TODD TAYLOR: TOTAL BURRITO DIPLOMACY
Todd Taylor is the co-publisher and director of the non-profit music magazine Razorcake. He speaks now from his home where he has neither a cell phone or an iPod.
When have you had the most Razorcake writers in one room and what happened?
There have been a lot of Razorcake people in the same building—maybe at Punk Rock Bowling. But we’re so retarded trying to get people together. We made plans to go to a pancake house that didn’t exist.
Like a mythical pancake house?
We found it on the Internet and it had moved into a casino and didn’t tell us. And we were all supposed to meet where it was, but it wasn’t there. So I got all these emails saying it didn’t exist.
Why are you doing a benefit?
We’re not in any crisis at all. It’s more of making sure people know what we do—that we’re good healthy organization. What we do is mute a lot of times. We do a mute magazine—you can’t hear music, and it’s all about music. We just started putting actual audio on the website. So if we go endorse a show, and it’s all bands we like, you get more of the feeling. The real technical thing is we’re also looking for grants, and if we try and get grants by whoever, they ask, ‘What have you done?’ So we can say ‘We did this fundraiser and that fundraiser.’
So it’s for the benefit of the public.
That sounds corny but it is.
Why did you decide to make Razorcake non-profit?
It’s mostly a manner of survival for how we deal what we deal with. Most magazines exist because of ads that pay for them. We realize to do that on the scope that we do, we’d price ourselves out of the people who’d wanna advertise with us. We saw the traditional model ending in front of us. At chain stores, you’re not even competing against magazines any more—it’s video games and coffee supplies.
You’ve been documenting independent music for ten years—are things moving forward or backward?
That’s a complicated thing. Looking from the top down, it’s hard to get any sense of what’s going on—I’m talking specifically about punk rock, which is all I know about. But if you look at it from the side, you see so many layers involved. What I focus on is what I love—DIY punk rock. I see the reemergence of the 7” format—bands spend time to put three to six of their best songs out and play the shit out of them. In the ‘90s, I think bands were waiting to get 12 songs to put a CD out. And now they do 7” after 7”, and after six or seven, they do an album that’s a collection of that stuff. I see this as kind of a burgeoning regionality: ‘I know 300 people who will buy our 7”,’ and that spreads out. And after five or six, they know 1,000 people, so they put out a full-length.
How do you think Razorcake fits in with all the other music publications?
I have a funny answer—Consumer Reports! I have much more affinity for, ‘Here are these things that may sound alike to the untrained ear, but we can tell you the difference and help you figure out the best ones.’ Instead of vacuum cleaners, it’s bands from Chattanooga.
Who record their vacuum cleaners at the Distillery.
I feel we’re in a little bit of a bubble. I don’t think there’s hardly any overlap between us and Pitchfork. There’s even very little between us and Maximum Rock N Roll, and from the outside, you’d think, ‘They’re covering the exact same thing! It can’t be that big!’ But it is that big and varied.
You told Rena Kosnett that L.A. is important as one of the last places that includes multiple interacting generations of artists and musicians. What did you mean? What effect does that have?
It gives us a lot more of a continuum. Even just being here full time since 1996, I’ve seen cycles—how things rise and fall. If you have, say, the Crowd, who have been through many waves, they can provide a better perspective than someone who in 1977 releases an awesome record and then only came back thirty years later and started talking about it. There are probably several hundred of those punk rockers still around and a good portion are active—recording people or performing or just going to shows with their children now. And I know for a fact New York doesn’t have that. That’s part of the physical geography—L.A. is so physically massive. You can move to the suburbs and still go to shows.
Who was the last person from the first wave of punk that you ran into on the street?
I interviewed Ed Colver and he turned out to live three blocks away from me. He was awesome. It was such a really great look into somebody.
What are some of the great untold L.A. stories you’ve always wanted to write about?
I’ve been thinking about that—that show weeks ago—the Plugz and Slash and the connection between East L.A. punk and the Pee Wee Herman show. That’s totally untapped. If I don’t find it, I want someone else to tell it.
What kind of wrong ideas about L.A. do you have to deflate?
That everyone’s a fucking prick! I have a lot of conversations where people have been to L.A. before—they get on a show, and some death metal band opens, and a ska-punk band plays after, and they’re like, ‘This sucks.’ People have really low expectations. But like anywhere else, if you have a good tour guide, your experience is much much different.
What do you do with them?
We eat food. L.A. has the best food. Total burrito diplomacy.
Without using words like ‘music’ and ‘subculture,’ what is it exactly that Razorcake does?
Intelligent conversation that is often overlooked and just dismissed. We don’t fight over trying to get the hot scoop, or the hot bands. But we somehow seem to find a lot of good things to celebrate. For seven years in a row. We don’t fabricate things. It’s all down-home honest slow-burning conversation with people.
What do you listen to that isn’t punk 7”s?
I’m really really getting into Stax—mostly through the love of Otis Redding, and kind of learning more. That’s number one. And I have a friend who helps me out getting me into older funk. I mean—I love music, period.
You said once that punk is actually really a long-term way to look at life and that it’s really about growth and not destruction. Is that where you think it’s going to end up?
It’s hard to say if there’s gonna be anything good at the end—we’re still in the middle of it. But it’s encouraging to know—and I use some of our contributors as litmus tests—that people in their 40s are still excited about learning something new they can control themselves. And I think we’re doing something OK when a 15-year-old kid in Missouri is excited, too. We’re not completely out of touch. It’s tough. You wanna keep some of that initial excitement and naivete, but temper it with—you gotta pay your fuckin’ taxes, dude! It’s awesome when you’re thirteen and you fall on your skateboard—it’s not awesome when you’re 35. And the hardest thing is not to pretend we have answers. That’s another thing the popular media does—act like your best friend, and have multiple solutions—and we don’t do that.
What’s the truest thing you ever wrote?
I’m always really proud of my interview with Tiltwheel—I realized that people regardless of the sitution will give up everything they have to be involved with what they love. And it sounds silly, but you have that guy who could have gone to clown school, but he likes punk—he’s a punk rocker. That still resonates the most with me. Great guys, a great band—completely overlooked and they don’t give a shit. That’s a big thing I learned—I really don’t give a shit about the other stuff. It’d be nice if the people I loved made a living at this, but that’s probably not gonna happen.
Here is the question you tell all writers never to ask: What is the craziest thing that ever happened to you on tour?
The first time I met the Rhythm Chicken—in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He brought two beers to the table.
No, he was a regular clandestine guy. He brought two beers and we just started drinking. Fast-forward four-and-a-half hours and the bartender stopped serving us—not to stop us drinking, but to join us. And so anyone could go behind the bar and serve themselves. So the Rhythm Chicken started playing, and Davey Tiltwheel was there, and he gets a full pitcher from the counter and walks to the Rhythm Chicken and hits him upside the head. The Rhythm Chicken goes down. And Davey jumps up on the pool table where people we don’t know are playing pool, and starts wiggling around and mumbling, ‘I killed the Rhythm Chicken. I killed the Rhythm Chicken.’
Where did everyone wake up?
The really short version—the Rhythm Chicken doesn’t remember it happening. Which is probably for the best. And I wake up the next day and look down the front of my shirt and it’s just a bib of puke. And that was pretty bad.
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