Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Steffen Interview - November 5, 2007

Steffen Rasile is one of my closest friends that I've known since elementary school in Helena, MT. He is a college senior at Columbia College in Chicago, IL and has been extremely active in musical consumption. He is the guy I go to in order to find new good music. This interview was conducted on instant messenger so that transcription could be complete and accurate. This interviewing method is obviously lacking in the fact that non-verbal cues cannot be noticed. It is however a productive medium as interviewees can generate thoughtful responses and not feel too pressured by time constraints or silence.

James Isbell: Would you say that there is anything inherent to the genre of music you enjoy (mainly folk right?) that draws you to it?
Steffen Rasile: i grew up with my parents playing folksy instruments. they met in a bluegrass band. so it gives me a nice feeling. and it feels real. and that is the kind of music that i enjoy. real music. genres don’t make sense to me
JI: Realness...that is an interesting question, and one that I think is really relevant to our how do you describe your musical interests if you don't have genre's that you prescribe to?
SR: and i have a lot of trouble putting bands into a genre. music is created to experience. if a song or album can lead me through a path mentally that i can relate to or feel something, you will find it on my ipod more often
JI: When you say it "feels real"...i take it to mean that you consider authenticity to be particularly important in the music you listen to. Could you possibly describe these notions of authenticity, or rather what would make a band you listen to "real"?
SR: to use Josh Ritter as an example
JI: I thought you might.
SR: when i hear his music i can picture the kind of person that music is coming out of. i know that person. and it just so happens that Josh Ritter is who his music sounds like. there are other artists that i have a mental impression of that in real life are not worthy of
JI: So are you saying that Josh Ritter's personality, appearance, and music come together, that they fit? Is there a band that you could describe as kind of violating these notions of realness?
SR: i was really into sufjan for a while and after meeting him and exchanging a few words i got a weird vibe that made me question the music again. granted i still enjoy his tunes but i am not scouring the internet for his rare tracks anymore
JI: I was going to ask about Sufjan, but you beat me to it. I remember that you used to be a pretty devout fan, and then seemed to push his music aside for other up and coming artists. This departure all started after you met him then?
SR: well i stayed with him for a while. once i came to the realization that i was not going to be able to collect all 50 state albums i kind of push him away. i have recently rediscovered him again though. he has a cool project about the BQE in New York
SR: Brooklyn Queens Expressway. it is a video piece with a 20 minute sufjan symphony
JI: Ah, that would tie into his research based lyrical writing stye, would it? Just wondering, how did his personality seem to violate the music that he was creating. What seemed false about it?
SR: i guess now i can see how a timid introverted guy like him can make the music he makes. But i had him built up in my mind as this grand character. he was really the first artist that i followed. so it was more of a different personal reaction that made me reevaluate him. it also comes down to the fact that i dont believe him
JI: about?
SR: he lied about the 50 states. so why should i trust what he says in his songs
JI: He said he was going to write all 50 albums?
SR: he did. i think the same thing happened to andy with sam beam
JI: Ahhh, that comment from the Pabst show?
SR: at that pabst show he said that he does not even know what his song are about. and andy loved explaining the songs. it was over my head and i had my own interpretations that worked for me
JI: Ha, he always did love picking them apart...He definitely did not seem to enjoy the Iron & Wine show in Boston as much as two years ago when I went with him.
SR: yea. it is a different kind of music now…natural progression though…i think it is great. i know that sam will keep pushing out music. and he is getting older now. he will always have the songs that we love him for
JI: That is an interesting thought...this natural progression of popularity in artists and the way that their music in your opinion, could that have compromised Sufjan, or any of the artists' work that we have discussed. Does it necessarily, or is it purely audience back lash?
SR: in this age where there is so much music out there. people like to have something that others don’t have. that is why i have so much music. i listen to less than 6 gb of my 160 gb of music. when a larger audience gets the music,the artists are going to profit and be able to reach more people and the audiences will grow more.
JI: but does that necessarily change the quality of intentions of the artist? or does that even matter? is it just the sudden accessibility of it that makes it unappealing?
SR: if the artist has the music to back their success of distribution. then it will naturally grow. if they are forced to push out music that is not of the same quality of the previous they should not release it. the internet is such a powerful tool today. if an artist like sufjan was looking to get some press or feedback on a certain track or idea all he would have to do is leak it to pitchfork and the internet would be buzzing with the bells of sufjan...i am leaving the topic here…
JI: it's fine...we're just talking afterall
SR: have you read this article
JI: No, I haven't yet, but I'll be sure to check it out now.
SR: it is a great look at the record industry and oink. music has changed. music is secondary the promotion and branding for an artist
JI: After I read it maybe we'll have a chance to talk about this in a less formal setting....but you seem to think that the internet could be used as a tool to improve musical quality...are artists just completely missing out on this? Would it compromise their own authenticity to get input from the audience so easily?
10:55 PM
SR: they make more money performing and selling merchandise than they do on album sales. having music readily accessible is a huge perk for me and if i can have your song for free i will give it a listen. if i like you i will go to your show. if your cd has a sweet album cover i will buy your album
JI: That, I guess speaks to the strength of the music industry and really the decline of the record industry...
SR: yes, and it is hurting the music that we all love and forcing people to fizzle out under the thumb of the industry.
JI: But superstars, like Radiohead, can make deals on their own terms and really prosper, can't they?
SR: they made almost 9 million dollars on in rainbows. just digital downloads…that is a 9 million dollar tip hat for 10 songs they recorded in their house
JI: The talent is there, and they can gain enough bargaining power to not compromise their vision. But is it not in the industry's best interest to promote the musicality and talent of their artists?
JI: maybe we should get back to topic here, briefly...although I'd love to talk about this all later...I guess, My question to you, is to perhaps give some insight to the social phenomenon, if it exists, of audiences losing interest on artists based purely on the popularity that their music enjoys?
SR: i dont think people like to share
JI: Do you think that can help explain Sam Beam's and Sufjan's decline in "indie" popularity?
SR: their decline in Indie popularity is correct. they are now in a differnent genre. they may not be poplar with the "indie kids" but a whole new social group has them now.
JI: Perhaps this is obvious, do you think these formerly underground pop/folk artists could be used as cultural capital within a specific scene? That is, people use them as leverage to advance social position, and then when the popularity catches on, they lose their appeal?
SR: when the oc was around, it played "indie" music all the time. it would rock the indie news circles. indie artists do the theme of weeks. each week it is a different artist
JI: Do these fans ever take time to enjoy the music though?
SR: i do
JI: I know you do, old man.
SR: the internet does. they are being greeted very well. because the show is good and is about pot. the oc was a trashy soap opera
JI: Oh man, well, hey Steffen, thanks so much for your time...I feel like I did a bad job pointing the discussion. is there anything that you would like to add?
SR: i think that genreless music is a thing of the near future with the dying pop music scene and the rise of indie folk starts to rear their heads into the mainstream. the good artists will rise to the top and everyone will enjoy their tunes no matter who you are.
JI: You don't think that this is just part of the whole cycle though? Of the redefinition of mainstream pop?
SR: there have only been 2 pop explosions ever: elvis and the beatles. no one will ever do that again. if you hear the song it is pop. it is popular enough with you to notice it is playing
JI: i like that idea, there is so much music out there that anything you notice should probably be described as popular
SR: if it is on the internet it is poplar
JI: like Jack Isbell?
SR: i have it. you have it. 2 people. people want it


Alex Spoto said...

So maybe the interview didn't stay entirely on track with the focus of your ethnography project, but I think you friend brought up some good points concerning format, the digital revolution, and mainstream music.

Your friend brought up an interesting point when he mentioned how if a band is on the internet and you notice it that it's popular. I think this statement is a little extreme, but poses an interesting point about at which point an artist "sells out."

You talk about Iron & Wine, Josh Ritter, & Sufjan Steven a whole lot, but there are so many bands that fall under the indie/folk/rock umbrella (that's what you're going for more or less, not just alt-country, right?). You're dealing with the superstars of that kind of music. What about the people we've never heard of? The unsigned bar bands and coffeehouse singer songwriters--do they sell out when they embrace myspace/virb/facebook/itunes (the digital revolution)?

Anyways, good conversation. The AIM transcription is a clever way of doing things. I suppose that maybe this instant messenger has a casual, recreational quality to it, but seems to be a very powerful tool when applied to interview situations such as yours. I like the idea that your interviewee has a chance to think and respond eloquently and intelligently, while the interview is more of an active correspondence as opposed to emails or surveys. I'm definitely going to use that trick when interviewing some friends from back home about my vinyl project. I've found that talking on the phone or doing live interviews can lead people to rush into making statements which come out a little sloppy or jumbled. The instant messenger format is really better for both the interviewer/interviewee.

As a fan of much of the music you discuss, I've been enjoying many of the videos and tidbits of information you've been posting, especially about Ritter... I had never really given him a listen.

Doug said...

I think the topic is very interesting. The interview really gets in depth, which is great, even though as Alex says, it strays a little away at points.

One of the best points of the interview comes when your discussing the idea of an artist selling out. Your interviewee touches on the of an artist changing the music that they make in order to be more palatable and distribute to a larger audience. I take it this is the main focus of your topic, and the interview as a whole is tied to your topic by this point.

The power of the internet's reach is outstanding, and has proved to be both beneficial and devastating to different musicians. For example, an unknown artist can really expand their audience by using the internet to spread the word. Likewise, an artist's record sales can be compromised by the availability of his or her songs online. I think it would be interesting to try and explore the cutoff line between these two experiences. At what point does the accessibility of a lesser known artist's work start to become a hindrance?

Sabrina B said...

You've done a lot of good research here. Your fieldwork descriptions are great - you really get into the details of a lot of aspects of it, not just the music, but the artist, the fans, how they look, how they react, etc.
The interview is very interesting and brings up a lot of good points. Now I think you need to tie all this stuff together with one important point. Are you trying to explore how this music has changed in attempt to stay popular? Or are you looking at the aspects of the music that never change and saying that's why it's good? Are you trying to define what makes music popular, especially with the internet helping artists sell these days? It's all great stuff, but the interview does stray from your subject a little, and I think you need to focus on one or two points from the interveiw for your final posting. You also might want to interview a few more fans, directly asking the questions that you're trying to answer.
Great gob so far! Really good stuff! Good luck with the rest!

James I. said...

Thanks for your comments guys. I'm going to try to focus up my interviews like you've suggested and post hopefully two or three more before the week is over. I also think I'm going to put in a brief section noting my reflexivity and some of the theoretical sources I intend to use to complete my argument for my final blog posting. Appreciate you guys reading up on my stuff and it's been a pleasure having class with you all!