Q & A: Chunklet's Henry Owings On The Indie Cred Test, Not Being A Hipster, And Paying Tribute To Jerry Fuchs
The 100 Biggest Assholes in Rock Issue, The Shit List Issue, The Overrated, The Rock Bible--Chunklet mastermind Henry Owings redefined the 'zine aesthetic with his deliciously wisecracking, ass-chewing tongue, dumping on everyone and their mother while taking a little bit of time to engage in some of his patented self-deprecation. (He is the same guy who emblazoned a Chunklet tee with the oh-so-perfect ethos "I Collect Records Because Pussy Hates Me," after all.)
Lately Owings has been occupied with his three-week-old daughter Charlotte--changing diapers, building a crib, having an extension built to his house. And then there's his latest publishing venture, which may indeed be Chunklet's zenith: the textbook-styled behemoth he calls The Indie Cred Test. Published with the assist of a Kickstarter campaign and compiled by Owings and a bevy of writers (including Voice scribe Christopher Weingarten), its sadistically thorough pop-culture aptitude tests include an "Online Music Journalist Application Form" and other multiple-choice quizzes and questionnaires. Once the "tests" are completed, you'll find out just how hip (or more likely, not hip) your pathetic ass really is.
I chatted with Owings while he was at his homestead in Atlanta; he answered questions lifted right from from The Indie Cred Test, addressed the misconceptions about his rep, and reflected on the book's dedicatee, the late drummer Jerry Fuchs.
In a recent review of The Indie Cred Test, you were called out as an "aging hipster."
I guess I should thank them for being half right. I take umbrage with anyone who calls me a hipster, not that I hear it much. I've never really aspired to be on a Vice magazine level. I've always been kind of dorky and nerdy about my appreciation of stuff. When I think 'hipster' I think of somebody who's at the bar at 11 p.m. on a Friday and rubbing elbows. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. I like cuddling with my dogs and my wife, playing WhirlyBall and buying records. If that's being a hipster then there are a lot of blogs mining the wrong field. I have nothing against Vice; in fact I have friends that work for Vice. I put this politely, but they are always on the edge of telling people what's cool, but I never thought they were right. Not that I'm one to talk: I've lived in Georgia for twenty years and Vice is wildly successful! So what do I know?
You've got a rep of not being into new music, plus you reference '80s postpunk and '90s indie rock consistently in Chunklet and in The Indie Cred Test. Do you listen to music after the '90s?
Religiously! There's two bands I found out about the last couple of months: Bloodiest from Chicago--they're on Relapse for some fucking bizarre reason--and True Widow from Dallas. I am fucking smitten with those bands. I don't have the time and energy to listen to every goddamn record that comes out like I used to. But there are great places to find out about what's going on, like the Terminal Boredom and Goner Records websites. You're guaranteed that a label like In The Red is going to be dead fucking on with what they put out. You have labels like Merge; I don't love everything they put out, but they put out great records. There's a band from Athens that I've been their biggest champion and biggest fan since day one called Harvey Milk. I'm the one that beat Hydra Head over the head; I'm the reason they're on Hydra Head. My point is: I am not stuck in the past.
What are your thoughts about Pitchfork?
I was interviewed in Pitchfork once. The writer insisted on interviewing me via IM, which I was fine with and it still stands as the only time that's happened. I really think he was doing (IM) so he could do fact checking on the fly or a game of one-upmanship via Google. He then made an egregious, way out-of-left-field fuck up where he was talking about how much a certain band made at a show. I've been booking shows since 1988 and I proceeded to tell him how a rock and roll show works. I did it because I didn't want him to come off like a fucking bonehead and I wanted him-as a writer-to know what he's talking about. But I have nothing against Pitchfork; Ryan (Schreiber) is a friend of mine and I know he appreciates what I do. But at the same time, what happened during that interview is endemic of a larger problem with the website. There's this very wide net being thrown and cast out there and just because the internet is so one-clickable--in other words you can fact check something in the blink of an eye--it allows them to craft their opinion. I am not saying I am better than them. I don't need to go to a thesaurus, I don't need to go home and do research. It's because I'm a music fan. It's like a record store employee; I prefer talking to them because they know their shit, whereas a lot of journalists--and I'm not singling anybody out--there's just a lot of laziness. Music journalists might write fucking circles around me and I get it and I respect that. But I always thought being a music critic was knowing something about fucking music. That's why when I see bands creep up like Vampire Weekend, Surfer Blood or Yuck, I say "Really? In 2011, this is the best you can do?"
I was introduced to music in the late '80s and early '90s and we had Mudhoney. I am sure some grandpa old fart lent 'The Stooges were much better.' But at least Mudhoney had attitude and swagger. I just think there's a very English Music Pressitis in the blogosphere now. There's these bands being built up almost instantaneously. Here's an example: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They're drawing flies, then a couple of blogs just happened to shoot their manload over them then they're playing to tons of people and they realize they suck live. Or maybe they don't suck live but they aren't as good as a band should be. A lot of concert-goers don't understand what makes a really good band over a bad band. Case in point: Grinderman, who are one of the top 10 live bands in the world right now. Independent of you knowing music that you just can't feel like "Holy shit! I just got my balls torn off and put in my mouth!" There's so many fucking examples: I saw Cults. I was like "Really? People give a shit about this?" They can barely play their instruments! Or the CSS. Dude, they're playing to a backing track! I understand people need help and it's ultimately about the music. But for fucks sake! I just want to be moved. I am not saying I am not into new music. I just saw a band from New York called White Hills who were fucking phenomenal! Or Double Dagger. Or Mayyors from Sacramento. I listen to new music all the goddamn time.