Q: Seeing how you’re a Columbia College alum, and some might say “ a success story,” I think everyone would first like to know about your Columbia experience?
A: I started in 2008 and what drew me to it at the time was that it felt— and I mean this in a very positive way— less traditional, which greatly appeals to me in a lot of ways. I like that they were putting a focus on new media at the time, which I don’t think a lot of other places were doing, or were doing begrudgingly. Having been someone who came up through reading fanzines and being in punk bands, doing all this type of stuff, knowing that there were people with those types of backgrounds and you could work and learn from people in those disciplines, who are going to encourage you to create your own thing rather than work for someone else— I wouldn’t be where I am today without Columbia.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in northwest Indiana. So across the border from Chicago in Hammond. It was a little lower income and not like the nicest place in the world though I do have a strong affection for it. It was a place where you had to make things happen. You had to be the kind of kid to start a band and talk to coffee shops and comic book stores to see if they would let you play.
Q: How would you describe your kid self, let’s say 12 on?
A: When I was 12 I was already interested in punk and hardcore, really anything that had a semblance of counterculture or subculture. I was really drawn to things that allowed me to make my own community or family of like-minded people. I was also incredibly interested in politics during the Bush administration and reading a lot of books that were just way way ahead of where I was and listening to a lot of music that was activist. And so naturally it began to seep into my character and how I viewed the world, and that’s really what drove me back then: a lot of angst and anger toward the government.
Q: When you became music editor for A.V. Club, did you find it living up to the hype? And I’d also be interested in how you look at reviewing music?
A: It definitely lives up to it. It’s still a job, it’s still work, but I listen to records, I played music for the better part of 14 or 15 years, and while freelancing I got to meet some of the people that made my favorite music, music that I loved when I was a kid. I got to interview people on the come up doing very interesting things and building friendships with these people. But I never thought what I was doing was all that important, so I approach it by being honest. I didn’t think there was any benefit not to. If I was reviewing a record and I didn’t like it, I would say that. I mean all art is what the person brings to it, it’s what the person likes. I don’t think you can talk about what is good and what is bad, but you can talk about what they are achieving in the form at that time. All I’ve ever wanted to do was champion things that I thought was good. All I ever wanted to do was show someone their new favorite band.
Q: What would you have to say on the rise of the sentiment that conservatism is the new punk rock and the development of the political left into what could be called the religious right in terms of hyperbolizing meaning?
A: I think it’s two things really. One, I don’t think that punk rock is truly more tame than it was in the ‘70s or ‘80s, but I do think it’s interesting. Conservative punk has always been there and runs counter. When these things are said, that the left is moving more to the right when it comes to censorship and the right is becoming more “alternative” I mean that’s no different than what happened in the ‘90s with subcultural movements. The ‘90s was a time where punk was considered really PC for lack of a better term.
It seems now that conservatives are saying, “Hey we’re cool, we’re the revolutionaries.” But it’s not inherently true because they are looking to uphold the same fundamental things that have been part of our shared history for decades. And to me, that is not punk rock. It’s about tearing down power structures. Giving voices to people that were formerly suppressed.
Q: Speaking of which, your newest venture with Chicago Ideas, follows a similar goal: giving platforms to diverse voices. How has that been going?
A: Chicago Ideas is a nonprofit and as the tagline goes— while It’s often dumb and boring to spout those things off— is, “The Ideas Festival for Everyone” because we try to keep our costs down, keep them affordable. Every event is $15, and that’s done so everything is accessible to anyone that has interest. Obviously, we have donations and memberships, but outside of that, there are still so many great things you can do.
We work with students and kids, when we had Bassem Youssef, he sat down with 30 kids and answered some of their questions. They have direct access to these people. It’s nice because I’m on a very diverse team, the only white man, and that’s great because it challenges me, and I hope that I can share that with other people.