conversations with bianca

A Chat with Rolling Stone Australia Editor-in-chief Matt Coyte

Since I was a teen, I’ve loved reading Rolling Stone magazine. I love the in-depth and often definitive interviews with musicians (especially Anthony Bozza’s work) that explore and offer an insight into the artists’ lives, technique and philosophy. I recently caught up with Rolling Stone Australia’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Coyte, for sushi and chats about the workings of the magazine and his life as a musician.

Growing up did you read Rolling Stone?

MATT COYTE: Yeah, I bought it probably when I was fifteen or sixteen. I never bought it religiously. I only ever bought it if there was something in it that I was interested in. I remember there were times when I’d pick it up and find nothing I was interested in but, that probably says more about my tastes than the mix of editorial.

How did you perceive Rolling Stone?

MC: I don’t know. I’ve always been a big reader. I was always interested in more than just the music. The first music that I got into was Black Sabbath and Black Flag, both of them had a lifestyle around them—punk and metal. There was a lot more going on than just music, I wanted to know what ‘punk’ was even. I was maybe about ten when I got into Black Sabbath and I thought it was terrifying! I thought it was the scariest thing ever. I was fascinated and terrified about it and needed to know more about them so I could go to sleep at night [laughs].

Aww that’s hilarious. Was writing for Rolling Stone something that you dreamed of doing?

MC: I don’t know if it was necessarily Rolling Stone but, I knew I wanted to be a reviewer. I remember seeing Bill Collins do the movie review stuff and going, someone gets paid to watch movies and give their opinion on it? That’s awesome! Then I started thinking about music like that, getting free CDs, that sounds like an ideal job. I didn’t realise that you had to do interviews as well for entertainment news. I knew I wanted to be a reviewer of movies and music.

As the editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone Australia what’s your job involve?

MC: I have a publisher who is above me, normally a publisher would be a bit more hands on, but because he has a lot of magazines to look after more than most publishers do, there’s a couple of magazines that he has where he has an editor-in-chief role above the editor role. I probably do a lot more financial planning, forward planning, HR duties more than a normal editor would. The way that we work with the mag is that the editor is more involved with the day-to-day things and trying to get the job at hand done. He and I plan the issue out together, he works on the immediate issue and once we’ve got that done I’ll start moving on to the next one trying to plan that. I try to get three covers lined up in advance. I also go out with the advertising guys a lot and try to get events happening—trying to expand the brand.

Its Rolling Stone Australia’s 40th Anniversary this year, the first proper edition was in 1972. Where’s the celebration of the milestone?

MC: Yeah it is. Unfortunately we made a big song and dance out of 35 years for some reason [laughs], I’m not really sure why we did that. After 40 years we decided that maybe there’s a point where we should probably stop making a song and dance about birthdays or else we’ll just be doing it for years…when 50 years come around well celebrate. It’s only been around two years less than the US version.

I’ve heard many editors comment over the years that they’re in the business of selling magazines; is that the same for you?

MC: Yeah. I have a wealth of material to use from America, my business head says I should reprint that and people would still be getting quality but, even though the industry here doesn’t really support us, I feel we’re kind of obligated to support Australian music. We don’t feel obligated to break bands because of where we sit, we’re about established music in-depth rather than being a tastemaker. You buy Rolling Stone because you want to know more about someone than what you’d read if you picked up a copy of Drum Media or street press, that’s why we have the really long form stories.

I’m so glad that you do the long form in-depth feature interviews! That’s always been my favourite thing about Rolling Stone.

MC: There’s not many mags at all that do. Even the supplements that are in the weekend papers like Good Weekend’s long stories don’t have anywhere near as many words as we do.

Recently I read a comment online from a person that said something to the effect of, Rolling Stone Australia just pukes out American content. I wanted to ask if you have a particular ratio of US to Australian content you try to keep to?

MATT COYTE: It’s about 50/50, 60/40 at most. With the forward planning that I do that’s usually what I am thinking about in my head, I never know what I’m going to get from America next week but I’m going to commission this from an Australian writer so I can offset the American content. I’m always thinking about that. At the same time, I know that if I get a 12-page Bob Dylan story I’m going to run it because no one is going to complain about that. They complain when you put Justin Bieber on the cover though [laughs].

I was going to ask you about that. I always see people online complaining about Rolling Stone putting Justin Bieber or Britney Spears on the cover. I remember when you guys did the Short Stack cover…

MC: My thinking behind that is, even though Rolling Stone will never really be a magazine that appeals to younger readers, we have to pick them up somewhere. The Bieber, One Direction and Short Stack fans are passionate about shitty bands but they’re passionate about music in some way. Outside of those bands I don’t think a lot of really young kids have much interest in reading about musicians, they just want to download the song. They’re the ones that are vivacious and want to know everything about the artist and collect everything. It helps sales. It gets us to people who would be reading the mag for the first time and hopefully they go ‘Oh this article about coal seam gas is interesting’ or they like a fashion shoot. We’re able to get their social network to promote the mag.

Short Stack was a pretty cynical idea from my side. I said if we’re going to do a story on you and potentially put you on the cover, we want to know that it’s going to sell us copies, so prove to us through your social networking that enough Short Stack fans would buy it to be able to offset the amount of people that would be turned off by it. They got their fan-base to say ‘I promise to buy it’.

It’s really interesting to hear the insight behind what played a part in them being on the cover…

MC: It’s not a clever plan or anything. If someone pitches me something I go ‘convince me we are going to sell copies’ and that seems to be the way people are trying to convince us now by getting their Facebook followers to get active and vocal about it. That does convince me because those people could press ‘unlike’ at any point and stop following those people but they obviously like them enough to read about them every day when they log on.

I remember my 13-year old niece wanting the Short Stack issue so bad she sent her mum to the newsagency first thing to get it the day it was released. Me and her actually ended up interviewing Short Stack together for Rave Magazine. She was the youngest person to interview them and I thought her questions were way cooler than most other interviewers’ work I read.

MC: [Laughs] Short Stack aren’t around anymore but I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as they did, they were insane. They played a show at 7:30 in the morning on Sunrise and they stayed there for six hours signing for their fans. There was a girl that had ‘Beatle-mania’ she was screaming and screaming, I was walking along and I noticed her knees kept buckling and she was looking a little green, security were too busy keeping the kids back from the signing and I thought there must have been something wrong with her she doesn’t seem right. I walked over to her and asked her if she was alright? I saw that her eyes were all red, she had burst a blood vessel in her eyes. The white bits were pure red from screaming so hard. I got a St. John’s ambulance guy. They got an ambulance brought in for her because she was screaming too hard!

That’s intense. What was the first interview that you ever did with a musician?

MC: It was Spencer P. Jones for On The Street which was a Sydney street press.

How do you feel you went with it?

MC: It was good but I didn’t know a lot about Beasts of Bourbon at that point. I knew I liked them and that I had seen them a couple of times but, before the internet it was hard to get information about bands. You had to go to Waterfront and look around for fanzines and find interviews with them. You couldn’t just Wikipedia bands and find out everything about their history. A lot of people don’t realise that’s a pretty new thing. When I was at uni if you wanted to get on the internet you had to book two weeks in advance and you’d get an hour on it, it was a big deal!

You went to Charles Strut University right?

MC: Yeah. It’s a good course. It’s geared towards hard news. If you want to get into hard news you can pretty much do it and walk right into a job.

What’s been your most memorable interview?

MC: Musicians I’ve always been lucky with, because I’ve always done interviews for fairly credible music mags. The artist knows that if you go off the topic of music that you’re going to be respectful so they’re not particularly on guard. Some of the other magazines I’ve done interviews for like FHM, the talent are looking for them to trip you up, they’re on guard so sometimes it will get a little heated.

The most memorable interview for me was… I’ve wanted to interview Ozzy Osbourne for years. I was doing a cover story for a guitar magazine on his new guitarist. He had a custom guitar model coming out on Gibson and he was big news in the guitar world. I was like, I want to put him on the cover but I also want to do an interview with Ozzy while he is here to find out why he chose him—I really just wanted to interview Ozzy [laughs]. I went to the show when they were here and after they had a signing, the tour manager said that Ozzy would talk to me after the signing. I watched him sign and was thinking, oh my god I’m going to interview Ozzy! He started getting really tired and I said to the tour manager, maybe he should stop doing the signing he looks pretty tired. The dude was like, ‘nah he’ll be ok.’ The signing ended and he hobbled into this lounge room kind of thing off to the side. The tour manager told me to come in and he walked away, I walked in and he was [makes a snoring noise] asleep! I pushed him a bit and was like, ah Ozzy? He was like [makes a grumbling noise]. So I didn’t get to interview him [laughs]. It was still cool though, it was pretty awesome. I’ve realised since then that you’re better off not interviewing people you really worship because they’re never going to be as good as you think they are. I’m like that with Slash. I grew up loving Guns N Roses and Slash. I’ve read the book and I know I probably wouldn’t like them as people but, I don’t want to ruin that childhood fascination I had with those guys by actually finding out they’re douche bags. Everyone keeps telling me that he is a lovely guy and nothing like you’d imagine and that he is so sweet but I’m just like, nah I won’t do an interview with Slash.

I saw him on The Project recently and he did seem really nice.

MC: A friend of mine at Sony looks after him and she says he is the nicest dude.

I reckon you’ll do it one day.

MC: [Laughs] I got to stick to my guns now. We’ll see.

I read an interview with one of the old editors of Rolling Stone Australia, Kathy Bail, and she commented that entertainment journalism is controlled by publicists. You and I have also talked about publicists limiting access and time with artists and how it’s harder to get access to artists that journalists once had, like spending days and weeks with them at a time. What are your thoughts on this?

MC: Yeah I’d agree with that. They kind of shape it, and not just the way that it is delivered but the bands that are delivered as well. If you have a publicist who you need to give you someone else they quite often get you to do an interview with someone that you would say no to normally because you need to lock in the artist that you want with them. There’s kind of an unspoken ‘suggestion’ that it may not happen unless you do artists ‘x’ as well.

I’m so glad that you’ve been so open with the way publicists work sometimes. When I’ve asked people in the past they usually say everything is sweet with publicists when I know for a fact through my experience that that is not always the case. I get more love from overseas publicists than Australian ones, although there are great folks like Deathproof PR. I find a lot of people in the industry like to be diplomatic about behind the scenes industry stuff and often sugar-coat the reality of it.

MC: It is a bit of a thankless job. Journalists don’t like them, artists don’t like them, and it’s a hard job. I don’t blame them for trying to get a little bit of power when they can. Some take the piss with it though. The Australian music industry is a very small pond and if they think they’re a bit of a legend or a bit of a character and have gotten away with that for long enough they’ll be stuck in their ways and be defending their territory. It’s hard to keep those sort people in check because you have a bit of a power struggle going on between you and the publicist.

Are there any other challenges you face?

MC: I used to hate the fact that music companies advertised in the magazine because it threw a blanket of doubt over our motives. That doesn’t really happen anymore  most of our advertising comes from people that want to be associated with music, lifestyle companies, like Converse or Doc Martens or Harley Davidson. Because we don’t really have that interaction with music companies anymore it’s hard to gauge what they’re getting behind. When they used to advertise a record you could tell that they were going to push that artist hard and that they were covering the right thing, that I’m backing a winner here. They have no money to spend now outside of a bit of online advertising so it’s hard to get a gauge on how serious they are about an artist. Back in the day you could say, oh there’s a new Van Halen record coming. Immediately you think is this going to be a stinker or is this going to be the comeback? If they would say to you, we’re going to take an ad for every issue the next four issues you know, alright, well at least they think it’s got legs. Now they say, it’s a comeback and you go, it could be the worst thing ever and I’m not going to get to hear it so you just say ‘no’. I find myself saying no to a lot of stuff just to be safe now.

How do you feel about getting streams to albums now rather than physical copies of releases?

MC: We still get physical copies. Streams sometimes don’t work for us. The business is so big and if anything is happening like a red carpet call happens overseas, everyone goes online and is downloading really big files and I can’t get streaming so I just had to say it just doesn’t work. I don’t like wasting physical copies of CDs though either so, if I know we’re not going to do it I just tell them not to bother sending the CD. I could fill a landfill with the amount of CDs that sit in our office.

I remember when I would go into the Rave Magazine offices back when I first started writing for them and they used to have a shopping cart full of CDs. The ones that weren’t taken by contributors would end up being taken to local record stores and were sold to them.

MC: We have a charity sale every few months and sell them almost by weight [laughs].

With all the closures of street press and music publications in Australia, where do you see print media currently being at for music?

MC: I don’t think it’s in a good place. The problem is a lot of those magazines had forgotten what they were—they were for people to read about music. If you keep doing that and you don’t deviate from the plan…I don’t know…I feel like that’s why we’ve been around for so long is because we haven’t deviated from the plan or who we are. If we did try anything new it was so well thought out. The website that the US has is almost like a magazine, it has the long reads. They’re not under the illusion that people want anything from it but a good read.

I don’t understand why other magazines are closing. We’ve been through the worst period ever for magazines and we’ve probably lost like 500 copies, it’s not enough to bankrupt a business. We have people that look at our circulation figures and think that 22,000 isn’t much but, it’s like how many copies of your best-selling CD did you sell this month? You wouldn’t have sold 20,000 copies of it. The music industry is dwindling. I’d rather have, and you’re probably the same with your work, ten people really get a lot out of it than have 100 people just get a little bit out of it.

I notice with a lot of online interviews that people never really comment on them ever as much as opinion pieces. I find that interesting.

MC: When I was at Lollopallooza this year with the publicists they had a lot of web people there, we were given two questions with an artist. They asked me who I wanted to talk with and I said I didn’t want anybody. It was a waste of my time, the artists and their time. I said to just give four question to someone else rather than just two. They said they really wanted me to do it but I was like, I can’t get anything out of that, I don’t have bite sized bits of information in the mag. Obviously they don’t even really think of that anymore.

That’s like with the music magazine in the US doing reviews on Twitter.

MC: That’s insane. That’s an art I reckon. I find it hard to review an album in 100 words. Our reviews are 96 words for the small ones. That’s tight. That’s enough to have a sentence about the history of the band to put it into context, here’s a sentence about the overall vibe of the album, one song mention and a wrap up. It’s four sentences, it’s crazy. They’re doing it in one!

Is there anything that you feel makes a story successful?

MC: I think artists need media training because a lot of the time they don’t think they are interesting. How am I going to find it interesting if they don’t think they have something to say? Rollins and Courtney Love had arsehole-ish elements about what they’d say but they were interesting and they knew that they were interesting; love them or hate them they were interesting to listen to. Now I’ve found, as soon as they say ‘oh my god sometimes I can’t believe I’m being interviewed’ that’s nice and it makes them endearing but, at the same time I don’t have high hopes for this now because, you’re so humble that you don’t understand why you’re being interviewed, you’re not going to have anything interesting to say.

I’m really blessed that the people I interview for my blog sometimes give me hours of their time. I recently chatted with Gary Lachman from Blondie for my Conversations With Punx project and he loved chatting so much that he said we could chat again at a later date.

MC: That’s awesome. That’s in a way why people like that are famous, they like talking about themselves, and they’re interested in talking about themselves. It’s not a bad thing because in a way, it is giving back to people that you owe a bit of yourself to because they are buying into your brand as a musician, giving them something in return for buying your CD, coming to your gig, buying your t-shirt. They reckon there’s different models of fandom and that you can put a price tag on how much you should be able to get out of every level of fan. A causal fan over your career, if you’re an average band, you should be able to get $1000 out of through CDs, gigs and t-shirts. Then there’s hardcore fans that will probably give you around $5,000 or whatever each over your career. When you think of things like that, I think musicians own it to their fans to give them updates and let them into their lives a little otherwise you’re just ripping them off.

Online a little ago, Tommy Lee made some comments that were something like, I don’t owe anyone anything, I got here because of me and my own hard work, which some fans weren’t too happy about. I think it sparked from fans wanting to get photos with him or something.

MC: Bob Mould are reforming and they’re playing their classic stuff that they said they’d never do. I was talking to Bob the other day and he said he didn’t like playing songs of Copper Blue but he knows where his bread is buttered and who his fans are and that they don’t like him for his new music. He was like, there’s a point that I felt I had to give them a new record like the stuff they like me for. He made his new album pretty much sound like Sugar or Hüsker Dü. He said that when he did it he felt really good because he knew they’d like it and he wasn’t trying to force them to like something. He was like, they were into me because of Hüsker Dü and Sugar and it’d be arrogant of me to try and make them move into something else with me. He said that it took him a while to realise that they weren’t into him as a person but they were into him because they heard something that they liked. He said he shouldn’t have gone, we’ll you like me so, you must like what I like. I thought it was a really interesting thing to say and a good understanding of where he is at.

I think Amanda Palmer has a good understanding of her fans also, look how much money she raised on Kickstarter, over $1,000,000. I read an interview with her the other day and she was talking about how she built a career up over 13 years or so and that she knew her fans would support her.

MC: Yeah and she knows exactly what to give her fans for that.

I wanted to ask you about your life as a musician. What inspired you to start playing music?

MATT COYTE: I always wanted to play music. I didn’t know how to play and to help myself learn I joined a Riot Grrrl band in Bathurst at uni called, Crankshaft. It was a bad Bikini Kill style screechy thing and I was the only guy in the band.

That is awesome!

MC: [Laughs] I liked it. It was a really nasty sounding, brutal band. It was like the first Hole record that had all that dark stuff.

Pretty On The Inside! I love that record, it’s definitely one of my all-time favourites.

MC: Yeah! It was really ugly, dark sounding guitar. Then I got into Sonic Youth and more into playing guitar and those guys were against me trying to do interesting stuff. They thought it should be more about statement rather than music.

A bit like Pussy Riot?

MC: [Laughs] Yeah, I was thinking that. When I moved back to Sydney my brother was living with a couple of guys and they were into the same kind of music as us, they were two other brothers. We were into pretty specific stuff, we’d get it from mail order, stuff like Engine Kid, real noise-rock with tinges of metal. We wanted to do that two guitar thing with inter weaving guitars. Me, my brother, Joel who plays in Nunchukka Superfly and his brother Ariel flipped a coin to decide on our band name. We were either going to be Ellis or Quoit. We won the coin toss so we ended up as Quoit. Quoit became Further because when the other two guys left we didn’t think the name worked anymore.

You have three musical projects now?

MC: I’ve pretty much only got Further. I’m not really fair enough advanced with the others to call them musical projects. There’s another band called, The Government. We haven’t done much over the last few years but we’ve done stuff over the internet, that album will be a while off.

I noticed you tweeted AJ from Soundwave the other day re: if Refused were looking for a support…

MC: [Laughs] We find it hard, we don’t do anything because we don’t have a booking agent or label anymore and there’s not really anyway for people to get into contact with us anymore  I don’t really care but I don’t really try to have people think of me as being in a band for work. We have to chase everything down ourselves and tell people we really want to do stuff. Then when people know you really want to do something they’re like, oh we can only pay you $80.

My friend who’s in a local band on the Gold Coast recently told me that there is a venue on the Gold Coast that won’t even think about paying any bands on a gig bill anything until they bring at least 300 people to the show. That’s pretty crazy, to not pay a band anything at all before they see 300 people in the door.

MC: That is crazy. I can get how some places will charge you a fee if you don’t get more than a certain number of people in. If you’re arrogant enough to book a show and aren’t able to get close to the numbers they want you should help cover the running costs of the venue but, I think that sucks, they have to take some risk.

‘Like’ Rolling Stone Australia. Listen to Further. Subscribe to Rolling Stone Australia.

In-depth interviews forever!!

 

*All Rolling Stone Australia magazine covers courtesy of RSA’s fb.

One Comment

  1. Sally Browne
    January 3, 2013

    Nice one Bianca! It’s good to see the interviewers interviewed. : ) I’ve been a music journalist for years myself and I have always wondered what it would be like! I’ve just started my own behind-the-scenes blog (girlreporter.net) and there’s a bit on You Am I sending up interviewers – kind of Spinal Tap style. Funny but painful!

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