How to Scam Your Way into Music Journalism
By Anil Prasad
During my first year of college in Canada in 1989 at age 19, I had a friend named Paul who was suicidally depressed. He was facing family, girl and money problems, with the serious likelihood that he would have to drop out of school. The one thing that kept him going was his devotion to and fascination with Rik Emmett, a highly-regarded Canadian guitarist and vocalist who had just quit the then-popular arena rock group Triumph.
A few months previously, I ordered a kit from an ad in the classifieds of a Canadian rock tabloid called Rock Express. The ad from the mysterious “J.L.T. Canada” read “Meet rock stars! Get free records and tapes! Find out how!” The idea seemed tantalizing. Ten dollars and many weeks later, the kit arrived and was in fact a simple pamphlet stating that “Starting a record review column in your school newspaper” was a way of getting the attention of a record company.
The wheels turned. I studied the pamphlet’s step-by-step directions and got up the balls to call Emmett’s record label to request a meeting in the guise of an interview. So what if I wasn’t actually writing a column? I could just pretend I was. The end goal was getting Paul a face-to-face encounter with his hero to give him some hope and a reason to keep going.
Given Emmett’s recent exit from Triumph, his publicist was willing to take on all comers — or in this case, the bait. I claimed I was with my college paper and they immediately set a time and place. I told Paul of the coup and he freaked out. The interview was to take place in Emmett’s trailer just a few hours before his solo debut gig at the ostentatious “Hot Air Balloon Fiesta” in London, Ontario, Canada.
This was before the days of Almost Famous or Lester Bangs’ deity status. My friend and I had no blueprint from which to work from. We were clueless. We knew as much about music journalism and how to act like a music journalist as we did about working in a coal mine.
We plotted. We schemed. We came up with what we considered interesting questions — the more arcane the better. We sketched out queries relating to guitar pick technique and the deep, deep meaning of obscure album tracks. We devised vehicles to learn who hated who in Triumph. Oh, the genius of it all.
The day arrived. We knew that to be cool, we had to look cool. Paul wore a football jersey, jeans and Converse high-tops. I chose the equally dapper tie-dyed sweatshirt, shorts and sandals uniform. Indeed, we were hipper than hip.
We went over the questions one more time. We tested our state-of-the-art Radio Shack $25 tape recorder and its dynamic condenser mic. We were set — that is, until Paul dropped the recorder. Panic set in when we realized it was broken. We called our friends and family. No-one had a recorder. We soon realized Paul’s ghetto blaster — a big-ass, piece-of-crap straight out of a Kurtis Blow video — also possessed a built-in mic. There was no choice. It was a half-hour before the interview and time for action.
We arrived at the balloon festival in style in my beat-up yellow Volkswagen Rabbit. We meekly wandered backstage and were led into Emmett’s trailer. Neither Paul or I had met a rock star before. Any attempt to conceal drooling fanboy status was immediately destroyed by nervous stuttering. Recording the interview with the ghetto blaster probably didn’t enhance our professional image either. If only you could have seen the incredulous look on Emmett’s face when we plunked the giant machine down on the table.
Emmett was a good sport. We’re pretty sure he knew we were full of it, but he treated us well and entertained our every question, no matter how ridiculous. Astoundingly, he gave us backstage passes. We proceeded to cavort at the side of the stage for the rest of the evening as the vastly important people we surely were.
We emerged unscathed, empowered and most of all, relieved. Paul was elated and ended up with a yarn to spin for the rest of his life. He’s still with us to this day. As for me, I walked out thinking we had pried something of value out of Emmett. We later learned that it was one of his first interviews as a solo artist. It then dawned on me that I could write the interview up and attempt to submit it to the college paper I originally claimed to be representing.
To my astonishment, the backwards approach worked and they ran it. Thus began my 25-year music journalism odyssey that resulted in Innerviews, the world’s first online music magazine which just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
Coda: Rik Emmett, obviously an amazing human being for putting up with these two kids up to no good, just posted his own story about this Medium article.
Anil Prasad is the editor and founder of Innerviews: Music Without Borders. Learn more at: innerviews.org