Anil Prasad: Inner Views, Borderless Perspectives
“ Put the burden of the interpretation on the interview subject's shoulders. Go into their back catalog and cross-reference nuggets from their past against their current project to do a compare and contrast. ”
He may not be a household name and you likely won't hear him mentioned in music journalism classes alongside Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs and Anthony DeCurtis. But for those familiar with his work, Anil Prasad is considered among the most knowledgeable, provocative and forward-thinking music journalists in the world today.
In 1994, Prasad was dissatisfied with the lack-of-depth and diversity found in the conventional music journalism landscape and struck out on his own to create Innerviews website, one of the first online music publications. While some legacy music journalists initially dismissed the non-profit one-man operation as a "fad," labels and artists began clamoring for exposure almost as fast as the number of site hits grew, and detractors were abruptly silenced. In 2010, with over 300 interviews to date, tens of thousands of devoted readers, and naysayers left in the dust, Prasad has released his first book Innerviews: Music Without Borders [Abstract Logix]. The collection features 24 exclusive interviews with iconoclastic musicians including Björk, Chuck D, McCoy Tyner, John Mclaughlin, Victor Wooten, and Joe Zawinul. Wooten wrote the book's foreword.
The book has received nearly universal acclaim from dozens of publications including The Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and National Public Radio (NPR).
All About Jazz: I remember talking to you about the Innerviews book as far back as 2008. Can you walk readers through the inception of the idea to its release?
Anil Prasad: The inception of the book the resulted from Innerviews readers, saying, "You know, this content you're doing for the web really would be good in an extended book length format." Over the years, several dozen of those emails came through the site's feedback form. I would email these people back and say, "Given that you can get everything on the website for free, why do you want to hold this in your hand? Why does this interest you?" They said there's still something important, impressive and tactile about holding a book and being able to take it anywhere. I carried that idea around for a while. I finally decided to do it thinking it would be a pretty cool snapshot of a moment in time, especially given that the site has been going for so long. It would give me a chance to revisit pieces that I really liked and it would open up opportunities for brand new interviews as well. It was a long and arduous task trying to get a publisher for the book and I talked to all kinds of people. I talked to agents and the B.S. factor was so high in getting a book out that I decided I didn't want to deal with it.
As Innerviews, I'm a one man operation. I can do what I want, how I want, when I want. I asked myself "Why do I want to deal with this collection of idiots, all telling me what it should be?" It was only when Abstract Logix declared its interest that I chose to seriously make it happen. Souvik Dutta, the founder and head of the company, said "Do whatever you want, just make sure it's good." I thought that's a brief I can work with. He literally let me conceive the book as I saw fit, funded it, and played a critical role in making it happen. So that's how it came about.
AAJ: You've interviewed Tori Amos in the past and I noticed she wasn't in the book. Scouring through the Innerviews website, it seems the interviews in the book clearly weren't all based on star power. Can you talk about how you chose what interviews would be in the book?
AP: The decision about what interviews to include was based on the quality of the interview and the Tori Amos interviews were very project specific. One was about a Christmas album and one was about her debut album. They didn't really get deep enough into the broader themes that you find in the book which are about the creative process, collaborations, motivations, history, and spirituality. All of the interviews in the book are very expansive. Also, I didn't just want it to just be about really famous people. That was one of the benefits about Abstract Logix. Souvik said, "As long as there are some things we can hook a marketing effort to, great, but it doesn't have to all be about celebrity musicians." So you have people like Jonas Hellborg, Noa, Martin Carthy, and Michael Hedges. These are incredibly influential people, but not necessarily household names. I actually remember a reviewer who wrote me going, "Who the hell is Jonas Hellborg?" [laughter]. I said, "Well, if you read the chapter you might find out. In fact, that's a good way to learn about who he is." But most of the reviewers have been very, very kind to the book and respect the fact that it's pretty eclectic.
AAJ: How did you come up with the idea of promoting the book the same way an artist would promote a new album, as opposed to the conventional book release approach?
AP: It goes back to a book called White Bicycles (Serpent's Tail, 2007), by Joe Boyd. This is, by the way, a fantastic and essential book chronicling Boyd's work as a highly influential producer for the likes of Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, and Sandy Denny, just to name a few. I spoke to Boyd about the unique way he marketed the book. He said "Why would I put out a book about making music, the creative process and my experience as a producer and send it out to a general book review base as opposed to sending it specifically to music journalists enthusiastic about the subject matter?" This approach worked out extraordinarily well for Boyd. He hired a publicity firm that specialized in music.
And so, I was inspired to take a similar tact with the Innerviews book. The book contains very musicianly-oriented pieces. This may sound like a strange thing to say, but the book is actually about making music. It's not about fashion. It's not about artist cooking tips. It's not about all the silly crap that celebrity journalism has become. Therefore, it made sense that the book should go to music journalists for review. After all, they're the ones who would have previously heard about the artists, and they're people who would hopefully appreciate the in-depth nature of the content, and see some relationship between what they're doing and what's in the bookas opposed to sending it to someone who writes about dance, cinema or cooking, and having that "who the hell are these people?" factor creep in. It was also a question of economics. With a book like this you don't want to send out 1,000 review copies and have 975 of them be ignored. So we took a very highly-targeted approach and made sure to get it into the hands of people who appreciate eclectic music.