With my kids, I struggle when we talk about their futures. I want to tell them: Do what you love, work really hard and everything will be alright. It’s a great line, but it’s USDA prime horse crap.
My first business – The Kentucky Gazette – failed in the 1990s. And no amount of hard work could save it. I slept under my desk many nights, and I did a good deal of award-winning journalism. There is more to it than hard work, intelligence and talent.
The person who put it best, in my mind, is Doug Martsch, the founder of the band Built to Spill. He is one of my guitar heros and has an independent streak a mile long (which he somehow maintains while his band signed to Warner Bros. records).
I probably will forward this interview to my daughters someday. But it’s far too nice outside today, and they are both in good places with their lives and their work.
So perhaps I’ll disrupt your day instead. (I actually take great comfort from Doug’s words.)
— Christopher Schwarz
These excerpts are from SPIN magazine, an article written by Rachel Brodsky and posted April 14, 2015.
RB: Ira Glass has a quote where he essentially says that every creative person does terrible work in the beginning. Everybody who’s ever wanted to make art is terrible at first. But as long as you create a “volume of work” — even if it continues to be terrible — it will get better. That’s kind of reassuring.
DM: Well, I’m going to go one further and say that it doesn’t get better. You will not get to a point where you write good things. I’m saying that even now, 99 percent of what I write is really stupid, and it didn’t get any better.
What keeps you going with it then?
I can’t do anything else; there is nothing else I can do. I don’t know how to do anything else, and I still like it. Mostly what I’m talking about is the lyrics. The music part of it, it doesn’t come easy for me, but it’s more subjective, so you can get away with more. Whereas the lyrics, lyrics are subjective. But if they’re bad, they can really turn a person off to what’s happening in the whole. If the lyrics are bad, it’s impossible to listen.
Got any career advice for younger indie-rock bands?
I don’t at all. I can tell you about my circumstances, but they’re not going to apply. I just feel like people have something in them that they want to just do, and they’ll do it no matter what anyone says. Or if they need to be advised, maybe it’s not for them.
Yeah, the music industry is pretty much the antithesis of practical.
Yeah, exactly. So the thing I always say is that I’ve been really lucky. That’s my secret, that I got lucky. I’m not saying that there aren’t other things involved, but I wouldn’t be where I was if I hadn’t lived in Seattle at a certain time, met certain people. The people that I started a band with, I just happened to hook up with some people who were a little older than me who put out records themselves. That was a big deal back in those days. For me to work with them was amazing, and that made my whole life.
I wouldn’t say, like, put out your own record, because that might not do it. I wouldn’t say tour a bunch, because that might not do it either. The other thing I say is don’t have any expectations. If you want to do it, just do it. But if you want to make it big, you’re on your own. I have no idea how to make it big. No one knows the secret to that. I mean, I can tell you how to book time in a studio, but that’s neither here nor there.