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Ian Stewart interview conducted by e-mail May 11, 2000

Some of you hopefully know about the zine (or is it a magazine?) AUTOreverse.  I’d explain it to you, but the interview tells you all about it as Ian reveals himself to be smarter than he’d like us to believe.  It’s so great to interview somebody totally into what they’re doing & unjaded.

QRD – When you first started AUTOreverse, were you aware of other zines in a similar vein? How do you think AUTOreverse is different?

Ian – I started AUTOreverse in 1995 after a long period of wishing there was something – ANYTHING! – that was like Jim Santo's DEMORANDUM column in Alternative Press magazine. I was aware that there were at least a small handful of zines that focused on "Cassette Culture," but I wasn't seeing them myself. I discovered ND through Terry Burke, when he sent me a xerox of a review they wrote about one of his cassettes. ND was great then, the layouts were pure art & the printing was always amazing. The interviews were always totally engaging, even though I'd never heard of any of the people. Where ND was lacking to me was their reviews, which were usually just two sentences or less. Unless they really liked something. I mean, I can appreciate writing such short reviews on a certain level, but when that's your only impression of a piece of music, it doesn't really give you anything to go on as a listener. I was also aware of GAJOOB but I didn't actually see it until after AUTO had been going for a while. I must confess that I had expected there to be, if not overt hostility, at least a marked indifference from other Cassette Culture zine editors. But the truth is that everyone has pretty much been unnervingly cool & approachable & very much interested in doing things that are mutually beneficial. Which probably doesn't happen in the grown-up publishing world. We all play very nicely together. Now that there are a few more publications devoted exclusively to home-recorded music, the way AUTOreverse has continued to maintain its individuality is just by staying honest. There has never been a point where, like, Warner Brothers suddenly showed up & started giving us all a bunch of free stuff & tried to get us to always say how cool they were. We approach everything with the same ruthless honesty. Most magazines have no problem just spreading cheer & goodwill. They don't want to say anything bad about anyone or anything. While that's certainly fine for them, & I respect that perspective, it's not how we do business at AUTO. We are honor-bound to say what we think about everything we come across. The readers expect no less. Our reviewers are empowered to be as efflorescent as their vocabularies will let them whenever they come across a release they love or detest. It's all down to them. Another tiebreaker is the large cast of characters that comprise TEAM AUTO. It's a cliche to say it couldn't happen without them, but it really couldn't. There's such a wide range of opinions & backgrounds that it's always kept fresh. There's always a new perspective. & we're each other's biggest fans too. It's almost kind of icky in a way.

QRD – Do you run into problems about whether to spend your spare time on AUTOreverse or your music?

Ian – Oh, only every day... What sucks for me is that I think of myself as a musician more than a writer or editor or publisher, but if I'm known for anything to anybody anymore, it's for damn AUTOreverse! It's the golden cage! In the past I've tried things like using one of those fucking Daytimer things – they made me use it for work! -- to schedule out my "free time," & to sort of allocate in advance which hat I'd be wearing on any given weeknight. AUTOreverse takes up most of my time, with music coming in about 8 places behind that. You see doctor, before I started AUTO, I was recording a lot. I mean a LOT. Writing like 3 songs a day for several years. Of course most of it was crap, but since I was spending so much time on it, I kind of hoped that it might somehow catch on with people. Unfortunately no one I gave my tapes to at the time was really helpful. People said polite things when forced, but otherwise the response was very understated. & that's not what I'm looking for as a musician. I want people to lose their damn minds when they hear my stuff, period. You can put that on my tombstone. So when the response was just kind of bleah, I basically channeled all of my energy into AUTOreverse. & instantly it became an either/or deal. I pretty much stopped recording then & loaned out all of my studio stuff to friends for about a year. & even once I got it back it tended to stay in the box in the closet for months on end. Which is kind of sad if I think about it too long. So whereas my music was getting no attention whatsoever, AUTOreverse has had a steady stream of interest (for lack of a better term) from the very beginning. It's always been waaaaaaay more focal than any music thing I ever did. Uh, except for the XTC tributes, but everyone knows that tributes are cheating.

QRD – What's your goal with your label Bizarre Depiction?

Ian – Bizarre Depiction was started in 1993 to put out tapes of my band at the time. & actually that's all it's ever done! Except for the XTC tributes, which had other people on them too. My goals are kind of hard to define; it really depends on a lot of other things in my life. At any given moment the answer could fluctuate between "it's a hobby" & "Someday Bizarre Depiction will own the world." Every couple of years I have the brilliant idea of putting out a 7" single of a great song by a friend but of course I never do it. Someday I'd love to get zapped by the big corporate money-makin' zapper thing & have the ability to bring together all of the elements of AUTO & BD & be something of an A+R guy maybe? That would be fun. But of course it would just be pure ego trippin'. Me sitting back & seeing what everyone else in the world thinks of my taste in music!  I can say with some degree of certainty that Bizarre Depiction will be releasing a full-length CD by my fake goth band IRRELIGION in 2000 or 2001 sometime. We've written some really good songs & we have enough fun with the delivery that it just seems right to have a go at doing it properly. I'm also doing like 10 compilations too, which is a total mistake. I had this great idea one day for this whole list of compilations on various themes, so I sent out emails to a ton of people & got a really great response, & it just hasn't died off at all. But I totally lost my boner for the compilations just because I'm so overwhelmed at this point! It sucks because I know there's nothing worse than some dude sitting on a big pile of songs for a compilation & not doing anything with them. BUT! The compilations will all be released in due time! I apologize to all of the contributors for not bringing this shit together sooner! I'm a busy motherfucker!

QRD – What do you think the real difference is between home-recorded music & commercial releases?

Ian – Damn, uhhhhh. It's really hard to say. Especially with companies like Discmakers being able to press some really professional-looking shit. Every asshole band in the world is able to look like fucking Motley Crue now because the gaps are getting narrower all the time. The distinction we make in AUTO is basically down to who paid for the thing. If there's a label involved, even if it's just two people in an office, they're probably too "big" for us. We prefer to focus on the little guys (midgets! Yeah.) of the home recording world. Not that there's anything wrong with writing about Madonna, it's just not what we choose to do. I used to be very anti-music industry at one point, though I honestly don't remember why. I realize now that commercial music can often be just as honest & real & moving as something made by a friend on their answering machine!

QRD – Are there any bands you'd like to see make more commercially viable records or any "big" bands you'd like to see go back to home recording?

Ian – Oh hell yes. XTC. Both counts. They're commercial enough that people know their name, but they're not so big that people could really recall anything about them. They make such amazing demos on their 8-tracks & then they waste all this money trying to recreate them in expensive studios! There are shitloads of people I've come across via AUTO that really should be heard by the masses. Tons. Listing them all would do a disservice to the ones whose names I'd forget. It'll sound like a plug, but read any issue of AUTO & you'll see who I'm talking about. I don't fuck around; if I think somebody should be a huge fucking star then I put them on the cover & give them the star treatment & tell them they should be a huge fucking star. I do my part. People shouldn't sit around & bitch about how things should be. It's really as simple as typing out your thoughts & making a magazine out of them. You can create your own reality. You can make your own rock stars. Power to the people!

QRD – What do you think are the best & worst things going on right now in home recording?

Ian – The best is easily the MP3 format. I'd be totally remiss if I didn't say so. Never ever have I witnessed such furor for a format that regular folk are actually getting excited about checking out bands they've never heard of before. People brag on internet discussion groups about great bands they've discovered on MP3.com or wherever. It rules. When's the last time someone at work bragged about a great new tape they bought by a band they never heard of? The worst is quite possibly the CDR. Because now there's this wave of "reissues" people are sending in for review. Not that the concept in itself is bad. & I do love my own CDR. But the reissues have got to stop. I'm going to speak in the first person here & I know others have felt the same way because I've got the growing stack of CDs to prove it: Being able to burn a CD of recordings I made 5-10 years ago is a very sexy proposition. I'd love to be able to have that immediate access & not have to fuck around with tracking down & rewinding cassettes. & of course, the more I listen to my own music the more I think., "Hey, somebody else might like this too," & pretty soon I'm sending out the Ian Box Set complete with liner notes & recording diaries & fibers of the very clothes I wore the day I recorded the songs! & ultimately, we must ask ourselves as artists, WHO GIVES A SHIT? The answer is, simply, not me & not your mama. So save the reissues for daddy, it's not 1989 or even 1999 anymore.

QRD – What would you most like to change or add to AUTOreverse?

Ian – There's not a lot I would change about the internal structures we've set up in TEAM AUTO. We're doing a hell of a job at producing an entertaining music magazine every four months. It's great, I'm lucky to be able to work with such talented & amazing people! Distribution could be better but I'm sure any publisher on any level would probably say the same thing. It's hard to find people who are as motivated about their end of the deal as we are about ours sometimes.

QRD – Do you think the internet has had any negative effects on the underground?

Ian – Sure. I almost think that the immediacy of the web has a negative impact on things sometimes. Because shit happens so incredibly quickly that one almost doesn't have time to react. Before the internet, when everything was done via postal mail, one had as much time as they wanted to mull things over. Like if somebody sent you a tape, you could just take your time & check it out at your convenience. Now with MP3s, people expect to be heard & reacted to instantly, & that's insane! One thing I've found is that sometimes the best art seems kind of plain at first, but its beauty becomes more apparent with time. People's short attention spans are being catered to. Which is fine because I have a pretty short attention span myself, but it's almost taken to the extreme.

QRD – What do you think of the big publishing houses like BMI & ASCAP, are they still working for the musicians?

Ian – I'm the wrong guy to ask about that. I've never dealt with either of them in any capacity. The internet has empowered musicians to a degree that BMI etc are almost redundant in a way for many of us. If you're not being played on the radio & people probably won't be doing cover versions of your songs, I can't really see the point of paying monthly dues etc. I'm generally suspicious of agencies & shit like that anyway, just because I have no experience with them. Did I already say "power to the people"? Kill whitey!

QRD – What's your favorite monster & what kind do you most identify with?

Ian – Grover, dude, all the way. He's cuddly & goofy & has blue fur just like me! I'm a Muppets kind of guy. More Bert than anyone though. That guy is me. I worship him.

QRD – What's your favorite Swans song?

Ian – Oh man, I *knew* this one was coming. Regis, can I use my lifeline?  I'm going to say "Better Than You." With the rest of the White Light album as a close second. I bought that CD when it first came out after only ever hearing "God Damn The Sun" on a mix tape. Which I liked, but it didn't really rock me like I had a feeling SWANS could. I mean, Henry Rollins used to talk about Swans all the time. Justin Broadrick of Godflesh too. & I used to worship those guys. So you can imagine the anticipation of putting on the White Light CD at floor-shaking volume for the first time. The fucking baby crying at the beginning & then... ahhhhhh... it's like being hit over the head with a house! I also want to say hi to all of Jarboe's songs on Children of God, which are fucking incredible beyond words too. I was so amazed & thrilled by those tracks the first million times I heard them. They spoke directly to my soul & said POWER! BEAUTY! EAR-BONER! like no other music before or since. So it was equally amazing to me to strike up a brief correspondence with Jarboe in the early to mid 90s. I sent her a book I wrote & she seemed to be really into it. I think she just pretty much digs anything that's like handmade or has bits of someone's soul in it somehow. I'm still in shock that one of my heroes had my fucking book on her bookshelf at one point!

QRD – Do you like having contributors or would you prefer to do AUTOreverse yourself if time permitted it?

Ian – I've never wanted AUTO to be the fucking Ian Show from beginning to end. That would be highly boring! The novelty would wear off very quickly. It would've been dead after 3 issues if I was the only one involved. It was my intention from the absolute beginning to have other people contribute. I wanted AUTO to be as much of a "real" music magazine as possible all along & that doesn't usually happen when it's a one-man-show. No offense to any one-man-shows out there, because that kind of publication is also very valuable in its own way. But for AUTO, I wanted a team from the very beginning.

QRD – Recently you had a theme issue on ambient music, are there going to be other theme issues?

Ian – Yes. The current issue (AUTO10) is the Homepop Explosion issue, featuring a bunch of dudes who make sweet pop music at home. & so far it's been the most popular issue. The next one won't have a theme as such, but the one after that (AUTO12) will be the Underground Techno issue. For lack of a better term. Is "dance music" an okay description? Stuff with beats & no guitars basically. I would like AUTO13 to feature the women of the hometaping scene, but as unsexistly as possible. I wouldn't ask female musicians any different questions than I do the dudes. It would just be like the AUTOreverse equivalent to a Lillith Fair or some shit. But not.

QRD – Anything else you want people to know?

Ian – Yes. Always.