Faster Than Sound: A Belated Introduction From Your Incoming Music Editor
Music columnist graduates to Music editor after four years
Daughter of a schoolteacher, I've always measured time in scholastic increments. Four years of high school to get really into music and drive from my hometown of San Antonio to Austin for shows as often as possible. Four years at UT-Austin to admit maybe I wanted to write about music and culture after starting off studying biomedical engineering, mostly because it's one of the hardest majors to get into. The end of this year will mark four years of writing The Austin Chronicle's longtime music news column – the best unorthodox journalism graduate program I could have asked for.
I estimate that's at least 200,000 words logged in the column, spurring my worst memory of engineering classes, when a quiz asked us to estimate how many jelly beans would fit inside a school bus. I picked the name "Faster Than Sound" after the 1967 song "Light Is Faster Than Sound" by Big Brother & the Holding Company, specifically from when Texas icon Janis Joplin was in the band. For my first column back in January 2019, I was too shy to introduce myself and got right to work covering the scene.
In the intervening years of countless interviews, I've expanded the bounds of my chatty mousiness (though certainly not to the snarky extent of some former Chronicle columnists) and tried singing and playing in bands instead of just writing about the practice. So in my first week as editor of these pages, I thought I'd give the intro another try.
San Antonio Girl
When I visualize myself in Austin music, I'm curled up under bright linoleum lights on a packed garage floor, age 16, waiting for my first-ever house show. Following our impactful junior year voyage to Fun Fun Fun Fest, my much cooler high school best friend had befriended a contingent of punk kids from Austin's McCallum High. Visiting from out of town, my velvet leopard tee, Gap skinny jeans, and loafers felt very goody-goody among the girls in black shorts and Dr. Martens.
My formative forms of cultural consumption at the time were as follows: Blogspot fashion bloggers, Rookie magazine, and DVDs rented from the library based on screengrabs from Tumblr, which I caught at its 2014 peak. Despite some venue ventures into the independent music scene, I'd never seen anyone set up speakers in a driveway just to run in circles and play music of their own accord.
Who are these people, and why are they doing this? I still think like that a lot of the time. I was a neutrally tolerated visitor in a scene I'd never really be a part of, and I liked it.
I've technically held my new title before, first as the editor of Alamo Heights High's literary magazine, The Jabberwocky, where I happily blasted Waxahatchee's Cerulean Salt while putting the pages together after school in the empty computer lab, and second as music editor at UT's Orange Magazine. I begrudgingly attended my home state university after deflating dreams of Yale (alma mater of my generation's most important journalist, Rory Gilmore).
Entering with vague med school aspirations, I owe my journalistic pivot completely to Sarah Jasmine Montgomery, onetime editor at Orange, who invited me and my freshman roommate to join the mag on a chance encounter outside the FAC building. I hid out covering campus fashion until my tryout for The Daily Texan required my first-ever music story, which involved interviewing a long-haired musician in a suede jacket (who is no longer a psych rocker, but we're still dating). When asked to write his name down on a piece of paper, he just wrote "Chad" in tiny handwriting, unaware I meant for full spell-checking.
Sophomore year further opened up my musical world by dwelling at West Campus' Pearl Street Co-op, where great local bands played right outside our bedroom doors, and Hinds played by the pool during South by Southwest. The cooperative voted me in even though I nervously responded "lo-fi music" to a group icebreaker question, not realizing my frequent Last.fm tag could not be an actual favorite genre. My weekly chores were office work and making dessert once a week, usually cookies.
Goody two-shoes as ever, I partook in a number of undergrad internships, including filming performances in KUTX's Studio 1A and helping market the only year of renaissance-themed Sound on Sound Fest. My semester at Austin Woman magazine led to my first-ever freelancing under former Editor April Cumming, who assigned me to feature a 27-year-old Jackie Venson and many other Austin ladies. My biggest vote of confidence wouldn't come until I entered the Chronicle's strange midcentury building off I-35, whose shiny blue and yellow bricks remind me of my similar-era high school classrooms.
In Front of the CD Shelves
Despite entering a blind panic and confoundingly calling Violent Femmes my favorite band on my first day as an intern (I should have said Waxahatchee), inquirer and then-Music Editor Raoul Hernandez still saw something in me. Maybe he suspected, as I do, that I come across better in writing. He promptly assigned a Kay Odyssey album for my first-ever review, a written format I'd carefully avoided thus far to avoid sharing any semblance of a musical opinion.
Under Hernandez's encouraging tutelage since 2017, I've baby-stepped through positions as an intern, freelancer, columnist, and staff writer. I unfortunately just missed meeting founding music columnist Margaret Moser, but hope to honor her memory as the first woman Music editor. And I'm writing this because the latest and most charismatic figure to ever hold the role, Kevin Curtin, stepped down, as announced earlier this month, to focus on his growing family (revisit "Have You Seen the Last of Kevin Curtin?").
Last week, the Chronicle music crew surprised Curtin at Sahara Lounge with a city proclamation declaring Sept. 21, 2022, as Kevin Curtin Day. Writer Chad Swiatecki actually managed to get Curtin's affiliated band names, including Cunto!, on a document signed by the mayor. I'll miss being able to swivel toward his neighboring desk and ask, "Who is so-and-so again?" to receive not only said Austinite's cultural history, but also their phone number and latest goings-ons from a recent gig run-in.
Very few are as genuinely gregarious and generous as Curtin – who will luckily continue to apply his humor and insight to writing for the paper as a freelancer. I'm also happy to have club listings extraordinaire Derek Udensi, the desk on my other side, to deliberate on music gossip. Editors Curtin and Hernandez both saw something in me that I didn't yet, and I hope to extend that same courtesy to young writers. Expect some new bylines, as well as more writers chipping in on the news coverage.
I'm excited for what's coming in these pages. Earlier this month, while attending a festival in West Texas, I took it as encouragement from the universe when I found a green Newport cigarettes tank top on the rack of a vintage vendor. I'd been fretting that a custom basketball jersey, in Michigan State Spartans green, wasn't going to arrive in time for Curtin's planned going-away party. Another lucky sign, the honoree arrived in his own Newport rugby long-sleeve and happily swapped it out for the tank post-surprise.
Curtin contributions will no doubt continue in the musical realm. He butt-dialed me last weekend, on what was supposed to be the first day of his long-sought, free-from-work, cross-country vacation. I heard him asking someone: "Have you ever listened to Pink Siifu?"