June 6th, 2009 | Interviews

dan monick from L.A. RECORD v. 2 n. 42

Los Angeles’ non-profit magazine Razorcake (featuring photos by L.A. RECORD’s Dan Monick) is the big fat phonebook of DIY punk and will be celebrating its fiftieth independent full-length issue with an all-ages show tonight headlined by Sacramento’s much-loved mead-drinking Bananas. L.A. RECORD heartily congratulates Razorcake and wishes them at least 500 more issues, which will sustain them almost into the 22nd century. This interview by Dan Collins.

So—you’re far too chummy with our editor, Chris. Let’s get to what’s real—who’s better, Razorcake or L.A. RECORD?

Todd Taylor (editor): Oh man, different things! We don’t do a lot of previewing and shows coming up and stuff like that. We kind of do reviewing. Like, bands that are awesome and have longer history, we’ll do in-depth interviews with them that take 7,000 words to do. You’re kind of like getting asses into shows and stuff, and we’re giving the cultural context.
You guys definitely have more content, and more articles in general. But do you think maybe you have a narrower scope—a more specifically defined vision for what kind of music to cover?
I have an extreme fondness for DIY punk rock. It can be restrictive in some ways, very open in others. We’re never at a loss for content.
What’s the definition of ‘DIY punk rock?’
There’s a lot of ethical considerations. There’s also no major industries involved whatsoever!
So literally no Atlantic Records? But have you ever had to cover some band because your readers would like it, even though you thought it was kind of lame?
Nope! I’d rather take the long view on things. We actually made a poster of all our covers, and I looked at it and stand by every band that’s been on our cover!
Who was your least favorite?
That’s like asking, ‘Which is your least favorite child?’ That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say any of them!
That’s very diplomatic of you. When and why did you start the magazine?
We started in January 2001. I’d put in five long years at Flipside, and Flipside took a tremendous shit. In money. I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version: we just kind of weirdly put out the first Beck record, Stereopathetic Soulmanure. Our distributor totally put us over a barrel. They owed us 80 grand. Beck’s people said, ‘You owe us half of that!’ They’re suing us for 40 grand. We’re 120 grand in the hole for a popular record! Hmmm. And everything went down from there.
I guess you won’t be interviewing Beck for Razorcake any time soon?
Only if Nardwuar did it! But I think Nardwuar had a lifelong ban from interviewing Beck, because he kept asking if Beck was the voice of a generation, and I think he got so pissed that he put a ban on him.
What about bands who have the DIY punk spirit but don’t have the traditional bass, drums, guitar? Like 8-Bit, from my neighborhood, who actually remixed a Beck single—they spout obscenities while wearing shiny metallic hazard suits and sing about getting fake IDs. But they technically fall into the hip-hop category. Would you cover a band like that?
I can only answer personally—if I like the music, I’d do it! It’s driven by contributor excitement and really liking a band. Doing interviews is punishing. Why deal with it? The bummer is, we live in America, where creative work is looked down upon as something that you pay for! It’s hard! There’s no other reward other than ‘I really like these guys!’
Yeah! Especially since your magazine is non-profit! What do you live on?
You can be in the non-profit sector and still pull a salary, hypothetically. I pay myself a very modest sum for the tasks that no one else wants to do—for all the accounting I do, for all the ads I collect, for all the distribution. All the other stuff, we have like 75 active volunteers right now, and that’s how we kind of get the gears running on everything. You just have to show where your money’s going and deal with the fucking government and be transparent. Last year I made $3.000 off of Razorcake, which is like 12 cents an hour, ha ha!
How many recipes can you make out of ramen noodles?
I’m not much of a ramen guy! I’ve actually got high blood pressure, so I’m on to tofu a lot recently.
No fucking shit! I’m vegan! What’s the best tofu recipe for our readers?
The best thing to do is press the shit out of it! Get the block, cut it in half, dice it, put something really heavy on it for half an hour, add soy sauce, salt, and a little bit of oil, and it will soak up the flavor much better! I’ve been toying with tempeh too recently, and that’s pretty great.
It’s good for barbecue, too. So you’ve got experience in the industry—who do you think is your chief demographic for Razorcake?
We don’t do a lot of collection of demographics. I actually don’t really believe in it.
But who do you believe in your heart is the principal type of Razorcake reader?
Lifers. People who have been in it for a while, for a decade or more. Not to say that’s everybody. But hopefully people who are in it for, not ‘Oh, who is the hottest band right now I can be excited about?’ Instead they’re in it for, ‘Here’s a band that’s been around for ten years, still really active, and people don’t pay attention—I think they’re something really wrong with this.’
Who’s the band that you’ve covered who flies in the face of what they think when they see Razorcake? Have you ever promoted a band that caused your ten year DIY readers to complain?
Not really! Most of the time people will go, ‘Who the fuck is that band?’ And we’ll go like, ‘Just listen to it!’ If you don’t know who Gorilla Angreb is—a really great Danish band—I understand why you might not have heard of them. But their seven-inch really kicks ass! A good example would be like the Bananas. The Bananas don’t have their act together very well—they have other jobs, and they’re kind of flaky—but their music is awesome! If you’re from the middle of California, you may not have heard of them, but the proof is in the music.
Is there a band out there who is famous because you have made them famous?
Ah, no—ha ha! Actually, the Ergs! They’re this band from New Jersey. They came through, and we liked them so much, we put them on the cover—basically unknown. And they many times said, ‘We got so much of a response from that, and we’re eternally grateful.’ And it seemed very genuine. And that’s great! They broke up, but it’s great!
As a writer for a rival music rag, I can’t help but agree about the value in championing great music. Is there a genre in particular out there that Razorcake has helped educate people about?
Just DIY punk rock. The stuff where people can’t help themselves but to make music, where their music doesn’t support them. They’re social workers during the day, or they work at a video store, but for years and years and years, they cannot stop but play and make music. Their idea of a vacation is a tour. Their idea of a time off is going into the studio and recording. I think we’re the written analogue of that—we can’t support ourselves off of this, but we can’t stop doing it, and we’ll do anything in our power to keep on doing it. I take a lot of writing jobs and do a lot of other work around it, but my heart and my mind are always on the Razorcake stuff.
What other publications do you work for?
I’ve been working for Thrasher for ten years, and I do pick-up work for labels once in a while. I used to work for Alternative Press, but I got let go—ha ha!
There is just no middle-class in any aspect of the music business, it seems!
Yeah! A perfect example is the Riverboat Gamblers! They’re just a great, no-frills rock and roll band that pay attention to songwriting and are really great. The reason they’ve gone through so many members is that they go on these long tours to Australia and Japan and wherever, and they come back, and their friends who are hanging drywall or being plumbers made so much more money than they have. I’m just scratching my head. You’re absolutely right—the middle class of musicianship has been kind of decimated. You either go for everything, or you try to tap into something else. There is an international DIY network, but it doesn’t pay—it just helps sustain people.
Being non-profit probably means sustainability is a challenge—how does one go about getting a grant?
It’s a difficult, difficult process! All the time we would spend paying taxes at the end of the year, we spend that time and energy with paperwork. They can come from anywhere, from different foundations through AT&T or Target, which we’re avoiding—we’re trying to go through cultural grants, through the city or the county. They have tons of stipulations.
Have you ever gotten a grant, and then you realized that somebody like Planned Parenthood can’t help new moms with prenatal care because you got the grant instead of them?
We have never gotten a grant! Ha ha! We’ve applied for five really involved processed grants, and people have been nice and said ‘No.’ We’re an anomaly because we’re literally the only non-profit music magazine in the nation that controls its own status. Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll is under an arts umbrella—they don’t control their own thing. When we approach people, they don’t know what to do with us. ‘Music’s there to make money.’ Not really! When we approach it, it’s not. Arthur went down. A lot of the national fanzines went down. Skyscraper just went down. Verbicide went down. I don’t know if Wonka Vision is still around or not. We’re able to keep chumpin’ along not only because keep real control of our finances and we have a really good subscription base, but people are really generous with their money once in a while.
Have you ever had to woo any elderly rich ladies?
I’m horrible at wooing! It’d be like me groveling for half an hour and her giving me a quarter! I’m not a very attractive dude. We’ve got to get some eye candy out here!
Or some blind women!
Who love punk rock!