Anil Prasad’s Innerviews
Anil Prasad, the creator and brains behind Innerviews, remains one of my favorite music journalists. I still remember a few years back surfing the web trying to read about guitar great Michael Hedges just after he passed away. I came across Innerviews and read the conversations between Anil and Michael. They were engrossing interviews.I almost felt I was intruding upon two people. Those interviews motivated me to keep coming back to Innerviews day after day. Anil has spoken with some of the greatest musical minds of this generation and his writing continues to be an inspiration for aspiring music journalists.
AL: PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW THIS JOURNEY STARTED?
AP: I’ve been a music fan and avid record collector since I was 16. I grew up in a small city in Ontario, Canada and had very few chances to see interesting gigs, despite my voracious musical appetite. I used music magazines as a way of vicariously experiencing the musical scenes I was only able to connect with through records and CDs. Even way back then in the pre-Internet late ’80s, I felt most music journalism was hollow, focusing largely on fashion, trends and narcissistic writing designed to glorify the writer at the expense of substantive discourse with the artists. Another thing I noticed was that so many interviews read very similarly. Often, the artist was bored to tears or the journalist was completely apathetic towards his or her subject. When I was about 19, I went to university in Ottawa, Canada, which was a real eye-opener for me. The city had a reasonable music scene and hosted many high-profile international touring acts as they traveled between the bigger markets of Toronto and Montreal. During my first year in University, I decided to explore writing for the school paper and the rest was history. The editor at the time seemed keen to have me aboard given my enthusiasm and knowledge about musical currents at the time. Much to my amazement, I was suddenly thrown into rooms with the likes of Laurie Anderson, Rik Emmett and Adrian Belew. To say I was intimidated as hell is an understatement. Typically, music journalists start off by interviewing local bands. I don’t think I slept for the three days leading up to the Laurie Anderson interview – that’s how nervous I was. I had to do a couple dozen interviews before I became remotely comfortable with the interview process. Thankfully, those early interviews, though clunky, resulted in some interesting dialog and provided me with the motivation to continue. I ended up writing for a variety of local and national publications across North America. However, I became increasingly frustrated at my inability to write lengthy, in-depth pieces. The Internet proved to be a forum where my whims could be indulged unfettered. After learning some rudimentary Web development skills, I launched Innerviews in the early ’90s. A lot of people don’t know this, but Innerviews was actually the Internet’s first bona fide music magazine.
AL: ARE YOU A MUSICIAN YOURSELF?
AP: I was pretty seriously devoted to electric bass for about 10 years. I developed some reasonably okay chops, particularly in terms of slapping. Stanley Clarke and Jamaaladeen Tacuma were two of my bass idols growing up. I played a few gigs here and there during my student days, but seeing musicians such as Gary Willis, Michael Manring and Victor Wooten live performances inspired me to focus on my greatest strengths. Clearly, bass playing wasn’t one of them. [laughs].
AL: WHAT IS THE KEY TO DOING A GOOD INTERVIEW?
AP: The key to any good interview, first and foremost, is research. Having worked with many music journalists, I can honestly say the majority of them simply rely on the materials provided by the artist’s record company. These packages usually consist of a page of biographical factoids and a clipping or two from recent magazines. This is the reason so many interviews read exactly the same. A good interviewer scours the Internet and print archives to find interesting, unexplored areas to engage the artist about. The artists often appreciate the opportunity to talk about their lesser known exploits. Facets beyond, but related to music, such as spirituality, their childhood, and life philosophies are other interesting roads to go down. Also, having a familiarity with the artist’s back catalog is essential in my opinion.
AL: DO YOU EVER FEEL THAT THE PERSON WHOM YOU JUST SPOKE TO WAS NOT WHAT YOU EXPECTED THEM TO BE?
AP: I try to separate the art from the artist, but I’m not always successful. Indeed, there have been several interviews in which the artist has been a real piece of work. Sometimes it’s tough not to take personally. And it’s true; there are certain artists I have difficulty listening to anymore as a result of my interaction with them. Having said that, I’ve made some fantastic friendships through the interviews I’ve done as well.
AL: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW APART FROM YOUR WEBSITE?
AP: I’m working on getting married actually. [laughs] Apart from that, I’m putting together a book version of Innerviews. The book will contain previously unpublished interviews, as well as the strongest pieces I’ve done to date. I anticipate the collection to be available sometime in 2004.
AL: DO YOU EVER THINK OF DOING MORE THAN JUST INTERVIEWS?
AP: I think about doing just about anything other than interviews sometimes. The experience of getting an interview is often a torturous exercise in bureaucracy, politics and petty egos. However, this process usually has nothing to do with the artist and is more a reflection of the business structures surrounding them. Thankfully, there is the end result of the interview itself, and when it’s a satisfying, engaging experience, it justifies the procedural ordeal. I’d like to think good interviews have a timeless quality to them. I often point to the work of Leonard Feather. After his passing, people still read his interviews. They still buy his books. His interviews are historical snapshots. Indeed, Feather himself is now part of the jazz canon.
AL: ANY WORDS OF WISDOM FOR YOUR READERS?
AP: Just that Innerviews is truly an honest endeavor. It’s done out of love for the music and nothing more. More than ever, music fans need to do all they can to support artists they admire. I’d like to encourage everyone to keep purchasing their music, buying concert tickets and ensuring these people can continue feeding their families while propelling their fantastic creativity.