A Brief Interview I did with Michael Azerrad, Author of Our Band Could Be Your Life

We Grooms got asked by Michael Azerrad to play Husker Du songs for the 10 year reunion celebration of his book,
Our Band Could Be Your Life. The book was huge and hugely inspiring for us when we read it at various points over the last ten years. Here's a quick interview I did with him regarding the book (in various ways).

Do you still get excited when the bands covered in Our Band... (or from the era in general) come out with new material? Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Mudhoney, etc., or when Mission of Burma reformed in 2004?

It is exciting when those bands come out with new material, and — quite aside from the question of whether it's any good — it's just more proof that those people are total lifers. They knew that the chances they took on their careers early on, by making uncompromising music on indie labels, would have implications for the rest of their lives. It wasn't like they were going to do this rough-and-tumble indie thing and then become an accountant or something — even the ones who had trained to become accountants (i.e., the Butthole Surfers). They were in it all the way. And when they come out with a new album, it's just more proof of their commitment and a validation of the values they embraced when they were very young. And that can be very inspiring, and not just to musicians. Our band could be your life, indeed.

And often the music is very good. I saw the Meat Puppets play SXSW this year and they were a blast. Mudhoney's latest album The Lucky Ones is one of the best of their career. Mission of Burma have been doing excellent shows and albums ever since they reformed — they've still got it. Sonic Youth still easily earns their name, musically and personally, full of imagination and curiosity. Dinosaur's post-reformation albums have been ridiculously good. Mike Watt's new album is excellent.

The indie music climate (the way music is reported on/reviewed/created/disseminated) is obviously totally different now, in 2011, than it was when it was being formed by the bands in your book. I know how I see it as different, but how do you see it as different, and do you think it's better, worse, just different? (Not really the quality of the bands that are around now versus then but the culture of indie/underground rock/music, and the way it's used in mainstream culture maybe)

The way indie music is used in mainstream culture is of course totally different. Now you hear Spoon in a Jaguar commercial. In 1984, that would have been literally unimaginable — as in, if you suggested it, you'd be considered clinically insane. The idea of authenticity being used as a marketing tool is a new and somewhat radical thing.
Then there's the whole question of what is indie. Is it a fiscal designation? A musical genre? A creative approach? It used to be much clearer. But in the end, it's just a pointless semantic debate.
Some things are easier now for indie musicians — like recording and distributing music, or lining up a tour. Some things are harder, like standing out in an exponentially more crowded field. And some things are exactly the same — why does the bass player always have to listen to Van Halen while she drives?

Did you have any opinion on the Steve Albini / Sonic Youth semi-feud (though it was really just comments Albini made) last year? For me it kind of re-awoke some of the excitement and idealism that I felt when I first discovered underground rock, the kind of thing that was at the core of your book.

Those guys go so far back, I couldn't take it too seriously. It was like a veteran comedy team doing their classic schtick. Steve has some valid points and yet it's hard to argue with the fact that Sonic Youth has, for 30 years, made exactly the music they wanted to make, stayed together all that time, and continued to make what I'm sure is quite a nice living. As long as they didn't kill any baby harp seals along the way, that sounds like the perfect career to me.

Opening up the book, you quote William Blake's "I must create my own System or be enslaved by another man’s". This quote, especially in context of the book, was always incredibly encouraging and inspiring to me. Do you think it's still possible for musicians to create their own systems? Is there any room left for those new systems? Are there any systems you'd like to see created by new musicians?

New systems can be made on any level. You can devise your own tuning for your guitar and that's a new system, and it will manifest itself in new music. Fueling your van with cooking oil is a new system with tremendous implications. Technology and imagination inspire new systems. And both of those things will be with us as long as people walk this earth.

When was the last time you listened to Let It Be?

I threw it on a few months ago, actually. It's still great. "Unsatisfied" and "Sixteen Blue" are classic songs. And just yesterday, I guest DJ'd on WNYU and played "Seen Your Video." Along with "Tiger Trees" from your fine new album Prom.