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Big Week Ahead

March 12, 2016

I’m in the home stretch of the research phase now. I’ve finished my follow-up interviews with most of the folks I needed to follow up with, and the few I have left are within reach. There’s a lot of folks I still want to talk to, but if I don’t get the chance, it’s not going to ruin the book. At this point, I’m anticipating about a month more of interviews, as long as everyone cooperates (and by “cooperates” I mostly just mean “returns my emails and doesn’t totally flake out on me”). This week in particular should allow me to check a few more big fish off the list.

From there, I just have to finish writing this thing, and the good news there is that it’s mostly already written. I know what I still need, and I feel confident I’ll be getting most of it in the near future. It’s just a matter of working it into the draft (437 pages now, and counting) and then trimming the fat.

I’m not really sure what happens after that, but from some extremely preliminary conversations I’ve had, I’m confident it’s within my abilities (even if I don’t yet know whether I’ll be based in Athens, Philadelphia, New York or somewhere else through that process). For the most part, my plan has been to come up with as complete a draft as I can before pursuing a publisher, and that’s still generally what I’m doing. It’s become apparent, however, that one component is going to have to wait.

The majority of the book is about the history of the Elephant 6, from the early days in Ruston, Louisiana, up through now, composed mostly from interviews with the musicians who were directly involved with the collective, but also with contributions from friends and observers who were close to the scene and commentators and critics who can help contextualize the movement more broadly.

From the start, though, I’ve also wanted to include an interpolation somewhere discussing the Elephant 6’s influence on contemporary music. If you’ve heard me talk about this project over the years, you’ve probably heard me mention that a big part of my impetus for taking it on in the first place came from my time as a music reporter in college, interviewing band after band of varying genre and style who cited an Elephant 6 band or the collective as a whole as an influence on their work. The Brian Eno quote about the Velvet Underground only selling 30,000 copies but everyone who bought one starting a band has worked as a solid parallel. Basically, it’s clear to me that the influence of the Elephant 6 has only grown since its inception, and this is a subject that will grow more important over time. So I wanted to make sure there was a fairly comprehensive record of that.

Talking to critics and writers and folks like that has helped me demonstrate this, but to really solidify that point, I need to talk to prominent musicians who have been influenced by the collective. The challenge there is that the only way I’ve been able to reach these musicians is through a publicist, and a publicist’s job is to manage her clients’ time in a way that’s most beneficial to their careers. So in most cases, a publicist will only permit you to speak with an artist if a) that artist is in a promotional cycle at the time (i.e. if they have an album coming out or a tour coming up) and b) you’re writing for an outlet that will reach the people they want to hear about it (which means the bigger the artist, the bigger the name you need to have attached to your writing).

Every musician is a little different in this regard, but generally speaking, few publicists are interested in their clients spending time on an interview for a project that won’t be out for who knows how long and may never even come out at all. So with very few exceptions, most of the interview requests I’ve sent to publicists have been met with a “Who is your publisher?” reply. When I reply that I haven’t pursued a publisher yet for this project, they either ask that I connect again when I’ve found one or they don’t reply at all.

I haven’t had this issue with any other cohort of interview subjects, and probably because I haven’t really had to go through publicists otherwise. I imagine that in at least some cases, if I could talk to the artist directly, they’d be more than happy to make some time for an interview.

This is an annoying snag, if only because it deviates from my original plan, but it’s by no means a death knell. Though I don’t know much about what happens after I find a publisher, I expect there’ll be at least one round of edits anyway, so there’s some rewriting built into that plan. So I should still have plenty of time to reach out to the musicians I want, tell them who my publisher is, and interview at least a bunch of them. It should also be relatively simple to work that content into what I already have. It’s just going to have to wait.

In the meantime, I’m focused on getting everything else into place. I’m almost there.

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