I made the decision to enter the music business nearly 15 years ago, back in 1996. I was a clinical research coordinator for Planned Parenthood, and though I loved the work I did there, the seductive pull of Seattle’s music scene had become too much to resist. When I sat my stability-minded parents down and told them that I was giving up a promising career in nonprofit social work and preparing to immerse myself in a mentorship with a local band manager and fledgling record-label owner, they were understandably concerned.
Chasing rock-and-roll dreams is a dangerous journey, one not exactly renowned for its health-care benefits or sense of security. However, I was of the belief that if I didn’t close my eyes and jump at age 26, I might someday wake up and regret never having taken that chance.
Last week I turned 40, and I have no regrets about my choices (though life without health insurance remains a sore spot). Since going down that treacherous path, I’ve managed to route myself along a variety of enlightening and adventure-filled arterials, including artist management, booking, promotions, and eventually my current two-pronged position as a DJ at KEXP and columnist for this paper.
I’ve also stuck firmly to the two guiding principles that I outlined for myself at the start: 1) to consistently strive to shine a spotlight on artists working on the margins who deserve a broader audience, and 2) to protect my personal affection for music from the standpoint of a fan. I’ve always said that if the stresses of my work ever started to erode my love for the music that brought me here in the first place, I’d step back. Few things are more unattractive than a jaded music-industry veteran who has lost sight entirely of the simple, primal joys that music can bring into the world.
With regards to that first principle, my enthusiasm for seeking out new local talent has never waned. Some of my best finds in the four years that I’ve been writing this column include a decent handful of gifted singers and songwriters such as Kaylee Cole, Bryan John Appleby, See Me River’s Kerry Zettel, and the late, great John Spalding. Of course, the harder end of the spectrum is my specialty, and I’ve been a proud cheerleader for a slew of punk and metal acts, including the Pleasureboaters, the Absolute Monarchs!, Helms Alee, Dog Shredder, Throne of Bone, Madraso, Vultures 2012, and Smooth Sailing. Though the inlet ebbs and flows, I’ve always maintained that people who claim there are no good new local bands just aren’t listening closely enough. A quick glance at the schedule for SW‘s REVERB Festival (Oct. 9, Ballard) backs this up quite nicely.
Principle number two has been more of a challenge to adhere to. Though it doesn’t pay a full-time salary, writing a weekly column is a grueling gig that eats up a good chunk of my time. In order to produce content of a caliber I can be proud of, I have to be out at shows as much as possible, interview bands and sources in person whenever I can, and continually find new ways to engage, inform, and entertain my readers in a manner that satisfies both myself and my editor. Two hundred–plus columns later, I’m tired of that grind. Exhaustion will lead you straight to jaded, old-music-critic status faster than you can say “Justin Bieber,” and I’m just not going to let that happen (the exhaustion part, that is—I’m pretty sure even Justin Bieber can’t stop Justin Bieber).
What does bring me endless joy and fresh energy, however, is the work I do alongside my colleagues at KEXP, and that is where my primary focus is shifting to at this time. The act of simply playing a record for an audience endlessly eager to discover new music is satisfying in a very pure way that goes back to the heart and soul of my first principle. Functioning as a conduit between listener and audience is an undeniably magical experience, one I look forward to cultivating for many years. Though this is the last edition of Rocket Queen, I won’t be giving up writing entirely. You’ll still find my byline in this paper from time to time, as well as in the pages of local monthly City Arts, which I’ll begin working with in November. Until then, dear readers, keep the rubber side down: Rock hard, ride free.