How do you interview emerging artists who have talent and promise, but aren’t very good at expressing that in conversation? How do you draw them out?
That’s interesting. Most of the time, if there’s something about an artist’s music that interests you, when you start talking to that artist they can articulate something about it. If you just keep asking questions over and over again. Partially it’s the interviewer’s responsibility to make that artist feel comfortable and draw it out of them… Like, Bruce didn’t want to talk about his music in the beginning, so I would keep trying to make him feel comfortable and explain to him why it was good to talk about the music. Often if you ask the right questions and make them feel comfortable, they’ll respond.
How do you see the role of the critic insofar as encouraging promising artists to pursue their craft?
That’s the whole thing. You encourage them in your review. You say this is a promising artist. Like U2, when you first saw U2, I don’t know that they were great musicians. I’m not sure they were great songwriters; they weren’t great songwriters. But there was something about them; there was an attitude. The instrumental construction of the music had this power. Bono had this power. You just felt this group cared about it. That’s one of the things: Is this group just wanting to be successful or does the group care about making good music? You get the sense of U2 that they cared about it and you wanted to follow them. It took me a few years to realize this, but whenever you go see a new band or listen to a debut album, you’re not just listening to that album and seeing that night’s show. You’re trying to think, Well what about a tour from now and an album from now? Where can they take what they’re doing? Have they got any place to go? To make an example, the Strokes came in and were very successful very quickly with that Velvet Underground sound. And the White Stripes came along at the exact same moment. When I listened to the Strokes, there was nothing. I could see through the whole thing; it was like I could see how the puppet strings worked.
At the time?
At the time, yeah. I could see what they did. I could see how they got these influences together and made this catchy sound, but there was nothing behind it. And I didn’t see where they were ever going to be able to go. But I walked into the Troubadour and I saw Jack White on stage. And I said, “Now this guy is going to go someplace.” This is an interesting artist. You could hit him with a two-by-four and he’s not going to be compromised by the record business. He wants to make great records, not just have a hit record. In that moment, see, I was excited by the White Stripes because I could see them going somewhere. I was not excited by the Strokes because I couldn’t see them going anywhere.