Indie continues to push forward, more local and regional material
start to become focused on more than the national scene as a whole.
And with the influx of new material from musicians people have never
heard of, some aren't as willing to dive in swimming without knowing
what they're buying first, and have started to rely heavily on
reviews and samples for help. The blog “Tome To The Weather
Machine” has been doing its best over the course of the past year,
reviewing material coming out of the Rocky Mountain region from every
genre, in an attempt to both promote and encourage local artists
while still judging fair to the content within. I got a chance to
chat with the man behind the blog, Ryan Hall, about the site as well
as his thoughts on local music.
Gavin: Hey Ryan! First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.
Ryan: My name is Ryan Hall, and I am originally from Littleton, Colorado. I moved to Salt Lake City a little over four years ago to attend the University of Utah. I am studying English and Film, I have one more semester and I am finished! I got married about eight months ago. I was living back and forth between SLC and Seattle for the past year and a half when my wife (then fiancé) was attending the University of Washington. Now, we are here for the time being and hopefully will be staying for awhile. I currently write for InYourSpeakers.com and SLUG doing album reviews. I work at the University of Utah Copy Center, which affords me ample time to write while on the clock.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in music, and what were some of your favorite musicians growing up?
Ryan: There are two pretty crucial moments in my childhood that made me take an interest in music. The first was when my parents bought their first CD player and stereo. That was a pretty new technology back then and our family was one of the first to get one on our block. I would sit in front of the speaker with my chubby little legs crossed and listen to my dad’s CDs. My first memory of really liking music was hearing Garth Brook’s “In Lonesome Dove”. It is kind of embarrassing, but that song really drew me in. It has this really heartbreaking classical western revenge story about this woman avenging her murdered husband. I was fascinated how a song could tell a story that was as vivid and real as a book or a movie. The second was listening to “War of Man” by Neil Young off of Harvest Moon. That song scared me to death when I was a kid. The imagery is so surreal and frightening. I would read the lyrics along with the song and check all the liner notes to try and figure out this song. It was so mysterious - it is cool that music doesn’t have to be a straight forward narrative to draw you into a whole different world. In middle school and high school I listened to a lot of punk and hardcore just like everyone else. I eventually made a crucial friendship with a kid named Justin Couch in my sophomore year of high school when I was looking for something else to latch onto. He was into bands like Yo La Tengo and Belle and Sebastian. Those were some formative CD exchanges. My interest in music kind of blossomed from there. I remember the first time hearing Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arvo Part, and “Leaf House” by Animal Collective as being pretty crucial moments as well.
Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to start up a review site?
Ryan: I listen to a lot of music and so it seemed like a natural extension to find an outlet to make sense of and express all the music I digest. To be totally honest, I am an unabashed Forest Gospel fan-boy. I was amazed at the totally awesome, obscure bands their site would pull in that very few sites were covering. I actually e-mailed FG early on and asked for some tips and pointers starting out. They graciously imparted their wisdom and the Tome was born.
Gavin: Where exactly did the name “Tome To The Weather Machine” come from, and why did you choose that as the title?
Ryan: I was listening to this Aloha song called “Trick Spring” off the album Light Works. It includes the lines “A tome to the heavens or weather machine.” For some reason, that line really grabbed me and stuck with me. So, when it was time to choose a name for the blog, that one was in my mind. It is a little unwieldy though, it isn’t easy to stumble up on Google or even say. I have to write it down for people when I tell them about it. But for what it is I like it and I’m sticking with it.
Gavin: You started it up in February this past year. What was it like that first month or so writing reviews?
Ryan: When I first started the Tome it was even more low-key. I would just write about albums that I purchased and really liked. It wasn’t until about April that I was mailed the first album to review from an artist that sought me out. I was pretty ecstatic. Since then there has been a pretty solid stream of artists from around the world sending me their stuff. It blows my mind. Later on I recruited my friend Crawford from Denver to help write reviews. He is a fantastic writer and has been a really great help.
Gavin: How do you pick and choose what albums you're going to review?
Ryan: There isn’t too much rhyme or reason. We try to review everything we get in a timely fashion. This month has been crazy with school and work so we haven’t gotten around to too many. But, we review them as they come. I think there have been only a few records that we have passed on. If I can’t find anything positive to write about I will move on. I feel like our site, while attempting to be critical, strives more for exposure and celebration of music we like. I have only been doing this for under a year. I am not totally jaded yet. Also, Crawford and I both write for the online publication InYourSpeakers which allows us to post reviews we write for them on the Tome.
Gavin: For you there really isn't a rating system, more of a description for the audience who might be into it. Why did you choose that way instead of a standardized form?
Ryan: I feel like rating systems are meaningless. I mean I am pretty positive in all my reviews. What is the difference between a 7 or an 8? They are both pretty high. I feel like they can give a false assumption about how the reviewer feels about a record and can be incongruous with the critical assessment. But, to each his own. I just couldn’t do it.
Gavin: What's been the reaction from the music community of the reviews, from the artists, labels and fellow reviewers?
Ryan: It has been super positive! I even had a song named after me by this musician German Shepherd! It is great to get really positive feedback from a band or label that appreciates your review. And generally, I am super excited about the music I am hearing so it is a win-win situation. It is really cool to have friends in SLC, who I have written reviews for, tell me that this-or-that website posted my review or people contact them from reading a review I wrote. That was the whole point all along.
Gavin: Have you given any thought to expanding your content, or possibly reviewing on a professional level?
Ryan: Well, exciting things are happening at the Tome. First, we are looking to buy a domain name and become a legit website. This will include expanding our coverage, recruiting more writers and including interviews and other features. I have always toyed around with the idea of adding a film review component to the site. I have a backlog of reviews of films sitting on my computer. Those might see the light of day. As for pursuing this on a professional level, I have been really thinking about going to grad school for journalism. I don’t have any plans on the Tome becoming anything more than it is. An outlet to help me digest all the music I am listening to and in the process help expose bands and small run labels to people who read the site.
Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Ryan: Salt Lake City has some incredible musicians and bands living and playing in it right now. I am constantly blown away by what I hear coming out of this city. In terms of most cities, Salt Lake City is pretty close knit. Everyone plays in everyone else's projects and the atmosphere is generally pretty amicable. With that said I wish there was a venue that was more suitable to showcase some of Salt Lake’s more experimental drone-based musicians. There is some incredible stuff happening just under our noses, especially within the experimental music community. Being married, however, I really haven’t made it out to too many shows in the past couple months. It kind of changes your priorities. Sorry friends!
Gavin: What do you think of other local labels and the work they do for the scene?
Ryan: I think the DIY ethic still holds very true for musicians working in SLC. We simply don’t have the infrastructure to support a prominent label in SLC. I think, for now, this adds to the variety and innovation that exists in SLC. Even some of the bigger bands are still doing things by themselves out of choice and necessity. I totally understand the need for a record label and respect a lot of the labels trying their best to make the lives of musicians easier and expand the exposure of SLC bands. One cool thing I have witnessed is the rise of the Hot Congress collective in Denver. Crawford is a founding member. The idea was to simply get a bunch of cool Denver bands together to put out a compilation as a sort of cohesive statement of the what is happening in Denver. From there it really blew up to be this artist run quasi-label, quasi-promotional tool, art collective. I think it would be cool if SLC bands could form something similar. We are seeing it a little bit with the awesome small run tape label Mooondial and Killer Buds.
Gavin: Branching more national, what are you thoughts of the Indie scene, and how its comparing to more mainstream material?
Ryan: It would be easy to pass off the rapid mainstreaming of indie rock to the proliferation of the internet. But I think more than that, there is this insidious, capitalistic element to it all. The whole idea of an image defining a subculture. Once a subculture has an image, a sound, a fashion it enters the marketplace where there is no distinction between something produced “independently” or by the mainstream conglomerates. So, I don’t think you can really differentiate the “indie” scene and the mainstream because it has become an inseparable part of our consumer society. But whatever, it isn’t the bands fault for being so awesome, and this whole argument sounds elitist. Well, because it is. It is the whole “yeah, but I heard it first” mentality which is totally counter-productive. Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, etc. Are obviously talented enough to get noticed on their own merits, I just kind of balk at what drives the whole thing. But, with that said there will always be incredible music happening well below the current of the hype machines that blurs genre-distinctions and things like that.
Gavin: With the state of music as it is, where do you see things going over say... the next five years?
Ryan: There have been a few things that have been on my mind on this subject that have been teased out recently by a conversation with friends. With whatever the “mainstream” or “indie” categories and subcategories are or aren’t I can say this about our generation. A couple things: 1. I don’t think we will ever see pop music reach a point that it did in the sixties or seventies where rock and roll created a social catalyst for change. Due to the means we get music and the complete access to styles across the board there will never be an artist everyone can rally around to be a voice of the generation. There are just too many out there. 2. With that said, I don’t think the past ten years have a discernible sound. The proliferation of the internet has made it difficult to pigeonhole both music and music listeners into a genre or subgenre. I suppose the only thing we can really say about the 00’s was that nothing was sacred. Genre’s mutated, mashed together, and outright stole to create indefinable pastiches that define post-modern thought. I am not saying this is a bad thing. 3. Again, with the ease to download anything you want and just about everyone's musical tastes dipping into so many genres, pop music is able to get away with as little substance as possible. No one is looking to Lady Gaga or Kanye West to fulfill an existential void in their life. Just to be entertained, and they do just that. ...So will the late 00’s indie become the new “punk” or “goth” of the nineties? Time will tell.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the blog going into this year?
Ryan: Well, I hope the scope is going to be a lot bigger with more writers, more subjects, and more music. I am going to continue trying to keep up three writing gigs on top of work and school. We will see how it goes!
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like the plug or promote?
Ryan: SLC bands! Send me your stuff. I would like to expand the local coverage on the Tome. I know there is a lot of cool stuff that I have never heard happening in this great state. Another thing. 2009 was awesome for SLC musicians, Silver Antlers “Black Blood of the Earth”, Chaz Prymek’s “Lake Mary” project, Navigator and Birthquake were some of my favorites. 2010 is going to be even better with new releases from Aye Aye (now High Country), Silver Antlers, Stag Hare, and a EP/DVD release by Chaz Prymek. 2010 is going to be a watershed year. Thanks for letting me get on a soapbox back there.