Arts Desk

Crowdsourced AOL Writers to D.C. Bands at South by Southwest: “Beatles or Stones?”

spinner

Spinner, AOL's upstart music Web site, approached this year's South by Southwest festival with Texas-sized ambition: It would interview every band and artist performing there—all 2,000 of them.

And so Spinner put out an APB to writers experienced and un-: Give us an interview, we'll give you $50. Don't worry about being familiar with your subject; just listen to enough to write a pithy intro. Never done a Q&A? Totally cool. We've prepared some questions for you.

The assignments went out through Seed, AOL's algorithmic content-assignment site. What started out as embarrassing—interview after interview featuring variations on questions like "Beatles or Stones?" and "How did your band form?"—yesterday became very embarrassing, when Spinner's editors sent a frantic e-mail to their contributors: File your interviews. Please!

That's the thing about hiring untested writers: They may suck at deadlines. Or they may suck altogether.

Or they may not suck at all: Browse through Spinner's South by Southwest Q&As, and you'll read some insightful stuff that goes off the Spinner script. But mostly, Spinner's South by Southwest coverage has been amateur-hour (via Arts Desk contributor Leor Galil). And often, the bands noticed. Take this Japandroids interview:

What's your biggest vice?
Probably last year's September issue.
What's in your festival survival kit?
Water and a seat.

What's your biggest vice?

Probably last year's September issue.

With several dozen D.C. artists attending South by Southwest, it was inevitable that some would end up in the Spinner hot seat. After the jump, check out how they put up with Spinner's citizen scribes.

INTERVIEWEE: Vandaveer, the gentle, folky project of former These United States member Mark Charles Heidinger.

INTERVIEWER: Simona Rabinovitch, who "covers music, pop culture and travel for the Globe & Mail, Lonely Planet, Dazed & Confused, and more. She's also an editor at Zink Canada, works in TV, and is writing her first book. She enjoys carrots, basslines, and practicing her Russian accent."

THE INTERVIEW: Heidinger gives a few honest (if jokey) answers before realizing he's participating in the least human interview of his life. From the end of the interview:

Who was your first celeb crush?

According to the scrapbook my mother kept, when I was seven I wanted to be a "mommy." When I was eight, after the Big Talk, I wanted to be a daddy. Ergo, my first celeb crush was Michael Jackson but my first self-aware celeb crush was Madonna.

Beatles or Stones?

Definitely.

What's the craziest thing you've seen or experienced while on tour?

The mirror in the morning.

TEXAS BBQ GRADE: Dry. And wry.

INTERVIEWEEThe Mynabirds, former Georgie James member Laura Burhenn's soulful, classicist claim to the legacy of Dusty Springfield.

INTERVIEWER: Anneliese Curtis Place, no Spinner bio. Great MySpace page, though.

THE INTERVIEW: Burhenn's either oblivious or a good sport. She doesn't even wince at the cookie-cutter questions:

Describe your sound in your own words.

I had always wanted to make a record that sounds like Neil Young doing Motown. After Georgie James broke up, I went back to the idea of hymns and melodies that have been passed from generation to generation. I went into the studio to make this Neil Young doing Motown thing. I had been listening to a lot of Dusty Springfield, Bobbie Gentry, and other amazing female singers like Carole King and Grace Slick. A little bit of gospel, soul and a little bit of straight country. There is something very comforting about it. The whole record is really about loss and recovery, I wanted to make music that felt comforting, that people felt familiar with, like family.

As opposed to, like, someone else's words?

TEXAS BBQ GRADE: Undercooked.

INTERVIEWEE: DJ Gavin Holland, who's about to move his popular Nouveau Riche dance party to the new U Street Music Hall.

INTERVIEWER: Rika Nurrahmah, no bio. According to Nurrahmah's blog, the writer is a "Junior in the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University who bathes herself in the dandy pleasures of life."

THE INTERVIEW: Holland gives a pretty interesting interview, even though the stock questions are more band- than DJ-appropriate. This one's just weird:

If you had to be on a dating show, how would you pitch yourself?

Dead sexy, ambitious, loves to party, skilled at DJ-ing, and tender and caring. I am a great boyfriend!

TEXAS BBQ GRADE: Smoky.

INTERVIEWEE: Nadastrom, the house duo of DJs Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom.

INTERVIEWER: Patrick Shea, no bio.

THE INTERVIEW: Shea works the terrible canned queries into a pretty cohesive interview. Not bad.

For those of us who can't guess, how did you come with your band name?

Dave: Man. It was definitely not the first thing that we were gonna do. You know, obviously it's a partnership and wanting to reflect both our names as individual producers and artists. By the way, Nada is not my last name, it's a nickname I got from this punk band I was in called De Nada. The sad part is, a lot of people will kind of miss that. But the sadder part is when people call us 'Nada Storm.' And sometimes it's our friends.

TEXAS BBQ GRADE: Mesquite.

INTERVIEWEE: Meredith Bragg, the delicate folkie who's way more adventurous than he gets credit for.

INTERVIEWER: Jessica M. Alexander, no bio.

THE INTERVIEW: There is absolutely nothing about this Q&A that suggests Alexander has ever listened to Bragg's music. The intro:

As part of the Kora Records showcase, Washington D.C. artist Meredith Bragg makes a second appearance at SXSW, with a new record forthcoming in 2010. Spinner recently spoke with him about his visit to Texas, where he'll play some new songs and get out of the blistering cold.

So I've learned that: Bragg has played South by Southwest before, he's recording an album, and D.C. is cold.

TEXAS BBQ GRADE: Plain fucking awful.

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