On Monday night, I had the privilege of watching James Murphy salvage an interview that, in lesser hands, probably would have gone down in flames. Mostly, the interviewer seemed to suffer from poor posture (perhaps he should watch this dry-mouthed TED talk on the power of body language) and lack of confidence– “Should we open it up to questions?” he asked at one point. Murphy’s response? “I don’t know, dude, it’s your interview.”
To be fair, maybe he was having a bad day, maybe he was forced to do the interview last minute, and it wasn’t the worst two hours of my life. I wasn’t the one onstage, after all. Plus, let’s be real: Musicians can be a finicky bunch who don’t really like to talk to the press. In the meantime, let’s look at some ridiculous, less-than-stellar interviews in the long, tenuous history of journalists versus musicians.
In short: This is how you don’t do it.
Don’t dress up as Nardwuar.
Apparently Blur never grew out of the reportedly dog-eat-dog British school system known for its cruel headmasters and worse bullying. The band members push Nardwuar around, remove his glasses, and steal his hat, which he asks for repeatedly while amazingly not breaking character. “As long as we’re getting this on tape, we’re good!” he says at one point. At least Dave Rowntree found it within himself to apologize years later.
Don’t look like an idiot and be sure to understand your subject’s references.
When Will Oldham introduces “Big Friday” during a morning interview on Kansas City TV, the anchor, god bless her, says, “I love big Fridays!” Buzzkill Bill points out that it’s actually a reference to Big Wednesday, a surf term popularized in the 1978 film of the same name. She also doesn’t get it when he references Bonnie Prince Charlie as one of the inspirations for his three-pronged Bonnie Prince Billy moniker. Live and learn, I guess.
This might seem obvious, but know how to pronounce your subject’s name.
Terry Gross’ interview with Gene Simmons goes to some dark places, but things start to derail when she doesn’t get his Hebrew birth name, Chaim Witz, quite right. “The name came out of a gentile mouth,” Simmons says. “It came out bland.” “It’s not a gentile mouth, actually,” Gross responds. “Ooh, maybe it’s a discussion we can have. But I don’t want to start something we can’t finish,” Simmons says. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to This American Laugh too many times, but Simmons’ sexual undertones in this case (or ever) are just, well, gross.
If you make a joke, make sure it’s a good joke.
Clive Anderson’s interview with the Bee Gees goes well enough until he interjects one too many times. “We did make one hit during that time,” Barry Gibb says, “called ‘Don’t Forget to Remember’.” “I don’t remember that one,” Anderson retorts. With a straight face, Gibb walks out, followed swiftly by his brothers. It’s pretty pathetic watching Anderson’s face slowly fall as he learns, as we all do, that his actions have consequences
When in doubt, interview yourself.
A few musicians have found a way around the necessary evil of giving interviews: ask not what your interviewer can do for you, but what you can do for yourself. In a pitch-perfect parody, “Dick Flash” of “Pork Magazine” interviews Brian Eno, hilariously mixing up the title of Small Craft on a Milk Sea and cutting him off.
Don’t be a dick and remember that musicians are overly sensitive about everything and will probably misread your constructive criticism.
When Queen toured in 1984 after a three-year hiatus, guitarist Brian May gave an interview with a French journalist who called Queen’s style “a bit overblown.” “Is that a criticism?” May asks. He starts to answer and then abruptly turns around to scream, bizarrely but appropriately, “Fuck off!” at someone making noise behind him.