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Anil Prasad: Inner Views, Borderless Perspectives

Joe Lang By

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AAJ: Why do you think for most journalists the research begins and ends with the enclosed bio, and what makes you different?

AP: I can't speak for every writer, but for some music journalists—those who are really lucky—music journalism is still a job, a paid gig. This is an astounding concept to consider in 2010. Those opportunities are few and far between these days. Sometimes their motivation is their professional survival. Often, they have to write about someone whether they give a damn or not. Then there's the brand of music journalism that is oriented towards three-to-six paragraph interviews—that capsule interview format you see in print so often. When someone is working in the half-page or one-page universe, they have to distill down to the very basics, and basics are usually what are contained within these bios. So they pluck out all the info for the article and away they go. And if you have to generate five or ten of these a month you're dealing severe deadline issues, also necessitating the reliance on the bio.

The thing with the Innerviews website is that I don't get paid to do it. I do it on my own. I lose literally thousands of dollars a year running it. I have a day job that I do to support it. I do it for the love of music. One thing that's interesting is that music journalists get pitched by music publicists day in and day out. Every single day in my inbox there are probably 50 to 100 press releases from music publicists and record labels. Probably five to 20 of them are targeted pitches to me personally. They often get frustrated and they can't understand why they get so little traction with me. It's because I only write about musicians that I'm passionate about. It doesn't have to be a legacy artist with 50 albums in their back catalog. It could be a relatively newer artist. But if I'm writing about an artist, it means I'm really motivated. I want to learn everything I can about their music.

I've got an interview with Bunky Green coming up. He's a legendary jazz saxophonist who I wasn't really aware of until very recently when Rudresh Mahanthappa pursued a collaboration with him called Apex. So I'm talking to Bunky in the near term and his albums are virtually impossible to find. There are about three or four that have been put up for download on iTunes, but otherwise you have to scour the earth to find his back catalog of albums with people like Sonny Stitt. And if I'm going to talk to this guy, who is a celebrated jazz educator and has a mind-boggling depth of jazz knowledge, I better dig deep, find this music and internalize it, or I'm going to look like a hack. [laughter]. Also, I want to come up with something substantive and interesting and of value to people, and I think you can only do that if you really do your research.

Hopefully, the pieces on Innerviews have a long shelf life via the web. Prior to the advent of the web, basically music journalism was disposable. When the issue came down from the newsstands, that was basically it. Goodbye. If you happened to miss that issue, maybe you could find it as a back issue, but with the web, things have the potential to exist forever. I have interviews that stretch back to 1989. Hopefully until the day I'm gone, and even beyond the day I'm gone, these pieces will still be available.

AAJ: What is it that drives you to get inside the heads of the artist, going so far as to buy whole back catalogs and read everything ever written about them?

AP: That's a good question no one has asked before. It's just a complete deep, mad passion and love of the art form that is music. I think it has a lot to do with my maniacal record collecting instincts as well. When I was a kid, back in the day as it were, even in the early days of CDs, I was always one of those people who would sit there with liner notes and pour over them and wonder "What does a recording engineer do anyway?" or "What does mastering mean?" On the early progressive rock albums by Yes, Eddie Offord would show up all the time in the credits and I would think, "Who is Eddie Offord and why is he on all these records? He's not a member of the band." This is when I was eight or nine years old. So in the pre-Internet days I would start buying books about music trying to find out who these people are. I had a lot of musician friends when I was a kid too. I played electric bass for a long time, as well.

I think the combination of those interests with journalism school really spurred me to pursue music journalism. I've got a background doing a lot of journalism outside of music. I've covered speeches by major politicians. I've covered local crime. I've written about movies, dance and theater. I've done television work as well. It's all contributed to this kind of questioning framework I employ in the work. I think all of these experiences swirl together to inform what I do. There's a certain thrill in doing interviews that's never actually left me after almost a quarter century of doing them. It's always a great moment when I can sense the light bulb going on inside the artist's head when they realize, "OK. This guy really wants to go deep and I'm going to let him in." And that's when things really start happening.


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