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Interview with a Vampire

How to question musicians

By Zoe Cordes Selbin, 2:11PM, Fri. Sep. 7, 2012

Yours truly conducting interviews at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2010.
Yours truly conducting interviews at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2010.
photo by Monica Riese

September's arrived, so I suppose I have to make peace with the fact that school is back in session. That’s my dirty secret: When I’m not running around with bands, I’m doing this whole college thing too. That's why I try to make sure that my education syncs up with my career. Like this semester, I’m taking a class in interview principles and practices.

An entire semester devoted to the art of the interview may seem extreme, but a good interview is something that took me years to master, and still my skills are basically applicable only in the entertainment realm. That said, friends often ask, “How do you interview bands? I’d be a blubbering mess.”

Since it’s been on my mind thanks to school, I thought I’d share a few “best practices” on how to interview bands.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

Despite the myths, you can’t just go into an interview without preparation. The ability to do an interview on the fly is very important, but that’s a very different skill, and you’d stick to more general questions for that anyway.

For a traditional interview, you must research the band thoroughly. Even if you think you know a lot about them, you might be surprised. I’ll never live down the time I interviewed a band and was asking all these questions about their latest album only to find out they had just released a new one.

Besides that, research means more interesting and creative questions, which means you aren’t just duplicating tons of other interviews the band has had to sit through. The more thought-provoking your inquiries, the better your chances of getting back truly unique responses.

DON'T JUST BE A FAN. SERIOUSLY

It’s fun to interview bands you're a fan of, but don’t make your fandom obvious. This rule has exceptions. When meeting absolute idols, you're allowed to reveal your level of worship after the interview. You can politely ask your subject to sign something. I've only done this twice and I recommend you do it sparingly.

Remember, a musician is a professional, so you need to be a professional as well. Geeking out will only serve to make you look silly, and it will most likely make the musician uncomfortable as well. Which brings me to my next point.

PUT YOUR SUBJECT AT EASE. BUT NOT TOO MUCH

Okay, so you’re not a fan. Don't act so professional that your come off stiff and uncaring. Musicians are just people exactly like you; repeat to this to yourself as many times as needed. Treat them Texan – friendly.

Do not, however – under any circumstances – try to become their friend. Sometimes friendships blossom from interviews; this will only ever happen organically. If you try to be friends with a musician, it’s not only unprofessional, it's just plain bad protocol.

Bands have tons of people trying to get in good with them. They most appreciate those who (at least seemingly) aren't.

FINALLY

And this one's the easiest, but still tried and true: Have fun. Research and mapping out your string of questions – start with your 10 best, but prepare 15-20 – is important, but listen closely to their answers and don't be afraid to follow-up on a question or improvise a new thread.

Go with the flow. Explore topics in depth. And just enjoy that you're getting to talk to with some pretty cool people. For all my complaining about the music industry, it’s can be pretty damn amazing sometimes.

So don’t be nervous. Be prepared for the occasional mishap. Just do your thing in the end. Your interviewees will appreciate it greatly.

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