Q&A with Marc Hogan

Des Moines resident Marc Hogan, 30, has the job you wish you had. Going to shows, interviewing musicians, reviewing new albums—it’s all in a day’s work for a SPIN magazine and Pitchfork magazine contributor. The Auburn, Calif. product takes a few minutes and gets down to business on the best albums this year, taking naps between 80/35 acts, and being quoted in the New York Times. Do I have your attention yet? He also has an original painting of R. Kelly in his home. Now I’ve got you.

Marc (left) with Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich.
Photo cred: Whitney Grey Courtney Nastanovich

Band Bombshell: What song has been stuck in your head lately?
Marc Hogan: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” It’s so catchy!

 BB: Give me a little bit of your background. How did you get where you are today?
MH: Luck and caffeine. I’ve just always loved writing, and whenever I had a choice on what to write about, I’ve gravitated toward music. Pitchfork accepted me by application to start writing for them in 2004 and I’ve been doing it ever since.

BB: How did you get involved with SPIN?
MH: I was never, like, a regular, monthly reader of SPIN, but it was always around when I was in high school and totally helped shape my tastes. I still remember being inspired to buy, like, Cornershop’s When I Was Born for the Seventh Time because it was on the list of the best albums of 1997. So, it took a while for the idea that actually writing for SPIN might be a possibility to dawn on me. I’d already been writing regularly for Pitchfork for about three years when I thought, hey, maybe I can do this other places, too—I’m bad about career-oriented stuff like that—and asked a friend if he had any editor’s contact info.

Randomly, my dear childhood friend from Auburn, Calif., had grown up to be as obsessed with music as I was and worked as a publicist out of Oregon, had an e-mail address for me. I dropped SPIN a line. They knew my work, they let me start writing about stuff, and then last summer, when SPIN was going through big changes, editorial director Charles Aaron—the guy who I really owe my opportunities at SPIN to—asked me if I’d like to write for them every day. It’s such an honor and a thrill to get to do this, and I don’t take it lightly. For me, this is living the dream.

BB: Who else have you written for?
MH: I also write a lot for eMusic.com. And my non-music gig is still contributing to publications owned by a division of the Financial Times. At that job, I mainly write news analysis pieces about corporate governance issues. (You still there?) The people I work with are amazing and have been really awesome about letting me be flexible over the years, move to Iowa, do my other writing, all of that. And now I have an understanding about business and the economy that I would never have had otherwise. It has been pretty useful for following events these past few years!

When it comes to music, I’ve also written for Salon.com, the Chicago Tribune, Paste, the Village Voice, Playboy.com, and UR Chicago. And on the braggy end of things, I’ve twice had my work receive a “notable” mention in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing books, but I’ve never actually had a piece published in there. Did get quoted three times over the years by the New York Times, though!

BB: What was the first thing you’ve ever had published and who was it for?
MH: I’ve been writing and seeing my work in print and online in various forms for almost as long as I can remember. It’s weird how the definition of “published” is kind of blurry these days, isn’t it? I mean, I think I had an essay about Where the Red Fern Grows for my seventh-grade English teacher Mr. Smith that he put in a school literary magazine or something like that.

I was fortunate enough to be able to write for a “teen” page in the Arizona Republic during high school. It was called “Alt.” But that was back when newspapers had budgets that went for something other than paying executives to retire. Anyway, most of my early writing is painful for me to read. I’m still proud of this slightly pretentious Elliott Smith tribute I wrote in 2003 for PopMatters.

BB: What is it that you love about music writing?
MH: There’s a line a professor of mine once said that goes something like this: “I hate writing. I love to have written.” And I know what he was saying. Writing is hard work! It’s gut-wrenching, if you’re doing it right. But when it all comes together and you feel like you’ve done the best you can to help people understand how a particular work of music might make them feel… Well, it’s cathartic for me, for sure. In another weird way, when I was in school I always kind of enjoyed cranking out all those essays for English classes, coming up with my own interpretations of what a given work meant. That’s still sort of what I’m doing today, except with music instead of books. And I’m allowed to cuss.

Rockin’ out at last year’s 80/35 festival
Photo cred: Angela Schneider Hogan

BB: Tell me about the coolest person you’ve had the chance to interview.
MH: I’ve never really loved interviewing artists as much as I like writing criticism, just because it’s all part of this publicity routine and you rarely get people to open up beyond their pat answers.

But Robyn, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan are some of my favorite people I’ve interviewed in person. I’ve interviewed Jens Lekman, Love Is All, Air France, the Boy Least Likely To, Super Furry Animals, Peter Bjorn and John, and the Tough Alliance by phone or e-mail, and I really love their music, too. I’m sure I’m forgetting others: Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Win Butler from Arcade Fire, Colin Meloy from the Decemberists, Will Sheff from Okkervil River.

BB: Onto concerts. Tell me about your favorite one.
MH: There are too many. Deerhunter at the Pitchfork festival last year was possibly the greatest performance I have ever seen. When I was younger and more innocent—and maybe more open to making myself totally vulnerable—there were a couple of pre-fame John Mayer shows that would probably have to make the list.

But maybe the single most memorable concert experience for me was going to Denmark’s Roskilde Festival a few years back with Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson. We saw Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine, Neil Young, Robyn, Chemical Brothers, Santigold, and too many other performers to name. It’s a beautiful country and a wonderful festival, but the music was just phenomenal, too. You know, Robyn might actually be my personal favorite artist. It just drives me crazy that her more recent work isn’t really available on vinyl.

BB: What’s your most embarrassing concert moment?
MH: I had to go home and take a nap during Dan Deacon and Death Cab for Cutie at this year’s 80/35 Music Festival here in Des Moines. That’s pretty lame. But I had a good reason! We have an 8-month-old baby—who was with his grandparents that night—and I needed to rest up for the afterparty down the street at my favorite venue, Vaudeville Mews. It was the live debut of booker Ladd Askland’s band, Pure Gut!

BB: Would you call yourself a musician?
MH: I don’t know if I’d call myself a musician, but I took piano lessons as a kid, and I play a bit of guitar. I definitely feel like having some familiarity with how people create music has helped in writing about it, but it’s not necessarily a job requirement—in my mind, I’m writing from the perspective of a listener, not a musician. It’s about connecting with people.

BB: Who’s your favorite local musician? Any memorable Des Moines shows?
MH: I’m biased at this point because it’s a small city and I know all of these people—Pat from the Poison Control Center and his wife Ashley baby-sat my kid last Saturday, and the other night they helped me get my turntables home from a DJing gig—but I still have to say the Poison Control Center. The first time I saw them, one of my first nights in Des Moines, when Bob Nastanovich from Pavement joined them onstage, was definitely one of the most revelatory show experiences I’ve ever had in my life. It was like, how have I been missing out on these guys all this time? And if I’ve been missing out on them, what else might I have been missing out on? It’s too hard to pick a favorite PCC show, though. They often end with lots of friends screaming along and joining the guys onstage.

Like father, like son
Photo provided by Marc Hogan

BB: What do you love about the Des Moines music scene?
MH: It’s so intimate and friendly. It’s a big enough place that it has a number of good bands and artists, and lots of groups I love stop through here. But it’s small enough that it feels like everybody’s in it together. And when a group like, say, Japandroids or Purity Ring (another 2012 favorite for me) stops by at Vaudeville Mews, it’s just down the block from me.

I can see them in a small crowd, when they might not know some jerk who writes for SPIN and Pitchfork is watching, and I can see something that my friends and peers back in New York won’t. Dancing in the wee hours on a weeknight to this great Swedish band Love Is All with maybe two dozen people all doing our best to make up in energy what we lacked in numbers? Moments like that have been really special.

BB: What albums are you really looking forward to?
MH: The ones I’ve really been excited for this year have mostly come out in the past couple of months. Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE was the biggie. Jens Lekman’s new one is a bit more understated than his last one, but it’s great, too. Big Boi and Lil Wayne are both putting out albums later this year, and even though my expectations aren’t as high as they would have been for those guys a couple of years ago, I’m still excited to see what they come up with. Also, the new album from The xx and Bat for Lashes.

BB: Who do you find yourself listening to the most?
MH: Blur was my favorite band in high school. The Poison Control Center is my favorite band to see live. Fiona Apple, Frank Ocean, and Japandroids have put out some of my favorite albums of 2012. But the only musician I have an original painting of in my home is R. Kelly.

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