talk, they throw in a bunch of swear words. And that guy’s disappointment; that’s how he showed his disappointment about not being able to get on: “Fuck your arse then, cunt!” I thought that was very strong, interesting language.

    But, in hindsight, when I’m dealing with a teenager next… readers simply don’t like that stuff. Maybe I put too much in there. Maybe it was overkill, and people just went, “Nah, I’m just getting a bit more repulsed by this than I am…” Not inspired, because I didn’t want them to be inspired, but enlightened.

    So that’s a terrible thing. That’s not working. That’s a real mistake… I don’t know if it’s a mistake. But then again, some people who read it wrote, “That was the most insightful one you’ve done yet,” so you just go… you’ve got to try and weigh that up. I was just trying to keep true to… like I said before, if I just say what happened, then that’s all I hopefully have to do. But there’s probably places where it’s up to me to leave stuff out, too, for the benefit of the reader not getting repulsed.

    You had bits like the ‘fresh off boats’ thing, and “every group needs a token black guy”; the kinds of things that would probably offend the 50 year-old mother reading the magazine.

    Totally, yeah. And particularly the way they pay out on adults, the business world; successful people, basically. I found that interesting, but I think people took offence at that, more than anything. I found it interesting from a sense of, “This is how we’re viewed, or you’re viewed, by this particular person.” It gets back to that whole thing. I think people were repulsed and appalled by the piece in a sense…anyone who was appalled by it was disappointed that she was chosen out of all the many teenagers. But that was purely by chance. It was a random selection. But to do honesty to the piece, I had to put in all that stuff. “This is what she said.”

    You write about how, “The Scene is a cultural and emotional space and state of mind in the Queen Street Mall.” What was your knowledge or experience of The Scene before you were in there, talking to them?

    I’d had an indepth interview with an emo guy once. He was a brilliant, wonderful young man, so I’d known a little bit about it, but I didn’t know how it operated, and I didn’t realise anything about this whole concept of The Scene. I didn’t even know it was called The Scene. I found that fascinating, for one thing; so naïve. But also just how… previously I’d only known them as pretty cool kids. Well, I don’t even know if they’re considered cool, but I knew they were into music, and probably into some bands that I used to like back in the day. I still like The Cure; they’re like my favourite band. But they don’t even like The Cure. I was sort of going, “Disintegration, man, that’s my favourite album!” And they were like – “what?!” [laughs] So it’s a whole different world. And that really made me stay.

    I’m telling you, that was the longest fucking day. They just sit in that fucking space…

    [from the story] “Two hours sitting in the sun, watching people pass by.”

    I’m telling you, man! And that was just when nothing was… I could’ve kept writing generic shit they were saying to people that were passing, paying out on them… But I could not keep doing that. I was just going, “When are they going to do something different?” But they just sit there. They just sit. I’d been with Chloee since 6am, and I remember just going, “This is exhausting. You guys sitting around doing nothing is the most exhausting thing I’ve done in a long time.” I’d be sitting in the middle with them…

    Dressed like this, I assume? [gestures to Trent’s clothing; he’s wearing a blue, collared long-sleeve shirt, dark slacks and casual shoes]

    Well, I dressed down a little. This is my mid-range dressing down [gestures to clothes], because I had a job this morning where I had go do one of my Saturday [column] things; out at a homeless place, actually. On this day [with The Scene], I wore my Docs… I don’t know. I was going, “Is that what the Goths still wear?” They don’t. But there was some cool comments from them, like, “Oh man, I like your shoes.” I was trying to be ‘cool Trent’. But I wasn’t cool at all. [laughs]

    With Casey, I was trying to be ‘cool Trent’, and that’s when the girl said, “[sighs] You are sooo in need of some Vans.” It made me feel so out of touch with that whole thing. It doesn’t take long between timeframes.. but anyway, I’m rambling. So I had dressed down, and it was fun hanging out with them and being a part of it, but it was so weird. That whole lengthy time that they spent there. I did feel like I became part of them after a while; like I was one of the gang. We really came together when the cops stopped us.

    What were you doing at that point?

    Well, I was standing there in the line. I wasn’t even going to say anything. I thought it’d be interesting, from a journalistic point of view, to see how the cops treat these kids. But I still looked like a dickhead; like some loser who couldn’t find any friends, and had to go and hang out with 16 year olds, and spend his days… This was a weekday, too. This cop is taking the kid’s name, and I’m next. I hand my license to him…

    [uncontrollable laughter]

    Seriously! It was so funny. But it was only because the guy next to me said, “He’s a journalist!” He was sort of going, “Don’t give us any shit because he’s a journalist, man!” Something like that. So funny. I haven’t been… what do they call that, carded by a cop since I was in grade 12 or something. It was cool. I felt a real camaraderie with the group at that stage. I thought, “Yeah, I’ll just give them my ID…” Because they just come around and do routine name-checks.

    In the end, when the kid said something, I told the cop “Yeah I’m doing a story on a day in the life of this girl over here, Chloee.” And he goes, “Just so you know, we do this because…” And that gave another insight into how the parents are terrified for these kids, and the cops have to get their names and details so when the parents call up and say, “Where’s my kid?” They can actually give them some idea. I thought, “yeah, I can understand where the cop’s coming from.” A great moment in my career, though.

    You’ve got this great line where you write, “The only time you’re truly free is when you’re 16 and penniless.”

    Yeah, and I totally believe that, too. That’s me putting that in there, but I know they totally believe that. And they don’t even realise that. They don’t realise how good their lives are. You’re not free when you’re… like in my situation: I’ve got a wife, two kids, and a mortgage. That’s not very free. All that line was saying was, “This guy was completely penniless, and maybe even directionless, but she’s happier than any millionaire out there.” Everything comes at some sort of cost, but you haven’t made any sacrifices at that age. Nothing costs anything at that age, in terms of your own personal life costs. That’s wonderful freedom, so that you can just run around, and dance inside shops. There’s a wonderful freedom to it, because there’s no cost. Nothing’s going to happen to you. Even if the cops stop you, and lock you up, you probably won’t even get charged. It’s a glorious time. I was trying to get at that. And hence that whole thing I was saying about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; this whole world of, “Let them eat cake.” The reckless abandon that comes with being a queen of Queen Street Mall. I like that whole concept.

    ‘The Logical Song’ makes an appearance; tell me about that. Was that a pure coincidence?

    It was totally bizarre. It started because they were going, “What is this song???” This Triple M sort of song, which has probably been played on Triple M every day for the past… And they’re just like, “What is this?” I thought that was cool, but then it was so poignant in a sense of what it was saying. And it’s such a wonderful song, and what that guy was trying to say. You’re going, “Man, that’s great.” Funnily enough, it came back in the Casey story, too. I don’t know why; it must be on the soundtrack they play in those shops, or something. But at the time, it was so good.

    It reminded me of “Story Of A Man”, where you had the Talking Heads song ‘Once In A Lifetime’ flowing through the piece, as well.

    Oh, yeah! That’s true. Man, I’m a massive music fan, and I love when music comes into any situation and sort of comments. You might be here doing something, but there happens to be some music playing, and if that music has some sort of connection to something else, I’ll always put that in, because I think it’s great. It’s another contextual thing; the sound of what was going on, and all that sort of stuff.

    Going into the Commonwealth Bank with Chloee – was that another awkward moment? I’m guessing you might’ve been mistaken for her dad, or something?

    Totally! Oh man, seriously. These moments… I’ll never forget this whole story. It was so wonderful. These are just magic moments as a journalist, when you walk in there and you realise how much journalism is all about having humility, and losing your own ego, and getting amongst it; being part of it. Because this Commonwealth Bank lady is looking at me going, “What the fuck are you doing hanging around these girls?” And they just stagger into the bank. I’m telling you, there were rows of accountants, and Chloee – rough as guts – comes in with her friends, and goes, “Can I get a new card, please?” They go – “do you have some ID?” She goes – “nup. Nothing.” It was just fucking classic. I remember thinking, “that is just amazing.” This ‘16 and penniless’ freedom.

    But she knew somehow she would get something. Something would happen, you know? But the only reason she was having to go through this was because she had this $10 note, and had such lack of respect for the money that it just fell out of her pocket or something. Just this piece-of-shit $10 note that, somehow, had fallen apart. She tried to feed it into this machine at Coles. It was just hilarious! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing with my eyes. This girl putting this crappy $10 note into this thing, and it was just spitting back out. And then she’s walking up Queen Street Mall, and she just throws it in her pocket, and it hangs out loosely, and I just knew later on…

    I should’ve told her, “Chloee, you should tuck that into your pocket a little bit better,” or something. Then she goes, [pats her pockets], “Oh, that $10 fell out”. So then she has to go through this massive, massive rigmarole to get more money. She calls her Dad, and he says no, but it’s like… wow, this is all part of your journey. She wasn’t even phased. When her Dad says, “Piss off!”, she goes, “Lovely,” and chats to someone and gets distracted for another hour. And then – “are we going to get that money?” Oh man, it was just so funny  An amazing time.

    They had this guy, Justice, as the paternal guardian of the group. You painted that really well.

    [laughs] Yeah, that was funny. He was a funny guy. But the funny part about that was their Justice-worship. This guy, I’m telling you… he was just a classic, because every kid on The Scene worshipped the guy. It would be like if Jeff Buckley turned up at a party, and people would be like [whispering behind their hands], “Oh my god, it’s really him!”

    It was just unbelievable. He had a black trenchcoat on. He could’ve been a model. He’s a very handsome guy. He’s got this piercing stare. He holds his hand out and is like, [in a deep voice] “Hello, I’m Justice. That’s it; no last name. Just Justice.” And his comments on Chloee were… he’s a wonderful guy, but he has that trait where he feels as though he has some great insights into the world, and his friends. It was wonderful to see the intensity of friendship that he had for Chloee. But it was a funny thing, finally meeting Justice.

    I’d heard about him from about 6.30am, and I didn’t get to meet him until about 5pm. It’s like in that movie The Usual Suspects, where they talk about this guy, Keyser Soze. He’s spoken about, but never seen, so you have a whole movie to build up in your mind the majesty of this person that you might one day be fortunate enough to meet… and then he turned up. And he was everything that Chloee said, in terms of his charisma, and everyone was fawning over him. But – that was their world. If anyone else saw Justice, they’d just be like, “Who’s this guy?” But in their world, he was almost like a god. A god-figure. A real leader, guiding them. To be honest, I thought – right now, in Chloee’s life, he’s the best thing to ever happen to her. He really cares about her, and he’s switched on, and thoughtful and wise, and really trying to give of himself and protect her. I really thought his comments about how “she’s a gem”, I thought – that’s great. I really wanted to put that in. People might not understand this girl; someone reading the story is not going to like her much, but she’s very well-liked among this group. She has her own place within this group.

    That piece probably should’ve been about The Scene, maybe, in terms of its packaging. It was an interesting one. A fascinating little piece of that series, because she’s probably unlike most teenagers, I’d imagine. I’m sure she shares many similar traits, but still unlike most of them. But yeah – Justice, legend. I’m sure he’s still down there, doing his stuff. There was this great thing with Chloee; she had this other guy, Destry, who was another cool guy. He was the ‘cool happy guy’. I really liked Destry. I was like, “man, he’s a cool kid. If I was that age, I’d be friends with that guy.” I was thinking [from Chloee’s perspective], “This guy’s the guy. You should be asking this guy out, and bringing him home to meet mum and dad. Stick with that guy.” But I think Justice is cool too. Justice was the dark and mysterious, and that always seems to be the one that they go for. But Destry was the wild, open, crazy, interesting, honest and brilliant kid.

    You ended it on, “And she won’t be home this afternoon.” Had you tried a few different endings?

    Yeah, actually I tried a lot of different endings. The night was about to turn into further debauchery. I was like, “I can’t keep going with this. What’s the point?” And that probably suffered in the piece, too. There was no… I found it incredibly insightful, and enlightening, and alarming, perhaps. But it probably lacked a little bit of insight. That was probably a last-ditch attempt to bring back some insight, just to encapsulate it all. The whole point of Chloee’s story, and the whole point I suggested to the people designing the piece, was: “this is just one girl. She is made up of a million, vastly-moving thoughts. And very quick-moving moments.” That whole piece was like that, and the final paragraph was a shot at trying to show people – “This is who she is. She loves animals, loves her friends, loves Facebook. She’s not good at this. She’s brilliant at this. She’s this, this, this – and she won’t be home this afternoon.” It was sort of tying it back, because right at the start, Angela had said, “Be back this afternoon,” and there was no way that was going to happen. It was riffing back on the end of the Casey piece, which ended sort of ‘up in the air’. It was like – “okay, we’re leaving now. She’s going to go off and do who-knows-what.”

    Finally; the criticism of the story that you received. Not a lot of happy readers with this one.

    No. I had more bad feedback on that than I’ve ever, ever had on any piece. I can see why. And it’s good. It’s good to ruffle feathers, definitely. I’m so proud that Matt, our editor, went with that piece. It was really courageous of him. The disappointing thing is that some people took the story for what it was intended, and others took it as me saying, “this is what teenagers are today.” If you took it that way, you’d be rightly and justifiably horrified, because not every teenager is by any means like that. I’ve done a million stories on wonderful teenagers, who are… well, I think Chloee is wonderful, inspiring people I’ve met in a long time. I’m sorry that people didn’t see that, or that I didn’t write it in a way that people really saw that. So it was more probably… I think they just found it appalling. Just some horrible insight into one person’s life. But I was really trying to make it insightful and enlightening. But I think it came across as… frightening. And that’s not a good mix.

    Some of it was warranted. Some people had brought their own really weird places to it. I think they had to edit some of wording that people were using in the letters. They were using some really bad words on a girl who’s 16 years old. I think that says much more about the person writing that letter than it does about Chloee, or the piece itself. But others were very measured, and insightful, in their disappointments. But again, it’s all a product of telling it like it was. In the spirit of every one of those things that had come before, it had to be the same. It had to be – “OK, this is what it was.” This is life, and that is the reality.

    Which is why it was important to check on how Chloee felt about it. When she said to me, “You’ve captured me,” that was all my intention was, and that made me happy. That helped balance out the very strong-worded letters that I received. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s my job. You’ve just gotta be fuckin’ telling it, and if it’s tough, then I’ve got to be willing to take that, but also to realise that was the point, anyway.

    I knew it was going to be a tough read, but my own disappointment was that some people read it in a different way. Some people said, “Thank you so much. That was the most insightful read. I’ve read that story with my teenagers.” That’s great. But you’ve got to take on board anyone who did a problem with it. You learn from where they’re coming from, and keep trying to write the best piece [possible].

    Did Chloee like it?

    I don’t think she… no-one tends to really enjoy the process, because it’s strange. She had so many people come up to her – all her friends – and say, “you were wonderful. You came across really well.” That just comforted me so much, because if she was copping heat from people… but no-one her age came up to her and said anything but, “man, that is awesome, I can’t believe you’re…”

    So that’s great. Good for her. I really just thank her so much for being a part of it, and for being so brave. But it’s tough. You finish them, and you go… [pause] It was there because that was reported. That’s what it was. I was just reporting that world, and that’s definitely worth doing.

    ++

    For more of Trent Dalton, follow him on Twitter: @TrentDalton.

    To keep track of Trent’s feature writing, pick up The Courier-Mail each Saturday for the Qweekend magazine, or keep an eye on the Qweekend website, which is updated each Monday with feature stories from the latest issue. You can also follow Qweekend on Twitter.

  • A conversation with Ryan Holiday: blogger, former marketing director of American Apparel, soon-to-be author; October 2011

    Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life.

    His blog, RyanHoliday.net, is one of the most valuable online resources I know of. This is a statement that I know will make him blush, because Ryan is a modest guy. I know this because when I first approached him for an interview in January 2010, he deflected my questions – which were extremely detailed, potentially to the point of exhibiting stalker-like behaviour. He wrote that when he felt he deserved an interview, he’d give it to me; he also said that mine was “the most in depth, investigative email I’ve ever gotten”.

    At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.

    Ryan first attracted my attention by attracting the attention of someone who I was closely studying at the time: Tucker Max, the American blogger-turned-author who is best known for his 2006 book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.

    Ryan wrote a review of Tucker’s website – which, at the time, was a collection of stories about Max’s drinking and sexual exploits – for his college newspaper, and sent the link to the author. Soon after, Max posted the review on his message board, which was a fairly popular corner of the web; it was deleted a couple of years ago. I immediately became interested in figuring out who Holiday was.

    That review led Tucker to hire Ryan as an intern at his company, Rudius Media (now defunct). It led Ryan to work with the acclaimed author Robert Greene as a research assistant on the strategy book The 50th Law, co-written with rapper 50 Cent and released in 2009. And it led Ryan to be hired by the clothing manufacturer American Apparel, where he worked as Director of Marketing for a couple of years. He still works as an advisor to American Apparel, but moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in mid 2011 to work on a book project of his own.

    Since January 2007, Ryan has consistently used his blog as a platform for discussions about writing, running, online PR, media, philosophy, and stoicism, among other topics. I’ve consumed every word that he has written since his first post, ‘The Business Of Running‘. I often re-read his posts multiple times, which is something I rarely do online. That first post remains a valid starting point for understanding Ryan’s way of thinking and writing. I’ll quote the opening paragraph below.

    “I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.” – Ryan Holiday, January 31 2007

    When I visited the United States for the first time with my girlfriend Rachael in September 2010, I asked to meet up with Ryan in Los Angeles. We met at a burger joint on Melrose Avenue and talked for an hour or so. It was a huge thrill for me to meet a guy who’s been something of an internet hero to me for nearly five years. Rachael didn’t really understand why it was so important to me at the time.

    Neither did I, really, now that I think about it. All I knew then, and know now, is that Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life. It’s an honour for me to publish the below email interview.

    Andrew: When you wrote that review of Tucker’s website, what was the intended outcome?

    Ryan: I’m not sure if I ever told anyone this, but I’d noticed that Tucker tended to link to or write about any press he got (at least back then) and so I thought, “I’m a writer for a college newspaper, why don’t I try it”? It didn’t really go much further than thinking about it at that time. Then a couple weeks later I had the opening line of that piece floating around in my head: “If Hunter S Thompson had read this site, he probably wouldn’t have killed himself.” I figured I had something and eventually sat down and wrote it.

    So the intended outcome was that I’d send it to him and he’d link to it (I reposted the article on my blog) and that would be it. But the reaction totally blew my mind. Within about 20 minutes he’d responded and… I went back to my Gmail and found it:

    From: Tucker Max

    [November 28th, 2005]

    “Jesus Christ. Dude, that is fantastic. Seriously, I am awed by your grasp of me and my material. I am going to post this as THE example of a great review of me and my work.”

    It’s funny to me now because that reaction has become a pretty routine occurrence for me since then. I obviously thought I wrote a pretty good article but I was still reluctant to send it off. Is he going to like it? Did I go overboard? What are the chances of it getting a response? Turns out I had nailed the target and didn’t quite understand the extent. That seems to happen a lot to me. You’d think I’d anticipate it by now, but still other peoples’ reaction (positively, anyway) tends to catch me by surprise.

    What did that response change for you? Was that one of those ‘Fight Club moments‘ I remember you writing about years ago?

    I think it was the opposite of one of those moments. I think of a Fight Club Moment as something that breaks you down and demolishes the pretense and bullshit entitlement you have in your life. This wasn’t that. It instilled a lot of confidence in me. It was like, “ok, I am better than I knew. That’s awesome, maybe I can build on this.”

    What happened next between you and Tucker?

    I think after he had the publisher send me a copy of his book to review, which I did, and after it was published I asked for his thoughts on the writing. He went over it on the phone with me about ways I could improve my voice and tone.

    I stayed in touch—I think in my post about advice a couple weeks ago I called this ‘staying on the radar’, and that’s basically what I did. I would pop in and ask questions, for advice, send links etc. Any excuse I could think of to keep that connection alive. Only an idiot would waste that chance.

    A year or so later I was in New York, where he was living and I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, or a salary or a handout but I had some thoughts on ways I could contribute to his company, Rudius Media. After the meeting, he offered me an internship, which 6-8 months later become a job. But it was all a very fluid thing, like I was saying.

    [Andrew’s note: that post he mentionedAdvice to a Young Man Hoping to Go Somewhere (Or Get Something From Someone Successful)is an absolute must-read.]

    To me, the act of writing the review and showing Tucker is a pretty solid example of figuring out what you want, and pursuing it accordingly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that lead to him offering you a job, you quitting college and moving to LA, and then working for American Apparel?

    Haha, I mean you pretty much figured out exactly what I was doing or trying to do with the last question, probably with a better sense of clarity than I really had at the time. But yeah, it was the door that ultimately led to the opening of all the other doors. I have him to thank for all of it. When I see a path to an opportunity–like a lane in basketball–I sort of put my head down and the next thing I know I’m through it and it took me somewhere I didn’t totally anticipate.

    With the Tucker thing, I knew I wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers he was working with at the time – I’d known this since I first saw his sites in high school – so I did that article, and then I was working for him, and then I was working for the people he was working with, and then the people they were working with, and so on. I don’t think any of them every solicited me for a job either so much; it was just that I was around all the time, doing stuff and offering to do stuff, and then it eventually became official.

    How did you come across Robert Greene’s work? Was it Tucker who first showed you?

    Yeah, I’d heard of the books obviously but I think Tucker recommended The 48 Laws of Power so I read it. I marked up my copy so much and had a million questions to ask Tucker.* Then the first time I met him, Tucker walked me to a bookstore and bought me The 33 Strategies of War and said, “if you’re going to work for me, you’ll need to have read this.” I think that’s how I found out I got the job. All I took from that exchange was: “I better read this book on the plane ride home and know it backwards and forwards.”

    * Ryan’s sidenote: that copy of The 48 Laws is priceless to me. Someone stole it out of my office at American Apparel. I was fucking distraught. It makes no sense because Dov [Charney, AA chairman and CEO] has a million copies laying around. Why would they want my marked-up personal copy?

    How did the opportunity to work for Greene arise?

    The three of us – Tucker, Robert, and I – had lunch in L.A. a few years ago and it kind of arose from that meeting. Although it almost didn’t, because I was so nervous I accidentally messed up when I gave Robert my phone number.

    I have a suspicion that working on The 50th Law might have inspired a sense of validation, given your regular documentation on your life via the blog, and your personal reading and research via your Delicious account. Am I right, or way off?

    I mean, it was very cool to have the privilege to be allowed to peek inside of project like that. But I don’t think validating is the right work. What it was was educational, from top to bottom. Researching for someone–particularly someone like Robert–is crazy because you get pointed in all these directions that you’d never have gone by yourself, given a very firm objective to gather from that direction, and a tight deadline with which to do so. When you read or research for yourself, it is kind of this wandering, directionless thing. For the book, it was like getting a crash course in a million different subjects. I was interested in all of them so I would mark down the stuff I would want to go back and look at later.

    So it’s funny, when I see the book, it reminds me of loose ends I still need to tie up for myself and am interested in looking into.

    Your stoicism guest blog for Tim Ferriss in April 2009 attracted a lot of attention. What did you get out of it? What did you learn from the experience?

    More than anything, it helped me clarify my thoughts. Tim is awesome and he’s got a very impressive commitment to expanding the scope of blog all the time. He starting writing about productivity and got all these people hooked and the next thing you know he’s totally revolutionized how they think about health and science. I was lucky that he gave me the microphone for one of those digressions.

    I got quite a few new readers out of it and he also was gracious enough to give me two more chances to write about similar topics. [The Experimental Life: An Introduction to Michel de Montaigne‘, October 2010; ‘Looking to the Dietary Gods: Eating Well According to the Ancients‘, July 2011]

    What you learn in a setting like that is how to tailor your message to different mediums. When I write for my site, I can be as self-indulgent as I want. When you write for someone else or on a bigger platform, you have to be much clearer and you have to catch them right from the beginning. They’re not YOUR readers, so you have to meet them where they are if you’d like to bother listening to your message. At the same time, it taught me that I don’t want to have to perform like that all the time which kind of freed me up to not have to chase acquiring that audience for myself. If didn’t learn that, I’d be spend all my time working to build something that at the end of the day, would make me miserable to have.

    Could you tell me about your working space?

    When I was in LA, I had a big office with 5-10 employees at any given time at the American Apparel factory. I had an office at my house at well.

    Now, in New Orleans, I sort of went in the completely opposite direction. I’m in a studio apartment so I don’t work much there. I like working and reading and writing out of the library at Tulane or, I belong to an old school athletic club in the French Quarter that has like a library/parlor work space that I use.

    On Mondays, I try to do all my administrative stuff—conference calls with employees, meetings, paperwork and then during the rest of the week I respond to AA emails in the morning and again at night. The middle of the day is mine. I try to write, go to the gym (run, box or swim), and read—in that order.

    I still have the same quote, the one from Marcus [Aurelius], above my desk:

    “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

    The other quote above my desk is from Seneca:

    “Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.”

    In November 2007 , you wrote that “you have to be happy with you”. I understand it’s a work in progress, but are you happy with you in October 2011, nearly four years later?

    Happier for sure. It’s not so much that it’s a work in progress as it is a process. I forget who said it, but someone smarter than me said that “happiness ensues, it cannot be pursued”. And I think it was Aristotle who said that happiness was the result of excellence.

    Either way, I take that to mean that you’re happy when you are doing whatever it is that you’re doing, well. So: are you doing well at your career? Is your relationship the best it can be? Are you handling adversity or a difficult experience with excellence? Are you behaving honorably? Etc etc.

    These are all opportunities to excel in the moment and cumulatively these moments create a sense of happiness. I’m fucking 24, there’s no way I’m doing well all the time at everything but I do feel I am getting better and more consistent.

    I want to close on a cliched question, which I hope you’ll humour me on. What advice would you give to yourself five years ago, when all you really knew about yourself was that you ‘wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers Tucker was working with at the time’?

    Fucking breathe. It’s not as precarious as you think it is. There’s no need to be anxious. See, it’s really easy when you’re that young and you don’t have a safety net to think you have to cling to everything for dear life, everything is a crisis, everything is mission critical, nothing else can be the priority.

    When you’re in that space, it’s really hard to have the patience and compassion or even empathy for the other people in your life because you’re fucking fight or flight all the time. In reality, it’s not as dramatic as all that. Taking a more relaxed and accepting approach might mean losing a couple opportunities here and there but down the road, you end up turning down plenty of those anyway, so what does it matter if a couple never arrive?

    If I told myself this and really listened, I feel like I’d have been happier along the way and be able to be prouder of how I behaved and the decisions I made.

    ++

    For more on Ryan Holiday, visit his blog. Hopefully he’ll soon post some news about the publication and release of his first book.

    [Edited on November 18: the first news of Ryan Holiday’s book has been announced.]

  • NYWM 2011: A conversation about journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young, May 2011

    Embedded below is footage of my second live Q+A event as Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011: a conversation about journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young.

    The 80 minute conversation took place on May 20, 2011 before around 20 young writers – mostly high school students – at the Bundaberg East State School library. I’ve included some background information about the event below. Scroll down to watch the conversation via the embedded Vimeo clip, or read the transcript underneath. All photos taken by Paul McMillen. Visit Facebook to see the full set of photos.

    From left to right: Janette Young, Christina Ongley, and Andrew McMillen.

    May 20: Talking journalism with Christina Ongley and Janette Young

    Under 25 and interested in a career in journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – two of Bundaberg’s most experienced journalists will discuss how they’ve built their lives and careers around writing and publishing words. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    Christina Ongley is the editor of the Bundaberg NewsMail and the Isis Town and Country. Her career in journalism began in Bundaberg in 1998, when she worked in the NewsMail’s newsroom for four years. During that time, her roles included reporter, feature writer, sub-editor, chief of staff and news editor. For the following six years, Christina lived and worked in the UK for a three-edition daily paper in Essex named The Echo, where she was soon promoted to news editor. Prior to her reappointment at the NewsMail, she was the media and communications executive for Surf Lifesaving Queensland.

    Janette Young is an editor and journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, starting in the newsroom of her local newspaper in the UK at the age of 18. At 26, she became the first woman editor in her newspaper group and from there moved on to work on The Times in London and at the Press Association in Fleet Street during the Gulf War. Since moving to Australia in 1991, Janette has worked within News Limited, West Australian Newspapers and APN News & Media. She was Assistant Editor with The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and subsequently with The Sunday Times in Perth, and in 2009 was a finalist in the Queensland Media Awards for Best Business / Property Report. During her career, Janette has been Launch Editor of a number of magazines and newspapers, and has lectured and tutored Bachelor of Communications students in Print Media, Media Law and Ethics and Online Journalism. For more on Janette, visit her website.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011 – will facilitate the session. A graduate of Bundaberg State High School in 2005, he’s now a Brisbane-based freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. For more on Andrew, visit his website.

    Embedded footage below. Please note that the vision does drop out a few times throughout the video due to camera file size restrictions. The audio remains consistent throughout, however.

    Q+A transcript as follows. Andrew + audience questions and comments are bolded; Christina and Janette’s comments as labelled.

    Andrew: Thank you all for coming. This is the second event I’m running in Queensland for National Young Writer’s Month. I’m the Queensland ambassador for that event. And here we have two women who have spent most of their adult lives in journalism. So I wanted to invite you all to come and talk about that, and what that involves.

    I’m a freelance journalist myself, and National Young Writers Month’ is about… the funny thing is that it starts next month. I have to explain to everyone who I meet. So these events are to inspire people to set goals for themselves, register on the website, join the community, start talking about writing, and start meeting those goals during the month of June.

    I’ve got some postcards here if you’d like to grab them at the end, which tell you more about it. But today we’re talking about journalism. Most of you in the room are high schoolers, obviously. I wonder if any of you know right now that you want to be a journalist once you graduate?

    [no-one raises their hands]

    Christina: No work experience candidates?

    Andrew: No one? That’s interesting, because I wondered if you two knew that you wanted to be journalists when you were in high school.

    Christina: Partly, actually. When I was about seven or eight years old I used to make up my own sort of mock newspapers and show them to my parents and get them to give me marks [for] them. And I was the editor of my school paper as well. But I’ve always had a really strong background in sports, so when I went to uni I actually was going down the human movements and physio sort of path and then it took me about six months to figure out that that wasn’t what I wanted to do after all. So quick smart, went straight back to journalism. So I sort of floated with it for a long time and then decided it was something I wanted to do.

    Janette:   Well, actually from a very early age I was very determined to become a journalist. I went to a girls’ school and in my day they used to try to push you towards secretarial work. And they set me up for work experience which I cancelled and contacted my local newspaper and at the age of 15, basically started working in newspapers. They used to pay me expenses, which, for me, was huge amounts of money. And I started getting published even when I was 15. I used to work in the local paper on my school holidays, which was great because when I left school I was one of the lucky ones who got taken on direct entry, because I’d already been published and I was obviously passionate about newspapers.

    I never particular had a desire to work in radio or TV. It was always about print media, because I love writing. And I qualified at the age of 22, so they put me through university, which was great because I didn’t go broke while I was studying. And I learnt so much on the job. It was so good to have the direct entry because it meant that I could put the theory into practice and it was just wonderful.

    Christina: That’s something that was really rare these days now, as well.

    Janette:   Very rare, and it’s really unfortunate that they don’t do that because my son’s studying journalism and I taught journalism at Edith Cowan University [in Western Australia] for a couple of years in my spare time because I believe that people don’t get taught enough by people who actually know what they’re talking about. And the practical experience of working in newspapers cannot be replaced by any amount of theory. And I’ve seen young people come through who might not necessarily have excelled at school sometimes, but they make fantastic journalists because they’re hungry.

    [Audience]:  I started journalism at university, but got so disenchanted by the theory that I decided to become a schoolteacher instead.

    Christina: I think it’s a real shame the way that journalism degrees are going now. When I studied about 15 years ago, at the time the body of lecturers were people who had really impressive journalism CVs and it wasn’t just about crafting a story. They could tell you about really tough interviews they had to do, or tough situations they had to confront and how they dealt with them. That was really inspiring. Some of these were people who’d been there in the Bjelke-Petersen era and had some really amazing stories to tell. Just as I was leaving, because I’ve still got a couple of good friends who were lecturers back then, there’s been this real shift towards academia in the lecturing body. I think, for me personally, it sort of sucks all the life out of it because you learn, as you say, all the theory. But it’s very hard to get inspired by people who have spent their life in research and not actually at newspapers or at other broadcast media outlets.

    [Audience]: One lecturer who my friend and I counted the number of times he would say the word ‘commonsensical’. He said it like 47 times in two hours and then I was like, “Well, maybe this isn’t for me.”

    Christina: I guarantee that word would never make it into a newspaper.

    Janette:   Absolutely not, and never in a headline. Anyway, but it is true and it is a shame. My son, I have had to encourage him to continue to be focused but at the end of the day it is worth it. It is an exciting job and the potential for an individual to make their mark and make a difference in the world is huge. And even now, even though strictly speaking I’m not working in newspapers, I still mentor a lot of young journalists. When I left university for some years after that, I continued to mentor young journalists.

    It’s about having a passion. It is a trade if you like, it’s a practical skill. I call myself a wordsmith, and that doesn’t leave you. It’s a great trade to have. I can take you around the world; can take you to all sorts of places that other people can’t get to, and you can meet loads and loads of people that you would never otherwise come across. So if that’s what you like doing, great. If you don’t like talking to people all the time, then don’t do it.

    Christina [pictured right]: I think that’s probably one thing that… this is National Young Writers’ Month coming up, and I think it’s great when people have a real passion for writing and I interview a lot of young people for jobs. I’ll say “what is it that you love about journalism, and why do you want to be a journalist?” A lot of them say, “I really love to write”. And that’s really important, because you can’t teach someone to write well. You can sort of hone their skills and get them to a reasonable standard, but if they’re not a born writer, you can’t teach them to be.

    But the thing I think that’s almost more important to me is: do they like people? Because everything we do is about people. It’s telling peoples’ stories; it’s telling stories that affect people. Readership and people are generally at the core of what we do. So I’ve interviewed a number of young people for cadetships of various kinds. And I’ve looked at some of their submitted work. They write well, but they’re so timid. And I think, “can they pick up a phone and ask someone a tough question? Can they stand up for themselves sometimes when they get a bit of criticism, as we inevitably do at a newspaper? Do they really enjoy having a rapport with people?”

    And if they don’t think they can do that, then I’d much rather have someone who has those personal skills and maybe isn’t such a great writer, as someone who’s a fantastic writer but can’t actually talk to people. That love of people and telling peoples’ stories is just as important, to me, as being able to write well. In this field anyway.

    Janette:   Absolutely.

    [Audience]: Andrew, perhaps now it might be a great time to introduce our panel?

    Andrew: Good idea! Next to me, we have Christina Ongley. Christina Ongley is the editor of the News Mail. And to her right is Janette Young, who has worked throughout journalism and media for over 30 years, I believe.

    Janette:   Afraid so. [laughs]

    Christina: Like it or not.

    Andrew: And my name’s Andrew McMillen. I am a freelance journalist based in Brisbane. To go back to that question I was asking these two earlier; I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist pretty much until I was a journalist. I went to Bundy High, as these four did as well [gestures to audience]. And I knew that I loved reading and writing. I was pretty good at English. I got a few English awards, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a journalist.

    I went to UQ in Brisbane and studied Communication, which is about half journalism, half media studies. And that degree wasn’t very enjoyable. It was, as we were discussing earlier, quite dry and quite academic in its approach. So that didn’t inspire me at all, but during that time I moved to Brisbane. The second year I was there, I started writing for street press, which is the local free newspapers that are put out in record stores and music venues across Brisbane. Music was my passion. I wanted to write about music, and writing about music for them meant that I got free tickets to go to shows that I otherwise would have paid for, so it was a nice little money-saver. Money [from writing] at that time was negligible. It wasn’t on my agenda at all. It was just free tickets and definitely a hobby for me, not a career.

    I did that for a couple of years, getting paid very little. Then I worked for a web design company which was fun for about a year and then I stopped doing that. I was at a crossroads in my life and I thought, “what do I want to do next?” I’d had a couple of years experience in journalism for those music publications and I knew that I really enjoyed, that so I wanted to see how far I could take that. So in the last two years, I’ve been pushing that music freelance journalism angle, and I’ve been published in Rolling Stone, and triple j mag, and The Weekend Australian and a couple of others.

    But since then I’ve realised that music journalism is not what I want to do. I want to do feature-length stories for magazines and newspapers, so that’s where I’m heading now.

    Christina: It’s a tough area to break into.

    Andrew: It is, but with those couple of years of doing [journalism] – first as a hobby, and then secondly as just trying to find my way in terms of what I wanted to do – I couldn’t make that decision [to pursue featuring writing] without having those experiences beforehand.

    Christina: Is anyone planning on studying any sort of communications or media-type degree? [one student puts his hand up] What are you going to be studying?

    [Audience]: Film and television at QUT, hopefully.

    Christina: What’s your greatest interest? Is it the screenplay-writing angle?

    [Audience]: I love all of it. Every aspect of media that I’ve explored so far. I really wanted to head down today because I think journalism is such a big branch of media, radio, and film, and television. It’s pretty imperative to know all about it. That’s where I’m coming from.

    Christina: Great.

    Andrew: I should point out that, if you have any questions for any of us at any point, just raise your hand and we’ll get to it. I’ve got stuff prepared, but this is about you. It’s about what you want to get out of it, so if it’s not going where you want it to, just raise your hand and ask a question. The answer was for these two: Janet knew she wanted to be a journalist. Christina was a bit iffy, and I didn’t want to be a journalist.

    Christina: And we all ended up in the same place!

    Andrew: Were you setting goals in that point in your lives, in your late teens; your early 20s, in terms of where you wanted to be?

    Christina: I went to a private girls’ school on the Gold Coast, and I probably can’t say I was a particularly rebellious teenager. I wanted to do well but what I did really rebel against was the intense pressure that was on us at school to decide the rest of our life at the age of about 13 or 14. At the end of year eight, they sat us down and said, “you’ve got to choose these ten subjects for years nine and 10, and then those will pare down to five or six subjects at year 11 and 12, and then those will go onto probably decide what you study at uni, and that’s going to be the rest of your life.” So, figure that out at 13 or 14. I thought, “what?!”

    So I studied the subjects that I enjoyed and I wasn’t too fussed… it didn’t bother me that I started a course at uni that I then changed my mind away from and switched courses. I mean, I was setting goals. I guess they just changed along the way and I wasn’t too bothered if they changed. I just thought that [in] my late teens, early 20s, surely there was going to be a little bit of wiggle room in there to maybe not get everything right and make some decisions later on if I needed to.

    Janette [pictured left]: I think the reality is that in today’s world it’s accepted that most people will have two or three careers. Just because you happen to start doing something at 20 doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be doing it 40. And I left News Limited after 20 years. I hit the 20 year mark and went, “okay, what do I really want to do now?” Because I could stay there quite happily for the next 20 years after that.

    And I had a very successful career and I was not only the first female editor but the youngest editor of my group when I was 26. In the U.K. I worked on the Times in London. I worked on Fleet Street. I worked on Press Association during the Gulf War, which was very exciting. I worked with News Limited over here. I was launch editor of magazines. Great fun.

    But sometimes you get to a point where you think, “well, what else can I do?” And the great thing about a journalism degree… I think journalism, law, and engineering are the three degrees that are so practical and so useful in the world, because you can take them anywhere and they’re basically like a tool kit. Journalism teaches you so much, teaches you about people and how to talk to people, how to write, how to manage yourself, how to present; how to do so many things that are important today.

    I think that, personally, I was very goal-driven and I still am very goal-driven. Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own path to travel. Although I work in PR work – mostly with not-for-profits, although I work a lot with large corporate as well – I [also] work in behavioural communications. And I love pushing peoples’ buttons and making them behave in a different way. It gives me a real sense of pleasure.

    I work up to the highest level and that’s because I used to, as a journalist, talk right up to the prime minister. I’m not scared of anybody, because I know what they do, who they are, how they operate. And so for me, working in the communications world – which is really what I do, though it’s just the corporate and the not-for-profit areas – I find it very comfortable, because I’ve been there as a journalist for so many years. And I know a lot of people. You meet all sorts of people, and people remember you. And you just have the best time, and sometimes the best parties as well, which is great. I was in the budget lockup for three years in a row and that’s a really exciting thing, because you’re there at the cutting edge of what is happening right now.

    I think that’s the thrill of being a journalist. You’re actually ahead of the news, and I get a real buzz out of that. I still keep myself pretty involved in what’s happening out there. I like to make a difference. I like to lobby. At the moment I’m lobbying a couple of ministers over getting some funding for Salvation Army because they’ve said ‘no’ and I’ve said, “well, not good enough”.

    So you can do that sort of thing. And I think that if you treat journalism as something [where] every day you rock up to work and you give it your best, you’re going to do really well with it. If you’re looking at a soft option, don’t bother, because you won’t last very long.

    Christina: It is one of those things where every day is very different. It’s not like you work on a project for a week or two, and carry it over from day to day with you. You might have some stories that might need a few days’ work or some things that require ongoing investigation, but generally every day is a fresh day. Every day is different, which is one of the great things about it, really. If you’ve had a bad day, you can leave it behind and move onto the next one.

    One of those things to draw on – that both Janette and Andrew have said – is I think sometimes we forget, too, that journalism can be a really great privilege. We’re allowed into a lot of settings that the general public sometimes isn’t. We’re given access to people and places, whether it’s getting free concert tickets or getting to have a chat with a minister or the prime minister or whatever it is; we do get these privileges as part of our job.

    I think because of that, we need to respect the responsibility that we have then to deliver those messages to people and not take advantage of the position that we get given. There’s a lot of criticism, and this is something that probably Janette will be very familiar with.

    You’ve got the press gallery, who are the core of people who are in Canberra covering Parliament all the time. They’re the regular parliamentary reporters that each of those larger newspapers send down to Canberra; there’s often a bit of criticism because they’re there all the time, mingling with MPs and press secretaries and the people who make Parliament tick, that there’s a bit too much closeness. Sometimes they will say “is the press corps getting a bit too close to the politicians?”, and these are things that can be easy to forget when you don’t think enough about the privileges you get in this part of the job we have.

    Janette:   It is true, actually. One of the things I used to teach was media, law, and ethics. Very interesting; what I used to do was teach the students the law first, and then the ethics, because often what is ethical might not be legal, and what is legal might not be ethical. Just because you’re allowed to do it – coming back to that point – doesn’t mean that you should.

    The impact of newspapers and all media on peoples’ lives can be huge. So you have to treat people with integrity. I think if you do that… and as I say, I’ve been in the business for 30-odd years, and I dealt with a lot of very difficult stories and I was a fixture at The Courier-Mail for quite a while there. We were doing some real head-kicking stuff over prostitution and drug use and all that stuff.

    If you treat people with integrity and remember to be a bit kind, because not everyone is used to dealing with media, and just remember that what you write or what you put to air or whatever can have a big impact on peoples’ lives, so it’s a big responsibility to be a journalist. You have a back bench behind you. You have people like Christina standing there, basically being a safety net for you. At the end of the day – and this is the great thing about it; you’re out there representing your organisation, but representing your newspaper or TV station. You have to behave with a high level of personal integrity.

    There’s a really important message that I like to get out to the general public, that yes, there are some people out there who abuse the system [as journalists]. There are people out there who unfortunately don’t check their facts and who stop asking the questions. I always say to young journos, “you don’t stop asking questions until you get the answer you actually believe”. If you can keep your feet on the ground, and actually get to the heart of whatever the issue is, then you’ve got a great story.

    It’s done with integrity and kindness. I’ve done a lot of what we call ‘death knocks’, where you go to someone’s house when someone’s died. It’s a terrible thing to have to do to somebody. But the fact of the matter is that if you do it kindly and if you do it with humanity, they actually… I’ve had people ring me up thanking me for the story that I’ve written about their family member, which is a great feeling because what you’ve done is encapsulated someone’s very valuable life, and paid tribute to them. Because everyone’s valuable to people around them.

    If you take that sort of approach rather than a ‘knock ‘em down and take no prisoners’ approach, you can actually do a real community service through your paper. The News Mail does an excellent job in that, in that it tackles things very respectfully and really thinks about the people and community before it charges in and starts publishing things willy-nilly.

    Christina: Thank you.

    Janette:   It’s true. There you go; it’s the only praise you’re going to get. [laughs]

    Andrew: How do people react when you tell them you’re a journalist?

    Christina: There are a whole range of reactions. Some people say, “that must be really interesting”. Others will tell you that the News Mail spelt their name wrongly 20 years ago, and they’ve never forgiven the paper ever since. Or people say “I better watch what I say”, and I say. “well, if I’m not at work, I’m not at work…”

    I think people have varying respect for journalists depending on what their experiences have been with journalism, journalists, or newspapers. We can do a lot of good for community groups and I think you’ll find that most people we work with generally have a really positive outlook about the work that we do and the good that we can do.

    But unfortunately the other side of it is that we have to do some hard stories. We have to report on people being in court. We have to report on people when their businesses go bust, and perhaps they haven’t been completely honest with all the people that they owe money to. And these are things that can affect peoples’ reputation, so the work we do isn’t cut -and-dry. And the impact, as Janette said, that we can have on people and in communities such as ours can be vast, that we generally tend to guard what their idea of journalists is, I suppose.

    Janette:   I agree with you, actually. I think to a large extent the respect that you get treated with is down to you. How you behave as an individual is really important. So when you go out there, say you behave with integrity, you conduct yourself professionally… and this sounds slightly terrible, but you don’t get too involved, because you’re not there to pass judgement. You’re there to actually report.

    Reporting changes from era to era. Social issues change constantly. Newspapers are simply a reflection of the society in which we live. If we don’t like what’s in the newspapers, we’re actually complaining about our own society. We don’t write about anything that’s not there. We actually write about what’s there. It’s an interesting thing. I am a big collector of old newspapers, and I’m talking really old; 1800s. My oldest one is 1783 and a copy of the Times. In that paper they talk about slavery, they talk about all sorts of things, but not once do they talk about green issues. Not once do they talk about all the things that really matter to us today.

    Christina: Female equality… [laughs]

    Janette:   Female equality doesn’t even rate a mention. It’s very interesting and all media generally – I can only talk about newspapers because that’s really what I spent most of my life in, although I do work a lot with TV and radio. I go on radio quite a lot now, but to me print media is there, and it’s in law, unfortunately, for us what can be shown on TV – and they can just about get away with it – can’t be put into newspapers, because people keep newspapers, and every newspaper gets read by at least three people.

    So you really have to be very responsible in that way but basically, yes, I think that people need to reflect on their own society behaviours before they start criticising newspapers too much, because all we’re doing is reporting what’s going on.

    Christina: In fact we had a letter to the editor in today’s paper where this man started his letter not exactly criticising our newspaper but saying, “look at all the rubbish that’s in newspapers these days”. But he ended up by finishing saying, “I guess if they’re writing what people want to read, this is actually what’s going on in the wider world, and what a terrible state we’re in”. I think you’re right, that was really —

    Janette:   So it was really a ‘I hate the world’ letter. That’s an unfortunate situation for him, but hopefully he’ll get over it. [laughs]

    Christina: That’s right, and [hopefully] he keeps on buying the paper. But I guess that’s another thing to think too. We really are chroniclers of history, if you like. When we look back at old papers and think that they’re fascinating, I’m sure those people didn’t think back then that they would be writing something that in a hundred years’ time or whatever we would look back on as a study of society. But of course we do. There’s almost no better reflection of what’s going on in the world at the time, so what we do now, people will be looking at in 10, 20, 30, 50 years’ time and using that to judge what Bundaberg, or what Queensland, Australia was like in that era.

    Andrew: Which comes back to the responsibility that you were talking about.

    Christina: Absolutely. Down to the slightest thing; if you get a fact wrong then that fact, unless properly corrected, remains wrong for years. As Janette says, when it’s there in black and white print and it’s not something that just flashes up on a screen and goes away and can be forgotten about, it really is very, very final and very long-lasting.

    Andrew: I think of journalism as helping people to make sense of the world around them. That’s how I view it; how I define it. I wonder if you have different definitions of what journalists are.

    Janette:   I think it depends on your audience, actually. I’m a big fan of the Financial Review. I love it because it just tells me what’s going on. It leaves me to make my call. But a lot of newspapers, a lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that. The Courier Mail’s the perfect [example], every single story they have — don’t get me wrong because I love The Courier. I’ve worked there for years and a lot of friends work there. But every single story they have a comment [next to the story] and I go, “Oh, for goodness sake’s, don’t tell me what to think. That’s okay, that’s me. I know a lot of people do like it.

    Christina: I think it’s generally our job too, especially any sort of politically related or anything to do with government or policy can be really dry, and really complicated and you think “people aren’t going to want to read about that, not the way they’re presenting it”. So it’s our job to take those boring or complex issues and try to break them down into something more simple for people.

    Janette:   You contextualise it, so basically – like the budget. What the News Mail produced was designed to target its own community. “What’s important to us right here, forget everybody else out there, what’s important to our community?” That’s the job of a journalist. You actually dissect the information. There’s reams and reams of it that comes out of the budget and then you say, “this is important to you; this is what you should be aware of. This could actually make a difference to your lifestyle or it could make a difference to your hip pocket,” or whatever. In that way, it does make sense of the world around us. I think it also – if a newspaper gets it right, they put the right stories on the right pages, and that’s why people buy it.

    [Audience]: Do you believe it’s possible to be completely objective?

    Janette:   I do.

    Christina: I used to have a lecturer who said, “you don’t always have to be objective, but you do have to be fair”. I think it can be difficult. I do think it’s possible to be but I think it can sometimes be difficult to be. I think probably more so in smaller communities because your access to contacts, or pool to contacts is so much smaller. You’re very aware of the impacts that stories will have on people that you might know very well. It is a lot more challenging, I think, to confront those in smaller communities.

    It’s easier in bigger places or with bigger papers to burn a few bridges, because you can build some other ones. You burn bridges here [in Bundaberg], you’ve got to mend them if you want to keep on going. Those things are certainly challenges.

    Basically, unless we sort of set out to have a bit of fun with a story, or to say, “we’re going to definitely present a certain kind of angle because we want to campaign on this” or point out that we view an issue a very particular way, our job really when it comes down to it is not to comment, or what they call ‘editorialise’. It’s to say, “let’s take an issue. A few people are going to look at it a few different ways. Let’s report credible spokespeople, not just Joe Blow off the street, and let’s report what they say”. It’s our job to report what other people say on these issues or how they analyse them.

    [Audience]: I feel that objectivity can be lost not only in how you structure your article, but where it’s placed. Value judgments on what is on the front [page].

    Christina: Absolutely.

    [Audience]: Is it something that’s thought about?

    Christina: Probably not in the objectivity sense, but essentially, if you look at the front page of a newspaper, it’s supposed to be your greatest advertisement for your product, which is your newspaper. You want it to sell. You want to put the story on the front that you think will appeal to the widest and greatest audience. That doesn’t necessarily come down to the way it’s reported, but the story itself, and if you think it will be appealing to your readership. Lots of things decide or come into play when you’re deciding where to put things on pages.

    Normally, we say in journalism, generally people will put more of their attention into what’s on the right-hand page. They’re natural readership patterns, or reading patterns. We’ll put our best photos usually on the right-hand pages. Probably put our strongest stories, or what we consider to be stronger stories on our right-hand pages; which is not to say that the left-hand pages aren’t as important, but research over time has shown those are generally the way people read.

    There are those kinds of decisions going on. At the News Mail, one of the things that I’ve always felt to be quite important, because people have often complained there’s always so much bad news on the front page — and that’s because good news doesn’t sell. We know that. [laughs] We get the figures and we see what sells. But it’s important to me to have page three — that’s generally the first thing that people see when they open the cover paper. For me, I want that story to be bright, and upbeat, or quirky, or entertaining. That’s what page three is to a newspaper, to me.

    Janette:   What they call ‘water cooler stories’; stories that people are going to talk about the next day. Every paper, when you draw up a broadsheet page – broadsheets are the big papers, tabloids are the small papers – it’s when you draw up a broadsheet page that you basically have a heavy story across the top, heavy duty, because you’ve got about eighty centimetres of copy there. Then you’ve got your mains, which is going to be something probably social. Then you’ve got a quirky one there and the something that’s probably community on the bottom. That’s pretty much the formula for putting together page three in the major papers.

    That doesn’t change. That doesn’t change from the U.K. to Australia. It’s just the way people like it. People feel comfortable. People like to be entertained. They like the important or what we consider the big news on the front, and often, unfortunately, it is bad. Not always, but often. But inside once you hit page three people like that mix. It keeps them entertained, keeps them happy, which is great.

    Christina: From an outsider’s point of view it may not seem we put that much thought into where we put them, but there’s a lot of different things going on when we place our photos and stories on pages. A lot of it, too, comes down to context. If we’re reporting an ongoing story, and we might report it three or four days in a row. [We’ll say] “we put it on page three yesterday. We don’t really want to do that again. Let’s give it a different position in the paper because it’s probably not perhaps as important as it was yesterday but we still want to make sure we give it a really visible read.” Lots of different competing interests, I guess, in putting pages together.

    Janette:   Journalists do get questioned quite hard when they’re putting their story together. When you put a story together, you have to be balanced by law. That’s how it works. You have all the right of reply, and all those sort of things that you’d know about. All the right of reply and that sort of thing is very important, but it’s also very important in terms of the whole balance. You’re not allowed to just go out there — unless you stick ‘comment’ on it, in which case you carry the can for that comment. It’s actually saying ‘this is my view, I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with me’. Andrew Bolt’s made a career out of that. That’s the way it is.

    But, the time you stick ‘comment’ on it and also when you talk about objective… once someone’s worked for a political party, if they work for a mainstream major newspaper again, they’ve got to have at the end of every piece they write the fact that ‘this person worked for a political party’. You’ve got to tell people what you’ve done. That’s why journalists think very long and hard before going to work for a political party.

    Christina: I guess in Australia too, where Janette started her career in the U.K., and there’s a much greater breadth of newspapers in the U.K. There are well-known papers that take certain political leanings. They can afford to because there’s a big enough readership, a big enough variety of newspapers. If people know they’re sort of a bit left wing they’ll buy the Guardian.

    Janette:   People also buy on that basis. They buy the paper that suits their political view.

    Christina: They’re catering to their own audience. We can’t really afford to do that. Certainly not as regional papers because we’ve only got one readership and if we alienate half those people, then we’re in trouble. But even for our larger newspapers here, most of our capital cities still have monopoly newspapers. There’s really not a lot of competition, which, although it means they’ve to a point got some guaranteed readership, it does mean that they can’t afford to alienate their readers by taking certain political leanings in their reporting. Even though over years, especially probably in the Murdoch press [News Ltd] there’s been criticism.

    Andrew: As an editor, Christina, what do you like to see from your writers; your journalists?

    Christina: Initiative, first and foremost. At regional papers we have a lot of young staff, a lot of people who might be fresh out of uni and so there’s a lot of development that you have to do with them to get them to the stage where you could leave them to their own devices. But generally, I like to see people who show a bit of initiative, not just in the way they write but in the way that they deal with people.

    If they’re trying to get a comment on a particular story and they hit a brick wall, try and find a way around it. Not to give up, and also to see different angles in stories. You might find there are events we report on every year and we could report the story the same way each year. Or court stories, you’ll find we get people appearing for drunk driving and wilful damage and whatever in court, every single day, but it’s about finding a different way to tell the story.

    I like people to be passionate about what they do. Not to see the job as a nine-to-five because it’s not. We try and do the best thing by our reporters that we can, but news doesn’t run on a nine-to-five schedule, or on a Monday to Friday schedule. So it has to be about give-and-take. So I guess we need people to be flexible, and to understand that.

    But I guess also I like people to, as we were saying before, realise the privileges they have. If we get a reporter come to us who’s not from Bundaberg, there’s no better job in the entire community to have to get to know your way around town, to get to know the people who drive the place than to be a journalist, because your very job depends on you getting out and about, meeting new people all the time; tackling the issues of the day. That really is, as I said, quite a position of privilege and a great adventure. Every day generally is a lot of fun.

    I think flexibility and a willingness to try new things [is what I like to see], because Scott [Thompson] is someone who just started at the Isis Town and Country, which is our Childers paper. Scott does quite a bit of work for us in Bundaberg as well, but every single day we’ve pretty well thrown him into a different situation. He’s show a willingness to tackle it and that’s something that to me, as an editor, is really important. What’s been your most interesting job so far, do you reckon?

    Scott: I don’t know. Childers is a place in that, it’s a small town, so you know everyone and you don’t get overwhelmed by it, but there’s always things. It’s very tourism-based so just going out and meeting people and hearing some of their stories have been interesting. You get to do things that you might not do in regular jobs. I’ve been out and I’ve seen scrub pythons eat like seven guinea pigs in a row and I’ve got to pat baby macaws and things like that. Every day’s something different, and you never get sick of your job. That’s a really good thing.

    Christina: The other good thing too – the sort of paper that Scott’s working at because Childers is a bit smaller, sometimes people take a little while to get used to newcomers and it’s sometimes hard to crack into that because people think, “this is our local paper, and he’s from Bundy, but that’s Bundy and we’re Childers!”. People can get quite parochial. It takes that sort of persistence as well to say, “I’m not a local boy, but I’m getting to know people”.

    We were at an event together a couple of weeks ago, at the reopening of the Apple Tree Creek memorial rotunda, and in the space of about five minutes I must have seen Scott say ‘hi’ to about 20 people who just working past. “Hi Scott,”; “Hi, how you going Dorothy?” People he’d got to know, just in the six weeks that you’ve been with us. It’s a great job in that respect, but if you get knocked back you’ve got to keep trying, that’s for sure.

    Andrew: I do want to draw a bit more on Scott, and the path that he’s on now. Could you tell everyone a bit about how you came to work for the Isis Town and Country, Scott?

    Scott [pictured right]:  I studied a Bachelor of Journalism at UQ, and my biggest regret is I didn’t start writing or looking for stories in my first year. You should always be looking for stories, even if they’re just writing on a blog or something, or looking for small places that are easy to get into. You should always be looking for stories.

    I got to my fourth year and I had nothing to show for myself. I’m thinking, “I’m supposed to be getting a job by the end of the year,” so I went out and started writing for, like Andrew, the street press. I did an internship at Time Off, which is one of the free street press magazines, in Brisbane. I blogged for U.K. magazine Rock Sound for Soundwave Festival [2011]. They picked one person out of all Australia, and I basically built up a bit of a portfolio and then I approached Christina, because my parents still lived here and they told me that there was this job going in Bundaberg.

    I got knocked back for the cadetship because I’d already graduated, but I got the job at Isis Town and Country, so I’ve been here for five or six weeks. It’s been really eye-opening in that it’s a lot more full-on that just doing the street press, but you’re not thrown in the deep end. Christina’s given me a lot of help and I’m quite thankful for that.

    I’ve probably learnt more from actually doing my job than learning about it at university. Like other people have found out, it’s very dry and academic based. I think with QUT they do [a] more practical approach [to the journalism degree], and that’s much more important, but I’ve learnt more from actually going out and doing the work, than learning about it.

    Christina: And that’s not to say if any of you are thinking about studying any sort of media or communications, that’s not to say that it’s not a valuable exercise [to study at university]. There are a lot of things that it’s really handy you know before you come to a job, like a bit about ground legal knowledge like what’s defamatory, what might be contemptuous. Those kinds of things are really valuable for you to know.

    But I’m sure a lot of people – and I know I could say the same thing as Scott – that I felt I learnt so much more in my first few weeks of my job than I probably did altogether at uni. But he’s right; the thing that got him his job was me looking at his published work. To me, that showed someone who got off their rear end and done some stuff of their own accord, who wrote well. I could actually see how he wrote and that gave me a glimpse. Looking at his university record wouldn’t have really done anything. Just because you get a high GPA doesn’t really reflect an awful lot. That was far more important to me.

    Even if you guys aren’t interested in journalism necessarily, whatever sort of path you are interested in, do try and get work experience, because one of the reporters that I have at the moment, she very directly got a job because she did work experience with us six months ago. Ever since then we were trying to find an opening for her. If you can take the initiative and in your school holidays, or even through your school-provided work experience programs, definitely take advantage of it, because if you get yourself noticed and they get to know your face, your name, and what you’re capable of, then you’ll definitely find it smooths the path for you later on.

    Andrew: Who knows what a freelance journalist is?

    Audience:   I think I do. I don’t want to embarrass myself…. You write your own stories and sell them to magazines, so you’re not actually employed by anyone? You write the stories and then you sell them to the magazine or papers who want them?

    Andrew: Yeah, that’s basically it. I’ve been a freelance journalist for about two years now, and it means that at any one point I can think of a story idea and have 12 or 15 different publications that I could potentially sell that idea to. I don’t actually write them first, though, because I might not know if I’m going to get paid at the end, and I don’t necessarily want to waste my time.

    [Audience]:   So you just think up the idea and sell that idea to a paper, and tell them that you’ll write about that idea if they pay it?

    Andrew: Yeah, it’s about marketing yourself. I’ve got a few good clips under my belt for Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian. I always mention those first if I’m introducing myself to an editor. [That way] they know ‘this is not just some guy off the street. He’s actually got some credibility’. Maybe. [So it’s about] the intro, and then the [story] idea and how you’re going to approach it, who are you going to talk to, how long you think it’s going to run to, and then you pass it on to the editor. It’s for them to decide whether they go ahead with it.

    Christina: Freelancing is notoriously difficult in Australia, to make a career out of it. And to get paid well. But what you’ll find, and what Andrew may have already found this, is that even as a freelancer once you’ve built up a relationship with a certain publication, they might then commission you to do some stories as well. It can actually go both ways. It’ll usually start off with you pitching an idea to them, and then once they’ve looked at your stuff and say, “we can rely on this guy; he writes well, he hits the nail on the head. Next time we need something done and maybe we can’t get it done by our own staff we’ll give Andrew a call and see if he can do something for us as well, because we’re happy to pay for it.”

    Andrew: I did an event in Brisbane on Tuesday evening about freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law; two guys who are pretty well-known freelance journalists based in Brisbane. They were talking about how most magazines these days… if you think of any magazine, basically, they only have skeleton staffs. Once upon a time, they would have had dozens of people working on Rolling Stone with staff writers, these days there’s only an editor-in-chief, an editor, an art editor, and the rest are just freelancers or they don’t actually work in the office; they just are around Australia, and can be called on anytime.

    Christina: Those people buddy up to local newspapers, because they read stories that you’ve actually done the hard work on and then say, “hey, can you give me a phone number for that person; we’d love to do a story for New Idea”. I say, “no, do your own hard work!”  [laughs]

    Andrew: Christina referred to it being difficult. It definitely is, because on a daily basis you’re marketing yourself, trying to get paid. You don’t know where your next pay check’s coming from. Some weeks I’ve had nothing. I’ve been pitching stories all week, and nothing’s come back. Next week I get commissioned stories that are worth thousands of dollars. It’s very up and down, and very stressful at times.

    Christina: You’ve got to be organised too. If you just work for a newspaper or any organisation, you get your weekly or fortnightly or monthly pay check and that’s fine. You don’t have to do anything. If you’re a freelancer, you’ve got to keep track of your jobs. You’ve got to keep track of, “have they paid me?” Some pay on time and some don’t. You really have to be very organised, to firstly get the work and then make a buck out of it. It’s not the easiest way to do it.

    Andrew: I did want to point it out because we’ve been talking about careers, but there are alternatives to that kind of method [of getting a job at a single publication].

    Christina: Which is great if you want the freedom to work on your own stuff, or you might actually have another full-time job. Perhaps writing on the side is a passion of yours and that’s something you can still continue to do. I guess that’s a really good thing as well, that journalism is a lot of things. It’s not just working at a local paper and reporting on news stories. There’s science writing and finance writing. You might find a lot of people who have different life experience or different kinds of educational qualifications, but still write well can make really good science writers or health writers or medical writers, or whatever. There are a lot of different paths you can take, I suppose, to get to that place.

    Janette:   You would often commission a person who’s an expert in their area to write an article for you. They have to have a fairly strong track record to do that. As an ex-features editor, you’re very careful about using people who call themselves freelance journalists but actually haven’t gotten any qualifications to do that. They can be quite dangerous because journalism is full of legal potholes. When you send your journalists out there, the one thing you need to have in them is complete confidence because what they bring back, you’ve got to trust that implicitly.

    Christina: You make your decisions based on that.

    Janette:   You do, absolutely. If people go out there and bring back information that hasn’t been checked out thoroughly, or is incomplete, or even worse… I used to get a lot of contact from people who do some course and think they were freelance journalists and I’d have to break the happy news to them that actually, they weren’t. You can do freelancing if you are an expert in your field. That’s a different set of criteria all together and when you’re writing opinion pages they’re the people you do tend to tap into.

    Really to be a freelancer, to be a successful freelancer – and credit to you for working in that area – you actually have to be better than the people they have on staff, because unless I’m really strapped and have no one else to do it, I’m thinking, “who can I get to write this story that must be written?” If I know you’re actually going to go do a better job of it because you’ve got good contacts, got good writing style and I like everything you do – but it’s not a style that I want all the time, or a subject I want all the time – then I’ll go and ask you, because at the end of the day people like quality journalism.

    It’s great when people rip out a story or article and keep it. If you’ve got a freelance journalist – and there are some around, some excellent ones around who you know will deliver something that’s out of the ordinary – then yes, you’re going to pay them.

    Christina: The other long-held debating point as well – and this goes back to people who have expert areas, but write as well, is reviews. Whether it’s restaurant or food reviews or reviews of theatre, that kind of thing; when I was growing up there was always this argument of, “do you want someone who’s a great journalist and like film and TV, or do you want someone who’s gone and studied film and TV at uni and really understands a lot more of the nuances in it, but also happens to write well?” Perhaps they’ll make a much better critic. Same for restaurant reviews. You don’t want to send someone along who’s like… I like to eat out, but that doesn’t make me an expert. [laughs]

    Janette:   From an editor’s perspective as well, there’s people who are experts in their field, whether it’s film and TV, they have their own reputation to consider. They are very careful about what they say and don’t say. That gives you confidence as well because you’re actually putting this person out there — if they write something that really isn’t up to scratch, then their reputation in that field can be damaged, so they don’t do it. I’ve found them very reliable, actually. The worst thing is to send in someone, as you said, to do a review of something and they really don’t know their subject. It’s very embarrassing.

    Christina: Reviews can get you into trouble. There are actually some really well-known examples of some quite outlandishly critical restaurant reviews which ended up getting the newspapers into legal trouble and costing them quite a lot in fines. Sometimes these things aren’t really judged to be fair comments. Then you end up paying for it.

    Andrew: I want to point out that, at no point during the couple of years I’ve been doing [freelance journalism], have any of many editors I’ve been involved with asked “do you have a degree in journalism?” or, “have you studied?” It’s far more important to have the clips, the bylines, that you’ve had published, than a piece of paper saying you studied for three or four years, doing a degree.

    Christina: In fact, when Janette first started out explaining how she got into journalism, she said she went in as a direct entry reporter. We have, just probably three weeks ago, taken on a first-year cadet, which… the way the pay structure works in journalism is when you come out of doing a degree in journalism or communications you come out as a third-year cadet and spend a year doing your cadetship, and then you become a graded journalist.

    We really wanted to take on a young person who hopefully was local so they’d grown up in the area, who we could really develop at the newspaper, give them on-the-job experience, because we felt we could give them just as good development of their skills and qualifications at the newspaper as they could at university.

    I actually approached one of my company bosses saying, “can we still get first-year cadets?” He said, “you can, but geez, we haven’t done that in a long time”. That was really important to us. She grew up in Childers. She moved to Bundaberg a couple of years ago. She doesn’t have a degree.  In fact she’d been doing a little bit of work in our advertising department and I said, “you’re going to have to take a bit of a pay cut”. She said, “that’s okay, because I know that’s what I want to do”.

    To me, that was far more important, that she was someone who has a lot of ties to the area, so she’s not just going to leave after she’s done a year and got her experience and move onto a bigger paper. She’s at least going to be someone who will stay with us for a while. She knows people and really enjoys what she does. It doesn’t matter to me that she doesn’t have any university experience, because we’ll give her the benefit of our training, of company training that APN as a company puts on.

    I already saw the way she wrote and her turn of phrase and thought, “she can do it”. That’s rare. You don’t often get those opportunities, but it’s something I’d like to see happen more often because I think sometimes we underestimate young people and what they’re capable of. I guess the other side of that, there are some people who really want the university experience, not necessarily for the educational qualification but they want the experience of that mishmash of people at university, meeting people from all different walks of life and I guess the coming of age and social experiences that uni can offer. I never discourage it. But it’s not necessary, if you don’t think that uni’s for you.

    Andrew: I highly recommend studying at university, and staying on campus at college. I look at my degree; that was neither here nor there, but staying at campus and making all the friends who I’ve maintained for years, and the social events surrounding [college] – that was awesome.

    Christina: Yeah, they’re formative years.

    Audience:   I went to Women’s College, and when you move from Bundaberg you have nobody, and then you go to college and instead of living in a house and knowing nobody, then you meet all these people, it was great.

    Andrew: Scott can probably concur, as well. He went to St. Leo’s [College].

    Scott:  Yes.

    Christina: Great. I lived off-campus actually because I was very determined not to be one of those pampered residential kids. I was quite self-righteous about that.

    Scott:  [College] is kind of bad thing because it breeds laziness. You get everything done for you, get your meals cooked for you, get your rooms cleaned…

    [Audience]: But if you’re a scared 17 year-old…

    Scott:  That’s true.

    Christina: Going back to this cadetship job; maybe that’s a risk sometimes, that a lot of 17 year olds are scared. A few of the people we spoke to, a couple of whom are members of the writers’ group actually, really good kids, but just weren’t ready to be journalists. We had this girl come in who’s just a couple of years older and it made all the difference in the way she carried herself.

    Andrew [pictured left]: Janette made a reference earlier to how, when she was editor, she would commission experts in certain areas to write opinion pieces or write features on those topics. It doesn’t have to be that way. To give an example, I now do some video game journalism for a website called IGN. The way I got into that was because late last year… to give you a bit of background info, Australia’s video game development industry is about 700 people-strong. That’s 700 people who are involved in making video games you play on PlayStation or Xbox or Nintendo.

    The news leaked out [late last year] that the biggest video game developer in Australia had shut its doors and fired all the staff. They were based in Brisbane. The news lingered for a couple of weeks, and no one was really reporting on it, or confirming or denying that it actually happened. There was nothing coming out from the actual company. I wanted to know if it was true, because it interested me – firstly, that the biggest company could shut down and no one really knew the reason, and how it couldn’t be confirmed for so long.

    I started investigating myself by contacting some people who used to work for the studio and got a picture of what it was like to work there. With that information I put a request through to the CEO of the company – which was still going, but no one knew it at the time. He was happy to talk to me because I’d done my background research and I hadn’t just called up to say, “is it true that you guys are closed?”

    When it first happened he had some calls from journalists who were like “So you’re closed, hey? What happened?” He felt he was being antagonised by them, rather than [feeling] a compassionate approach. With that background information that I’d found myself, he opened up and told me why their business model wasn’t working, and what happened to the company, and what’s next for them – which wasn’t that they’re shutting their doors. They were just downsizing a hell of a lot. That story [‘Krome Studios: Things Fall Apart] was an international exclusive, because no one else was covering it and no one seemed to care, so I got in there and got the story.

    Janette:   That’s your news sense coming out, and that’s journalism. With regard to using experts, what I’m trying to say is if I want a piece written about a specific topic or area, that’s when you call in your experts. You’re talking big names here.

    If I want a piece of journalism about a business or company or organisation that’s shutting down, that’s news sense. Regardless of whether your credentials have checked or not, that’s where your journalism degree comes into play. All the things you were saying, and what editors want to hear; “I did my background, I did this, I did that”. Regardless of whether you say “it didn’t matter to me”, actually it has made you the person that you are. I hate to say this, but you are a product of your university degree. And you are a product of the system. And that’s not a bad thing, because that’s what underpins, when we come back down to the reliability of information you read in the media, and as an editor, that’s what you’re looking for. That’s what you need.

    For instance, everything that you’ve said to me… if you’d rung me up, even without me asking you “are you qualified?”, because you don’t need to. You can tell the ones who aren’t qualified. It’s just so clear. They don’t use the language that we use in journalism and all those things, you tick all those boxes, and then you’ve got a story. Unless you tick all those boxes, you haven’t got your balance. You haven’t got your background. You haven’t got everything that you need to actually make a rounded story.

    So yes absolutely, I think that a lot of journalists… and in fact we should talk about initiative as well, there are stories all around us all the time. It’s a question of recognising them. That’s another skill that you gain through training and experience.

    Christina: And just living a little as well.

    Janette:   Absolutely, just being aware and contextualising it and reading other newspapers and actually understanding the importance of what that meant. You said — what were you telling me just then? Seven hundred game companies, so this one closing down wasn’t like a corner store. Actually a corner store is a big thing nowadays. It isn’t like something insignificant happening in a vast industry. It’s like a graphics company closing down. How many graphics companies are there? Most of them are sole traders and dinkering along. One of those goes, but you put it in context immediately. You said “this is a small industry, this is a major player”. It’s gone.

    There’s also the “what happens now?” There’s also, “why did it happen?” And so you go and do your background checks. Actually, I have to say you’re a bit following the creed of journalism and if you’d rung me up with that story I’d have listened to you and I probably wouldn’t have said to you “do you have a degree?” I know you’ve got one because the way you talk; you wouldn’t talk that way unless you had one.

    Christina: You’ll probably find in situations like that as well, the fact that you didn’t have a big newspaper backing you might actually have helped you out. Because as soon as you say, “hi, I’m Andrew McMillen from The Courier-Mail”, people will freeze up sometimes. But you get the opportunity to actually explain who you are and that you’ve done a bit of looking into it. It’s a different path in sometimes. It’s the same for us. “Hi, I’m [whoever] from the News Mail,” and some people go, “Oh hiiiii, how are you?” That’s a path to success. Other people don’t like the News Mail so much. It’s an instant turnoff. As I said, everyone judges based on what experience they’ve had with the name [of the publication].

    Janette:   It’s not always the fault of the current editor, either.

    Christina: No, but that’s all right. The other thing I was going to point out, you mentioned some of the different work you’ve done. Sometimes I think people can really pigeonhole what freelance work is or what journalism is. There’s a lot of copywriting you can do. When I was living in the U.K. for a number of years, I worked at a particular paper. I used to write the odd travel article that I’d freelance through a bigger national paper. I used to go out with a guy who was a graphic designer, so sometimes I’d get some copywriting through websites he’d work on. Sometimes that might be as boring as explaining high-definition television, or some gaming stuff. These were things I didn’t know anything about, so you have to do your own research, and make sure what you can write for people will be believable and in laymen terms enough so that it’s understandable to someone who were just like you before they picked up that article, or looked at that website and didn’t know what they were talking about.

    Janette:   It’s interesting. You have a trivia night with journalists and they have the most eclectic amount of information you’d ever believe because we all… when you work in a newsroom or work in a features department you have to be able to research really quickly and get to groups with ideas really quickly. As a business writer, I can get across company core values, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they fit really quickly. They go “Wow!” I say, “I’ve been doing it for a few years; you get good at this stuff”. But most people don’t have those skills, and again, it’s an interesting thing. You are basically a jack-of-all-trades in terms of information. You kind of become instant experts in things. That’s what we need to be because, if you work for a major daily newspaper, you come out of conference and you say to a journo “I want a thousand words on this subject”.

    They may know nothing about it but they just go “okay”, hit their contacts book, hit the rounds. Learn about it, find people who know a lot about it, and talk to them really fast, and that’s the difference. The difference between a piece of journalism about a subject and a piece written by an expert in that subject; talk about objectivity… I don’t expect the expert to be objective. They have a very strong view but we stick their name on it and they have to stand by their opinion.

    But when a journalist writes a piece it has to be very balanced. When you look at feature articles, I look very hard at the intro but then again a lot of the time the decision on what a story’s about has been made at the back bench level. We’ve told them what the story is and that’s based not on our own personal view. It’s because, like [how] Christina’s here today; anyone who works at senior levels in the media is out there talking to people all the time, and important people, and people who are ordinary, and people who are just connected.

    You find out an awful lot of information so you’re not making an impromptu decision. You’re making a reasoned judgment. You’re saying this is what people are saying out there. I used to run what they used to call the Monitor section, the big opinion section in The Courier-Mail. That was my baby. I used to have a range of people in my contacts that I would ring up on a Thursday afternoon and say, “these are the stories I’m working on. What’s important to you? You tell me what’s important to you.” Some of them were housewives, some were business people, all sorts of things. I respected all of their opinions.

    Christina: I think that’s a common misconception. I think people think that I’m an editor and I get the opportunity to hob-knob with a lot of well-known or perceived as important people in town, that the opinion of our newspaper is driven by that. It’s not. If we want to address good discussion and debate type stories, we want to appeal to what everyday people are talking about… Janette referred to it before as a ‘water cooler story’. That comes from the idea that in the old days, people used to talk around the water pump in the village, or when they’re at work and go to the water cooler. It’s those discussion topics that, when people are passing each other in the street or in the workplace, what are those basic things that affect them that they talk about?

    Whether it’s for instance, one of the big topical things to come out of the budget in the past couple of weeks was teenage mums and when they should go back to work after having had children. That’s something that affects a lot of people. It’s about addressing those kinds of issues that we think the everyday person is talking about, not what the mayor’s talking about or the big businessmen in town. That’s not what drives us as a community paper because they’re a very small part of our readership, in reality.

    Janette:   We have to talk to them because they’re the decision makers, the influencers, the ones who actually make the call at the end of the day. We need to know what their thoughts are. That’s when newspapers really come into their own in the community, [when] they can put out there what decision makers are thinking about and actually ask the question; “is this right;  is this wrong?” I think that’s a very important role to play.

    [Audience]: There seems to be a pattern that I know from my experience; it wasn’t just that studying journalism in university is very dry. It wasn’t just that. I was better at that and I knew that journalism was dry, and I could tell like Scott said; you have to put yourself out there and have to have the passion. You have to get up and go find the story. I didn’t really want to do that, and that seems to be a pattern. You don’t just need people skills and writing, you also have to have the real drive.

    Janette:   The hunger for stories.

    Christina: Yeah, look; it depends on what sort of journalism you’re interested in. If you’re into feature writing or music writing, you still have to have the hunger but you don’t necessarily have to have the need to be confrontational. You find a lot of hard news journalists who — one of my friends, we went to uni together, [we were] like peas in a pod. But we knew instantly when we started working for different papers as soon as we graduated, and he was the guy who loved being out staking out peoples’ houses and really loved hitting people up, and had enormous guts. I remember thinking, “oh geez, that’s not me at all”. I loved sitting down and talking to people and getting a great story out of someone, that you know they would tell you something they wouldn’t tell another journalist because you took the time to understand them better, relate to them a little better. That was the kind of journalist that I was as a young person.

    I think you can still be passionate and hungry without necessarily being hard-nosed. But at the same time, those kinds of journalists are very sought-after. There’s probably a bit of extra prestige, rightly or wrongly connected with it in some ways, and [it’s] quite hard to break into.  You have to really work at it to get into it.

    Janette:   I think [you need to be] inquisitive as well, in the same way you were talking about that story just now. It’s that interest in the world around you. I find… I have Austar, because I love watching all the overseas news. I watch all the overseas news channels. I love to know what’s going on out there because I don’t get enough of that through my own media here in Australia. I probably will never get enough of it. I watch the [Federal] budget from start to finish. I watch the election from start to finish. It comes on; I’m sitting there glued to the chair. I’m reading; I’m making my own decisions so when they come on later and start interpreting, I’m like “whatever. I saw the speech, don’t worry about it. I know what’s going on.”

    That’s me, and I like to be informed. I think that if you like to be informed and you are inquisitive and you see the story and, “go hang on; that’s important because….” and that’s important because it’s what puts it into the newspaper, and it can be important because of its importance to the community for whatever reason. It’s important because it’s got implications for peoples’ lifestyle or budgets. There’s all sorts of “it’s important because”.

    I used to work on the back bench to various newspapers as chief sub, which is like the conduit for all the copy that comes through. I used to have a ‘WC’; I used to go through stories because they come in, loads and loads of stories. It was, ‘who cares?’ You put ‘WC’ by it, it was like it was dead, gone. No one cares. That’s my judgment, but someone has to make the call at some point. You’re making that judgment based on experience and based on your knowledge of your readership. At the end of the day your readership is who you’re talking to. ‘Who cares?’ is actually a really important benchmark to have in newspapers. People ring up and say, “I’d like to put something in the paper”. You go, “that’s actually not of very much interest to a lot of people”.

    Christina: Or it might affect you.

    Janette:   You personally, but it’s not that interesting, the ‘who cares?’ And other people you’re talking to them, they go “blah, blah, blah…” and you go, “that’s really important and we should do a story on that”.

    Christina: If it’s affecting you, it’s probably affecting thousands of other people in town as well.

    Janette:   That’s right. And they say, “oh, is that a story?” And you go, “yep, absolutely.”

    Andrew: [to audience member who has been asking most of the questions] What are you doing now, if I may ask?

    [Audience]:   I’m doing my graduate diploma in teaching, and then I’m going to do my Masters.

    [Audience]: [to Andrew] You said before about some of the contacts that you made. You said that you got a hold of a few past employees about the video game company. How do you get the numbers of these people if you’ve never met them before? You don’t know anything about them.

    Andrew: It’s a good question. The way I did it… I’m not saying this is the only way, but there’s a website called LinkedIn which a lot of people use for their professional histories. You can search by ‘past employer’. I searched for anyone whose past employer was ‘Krome Studios’, which is the name of the company involved, and that uncovered dozens of people. I just hit every single one of them via email. Actually, those that had websites or personal blogs; I hit them and said “I want to look into this. Can you tell me anything, or do you know anyone who was working there recently?” Not everyone replied, and some people even told me to “bugger off, just leave it alone”, but a few did [reply positively].

    Christina: Persistence comes in.

    Andrew: Yeah. A few people did open up and gave me contacts who had just been laid off by the company. I had a range of people who’d been there from five years ago, up until the week it closed.

    Christina: And take this however you will, because I’m sure a lot of you use social networking sites a lot, but they’ve opened up a lot of research tools to newspapers. If we’ve had some crime stories — to give you an example; there was a pretty awful stories probably two or three months back. I’m not sure if any of you might have been familiar with it but a twenty-four year old woman who was seven months pregnant when she was killed, she was found dead in a house. It looked as though she might have been stabbed. There was a bit of mystery around it.

    We basically were able to come up with a name because the police wouldn’t release it to us straightaway. We were able to come up with a name through looking at Facebook connections between people. Then, thankfully because we’ve got quite a number of employees at the News Mail, when we threw that name around the building one of the advertising staff said, “my mum knows that girl’s grandmother”. Through speaking to her grandmother we were able to speak to her dad and do this really quite heart-wrenching story about this dad’s pain for his daughter who had a drug problem and got caught up in the wrong crowd. And no one was ever able to crack that story because they didn’t have the same contacts, just through the community that we had. That story is still ongoing, but Facebook particularly has opened up a lot of research paths for us in that way.

    [Audience]: Do you find there’s a lot of controversy around reporting peoples’ names in the paper? If you have a court case and it’s particularly horrific, like a lot of controversy surrounding that?

    Christina: Actually there is law in place that dictates what you can and can’t report. Sometimes we do make a judgment call. Sometimes we can report someone’s name and we decide maybe it’s better not to, but generally — to give you an example; you’re not allowed to use the names of child victims of any sort. You’re not allowed to use the name of someone who’s been accused of any sort of sex offence until it’s been established that there’s enough evidence for it to go to trial because that recognises the fact that perhaps someone might have maliciously made an accusation against them and you’ll ruin their reputation if you report their name until that later trial time.

    There are very specific measures that are put in place legally to govern what you can and can’t report. We just find that the best way to deal with that is to treat everyone the same. You follow the law to the letter because once you start making exceptions, then it’s very difficult for you to justify or explain why you treated this defendant one way and that defendant another. You really need – with court [reporting] especially – you need to be able to treat everyone fairly.

    When I talk about using judgment, to give you an example; I had a court case about twelve months ago where there was a couple of young guys who plead guilty and were convicted of stealing from a guy and assaulting him. They said, in their defence, that this man they’d beaten up and stolen from had actually offered to sell his wife for sex to them. The reporter had originally included that man’s name and his wife’s. I thought, “just in case the guys made that story up, for the sake of that woman, I’m going to take that out because people don’t need to see that”. It’s not important; it doesn’t add anything to the story. It didn’t really change anything about it except for the fact that someone’s dignity was protected.

    Sometimes it is a bit of a minefield and a lot of people will call us threatening legal action because we’ve used their name in the paper, but generally it’s just because they don’t understand how court works and what we are and aren’t allowed to do. We always take the time to explain it to them. Some are accepting, and others not so much. [laughs]

    Janette:   It has been accepted in the legal community that, for instance, drink driving. The News Mail carries the names of people who’ve been convicted of drunk driving that week. Where I did my cadetship there was a lot of shoplifting; very poor people who would go shoplifting. So used to get these very upset women saying, “please don’t put my name in the paper,” and I’d go, “[it’s] not my call”.

    As you say; level playing field. It is regarded by the police certainly – and by the legal system generally – that part of the repercussions of drinking and driving is to be publicly humiliated. That’s really a sad fact of life, but it is a deterrent for people. They might not be deterred by a large fine, but they would certainly be deterred by people knowing about it in their own community. It’s not something people generally are very proud of.

    [Audience]: You were saying before you’re using Facebook. Are you finding some sort of online media and basically everything online is becoming a big part of the industry?

    Christina: Absolutely. It’s something that’s a really difficult thing for newspapers to navigate at the moment because we tend to find that we have quite specific audiences, different audience, those who read the paper and those who read us online. Just by people who leave comments on your stories, you get to know the different clients of readers you have. Websites are definitely becoming the way of the future. The difficulty a lot of newspapers are facing at the moment is that they’re not as commercially viable yet as paid advertising is in newspapers. That’s how we survive. Obviously we make money out of the cover price of newspaper, but that’s a small percentage compared to the revenue that comes in through advertising and advertising allows us to exist as a company.

    We’re sort of in this state of flux at the moment. We’re doing a lot of work on our websites and making sure that we stay relevant to younger people especially because I don’t know about you guys; would most of you look at websites rather than pick up a newspaper? Would that be fair to say? [most of the audience raises their hands]  Yeah. It’s really important for us to maintain that, while not losing our newspaper audience at the same time. At the moment we’re in this awkward middle ground of maintaining the two.

    Janette:   The other aspect of social media and the internet generally is the unreliability of information that’s contained on it. It’s a real minefield, especially for journalists. It’s a valuable resource, no question about it. I don’t know how we managed without Google, quite frankly. I can’t remember how we managed without Google. It is very important to check the reliability of the information and that comes right down to published papers and that sort of thing. People have access to a means of communication that really has and still has no legislation that is workable around it. It’s very interesting. Newspaper sites, funnily enough are one of the most reliable forms of information gathering.

    Christina: And publicly trusted.

    Janette:   Exactly right, but also all the Facebook sites and that sort of thing; be very careful about what you put on your Facebook site because it is out there in the world and it can come back and bite you. It does put a window into your own personal world, and I know we all warn children and young people nowadays, but do take it very seriously. It’s very important but also, from a journalist’s perspective, if there’s information that’s on the internet in whatever form, we tend to actually require them to follow it up with other means of inquiry. We don’t trust internet information generally unless it comes from a very, very reputable site. Then we tend to identify that source as well. If it’s wrong, we blame them.

    Christina: That’s an interesting thing to bring up. When you’re researching for assignments… there’s always this age-old argument that we’re giving our kids as good an education now as we were twenty years ago, and everyone just copies and pastes everything from the internet. There are actually some really good theories around at the moment that says because there is so much information on the internet, actually you are getting really good skills of analysis because you have to weed out the good from the bad and decide what is relevant, and what is trustworthy, and what isn’t. There is quite a lot of skill of analysis that involves using websites these days. I wouldn’t discount it out of hand.

    I tell you what; sometimes, if we’re trying to crack some stories or we’ve got a spare 20 minutes here or there, it’s terribly fun if you know a few underworld criminal names in Bundaberg, and figuring out who knows each other and, “oh, I hadn’t expected that name to crop up”. [laughs] It’s actually quite an adventure, but as Janette says, your Facebook profiles are your reputation, and it’s something that when we’re researching stories we get a pretty good idea of who people are based on what sorts of photos, what sorts of comments they put up on their social networking sites.

    Andrew: So tell us more about this underground criminal network in Bundaberg…?

    Christina: Going back to this story about this seven-month pregnant woman who was killed; because of some names that we were familiar with that were in the mix, we have a court reporter who goes to court every day. You get to know who the usual suspects are, I suppose. I probably wouldn’t want to mention too many names, but [laughs] but once you’re familiar you realise, there really is a network. [A teacher indicates that most of the students have to leave to catch buses.]

    Andrew: Guys, thank you so much for coming. This is part of National Young Writers’ Month. There are postcards up here if you want to grab one, for more information about the website. Join the community, start setting some goals about writing if you’re so inclined, and talking about writing.

    Please thank my guests, Janette and Christina.

    ++

    For more on National Young Writers’ Month 2011, visit the website. For more on Andrew’s involvement as Queensland ambassador, click here. For the full set of photos taken by Paul McMillen during the session, click here.

  • NYWM 2011: A conversation about freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law, May 2011

    Embedded below is footage of my first live Q+A event as Queensland ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month 2011: a conversation about freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law.

    The 90 minute conversation took place on May 17, 2011 before around 100 young writers at the Metro Arts studio in Brisbane City. I’ve included some background information about the event below. Scroll down to watch the conversation via the embedded Vimeo clip, or read the transcript underneath. All photos taken by Christopher Wright. Visit Facebook to see the full set of photos.

    From left to right: Andrew McMillen, Benjamin Law, and John Birmingham.

    May 17: Talking freelance journalism with John Birmingham and Benjamin Law

    Under 25 and interested in a career in freelance journalism? Ahead of National Young Writers’ Month (NYWM) 2011 – which runs from June 1-30 – two of Brisbane’s best-known (and best-regarded) freelance journalists will discuss how they’ve built their lives and careers around writing and publishing words. Given the focus of NYWM, this free 90 minute session will be targeted toward aspiring (and current) writers and journalists under the age of 25.

    John Birmingham (@JohnBirmingham) is the author of the cult classic He Died With a Felafel in His Hand and, more recently, thrillers such as Without WarningAfter America, and the Axis Of Time trilogy. He also wrote the award-winning history of Sydney, Leviathan. He began his writing career as a freelancer for national magazines like Rolling Stone and Australian Penthouse. He currently freelances for The Monthly and The Weekend Australian, among others. He also maintains several weekly columns for Fairfax Media and his own blog, Cheeseburger Gothic, where he has a built-in audience of Birmingham-fanatics affectionately nicknamed ‘Burgers’.

    Benjamin Law (@MrBenjaminLaw) is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. He is a senior contributor to frankie magazine and has also written for The Monthly, The Courier Mail, Qweekend, Sunday Life, Cleo, Crikey, The Big Issue, New Matilda, Kill Your Darlings, ABC Unleashed and the Australian Associated Press. His debut book, The Family Law, was released in 2010 via Black Inc. Books. He’s currently working on his second book, a collection of non-fiction looking at queer people and communities throughout Asia. It has the working title of Gaysia. For more on Benjamin, visit his website.

    Andrew McMillen (@NiteShok) – the Queensland ambassador for NYWM 2011 – will facilitate the session. He’s a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Rolling Stone, The Weekend Australian, The Courier-Mail, triple j mag, Mess+Noise, TheVine.com.au and IGN Australia. He has been a fan of both Birmingham and Law for quite a long time, and was thrilled to interview them both in 2010 for The Big Issue and The Courier-Mail, respectively. For more on Andrew – who will do his best to contain his excitement at being seated on the same stage as these towering literary giants of Brisbane – visit his website.

    Embedded footage below. Please note that the vision does drop out a few times throughout the video due to battery changes and camera file size restrictions. Besides one small section (1-2 minutes long), the audio from the sound desk remains consistent throughout, however.

    Q+A transcript as follows. Andrew + audience questions and comments are bolded; John and Ben’s comments as labelled.

    Thank you for coming. My name’s Andrew. This, as you know, is the first Queensland National Young Writer’s Month event. And the purpose is to get young people writing throughout the month of June. These events are to get people thinking about writing, maybe to think about start setting goals, and registering in the National Young Writer’s website. And then throughout June, start writing and talking about writing with the people who have joined that community.

     

    Tonight, we’ve got two guests. To my left is Ben and to my far left is John. The median age for this room tonight is about 20 years; 20.38 I think is the actual figure. I wanted to begin by asking these two gentlemen: what were you doing when you were 20?

    Ben: It’s a good question. My math is pretty munted, or at least my capacity to do math is pretty messed up. So I actually did the math and I figured out that I was between 20 and 21 from the years 2003 to 2004. I hope most of you were born back then. At that stage I was freelancing. Frankie Magazine didn’t exist at that stage. I was doing an honours project, the funding for the honours project actually fell through so it was a good year. The honours project was supposed to develop the magazine in conjunction with QUT, and that didn’t happen. So I had to come up with another honours project very quickly.

    I was balancing Centrelink, tutoring work at QUT. I was doing some freelance articles for The Courier-Mail, and I was doing graphic design work for the street press Scene Magazine, and I just started working at a bookstore as well. So I was doing a few odd things.

    John, what were you doing at 20?

    John: At 20 I had made the decision to write for a living, so I started doing that. I wasn’t making a lot. My first year as a freelancer I raked in… I think it was $134. Second year, $235, but I had decided I was going to do it and I would stick with it. I gave myself five years to make enough to feed myself, and keep a roof over my head.

    And 20-21 was about the first year that I just blew everything else off and said ‘I’m going to sit down and write my way to a meal’. So my very first year of doing that, I worked out at UQ at Semper [student magazine]. I don’t know whether, with VSU, Semper is still out there, or whether it still pays.

    Can a UQ student confirm if it’s still out?

    [Audience] It’s still there, but no one reads it.

    John: It’s a pity. It used to be really cool. And they paid $15, $20 a story; and occasionally drugs. So it was great. It was a really good way to start because it taught me how to make a deadline, usually with drugs.

    Do you remember the first time you saw your name in print?

    John: Yeah, it was really cool. It was supposed to be the first issue of that year’s Semper. I had tried to be a cartoonist and hit the brick wall of not knowing how to draw stuff but I did know how to do jokes. So I went into the mag and told the editors in early January or something, when they’d just taken over; ‘I’ll write you funny stories’. And the first story I pitched to them was about late night greasy-eating joints in Brisbane. This is in the days before the internet. That’s how long ago it was. There were three late night greasy spoons in Brissy at that point; late night being after 9pm. And these were the only places that were open.

    There was Kadoo’s Belly Button up on George Street, which tasted as though everything had been lightly broiled within Kadoo’s belly button. Lady Di’s, which was a taxi joint, and which, like Lady Di, is sadly no longer with us. And the Windmill [Café], which I think still is. I went to the Windmill to try their wares, and got a big hot squirt of grease in my mouth from a veal and cheese. But I wrote that up, and I put it in.

    In fact, it was… I didn’t write up the exact story that they wanted, because the night I was supposed to go out and do it, we had a party and one of my flatmates ended up spending six grand on hookers and blow. So I wrote that up instead. I got paid $15 for it, so I came out ahead. I thought, “Geez mate, that’s money for jam. I’m doing this the rest of my life”.

    Do you remember the first time you saw your name in print, Ben?

    Ben: There’s probably two stories to tell. The first story I was 16 years old and I had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine and I thought it was just the best publication out there. It was either that or Juice, which doesn’t exist anymore. And there was an article about the upcoming referendum for Australian Republic and being a very, very earnest 16 year old, I wrote this impassioned letter to the editors of Rolling Stone about how unfair it was that I wasn’t able to vote about this issue that was very dear to my heart. And they took this letter and maybe out of charity, they made it letter of the month. So I saw my name in print and it was the very first time I’d written to a magazine. And I won a stereo. So it was my first byline, and it was a paid one as well. And it’s still the stereo I’ve got now. It actually works quite well.

    The second story, when I actually wanted my byline out there, was for street press. It was for Rave Magazine, a music review. And I still remember that. That was so long ago now but I can still remember that jubilation of walking down the street and seeing my name.

    John: It’s a big deal. The first time you see your byline, you might have been paid $10 for it, but it stays with you forever.

    Ben: Totally, yeah.

    Mine was in Rave, too. To backtrack a bit; when I was 20, which was three years ago, the only places I was writing for were Rave Magazine, and FasterLouder, the national music website. The first time I was published was in Rave. It was an indie [CD] review, probably for a local band who probably don’t exist anymore. I can’t remember their name.

    My next question; how do people react when you say you’re a freelance writer, Ben?

    Ben: It’s funny. I actually had this experience recently at my 10 year reunion. So I went to my 10 year high school reunion and the reactions were quite interesting, because you had to walk around with your name and your job underneath your name. I had ‘Benjamin – freelancer’. The opinion was basically split. Half the people asked me what I actually did, and were excited. “A freelance writer; you get to make your own hours, you get to chase stories that you want!” And the other half just looked at me with abject pity. They were like, “that’s not a job!” They didn’t say it, but their eyes totally did. And to be honest, I oscillate between those reactions myself.

    John: Just let me say, Benjamin Freelancer is an awesome name.

    Ben: Thanks, John! [laughs]

    John: I’ve had the same thing. My writing, particularly the freelance work divides up into two eras: before Falafel, and afterwards. And afterwards my name, my byline became a commodity, and that was what people ended up buying rather than the copy. Before then, I was just a freelancer like anybody else.

    And it actually shits me that that is the case, but it was just a commercial reality and I used to find exactly the same thing as you. Because I moved pretty quickly from the fringe of the street press towards the mainstream… you probably had this too. [I] ran up hard into the brick wall of this real belief within mainstream media that freelancers are the bottom of the food chain. They’re all fucking dilettantes. They can’t hold down a proper job. They can’t file. They’re really not good for much other than providing spack filler copy to fill up the holes in whatever publication the hardworking mainstream journalist is there for.

    I used to resent that, and I still resent it. Even though now the situation is reversed. I’m still a freelancer but rather than be contemptuous, the mainstream writers that I know tend to be envious because they’ve now been there for 30 years. Their spirits are completely broken, and you know, they’ve got mortgages and kids and would rather actually have the freedom of freelancing, but with the ability to pay for those mortgages and children.

    You both have the distinction of being published authors as well as freelance journalists. Do you identify with one more than the other?

    Ben: I think they’re all part of the same thing for me. I see writing books… I wrote a memoir [The Family Law] and I’m currently working on a book of journalism at the moment. I see all of that as my job and certainly when I look at my schedule from day-to-day which is all colour coded so I know what I’m doing at any given moment. I’ve got ‘book’ in one colour. I’ve got ‘magazine work’ in another. I’ve got ‘planning for this upcoming chapter in my book’ in another colour. It all bleeds into each other for me. It’s all work.

    John: Socially, the worlds are very different. When I mix with journalists – which I don’t do very often because they’ve got cooties – it’s a very different experience from mixing with people in publishing, which you tend to do at literary festivals and after contract signings and so on. That’s a very old-world way of doing business. It tends to involve long lunches and cocktail parties and late drinks, whereas journalists not so much. They are two very different worlds and yet in the course of a day, you might move between either one of them.

    One of the things I mentioned is true of both these guys [gestures at Ben and Andrew], is that as a freelancer you need to be an absolutely ruthless time management freak. You need to divide your days up into little ice cube trays of time into which you pop one project or another. You might pop five cubes onto a book and four onto a feature article and two on a blog; save one for tweeting away, or something like that.

    Within the course of the day it’s easy to move between those. There’s no real gear changes psychologically between writing a novel, writing a magazine piece or writing a column, because often the techniques are very similar. But once you actually engage with those guys on the coalface of the industry, they are quite different. Publishing is very social. It’s more like a cottage industry than anything else, even though it’s huge.

    I should point out that if, at any point, you have a question, just put your hand in the air and I’ll try to notice. We have a mic hanging from the ceiling, but this is a very small room so that will also help your voice get projected.

    Can I get a show of hands how many people here are studying journalism? [the majority of the audience raises their hands] Did either of you study journalism?

    John: I stalked a girl into a journalism class once for a couple of lectures, and then they called security. But no, I didn’t. I did just the plain old classical arts degree. And I wouldn’t write off a journalism degree, because in my early years as a freelancer – particularly working for Rolling Stone, about whom I will tell you some stories downstairs when the microphones are off – I made some terrible mistakes because I hadn’t been trained properly. One of which ended up with us being sued successfully by neo-Nazis for defamation. How do you defame a neo-Nazi? Let me tell you all about it downstairs.

    So I sort of wish I had had some instruction in a degree. But on the other hand; as a writer, a classical arts degree – a bit of ancient history, a bit of literature, bit a politics in my case – it was a great degree.

    Ben, you did creative writing, I believe?

    Ben: I did creative writing, or as a lot of my peers call it, creative shiting. And it’s funny; when I started doing creative writing over at QUT I think I was the third generation through. It was still a very new course. Creative writing courses in general were very new then. And I had the choice then in my mind between creative writing and a pure journalism degree. I just didn’t think I had the discipline to be a daily news journalist, so I backed off from that path.

    The great thing about the course at the time for creative writing – which isn’t in place nowadays – is that because it was a course that was still embryonic and they needed to fill some gaps in terms of what it actually was, it borrowed a lot of units from journalism. So we had this really great balance between reading a lot of novels, learning about poetry, reading books, looking at narratives — long form, non-fiction – and also having to do incredibly rough news writing subjects that a lot of my fellow creative writing students hated.

    “Here, write a novel; here, write a collection of poems”. Learning skills like newsworthiness, learning grammar… one of the best ways of learning spelling, grammar and syntax is through a journalism degree because they will not tolerate anything; just not tolerate sloppiness or bullshit, which is really great. And that really put us through the ringer and I’ve always appreciated those subjects that they don’t study anymore.

    John: That’s a pity. I’ve done a few graduation nights at QUT and a lot of old-school writers are quite dismissive of those courses. “How do you teach this stuff in a classroom, it comes from the soul.” That’s bullshit. I was really impressed by the quality of the graduates coming out of those things, a little scary actually to an old dinosaur like me.

    Ben: Even journalism degrees themselves; you talk to people [who grew up] in the mid-fifties onwards, and that was the time when journalism degrees didn’t even exist. So even a lot of them are sceptical of those degrees, but of course a lot of them end up becoming those journalism academics teaching anyway. So they buy into it too.

    I studied Communication at UQ. I graduated in 2009. While it didn’t specifically help me with what I do now [freelance journalism] I guess it was more about writing on a regular basis. Writing assignments – and, like John said earlier, deadlines – are the lifeblood of what we do. Deadlines are really helpful.

    Of those people who put their hands in the air before, could I get a show of how many are happy with what they’re learning so far in their course? [about half of those students raise their hands] About half, is that right?

    Ben: You’re all going to the same university? Is there one university that isn’t represented by those hands? We’ll know later.

    Were you setting goals when you were 20? John, you mentioned that you gave yourself five years with writing.

    John: That was my main goal. It was a very long-term one and as a freelancer you need long-term to concentrate on because in the short-term, you’re very hungry and uncomfortable. I just thought if I gave myself five years to be able to pay my rent and my groceries from writing, that would be a reasonable timeframe. In the end it took only three years, which is still a fair amount of time to go hungry, but one of the things that you will find is that there’s a huge attrition rate.

    I think there’s 120 of you here tonight. Three years from now, maybe 30 of you will actually be freelancing and five years after that, it’ll be less, because it’s a tough gig in the first couple of years. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do. People who tell you it’s impossible and don’t do it should be ignored, if it’s really what you want to do.

    But you need to go into it knowing that it’s going to be tough and you are going to have to survive the attrition. At times, that is going to mean going hungry or skipping out on rent, or sitting up until three in the morning to file copy that you really don’t feel like filing.

    [Audience] Not doing a course in journalism or anything like that, how did you find your way? Particularly as a freelancer, not having an employer to guide you, not having a professor to guide you, or any guidance whatsoever?

    John: I read a lot, which you all should do. There are fantastic long-form journalism sites now. I think givemesomethingtoread.com and there’s another one I came across today, Longreads. They’re actually worth checking those sites out and obsessively reading them because by reading and studying the stuff that’s published on that site, Longreads, and givemesomethingtoread.com, you can see how it’s done.

    I spent a lot of time studying — when I started out there weren’t that many texts. There was Tom Wolfe’s The New Journalism. He’s got like an 80-90 page essay at the start about how feature journalism should be done, and about how it evolved. I read that again and again, and in fact years later on when I started working for Inside Sport, when you signed on with them the first thing they did was give you a copy of that essay and said, ‘read it. Make sure you know what’s happening’.

    [Audience] Sorry, who was that?

    John: Tom Wolfe, it’s an essay collection called The New Journalism.

    Ben: Which I think is out of print now, last time I checked.

    John: That’s a pity, but you’ll get it out of a library. The essay at the front is the thing you should be reading. It basically tells you how to do it. When you are a freelancer, you are working for these people, you are filing for them; you can ring them up and ask some questions. They’re busy but they will… if they have taken you on, if they trusted you enough to put your copy inside the mag, they will give you a hand. There was a mag called the Independent Monthly which is very similar, or was similar to The Monthly, which was run by a very crusty old guy called Max Suich. The old school journalists there were fantastic. They would take you aside and give you any kind of instruction that they thought you needed, or you thought that you needed. So you shouldn’t be afraid to ask people for help or for guidance. Most journos are pretty friendly and pretty approachable, particularly after a few drinks.

    How did you go about making those first connections – in reference to that question – when you didn’t know anybody? How did you start writing for people?

    John: You’ve actually just got to front them. Not actually having done a degree, I’m not going to come up through a cadetship. I was kind of naïve, which helped in a way, because as an example… again, another collapsed magazine. You’ll notice this theme recurring again and again; a great mag in the 80s and early 90s called HQ, which really put a lot of effort into its features.

    A friend of mine who was also a freelancer – who’s now not – said, ‘look at these guys. They’re great’. And a friend, Pete McAllister and I said, ‘we’re going to write for these guys’. That meant road trips. [Pete’s now an anthropologist, and writes occasional op-ed pieces.]

    We were living in Brisbane at that point. We borrowed Pete’s mum’s car. We drove to the coast and turned right, and we just kept the ocean on that side of the car [gestures to his left]. Eventually we hit Sydney, found ACP [Magazines], which was where HQ was being published at that point. Somehow we got past the security guards. We went up and saw Shayna Martin, who was the editor. We said, “we’re Pete and JB. We’d like to write for you.” And she was pretty cool. She didn’t have us thrown out or beaten, and she said, “okay, send us your stories”, as she edged towards the door…

    And I actually wouldn’t send whole stories. As a tidbit; if you want to do something for a mag, don’t bother writing the whole story first, because maybe it’s not going to work out for them. Just send the ideas. Send a 100 word pitch to the editor, or if they have a deputy editor, even better, because the deputies tend to be people who do the grunt work of commissioning and seeing all copy. But you should not be afraid to approach people with your ideas.

    The thing that you need to understand – about mags in particular, but most publications – is that most of the stuff is turned out by outsiders. It’s either bought in from other services, or it’s bought off freelancers. Most magazines, I’m sorry to say, have a staff of about three or four people. They don’t employ a lot of fulltime writers. Even places like the weekend glossies, Good Weekend or the thing that comes out with The Australian [The Weekend Australian Magazine]; they’ve been cutting back on their fulltime staff and taking more and more freelancers. Why wouldn’t you? A fulltime staffer will cost you $160,000 a year. Maybe they turn out four stories. You’re going to be a lot better off as a business paying someone like Ben or I to turn in those four bits of copy.

    Ben: And they’re hungry as well, because [those magazines] come out every week, and have got a blank slate of pages. You talk to those editors. They want quality writers.

    John: And they want the ideas too. It’s really hard coming up with ideas as an editor week after week after week.

    Ben: Especially if you’re surrounded by the same staff writers. You generate very similar ideas over and over, so they do look for freelancers to generate a lot of that content. They’re looking for it.

    You mentioned earlier, Ben, that one of the first places you were published was The Courier Mail. How did that come about?

    Ben: How did that come about? It’s funny. It takes me a while to figure out how stuff like that came about. I started writing for Rosemary Sorensen, who I think was the Books editor at the time. And she moved to The Australian, and she was sort of feared in a lot of quarters as well.

    John: I have a long-running, very famous feud with Rosemary.

    Ben: A tempestuous relationship?

    John: It’s good fun, but it gets violent at times.

    Ben: [laughs] You learn about these peoples’ reputations. If you don’t know them personally, you hear about them from afar, and they scare you. I did know Stuart Glover – one of the people I was very close to in university, one of my mentors and lecturers – he knew Rosemary and then she came in for a guest lecture. I’m like, “I’d really like to write for that Books column”.

    Then what I realised was that she actually moved across the road from me, so we had this sort of relationship where we’d wave to each other, having seen each other at the lecture. It’s like, “I know who you are!” Then Stuart had some words and gave me her contact details with her consent, and I just passed some ideas by her. That’s how I started writing for the Courier Mail. It’s a little nice ‘in’ to my opposite-road neighbour.

    I think that every single place that I’ve started writing for the last couple of years has been because I’ve asked someone who I know knows an editor, to email-intro me to that person so that I’m not just some random guy pitching a story. It’s kind of that social proof, where someone else says, “this guy’s okay, listen to him”.

    John: It is true. You can find someone – not necessarily me – who will contact an editor for you and say, “this Ben prick, he’s not bad. Have a look at his stuff”. It means that they will go straight through to the top of the pile.

    Every new editor… you’re essentially applying for a new job every time. They don’t know you from a bucket of shit. You could be anyone off the street and to be honest you are literally anyone off the street. Any sort of help you can get into convincing them that you’re okay; that’s almost enough just to convince them that you’re not nuts. Because they deal enough with those people. They do.

    Were you setting goals when you were 20 or 21, Ben?

    Ben: I don’t think it was goals as such. I knew what I wanted the next step to be. I didn’t have sort of a long-term plan. I didn’t think I wanted to write for ‘this particular magazine’ or have a book published by a certain date but I just knew that I wanted to get better, as a writer. To get better as a writer, I think a lot of proof of that is what publications you’re writing for, or what skills you’re extending.

    Once I’d written for one publication for a while, I’d say, “okay I’ve got the hang of this. What haven’t I got the hang of?” And try to do the next thing that sort of scared me a little. That was going maybe from street press to writing for a metro; going from a metro newspaper to writing for the glossy magazine that commissioned 4,000 word pieces. Just doing the next logical thing, that’s sort of how I worked.

    John: That is the beauty of freelancing: you shouldn’t get bored. You should have a constant buffet of interesting gear to hop into in front of you, whereas people who are on staff, they’re dead in the eyes.

    Ben: That’s the thing. It’s good if you are the type of person who gets bored easily as well. If you come from a certain generation like mine that is slightly ADHD and you’re like, “oh well, this idea’s great! Okay, I’m really bored of it now. What’s the next idea I need?” You hold up this ideas reservoir and you can’t wait to go through them, and it keeps replenishing itself. If you’re that type of person… I know there’s this backlog of stories that I’ll probably never write, but they’re ideas that I’m really intrigued by, often fuelled by drunken conversations. Like those sort of Seinfeld moments; ‘why is that?’ or ‘what’s up with that?’ You’re like, ‘that’s actually a story idea’, and you file it away.

    I’m going to ask a question that’s on most peoples’ minds in this room; how did you start writing for Frankie, Ben?

    Ben: I do know this story, because it’s been asked before. Frankie was a magazine that didn’t exist. I was doing stuff with the Courier and Scene, and still studying at university. I ran into an old friend at a Belle and Sebastian concert; very Frankie when you think about it, a lot of pigeon toes and spectacles and cardigans there. Over the din… there isn’t much din at a Belle and Sebastian concert, but I was like, “what are you up to nowadays?” She was working for a publishing house called Morrison Media, that specialised in youth titles out of the Gold Coast, like surfing and skating magazines, and a new competitor to Dolly called Chick, which doesn’t exist anymore. She’s like, “Oh, you know, and they publish Chick,” and I’m like, “Oh I love chick! I could write for Chick! I’ve basically got the mind of a teenage girl!” She was like, “Actually we’re starting up a new magazine,” and then when she started raising some names involved in the magazine. I said, “I know that person” or “I know of that person”; she said “well, you should come into the Gold Coast and have a meeting with the editor”.

    They’d already wrapped up issue one, and I didn’t have my license then so I caught various trains and buses to this obscure location in the Gold Coast, and had a meeting. I realised the editor – Louse Bannister, the founding editor – she wasn’t too much older than me. She was maybe five years older than me. She had a lot of ideas about magazines that we liked or had liked that had expired. HQ was actually one of the titles that came up as well. I was really excited by the idea. I took it home and pitched between 10 to 20 ideas for the next issue. We just took it from there, so I’ve been with them since issue two and it all started with a concert.

    You started in issue two; how soon did it become apparent that… I’m sure that soon, the editors were getting letters saying “I love Benjamin Law, he’s the best!”. How soon did you become a ‘brand name’, as a senior contributor?

    Ben: It’s funny, if you look at Frankie now, there are no ‘senior contributors’ because we decided to do away with the myth that any of us actually work in an office. Like John was saying before, Frankie is a magazine that runs on skeleton staff. In terms of the editorial department, there are two people. The publishing house provides some sub-editors and stuff but it’s really quite small.

    Your question was also “when did people start saying ‘I like you Benjamin Law’, ‘I like you Daniel Evans’, or ‘Marieke Hardy, you’re like my dreamboat’” – which we all think. It’s funny, our editor, what she explicitly encouraged all of us to do was write from our personalities and to write with a very distinct voice. She brought out an American men’s magazine called Details magazine, which is a great magazine. It’s got writers like Michael Chabon and Augusten Burroughs writing for Details. It’s a really well-crafted men’s mag. And she said “Augusten Burroughs in this piece has a very strong voice”, and “Michael Chabon in this piece has a very strong voice. I don’t feel like that comes up much in magazines targeted towards certain age-readership. I want you to start writing about yourself and your experiences”.

    And you’ll find throughout Frankie… I was asked the other day “who do you write for?” and Frankie came up. They’re like, “Oh, are you Daniel Evans?” “No I’m not Daniel Evans…” but everyone has the different writer that they attach themselves to, because all the voices are so distinct. I think that’s something that Frankie’s really fostered that’s quite unique out there. You don’t find that much with other mags.

    It’s really worked for them, because they’re rare in publishing. Their readership is growing, whereas most are falling apart.

    Ben: That’s right; they were on The 7:30 Report about that very phenomenon.

    It’s interesting because they’re publishing against the flow. How much of it do you think comes down to nurturing each writer’s individual voice, as opposed to – like John said earlier – how most freelancers could be anyone off the street; anyone who can just ‘fill in the gaps’?

    Ben: I think I agree with a lot of what my current editor talked about in that 7:30 Report segment, which is Frankie’s an unusual magazine in that it’s not intimidating. I used to read The Face magazine when I was younger. This magazine that came out of the U.K., very edgy. I thought that was so awesome but I could never ever be a contributor to Face magazine because they sort of scare the shit out of you.

    John: I always wanted to do a cover, with just plain type, “Are You Cool Enough to Buy Our Magazine?” “Step Away from the Stand!”

    Ben: Totally. I find a lot of magazines I like, I am a little bit afraid of. Like Vice magazine is really cool but I’m not really sure I could cut it with the cool people of Vice. I think with Frankie, it does have models, it does have fashion, but at the same time they’re short-sighted or they’re implied to be myopic. They’re wearing glasses, and they’re wearing cardies, and we’ve got knitting patterns. We’ve got knitting patterns! It’s not that intimidating. There’s this sense of community that’s banded around the magazine that’s made it strong because people feel like they know me, or they feel like they know Rowena Grant-Frost or Marieke or Justin Heazlewood. And I think it’s that intimacy that’s built up the strength of the magazine.

    [Audience] I know you talked about self branding. How important do you think social media is in self branding? I know that it shits you how your byline is a commodity, but how important do you think it is?

    John: It doesn’t shit me knowing my byline is a commodity. What shits me is before Falafel came out, I was getting probably 25-30 cents a word, which was the Rolling Stone standard. I hope it’s not anymore; it could well be, though. After Falafel came out I was writing exactly the same stories but I was getting $1.00 a word, or $1.50 a word. The only thing that had changed is that I’d sold a lot of copies of Falafel, so they wanted to see if they could access that readership.

    I don’t object to it because it pays my Playboy Bunnies and gold-plated hovercraft, but it sort of shits me on your behalf because there’s nothing fair about it. As to go to your question, how important is it, It’s actually more complex than you’d imagine. There’s a lot of journalists in particular who do social media really poorly, who see it as either a broadcast medium, particularly those who work in broadcast media, or just a sort of celebrity channel they can sort of dip into and read Warney’s tweets and see that he and Liz are back on. They see it as a one-way thing, or just something they can dip into and pull out of, not something to be contributed to, which is really the heart of social media. You have to contribute, and you’ve got to do it properly.

    With all those caveats however, if you do it properly and if you have built up an audience it’s a fantastic way of staying in contact with them. I do a couple of blogs and columns each week ,and Facebook and Twitter are a great way of telling people that they’re up, and keeping interest going through the day, but also it sets up more conversations outside of the structure of Fairfax where these things get published. The conversations outside are often more interesting than the ones inside. Fairfax doesn’t get that traffic, so they can’t then sell ads on the page impressions. But over time, it does draw more traffic to their site, I think, because people who were interested in having those conversations again do get drawn back the next time I write something they’re interested in.

    But there are a lot of traps. I quite like a drink and a tweet, as people who follow me will know. [laughs] I haven’t yet disgraced myself and I don’t think I will because I think I’m across it, but a lot of people would have got themselves into deep trouble drunk tweeting. It can feel so intimate. You can forget that you’re not just talking to the people who are your followers. You’re talking to the entire world.

    The Australian at the moment is running an absolutely disgraceful campaign against an Aboriginal activist based on some tweet she put out about [the TV Show] Deadwood. And her account is locked but you have to actually be one of her followers to have seen that bloody tweet in the first place. Actually, not just hers, but the person she was following. In the whole world, there’s probably 200 people who saw the tweet. Is it Marcia Langton that they’re kicking at the moment?

    Ben: Larissa Behrendt.

    John: Larissa Behrendt, yeah. You’d have to be following both Larissa and the person that sent the message to, to have seen the tweet in question. It is just an abysmal thing that they’re doing. They have just been pounding her about it for some political agenda for weeks now.

    Ben: The Australian has a terrible relationship with Twitter in general. I mean, Chris Mitchell, the editor, he’s currently suing a journalism academic —

    John: Julie Posetti, yeah.

    Ben: Exactly, about a tweet that she put out there. And I think they’ve got a very… not the writers. I think a lot of their writers have been exceptionally great understanding how the medium works and use it really well, but I think there is this guard of certain journalists who resent it deeply, and are outraged that people can broadcast such reprehensible things so quickly.

    John: And also I think… Actually, you touched on it there. One of the things they really hate in the old school media is this sort of idea that an actual new media has arisen which is drawing power away from them. It worries them deeply.

    To address your question in practical terms though: it can be great. An example: I got a very late stage commission from The Monthly 18 months ago; maybe two years ago.  They lost one editor, which was bad luck. They lost another editor which was bad management… And they needed a cover story so they wanted to do something about the recession which at that stage the GFC was looming like the 1930s. And they needed it really quickly.

    The quickest way to deal with that was for me to just go onto Twitter and say, “if someone has been arse-fucked by this recession and feels like talking about it, could you get in contact with me?”. I got about a half dozen people who said, “I wouldn’t mind telling you my story”. They were following me, but I didn’t know them from the next person. Some of these stories were heartbreaking, but in narrative terms they were fantastic. [Note: you can read John’s piece ‘The Coming Storm’ here]

    [Twitter] can be very, very useful for that [kind of crowdsourcing], and I would encourage you to think of it more in those terms of being able to reach out with people, rather than to bombard them with links to your latest blog.

    [Audience] Talking about The Australian, have you ever dealt with any sort of media bias? Journalists are meant to be impartial…

    John: I’ve never been directed to write anything, although I was doing very regular book reviews for The Australian up until I wrote a review recently about some global warming books and somewhere in the middle of it, I managed to sneak the line past their subs, “global warming is real”. Never again have I been commissioned.

    Ben: Someone is live-tweeting you right now. You’re going to get sued!

    John: The facts stack up that, up until that point, I was getting commissioned. After that – nothin’. But I’ve never actually been told, “please write in this fashion”.

    Ben: I’m more of a ‘colour’ writer, which is a nice way of saying that I write stories about weird things. I don’t really have that problem.

    That’s not true. You did a political piece on Pauline Hanson recently.

    Ben: Yeah, I said weird things…

    John: Having said that, though… and because there is a bit of live tweeting – and I can see we’re being recorded here – I’m obviously not going to give any identifying details, but I do know of instances… not so much in politics but in cultural coverage where review sections get framed in particular ways and reviews are commissioned in such a fashion that someone’s going to get their arses kicked in print because for whatever reason the commissioning editor decides that they would prefer to see that arse kicked rather than kissed, which I think is disgraceful. It does happen.

    The alternative is, for example in music journalism, when a band isn’t reviewed as well as the record label had hoped. The label’s response is to pull ads.

    Ben: Or you can just get someone involved in the label to write the review, as recently happened.

    Yeah. Have you come across anything of that nature, John, where something you’ve written caused advertisers of a particular publication to get upset?

    John: No, the closest one would be years ago. And this is years ago… I wrote a story about the Institute of Sport in Canberra. It was a puff piece, a colour piece. But it did mention the problems they had with drugs in the 90s. We all had problems with drugs, those of us who were born in the eighties or before then; but the editor, Greg Hunter, who was a fantastic editor, he had the AIS on the phone absolutely monstering him about the fact that he published the thing and saying, “you’re never getting access to our people again”. Greg had been around for a while and he knew that was all bullshit, that eventually the people who had been pissed off would move on and other people would come in and he’d get access. You will find people will try and muscle you out of stories and stop you from writing them.

    Ben: The opposite happens as well, I find, when you think you’ve written something quite vicious and strange about someone and they call you up later congratulating you and thanking you for the lovely portrait that you wrote about them. I have that experience a lot.

    John: I do that to people actually, when they give me really shocking reviews of my books. I will call them and just say sweet nothings to them. It freaks them out.

    You mentioned earlier that the freedom is the part that you really enjoy, being a freelancer not tied down to having a staff role and being ‘dead behind the eyes’. What else do you like about freelancing, John? Why have you pursued it for so long?

    John: The hovercraft and the Playboy Bunnies are good. The freedom is actually worth… even before Falafel came out, I wasn’t making that much money, but I think the freedom of being in the role that I was in was worth about $40-50,000 a year, just in terms of mental health. You get up, you want to go for a surf that day; you just go do it. You might even get a surf story out of it.

    The constant change is one of the great things about freelancing. You can end up almost anywhere, doing almost anything as a freelancer, as long as you’re willing to push yourself into that. It’s nice actually, once you get a bunch of outlets in your stable, it’s actually just nice working two different people, because Frankie will have a different house style from sort of the Chechnyan brothel chaos of Rolling Stone, for instance. It’s never the same and you do not get bored.

    The downsides to it are chasing invoices. I hate it, but you’re constantly doing it. Some of the biggest publishers are some of the worst in terms of the way that they run their finance sections. There was a publisher in Sydney; very large, huge marquee mastheads, and they had a policy in house of not paying freelancers until they brought into their lawyers into it, which of course they couldn’t afford, being freelancers. Or the HAA has it was in those days – the Media Alliance as it is now – which is a pro tip to you, even though it seems to be a lot of money. You might want to think about joining the Media Alliance, because at some stage you will be seeing them after an unpaid invoice.

    Do you want to pick up on those questions, Ben? Best and worst bits about being a freelancer?

    Ben: Yeah, I agree with the freedom and I think it depends for all of you how you define freedom as well. I mean when you look at if I showed you my iCal, I think my sister screamed when I first started using iCal because it looked like a deformed ice cube tray from hell.

    If I average it out, I’m working seven days a week. At least I am in some way or another. Freedom for me is being able to roll out of bed and start work. That also means I start work at 7am every morning and I probably finish around 7pm every evening, but on top of that – like John talking about being able to go for a surf – I can do laps in the pool whenever I want, when there’s no people there. I really enjoy that. Having a pool to yourself is great.

    It’s hard. The chasing invoices stuff keeps coming up. At any given time, you’re probably owed thousands and thousands of dollars. I’m not even kidding.

    John: At this very moment in time I’m owed eleven thousand dollars by probably four or five different outlets.

    Ben: I’m [owed] close to seven thousand. But at the same time, it also means you have a very warped sense of time after a while with freelancing, but you have to adapt to it. You might be working super hard in one week and you’re churning out stories, and the weekend arrives and you’re actually quite poor. Then a week where you’re actually quite relaxed, not doing much work, you just get flushed with cash from all these invoices that you’re chasing. You don’t really have that sort of luxury of knowing when you’re going to get paid and hard work being rewarded immediately.

    Andrew: Just on that cash flow bit, for the first two years of my freelance career, I was regularly borrowing money from my parents and my brother. You have awesome weeks or months, and then hit rock bottom, where you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.


    [Audience] With the Fairfax changes with outsourcing subs at the moment, do you think there will be a time where really great freelancers will literally pack up and leave because they can’t survive on the wages they’re being paid to them? Or do you think that won’t happen, where freelancers are not being paid adequately because they’re saying they can’t afford to pay them?

    John: No. As I said, there are certain costs involved in having full-time staff on [a magazine or publication]. From the commercial point of view, it’s cheaper to take copy in from freelancers than it is to have a staff writer who might turn out half a dozen pieces a year. They’ll be great pieces, because you don’t get those jobs just by turning up. But in terms of the bean counters running the business, they look at this as: “we’re paying this person $20,000 a story, why are we doing that?”

    At the moment, a lot of the doom and fear surrounding the collapse of the mainstream media model actually doesn’t apply here. They’re still making profits and they’re still doing okay. Brisbane Times, who I file, for turned profitable three years ahead of schedule and still are, as far as I know. They will pay you eventually, but their systems are a bit ramshackle. The ones you have to watch out for are the smaller magazine companies.

    [Audience] Do you think freelancing is more keyed to feature and magazine-type writing as opposed to something like The Courier-Mail, where obviously they do use freelancers but having staff who turn ten stories a day…

    John: I’m not sure what their staffing level, is but they have a lot of journalists there turning out a lot of stuff which never ever gets published, never sees the light of day, and the same problem exists at Fairfax. They have hundreds of journalists filing copy, never published. The chance of a freelancer making it through that is pretty slim. The stuff that they’re going to commission from outside is going to tend to be specialist. I very rarely write for The Courier Mail. I don’t have a great relationship with them. The only occasions I’ve ever really written for them is… for some inexplicable reason, they come and ask me to do something and it has always been a specialist feature. Never any kind of generalist writing.

    [Audience] Do you think that if you could do it again, you’d still become a freelancer, or you would go into the paid profession?

    John: I wouldn’t go into paid profession. It would be nice to not have had those weeks where I had to go eat the two dollar Hare Krishna meal again and again, but even though the structure of the industry has changed so much and media itself has been wrenched apart by its business model being eaten by Google, I would still work as a freelancer, because that freedom… ‘Free’ is the most important part of that word. It’s fantastic. It becomes your life, rather than just your job.

    [Audience] Do you think that online bylines are becoming less credible, and do you think that there’s still a career opportunity for online freelancers?

    John: How do you mean, online bylines?

    There are so many ways to get your work published online now. Do you think —

    Ben: Personally speaking, I would see that as a part of the portfolio for what you should be writing for. I do a lot of online writing for stuff like Crikey, or ABC’s The Drum. But I don’t see myself as just being that online writer. It’s a part of all the whole suite of things that I write for at the moment. I don’t think it diminishes the other work I do, and I don’t necessarily think that people see it as less than. I think they read it and understand that it was probably written in a day because you’re writing about something that’s just happened, and they understand what the medium is, that it’s online. It’s supposed to be more snappy and immediate.

    John: It’s an interesting question. It comes down to there’s different types of online. Wall Street Journal publishes online. Your byline there is going to count more with editors than the byline at your personal blog.

    But then again, if your personal blog builds up a huge following, like Mama Mia for instance, or some of the food bloggers… about two years ago I got invited as a Fairfax writer to Sydney to the food festival down there, to do a few features. It was a significant year because it was the first time that the festival had ever invited food bloggers. These were people who do not write reviews for the mainstream press. They just have their personal blogs, but they built up their own audiences – and, more importantly, their credibility – to a point where they had to be brought inside the tent. In that sense, the fact that they were independently publishing blogs counted for nothing. What counted was the traffic rushing through.

    Ben: Can I say quickly if you are going to start a blog – and I’m not a great blogger myself at all – but you can’t start it in a vacuum. I know so many people have tried starting a blog and are like, “why is no one reading my work?”. The answer I provide for that it’s because you’re not reading other blogs. You have to connect with people to say “that was a great post” and for them to start reading your stuff, or to link back to work. Blogging is a community. It’s not the same model as: you write, and expect the readers to come.

    Certainly one of the biggest bloggers over the last few years – who’s stopped for the moment – but Marieke Hardy when she was doing her blog, ‘Reasons You’ll Hate Me’, one of the ways she got so many readers is because she was this voracious blog reader herself. It is a community. If you do start a blog tonight or next week – a cooking blog, because you might get invited to a food festival – make sure that you’re reading a lot of others as well.

    [Audience] Talking about building your audience, do you think it would be better to work at Rolling Stone or something, would it be better to come with a big portfolio or a big audience? If you rock up and say, “I’ve got this many people who follow my blog, but I’ve only ever written on one blog and never been published anywhere else…”

    Andrew: I would tend to say the idea is almost more important than your history. If you come at them with a story idea that no one’s ever pitched to them, and that you can deliver… that’s the hard part. They have to know that you can deliver it, but if the idea is good enough, theoretically at least, they’ll give you a reply and say ‘look into that for us’.

    John: The audience, not so much. The idea is almost all-important. When I started out in the Jurassic area of the media, the mission I gave myself was to do stuff other people wouldn’t do. An example of that was going and living in the streets for about a month to live with street kids, because back in the early 90s, street kids were flavour of the month. For about a week.

    I went and lived under bridges and on the footpath at King’s Cross and wrote it up for Rolling Stone. The reason I did that was because I knew no one else would do it, [something] that crazy. Some prick from The Courier Mail, I hope it wasn’t you [gestures to Ben]. He got like a baby Walkley once for spending the night in the [Brunswick Street] mall. How dangerous was that? The mall dude, all night! I couldn’t believe that because I’d done the month out there, but the fact… committing yourself to doing stuff that other people will not do means you’ve got that field clear to yourself.

    If you have an idea, then you hit them up with an idea. If you have previously published stuff that looks cool, take it in. A colour photocopy of it is always good. They’re not necessarily going to read it. What they want to see is the masthead that it came from because they go, “oh I know the guy that runs that magazine, that’s cool. If you got in there then you must be okay”.

    [Audience] Do you have any advice on the business side of things, like once you start earning money it gets a bit technical. When you first make it, you really don’t know what you should be doing. You really need to know in advance….

    Ben: Get an accountant, get an accountant, get an accountant. I thought I didn’t need an accountant because I’m in my 20s; who needs an accountant? You need an accountant. You really learn the hard way, and you need an arts accountant. One of the things about joining the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance, the union is that they do provide you with a very comprehensive list of arts accountants that you can access. The reason you need an arts accountant is because a lot of regular accountants who are not used to the bizarre ways in which you earn money, which is completely multi-stream and weird.

    John: One of the beautiful things about being a freelancer is your entire life is deductible. Everything you do can be written about, and should be written about, and therefore can be deducted. You need somebody who works in that field who understands that because it will freak most accountants out.

    Ben: A lot of accountants don’t know about tax ruling 2005/1, which is great.

    John: I love 2005/1!

    Ben: What it means is that you do not even have needed to have earned money in that financial year for those expenses to count towards being tax deductible items. Most accountants don’t know that, but arts accountants do and especially in the case where you’re a screenwriter, you might be working on a screenplay that takes three years, not earning any money off that screenplay in those three years, and in the third year it gets sold to Hollywood and you get douched with cash. That provides tax problems.

    John: Let me just talk a bit about tax problems. You will at some point need an ABN, so just go get it.

    Ben: You can get it now; tonight.

    John: You need it. Once you have your ABN, every time you invoice, you invoice as the entity that has that ABN. Once you’ve done that though, you also need to get yourself a bank account that has net banking. This is really hard, but you totally need to do it. You need to set up a regular transfer from that account to your tax account. The ATO will give you a number for being paid transfers. It doesn’t need to be that much when you kick off. It might only be $20 a week, or $50 a week. Figure out how much you think you’re going to earn in that first year and put a bit aside a month, because I’ve had tax bills that would turn your shit white. The only way to do it is the way that an average punter does it, which is bit by bit, week by week. Do not let these things build up. It’s the curse of our industry.

    Ben: You need to talk to your accountant about stuff like super, because you don’t get superannuation as a freelancer. You have to contribute to it yourself and it’s not something you want to think about in your 20s, but I’ve met a lot of older bastards who say “this is exactly the time you need to think about it,” and it’s true.

    [Audience] Is the Media Alliance a good place to go advice on those sorts of things?

    John: Yeah they’re great, but they do charge you a fee to join, which is fair enough because being great costs money. When I was a young freelancer I used to find it difficult to justify the $180 a year or something, because you might have a year that goes by where nothing happens and you don’t need them. But when you need them, you need them.

    [Audience] Just on more technical stuff, how do you pitch and query? No one uses the stamped, self-addressed envelope anymore. Do you still structure it in the traditional kind of way of laying out a query? Or do you just email them an idea?

    Ben: Well in my experience, I’ve worked alongside editors in different magazines and I’ve seen the way that they deal with pitches and all editors are different. I think the one thing they have in common is that they’re all time-strapped. They immediately know whether a pitch is for them or not. My advice to my students is: don’t pitch one thing at a time, pitch five to seven things at a time.

    In terms of how you structure it or how long they should be, I think one pitch is a ‘par’ [paragraph]; maybe 70-100 words. Within that par, they might suspect that they like that idea or story. The others they’ll discard pretty quickly. They know how to discard quickly, but the other ones, they’ll have suspicions it might be a good story. If they do then what you should be doing within that link is highlighting the text, turning it into a link with some background information so they can do their own sniffing around themselves. You can have a short bullet point list of links after that, see also this, this, and this for background.  Everyone’s got a different technique, but that’s what I do.

    John: When you think about magazines in particular, you open the masthead, open the mag; three or four pages in, the masthead’s there. Who are the actual full timers working in the office? Get the name of the editor, or the deputy editor. If they have a chief of staff, take that name down as well. You’ll find a phone number, which is a general number. It almost always sends you to a switchboard for the publishing company, not for the magazine. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got the name, and say “can I speak to so-and-so?”. You’ll probably go through to a secretary and say “I’ve got an idea I want to pitch; have you got a fax number or email I can send it to?”

    If nothing’s happening, if they’ve actually filed for that month and are sitting around pulling their puds for a day, they might even talk to you right then. Pitch it then and there, but if you can get the whole thing down to one or two lines for the initial hit on them, that’s what you want. Then if they’re interested, you can possibly parlay into an email or fax that will run for 100-150 words, but no more.

    I want to go back to something Ben said. He was referring to ‘one idea per par’ – that’s short for ‘paragraph’. And you mentioned your students. You should point out that you tutor.

    Ben: I sometimes tutor over at QUT as well, so I delivered some of these tips in an end-of-semester ‘bonus tute.’ It’s very exciting. And I talk about the tax thing as well.

    In terms of pitching, what I do is in direct conflict to what you said. I generally have one idea per email, and I tend to flesh it out into a few paragraphs to show that I actually know what the fuck I’m talking about. That’s worked for me pretty well.

    Ben: It depends on the magazine as well. If it’s a magazine that publishes a lot of shorter pieces, like Frankie does, then that sort of rapid fire idea, list of ideas, every issue I probably pitch about 25 ideas to my editor. Some of them will be saved for the next issue, some will go ahead, but she needs that much going on for each issue.

    John: It’s always tougher at the start because you don’t know the editor. Once you have a working relationship and you’ve got their phone number, then as the idea pops into your head you ring them up. What you all want to do is get yourself a stable of about eight or nine income streams that you’re drawing on. Half of them are going to collapse in two or three years. You’re going to have to replenish them with other sources.

    Once you have that eight or nine, it’s [a matter of] doing the rounds. Once a month, when I lived in Sydney, I would physically walk around from magazine to magazine, have a cup of coffee with the editor and say “this is what I want to do”. Once they know you and they trust you, it’s like easy money for them. “I don’t need to think about that issue anymore, I’ve got that feature”. The hard part is building that trust originally and getting them to look at your stuff.

    Ben: One more tip about trust as well, which is a big thing. You are a stranger coming off the street asking these people for work. You need to know the magazine as well, and one of the easiest ways of doing this – and this is a great cheating tip – is that most magazines will have sections, and they’ll have names for those sections. It’ll basically say “culture and style section” [for example] and what the editors have in their room is the layout of the magazine, and four pages for each issue will be that section.

    They want those pages filled, and if you can refer to those sections by name, and even sort of know the rough size of it, it demonstrates to them that you know their magazine really well and you know why it’s a Frankie piece and not a Yen piece. Or you know why it’s a Marie Claire piece and not a Cleo piece. Those sorts of things help gain trust, too.

    Just on pitching quickly; John, how do you pitch these days? Are you in a position where the editors come to you?

    John: They pitch to me. I don’t [pitch]. I’m in the happy position of being too busy. I try and work on two books a year. I may not publish two books in a year but I try to be working on them. I have three columns a week and then two a month for the ABC, and maybe one feature a month after that. I actually don’t have time to think about pitches and sell.

    But sometimes if an idea really appeals to me… for instance, [the video game] L.A. Noire is out this week. I love video games. So I rang Rockstar the other day and said “please send me a disc”… That’s the other great thing about freelancing – freebies. They sent me that disc, because I’ve written about games over the years and we’ve had some drinks. They know me. Knowing people is really important in this gig.

    At some stage, I’ve got to send a [book] manuscript off. I should be at home working at it right now. I hope you appreciate me being here! Once I send this fucker off on Friday, next week it’s all about the Xbox and I’m going to play my way through L.A. Noire. When I finish it, I’m going to write an essay. When I’ve finished writing the essay I’ll sell it, which means I’ll actually have to pitch it to someone. But I’ve already figured out how to do that.

    Ben: I think the great thing that John does – and I think all of you should think about as freelancers or budding potential freelancers – is identifying what you’re really interested in, because everything becomes a story. Every trip you make, or hunches you have, or things you want to explore can be things that are written about. If you’re already interested in it, you’re halfway towards becoming an expert anyway; if you’re already obsessed with a particular game on Xbox, you already have that bank of knowledge.

    You’re essentially getting paid to learn. That’s what I think of this job sometimes.

    Ben: We’re all in nerds!

    In a way, yeah. You figure out something you want to learn more about. You sell the idea and then you work it out. You learn all about it. It’s amazing.


    [Audience] Does it pay to be annoying when pitching? [in terms with contacting editors]

    Ben: I don’t think it ever pays to be annoying.

    John: Niceness is its own reward. I do know what you mean. To be persistent is what you’re asking. Yes, up to the point where you’re annoying, and then no.

    Ben: How do you know when you’re annoying, John?

    John: When they start avoiding your calls. One of the things you probably need to find out if you have a particular publication outlet you want to pitch to, their publishing schedule. At what point in the month do they just refuse to talk to anybody because they are on deadline and they’re not fucking around anymore. If they’re sitting at the desk for 18 hours today peeing into a Coke bottle or this thing is not going to hit the stand, you don’t call them that week. You don’t call them the day after. The day after that, however, is the sweet spot. That’s where they’re vulnerable. That’s when you get them, so find that out. You’re not going to need to be persistent or annoying on the vulnerability day. You just have to turn up.

    Ben: John’s right. Schedules are really invaluable. I’m about to start writing for a new magazine and one of the editors there, one of the section editors sent me these incredibly detailed submission guidelines. I’ve never seen a document so detailed for its contributors, but it’s really great because it shows me the lead time of the magazine so from when they file all the stories, they don’t release those stories until three months later. That’s a sort of rough lead time that Frankie has as well, so stuff we’re writing three months before will show up three months later.

    They also have times and dates of when to pitch as well, so again, a monthly magazine will have that one week in the month where they do not want to hear from anyone. Your pitch will be buried because they’re stressed. The week after it comes out, that’s when they’re open to ideas. You need to know that information so you’re not getting them at a weird time and if they do have submission guidelines, read them thoroughly.

    I have a horror story from a friend who used to be an editor of a youth writing magazine and they did make an effort to have a very comprehensive contributors’ guidelines. There was this one girl who rang up and was very upset because she had submitted a pitch for a story, or perhaps the story itself, and a week later she still had not heard from the editor and she’s like “I’m going to take you to Media Watch. I’m so upset.” On the contributors’ guidelines it was very clearly stated – and not a lot of magazines do this – but it was stated that “we will contact you within a month of you submitting your work and get in touch with you to tell you whether we accept it or reject it”. Most magazines don’t even pay you that courtesy of telling you that they have rejected an idea. If that’s available, get it; and if it’s not available, see if you can get it.

    Picking up on that question again, following up is hugely important. I mentioned my tactic earlier of being introduced to an editor. Even so, as we’ve discussed, editors are super busy and they’re not going to get back to you straight away. There’s nothing wrong with sending a polite follow up saying, “Hey, just following up on this. Can you get back to me? Let me know if you’ll accept freelance submissions, or pitches.” Once a week, every week.

    Ben: I’ll follow up and I realise one of my editor’s daughters ended up in hospital and she’s been away from the job the entire week. That’s why she hasn’t responded.

    John: That can happen when you file copy. You can write a 2,000 or 3,000 word story, stick it in, and then hear nothing. “What happened to that? It must be bad. I killed you with a story it was so bad!” It’s just they’re busy. Something else has happened.

    [Audience] Do you think it’s necessarily a danger to have a niche, or write specifically one thing and to that a lot, or do you think it’s better to cover a few different areas…?

    John: It depends on how good you are at your niche. A friend of mine, Simon Thomsen’s a food writer. It’s what Simon does, writes about food. But he’s great. People from all over the world want him to write about food. So for him the niche thing works. For me, I’m not that good at anything really, so I’ve got to spread myself a bit thinner. It’s really if you have something that you’re really good at and you actually have some expertise in it, then you could seriously think about making it your niche, as long as you think there’s enough of a market there to keep a turnover going.

    Ben: I agree. Just identify what your strengths are, what your interests are. Like John, I’m not too great at anything. I’m interested in politics, but I’m not like a political animal. I’m not Latika Bourke. But I am interested enough to write some things about it, but not in-depth analysis. I’m interested in music, but I’m not completely obsessed by it, so I’ll write some stuff that I am interested in. If you’re completely obsessed by horses… I had one student who knew so much about trucks. Write about trucks!

    John: I worked at the Independent Monthly, the magazine across the hall from us was Truck and Bus Monthly. I so wanted to file for them, but I don’t know shit about trucks.

    [Audience] Some staff reporter jobs allow you to freelance on the side.

    John: It’s pretty rare.

    Do you think it’s possible to even do it?

    Ben: I don’t know. I’m thinking of my friends who work full time for The Courier Mail. They come home buggered. They don’t have the energy for it, and the last thing they want to think about on the weekend is what else they can write about. They want to chill out.

    John: Even having another job that’s not connected at all with the media drains it out of you. One of the reasons that I, at the age of 20 or something, decided I was going to suck up the poverty and write, was because I previously tried to work and write in the evenings. It was just too hard. You get home and you just wanted to destroy yourself with a couple of cones and some shitty TV, not sit down and have a second bite of the cherry that day. You might well be a machine, and you can pull that act off, but most people can’t.

    Ben: It’s hard. I know some writers who were writing a play towards a competition deadline and one of them that I know is a mum of two kids. They’re at the age where the kids need a lot of attention and she looked at her schedule. She’s a working mum as well, and she looked at her schedule and she’s like “you know what? When I take the kids to school, that’s when I go to work. That’s when I do x, y, and z. Where do I find time to write?” What she did for half a year leading up to the competition deadline was simply sleep two hours less and get up two hours earlier and write.

    I know another friend who had a full-time job for a law firm, but she also had a book contract. She looked at her schedule and she didn’t see any time that she could write. She needed to retain a day off for her mental health; Sunday was off-limits. She did exactly the same. She woke up two hours earlier, and she wrote the book.

    [Audience] On that, how did you make the switch into freelancing?

    Ben: I was constantly studying, so I’ve been freelancing in some way, shape, or form since I was 17. I started off with some street press work or rags that were lying around, but I was studying at the same time. The thing is, especially when you’re an undergrad — oh God, I miss undergrad — I just felt like I had a lot of time. I was working but I also got whatever you call it now, youth allowance, and I identified a window I could devote to freelance work, or work experience.

    I finished my degree, did honours, and I was still getting youth allowance. I was picking up some more freelance work and then I picked up tutoring. Then I started doing a doctorate and that gives you a scholarship, so I could pay my rent. I was doing my doctorate with some more freelance work, and I got to a stage where I realised my scholarship was about to run out and “I think I can actually hop over to freelancing full-time”.

    I did something called the NEIS scheme. The NEIS scheme is for when small businesses start out. Because I was working [under] my own ABN, I’m technically a business. I’d never done freelance writing full-time, so when I was about to make that change, suddenly that actually technically qualified as a new small business. ‘Benjamin Law’ is my business, and writing is my small business. They give you the equivalent of the dole over a year, with which I’m intimately acquainted; they give you that exact amount and they give you business training as well. That’s good because at least your rent and food is covered. I gradually made the change. I don’t think I would have survived just doing it your way [gestures at John]. I don’t think I’ve got the chutzpah.

    John: I rorted the dole somethin’ fierce for a couple of years. I didn’t go onto the NEIS scheme. I’m very familiar with it, because the guys who did the Falafel play in Sydney for five years were doing it originally on NEIS. I don’t know that the dole would be an option now because the work tests they impose are really fierce and it was the tightening up of that system that forced me into… working harder.

    Ben: Yeah, wow! It worked.

    John: When I started out I did have some part-time jobs and what I tried to do was choose work that would either not clash intellectually, like office jobs for instance, you are using your head so the last thing you want to do is come back and think about work at the end of the day. I tended to take manual labour jobs, which I loved. One of my first ones was throwing boxes on the back of a truck in the basement of Rolling Stone. I loved that job. It was just great. Another one I had was at a press clipping agency, in the days before the internet. They used to pay people to sit around reading the newspapers, putting little x’s next to them, and maybe cut it out and put it into files. I was ‘the guy who read the paper’. That was complementary work to freelancing because it was constantly building up your knowledge. As far as possible – and it may not be very far possible – you want to find work that either doesn’t clash with what you want to write, or complements. It’s tough.

    I want to talk about the writing itself. When did it first become apparent that you had some talent at this; that what you were submitting was making editors happy, and they were asking you to write more? When was that point?

    John: You should actually know that before you start submitting. A couple of years ago, I did a tour with writers, rather than freelance journalists; actual writers, Nick Earl, Sue Gough, young Sam Watson, the poet. We did a tour through western Queensland. A lot of small country towns with audiences of half a dozen people turning up. We would tell our stories. Because we did this tour together, we told our stories to each other. One of the things that was really interesting was that every single one of the writers on this tour had had the experience at some point; somebody had told them, “that’s not going to work for you. That’s not going to happen.”

    The reaction to that, in every case, was “fuck you; I’m going to make it happen”. That’s not the reaction that naturally comes to people. Most people being told that they can’t write, they’re not going to make it; they actually fold up like a cheap Chinese umbrella, and give up.

    Kate Forsythe, who is a great fantasy writer now, went to a writing seminar with some crazy Canadian author…

    Ben: Margaret Attwood?

    John: Yep. Anyway they had to submit pieces to this and Atwood reads them, and in a very Atwood fashion, tears them up in front of the class and says “you’re all fucked!” Kate just bristles with fury and thinks, “fuckin’ crazy Canadian…slag!” Years later on, she’s a successful fantasy author. The girlfriend she went with: cheap Chinese umbrella. Collapsed. Put her manuscript in the bottom drawer and never took it out again, never wrote again.

    You need to have some confidence in yourself before you start, and you’re really going to fucking need it once you start, because you are going to get rejected. You are going to get knocked back and you’re constantly going to have people telling you that you can’t do it. You need to actually, before you put your fingers on the keyboard or your pen to paper, you need to think “I’m good enough to do this”. You will either have that knowledge now, or you won’t.

    Ben: And you will write some pretty shithouse things that you’re not proud of either, but I think the difference is you need to be able to identify that it was bad and to move on from it, as well.

    John: ‘Rent payers’, I call them.

    Ben: That’s right. You can’t completely collapse. You have to remind yourself that you are capable of good writing and if you do have some pieces that you’re very pleased with and people have told you it is good writing. Put that aside as a reminder that you can keep doing it. This is the literary equivalent of being an actor and constantly auditioning and constantly getting knock-backs as well. You do have to have some sort of internal fortitude about this.

    John: Do not listen to people who tell you it’s not going to work.

    Ben: They’re all fucked.

    John: They are. They’re dead behind the eyes.

    [Audience] Ben, if you don’t mind me asking, would you say your ethnicity, or your sexuality actually enriches your writing?

    Ben: Totally. It makes it so sellable as well. Everyone’s after an ethnic or gay perspective and I’m happy to give it to them. I mean, the thing about heterosexual white male perspective is that people —

    John: Let me tell you how tough that is… White, middle-class male…

    Ben: That is a very unique perspective, but so are all these other perspectives, and you do sort of package yourself in that way, to an extent. That lends you something that informs your work. I know that a lot of my stories are based around that stuff because no one else can write certain things and no one can… there are fewer gay people and there are fewer gay writers, and there are fewer gay perspectives, so I can provide that and I’m happy to. It’s one of many, many out there. The same goes for the Asian thing. ‘The Asian thing’; I should put that on my business car. That is a unique and valid perspective, just as all of you have a very particular background and focus in terms of what you can bring into your work as well.

    I feel almost lucky that I’ve got that ammo, or background, or a background that’s a little bit different, just as all of you have, by the way. All of you are a bit different [laughs] And I think you all know deep inside yourselves what that is. You can actually use that, especially if you write first-person stories.

    [Audience] What’s something that appeals to you in articles or stories that you read?

    Ben: I like things that surprise me; things that upend your expectations. It’s why I like Malcolm Gladwell, for instance. You read something like his book Outliers; it’s a book about the story of success. It looks actually like this hideous business book you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, but it’s all about how people get successful. When you look at it from an American perspective, you think about ‘the myth of the self-made man’ and stuff like that. Bill Gates got successful because he’s super smart, and he’s very savvy. No; [the book] looks at Bill Gates and interviews Bill Gates and talks about the fact that he came into high school at a very particular time in history and this particular high school had access to this particular technology, and Bill Gates had this amount of time to access that technology. All these things conspired towards him becoming the Microsoft founder. Those sorts of things interest me. Stories about people that I’d never meet in my lifetime interest me, as well. I’m very people-interested; people-focused.

    John: I like people who do interesting things with language. I like to see the English language made new again. One of the first books that I picked up and read again and again was a bunch of magazine stories by a Vietnam war correspondent called Michael Herr, collected in a book called Dispatches and you read this book and it felt like your brain was being turned inside out like a sock because he did such weird stuff to the language that, viewed in isolation, would almost be incomprehensible but viewed in the flow of what Herr was saying it made perfect sense. I’ve always loved that.

    Occasionally, you don’t need to do complete gymnastics with the language. Sometimes you just see people present things in really interesting ways. A line from an Esquire piece about professional gamblers stood out to me once. They gave their staff writers $100,000 and said, “go find me some card counters and do good with them”. He said, “I stood there in the lobby of the magazine with a hundred thousand dollars in a briefcase. That’s a lot of money. It had heft. It had possibilities.” That was just a beautiful line, because everything just unfolded from that. So a well-turned line is a thing of beauty.

    Ben: One more thing, if you want some reading homework – which I’m sure you all do – one of my favourite pieces of narrative journalism from the last few years is a piece that was published in GQ magazine and is available online for free. It’s called “Will You Be My Black Friend?” What I love about that is what I love about a lot of other pieces as well, is it does have a great premise. It follows on from it. It was this piece that was written just before Barack Obama got in. It looked at why in America, which is supposedly this great melting pot of different ethnicities, why so many of us keep to our own. The writing is so punchy. When you were talking about language; the way [the writer] plays with language and jokes is quite astonishing. That’s good homework. The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe is really great homework. If you want more modern update on The New Journalism by Tom Wolfe there’s a great anthology called The New Kings of Non-Fiction. It’s edited by Ira Glass, who hosts a radio show called This American Life. It’s got people like Susan Orlean, and Chuck Klosterman in it, and it’s sublime writing. It’s really a great anthology.

    [Audience] What does it take to be a great freelancer?

    Andrew: What kinds of talents or traits are required?

    Ben: A lack of hygiene.

    John: Obviously the very first thing, you do have to be able to put words in a row, one after the other, in a way that makes people want to keep reading it. That’s number one. You’ve got to make your deadlines. You can’t blow deadlines. Once you’ve been around for a while you can blow one or two, like I have, because you’ve got the momentum of the previously published work to carry you through that embarrassment. It’s very embarrassing, but you must make your deadlines.

    You’ve got to be a bit tough about stuff. You might have to actually sit up until three or four o’clock in the morning watching this weird thing that happens at about 1am, as everybody in the Australian Twitter feed goes to bed. All of a sudden your American followers come online. The screen fills up with avatars you’ve never ever seen before. Who the fuck are these people? You’ve got to find out, because you’re going to sit up until that fucking story is finished. You’re not going to be. You’re not knocking off, but you’re sitting there arse to chair, fingers on the keyboard and you are not fucking moving until it’s done. That’s what it takes to be a freelancer.

    Ben: Total tenacity and endurance, and a lack of desire for conventional hours. You need to be a really great time manager. If you can’t manage your time you’re fucked. You really do need to segment your life in very disciplined chunks and in those chunks you need to know what you have needed to achieve by that time.

    Today I’m writing a story that’s going to be a large story; it’s about nudists, actually. I’ve done so many interviews, but I really needed to have those interviews and all those notes down on the page and ready for me to structure into a story by the end of today so that tomorrow I can actually block out the structure of the story and draft it over the next two days, and then file it. I need to know that story’s filed by then because if it’s not, all that carryover work will bleed into my next assignment and really screw me up. You have to be super disciplined.

    John: On that I will give you some take-away. Google up the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a time management technique. It breaks your day up into 25 minute blocks, divided by five minute segments where you can get up, do some exercise, take a break. It’s Italian for ‘tomato’, based on the tomato timers you see in peoples’ kitchen. It’s a time management technique I use, and it is brutally effective. [Andrew’s note: there’s also an iPhone app, which I use.]

    Long story short: you set your 25 minute timer, you’re working. You’re not answering phones, you’re not checking emails. An email comes in, “you’ve won the Pulitzer Prize!” – the fucker can wait for 25 minutes because you’re in your Pomodoro. You set how many of these things you’re going to assign to a project in the course of a day. You’ve got eight Pomodoro on that book, you knock them over one after the other.

    The other thing you might want to think about: I was forced, about two years ago, to use dictation software. I broke my arm when I was in the middle of a book and the only way I could get copy down was by a program called Dragon Dictate based on the Nuance engine, which you will see a lot of in IOS 5. It’s brilliant. It’s got an incredibly steep learning curve, but I have found combined with the Pomodoro Technique, a standing desk… I don’t sit down when I work anymore. I actually stand, Star Trek-style in front of my computer and I talk to it with my dictation software.

    Ben: That is bizarre.

    John: It sounds bizarre. Before I did this, I would average about 2,000 words a day, which sounds pretty Conan-like. My average now since I have taken these three things – standing up, dictation, Pomodoro, and combine then – I now do four and a half to 5,000 words a day. I invoice at a buck a word. So, think about it.

    Ben: That’s really good.

    If you have any final questions, these guys will be going downstairs where John will tell you some stories that he referred to earlier… maybe. There are a couple of things I wanted to mention. In this room next Tuesday night at the same time, I have staff from the Courier Mail’s Q Weekend magazine here to talk about feature journalism. That’s Matthew Condon, Trent Dalton, and Amanda Watt.

    Let’s not forget this is part of National Young Writers’ Month. If you want to pick up a postcard on the way out, my girlfriend will be handing them out from up the back. It would be great if you could join the website, start talking about writing, and start setting some goals for next month. Could you please thank my guests, John Birmingham and Benjamin Law.


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    For more on National Young Writers’ Month 2011, visit the website. For more on Andrew’s involvement as Queensland ambassador, click here. For the full set of photos taken on the night by Christopher Wright, click here.

    For more John Birmingham (@JohnBirmingham), visit his website, Cheeseburger Gothic. For the transcript of a conversation between John and Andrew in June 2010 about John’s most recent book, After America, click here.

    For more Benjamin Law (@MrBenjaminLaw), visit his website. For the transcript of a conversation between Benjamin and Andrew in April 2010 about Ben’s first novel, The Family Law, click here.

  • A Conversation With Dave Graney, Australian musician, performer, and author of ‘1001 Australian Nights’, 2011

    I recently profiled Australian musician, performer and author Dave Graney [pictured right] for The Courier-Mail. His first book, 1001 Australian Nights, was released via Affirm Press in April 2011. You can read my 1,000 word profile of Graney here.

    Or if you’d prefer to cast your eyes across the text of our full, 40 minute-long conversation, you may do so by reading the following words. This conversation took place on 11 March, 2011.

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    We’re here to talk about the book. I really enjoyed reading it, Dave.

    Thank you.

    The thing that probably most intrigued me was how you’ve always positioned yourself as the outcast; the underdog. Is that a fair observation?

    I’ve been thinking that. I’ve surprised myself. It’s juvenile. I must change that.

    Why is it juvenile?

    I don’t know whether it’s juvenile or not, but it’s been my kind of reality, coming from a regional area. Often people in music I find have come from out-of-central things; say, in English music, there’s very few acts from London. Say The Rolling Stones in the 60s, they’re often from outer places; say, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield. From other places that have informed their perspective, because they’re outside of the biggest city and they’re also in a place that informs their own perspective. David Bowie’s urban; kind of London. I guess that was the reality for me coming from regional South Australia. And I never got over it. [laughs] You can’t fight City Hall.

    Not too many artists come from Mount Gambier, do they?

    Robert Helpmann… Max Harris, the poet, had something to do with it. Maybe he drove past one day.

    So, you’re following in the footsteps of a long line of Mount Gambier artists?

    Freaks. [laughs]

    At what point did you begin writing this memoir, Dave? Because your observations and memories from your earlier life seem quite well-formed, like you wrote them down almost at the time or soon after.

    No, I’ve got a shocking memory, and I always run into people and they think I’m quite rude because they say “You don’t remember me do you?” And I don’t, and I wish I did have a bit of memory, but I’m told in later life that comes back to you in a terrible way; you can’t remember what you did five minutes ago, but memories of childhood are very vivid. I started to write it down in a book when I was in Brisbane, doing a gig at the Old Museum in late 2009, or something.

    Some people have that feeling you have to get out of your normal routine of something to provoke good writing. I tried that. The book’s kind of in two parts; you’re talking about this kind of reflection on my earlier life [in the first part], and then the second part, “There’ll be no coming home,” has a more recent focus. It’s kind of “what I thought I was doing, and what I think I’m doing” type of aspect. I started to write it long hand in a book that I got from my parents’ home; a big old 1950s-like ledger. It sounds very prosaic, but it’s like a dramatic kind of book to be scratching in. I started doing it in that, because I spoke to Mick Molloy, the comic, and he said he never writes anything on a computer. He said “everything looks good, and then you go and edit it”. He always writes on a notebook.

    Was there a benefit to doing that for you?

    I think you kind of think things out a bit more, and then of course you have to type it in eventually, and do the editing like that, but initially you’re thinking probably in a different way in the old-school, the way people have written things for centuries.

    Going back to what you said about having a bad memory, does that mean that the first half of the book is made-up?

    [laughs] That’s very evil of you Andrew, twisting my words. No, I focused on that trip I took when I finished school and worked in a factory and then drove up eastern Australia, because that sort of thing was a very intense, solitary experience and that’s always been with me. But at other times when I’ve been in the social world, I’ve maybe been a bit less.. they’re the sort of things I’ve found hard to remember. Sort of intense experiences I guess, and in the first band I was in [The Moodists], I guess a lot of that part of the book is how I couldn’t engage with the world, like many people.

    Many of the things I’m writing about, I’m conscious and was conscious that they’re not particularly special. They’re common things, and so I tried to write it in a mythological, mythic kind of way, especially my first band. I’m not trying to be, and I hope I’m not being rude to anybody. I’m just… it was an intense, interior experience, and dealing with forces that are kind of uncontrollable, as you are when you’re a teenager, or in your twenties. You can’t articulate things, but you’re doing things in the heat of action. That’s the way I wrote, in that style.

    I remember those things and that’s what I was writing about, mythic things in my life that my life has turned around. And also, I’m not really a huge household name, so I don’t think the book I wanted to write is really a linear kind of – “I did this, I did that, I got drunk with this very impressive person. I thought this, I thought that”. I wanted to write it in a different way.

    Had you found that approach when you were reading other music biographies, and therefore you wanted to avoid that sort of thing?

    Well, I love to read books written by musician. Wreckless Eric, a British musician wrote a really great one. His name is Eric Goulden. Zodiac Mindwarp has written a couple of great ones. His book I liked is called Fucked By Rock. He’s a great writer. One by a guy called Mezz Mezzrow,  who is a white jazz guy who was a dope dealer for Louis Armstrong. He wrote a really great book called Really The Blues. Charles Mingus’ Beneath The Underdog I really love and Miles Davis of course, with Miles.

    I love the autobiographies and I’ve read some books by writers but often they don’t have empathy for the players, and especially nowadays because in every aspect of culture it’s about the audience nowadays, and I’m not happy with that. I think the audience is up itself. The audience needs to lift its game. [laughs] It needs to reinvent itself. Anyway, I’m just being stupid, but I love the writing of Nick Tosches, a New York writer about country music. I love the way he writes, especially about Jerry Lee Lewis. He wrote one about Sonny Liston that I love. There’s a writer – I just read a book about Howlin’ Wolf, which is quite academic, but I fucking loved it because he deserves that really academic, “he did this, he did that with that person” type [writing]. He’s a towering figure.

    You mentioned you want to avoid that kind of chronological account of what happened. Were there other stylistic things you wanted to avoid with your book?

    No, I wasn’t trying to avoid anything. It has these outlandish kinds of chapter or headings for different pieces, and that’s kind of just my style. A lot of the book is about my style and tone. My music is all about style and content, and the content of style. It’s high-fallutin’ stuff, and it’s loaded, seething with ideas and references. My music’s always been like that, and I just wanted to write in a way, that the flow of my music as well and that came from my life.  I’m talking about the flow in a hip-hop style, because I’ve been writing and talking about things in a non-stop way, and all my songs are quite real and alive to me.

    It has these kind of headings that are very much in a declamatory way, they’re kind of silly sometimes and other times not, but I love that kind of talk from 19th Century newspapers that William Randolph Hurst taught his writers. They always have those little headings, just the old newspapers. So I wasn’t really thinking in a negative way about “not doing this, not doing that”. I just wanted to have the flow, and I found it quite exciting. My book is like a lot of my music, kind of the way I operate, generally it’s quite positive in a way. I’m not, like Father Ted when he won that best priest award, out to settle the scores with anybody. [laughs] It’s more of like invincible, artistic kind of inner juice. That’s what I wanted.

    One of the things that I love about your writing is how self-assured you are. One of my favourite quotes is “I think of how consistently great I have been for such a long time and am warmed by my own regard.” It’s fucking great.

    [laughs] That’s just making myself laugh, really.

    But even if you are taking the piss…

    I was being kind of funny at the beginning of the book, where I said that Australians don’t know how to talk about serious things, and I’ve always enjoyed transgressing and saying the wrong things. I think that’s just a case of me doing that again. Because I know that upsets people.

    Yeah, and also because it is so rare to hear artists say they believe in what they’re doing, and that they think they’re good. They’re always downplaying their achievements, and what they sound like, and “oh, this happened by accident”. Yet here you are saying “fuck that, I’ve actually worked at this for a long time, and I believe in what I’m doing”.

    [laughs] Well I enjoy creativity and playing music. I’ve worked with Clare Moore. I’m very lucky we’ve had a real tight unit playing music. I love playing with my band. [laughs] Playing music is quite enjoyable.

    That’s good to hear. Moving on; what do you think Dave Graney means to people? What do you think people think when they see or hear your name?

    I don’t know. I don’t know really. There’s a small number of people that really like my music, and that communicate with me. I’m glad they find my stuff and they get a kick out of different aspects of what I’m doing. Sometimes I see… I was just doing video for a song, we’re putting out an album called Rock and Roll is Where I Hide at the same time too. It’s on Liberation and I was looking at myself singing this song and I do do terrible mugging, acting out and being stupid. My vocal style is full of little cries and gasps, and weird noises and yelps and screams. I guess some people must think it’s kind of fucking weird or something, because most indie rock is so – I don’t know – and I do like some indie rock, but a lot of it’s so uptight that there’s no physicality in a lot of it. We just do it. That’s what’s missing in a lot of… so I’ve got an idea what people think, yeah.

    If I was to go on, I’d probably hear pretty negative things [laughs] but not much I can do about that.

    Okay, we’ll give that a rest. Getting this book published, was that a hard sell?

    I sent the book to a few people. Affirm Press publisher Martin Hughes responded pretty immediately. I’ve liked some of the books he’s put out, like an American writer who lives in Melbourne called Emmett Stinson who did this short story, Ground Zero. And also the comedian Bob Franklin put out a book of almost horror [themed] short stories, which are quite fantastic. It’s a small publisher and very keen in what they’re doing, like a small indie publisher. They’ve been great to work with. I was pretty lucky to find them. I don’t know, I wouldn’t have known who else to approach after them.

    What made Martin say yes, do you think?

    I don’t know. Maybe he thinks I’m more well-known than I am. I don’t know. [laughs]

    Maybe he saw “ARIA Award-winning” and was like “yes, I’ve got to get in on that!”

    That could have been it. [laughs] No; a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

    Had you always planned to intercut your stories with your song lyrics?

    Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do that, to have that flow there. I’ve always wanted to because they both come out of the same thing. I’m glad I had that opportunity.

    Those lyrical bits, do they cover the same kind of chronological period?

    Yeah, pretty much. I’ve been writing about the same kind of experience [for a long time], and like you were asking, ‘what do people think of me?’; people probably don’t think of me as a songwriter or anything, more than anything else, and in a way that’s been my way I present myself. I’ve always been interested in being a performer, not just being a writer, but you can’t really… I think you’ve got to be one or the other. You have to hold the pose of being a serious songwriter. Like Paul Kelly or Bernard Fanning… [laughs] Those kinds of serious-looking dudes. I’ve never been that sort of person, so I guess to answer your previous question, most people probably think I’m dodgy and that’s something that I prefer, actually. I’d rather be dodgy than worthy. [laughs]

    That’s a fucking great quote, Dave! [laughs] I’m intrigued to know why you always call Clare by her full name?

    Sometimes when we do things and increasingly people always refer to Clare as my wife. You’ll find, say, Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth is never referred to as “Thurston Moore’s wife”, or Poison Ivy from The Cramps is never referred to as “Lux Interior’s wife”. It’s giving Clare her formal address.

    Cool. Does she call you Dave Graney?

    [laughs] If she writes a book, she might well do that. [laughs]

    I saw your interview with Australian Bookseller where you said “A lot of the book is about where I copped my tone. Tone is everything in music and writing.” I’m interested to know when you had that realisation.

    Pretty early on. I loved the tone, but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get the remove that a lot of my favourite American artists had, like Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Hank Willams, Alan Vega and all of them; they just had this easy tone. I discovered that, like anything, it takes a bit of living to get perspective, to find your own voice and that kind of thing, which is annoying to a teen or twenty-something; your gaze at the world is intense and narrow. You want to say things, but it just comes out in a squeaky kind of way, which makes you even more uptight. But I love that kind of thing.

    Rappers, I love. I love different kinds of feel that rappers have, the things they can talk about, and I guess that’s the setting of the music. I love rap music when they just disrespect each other and that, but it never happens in rock music. I wish it did but – it’d probably make rock music go a bit faster if the guy from Jet would come out and call the guy from Wolfmother a dick, in their songs, and they’d have to answer each other. It’d make it go a bit faster. Rock music has pretty much been dead for years, but it’s fuckin’ slow. I mean, they’re still going on about Eric Clapton, and Leonard Fucking Cohen. Christ.

    I’m probably not the first to admit surprise at the fact that you are a big hip-hop fan. That really comes across in the book, which I think is cool.

    Oh, good. Most really good rock music is informed by hip-hop. When The Black Keys programmed rage, it was all hip-hop.

    In that same interview with Australian Bookseller, I saw you say that the upcoming greatest hits re-recorded is your “third debut album”. What did you mean by that; third time lucky?

    No, when you do your first record of songs, playing for a long time, you know it inside out, you just go in, they turn on the tapes, and you just yell it onto there. That’s it. There’s no second guessing or worrying, or anything. This record for Liberation is songs that we’ve been playing in our live set because we had the idea for years, the idea that people wanted to hear them, or that come, or ‘we haven’t been to this place for a while – we should play this. People expect us to do this’. Other songs that we just enjoy playing, and songs that we’ve only started playing recently.

    So in a way they’re remixes inside a different band, and over time, and so we just talked with Liberation. They do albums for artists’ back catalogue material. We’ve always had a band. I’ve never done many… I do some acoustic guitar gigs, but I don’t enjoy them as much as playing with my band. We said, ‘we’ll record with our band but we’ll just make a rock and roll record’, and we go in and record it all together and it was just like doing a first record. I did one with The Moodists, and one with The Coral Snakes. This is the third one.

    I’m looking at the book’s cover [pictured right]. Who did the cover art?

    Tony Mahoney, who’s done all of our record covers going back to 1989.

    It’s an interesting style. It looks like it’s cut and pasted it all together.

    He doesn’t do it in Photoshop. It’s all hand-done.

    I found it interesting in the book, how there are very few mentions of you in solitude writing lyrics or practicing guitar – the activities which are fundamentals for any working musician. Did you leave that out on purpose?

    Yeah, it would have been pretty boring. If I talk about writing lyrics or whatever, yeah. I did do it pretty quickly. I’m always just sitting around goofing around on a guitar anyway, so that’s what I do most of the time. Writing lyrics or putting songs together is pretty quick for me and generally I don’t sweat over it too much, not like… who were the worthy types who wrote for days? [laughs]. I’m not like that. I like to have a bit of an immediate flash, it’s what I go for.

    It sounds stupid, like if it sounds familiar it must be good, if somebody else has done it. [laughs] I had to do this thing about clothes here in Melbourne. I was involved in this art exhibition of men’s clothes for some reason, and I had to get my picture taken. I said, “I only wear shit that other people have already worn.” [laughs] And they’ve taken the flak for it. I realised in a way my approach to music’s been a bit like that too. I know people can’t hear things that they aren’t already aware of, and they can’t see things that they don’t know they’re looking for, if you know what I mean. So you have to work in forms or words that people are familiar with in a way. That’s my great revelation of recent weeks. [laughs] My approach to music is the way I dress.

    There’s a quote in the book where you say you’re talking about the present, you say it’s “a time where the most successful musical acts have no individual definition or focus or personality. People want what they know.” Is that tied to the same kind of thing you’re just talking about?

    Yeah, people will try to disappear into generic forms, so they have no individuality. I’m dealing with the same thing like any musician. You have to be recognisably something as well as recognisably yourself. One or the other perhaps, I don’t know, but yeah. Say if I do a gig with an acoustic guitar, acoustic guitar means you’re going to tell the truth. If you wear an electric guitar, it means you’re a liar. [laughs]

    Really? Did you just come up with that on the spot?

    No, I generally think that. And I do like to play electric guitar [laughs].

    That’s great. With the tour diary bits, was it the intention to give a glimpse inside the life of a touring musician?

    With the Nick Cave ones?

    And the Henry Wagons ones.

    A little bit of that, I like the writing I did with Henry Wagons, because I could portray him as kind of my ‘straight man’ in a way, and I really get on well with Henry and I love his music and his ambition. I hope that Wagons really kick it with this album they’re putting out. The Bad Seeds are old friends in a way but in such a different… Nick Cave’s in such a different kind of universe to one I work in. I just thought it was interesting. We were opening for them in Europe and were playing a delicate kind of vibraphone-based, 12 string set to these fucking mad Spaniards. Spanish only like… they’re not very lyrical types, but they just love the flash and the loud noises and everything. Even Nick was breathing a sigh of relief when they got to an English-speaking country. So we have many different relations with people within Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, going back to the beginnings of our kind of work in music. I thought there might be some interesting parts to it, including the deluded bits of my own bullshit.

    You’re right, it is interesting. It’s good stuff. I like Nick’s quote on the front cover of the book.

    That was very generous of him.

    Very generous, yes. “Pure genius,” he said. To which you replied, “thank you, Nick.”

    [laughs] Yeah.

    So what really surprised me was how the narrative accelerates in the last five pages. Everything up until then had been pretty slow; you talking about your life from an almost emotionally detached perspective, and then it all kind of fell out of you in the most gripping way. It really took me by surprise, and I liked that because I had you pinned down as this too-cool-for-school cat, always making sardonic remarks and dry observations, and then you collapsed that perception in a few hundred words.

    Oh, thank you. Well, that was very real. [It was a] full stop to a couple of lines. Yes, it was a very difficult period.

    Is that why you were so brief in your description of it, because you didn’t want to dwell on it?

    Of my parents and that, do you mean?

    Yes.

    Yeah, well in a way they’re also intensely private people, too. They’re from that generation [where] if you got your name in the paper it meant you were in trouble with the law. Living in the country, too; country people fucking love their privacy. I would never write anything, would never write anything personal about them [laughs]. I could imagine if they were alive reading something like that, they would hate it.

    You’re going to be in the paper with this interview and you’re not going to be in trouble with the law, so that’s positive.

    [laughs] Good.

    One of my favourite quotes about your early career is that “everything asked should be poor, dirty, and ugly.” Does that still ring true, Dave?

    [laughs] Poor, dirty, and ugly – yeah, I’m getting uglier yeah. Poor, yeah. That was someone else [saying] that everything an artist should be – poor, dirty, and ugly.

    Ah, that’s right. My apologies.

    That’s alright. [laughs]

    Do you relate to that concept?

    That’s from the song Night Of The Wolverine, a character is talking to someone who thinks that’s what an artist should be, poor, dirty, and ugly. No, I think artists should be sometimes lucky, as well [laughs] You know, rewarded for the hell of it occasionally. I don’t like artists, rock and roll people going on about how miserable they are most of the time, and talking about how stoned they are, and how hungover they are. I find all that stuff pretty boring, and always have.

    I mean, I used to be a big drinker. I was a great drinker. I was one of the best! [laughs] But it got a bit boring and I moved to a place where I had to do lots of driving so I just got out of the habit. But there’s some people who write about music are always cheering on rock and roll types. I call them rock and roll dopes really; rock and roll chumps. I’m not really interested. I love the company of musicians, but I don’t like those types that are very unfocused, the kind who need to be standing on the table, shouting, and dancing all the time. I’m not that type. I feel like they’re a bit boring to hang around.

    What keeps you going, Dave?

    What keeps me going? I’m very interested in… I really like to play music, and it’s quite simple. I’m very involved in different things. I used to be just a stand up singer, and I used to enjoy that gladiatorial type thing and then just standing there with the band behind me and singing and being a wise guy, then I started to play guitar as a performer and increasingly started to enjoy that. The two players we have, me and Clare, we play with Stu Thomas and Stu Perera. I love their company and playing with them. They’re really great musicians. I do enjoy that a lot.

    I guess presenting things like records to the world; somebody described it as a leap into the void, that an artist is compelled to take. Eventually artists get tired of doing that. They get exhausted, but I’m still quite excited by doing that kind of thing. I must say putting a book out is quite a different thing because it’s much more of a static thing that people can approach, and that’s different to a recording. I don’t know whether… I think that’s a new thing for me, so this is a bit of a leaping into the void that I’ve never experienced before. It’ll probably be the only kind autobiographical thing I’ll ever be doing! [laughs]

    I hope it’s a successful leap into the void, Dave.

    Yeah. [laughs]

    Based on what I’ve read, I can confirm it is good. Hopefully other people feel that way too.

    Oh, thanks Andrew, I appreciate that.

    ++

    For more Dave Graney, follow him on Twitter or visit his website. The music video for his song ‘Knock Yourself Out‘ is embedded below.

  • A Conversation With Neil Strauss, New York Times bestselling author, 2011

    Almost two years ago, I traveled from Brisbane to Sydney to meet Neil Strauss – my favourite writer [pictured right] – for a face-to-face interview. It was a life-changing experience, and that’s no exaggeration: being in his presence solidified my decision to seriously pursue journalism. (Up until that point, I’d only dabbled; the interview was ostensibly for FourThousand.com.au, a Brisbane-focused online publication). That meeting, and our resultant conversation, is documented in full here.

    This time around, when Neil’s new book Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead – a collection of enlightening and revealing moments taken from his 3000+ interviews with cultural figures for Rolling Stone and The New York Times – appeared on Text Publishing’s Australian release schedule, I was in the position to get paid to interview my favourite writer, rather than spending a few hundred dollars on travel for the same opportunity. Which is nice.

    I interviewed Neil over the phone from his home in California for The Courier-Mail in early March 2011, before the book was released. I published a 800 word article here, which summarised our 45 minute conversation.

    Our full interview transcript is included below.

    Beware: throughout our interview, there are many references to the content of …When You’re Dead, so if you haven’t read it yet, you might want to avoid reading this interview. Maybe not.

    ++

    Firstly, I want to talk about the final chapter of the book, and the epilogue. I thought it was a very touching note to end on; it wrapped everything up nicely. It made me wonder; was that section about [American rock and folk music critic] Paul Nelson always going to close the book? [Note: Nelson died in 2006 due to apparent starvation. Strauss wrote a feature for Rolling Stone about his death, called “The Man Who Disappeared”; in When You’re Dead, he says it was the hardest article he’s ever had to write.]

    No. I don’t think any book is ever planned. It always sort of just happens. I guess I knew I wanted the last section to be about family and mortality, and I felt I put so much heart and time into the Paul Nelson piece, it seems like a fitting epilogue for the book. And it rolled so nicely into the actual epilogue. I knew that each section was going to have a theme, and the last section was really going to look at mortality around different angles, in a parallex way. That got more appropriate there. It just sort of landed there.

    When I’m writing, I never think in advance. I just keep hammering and hammering. They’re like puzzles. You’re putting everything together and you keep rearranging until you feel that it’s right.

    Something that Paul’s ex-wife said made me think of you, Neil. She said, “I found out more about him by reading what he wrote.” I wondered if you’d ever heard the same thing from those close to you.

    [laughs] You know what? That’s such a good comment. I’ve never heard that, but I know it’s 100% true. One hundred per cent true. There are things that I can’t tell people face-to-face, whether they’re just friends of mine, or people I love who are close to my life, yet for some reason I’m not afraid to write about them, even though I know they’ll see ‘em.

    Even the stuff in The Game, I’ve never told people because I was worried they would judge me. The stuff in Rules Of The Game, in that first story about that really, really old woman. My friends would have just ripped… it would have been publicly humiliating. But I guess I feel if I can write it I can really explain it fully, all the dimensions to it and I can make sure it’s said right, and comes out right.

    That way I can say it the best way I can possibly say it. It’s so true. It’s interesting. It might be something… I just interviewed Howard Stern for Rolling Stone, and I realised what we have in common. It’s hard sometimes to communicate the truth, as a guy like me, because it’s hard to deal with peoples’ emotions. If you say something that affects someone you have to deal with their emotional reaction to it. And maybe in a book, as horrible as this sounds, no-one is talking back to you, to that idea. No-one is saying that it’s wrong or that it hurts them, or is an unhealthy way to think, or it’s a judgmental thing to say, or whatever. It’s a semi-one-way conversation. I’m speaking to a bunch of people, but they’re sort of a faceless, invisible mob.

    I see what you mean. Most journalists I know admit to feeling guilty for drilling into peoples’ minds to make their stories public. I’d like to know your take on that.

    I never feel guilty, because I never try to hurt anybody with a story. I’ve never been a gossip reporter. I’ve never sat outside somebody’s house chasing them. Everything I’ve ever written, at least in journalism, is in the context of, you know, “I’m here to write a story, and anything you say or do can end up in that story”. So they’re making the choices. I’ve never tried to assassinate anyone. I’m always trying to show them as they are.

    Sometimes I feel guilty in the sense of after we did this interview; say I spent a long time with this musician, and I’m leaving with four hours of recordings of them spilling their soul to me, and all of a sudden it’s like, “thank you very much, good-bye”, and I’m just walking away with their soul on a tape, to some degree. They have nothing. That part always feels strange to me, like having sex with someone, then pulling out and running away.

    The fact that you’re working with ‘household names’ most of the time, does that increase the guilt, knowing that you’re exposing them even further?

    No. I would feel that with anyone. If I’d just interviewed a guy off the street for four hours, or for a day or a week, about their inner most thoughts and fears; their life, their insecurities, and their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and then I just walked away… I’d still feel horrible, because they have nothing. I’ve got this tape recorder that has everything. It’s a feeling of: I’ve taken something and I’ve walked away with it, and what do they have? Nothing.

    Even though that’s not how it works – obviously they have the promotion and the press and whatever the article is [about] – but it’s still a way where they’re bereft, and here I am with everything. You try and shape it as honestly as you can, but there’s also a trust element, where you could shape it any way you want.

    Speaking broadly, have you thought much about why people are so interested to read about the lives of famous people?

    I don’t believe that. I didn’t put the most famous people I interviewed in the book. A lot of the people I interviewed, whose heart and fame I adore, whether it’s Stevie Wonder, Iggy Pop… who I didn’t put in the book, because the interviews weren’t revelatory. I think if anything, what makes it look unique is: there are a lot of people who spend their lives interviewing famous people, but just as interesting as Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen are Von Lmo, and Patrick Miller, and Lucia Pamela, who probably 99.9% of readers never heard of. And yet they’re going to find those just as interesting as the big stars.

    I just think people are interesting if you get them at the right moment, you know? [laughs] I do think that on some level, celebrities are being used to sell the book, and that’s a lot of what I’ve written about, but to me the Ernie K-Doe experience – the 50s R&B star who tried to have me arrested, or again, Patrick Miller who’s smoking crack and doing heroin in his basement and fighting off hallucinations – they’re even more interesting than reading about… for example, Led Zeppelin just being assholes. [laughs]

    To talk about the book in broader terms; this book is not directly about you, it’s about revealing other people. It’s been a while since you’ve done a project like that.

    Right. But I think in a lot of ways the book is about me. I really made a conscious effort to keep myself out of it but I think between the lines, the book really is an element of my… I think each book is little elements of my autobiography. Whether it’s The Game, which covers a couple of years; Emergency covers a couple years. This, to me, is like the prequel in some ways, [laughs] because this is all I did for 20 years. This is my life for that time, and I think if you look at the pieces, you can see my own evolution as a person. Whether it’s Led Zeppelin making fun of me [for being inexperienced], to learning The Game and trying to seduce people into these interviews, to much later, meeting Lady Gaga and Chuck Berry and giving them life advice. I can see my own evolution in the book. It’s just not explicit.

    When you began putting this book together, at what point did you decide to do that concept of the threaded narratives, or ‘open loops’?

    I think what I did was, I broke down all those interviews to those little clips, and each clip was a standalone clip. Then I collected the most interesting [clips]. Some people were interesting for only one clip, for one little vignette. Other people maybe had three or four vignettes in which they were interesting. Then I sort of sequenced them together, so that everything matched together. The vignettes were really standalone stories about an idea, so I thought that it’d be nice where, “Hey, we get this idea, now here’s a couple ideas from someone else, now let’s return to a new idea for that person we just met”.

    I kind of saw each piece as almost a standalone piece. Even when they continue from scene one to scene two to scene three, sometimes the story continues. Sometimes they’re just completely separate ideas. Other times, which I kind of like, you see artists at different times in their career. Maybe a couple years later, they feel bad about what they said earlier.

    It’s interesting that a lot of the segues between the vignettes are artists mentioning other artists. That shows the breadth of the 20 years that you’ve spent doing this.

    Yeah, it’s really funny. I’d probably say, with one or two notable exceptions, almost every artist someone mentions is interviewed elsewhere in the book, so it’s like the book itself; it’s kind of a closed loop. It is funny, there really were points where Trent Reznor mentions Beck, Gwen Stefani, Marilyn Manson and Oasis and I’ve got all four of those people interviewed elsewhere in the book. It’s like: which one do I put next?

    I think there’s one section where all the artists are always talking about each other, Billy Corgan, Marilyn Manson, I think Courtney Love, Dave Navarro, And they’re all kind of referencing each other.

    You state in the intro that “you can tell a lot about a person in a minute, if you pick the right minute”. Was that always the premise of the book?

    No, the original idea was because Emergency – as you know from when we talkedEmergency was so much work. I basically had to learn how to rebuild the entirety of civilisation all by myself, you know? [laughs] It was so intense, so much work, I thought I’d give myself a break and do an anthology because anyone who’s been writing articles and features for 20 years feels like, “why not collect my favourite pieces and put them in a book?”

    I started collecting [my] pieces and reading them, but… I like telling stories. There were no through lines. I bought a bunch of anthologies from writers I liked. Half of them I didn’t finish, because I got bored. With the other half, after I was done, I was bored of the writer, and bored of the voice, because it’s not a book if it’s just articles bound together.

    Although it literally is my dream project, as for over 10 years I’d been collecting all my favourite articles in a file to put into an essay book. Then I realised it doesn’t work. Every book one does, or every film, or every record should be good enough that if anybody starts with any single one, they’ll then want to read the rest of what you’ve done. I felt if somebody read [a straight anthology] first, and it was the first book of mine [that they’d read], they might not be be intrigued enough to want to read the others.

    I wrestled with it for a while. I thought I’d write a story about being a down-and-out writer in New York, and merge some of the articles that happened during that time, and tried a couple of other formats. Gradually I realised that essentially, these articles were moments when you saw the real person behind the mask.

    I started collecting those. That two month quickie book became fuckin’ two years of intense work. Unlike Emergency, which was fun, I got to go live off in the wild and learn how to pick locks and go to junkyards and hotwire cars. The Game was fun because I got to run around the world and meet women. This time, I was stuck in a room with my own past, sorting through thousands of pages of transcriptions.

    The way I think of it, this book is the journalistic opposite of taking the easy way out. Like you said, rather than putting together your best, or favourite published work, you’ve really gone through and mined your past for the best material.

    Yeah, and it’s funny because I even had most of the interviews re-transcribed. I had somebody go back to the tapes. I said, “I want every time someone coughs, every time they paused, every time there’s an interruption, I want you to write it out like it’s a play and tell me everything going on”. Even though that’s time consuming and expensive and laborious, I was pretty adamant about getting everything from those tapes and looking for those little moments.

    I was going to ask: how much of this book existed on your hard drive already?

    I think only about 10% were on the hard drive as they were.  A lot were already transcribed, but just not well enough. Sometimes, for example, if it’s someone transcribing something, they might not take the part where the guy just asked me as an off-hand thing, “Hey, do you know now to make beans?” The truth is; the guy who’s talking about his album and why he wrote songs, it’s really more revealing to me that he asks the journalist “How do you make beans?,” because he’s trying to cook for his son. That tells me more about the person than some long story about his album. I tried to get most of them transcribed, and the only ones that didn’t were when I couldn’t find the original tapes. I literally called people who transcribed tapes 10 years ago, and had them find the tapes and bring them back to me.

    Was this the first time in your career that you’d really sat down and gone through all your old stuff?

    For sure. Absolutely.

    What were some of the personal highlights when you were going through that material?

    To me, the highlight for sure was finding all these all pitch letters I’d written to people, trying to write articles for different magazines, different newspapers; finding letters I’d written to my family about how excited I was that this article was out, because you forget how much you struggled sometimes. You forget how excited you are at those first-floor victories. That was kinda moving. It’s really easy to forget the past, because we get so caught up in the present. It was cool to see that. Everyone has a passion and a dream, and it was cool to see that I somehow was lucky enough to live that passionate dream, and even overshot, somewhat, my goal. My only goal was to write a weekly column for Village Voice. I did that by the time I was 22, so everything since then has been gravy.

    That’s awesome. Let’s talk about interviewing. What is an interview to you, now? Has it changed since you started doing interviews back then?

    No. I think I’m better at it. The interview’s still the same thing. An interview is still me trying to get as close to someone I can and write an article that somehow captures who they are, and that says something new about the person that hasn’t been written before. It’s always been the same thing, and I’ve always been really hard on myself about them. They’re never easy, and they need a lot of preparation.

    What makes a good interview?

    In the end, it’s about how you write it. I could say to me there are three kinds of good interviews. I’m just thinking of this out loud as we’re talking. One is where someone really examines themselves in a very honest way and is really emotionally vulnerable, and open, and honest with you. Another kind of good interview is where crazy shit happens, like the first time I’m going to interview Motley Crue, and the police are literally arresting Nikki and Tommy, and in the meantime Vince Neil is blow-drying his hair the whole time. That’s a great interview. They haven’t said a word, and it’s already the fucking best interview ever. The third kind is where the subject sucks, where they’ve got fucking nothing to say. They’re really closed off, not giving you anything, and then that’s an opportunity for me to be a creative writer. [laughs] One thing is the material. The other thing is what you make of it.

    I saw a recent press interview for this book, with Cleveland.com, where you told them that when you do an interview you’re petrified with fear and you’re stressed out. I’m surprised that you still feel this way, after doing it for over 20 years.

    For sure, man. My last interview was with Howard Stern… I’m definitely doing fewer and fewer [interviews] over time. I really only want to do one or two a year. But yeah, of course [I’m stressed], because you have to somehow go in, you have a limited amount of time with someone, and you have to walk away and leave with something they’ve never told to anyone else before, or at least any other writer before. That’s a lot of pressure. You’re not in control of it, they’re in control of it.

    My last interview with Howard Stern, who spills his whole life on the radio every day. How do you get that guy to say something new? There’s a burden. I think the better you get at something, the more intimidating it gets. For example, the better I got at pickup during The Game, the harder the approach was because my expectations and everyone else’s expectations were so high of me. To make the parallel, when I approached a girl in the past, if I didn’t get slapped or laughed at, it was a success. In other words, if some crazy wild adventure didn’t happen with this woman, then I failed.

    It’s the same with an interview. In the past, just to get the interview was enough. I succeeded by getting to be in the same room as this great artist who I looked up to. Now it’s not enough. I’ve got to get the best interview this person has ever given in their life. So the better you get at something, the harder and more intimidating it gets. I’m sure that’s true for you. When we had that interview before, I would say the success was fucking even getting it [in the first place].

    Definitely. I know what you mean. You said when we first met that your goal was to get the best possible material out of someone, and like you said; if it’s someone who speaks for a living it’s hard to find some new truth in that. But it’s still the goal. It’s my goal every time, regardless whether it’s a 15 minute phoner or a couple of days with someone, you still want to get the best. You want to be the best. It’s your standards you’ve got to live up to and you want to put them as high as you can.

    Yeah. And as an interviewer, you’re not in control of that. If you’re just writing an article you can make it the best if it’s all up to you, and how well you write, but in an interview you’re not in control of that. I agree.

    Is it a matter of the bigger the star you interview the more nervous you are beforehand, or is it similar across the board?

    I think it all depends on the situation. I’m more nervous if the star has only given us one hour in a room together. Unless I’m going to be going on tour with them for a week because I know I’ll get time to get what I need. I guess it’s not how famous they are, it’s how short of a time I have to get to connect with them.

    When we first met, I think the first thing you told me when you walked over and looked at my sheet of paper, was: “Ready for all 15 questions,” and then you said what you do to prepare for an interview is brainwash yourself with the person’s career and write down every single question that comes to mind. Now besides those two elements, researching and writing down questions, is there something more? Is there a routine to preparing for interviews beyond just research?

    I think it’s kind of what I said before, that brainwashing which is reading all the books, reading every article about them, reading any books if they’ve written any, listening to every album, watching every movie they’re in, and then as I’m doing these things writing down every question that I can possibly ever thing of. Then studying those questions and arranging those questions in a sequence I kind of want to ask them, and then studying those questions like I’m preparing for an exam, where I don’t know what the questions are going to be on the test. [laughs] There’s a lot of big interviews I turned down, because I really didn’t want to get that deep. I wasn’t that interested enough in the artist to get that deep in their life, and their work.

    When you’re meeting face-to-face with your subjects, do you pick clothes to make you appear a certain way?

    No, in fact I’ll usually dress more down than I would if I was going out myself because I want them to know they’re they star, I’m not trying to say… I think if someone walked into the interview saying “hey, we’re equals! Hey, look at me, I’m one of you too!” the star’s already like “no you’re not.” [laughs] So if anything, I try to play myself down. Even the Howard Stern interview I did today ended up on the air and it’s on TV and you see it, I’m dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans. I really try to be like, “you’re the star. I’m not going to be so embarrassing you can’t be seen with me, but I’m not going to be dressed like I think I’m a star too”. I think that’s the wrong attitude to go into an interview with. In fact, going into any situation whether it’s pickup, survival, or an interview trying to impress someone is the exact wrong attitude to have.

    The way you say that makes me think that you’ve made that mistake in the past and you learned not to act that way. Is that correct?

    No, I never did because when I started out, I really was super, super humbled by these amazing people I got to be in the same room with. And I really was kind of young and innocent. I did it before, but it wasn’t a mistake, when I did that Ludacris interview. There was an idea that we had the ‘Ho’lympics’, a contest where it was me against Ludacris doing all these crazy things, like the one-hand bra unhooking contest. I brought one of my peacocking outfits from The Game, like this snakeskin suit. It was funny. He loved it. He thought it was fucking hilarious. It hasn’t been a mistake when I’ve done it in the past and I think it’s less about dress and more about attitude. But I know my place, I know the role. They’re the star and I’m the person who’s translating that message to the world.

    Out of interest, Neil, do you have a musical background?

    No, I can play a little bit of music and I’ve even been in bands and stuff, but my goal was never to be a musician. If anything, if I was to end up anywhere in the musical side of things it would have been as a producer, because I think in a way it’s similar to being a critic. There’s a sense of saying “what can we do?”. It’s being a critic, but earlier on in the process, where you can actually have some effect on the music.

    True, I see that. The reason I asked is: that bit of musical knowledge that you have beyond being a critic – you actually know how to play some music – do you think that’s been advantageous for you to help relate to musicians?

    Not always. Sometimes it’s been fun, because I did piece on this band Sebadoh, and we went and recorded a punk rock single together. There were a lot of cool things that didn’t make it in the book, but I had to select what was most interesting. But [musical knowledge] has helped in a couple of cases. I also find that musical dialogue won’t be interesting to the general audience of Rolling Stone or The New York Times. If I wrote for Musician or Guitar World it would, but I think that would have hurt the interviews. Because maybe [the interview subject and I] would have bonded over it, but it’s not going to create any kind of dialogue that’s going to be appropriate for that kind of article.

    I think there might be an element, too, of if you cover musicians, then I think you need to come in as a journalist, and not as a fellow musician. To me, the best asset one has in an interview is curiosity. It’s better than an outfit; better than musical knowledge. And even having brushed up and having prepared, I think genuine, sincere curiosity is the best tool you have.

    I find that simply listening and responding to a person is just as important as background research. A good example of that in the book – of you just listening and going with the flow – is when you tell Britney Spears that you know exactly what she’s talking about, even though you have no idea.

    [laughs] Yeah, exactly. I think there are a lot of points in a lot of interviews where you’re saying ‘yes’. We’re agreeing just so you don’t stop the roll they’re on. I think there’s definitely some crazy things I’ve fucking agreed with in interviews. I think it’s important not to judge the person in an interview, and not to judge whether they’re right or wrong, or if it makes sense. The job is to let them speak. Often, some of them I don’t even know… it isn’t until I look at the transcripts that I know what someone was really saying, or trying to say, because I can slow it down.

    To talk about some more specific sections of the book, my favourite band of all time is Led Zeppelin, so I thoroughly enjoyed that section. [Neil interviewed Jimmy Page and Robert Plant for The New York Times. It was their first interview together since Zeppelin broke up 14 years earlier.]

    That’s awesome.

    I want to know what was going through your mind when you discovered that you hadn’t recorded those first 40 minutes of your interview.

    One, was that I was so fucking mad at myself. There are two interviews… I also love Ray Davies of The Kinks, and I missed that interview, too. I was just furious. After that, I started bringing two tape recorders to every interview and I’d have them recorded on two audio recorders just in case one failed, or goes wrong. I was thinking: “how do I re-ask these same questions and get those answers without them catching on?”

    The other funny thing about that interview was that I was so young, and they were these icons. I think I’d read [Zeppelin biography] Hammer of the Gods and was obsessed about their… I was a guy who’d maybe slept with one or two women my whole life, so I think I was more obsessed with their sex life than their music. [laughs] And I wanted to know the story. I think at one point Jimmy Page asked me, “Do you have any questions that don’t involve sex?” [laughs] To me, they were legends not just for their music, but the lifestyle around it.

    That bit about how you missed the first 40 minutes, it’s funny because it’s such a rookie error, and yet it was one of your first assignments for The New York Times.

    Yeah! And that happens. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. There are so many things that could go wrong, especially with cassette decks. You can plug the microphone in the headphone jack, the batteries can die in the middle of the interview and you don’t notice it. The pause button can be on, and you’re recording. I think every one of these errors has happened to me, and that’s my biggest paranoia. I’m almost OCD about checking to make sure that it’s recording. Especially now, I get really paranoid with digital recorders because after you stop it, it has to store the information after you stop it, and what if it doesn’t store… I get so paranoid, man, because you can’t recreate what just happened.

    That’s true. But you’ve got to have faith in technology, Neil.

    You can have faith in technology, but if it goes wrong… like, you don’t know what’s left on your computer if it shuts down, and you lose your work.

    I see where you’re coming from. I’ll remain blissfully naïve until that happens to me.

    You can have faith in technology, and technology has things that are operated on electricity. Batteries can die. You can be working there and the power can go; anything can happen, especially when one has more faith in technology than one has in one’s self. One can rely on one’s self, you can’t rely on technology.

    Some of my favourite parts in the book were when you revealed part of yourself, like right near the start when you’re talking with Madonna about drugs. You said that you didn’t like pills because “it’s a control thing”, and by making a statement and not asking a question, you encouraged her to go off on her little tangent about how she feels about that, which is an interesting tactic.

    I do find that… I put those parts in this book less, but I’ll tell you something interesting, which is that as I was compiling the book, I was going back through a lot of parts in the book. You have to give a little to get something, so the parts of Madonna in the book – I saved these. I’ve got about 100 pages of it, I kind of collected my own personal biography through these interviews with these artists because at some point I’m telling them about my life. I’m telling Bruce Springsteen about how I got a job at The New York Times. I’m telling Lady Gaga about how I came to write The Game. I’m telling Tom Cruise about, I think about The Game also. I’m talking to Christine Aguilera about my childhood. I collected those parts of the interviews because I thought it would be fun if I ever do a straight-up biography, to mix in those interviews.

    I was impressed by a few sections where you revealed your ability to form a bond with some of your subjects, like Shawn [Crahan] from Slipknot, and Chuck Berry.

    Going back to what you were saying before, I do think I was very conscious to leave myself out of this as much as possible because I felt like you can see the book is showing who these other people are, and the less I’m in it, the better. In all my books, even though I might be a central character in The Game and Emergency, I still tried to put myself in as little, only in there as much as necessary to understand the subject being written about. I’m not in The Game and Emergency, I’m not giving my whole biography. I think I did the same thing in here, I just tried to give myself as little as possible, as was necessary to get to know the subject. But you like when those special bonds happen, you were saying?

    Yeah, it’s cool, because the only time that most fans see these musicians is when they’re performing on stage, or in a music video, or they’re being interviewed on TV. But when you break outside of that… like how Shawn from Slipknot took the second cup from the top of a cup pyramid; this tiny little detail tells you a lot about a person.

    Yeah, and I loved that. That’s one of my favourite things about this [book] is when you come back and check in with someone later and see how they’ve grown, how they’ve changed, how maybe they take back what they said then, whether they’re sober or whether they’re on drugs. Whether they’re talking rehab speak – it’s a really cool barometer of watching someone grow in these little snapshots. They tell you about your own life too, because you can see how you’ve changed in those interviews as well.

    But my favourite time to talk to artists is when they’re in the creative process, versus when they’re in the promotional process. I love talking to them when they’re in the midst of creation because then they’re really wrestling, they’re really raw. When you get them in the promotion process, they’re closed.

    I think an example in the book was Trent Reznor; you made that comment about how he was unpacking a videogamesconsoles, which would be upsetting to his listeners, because he’s obviously procrastinating, and not creating music.

    Yeah. And I loved that interview, because it was so honest.

    The idea of revealing a bit of yourself to the reader, there was a bit more of that when you asked Brian Wilson whether he’s a nervous person. Then you went on to state that having a very domineering, critical father can make people nervous and hesitant later in life, which I believe is a reflection of your own life.

    It wasn’t that case, I think it was just from observation. I do have critical parents, probably more so on my mother’s side, but I think that was more like a general observation from a number of interviews, [as opposed to] saying that about myself. Though of course in interviews, I will often talk about myself. Again, I think if someone tries to suck all the information out, you’re kind of an asshole if you’re out to do that. There should be reciprocity. But I definitely wasn’t referring to myself in that case. Though now that you mention it, I definitely grew up in a household where nothing was ever good enough, and that definitely probably did contribute to the hesitancy and lack of confidence later in life, for sure.

    After The Game came out and you started to get noticed, were there many instances during interviews of your reputation preceding you? Were some of your subjects were already aware of your work, even beyond music journalism?

    Yeah, and it usually helped if they were aware of my work. I think it’s definitely true, versus some random name coming in to interview them, or a guy whose stories they’ve read in Rolling Stone. If they’ve sat there with a book, and read a book. It definitely helped.

    Are you concerned that journalists like myself are going to read the book and steal your best material?

    No, because that material is already out there. I mean, to me it’s like if somebody steals it… I’m scared until it’s out, like before I put the book out, I’m scared someone else is going to do an anthology like this, when it hasn’t been done before, and some other journalist is going to think about creating something like this. But once it’s out, I look forward to people… let’s not say stealing, but being inspired by it. [laughs] I think that’s the most awesome thing ever. If someone likes it enough to do something similar or use that material in their own way, that’s cool. Otherwise you’d never do anything, because otherwise you’d just be frozen.

    There were two questions you asked in the book that totally blew me away, because I would never even have considered asking them. Do you want to know what they are?

    Yeah, go ahead. Wait, I know your first one’s going to be: “could you made the best album ever, then bury it and never listen to it, but still be content?”

    Yeah, that’s one.

    And is the other one about “what’s more important, music or children”?

    No.

    I liked that one. “What’s the thing you felt you’ve given to the world most, music or children? What’s benefitted the world more?”

    The other one was what you asked [the rapper] The Game – “what was the first money you ever made?” It’s such a simple question, but his answer reveals so much about him.

    Oh yeah, “the first money I made wasn’t made, it was stolen”. [laughs] I don’t have stock questions I ask everybody. I really should have a list of questions I ask everybody, but I don’t.  I usually ask that if I’m curious about it for that particular person. There are a couple that have been themes in my life because I’m always curious about family, and curious about artistic stuff.

    So, my last question: have you sent this book out to any of the people who you interviewed?

    Umm… no. [laughs]

    Are you intending to?

    No, I’m not planning to. I’ll just think I’ll let them find it. I don’t know why. It seems to me something where… for some reason, it seems boastful to send it to them. I don’t know why. I probably should. I think that would be a good idea to do. Even, like, Russell Brand, who I’m friends with, he told me I was in his book, and I didn’t tell him he was in my book. So I should probably do that.

    Totally. Alright Neil, I’ll leave it there.

    I look forward to catching up with you at a more calm point, and seeing you when I’m in Australia.

    For sure man. Thanks for your time.

    Thanks man. It’s been fun watching your evolution. Bye Andrew.

    ++

    For more Neil Strauss, visit his website or follow him or Twitter.

  • A Conversation With Yannis Philippakis of Foals, 2010

    I interviewed Yannis Philippakis [pictured right], singer/guitarist of the British pop act Foals, for Scene Magazine in late December 2010, ahead of their Australian tour as part of Laneway Festival 2011 (which I reviewed for The Vine).

    Our interview originally ran in condensed form as the cover story of Scene Magazine #811. Here’s the full interview transcript.

    Andrew: I’ve got a confession to make. [Foals’ second album] Total Life Forever is one of my favourite albums of 2010.

    Oh, thank you very much.

    I discovered [Foals’ 2008 debut album] Antidotes a couple of years ago, but Total Life Forever sounds like an entirely different band. I like this band more. Do you?

    Yannis: It’s not a different band…

    I know it’s not, but the sound definitely has changed quite a lot.

    Yeah. I mean, I don’t really like the idea of making albums adversary to each other. I find the whole ranking, hierarchy that happens every year kind of repellent and equally… I don’t really have the same perspective on it, obviously, as an externalist, but to us in the band it’s a very linear progression. It never really felt like we had a break, even after we finished Antidotes. I think the production is a hell of a lot more fully realised on Total Life Forever. At least to me, I still have a fondness for a lot of the songs on Antidotes, but I don’t listen to that record largely because of the production. I think that it’s great that people are acknowledging the progression, but to us it is one linear thing. We want to make a body of work. It’s not us trying to eradicate our past, as such.

    Was there any self-doubt within the band, when your style of song writing started shifting after Antidotes?

    There’s self-doubt every day. Of course. Not to do with writing new things, but there’s just… most of them comes from a wish to complete something that isn’t whole. Self-doubt is part of the game. It’s been there always and unless we write ‘Symphony No. 3’ by Gorecki – which we can’t, because it’s already been written – I don’t think we’re ever going to feel sated or complete. It’s just part of the fun as well, the masochistic element of it.

    The moment we stopped recording Antidotes, we started doing b-sides for Antidotes, it started to change a lot, and there was much more experimentation. We started to implement a lot of the things that we learned from Dave Sitek, and make stuff that I think actually bridges the two albums quite closely. There are some b-sides; one in particular called ‘Gold Gold Gold‘, and another two called ‘Titan Arum‘ and ‘Glaciers‘. That’s what I mean; it felt linear. It didn’t feel like we ever stopped, we just always worked on stuff.

    All that really happened was that, at the beginning when we started the band, there was a very definite and conscious process. It was a conscious aesthetic, that we wanted, and it was to do with techno, it was to do with a style of guitar playing, a visual aesthetic. Everything was very conscious and we wanted to have parameters on it. We were in love with the idea of bands like Devo that had a distinct world that they occupied.

    Everything since then, once we felt like we attained that, everything now is about undoing that process and getting to a point which is kind of the reverse of that, where nothing is conscious and if I had the choice, I’d have a lobotomy and cut out the conscious part of my mind, so that I could just make music direct from the gut. I don’t know. Did that answer your question?

    For sure. You mentioned the style of guitar playing the band has. I’ve always been fascinated by those little needly, palm-muted riffs that you guys come up with. Were there any particular artists that inspired that style of playing?

    I think it was just something that we heard. I think there are a lot of bands, a lot of styles of guitar or even just playing strings [instruments], everything from string players in a classical piece, to [‘math rock’] bands like OXES and Don Caballero, and African Senegalese guitar. I think the main thing, at least personally for me, there was something about that way of guitar playing that just attracted me. I was never that fascinated by chords, and I actually neglected to learn how to work chord sequences and stuff. Instead, everything became about these ‘guitar tattoos’. It was more I had a lot of different types of music and different types of bands and wanted to cannibalise it and make it our own.

    That’s always been a main bit of the band. We start playing stuff lower down the guitar. We play with chords sometimes now, but I think that will always be part of the sound because that is just the way that I play, naturally. It’s become muscle memory, now.

    It’s certainly one of the band’s most distinctive elements. Did you always intend that to be the case, or did it arise when you started playing together?

    You kind of progress, but yeah, it’s always been there, it predates the band. It’s how I learned how to play the guitar. I used to mimic and ape the guitar lines I liked, and they usually were like staccato, tight little phrases, that’s how I liked it. As I said, I was never really attracted to chords, or distortion pedals. I like the idea of a transparent guitar sound; a guitar sound that’s unashamed to be a clean guitar. I think that you can get as much power out of a clean guitar as you can out of a distorted guitar.

    You’ve been touring pretty heavily this year, as we discussed. You’ve played a lot of shows. I’m interested to know how you keep it sounding fresh and feeling fresh night after night.

    Just do loads of drugs, basically. That’s pretty much it. [laughs] Do you mean like the shows, or the actual lifestyle, or my body odour? What do you mean?

    The music. If you’re playing the same songs each night, does it feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over?

    It depends. I definitely think there’s a point at which bands stop touring and sometimes you can’t tell when that point is going to be, and you have to keep on playing for a bit longer. But that rarely happens. Each show is different, and we don’t play exactly the same set every night. Even if we were playing a similar set, we have quite a lot of room to improvise… well not improvisation, exactly, but we have negative space that we’re allowed to do different things. We allow space for chaos in the set, so that it’s not so tightly rehearsed, that it’s mechanical. It’s not choreographed, in that way.

    I think that helps keep it fresh. I get tired of touring sometimes, but it’s not really often to do with the shows, more to do with the kind of… I don’t know, I’d probably be able to answer that question later on in the year because we’ve still got two more tours [note: this interview was conducted in mid-December 2010]. At the moment I feel pretty good about playing. I’m starting to feel restless about writing new things. I’ve been writing so many things and I think the more that appetite opens, the more pedestrian touring seems in comparison. The further we get away from the completion of the last record, the more difficult touring becomes, I think. Not because of playing the same stuff, just because there’s a new appetite that emerges, of wanting to do things.

    When I was researching for this interview, I was surprised to discover your age. You’re two years older than I am. Was it a challenge to get people to take a bunch of teenagers seriously when the band first started?

    How old are you?

    22.

    What do you mean? For who to take us seriously?

    People in the music industry, as you were getting introduced to labels, and so forth.

    I don’t know. I think that for a lot of young bands, that’s when the prime is, sometimes. I think people are savvy to that in the music industry. They kind of want to feed off young blood. You have a naivety. You’re not jaded in any sort of way. I think, if anything, it wasn’t an issue of persuading them, it was more like trying to have them not suck our blood. I’m the youngest, but I wasn’t that young. We’ve all been playing in bands for a long time. I don’t know, I didn’t really feel that. I don’t feel as young as I used to, though.

    Do you feel that as you get older you’re being taken more seriously?

    It depends on what you mean. Are we talking about people that listen to records, are you talking about critics?

    All of the above.

    Yeah, I think so, in some way. I think the critics, there is something that make critics recoil if you seem like a young, cocky upstart. When we started doing interviews and stuff, I really didn’t have that much of a filter on my brain. A lot of time I really didn’t know where I was, in terms of how things would be relayed in the press. I think that with time comes an understanding. I understand myself better now. I think as you get older – what were you like when you were 19?

    I was a dumbass.

    [laughs] Things change. I think it’s not just to do with age. It’s to do with the fact that we made the second record, and hopefully it didn’t stink, and the people believe in you that little bit more because you’re not just putting out a hype record that, in theory, is a one-hit wonder, and also a compilation of songs that you spent 10 years to write. I think that we’ve conducted ourselves, at least since the beginning, in a way that we feel proud of, and hopefully people have a belief in a certain type of integrity – or an attempt at integrity – which will mean that we gain some respect in that field.

    Yeah, sure. Before we finish up, I wanted to ask you about Oxford briefly. Earlier this year I came across a documentary called Anyone Can Play Guitar, which I note you’re involved with. I’m particularly interested in Oxford because I love both Ride and Swervedriver.

    Right.

    When you were growing up in the city, was there a sense of wanting to follow in the footsteps of other Oxford bands like those two perhaps?

    Yeah, it wasn’t those two, but there were other ones. There was a band that was pretty much our contemporaries, but a little bit older: Youthmovies. Oxford definitely was like a big factor in the way we started to think about music. I obviously knew about Radiohead and Supergrass, but Ride and Swervedriver in particular, I wasn’t that aware of. When I was growing up I paid attention to local fledgling bands. Those bands [Ride and Swervedriver], I don’t think they were really playing Oxford when I was growing up, so I wasn’t that aware of them. A band called Youthmovies had pretty much the biggest influence on Oxford in general and people my age, and it’s still being felt now. I think it’s a very interesting place to live, if you’re not an academic.

    Is there a sense of being able to give something back to the scene that helped foster Foals, now that you’ve got some attention?

    Yeah, we take bands that we like on tour with us, and I try to talk about them in interviews. But not really out of a sense of… there’s nothing magnanimous about it, it’s just that we like the bands and a lot of them are our friends. I’d rather talk about my friends, because it’s more personal to me.

    Last question. A friend asked me to say “pretty please, will you leak the Dave Sitek mix of Antidotes?”

    [laughs] Ehh, maybe.

    Okay, good. Thanks for your time mate.

    A pleasure. Thank you.

    ++

    For more Foals, visit their website. The music video for their song ‘Blue Blood‘‘ is embedded below.

    Elsewhere: a review of their 2010 album, Total Life Forever, for The Vine.

     

  • A Conversation With Alex Grey, American visionary artist, 2011

    In early January 2011, I was scheduled to interview the American visionary artist Alex Grey [pictured right] for The Australian ahead of his first Australian art tour. The problem was that at the time, my home city of Brisbane was in the midst of some of its worst-ever flooding.

    Due to a sketchy internet connection, I didn’t want to risk the possibility of a Skype video call dropping out mid-interview, so I sent through some questions for Alex and his wife Allyson to answer via email. Their answers formed the basis of my 800 word story for The Australian, which you can read here.

    Our full email interview is below; Alex’s answers are included verbatim, without editing. Examples of Alex’s striking art are embedded throughout this interview.

    ++

    Andrew: Many readers of The Australian would be unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your painting styles to those who haven’t seen it before?

    Alex: My best known works are paintings that “X-ray” multi-dimensional reality, interweaving biological anatomy with psychic/spiritual energies in visual meditations on the nature of life and consciousness.

    Is there an intellectual rationale behind your work? Has this changed much over the years?

    My work has been called visionary because I’m a painter inspired by glimpses into the subtle visionary realm, which is the source of all sacred art. There is more of a spiritual motivation to the work. The philosophical framework from which one could view the artwork is an integral and consciousness evolutionary perspective. This is a crucial time for humanity when all the world religions are becoming familiar with each other. Art can play a special role in bridging these traditions, thereby helping to make peace in a volatile climate. A planetary civilization is dawning. We need fresh iconography that points to a sustainable relationship of humanity, the web of life and harmony amongst nations.

    What do you aim to communicate in your art?

    Life is multi-dimensional and all beings and things are interconnected. The cosmos is a continuum in which every creature plays an important part. Our bodies are marvelous gifts of biological evolution that we have the good fortune to experience in our brief life span. Life is a miracle. Love is the highest principle and experience and is the way of all religious teachings.

    I’m interested in each of your painting methods. What materials do you use? After visualising a piece, where do you start, in terms of the actual painting? Do you prefer to spend long periods of time painting, or is it split up into many shorter sessions?

    We both paint with acrylic but prefers oils. We paint on linen and on wood panels. In Alex’s art, everything starts with a vision that results in a drawing and a redrawing over and over again until it is refined enough to transfer the image to canvas or wood. We both love painting for long periods. Sometimes when we have painted together for as long as 20 hours straight.

    We are also founders of a church on 40 acres of land with over a dozen employees and many volunteers. We have many responsibilities that fill our days. This is not a distraction from the artwork. This is a realization of the “great work” which is to build a temple of art that we call the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.

    Do you listen to music while you work?

    Almost always. Sometimes we listen to wisdom teachings on audio.

    Which artists do you listen to?

    Bach, Beethoven, Shubert, Shpongle, Ott, Fats Waller, Led Zepplin, Tool, loads of trance music, Toires, Heyoka, Crystal Method, Animal Collective, Bob Dylan, Canned Heat, Joe Satriani, John Fruscianti, Moby, Peter Gabriel, The Beastie Boys, Clash, Stones, The Beatles. George Harrison and Sting are mystics. Recently, at Daniel Pinchbeck’s documentary film premiere of 2012, Sting came up and hugged Alex. We were starstruck.

    Our daughter Zena queues us into a lot of new music.

    Your larger pieces are often reduced in size to appear in various media – books, calendars, postcards, and on the web. Do you find this dismaying at all? Is anything lost in the art, when it’s reduced from the original size?

    It’s a representation of the work for the purpose of reaching a wider audience. Reproductions are not just smaller, they are NOT the original. To the see the original is a more direct hit. There is still power in a reproduced image, though. It’s just through a glass darkly. An artwork has power when it is iconically viable from the size of a postage stamp to the size of a billboard.

    We produce or license images and sell them to benefit the building of a sacred temple.

    Many people – myself included – first found your work through Tool album covers. I believe your work has been used by some other musical acts, too. Was there any hesitation in being involved with these projects?

    Or am I just THAT sort of Rock Whore? Am I just a trollup in a beret? Just kidding.

    No. People had told me that I would love TooI. I was having an exhibition in Santa Monica when Adam Jones became interested in my work. This motivated me to listen to their music. I was kind of a late comer. Allyson and I were immediately bowled over. We’re huge fans and look forward to seeing them on our last night in Australia.

    I’ve met Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. We are both rather avid scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and we hung out once at a Dalai Lama event. That was so cool.

    We love the guys in S.C.I. and are particularly friendly with Michael Kang who we often see at festivals like Burning Man. What fine musicians they all are. It’s an honor to know such artists.

    My work appeared on the last Nirvana album cover, In Utero. I heard that Kurt Cobain liked my work but I never met him or went to a Nirvana concert.

    Are there any Tool collaboration projects forthcoming?

    No. There is nothing planned at this time.

    I believe you both teach (or taught – past tense?) Visionary Art at The Open Centre. What are some of the values that you try to instill in the students who take your courses?

    We have taught visionary art at many centers all over the world. We recently taught a workshop in Moscow with a Russian translator and then in Mexico City with a Spanish translator. We look forward to teaching a three-day Visionary Art workshop in Byron Bay, January 25-27 [2011].

    At CoSM, the art and spirit educational nexus is called MAGI — Mystic Artists Guild International. We teach art as a spiritual path. We just had a workshop before the Full Moon ceremony called, “Visioning Your Highest Intention.” The purpose of MAGI is to form a higher social organism of inspired minds capable of building sacred space together. Sacred space has always been created by the intertwined wills of people dedicated to a divine purpose. Creating and sharing sacred art can be a form of worship and service, introducing a transformed world view to community and activating cultural renewal. The MAGI bear gifts of beauty for the newly born vision of planetary civilization and universal spirituality. Mystic artists are called to an authentic and disciplined manifestation of their visions.

    I’ve read in High Times that you work in your loft, where you prefer to have your family and library nearby. How do you deal with distractions while working? Do you have an ‘artist at work’ sign posted somewhere?

    Allyson and I have worked within eye shot of each other for thirty-six years. We are each others best friend and most honest critic and advisor. I like to work near all my source material of imagery and philosophy.

    Zena grew up here. When Zena came, Allyson and I had already been together for thirteen years and had already developed our rhythm as artists. Zena has been the greatest gift of our lives.

    What is a distraction? The path to building a temple is a big project. The project IS our art so we are always making our art.

    We are trusted filters for each other. We always have the others best interests at heart.

    Arguably your most famous works, The Sacred Mirrors, took a decade to complete. What do you recall from that time? Did you realize that you were creating works that would come to define you as an artist?

    Painting the Sacred Mirrors felt life defining. Allyson inspired and later named the Sacred Mirrors series. The idea would never otherwise have been realized. At that time, they were the most affirmative statement I could make as an artists to connect the human and the divine, a dissection of the self through the layers of body and soul. The paintings pointed in the direction of a new kind of figuration for me, something I call, “Transfiguration,” the physical body in relationship to transcendental light. The work has a universally sacred aspiration.

    The other beautiful thing that the Sacred Mirrors memorialize is one of our most profound psychedelic experiences. The Universal Mind Lattice visually recounts a meltdown of the physical body into the white light torroidal fountain and drain of energy. What really completely reformatted our psychic hard drive was that Allyson and I did drawings of the same place. We both saw our infinite interconnectedness with the great web of all existence, a love energy flowing through all beings and things.

    What is your proudest artistic achievement?

    Yet to come.

    I was reading an article about the New Year’s Eve just passed, and the scope of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors [CoSM] in Wappinger. It seems like a massive undertaking, yet having not visited, it’s hard to picture. Could you help me out by describing the space?

    The mission is formidable and ultimately doable. Collectors have actually donated works back to CoSM to be part of this great project. Many artists resonate with the practice of art as their spiritual life.

    CoSM lives on 40 wooded acres in the Hudson Valley of New York, 65 miles north of New York City, walking distance from a railroad station running from Manhattan’s Grand Central Station. CoSM has six buildings and a barn and one by one we are make them beautiful and enjoyable as we design and prepare to build the sacred temple. A small staff lives on the property and many volunteers come to joyfully serve the project. We started holding Full Moon ceremonies in our home in Brooklyn in 2003, had a spiritual creative art center in Manhattan for five years, and now an artists refuge.

    What does the Chapel mean to each of you?

    The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is yourself, the temple of your body and the temple of your spirituality. Art is a fusion of those elements. God/love is what brings them together. Love is the secret name of God. When you surrender to love you see through God’s eye. That is what you see when you are staring at a Sacred Mirror.

    Building a Chapel is the work of a community. If we all get along we can make something beautiful together. If we do not get along, our progress is impaired in making something beautiful and of having a sustainable relationship with the planet.

    Unless I’m mistaken, you seem to both now thrive on the notion of patronage – you’re financially supported by your fans and followers, who pay you to express yourselves through art. Was this always the goal?

    We travel because we are invited. To make art and have others love it and want to see it is a terrific honor. Every creative person yearns to live by their creativity. Our art is our ministry. We decide what art we are making and we make it to serve the greater good. Many creative people are considering the ethical energy that they are putting into their manifestations. A moral element deepens the narrative.

    Do you remember if there was a particular moment when you realized you were a self-sufficient artist, who no longer had to take on projects for commercial clients?

    I live and work to serve others.

    At 17 I painted Fun Houses. At 19 I painted billboards. At 21 I worked in the Anatomy department at Harvard Medical School, preparing exhibits on the history of medicine and disease and preparing cadavers for dissection by medical students. At 26 I was a medical illustrator and for ten years I taught anatomy to art students at New York University (NYU). Chapel of Sacred Mirrors became a non-profit organization in 1996 and at age 45 I stopped doing medical or other types of illustration work. Since then, I paint, sculpt, study, teach, lecture, write, work everyday as a co-founder and director of CoSM, now a church.

    What would retirement look like for you two? It seems hard to imagine you giving up your public roles as CoSM owners and operators. Finally, what would you each like to be remembered for?

    For as long as we are breathing we will be working on this project. Why retire from a life you love? We’ve been given a project to dedicate our lives to. What a gift! It will involve many visionaries who are our friends. Everyone is welcome.
    We’d like to be remembered for a universal spiritual message that reunifies the sacred visionary imagination with the art of our time.

    Of course, we’d like to be represented by the completed and sustainable building of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors.

    ++

    To learn more about Alex Grey, visit his website.

    Elsewhere: my story for The Australian about Alex Grey’s first Australian art tour, published in January 2011.

  • A Conversation With Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, and Caduceus Cellars

    An interview with Maynard James Keenan – vocalist of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, and more recently, a winemaker for Caduceus Cellars – conducted for Junior in mid-November 2010, ahead of Tool’s headline appearance on the 2011 Big Day Out tour.

    You can read the Junior cover story based around this interview here.

    At the time we spoke, Maynard was touring with A Perfect Circle for that band’s reformation shows. This is the full transcription of our conversation.

    ++

    Andrew: How are you today?

    Maynard: I’m sick.

    Sick?

    Bit of a head cold or something. I’ve had it for the last seven days.

    In the middle of a tour?

    Yeah, isn’t it great?

    Oh man, I feel bad for you. How have those shows been going for you, besides the sickness?

    They’ve been a struggle. It’s difficult enough to go out and do a regular tour and have the same or similar set, but to do three completely different sets and some of the songs you’ve never played live, and some of them you haven’t played in six or 10 years, and then have a cold on top of it… Jesus, some of these songs I had a difficult time singing 10 years ago, let alone 10 years later and being sick. So it’s definitely been a challenge. I’m up for it, but it’s been a challenge.

    Are you cursing your younger self for his vocal range?

    Yeah, I’m kind of pissed off at myself for having written songs that were pushing the envelope 10 years ago. And when I say pushing the envelope, I mean pushing my range, what I’m capable of. It’s definitely taking a toll.

    Since you’ve had a few years away from that band, are you able to look at those albums with fresh eyes and ears?

    That’s a tough one. I think it’s really difficult to do that, because I’m always going to hear the flaws. All I hear is the production flaws, or what I would have done differently performance-wise, so it’s hard to be objective with those. I never judge them too harshly; they just are what they are.

    I watched Blood Into Wine last night. [trailer embedded below]

    The DVD?

    Yeah. I think it should be compulsory viewing for all Tool and APC fans, new and old, to see where you are right now.

    Uh, how so?

    I’ve followed your work closely for around a decade, and I thought the film gave a great insight into a side of you that I couldn’t have imagined seeing 10 years ago. It seems like you drop your guard more often. Or at least, you’re more willing to entertain the thought.

    Yeah. It wasn’t an easy film to be involved in. It’s hard to have people follow you around with cameras for a year.

    Did you enjoy the process, though?

    Oh, no. I was more concerned about… I wanted to be more concerned about what we were doing in the vineyard, and with the business in general. Building the winery was a lot of work and it was still in its infant stages. But it might not have been as interesting a movie if this was 10 years into the winery already being established. But you know, our chaotic first couple of years probably made the film more interesting.

    Are you able to look at a film like that objectively and judge your past actions?

    No. [laughs] I don’t know.

    Tool’s early identity was defined by this unwillingness to play the same image-driven game that every other band did. Am I right to believe that you’ve moved on a little since then?

    Well, I don’t think that there was a master plan in place, like a manifesto that we came up with that said “we’re not going to do these things”. It might have been that, as individuals and collectively, we were just dysfunctional enough to where we were incapable of playing along. And so it just managed to work in our favour when it could very well have worked against us.

    I think just the timing, and all the stuff that went on with Nirvana at that point in time; I think that opened the doors for A&R people who didn’t have a clue about what they were really getting into. They didn’t understand it. They figured they better sign it, because they didn’t understand Nirvana. “Sign ‘em, hurry up!”, and then look for the next big thing. That just worked in our favour as Tool, because they definitely didn’t understand us. We got to dig our heels in and do what we wanted.

    Did you know what you were doing at that point? All four of you saying “no we’re not going to do that shit, we’re not going to do a bunch of interviews, we’re not going to pose for photos…”

    We just didn’t know how to, so we just said no. We weren’t really sure how it affected us, but we just weren’t capable of saying yes, so we just kept saying no, and it kept working so we just continued to keep saying no.

    These days you say yes to a few more things, maybe not everything. Would you call that maturity or just a realisation that sometimes it’s okay to share some things?

    Yeah, I think once you understand something a little more, then you can discern what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense. I think it’s still difficult for some of us to say yes to anything, because we’re so used to saying no. We just think about it too much and then at some point you start tricking yourself into thinking that you actually knew why you said no. And you have to get involved in everything to dissect it and think about it.

    It’s kind of like when you’re working on your house, or something, and have some kind of inspector coming by to look at what you’ve done. He has to say something is wrong. Otherwise you’re not justifying his existence if he doesn’t find something wrong with what you did. So by presenting the question to a band with them saying ‘no’ all the time, to get their permission. You’ve heard ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission’?

    Yes.

    Yeah. That’s kind of how, at some point, people are just going to start treating you that way.

    Do you give much thought to why people are interested in Maynard James Keenan?

    No. I just kind of do what I do, and I try my best with whatever I’m doing, but I don’t know if it’s good or not; I just do what I do and people tend to show up for it. I’m thankful for that. I do my part, keep doing things, so at the end of the day I kind of get to stick to what makes sense for you to do, and hopefully at the end of the day you can sleep at night.

    Can you sleep at night, Maynard?

    Oh yeah, absolutely!

    In a similar vein, and a similar question, do you reflect much on your influence as an artist in the last 20 years?

    I don’t… Influence… What do you mean?

    The fact that you’ve inspired singers to sing, performers to perform, musicians to start bands.

    We have?

    I’m sure you have.

    Oh. I don’t know, I just assume people… really?

    Are you playing with me, Maynard?

    No, I – I thought it was a hypothetical.

    No, not at all.

    I have no idea. I guess the answer is no, I haven’t really reflected on that because I haven’t really… That’s nice to know that we’ve inspired people to do stuff.

    To turn the question around, which artists have been influencing and inspiring you recently in a musical sense?

    Well just in the artistic sense, people like Penfolds’ wine. Max Schubert. His dedication to following his heart. People like Lance Armstrong, people like Joni Mitchell, who just do what they do and everybody else be damned. Not that they don’t like people, but they have to do what they do.

    You have that quote at the end of the film [Blood Into Wine] where you say “As artists, it’s our job to observe, interpret, and report.” That seems to read as a kind of mission statement for you. I’m interested to know when and how you decided upon this role of the artist?

    I guess it was more hindsight, when you look back and see what you’ve done and you go, ‘Okay, what the fuck have I been doing?’ You kind of have to fill out an outline of what it is you’re doing and the best explanation I could come up with was between making wine and handmade pasta, and painting and sculpting, and architecture and music. Then you just like look at the thing, digest it, and then re-present it.

    Has your belief in art strengthened over time?

    I don’t know if I understand that statement. Believing in art?

    As an artist, you value art. Has that feeling become stronger?

    If you have any success with your interpretations, the hardest part is staying fresh and not falling into a rut, and thinking that you know all the answers. That somewhat chaotic state, that confused, vulnerable state I think is important to at least have a finger on. You don’t have to beat yourself up, you don’t have to suffer for your art but you definitely have to be a little confused to understand where to move.

    If you’re a chef and you’re trying to use fresh vegetables, the weather is going to affect your menu, and you can’t just rely – if you’re a good chef and you present something that’s alive and vibrant, you have to embrace the fact that it’s not going to be consistent. You have to be able to roll with the changes.

    I watched an interview you did with Patton Oswalt, where he asked you about performing live. You said “It’s safer to act than to really be it anymore.” By that, did you mean you can no longer relate to what you’ve written in the past?

    No, I think I’m not quite sure – is that… that was in the film?

    No, that seemed to be like an outtake from around the same time. It was on YouTube.

    I don’t know. I’d have to see the clip to see in context what we were talking about.

    Fair enough.

    I would answer that but I would need to see it in context to really comment. Sorry. [clip embedded below]

    Sure. For example, what would you get out of performing a song like ‘Stinkfist’ nowadays?

    There’s always something I can improve in it. There’s parts of that song that I never quite get right, so I’m always looking for those spots to see how I can do them better but everything else is… At some point, some of it becomes autopilot. I don’t have to think about those pieces, I feel like I’ve got those down.

    I saw the Smashing Pumpkins recently. It felt like Billy [Corgan] was rushing to get some of his more well-known songs out of the way so he could play the new stuff. Can you relate to that kind of feeling?

    No, no. I mean, especially since James Iha’s not in the band, I can’t really relate to the fact that Smashing Pumpkins are out there.

    I see. Well, since you don’t necessarily have an album to promote this time around, will you be constructing a set list a little different to last time?

    Yeah, I’m hoping. We’re trying to re-present things in a different way, or pick different tracks that people haven’t heard. Which isn’t hard to do, since some of the songs that we perform, most people won’t have been born when we actually wrote them. It’ll be fun, regardless.

    Have you given much thought to the fact that you’re headlining Australia’s biggest national tour, which sold out in record time despite the fact that Tool hasn’t released anything in four years?

    Well in a way, it’s inspiring because it means people are still paying attention to what we’re doing and that’s good. We’ve definitely made a mark.

    I’d agree. I first saw you play live in 2002, when ‘Lateralus’ was really the pivotal moment of the set, where you gave that speech about going out and doing something positive and creating something. I want to ask; what did you get out of that little social experiment, of pausing to ask people to reflect on themselves, to go out there and do something that inspires them?

    Oh, I just took my own advice and started a winery.

    Thanks for your time, Maynard.

    Thank you very much.

    ++

    For more Maynard James Keenan, follow him on Twitter.