MEET THE PRESS with Andy Stokes & Steven Uhles - Stoney 12/6/04
Lokal music press in Augusta. Most can remember when coverage was sporatic and of course some of the better runs at area coverage. Many even remember some of the writers. The legendary Don Rhodes, Donnie Fetter, Ed Turner, Rhonda Jones, heck even Homegrown creator Lori Locklier had the occasional weekly in the Spirit for a while. Matter of fact, both the Spirit and the Applause has opened up the literary gates on several occasions for myself to let the pen wander.
Recently the pens have been passed to a younger generation of writers, schooled on the great journalism of the past 20 years or less. A more alternative scribe style if you will. Less cookie cutter and more personal style and substance. Two writers who are leading this new literary revolution are music lovers who write for the top two reads in this town, one a classic city style paper and the other a modern alternative weekly. How are the two papers and writers different and what do they see amidst the hustle and bustle of the lokal music landscape? One two different moments I spoke to first, Metro Spirit entertainment writer Andy Stokes, and then the next day Steven Uhles, entertainment writer for the Augusta Chronicle. They had the location (Metro A Coffee House), music, journalism and these questions in common. How would they answer them?
LL - When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
AS – That’s a funny story. I was a business major my first year at ASU because you had to declare something. They didn’t want a lot of undeclareds and after I saw the lineup of math courses… I’m essentially bad at math, that’s what pushed me to journalism. It’s not a from birth love of journalism, it’s more or less a fear of other things so I took it that way. I’d been looking at this long list of math classes I was going to have to take to be a business major and I thought, “what do I like to do?” and I decided to go down the list and I was like, “you’re not getting any younger here, what’s it gonna be?” And it turned out to be journalism. I kinda did a general arts thing and had to narrow it down to journalism after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing but it was something I had to kinda teach myself. So it was about the second year of college.
SU – That’s tough. You know probably at some level, uh, before I knew how to write. You know, I liked books. I liked stories. I liked telling stories. So I think I knew that at some level I was a writer before I could spell. So you know, it’s always been something I’ve sort of dug.
LL- When did you know you wanted to be a music/entertainment writer?
AS – The whole criticism thing, the whole music journalism thing, that just gives me an outlet to cast my opinion into public view. What I love about that is, what I’ve always said to people is “I’m critical”. Critical is a constant. That I love music is what I happen to have the scope at right now. I love music and I’m a critical asshole to begin with anyway so it just seems to work out. It’s by mere chance that I ended up at the Spirit.
SU – That happened pretty early too. The cliché is “write about what you know” and all I was interested in was movies and rock bands so when I had a choice about what I was going to write about I gravitated towards that. Those were the people I wanted to talk to, the people I though we’re interesting. I was probably in my early teens, 13 or 14.
LL- So what came first? A love for music or a love for writing?
AS – Music. I bet I’d heard 2 or 3 thousand cd’s before I ever wrote about any of them. I won’t say I liked the best bands in the formative stage. I liked some crap but whatever. I think everyone’s allowed that.
SU – Ooh that’s tough man. You know it’s probably hand in hand. My parents were both into music. Growing up there was always a lot of folk music you know, Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio. There was always music around the house. You know, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love music so it must have come first.I don’t think I realized that I loved music until I was much older and realize how important a part of my life it was.
LL- So growing up were you a fan of the rock mags?
AS – yeah, I wasn’t into it when Creem magazine was around the first time with people like Lester Bangs cuz Lester Bangs dies when I was about 3 or 4. I wasn’t into that first time around but I was a huge Metallica/Guns N Roses freak in the mid to late 80’s and would read Metal Edge and I would always read the guitar magazine even though I didn’t play because they always had real good insight on how these guys had the feel of it all.
So a lot of metal magazines first.
SU – Yeah man, I think I was probably 10 when I got my first subscription to Rolling Stone. I love Spin in kind of the original incarnation. I had a buddy who lived down the street who had old issues of Creem. I used to read the Lester Bangs stuff. Yeah, I was all over that.
LL- You try and be open-minded and unbiased as a journalist but what music do you prefer listening to?
AS - What do I listen to? I hate being critical of things that I like I’d rather be critical of the outside things. What I love is anything that has feel. Not genre specific it can be anything that has feeling. That translates well and articulates well. So something like Spiritualized I really really love. Love the Beach Boys. Love John Coltrane. This is really broad. I love My Bloody Valentine which is more technical but pretty much if it has fell that crosses all boundaries.
SU – That’s a good question. I’m a sucker for power pop. I like big loud guitar bands with giant hooks. I love Husker Du. I love these bands that take the pop song format, verse-chorus-verse, stuff like that and just crank it up as loud as it can possibly go. I listen to a lot of things but that what I have a real soft spot for
LL- Now for a list of “Firsts”. What was the first concert you attended?
AS – REM Automatic for the People, no I’m sorry, it was the Monster tour. This was the first concert I actually considered a first real concert. That was in the Omni in Atlanta which was where Philips Arena is now. Great concert. REM was about this big. (makes tiny motion with fingers)
SU – It was 1978. KISS in Houston Summit. I think it was 10 year before my mom knew I went. She may still not know. A buddy’s mom took us. Cuz what 10-year-old doesn’t love a guy spitting blood?
LL- Your first writing job?
AS – I wrote for the school newspaper. It really didn’t pay anything but there was a payoff, I just didn’t get any money. Yeah, Bellringer – ASU.
SU – Writing job? My first professional writing job was a weekly paper in Bellingham, Washington. I did some music writing for them and got paid in burrito bucks. You could take them down to the burrito place and cash them in for burritos. And I worte for them a lot so I was never hungry. It’s no way to live. The benefits are a little sketchy.
LL- What about your first writing assignment?
AS – I covered a band called Injected who I covered again just recently. They were just emerging. It was really awkward because it was my first interview. I listen to that tape now and cringe. They were such stupid questions but you know, I talked to that guy the other day and he still remembered me so that was cool.
SU – My first writing assignment was…I think it was this little sort of world music combo in Bellingham. They were playing like pan flutes and skin drums and stuff and I did a little piece on them and their take on world music. It was a foot in.
LL- What about favorite writing assignment so far?
AS – Not so much the writing assignments themselves but the people and the subjects that I cover. Anytime I interview Noel Brown (the Cubists) he always has the most inspiring answers that I’ve ever gotten. And the story I wrote on them was one of the first ones I wrote at the Metro Spirit was something about the Cubists. That one came off well because of the responses.
SU – Maybe it because there’s some prestige to it but I love covering James Brown and there was one time when I got in the house. You know, made it into the living room of James Brown’s house and sat on his couch. You know, that was a pretty good day. That didn’t suck.
LL- When it comes to entertainment print coverage in Augusta there’s only two real sources, the Chronicles Applause and the Metro Spirit. How do you feel they are similar and how do they differ?
AS – I’m gonna go on the record. I don’t think it’s going to offend anyone to say that we have different views. With the paper, they have a lot of tie ins with a lot of things. They are motivated to cover certain things and leave certain things alone. We don’t do the best jon in the world but I feel like we try to get a little deeper. Ask the questions that seem to challenge the subject as opposed to asking a question to coax an answer out of someone. For the most part we’re covering the scene for the same reason. Because we love music. Anytime Steven and I get together that’s the first thing we go to and that’s last things we say before we take off. “Go see these guys – go listen to this album”. I think we have more similarities than differences but I think when it comes to lokal bands and guys playing places like Lokal Loudness Live or Sector 7G and have no idea what it really means to put themselves out there, I think they’re gonna come to us first. I hate to say that because it sounds really demeaning but I don’t mean it that way. I think they’re gonna come to the Metro Spirit and realistically think “they’re gonna give us some kind of real attention”. Lokal bands are not really covered as well at the Chronicle it’s more artists swinging through coverage. I do that too but I try and give the locals their spot.
SU – A lot of it’s style, personal style. Andy’s a great writer but he’s a different writer than I am. He and I both approach things in very different ways. And I think that’s probably the biggest difference. Personal writing styles. There’s a little coverage differences but for the most part it comes down to who uses the words I like the best.
LL- So in you opinion who has the most freedom? Andy or Stephen?
AS – I never had anyone tell me not to write a story. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at the Chronicle because I’ve never worked there. I’ve wide open. Everything I covered is something I want to cover. I’ve been shut out of interviews. BB King cut me out. They said he’s not doing interviews in this town. That same week the Augusta Chronicle runs an interview. So I feel as if they had some kind of exclusive clause. But I’m pretty much wide open.
SU – I have no idea. I don’t know how he works at the Spirit. I can tell you from my standpoint I have never been told “don’t do something” in a certain way, “write in this manner” or “don’t cover this”. I pretty much tell ‘em, “we got this, this, this and this” and given the space we got in the paper in the paper, this is what I’m gonna write about. These are the movies I’m gonna talk about and I’ve never had them say “no we want you to do this instead”. That what I love about this gig. They give me enough rope to hang myself with every week.
LL – Given the bad rap the media gets, particularly entertainment media like the coverage of the Michael Jackson trial, what percentage of the news do you feel the press is responsible to report?
AS – Definitely 100 percent responsible. There’s definitely that responsibility there. We are the media. That why they call it the media. That’s what it does. It intermediates. Here’s the event, here’s the press and here’s the public. That’s the order of things. The public doesn’t always know how to get straight to the source and that what the media does, connect the people to the source. As far as the Jackson trial, they could report it for the rest of the day and be done with it but you always see this: They’re gonna keep it alive for weeks because it’s something to play off of.
SU – Here’s the thing about being the press: we aren’t just reporting things that have gone on for the reader the next day but we are also the public record. When people in fifty years go back and want to know about say the Michael Jackson thing, there gonna go to what was reported. I don’t think it is responsible as a journalist to exclude information if it’s pertinent to the story. If I find out that some one around town, some prominent musician, has his own cache of kiddie porn, yeah I’m gonna feel obligated to write about it.
LL- Do you feel that the media had any kind of impact on the result of the Jackson trial?
AS – That’s hard to say. I don’t know. They try and keep all the jurors sequestered off and not in contact with the media so they can’t sway the jurors. Closed quarters left to deliberate. They’re gonna go into with their own conceptions in the first place. They go into with a clean slate that you’re guilty or not guilty and won’t be swayed otherwise.
SU – I think if it had made any impact, he would have been convicted. I think it’s a testament to the legal system that although it’s been all over the newspapers and the fact that everyone’s creeped out by Michael Jackson in the first place, the jury was still able to say “listen, we did not have enough proof to convict the guy”.
LL- Lokally speaking, easiest or funnest band you have had the opportunity to interview or write about?
AS – I don’t know. I’m trying to think of bands that I don’t know that I’ve interviewed. JJ Maj was fun because I met them on a Sunday. We hung out downtown and it was raining. There’s like 8 guys they were a trip. I don’t wanna ay that they’re a party band, but you remember the Happy Mondays right? I always thing of JJ May and the Unpolished Brass as the Happy Mondays of Augusta. They’re jus these guys who are party guys and they love to get down but paying music is also there too so… I would have to say JJ Maj has been the funnest, not necessarily the easiest.
SU – I always like doing stuff with Hellblinki. You know, Andrew (Benjamin) is smart and he surrounds himself with smart people. The band is so interesting that those are always fun.
LL- Give you opinion on lokal music coverage here in Augusta.?
AS – Has think the radio has some work in front of them. Thank God for Joe Stevenson because they’re actually swinging some lokal stuff one hour a week. That may be all that’s allotted for that. Radio has a long way to go. Radio should be playing some of these lokal guys in their regular programming. They’re not. They’re playing the same 10-15 songs over and over and that shit sucks. So radio, out the door. They gotta work just to get back in. I think between Steven and I, it’s that size town we don’t have to compete and we don’t have to spread ourselves too thin. I think we got it covered on the print side. I hope we do. You’d have to ask the bands. They know how well we cover it. Onlin I think if it wasn’t for Lokal Loudness there wouldn’t be anything.
SU – I’d always like to see more. A lot of my earliest musical memories are in Augusta and a lot of people are still playing in bands that were in bands that I went to see were friends that I grew up with. It’s kind of like a father thinking no ones ever good enough for his daughter. I think the lokal music scene never gets enough. We could be getting more coverage than anyone in the nation but I’d still be saying, “yeah, but more would be better”.
LL- Aside from writing about lokal and regional music, you’ve also spent some time in the band trenches. Spill the beans?
AS – Well my brother just moved out last week so I moved the drums into the living room. I still have neighbors though. Drumming has always been a passing kind of fancy
SU – A little time. Yeah I’ve played in some bands.
LL- Does it help when interviewing and writing about bands?
AS – It gives me a greater appreciation. Even if I suck I can still walk away and say, “y’know what, I can see what it takes to do this”. It puts you on their level. I’m sure that bands get that all the time. They get some kid who went to Pointer College, which is a big journalism school in Florida. Doesn’t know anything about being in a band, just knows how to listen to music and how to appreciate it not necessarily how to get on the same level as these guys. Everybody who writes about rock music ought to be able to switch places. We’re just another outlet of the whole thing. They do it but we write about it. It just all seems to branch from the same place so we shouldn’t be far from each other/ Polar opposites makes no sense.
SU – I feel like for some people it might give me some legitimacy you know, they aren’t just talking to some guy with a typewriter. I kind of understand the creative process. I think people might appreciate music as much as a musician does but not the same way. Hopefully I can bring some of that to the writing.
LL- Now for some multiple choice: In a perfect would you would:
A) Write for the rock mag of your choice.
B) Play in the band of your choice.
AS – That’s a tough question. In a perfect world… people get into rock writing because they can’t play They still love the music and they do the best they can with what they’ve got. I think every music writer wants to be a musician. Deep down that’s why they do what they do and they love hearing it all the time and would play if they could. So I think ideally that everybody wants to be in a band. You can’t look at a band that’s really killing it and say “aww, I’d rather watch”. So yeah, ideally, in a band. But in the real world my skills limit me to being a writer.
SU – In the long run I would probably prefer to write. I kind of like the solitary nature of it. But I gotta tell ya, at some point in my life I would have loved to played, not the big rooms but the medium sized rooms. But I’m gonna go with writing.
LL- In you infinite wisdom, what CD should we all be listening to?
AS – We should listen to Suth John Stevens (spelling confirmation soon) when he releases “Illanoise”, not Illanois. I think that’s gonna be next month. I was at Criminal Records and I heard that and asked if it was Suth John Stevens and the gys says yeah. I asked if it was out and was told not yet. The guys writing 50 albums about 50 states and this is his second one. Anything this guys writes will change your life.
SU – All-time, the cd that can teach us the most is the Clash “London Calling”. Here’s a album that encorporated world music. It was coming from this sort of punk rock background. It’s got some rockabilly on there, it’s got some jazzlicks on there. It’s just so cohesive, it’s a beautiful record. As far as new stuff there’s a guy out of Seattle Washington named Gerald Collier who does this sort of a alt country rock thing. He might be the best songwriter no ones ever heard of. I think everyone should be listening to him. I think he deserves a really nice car.