Monday, March 28, 2016

Interview: The A.V. Club's Josh Modell and Kyle Ryan (December 6th, 2013)

The A.V. Club is in the midst of running through its busy "end of the year" coverage for 2013, and I recently got the chance to speak with Josh Modell, the site's Editor-in-Chief, and Kyle Ryan, its Editor, about their "23 best albums of 2013" list. Over the course of the interview, we talked about the year's best records, how the A.V. Club tabulates its year-end lists, whether or not it's currently cool to like Drake or Fall Out Boy, and a plethora of other musical minutia. In addition, we chatted a bit about the A.V. Club's tumultuous year - following the departure of several founding editors and writers - and briefly discussed what might be on the horizon for the site in 2014.

Craig Manning: To start, let’s talk a little bit about this list. How did you guys put it together this year and how was that different from previous years?

Josh Modell: Well, the only way it was really different from previous years was that we didn’t let people weight their votes. I should probably preface it by saying that I think we do these lists – at least for music – a lot different than most places do it, because our list is super democratic. Everybody has the same weight, you know, whether you’re the music editor or the editor on the site, or you know, somebody who has been freelancing for us for eight months. If we let you vote, you get the same level of input as everybody else.

So in previous years we’ve given people 100 points and they could spread that over 15 records and give any one record as many as 15 points. Super complicated, I know (laughs). And that’s to let people really champion records they love, because if you give something 15 points, it would almost certainly make the top 25 or 30 records. This year we simplified it a bit, and just had everybody rank their records from number one to number 10, with their number one record getting 10 points and their number 10 record getting one point.

Kyle Ryan: We’ve had this problem in years past where something only one person voted for could end up in our best of list, which always sucked a little bit to me. Like for instance, last year, I really loved Pilot to Gunner, but I thought it was a little strange that they were our number 22 record when I can guarantee I’m the only person here who even listens to them. So that was, that’s something we avoided this year which was nice.

And this is not a knock against how any other publications do it – I’m not sure how Absolutepunk does it – but I think a lot of places sort of get in a room and have a discussion and move things around, whereas we don’t even…we tell people not to influence people’s votes. We tell people like, if there’s a record you think everyone reading this list should hear, let us know. But it’s never like, “oh you guys gotta vote for this,” it’s just like, “the heart wants what it wants,” straight-up personal vote.

CM: So are you guys happy with the outcome of the list? Was there anything you were surprised to see on there or anything you expected to make the list that didn’t?

JM: Let me answer that in two parts and then I’ll let Kyle answer it.

I was super happy with [the list], not necessarily because I love every record on it, but because I thought the variety was really interesting and telling and I think there’s a lot of really interesting records on there, and they’re right up next to more mainstream records that people just really like.

Like, I don’t actually like either of these records, but I thought it was pretty awesome that Tim Hecker and Paramore – which couldn’t be a lot more different from each other – were tied for number 15. I like that. I think that’s interesting. And I know that the people who voted for those records really like them, and it makes me want to listen to them even though I’m not sure I really love either one.

KR: No, I’m not really a fan of either of those.

JM: I guess I’m little surprised – and Kyle can speak to this more than I can – that Fall Out Boy ended up on the list, because I didn’t even realize they had put out a record this year.

KR: Well it came out like…long ago. Well, yeah, April. But you know, it’s funny: Fall Out Boy have made our year-end list for their past…I want to say three records? Including this one. And that’s always super polarizing, like people are always like “What the fuck, Fall Out Boy?! Blah blah blah!” (That’s how I’m imagining people speaking.) But yeah, people always freak out about that, and it’s kind of funny to me at this point, because you know, it’s been so long and these guys have been on our year-end list so many times, but people I guess still just really dislike Pete Wentz. (laughter)

JM: Yeah, people always get mad at us or like accuse us of somehow trolling by saying that Fall Out Boy is one of the best records of the year. And like I said, I have no interest in Fall Out Boy, personally, but I don’t think anybody that’s voting for it is lying. I think they would be more likely to lie and say they don’t like Fall Out Boy.

KR: Yeah, I think that’s much more likely.

JM: Where does Fall Out Boy’s record rank on Absolutepunk’s favorite records of the year?

CM: Well I’m sure it’s pretty high on there. We’re actually in the process of tabulating everything right now, so we’ll see. But I know a lot of the guys are really fans of them and have been big fans of Fall Out Boy pretty much all along, since that’s sort of our site’s bread and butter.

JM: Yeah. Well, to answer the other part of your question, I guess I was a little surprised that Arcade Fire didn’t make it, but I hadn’t really polled our writers. I thought that record was good, but ultimately sort of disappointing. And it didn’t make my top 10, but I’m a little surprised that it didn’t get three or four “bottom of the top 10” votes that would push it into the top 10. But that’s okay, because I think people in the world already know that record exists.

KR: Yeah, that one didn’t make my…there were a couple, you know, our number one record, our number two record – actually our top four records – didn’t make my list at all. Arcade Fire…that’s the first time that I haven’t had Arcade Fire at number one or near the top of my albums list. But yeah, that was surprising to me, but I also think that record is…not really that great. So, that’s surprising.

But I’m sort of delighted, again, by the weird variety in our list, looking at it again. Like there’s two pretty…kind of metal records on there – in Locrian and Deafheaven – and two…well three like, three really kind of mainstream pop records – Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and Lorde. Right alongside, you know, weirder stuff like Fuck Buttons and Tim Hecker and stuff like that. But I think all of these records are absolutely worth listening to, for anybody.

CM: What did get your votes?

JM: Umm, my favorite record of the year was Vampire Weekend. I think I have the most typical – or what people would think is the most typical – AV Club taste. My favorite records were Vampire Weekend, the National, Kanye West – which was our number one record. Umm…I gotta go look at my ballot.

KR: I had CHVRCHES as my number one record, which is an album I’ve loved and played a ton over the year. Fall Out Boy was number two for me. I also had Frightened Rabbit and Neko Case, which both on our list. But also, a lot of my ballot was stuff that didn’t make our list, like Bells>, which is kind of an instrumental, post rock band.

JM: So surprising that didn’t make it…

KR: (laughs) I know, yeah, right?! It’s a super good record though. I also had Telekinesis – he’s sort of a friend of the AV Club – I thought that record was really good. Uhhh, Pusha T was probably my favorite hip-hop record of the year. That or Danny Brown. But Pusha T was on my list. And I also had the Sky Ferreira record on there because I think it’s a good sort of pop record. That actually surprised me: I was the only person who voted for that record. I was surprised by that.

JM: Your vote made me want to listen to that record. I haven’t heard it yet. It’s on my desk though!

Ummm, other stuff I had, I had the Volcano Choir record on there, which I actually thought would make it because it really sounds like a Bon Iver record. I’m surprised that record didn’t do better than it did. Like, I’m sure it did fine, it’s just not getting the crazy attention I thought it might. And I had Drake on my top 10. I’m not sure if it’s cool to like Drake right now, but there are a lot of great songs on that record. A lot of people don’t like Drake. I’m confused by who likes Drake at this point.

KR: Oh also, and this just speaks to…I have yet to do one of these lists that I “like” in the years I’ve been doing it, but I somehow forgot to put the most recent Superchunk record on my list, which is of course one of my favorite records of the year. I love those guys. I feel like every year I don’t do this right.

JM: Yeah, it’s not very scientific.

KR: No, and it’s just like one of those things that probably in six months, my “true” 2013 list will be different, because I’ve had more time with it and all the stuff.

CM: Oh yeah, they definitely change.

JM: What’s your number one record of the year, Craig?

CM: My favorite actually, ummm…it’s by a guy named Will Hoge. He’s sort of a roots rock, Bruce Springsteen type I guess.

JM: Yeah, that doesn’t sound familiar.

CM: But that’s sort of something I was going to ask about, actually, because at Absolutepunk we do the combined list, which gets the albums you would sort of expect to see on there. Like the consensus picks I guess. I would expect that either Vampire Weekend or Deafheaven will be our combined number one. But we also do individual lists so that people will have a chance to sort of champion the lesser-known records, and maybe write about things that people haven’t necessarily heard. Do you guys do more individual lists along with the combined, or is it all about the “democratic process”?

JM: We actually do. It’s a separate article, it’s called “The Ballots,” where you get everybody’s individual lists and people will embellish their ballots too. Like, I did a list of songs I liked from records that weren’t on my top 10 list. But yeah, a lot of people write about their runners up and the records that didn’t make the list. So it’s actually a considerably longer article than the actual top 23.

KR: Yeah, it’s fun to do. I really enjoy doing the ballot piece, because like Josh said, we can talk about albums that didn’t make the overall list that we want to champion. Like I talked about that Bells> record and Telekinesis and Pusha T. And I think that, in some cases, readers actually prefer the ballot list, because it gives them more of a sense of what our preferences are, but it also gives them a chance to be like “oh, well, okay, this guy has good taste, but the rest of you don’t. But it also gives them a chance to yell at us for not including Queens of the Stone Age.

JM: Yeah, anywhere. Which was something we heard about a lot yesterday…

CM: So, how did you guys decide when to go live with the list? Because I know that’s been something that Absolutepunk has struggled with over the years, between like, balancing it with all of the other lists that are coming out and…at least for us, our viewership goes down around the holiday season because people aren’t online and chatting on the message board. And I think you guys have traditionally launched a little bit later. What made you decide to choose this date this year?

JM: I think our biggest thing was trying to give a week to every section that we cover, and it’s just easiest to do music earlier, especially this year, because there’s not really anything on the docket or the release slate that we thought would make it. Like, the last Kanye West record came out really late, it came out in like, the middle of December, and we had to wait for that.

This year, there’s nothing coming out in the middle of December, whereas film has to be much closer to the end of the year, because like, the Scorsese movie doesn’t come out until Christmas Day, and it just screened yesterday, so we have to kind of wait until our film critics have seen everything. And same with TV, there’s still a lot of TV still going on. So it’s just kind of balancing, you know, “when will we have heard most of the records that we think will make the list?” And this year, I think we were just able to do it a little earlier and get out of the way of, you know “best movies” coverage, “best TV shows” coverage, “best video games” coverage, that kind of thing.

KR: You know, it’s actually kind of interesting, because I think, although it’s running a little earlier this year, I think we had the polls all closed and everything figured out earlier last year. It ran later, but it was all…like, last year, Craig, I think we had it all figured out by like late November. Either last year or the year before, I can’t remember.

JM: They all run together…

KR: Yeah, seriously. But, so, it felt like we had a little more time this year. Probably. But when it runs on the site, it really has more to do with, you know, when will our film people be able to see all the films and when will it make sense to run all of this stuff? Because we have all of these other sections we need to keep in mind.

CM: Right. So yeah, what is the schedule for the rest of the “end of the year” stuff? You said TV, video games, movies…I’m guessing movies is last?

KR: Well for TV, we’re doing it a little bit different this year – well, we’re doing it a lot bit different. You know, like Josh was saying, a lot of other places, people get together and sort of debate what should be in the year-end list. That’s sort of what we did for TV this year, in that we’re doing every day for – like, we’re doing our top 15 shows, and every day is sort of a short essay on one of those top 15 shows. But we’re only ranking the last three, like our top 3 shows. So that’s going on right now. And next week we have best of games, best of books and comics, and then the week of December 16th is when the best of film stuff is happening.

CM: What other publications – for music in particular, but for anything I guess – what other publications’ end of the year lists do you guys look forward to?

KR: Well, I think you have to look and see what Pitchfork is doing. I think their list is fairly interesting.

JM: I think it’s…did it come out already? I think it’s going to be pretty similar to ours, if I had to guess. And I do have to guess.

KR: But yeah, I think Pitchfork, that’s the main one for me. I always find it interesting to see how it varies at other places. You know, you’re going to see a lot of the same albums in a top 25, but how they change, or what else is there and the different orders and stuff, that’s interesting to me.

JM: I mean, I’ll look at Spin’s and Rolling Stone’s, for sure.

KR: Yeah. And I always like to look at Largehearted Boy, since he sort of just aggregates everything so you can look through everything.

JM: Spin’s is out now.

KR: Oh yeah it is, look at that.

JM: Spin, same number 1 as us: Yeezus.

KR: How many…is it just like, all a gallery?

JM: 50 records…and I can’t figure out where it starts… (laughter)

CM: Yeah, Spin’s lists are always just really a hassle to look through. Rolling Stone’s is out too, that came out earlier this week.

KR: Which one is?

CM: Rolling Stone?

KR: Oh did it? Oh wow, missed that.

JM: It shows you how seriously we take this.


KR: Well the other problem for us at this time of year is that it’s super, super busy because of all our year-end stuff. And we won’t be around the last week or two of the month, so it’s like, our heads are down and this kind of stuff just slips right past us.

Yep, there it is! It’s of course a 50 image gallery on Spin.

JM: Yeah…

KR: Because…of course.

JM: Well, there’s some cross over right away: Neko Case, Superchunk. Oh wait, Superchunk didn’t make our list*. Yeah, there’s…My Bloody Valentine is on Spin’s. Oh, Arcade Fire is only number 37, so….wouldn’t have made our list, we only did 23 records. I think you’re kind of reaching if you go too much past 25, because you kind of get into to the point of one writer really championing it. Ummm, they have Deafheaven at number 22. That was like our number 4. Waxahatchee they have at number 20: that was on our list.

(*Probably said while glaring at KR.)

KR: Yeah, there’s a fair amount of overlap. Oh, the Nine Inch Nails they have on their list, that didn’t make our list at all. And I’m a NIN fan, I just wasn’t terribly into the latest record.

JM: Their top four is very close to our top five: Haim, Vampire Weekend, and Kanye West are in their top five. Very exciting stuff, I know.

CM: So moving beyond just the discussion of the list, it’s been a pretty tumultuous year for the AV Club, what with the departure of several founding staff members and key editors or writers. How has the site navigated through that, and how have you guys helped to keep things going, keep things exciting, and help it along?

JM: I mean, I think you just…you do it because you’ve gotta do it, right? Obviously there was some disruption, but I think the site now is as strong or stronger than it’s ever been.

KR: Yeah, you know, as much as a bummer as it was that we had some of the primary voices on the site leave, it was also a really good chance to bring in some newer people and to sort of reassess what we have been doing, what we like doing, and to kind of just give ourselves a chance to maybe try some new things. The voice of the site hasn’t changed at all, what we cover hasn’t really changed. We launched a new vertical with the redesign called Ox, which gives us a chance to…gives us a place for some of the things we were already doing, like talking about travel or food, stuff we talk about every now and then, but isn’t one of our core areas of coverage.

But our traffic is actually…we set traffic records this year. And you know, a lot of the tumult, such as it was, was at the early part of the year, and it just feels like it was a really long time ago now. We’re all staffed up again, and we have a lot of great people who are really hungry, and, umm…

JM: And we don’t feed them.

KR: (Laughs) Yeah…and they’re eager to do good work. So yeah, I don’t know. I’m really happy with where we are right now.

CM: Great. How did you recruit new writers this year? It seems like there are a lot of new bylines going on in music especially. That’s the one I look at most I guess. But also on TV and movies and throughout.

KR: Yeah, Marah Eakin, who is the music editor, has been really good about finding just new contributors. And you know, I think for her, because she knows a lot of people from…she spent a few years working as a publicist and for various record labels, and so she knows a lot of people. And so, I think she’s just been reaching out to people whose work she likes and people who she knows are good and just getting them involved.

And it’s funny, we have a lot of people pitch us, or who will get in touch and you know, have ideas and…you know, if the ideas are good and they have good clips and they seem like they’re good writers, we’ll figure out how to bring them into the fold and give them a shot.

CM: Do you guys have any big plans for features or anything for the AV Club in the coming year? What’s next for the AV Club?

JM: Not especially, we’re sort of just keeping on keeping on. We’re having some discussions about trying to do a regular live event kind of thing, just low-key. We don’t really know what it will be yet or if it will be anything. But yeah, other than that, we are just kind continuing to solidify the staff and keep doing what we do, better and better.

KR: Yeah, we always have a ton of ideas like…waiting to be activated, so to speak. And it just depends on staffing and “Oh, can we find someone to sponsor this video series?” Or whatever. So chances are we’ll be doing another round of (A.V.) Undercover, hopefully, another Pop Pilgrims, which are super fun to do. I’d really love to do another series of “Stand Down,” which was our video series where we had comedians telling stories about their worst gig. So yeah, it’s a lot of the stuff that we’ve been doing, and hopefully some new things as well.

CM: Great, that was the last thing I had written down for you. Do either of you have anything you want to add about the list or the site? Or anything?

JM: Um…our list is only a guide. (laughs)

KR: Yeah, we’re not saying if you don’t like these records you have terrible taste. (Laughs) Which, I think that’s the problem with a lot of these lists. They engender these sort of reactions from people who, if A) they haven’t heard of some of these records or bands, or B) they don’t like them, and we’re coming from a place of like, “authority,” then some people will have a reaction like, “well I don’t like these lists!” And they get…they’re very passionate, let’s just put it that way. But it’s good. [The lists] are fun to do, and it’s a fun way to sort of look back at what happened this year.

No comments:

Post a Comment