“I just can’t see the point of writing about the latest Animal Collective or Sigur Ros album, the internet is filled to the brim with opinions on that stuff anyway…”
Before Hollywood is a Brisbane-based blog maintained by two writers, Cameron Smith (Cam) and Luke Hansford (Gav), which has been running since May 2007. Its content caters to the local indie music scene by providing gig guides, reviews, and recent news to the online public. The week, The Fruitbowl takes an in-depth look inside the world of music blogging and the local Brisbane music scene with Cameron Smith from Before Hollywood.
How did Before Hollywood start? Where are you guys from originally and why did you find it necessary to publicize or comment on the local scene?
I’m ‘from’ a few places, but I spent the last two-and-a-half years of high school in Toowoomba before moving to Brisbane in 2001 for University. It took me a little while but after a year or so I had found the local music scene and started seeing bands like Rival Flight (great band), The Giants of Science, and Turnpike. I got moderately deeply involved in local bands, eventually playing in quite a few and putting on a few small shows. I really enjoyed seeing the relationships between the different bands and how each fit into a wider picture. A few years ago I had begun to think about starting up some sort of blog, or maybe even writing for street press. I knew a couple of bloggers from interstate who would message me asking ‘what are some good Brisbane blogs?’, and I had to reply that I didn’t think any existed (good or otherwise). One day a guy that I knew from ‘The Internet’ sent me a message about joining him with a local music blog that he was about to start up. That guy was of course ‘Gav’ (or Luke, which is his real name). We started in May 2007.
The main impetus behind the blog was that local music didn’t often seem to get much coverage in any press, and what coverage it did receive was generally fairly shallow. At the same time, there had been such an interesting period in Brisbane’s more ‘underground’ music scene, and it had gone mostly undocumented; 610 – an all ages, DIY warehouse venue on Anne St (that became the far inferior Valley Studios a few years later) – had come and gone, and a lot of the really interesting bands from that era had broken up or moved away. Things seemed to be a little bit more fractured, so it made sense to make something that maybe gave a bit more cohesiveness to things.
The homepage states that ‘Gav’ is currently in China. How do you two maintain the blog together despite the distance?
Well, Gav/Luke hasn’t really contributed to the blog for the last year or so other than a handful of posts, so really I’m running it solo for the time being. He’s just returned though, so I imagine he’ll start contributing again soon.
I understand that the blog has now migrated from Blogger to its own hosting site. What inspired the move? What are the pros and cons of using blog-hosting websites such as WordPress and Blogger?
We have been planning to move over to our own hosting for a while, and we were recently set to finally make the switch when we hit a bit of a snag. Hopefully that will be up and running in a month or so. Blogger is pretty handy for most things we want to do, though there are a few features that it lacks which would be nice. The main advantage is probably just the added credibility that comes from having your own domain. Then again, I’m not sure that readers really care that much. It might make it a bit easier for people to remember the URL, I guess.
The number of blog posts on Before Hollywood varies each month, from 3 to sometimes 8 entries. How do you determine the frequency of your blog updates?
We update as often I can, so it basically comes down to how much free time I have and what I’ve heard recently that I want to discuss. Generally there’s a lot more that I want to discuss than I have time to write about. Right now there’s probably a good half dozen records I’d like to review on the blog, plus I generally see a show that deserves to be written about every week, but it’s difficult to get a few hours to sit down and give something the time to do the writing justice. I play in a couple of bands, run a small recording studio and work full time, so free time can be a bit rare.
What audience does the blog attract?
To be honest I don’t really know. I suppose they’re fans of ‘indie’ rock. People vaguely like me, I assume. We have no idea how many people view our site, we haven’t added any trackers or anything. In a way I guess that stuff is irrelevant. We don’t have any advertising on the site, we’re not interested in trying to use it to make money. I’m not sure that blogs are really worth much, the only thing of value that they provide is the ability to create discussion and to provide something of a spotlight on whatever subject they’re focussed on. Since we cover quite a niche interest (as we only write about Brisbane bands, and most of the bands we write about aren’t very well known) I don’t think we’ll ever be a particular well read blog, in comparison to the big Australian music blogs like whothehell.net. Still, I’m always surprised when people whom I don’t really know mention that they read it.
What are the most popular topics on Before Hollywood (what have the readers responded to in the past)?
Most of our posts can be classified as either gig guides, live reviews or record reviews. I’m not sure which of the two review types attracts more responses. The most common comments I receive in person are from bands where they agree with certain criticisms I’ve had with their music, which has been surprising. Sometimes I’ll write a review of a band where I know some of the members (this is Brisbane after all, so it’s rare that I write about a band that I have no connections with), and I might be nervous about how they’ll react to some of the things I’ve said. However I’ve found that, as long as I’m fair and I explain my position thoroughly, I can make critical comments about releases or shows or whatever and not necessarily piss off the band.
This was an important lesson to learn. It’s just a matter of balance. I generally try to not write overly negative or gushingly positive reviews – if I’m writing about something on Before Hollywood then that means that I like it, even if I feel the need to point out some perceived flaws. I just try to be as honest as I can, and hope that this honesty comes through. I try not write overly glowing puff pieces, even if I absolutely adore something that I’m writing about I try to at least point out a few things that other people might not like about it.
That’s my personal code that I stick to, though that doesn’t mean that Luke writes under the same code. I know that he wrote a few scathing reviews early on in the blog’s life that ruffled a few feathers. I’m not sure if that changed his views on reviewing bands, I guess you’d have to ask him about that.
Do artists/bands ever ask you to plug/review their music? If so, how do you manage these requests?
Yes, frequently. We get LOTS of emails from bands and publicists who obviously haven’t looked at the blog very closely, as they’re often promoting interstate bands or events. We generally just ignore these, unless the people who’ve contacted us are nice and have obviously messaged us personally instead of just sending out a mass email to every blogger in the country. If they’re local artists then at the very least we’ll put their show in the gig guide. For record review requests I’m always interested to hear new local music, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll write about the record. I’d like to review everything that comes along but it’s not really possible with my schedule. I generally prefer to buy local records in any case, then I don’t feel any obligation to review it and I can just enjoy it for what it is.
Do you ever feel restricted by the notion of only writing about the local indie scene? (e.g.: catering for other music genres, visiting acts, or mainstream music)
No, because I’m not really interested in writing about other things. I’m not a journalist or someone with any journalistic ambitions, I’m purely writing about these things because I feel that they need to be written about. Someone needs to be making a documentation of all of these artists who are flirting around the cultural edges of Brisbane.
As for the range of music discussed in the blog, I’d probably like to write about a wider array of music but I feel like I don’t necessarily have the knowledge to do other genres justice. There are other people out there who are far more qualified to write about that stuff than me. That was part of the reason we started Before Hollywood, to inspire others to start their own blogs to cover the things that we couldn’t. Still, there’s a LOT of very different music that falls under the label of ‘indie’, everything from some of the most experimental music out there through to out and out pop music, and we try to cover a good range of it. As for writing about touring bands etc, that doesn’t interest me at all. There are plenty of blogs that write about that stuff anyway. I generally don’t even read those sorts of blogs, so why would I want to write for one? I just can’t see the point of writing about the latest Animal Collective or Sigur Ros album, the internet is filled to the brim with opinions on that stuff anyway.
What are your favourite music venues in Brisbane?
I’m a big fan of a lot of the smaller, out of the way venues. The Hangar is always enjoyable, although in the last year or so they’ve changed their focus in terms of the bands they book which has somewhat reduced my enjoyment. It’s still a great venue though and I take every opportunity to attend that I come across. I also really love the Browning St Studios, which is a great place to see smaller bands in an intimate setting. The upstairs room is such a beautiful space for folkier, more ambient bands to play – it’s this beautiful wooden floor room in an old Queenslander in West End. As for the more established venues like Ric’s, The Troubadour and The Zoo, I enjoy them all but find that they put fewer shows on that I’m interested in than they used to. I’m not sure if this is because of changes in the bands they’re booking, changes in the sorts of bands that are currently active in Brisbane, or if perhaps I’m just getting old and out of touch (jeez, I’m only 26). The Step Inn puts on a lot of cool shows these days, and it’s great that they have three different sized spaces which are available for use (I really like the upstairs room there and would love to see it being utilised more). As far as the big venues go, I really like The Tivoli. I’m not sold on The HiFi, to me it just has a weird atmosphere, it’s not very inviting and doesn’t really have any ‘vibe’.
I’m certainly not going to have a go at the street press, I’m of the opinion they do a pretty good job overall. Their goal is to provide a tool for bands etc to get the word out on their latest actions, and the street press is successful in that respect. They provide a useful service for bands of many levels, and I think they do a good job of supporting the local scene. They’re not really a forum for a huge degree of critical discourse, I think that if you’re looking for in depth music journalism in the street press then you’re looking in the wrong place. There are other places that can provide that sort of content, the best of which being Mess + Noise (although that focuses more on Melbourne and Sydney). I guess that was kind of the idea of Before Hollywood – to provide the kind of depth of discussion that Mess & Noise provides, but exclusively for Brisbane bands.
The Stranded compilation is a three-disc release providing listeners with a taste of the local scene from 2007-2008. Acts such as Violent Soho, Iron On, The John Steel Singers, Texas Tea, Monster Monster, I Heart Hiroshima, and Little Scout have all contributed selected tracks. How long did it take Before Hollywood to put this compilation together?
It took about six months all up. It wasn’t intended to be such a big project, initially it was supposed to be a single disc featuring maybe 15 artists. However, a slight miscommunication between myself and Luke meant that we invited 50 bands to provide music for the compilation. We didn’t think we’d get many responses, but in the end we had 42 bands giving us songs to use (we actually had a few more agree to be on the compilation but who didn’t get their music to us in time). The compilation was a great success – although I still have boxes of records in my bedroom. In the end we made quite a bit of money for Red Cross Queensland, which we’ll be able to hand over in one big donation very soon.
You’ve acquired great reviews for the compilation After obtaining a copy from a Mt Augustus gig earlier this year, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to what Brisbane has to offer. Is there a chance Before Hollywood might consider another compilation release in the future?
I’m pretty sure we’ll do another one. We were thinking of doing one this year, but in the end decided it would probably be better to wait until next year so that we can get a wider range of artists involved. I don’t think it’ll be quite as big an endeavor as the first compilation, definitely not a triple disc this time. I don’t think we’ll call it ‘Stranded 2’ either. Sometimes I regret naming the first compilation that, it’s a name that has perhaps been overused in Brisbane music.
What does the future hold for Before Hollywood?
I don’t know really, probably more of the same. I’d like to branch out a little bit more and write some articles that are a bit less specific, perhaps just some general musings (or rantings) on various issues that surround Brisbane music. I’ve had ideas in the past of things I’d like to write about – DIY, the evolution (or devolution) of the valley, etc – but so far haven’t really followed up on them.