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Ira Robbins Interview Pt 1

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Today my email apparently drifted off into the ether, then a thunderstorm came through and blew up a tree right across the street and killed our electricity for a while. But, it is finally time to begin our interview with the legendary Ira Robbins. A little background:

    Robbins, the co-founder and co-editor of Trouser Press, has said that a million dollars would be the only way anyone could talk him into running a music magazine again. It’s not that he wasn’t any good at it — in fact, Trouser Press quickly grew from a stapled fanzine with a devoted cult following to a glossy monthly magazine that was as good or better than competitors Rolling Stone and Musician at certain times in their publishing histories. For 10 years, from 1974 to 1984, Trouser Press worked towards becoming the “alternative” magazine of its day — a precursor to the early Spin, back when that magazine was any good.

    When the magazine folded under financial and cultural pressure (MTV had just started and it was forcefully taking over the Trouser Press niche), Robbins continued his crusade with a series of Trouser Press record guides. Over five editions, Robbins’ books have become the standard alternative music album guides for both fans and the world of rockwrite as well.

    Today, Robbins works in syndicated radio and freelances for Mojo, Salon.com and other publications.

Eric Olsen: We have the pleasure of chatting with Ira Robbins, best known as editor of Trouser Press magazine and then the record guide books of the same name. Tell us the exciting news regarding Trouser Press.

Ira Robbins: I’m delighted to announce that the Trouser Press website is back online after a couple of years in cyber-blivion. It was a lot of work, but I’m very excited to have the entire Trouser Press record guide archive freely
available in a searchable format.

EO: What is available online, what kind of music, what era?

IR: What we’ve put up is the contents of all five Trouser Press books, which
basically begins with the ’60s roots of new wave (the Velvets, Stooges) and
runs through to about 1996, reviewing every long-player by every major (and
a zillion minor) bands that could be considered “alternative,” which has
meant very different things in different eras.

EO: That is an interesting point, can you give a few examples of how
“alternative” rock has changed over time? Does the word have any meaning
anymore?

IR: not really, but it does connote something in a very vague sense. For me, it
has always meant music that is made to express an original view regardless
of commercialism or fashion. That stretches from avant-garde to punk. I
don’t know exactly how that might apply to today’s chart-topping
crud-rock…I mean – Creed? Staind?

EO: Generic hard-ish rock as far as I’m concerned. Who are some of your favorite new-ish artists and a little bit of why?

IR: But it’s not that simple. Their aspirations are totally out of synch with
alternative rock tradition – they’re business boys with tattoos (or
whatever) – and that makes them, in my view, very poor icons of alt rock.

The bands I’m finding to like these days are all (I suppose this is
predictable and pathetic coming from a 48-year-old critic) to some degree
retro – Soundtrack of Our Lives, 32 Satellite, The Fletcher Pratt, the
Doves, Interpol…

EO: My favorites have retro elements as well: melody, sharp but not mechanical rhythms (unless its electronic is what I’m in the mood for), humanism…

I know you are editorial director at MJI, what is MJI and what do you do there?

IR: MJI Programming is a radio company, now a division of Clear Channel. My
department provides daily music news and actualities, organized specifically
by radio format, to stations around the country….

We will resume the interview at around 10:30pm, feel free to leave your questions in the comments section.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Jeff Murphy

    Ira has always been an articulate, well-respected music journalist that helped to shape the way music journalists should be. His countless books and articles are always written from a position of knowledge and intelligence. He is a music FAN! Don’t forget about his involvement in New York’s New Music Seminar, the grandaddy of all of the music seminars. He has been a tremendous asset to the “alternate” music industry. Thank-you, Ira!

  • Kevin Gaylor

    I think that Ira Robbins is a sad individual (more along the lines of asshole), and just like many other rock critics, he has his own agenda that is deeply emeshed in his own self-loathing and need to feel superior to others. I disagree with most of his reviews, and he seems to me, just by reveiwing his writings, to be a very unhappy person.

  • Eric Olsen

    he seemed a bit defensive about the whole Clear Channel thing, but I never got the sense he is unhappy from his writing, which is often jubilant.