Teal Garrels is a super cool person, purveyor of greatness, and the onetime legendary publicist for such companies as Biz3 and Sub Pop. She’s a primary reason why Cinema Spartan exists, if you don’t know your superfluous San Diego history (there is, like, one passage dedicated to us somewhere that nobody cares about, probably). Back when I barely had any weight, jurisdiction, or wherewithal to interview artists, Teal gave me the tools to move forward with my music coverage. This propelled me through years of successful band interviews, Sub Pop t-shirts, ridiculous mishaps, and several site transformations (this layout was once a lowly, Geocities looking wasteland. Sup, weird green background from 2009). In wanting to catch up with one of the unknowing architects of this strange and scatterbrained website, I asked Teal a litany of questions ranging from music to music.
Rob Patrick: What do you think Pitchfork’s lasting impression will be on music journalism, public relations, and label management?
Teal Garrels: Oh man, I remember working at Biz3 back in the day and having some serious trouble figuring out which of the hundreds of new blogs/websites were relevant, and who we should service. Pitchfork definitely separated themselves from the pack early and had the power to help or hurt artists with their reviews. We would hold our breath waiting to see what score a band would get on a new album. I was never really into their style though…they seemed to review with an unnecessary malicious undertone. I would feel bad for the artists they attacked on personal levels. That was their thing though. The internet was a new platform and they pushed the envelope.
What is a common faux pas that most publications and media outlets make in relation to interacting with artists?
Acting with a sense of ownership over an artist. Demanding access at all times and forgetting that a band needs time to eat, sleep and work on new material. I saw a bunch of musicians get burnt out trying to accommodate all of the requests for their time.
What would you change about Coachella? I attended three times in my twenties, and now that I’m 31 I’m afraid of the festival’s climate, youth, and happiness. It’s like, “calm down, everybody, and when do Mates of State play?” because I’m stuck in 2006.
Ha! I loved Coachella when it first hit the scene. I was also in my 20s and had more stamina. I have memories of watching bands on the Second Stage that still give me chills. If I could change anything it would be to transform it back to its original hot-mess state…I’d also make myself 27 again.
The recent popularity of physical media – particularly that of vinyl – is supplanting some digital piracy, and subsequently helping artists to sell more records at shows. Do you think this movement for tangible items is simply a fad, or something that will continue to rise in coming years?
Records have gone in and out of style for decades, so I think it will continue on that same trajectory for a while. Certain types of people will always crave tangible things. There’s something kind of magical about vinyl…and I love that it can help artists make some extra cash on the road.
What’s your opinion on Spotify and the polarizing impact that it has had on artists?
Spotify’s a game changer. I totally understand artists being frustrated because of the amount of money (or lack of money) they make through the app…but I do think that it helps people discover and share new music. I use it constantly, and love that if someone’s talking about a band coming to town and I’m unfamiliar with their music, I can become familiar within minutes…and if I’m into it I’ll go see them live.
When fielding requests from outlets, what was something that, in your estimation, good publicists look for?
They seek out writers who ask thoughtful questions instead of the run-of-the-mill ones. They also take into consideration the circulation and distribution of different publications. You don’t want to wear an artist out, so you have to pick and choose what will make the most impact on their future success as a musician. Tour press was always an area that I liked being a part of because you’re helping to spread the word about shows and hopefully getting people out to the venues.
Popularity in music styles, over the course of the years, continue to evolve, molt, and change. In 2011, I feel like everyone was stuck in lo-fi hell. Are you surprised that artists eventually climbed out of that genre well?
There was a similar thing happening in the mid-90’s (Pavement, Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, Grifters…) so I think it’s another one of those trends that will continue to go in and out of style. Directly after my love affair with lo-fi in the 90’s I turned to that polished Timbaland-style production for a while. I think the majority of ears are constantly on the hunt for newness and change…but nostalgia will always play a part in what sounds good to a specific person.
Do you think that social media has become a necessary tool in an artist’s backpack, or do you think, modernly, they could survive without Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?
I’ve been out of the publicity game for about 5 years, so I can’t say first hand…but my guess would be that social media is overtaking the standard press outlets as far as music is concerned. Honestly, Spotify and Apple Music are becoming more of a go-to for simultaneous information and music listening. This is just coming from personal experience and what I’ve noticed amongst my peers though.
Wolf Parade is back together. Are you surprised? Elated? Confused? (I’m a little bit of all of those). And, on a secondary level, how would one go about promoting a band that has been on a six-year hiatus?
I’m excited! It seems like a natural thing to me. There have been a handful of side-projects since their hiatus, so they haven’t been completely out of sight. And as far as promotion goes…you probably wouldn’t need much. They have such a dedicated fan base. It seems like one or two big pieces on the reunion would spread like crazy on social media platforms.
How was the music climate in Indiana when you were growing up, and was the cultural geography a catalyst for you becoming a publicist?
The late 80’s/early 90’s were a grungy, tape digging time for me in South Bend. Sometimes I would buy a tape based on its cover (Smog was one of them:))…and then geek out with friends who shared the same excitement. Other avenues for finding new music were college radio stations, zine reviews and label tastes (for years I bought anything that came out on 4AD). Honestly, becoming a publicist was a fluke. I was living in Chicago and my friend asked if I would cover for him while his band went on tour. I met Kathryn (Biz3 owner) and ended up working for her for 7+ years. Becoming a publicist at Sub Pop happened when I moved to Seattle to be around my family.
Oddly, Sub Pop has a podcast now. Did you ever envision that particular platform as something that would be so successful for labels and artists?
This one seems like a natural fit too! They’re hilarious and eloquent and have a great story. I’m also a podcast junkie these days. I spend a good chunk of the day listening to All Songs Considered, Radiolab, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, TED radio hour, Theory of Everything…
And, finally, what are some bands that you are currently listening to that people should check out?
Some artists who have gotten me pretty excited over the past few years are BOOTS, Charles Bradley, Courtney Barnett, The Shelters, U.S. Girls, Jungle, D.D Dumbo, Wolf Alice, Marika Hackman, Linus Young, Kate Tempest, Lianne La Havas, Shabazz Palaces, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down…if I’m feeling nostalgic (which is pretty much always…let’s be honest) I’ll still pop in some Fugazi, Unwound, Cannibal Ox, Ride, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins…all those old shoe gaze, punk, crunchy hip hop gems circle back. Forever and ever.