The Grey Estates is essential. It is one of the few pages that I talk about regularly, and recommend to both friends and artists alike. The site’s creator, Lauren Rearick, is more than just a blog owner, writer, and music lover, she is a genuinely awesome and cool person. The breadth of excitement, sincerity, and knowledge that she brings to The Grey Estates is not only immersive and welcoming, but it is a touchstone of quality in a market where, more often than not, publications favor snark over sensibility. Whenever I visit TGE, I become elated, moved, and inspired by the quality of content and the positive way in which it is presented – this very same sentiment is shared with musicians, artists, and readers. Lauren’s personality shows through her work, but it never imposes on her subject (this is something that we could all learn from). I was super stoked, then, when I called up the creator of TGE to talk about music and media.
Rob Patrick: What do you think makes a clear, informed, and well-rounded interview with a musician?
Lauren Rearick: Part of me always wants to ask really fun and silly questions – like what a band’s favorite sandwich is. I’ll even do a pop-quiz sometimes. I like those because, when you compare them to a typical interview, they are more fun. Recently I started doing longer, feature interviews. And that’s because I am used to regular journalism. I really enjoy talking at length with an artist, and painting a picture of them. I think, for me, it really comes down to finding out what makes someone tick. I’ll pick an artist that I really admire, and then think of questions to things that I really want to know. I think it’s wanting to get to know them as a person, and less about the technical stuff. I enjoy learning about the creation of a song, but for me it’s more about what I’d want to be asked if I was a musician. I always like asking them if they ever get nervous about sharing their music on stage, or something that as a fan I would want to know.
You’re totally right about that. I feel like sometimes an artist can zone out, or feel some moderate distrust if you keep it academic the whole time.
So I feel like if you add levity in there the artist can understand where you’re coming from a little bit better. And to piggyback off of that, you have a genuine interest, respect, and relationship with the artists you feature. Do you think that sort of care is lost with most media outlets?
Yeah, I do. When I first started the site I only wanted to cover artists that I loved or liked. I didn’t want to do negative reviews. Before I even think about interviewing them, it has to be someone I know a lot about. I have to really respect and like them. I think that helps a lot more. But, yeah, I definitely think that has played a role. I don’t think the bigger media sites have that personality. I feel like they feel really unapproachable to artists and may be kind of rude. It’s important to be friendly. I really like to infuse my personality into the site.
What do you think large online publications such are doing right and, conversely, wrong? Because I do feel like you’re right in that they can be unapproachable in a way.
A lot of the time an artist will call out a publication and say “this isn’t genuine” or “I didn’t say that.” I feel like those sites are more concerned with hits and ad revenue, and that’s fine, but I also think that you can be concerned about that stuff and still have a really cool and personable site. They’re more interested in finding the drama in something to get clicks.
I feel like we’re doing something right, because Robin Edwards [of Lisa Prank] likes both of our sites on Facebook.
Oh my gosh, I know.
That’s a good barometer for me.
Yeah, me too. It totally is.
In your opinion, what artists are redefining music this year?
I listen to a lot of The Coathangers. I’m a terrible person to ask about new stuff sometimes, because I listen to a lot of old music. But I also like The Hotelier and Lisa Prank, of course. A lot of the people that are out right now are doing a good job in general.
You put together a lot of great compilations for the site. What goes into a great mix?
I like to put a mix together with artists that I’m both unfamiliar and familiar with. Generally I want to set a mood, because sometimes I struggle, myself, with finding a complete album that totally fits the vibe of any one season. I think “what would I want to listen to during summer or fall?” It just depends on the songs.
I hate to get too serious, but I know Spotify has been polarizing with many musicians. What’s your take on the platform’s future with artists?
See, I use Spotify a lot. I feel like, for smaller artists, it really helps them. I know people hate it, and they’re totally against it because they don’t make money, but it’s better than people illegally downloading stuff. I think some of it can be clunky; for instance I don’t like Apple Music at all. I think that it’s a good thing. Bands can post tour dates, and there is a new feature where bands can post playlists of random stuff on their Spotify profile. So I think it’s a cool way to interact with fans.
Yeah, I love that. I think [Spotify] is reaching out to musicians a little bit more with creativity. I was just looking at a playlist that Chastity Belt put together the other night, and I was discovering artists that I liked from the mix. And if a band is coming to town, and you don’t know them, it’s easy to look them up really quickly and listen to their music. But, yeah, there’s a lot of yellow tape with that whole situation.
I feel like you love it or you hate it, but I love it [laughs].
Can you tell me a little bit about what went into organizing The Grey Estates 2nd Annual Estate Party?
[laughs] Well, last year my friends were telling me that I should put something together to celebrate the site. The first one was great. We got WIDOWSPEAK, and I thought “nothing will ever top this” – no offense to anyone. But that was so cool, for the first event, to have them. And then, this year, I just quit my job and was so overcome with so much stuff that I actually reached out to two other promoters in Pittsburgh to help me. We’re kind of doing a smaller one this year, in a DIY space. I want to make shows fun, as opposed to “lets go see a band and just stand there.” I like to cut cakes and have decorations and just do it up.
In your mind, what goes into a good piece of writing?
The one thing I learned, when I started a long time ago, was that no one needs to have a degree, be on Pitchfork, or have a ton of followers behind them to be a good writer. I think that when you’re passionate about something, or you like a good piece of art or music, it really shows through your writing. I think, for me, that’s why I always like to read about things that people love. Because when people love something it shows. Again, I care less about technical aspects than I do about hearing someone describe why they like something. I’m a big fan of stuff that’s more telling of the writer’s relationship to the artist.
I totally agree with that. What I don’t like is when a writer is more concerned about their language than the language of the artist, if that makes sense?
Everyone uses humor and snark to supersede the topic they are covering. I don’t know why that’s so popular in writing right now.
I don’t get it either. It’s really weird.
I don’t think that musicians appreciate it, necessarily.
No, I definitely don’t think they do.
For the short term you’re gaining readers but for the long-term you’re ostracizing an audience of musicians. Also, like you said, I don’t like negatively reviewing an album. If I don’t like it, I just wont write about it.
Yeah, I had to do that before where I had to review albums that I didn’t like. And then I kind of felt like a jerk. Because, despite the fact that I don’t like it, someone spent a long time on this, and they created something. It’s really hard for me to be mean, too. I cant feel good about saying “this is really awful; don’t buy it.” I prefer to just to be nice, I guess [laughs]
That’s one of the reasons I read your site. I obviously love the quality of the material and everything, but you’re not trying to one-up anyone, which is nice [laughs]. Okay, so I have to ask: what three albums changed the way you look at music?
Grizzly Bear’s “Horn of Plenty”, Wolf Parade’s “Apologies to the Queen Mary“, and then Julien Baker’s “Sprained Ankle”.
I love the aesthetic of your site, and the accessibility of its interface. How did you come up with the layout?
When we first started I put the site on WordPress and it was totally awful. There were too many limitations, and I just said “I’ve had enough.” I just ended up making it on Squarespace. I always wanted to make my blog as girly and as fun and as crazy as my personality is, so when I put it together I just said “I want to have a purple music blog with me as a Sailor Moon logo.” I put together what I wanted to see in a music blog, and I think it has worked out so far. I don’t think anyone dislikes the purple but I don’t know [laughs].
The site is wonderful to look at and it’s easy to navigate. And I really love what you’ve done with social media, too, because you get everyone involved and you update a lot but it’s not overwhelming. It’s always useful, cool information. Where did you get that kind of compass to operate social media in a way that’s pretty rad and effective? That’s a really good talent.
Thanks! In 2009 I started a Grizzly Bear fan tumblr with a friend, and that taught me how to use tumblr and Twitter. And then I kind of did what I would want to see in a Twitter presence. Again, it comes back to wanting to be personable. I want people to feel like they can approach the site, and they can approach me. I looked a lot at Twitter and realized what I don’t like and what I do like. I just want to have fun with it, I guess.
Yeah, because I always look at your updates and they’re really good. I’m always afraid to check my insights because I’ll click on something that says “two people unliked your page” and I’m, like, really?
[laughs] Yeah, that’s awful.
And then I ask myself “what did I do wrong?” after I posted the most innocuous thing ever.
Just forget about them.
And, finally, what’s something that we can look forward to in the upcoming weeks?
We should have an interview with Waxahatchee coming up, and we’re releasing our podcast this Tuesday. Other than that it should be business as usual. Every Sunday we do our Toon Tunes. And we’re going to start having bands share their favorite recipes, just because I liked Chopped so much.