Defend Your Ballot: Michael Tedder, Pazz and Jop 2012 Contributor


You can’t really know where you’re headed unless you know where you’ve been. For that reason, we’re taking a look back at Pazz & Jop 2012 to drill down into the ballots of contributors and voters who participated. Maybe amongst the rubble we’ll find clues about what lies ahead for music lovers in 2013. Here, music writer Michael Tedder defends his ballot.

Okay, Michael Tedder. First, tell us who you are, how many times you’ve voted in Pazz & Jop, and why we should trust you.

I have written for The Village Voice, Spin, The AV Club, Salon, The New Republic and a few others, and I was the managing editor of CMJ for a spell. You can trust me because my heart is full of love. This is my third Pazz vote.

You’ve a very lovely guy.

That’s what your mother says.

LEAVE HER OUT OF THIS. Anyway, let’s talk about love.

Let’s Carl Wilson this shit.

Love seems appropriate, considering your number one album is Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp. What’s up with that?

I thought her voice was just heartbreaking, and the songs were just remarkable durable. There’s a sense of epic sweep on here that reminds me of Boxer or The Bends. But what I found really interesting is that while she was trying to deal with some pretty heavy shit about heartbreak and abuse, the lyrics also deal with her trying to put that stuff behind her. She’s trying to heal, which isn’t something people write about often enough but I found brave.

She does it in a way that’s pretty accessible, too, right? Like, she’s talking about some Real Shit, but it doesn’t feel overtly earnest.

Right. And there’s some great hooks on this thing. I mean “Give Out” is just a monster catharsis jam.

How many times have you found yourself singing that song in the shower?

On the reg.

That’s what I like to hear. Would you say you have a good or great singing-in-the-shower voice?

I think you should ask your mom.

Dude stop talking about my mom. Let’s talk about the rest of your ballot. You’ve got a lot of variety in your Top 10 Records.

‘Tis the spice of life.

Is variety important?

Yeah, certainly. Different styles and genres fill different needs. Japandroids does something to me that Frank Ocean can’t, and vice versa.

What are those things?
Japandroids just gives you that release, you know? Like, if I put it on in a car I’m all of a sudden going 80 miles per hour. Where as Frank, you just feel that rush of compassion for all things from that guy. He’s like, “I know things can seem like they’re fucked. But I got you.”

Frank loves to talk about things that are fucked.
It’s true.

So the most surprising record on your ballot is probably Local H. How’d that crack the top 10?

I suppose so. That record got widely ignored, and I’m sure most people think of them as grunge also-rans if they think of them at all. But Scott Lucas is one of the sharpest lyricists in rock, and he’s got about at talking about things like how many set themselves up to fail, or why people need rock music in order to feel a sense of community. Anyway, it was the only political double-album in a year that should have seen a lot more political commentary in music.

Do you feel political commentary is important? Expand on that last statement.

Yeah. I feel art should try to engage in the world around us. Now, not every artist should do that. Artists should play to their strengths. And I don’t mean things like “Bush is bad” or whatever. I just think there’s something to be said for art that tries to make sense of the world we live in. Sometimes the best thing an artist can do is give that sense of “this person understands the way I’m feeling.” Of course, it’s also good when art challenges your beliefs as well. That’s just as important.


I guess that’s why I put Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care Of Our Own” on my singles list. What can I say? I’m a pinko, and this song made me feel better every time the world played a game of “guess what terrible thing a Republican said today.” Plus, you have to admire how hard Bruce works to uplift you. You can really hear him put his back into it on the bridge. Plus, this was the song that lovely DJ whose named escapes me played after Obama was reelected. How could I not?

What about Killer Mike? He got a little political.

Same thing. Love that dude. Love that the same guy can break down the devastating effects on Reaganomic and then just rap about how he’s a total badass who could beat up the entire world. Between that and the Titus Andronicus album, this was a weirdly good year for Reagan disses. As someone who’s entire world view was cemented when a teacher made me watch And The Band Played On, I’m totally onboard with this. Speaking of which…

Go on.

I am a bit surprised at how cooly Titus Andronicus’s third album was received. It drops off after “My Eating Disorder” but I maintain that it is two-thirds great.

Why do you think there wasn’t as much hype? I was surprised by that too, especially after how positively their previous records were received.
I think The Monitor cast such a huge shadow, anything they released would have had a hard time living up to. That album was basically perfect start to finish. Local Business was just very good. But I think people will come back to it over time. I mean “In A Big City” is one of the best songs about wanting something and then getting your ass kicked by it in recent memory. And I will play fair and admit that the “Electric Man” song was pretty annoying, and that “Eating Disorder” was designed to be uncomfortable to listen to.

But it still made your Top 10, so it couldn’t have been that uncomfortable!

A fair point. I thought it was commendable how much he put it out there. Patrick told me when I talked to him for you guys (“Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles On “Practical Righteousness,” The Replacements’ Goof Songs, And His Band’s Our Band Concert Set“) that he didn’t want to write about his eating disorder at all, which is how he knew he had to.

That seems to echo your earlier statements about Sharon van Etten, talking about bravery.

I guess that’s a thing with me. When you think about it, the world has a way of making everyone feel alienated and crazy. Art, at it’s best, should remind us that we are all in this together. It should say “it’s okay. I’m kind of crazy also.”

That explains why 2 Chainz didn’t make the cut, eh?

Nah. I mean, I love bawdy rap songs. It’s not all deep emotions with me. “Rack City” is my shit, bitch.

I’ve danced horribly to that song one too many times this year. What about Kitty Pryde? She found her way in your Top 10 Singles.

First off, any rapper naming themselves after an X-Men character instantly wins my love. If there was a rapper named Nightcrawler or Stryfe, I would instantly love them.


Basically, I thought that song did a good job of drawing us in to Kitty’s world, explaining who she is and how she sees them. And that thing about the drunk dials really sticks in the head.

What was your last drunk dial?

Eh. I’m married. I can’t even remember.

You’ve never drunk dialed your spouse?!

I almost made another joke about your mother but restrained myself.

Thanks. I appreciate that. Okay, Michael, what do you think is in store for Pazz & Jop 2013?

Well, the albums that tend to take the top spot usually have great music, but also a narrative that wins people over. As such, it’s obvious what the number one will be.

What is that?

Well, if D’Angelo gets his shit together, then probably James River. If not (or even if he does) my money is on Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

Congratulations, Michael Tedder. You have successfully defended your ballot!

Thanks for having me, Eric. Give your mom my regards.

Interview by Eric Sundermann.