The Art of the Interview: A conversation with Brandon Stosuy | Varyer

The Art of the Interview

A conversation with Brandon Stosuy

The art form of the written word, as attention spans get shorter, is not something that people gravitate toward or truly appreciate, but Brandon Stosuy is an exception


As Editor-in-Chief of The Creative Independent (TCI), a creative resource publishing daily interviews with artists and fostering the creative community, Brandon has many interactions with attempting to understand creativity as a process. Brandon interviews artists who put so much of themselves into their work and their art, and still seem to have things to give outside of the art they're creating. TCI is a generous daily reminder to be creative and to spend time feeling introspective and philosophical about it.

Our conversation with Brandon spanned the process behind running The Creative Independent, odd jobs that led to the present moment, and creativity as a repeatable practice. Brandon is an example of good things emerging through doing the things you like. Read an abridged transcript of the conversation below, and check out Brandon’s books in the Varyer shop.

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Kickstarter is a public benefit corporation, and as a result, they have a public benefit charter to create free resources for creative people, and TCI fits under that umbrella.

You’ve mastered the art of connecting with others through talking about their work on your platform TCI. Tell us about how that idea started.
The Creative Independent came about in an organic way. I used to work at Pitchfork around the time that Condé Nast purchased the company and was figuring out whether I wanted to stay or not, and this seemed like a major moment–I’d been there for a long time. I was at this coffee shop down the street called Homecoming, and my friend Yancey walked in (co-founder of Kickstarter).

Yancey was like, how are things going? He caught me right at this moment; I was actually being honest...

We started emailing back and forth, brainstorming about an editorial site for interviews about process and the idea of bringing creative projects to life.

What if it's about not just music, but also film or cooking or dance or anything prerequisite? I'd gone to grad school for literature so I felt like there was always a part of things I was missing in just writing about music.

Kickstarter is a public benefit corporation, and as a result, they have a public benefit charter to create free resources for creative people, and TCI fits under that umbrella.

The design of the Creative Independent is utilitarian and has a forward thinking feel; brutalist without being anachronistic. It’s tagging makes for a giant, tactile archive.

It took four months of us fine-tuning and figuring out what the project would be, and then I had to find a designer. I asked a friend of mine for ten favorite designers, he gave me a list and number one was this woman named Laurel Schwulst, so I reached out to her. Her designs were really interesting and she was teaching at Yale and somewhere else too and just seemed like an interesting mix of like academic art design but also this weird brutalist approach.

Laurel and I came up with the design: the spiral and the snail and the boxes-- I think the design ended up really shaping the tone of the site in a really specific way.

Since we started, we’ve largely kept it the same. Early on Laurel described it as kind of like a ‘Day-glo Wikipedia’ because it has all these colors to it, but at the end of the day, we wanted it to be a specific resource and to be used in that way.

TCI generates no revenue. It generates good vibes, generates thoughts and creativity. I think the use-value of it is that it has a very positive readership and a very positive place in the world.

The people that we're interviewing on the creative independent feed back into the Kickstarter universe, it brings in creative people to that world, there’s a nice back and forth there. Think of it as like a gift to the Internet. It's a resource for creative people that has existed now for five years.

...the use-value of it is that it has a very positive readership and a very positive place in the world.

Check out recent TCI’s recent zines, like Sober Twenty One, a resource for people that are dealing with sobriety and creativity.

Growing up in the pines you made zines and threw DIY shows. There is a through-line to what you do now with one foot still in publishing and another in music. Was that a calculated journey on your part?
I grew up in a farming town of 800 people and there was just nothing there, and so if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself.

We would go into Philadelphia (the closest city) and see shows and so I thought, why don't I start putting on shows in my yard? Our friend Ed who lived in New York knew how to do sound–he’d bring his PA down and through friends, we just kind of were able to piece it together. The zines really were just a way to communicate with people outside of the town because it was pre-Internet. I started the zine when I was 13 and it was a way to talk to people and have a community.

I was in bands, and I realized I wasn't very good at making music— it was just something I did because I wanted to be involved. It was helpful realizing that and focusing more on the curation and writing side of things. Over the years I've come back to that. Now that I do artist management, it's the same sort of thing. Everything feels tied together.

We still make zines. We still do events. It feels very connected in many ways, but I feel like the difference is that now it actually pays the bills.

It was always trying to piece together a way to just keep doing the things I like to do. A lot of people never have that happen, and you always have the thing you love remains outside of your day job. I feel very lucky that these things I'm doing are the things that I loved when I was 13.

I think about all of the other things I did before this involving some ludicrous jobs:

I answered an ad once when I was living in Canada to help someone edit a book. He was trying to prove that Jesus had faked his crucifixion. I was like, all right, cool, so I helped him edit that.

It turned out there's a whole tradition to this theory that I hadn’t realized and he started copying and pasting things from other books, so I had to explain to him the issue of plagiarism… but it ended up making this amazing, weird montage of his own thoughts and things that existed. It was like this crazy experimental project.

And then he had this guy that lived with him in his basement...

I'm not kidding, this is a real thing: This guy lived in his basement and wanted to get in on a project, too. So he pitched me to help edit a screenplay where he himself was the action star of the screenplay who, throughout, whenever they'd have a meal, he'd explain the meal in full detail. Twenty pages of people just cooking and eating food.

I did it because in Canada at the time and I wasn’t able to work legally.

The screenplay guy finally paid me: we met in a bar and he took the money he owed me and put it beneath the coaster and slid it across the table. Yeah, a lot of jobs like that.

Now I make a weird website that publishes one thing a day about creative works, and it feels very connected to all that other stuff, in a way. I don't think this was something I could have imagined actually being real, necessarily.

Check out recent TCI’s recent zines, like Sober Twenty One, a resource for people that are dealing with sobriety and creativity.

It was always trying to piece together a way to just keep doing the things I like to do.

How do you maintain that frequency of daily posting with such quantitative levels of inspiration?
I think what allows that to work is the freelancers. I really like narrowed it down to people that are really good writers and really get what TCI is. I have a document called How to do a TCI interview that explains how we try to be different than a typical interview. If I had to, like, do all the interviews myself, there's no way the site could exist. I think it also would limit the scope of it.

How is a TCI interview different from a typical interview?
One of the ideas is that the questions should be evergreen. For instance, when we interviewed Angel Olsen, I held the interview because everyone else was doing interviews at the same time and asking her the same thing.

So I focused on something else: what had shifted about how she makes videos? It turned out she had started making videos herself. So we talked more about taking control of the machine around you and it became a larger discussion that could apply to any of her albums. That's really the main goal: that things are evergreen so if you look at it 10 years later, you still get something out of it. Larger questions versus specific things.

Brandon also recommends ‘keeping conversations accessible & applicable across vocations/industries,’ and remembering that what you’re creating ‘is a resource.’

After reading a recent article about celebrities ‘clogging’ the airwaves with podcasts, it begged the question: do we really need to hear from everybody? What do you think is the future of interviews, or what kind of editorial content do you like now? Are there innovative formats that you see emerging?
I don't listen to many podcasts because I'm always writing and it always interferes with my thought process. But my wife is an architect and she listens to a lot of podcasts.

I just think the honest conversations are really interesting. We've talked about having a reader on the site so you can listen to the interviews if you want.

I think often because we're hitting people when they’re not on their normal press cycle, they have more energy, we get stuff out of them that I really appreciate and feels honest to me. We had a section for a while called Peer Review where we'd have people interview each other.

If you don't know who you're going to interview, do you like to do background research and arm yourself with knowledge, or do you prefer to go in with a blank slate?
I try to have a bit of knowledge so that if they don’t respond to my questions I have something to go back to. Sometimes the angle doesn't work and you have to shift your line of questioning. You have to have enough knowledge to be able to find something else to talk about. I've never gone into one where I know nothing about the person, which would be interesting; I think it's helpful to know their philosophy, their mindset.

Have you ever had a major train wreck of an interview?
I had a bad one where my recorder failed, back in the day where I just had a mini-cassette kind of situation. Then we tried to use a laptop, but couldn't really figure it out.

It was a fun attempt, but it just failed.

And then one time I had this great interview, but halfway through someone called the interviewee on his phone and when he got back on the call, it disconnected the recording app and neither one of us noticed it. When I sent the interview to be transcribed and it was like five minutes long. I had to call him back and be like, we’ve got to redo the interview. We gave it a week of not thinking about it and talked again, without trying to recreate what was said. I've never had a train wreck in the sense of someone being a terrible person or something.

The hardest interview I did was when I worked at Stereogum, I interviewed Paul McCartney. It was only hard because he's so trained to just say the right things -- you’re not really going to get anything from him that's like super personal-- he just had prepared anecdotes, and I only had 20 minutes. He was asking me about my tattoos, and I was like ‘I only have 20 minutes so can we just focus on these questions?’ But it's funny because he wasn’t someone I really cared that much about, I wasn’t nervous for that one.

Have you ever had an interview that you were nervous about?
I've never had a thing where I was really nervous, at least not in recent memory. But there have been the ones where I’m like, they’re going to regret saying this. I'm going to flag this. Or metal bands that have nothing to say, those are always the challenging ones, when the person just doesn't have much to say about what they do.

Brandon also recommends ‘keeping conversations accessible & applicable across vocations/industries,’ and remembering that what you’re creating ‘is a resource.’

Can you tell us about the books you’ve published?
Initially, I was thinking about a memoir kind of thing, like growing up without a lot of money and in the Pine Barrens and figuring out how to get out of that and using punk as a pathway.

And then when we pitched it, we realized there were different books inside of it; We kind of teased apart that.

One is making time for your work.

One is how to stay inspired and keep doing it.

And then the third one is how to fail successfully.

Everyone's going to fail-- so how do you just kind of keep going? So they're supposed to feel kind of like a memoir, I guess. Like a memoir of the creative process or something.

You also wrote a children’s book?

I wrote Music Is… and We Are Music so fast, but of all the things I've done, they’ve sold the most copies. I think the books represent such a variety of people— and a variety of children. I think people really connect with the real people in it. Also, Music Is… has a Bjork endorsement on the cover, which helps.

You can find Stay Inspired in the Varyer Shop, as well as his Children’s Book, We Are Music.

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