once began as a small paper trade started in the back room of the old
Private Eye's offices, SULG Magazine went from being a
simple music monthly to one of the major local publications for
what's going on in Utah. The monthly mag has been celebrating its
19th year anniversary all month long, and to top it off
this weekend they previewed a short documentary for the public at
Brewvies and Red Light Books showcasing last year’s reuniting of
four local bands from the early days of SLUG’s incarnation.
I got a chance to pop into their main offices for some pictures, and an opportunity to chat with the magazine’s main editor and publisher on everything from her opinions on the local scenes, to her thoughts on the magazine’s impact over the years.
Gavin: Hey! Who are you?
Angela: My name is Angela Brown, I’m the Editor and Publisher of SLUG Magazine.
Gavin: Cool. The magazine is turning nineteen this year, how’s that feel?
Angela: Feels pretty damn good, actually. It’s quite a feat these days to have an independent publication last that long, let alone expand. We’ve been expanding a lot of the past year, we’ve actually just added sixteen pages within the past six months which is pretty exciting. And we’re increasing our distribution as well from 25,000 to 30,000. It’s exciting to see us grow when the anomaly across the nation is watching scenes go under hand over fist.
Gavin: For those unaware of the backroom creation of SLUG, give us a brief history of the magazine.
Angela: It was started in 1989 by a fellow named J.R. Rupple who just saw a way for it to work. He was friends with John Saltas, the guy who stared City Weekly, And it was started in the back room of The Private Eye which is what the Weekly used to be called. John helped J.R. learn all the computer programs and desktop publishing and those sorts of things to help create the magazine, and then he got a job part-time at a printing press and was able to get a really good deal on printing. J.R. was also in a couple of local bands and saw a void of coverage on local music. Of course the dailies wouldn’t touch it, and the Private Eye would cover it a little bit but they were just starting out, they only had a few pages and didn’t have a lot of space to dedicate to local music. So he just saw an empty void and decided to fill it. J.R. ran it for about six years until he received a position with a touring band called The Jackmormons, they later received a record contract and decided to tour the world and eventually moved to Portland, so he had a successful music career that way. He then passed on the magazine to his advertisers at the time, a fellow by the name of Gianni Ellefsen who was running a guitar shop at the time called Guitar Gallery. And he ran it for another six years, during which I started working for him on the magazine. Then he moved on and I took it over from him seven years ago.
Gavin: There have been a lot of local magazines that have come and gone over the years. The one that comes to mind for me at least is Grid Magazine, where it had a great start and then just kind of burned out. What do you think has kept SLUG going for so long?
Angela:You know, Grid is a little bit of a different story, in a sense that it was funded and backed by X96 at the time, so they had mom and pop paying for the bills. That was actually a fantastic publication; I did photography for them and worked in the industry as a photographer and writer for years. So I’ve been involved with almost every local publication from the past ten years. I think one of the reasons SLUG has lasted so long harkens back to that niche, it covers everything on the underground here. The underground itself has been very strong because of that rebellion against the conservative culture here, and there’s always been a need for that and a market for that as well. So SLUG just slid in there as that alternative rebellious culture continues to grow and becomes more mainstream and more accepted. So that’s why our market has become so strong. Also I think we’ve had a lot of loyal advertisers who have just stuck with us throughout the years and wanna see SLUG survive and succeed, because they appreciate what we’ve done for them over the years. And most of them are independent businesses here in Salt Lake City.
Gavin: Do you feel like there’s a sibling rivalry between you, City Weekly, and In Magazine? Or do you feel more like it’s three separate audiences and you all do well on your own?
Angela: You know, we tend to stay out of the rivalry, in fact we like to call all the independents our friends here, even though In isn’t really independent since they are backed by the NAC. However, the current editor Amy Spencer, she started her writing career for me about seven years ago. And she has worked her way up to being the Editor over there and I’m really proud of her and I think that’s fantastic, we actually try to keep in touch and stay on good terms. We share writers, and we actually also share writers with City Weekly, I had a lunch with John Saltas the other day and try to keep on really good terms as well. I don’t consider them our competition, I think there is crossover with our readers and that’s not a bad thing. But we like to stay on friendly terms with those guys and we really respect what they’re doing. We do feel what we’re doing is more edgy and more progressive and has a larger risk, which does bring some fires we have to put out but there’s a lot higher risk factors when you’re willing to cover things that City Weekly can’t because of who they are and In can’t because of who they are.
Gavin: I’ve noticed over the years you don’t have full-time hired on writers like most publications do. Do you think that helps SLUG out and keeps it fresher, or do you think that puts it in danger sometimes that you don’t have a guaranteed staff to write stuff?
Angela: It’s a Catch 22.It definitely makes my job as Editor more difficult, constantly having a revolving door of writers coming in and out. And yeah, some of them eventually do become a little entitled and believe that they do deserve money, but it’s just something we cannot do. It’s always been a part of my plan eventually; I’d love to pay our writers, even if it’s only $5 per story. But they get paid in other ways through CD’s and covering concerts, and then there are a lot of things that are priceless like interviewing your heroes, that kind of thing we can do for them. Accomplish dreams they may have had in their youth. But one thing that is a plus about having a volunteer staff is that it weeds out all the people who are just in it for scene points or in it just for glory or just to see their name in print. You really do have to be dedicated and believe in the magazine and the scene that we’re creating and maintaining. It is a lot of hard work and there’s other kinds of gratification that comes from that hard work, but if you’re looking to get rich at SLUG then this is the wrong place for you.
Gavin: And I’m sure that’s something not a lot of people are aware of when they get into writing for publications is that you don’t normally make a lot doing it. You gotta have a love for it.
Angela: Exactly, but the trade off is worth it, I think at least. You know, I’ve been making the same wage for about ten years. And yeah, my cost of living has gone up, but I’m really happy with what I do and it’s worth taking a pay cut and a sacrifice. I mean, I could go anywhere with the experience I’ve got and probably get paid twice or three times as much as what I’m making now if I went out of state. But I live Salt Lake, this is my hometown, I love the people here, and I grew up reading the magazine so it has a special place in my heart. And I wanna see it keep growing and thriving. Eventually I will pass it onto someone young like I was when I first took it over, but right now it’s worth it to me to make less and work long hours because of the people that I meet and the experiences that I have, as well as the satisfaction that I’m making a difference in this world.
Gavin: With that said, what do you feel SULG’s impact has been on the scene, as well as your own personal impact on the scene?
Angela: I like to think that we’ve inspired people to do things like create records, create their own videos, that’s one of the goals of tonight’s screening is to show people “hey, we’re not filmmakers, but we made a documentary!” It may not be perfect, but we’re trying to archive the past and show people how important our local scene was in efforts to inspire them to create a thriving united local scene now. Our other goal is to provide a voice and a forum for people who normally wouldn’t be heard, and I think we do that well with the editorial coverage we do in the magazine.
Gavin: I can’t remember how many years ago it was, you started incorporating skateboarding and snowboarding. What has that done for your audience, adding that in as another forum to cover?
Angela: That was something I added about seven years ago. J.R. originally back in the early issues did a skateboarding column for about a year and then it fizzled out. I think the guy who was writing it I think just didn’t want to write it anymore. So I wanted to bring that back, and I also wanted to bring in snowboarding which was never covered by anyone. And the reason I did that was because no one else was covering that and there was a demand for it. We also started the first armature freestyle skiing and snowboarding contests up at Brighton, and now there’s four or five a month, pretty much every weekend because of that and we still continue our series as well. But going back to content, I still get resistance from some of the “old schoolers” who want to see more local band coverage. I like to think we have a nice balance between local and national coverage as well as skate and snowboarding. But to me I thought it was really important to put that back into the magazine because it’s an underground sport. Granted, now it’s an Olympic sport, but it’s roots are in the underground. A lot of the pros were just ostracized as kids for skating around, or kicked out of resorts for showing up with a snowboard. Back in the early days you had to show up with a pass to show you were a licensed snowboarder, which means you had to go and pass a test to even let you on the lift. It’s pretty crazy how they treated snowboarders back in those days.
Gavin: And there’s even still places that don’t allow it at all.
Angela: Alta. Deer Valley.
Gavin: To name a few.
Angela: Exactly. And so to me it is growing and the mainstream has stepped in and kind of exploited these sports and made money off them. It’s America, we’re capitalists, we’ll step in and make money off of anything we love. But to me it’s still an underground sport and there’s still a lot of fantastic talent locally that we should encourage to go in that direction.
Gavin: Cool. What’s your opinion on the current music scene?
Angela: It’s fantastic, it’s bigger than ever. A little fractured, I’d like to see it more unified. I think Kilby Court has done a lot for this local scene and letting a lot of bands play there for the past seven years. One thing I would like to see is more promoters adding local bands to the bill. That’s something that used to happen back in the late 80’s and early 90’s when SLUG first started, and it helped remind the kids that we have some fantastic talent here locally. And that just pumped up the bands and gave them a lot of confidence and gave them a nice local network. But that’s something that hasn’t happened as much as I’d like to see. I know there’s a lot of rules with most touring acts who have it in the contract not to add a local to the bill, but it’s also been owed to laziness from the promoters just not wanting to put the time into looking into matching up bands. But I think Will and Lance at Kilby are starting to do that and it’s a nice breath of fresh air, it’s nice to see that happen.
Gavin: Do you find it odd that few local writers cover the scene normally instead of having artists pay people to cover their band or buy publicity?
Angela: That is a sad display of our times that people are literally buying and selling editorial content right and left. And we get approached with that as well, national companies will call us up and say “We’ll buy your back cover for twice the price if you agree to run this artist on your cover. We’ll design the art, we’ll book the story and everything, all you need to do is just say yes.” And we’ll say no, no, no, no! It’s crazy, I received a call like that just last year. That kind of stuff was more commonplace when the music industry was a lot stronger. But bribes like that will happen right and left, it’s really too bad.
Gavin: Switching to the art scene, some people have recently said it’s suffering, mainly because Pierpont has died out. What’s your take on the art scene?
Angela: I would say Pierpont has been abandoned. It’s really sad, this is the block that Gallery Stroll started on, I’ve been a Pierpont resident and supporter for about fifteen years now. I actually used to intern for a photographer that had the spare studio that SLUG is in. So I’ve seen this neighborhood change and it really is amazing how the traffic has decreased. Obviously most of the art galleries have closed, but the art space was just abandoned. They basically said they weren’t going to lease and lured art galleries to their new projects. So now Gallery Stroll has been fractured and broken up and is in a number of different neighborhoods. Back in the day it was cool because you could just come down and walk from place to place and see it all, now you gotta get a car or a bike and drive to about 3-4 separate neighborhoods to see the whole stroll.
Gavin: Kind of like what’s happening on 3rd South and the Broadway Strip, the Stroll has mainly moved over there in the stores and shops along that area.
Angela: It has, which is interesting because other than Kayo and Frosty Darling, everything else is just retail and there are no other galleries or art stores. It feels like it’s morphing into this retail movement where it’s less about art and more about… I don’t know what it’s about anymore. It’s cool because it started out about promoting independent businesses and people stepping out of the mainstream, but it’s not really about art anymore.
Gavin: It’s got that Sundance feel to it.
Angela: Right. Or maybe it’s more about being seen. Less about seeing art and more about being seen. I don’t know.
Gavin: While we’re on the subject of films, ignoring all the major festivals and stuff that comes through every year, what’s your take on the local film scene?
Angela: I think the Open Mic Night at the Tower is a great way to help cultivate the local film scene. Historically, we’ve always had a great film department up at the University of Utah, the Film Center program Kent Maxwell used to run is sadly gone, but in its place it’s popped up in a few other organizations. I know the Utah Film Commission is out there trying to create their own events, they recently did a local 24 Hour Film Festival that was really fantastic, taken off a national concept that did well. But yeah, I think it’s on it’s way, I still think it’s in developmental stages, but within the next year a really believe we’re going to have a resurgence of local films happening and film making across the board. One thing that’s too bad is the closing of the Regency Theater at Trolley Square, which has done some crazy things locally. Good for the Salt Lake Film Society because they get to pick up good content to screen at the Broadway and the Tower, but it’s really hard for independent and local film makers to do screenings there. For instance, we tried to rent it out for the screening we’re doing tonight, and they were just unable to accommodate us because they have so many big films coming in now, so they’re just booked straight. We called around even at the Gateway and Larry H. Miller’s theater, which we really didn’t want to support, and priced them out. It’s really hard as an independent film maker to get a theater, it’s really expensive. That’s something I’d like to see change. Of course there is City Library, but they’re kind of pricey too, you’re looking at $500-$600 just for a screening.
Gavin: Speaking of which, tell us about the one you’re screening this week.
Angela: It’s a short, we did enter it into Slamdance but we didn’t make the cut for a couple reasons. It’s our first attempt at doing anything like this, it’s not professional by any means. It’s pretty raw and dirty and underground, but I still think it’s a pretty good attempt. The first cut was 40 minutes, and they said they loved how it’s based on the local culture here, but they couldn’t find a programming slot for it because it’s so long. I mean, who wants to see a 40 minute short before a two-hour feature? So that was the main reason we got rejected. But we did trim it down, the version we have now is about 32 minutes.
Gavin: What’s the short about?
Angela: Last year for our 18th anniversary we picked four bands that were no longer around and decided to reunite them. The motivation was that nationally this was happening with a lot of bands, everyone from Led Zeppelin to underground bands like Girls Against Boys were getting together and doing one-off shows. So why can’t we do that locally? We made a list, narrowed it down to our top four, gave them a call and asked them if they’d do this for our anniversary party and even offered to pay them, and they said yes. So we decided while we were at it, why not document it? Because for some of these bands… this is it. They’re never going to do it again. Like Clear, one of their guys lives in L.A. and is flying out the night before the show, this is our one and only chance to document this. We talked to a couple of local film makers who basically lent us their time and got paid through trade. They came down and videotaped the show, and afterwards we picked some local celebrities and scenesters and asked them to come in and talk on camera about their experience growing up in the underground scene. Talk about the places they used to shop, their early thoughts on SLUG, and using our material we loosely put together a documentary of the early days of the local music scene. I think it’s really important as these aging musicians grow older and older, some of them have families now and out of the scene and some of them are in other bands now, I think it’s important for the younger kids to see who these people are and why they’re significant and how they helped pave the way for what’s happening now.
Gavin: Entering you’re 19th year and headed for your 20th, what do you see ahead in the next year for SLUG?
Angela: I see more growth, more expansion, more coverage of local events and music, and more exciting compilations to put out. We just put one out called Death By Salt III, it’s a vinyl record that comes with a digital copy. And we’ve changed our plan now where instead of doing local band compilations every two years, we’re doing them on a quarterly basis and genre specific. So that’s going to be our big push this year to get four of five of those out.
Gavin: How has Death By Salt III done?
Angela:It’s done really well. How we do that album is we press 1,000 and then that’s it. It’s out of print, you can’t get it anymore. The first one we did was a three-CD box set complete with a booklet, our second one was a two-CD box set complete with trading cards, and then this one was a ten band single record release that’s all rock bands. So we kinda went in reverse order there.
Gavin: And I loved that cover, it looked really awesome, to me at least. I don’t know how anyone else took it.
Angela: Yeah, it’s just so Salt Lake. It’s not meant to be sacrilegious or disrespectful to the LDS Church by any means. But it’s just a nod to our culture here and things that make us so unique living here in Salt Lake, and it is a really cool statue.