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More Old Times: Interview with Alt Press Editor

Wow, it’s old cohorts week around here for me. First, an article turned up about the current whereabouts and activities of possible Missing Link and longtime Cleveland music scenester Johan.

Now, the always cool Cool Cleveland has an interview with Alternative Press (a publication for which I have written in the dark recesses of time) editor Jason Pettigrew, who I have known for about 15 years, interviewed myself a few times (I mean I have interviewed him, not myself, which would be redundant if not schizophrenic) and who is still in the groove:

    For 20 years, Alternative Press magazine has been ahead of the curve when it comes to rock talent bubbling up from deep underground. Careers have started for many at AP, not only for musicians, but for top entertainment journalists and photographers in the country as well. And best of all, this national music mag launched itself and emergent musical talent right here in Cleveland, Ohio.

    At the top of that journalistic heap sits Jason Pettigrew, AP Editor-In-Chief and shrewd underground music pundit. Known for insightful reviews and interviews with teeth—some biting, others gnashing—his wit is equally razor-sharp. He recently talked to Cool Cleveland about the anatomy of the Cleveland music scene, this summer’s co-sponsored College Music Journal (CMJ) Rock Hall MusicFest showcase, trends, do-it-yourself ethos and AP’s impending 20th Anniversary.

    Cool Cleveland: You have a perception and a position within the Cleveland arts community as a music industry insider. You’re also a long time native. So, why does Cleveland have an inferiority complex to the degree that it does?

    Jason Pettigrew: I think that local bands that are doing interesting things—like Disengage, Keelhaul, This Moment In Black History, Cobra Verde, the Lovekill—don’t worry about that at all. They have enough passion about what they do, that they are willing to put themselves through enough craziness to get out there and take their art to the world.

    I spoke with a good friend of mine based in Cleveland who is the finest behind-the-scenes guy a band could ever want in their corner. He told me that Cleveland has no “winners” – success stories that made it and then stayed here to impart their wisdom. He said, “U2 are still very much active in the Dublin music scene…one of those guys can walk into a club, listen to somebody, and, if they hear something, help nurture that talent.” The lack of a winning team [in Cleveland] makes people feel like it will never happen here.

    Recently, you spoke to an A&R person who said the last Cleveland music showcase “was like being trapped in a community haunted house that was more embarrassing than scary.” I’m certain they didn’t mean that in a retro sort of way…

    I was told there was one, um, “hotly tipped” local band that played some anachronistic nü metal while being joined onstage by what was described to me as “a Jesus impersonator mascot doing shamanic dancing.” I don’t know, Pete…why does Cleveland have an inferiority complex?

    Point taken. That “why not here?” question always gets tossed around in Cleveland relative to Rock Hall inductions and other similarly high-profile music events. So, if the “home team” would rather “play away and stay away” and industry insiders have serious criticisms of events like last year’s Cleveland Music Festival; does the end result justify the means?

    Let’s forget about the events themselves, for a moment. Could it be that, a) most Clevelanders are more worried about how they’re going to pay their bills than to learn about what cool bands are in town, b) their entire interest in music is as casual as going out to get a Big Mac, or c) they’re mostly a bunch of tasteless rubes that only want to revisit the dog shit of their youth, which sucked the first time around?

    Scene magazine still gets letters telling them their paper sucks because they don’t recognize “the genius” of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and they don’t send a reviewer when some faded hair-metal band—with one original member remaining—comes to town. Why are cover bands like Wish You Were Here so popular in this town? “Because, they only play good music, like the old days, maaan.” Fuck you, buddy: ever heard Porcupine Tree? How are organizers supposed to reach out to these people? I’d start with everyone telling all their buddies to subscribe to satellite radio, because commercial radio in this town is a contributing factor to crap tastes.

Ooh, brutal but true. Rock on.

Compare and contrast Jason’s musings on the local music scene with Johan’s from 12 years ago. People, some things don’t change and that is why I feel I am missing very little by no longer having my head up the Cleveland music scene ass, although it’s fun to drop in now and then and confirm that, yep, nothing has changed.

    AP’s 20th Anniversary is next year. Any big plans you can share? Perhaps another weekend outdoor music event like you had in the Flats 10 years ago?

    There are plans afoot for some sort of soirée, but as I am learning right now, there are so many variables and mitigating factors that abound, so whatever I tell you now would be wrong 10 minutes from now. I promise to email you when I get some solid information. There will be something happening — you only turn 20 once.

    For a while, AP appeared to experience an editorial pendulum swing, with more of a focus on specific market trends. What factors brought the pendulum back, and what do you ultimately attribute the magazine’s long-term success to?

    The massive consolidation of magazine distributors in the mid-’90s, as well as the concept of order-regulating — the number of copies carried is determined by your sell-through — forced us to do things like chase “celebrities” in order to stay on the racks. We finally stopped trying to be everything to everybody, and focus on one thing.

    And we learned to evolve: the Lollapalooza generation has mortgages, insurance policies and, in many cases, kids who need college funds. Music doesn’t mean as much to them like it did 10-15 years ago. So why put Jane’s Addiction or the Chili Peppers on the cover? Music is a generational thing, and each generation has its own culture. We recognize that, and have acted accordingly.

    You have been entrenched in the national scene for a long time, so you have the benefit of seeing movements and trends in their beginning stages. What do you see as the next high-profile trend?

    I ask myself this daily. Now that we are seeing many of these punk/pop-punk/post-punk/emo/post-hardcore bands getting offered a lot of money by major labels; it will be interesting to see if the fans will be there to carry the momentum. I would like to posit that the future will not have anything to do with Fred Durst.

Oooh, full “agreeance” on that. There’s much more, click on over, but I think we’ll end on that.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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