Garrett Kamps: We're just past the halfway point of 2005. Can you pick out a front-runner for album of the year?
Matt Ness: It's a bit hard for me to say, because I've never been the sort of music fan who compulsively makes "best of" lists. But I can tell you that the Hold Steady's Separation Sunday has been the album with the most recall in my aural Rolodex thus far. It's a perfect sonic dish of soulful, gritty blues-rawk, sharply seasoned by Craig Finn's visceral and blackly humorous portraits of small-town Midwestern life. [Oh, he's good, this Ness.]
GK: What about song of the year?
MN: I'll slide all the way pop on this one and pick the obvious Song of Summer 2005: Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl." It's really been getting a lot of play in my car -- that's where I end up doing the bulk of my music listening, actually -- partly because it's a lot of fun to blast out the windows as I navigate S.F.'s crazy traffic situations. Diplo's version of the track is especially fresh.
GK: What's been the most popular song downloaded off your blog lately?
MN: Hard Fi's "Hard to Beat" appears to be the top track of the summer, as far as my blog goes. It's an insanely catchy pop-rock song with a dance-club beat by a British band that I think could be on the verge of a major breakthrough if they keep building momentum. And -- unsurprisingly -- the DFA reconstruction of Soulwax's "NY Excuse" is in second place.
GK: Any surprises so far this year? Songs you hated that went on to become hits? Songs that bombed that you might have thought were no- brainers?
MN: I don't know about particular songs -- I don't usually track music scenes at that level of granularity -- but I will say that I'm a bit dismayed at the ongoing reluctance to give serious stateside promotion to the top players in U.K. hip hop. Folks like Wiley, Kano, Lady Sovereign, Shystie, and at the very least Roots Manuva deserve a higher profile out here. I think folks heard Dizzy Rascal -- who is actually one of the more abrasive of the U.K. "grime" bunch -- and just turned their ears off.
GK: What about on the local front? What local bands are on your radar at the moment?
MN: I'm starting to pay a lot of attention to the burgeoning Bay Area hip hop scene, which for some time now has been all about artists from Vallejo and East Oakland, like Frontline, Turf Talk, Keak da Sneak, and Ea-Ski. I'm especially interested in Balance -- he's got all the hustle and flow you might require to catch on in a big way if given half a chance. Stay tuned for his upcoming album The Day That Kali Died. It would be great to see the U.S. go "super-hyphie" with Yay Area rap in the upcoming year.
GK: Which music blogs out there are your favorites? Where do you go to find out about new music?
MN: Well, blogs like Said the Gramophone (www.saidthegramophone.com) and Fluxblog (www.fluxblog.org) inspired me to get into the MP3-plugging business, and they still deliver. The blog that I find most plug-worthy these days is Moistworks (www.moistworks.com), which recently evolved from a one-man operation into something quite transcendent: a collective of professional music journalists, posting wonderful sets of songs from their vast record collections and writing up erudite, entertaining commentary for them. Each new entry delivers a delightful and educational listening/reading experience.
GK: What's something about the music business that you'd like to see change?
MN: I think every music blogger -- or at least the music bloggers who post MP3s -- would like to see the music industry lose its overwhelming paranoia regarding MP3 file-sharing. Or at least temper it into some sort of rational perspective. We often feel like we're in a weird position -- having music sent to us for promotion by artists and labels on one hand and overshadowed by the looming specter of the RIAA on the other.
GK: What's one of the more positive things that's happening right now for bands and fans?
MN: The Internet seems to be breaking the hold that Clear Channel radio stations and the record industry giants have on the "musical conversation," with music sites like Pitchfork, social networking applications like MySpace, and blogs changing the way people discover and appreciate new music. It seems like good music now has a number of new avenues to find wider audiences, and I just don't see how anyone can hate that.
GK: How/when did you get into blogging?
MN: Blogging for me was originally just a strategy for writing practice; ever since I was a kid I've always been most motivated to write when I've had an audience for my prose. It transformed into a music blog early last year, when I was starting to get really disenchanted with writing about mundane things like my cats' nasty feline hygiene issues. I've always loved playing songs for people and talking about the music I like, and this sort of lets me do both at once, online, to a mass audience. It's been great fun so far.
GK: Finally, do music bloggers get chicks?
MN: Well, my wife seems to think that any day now I'm going to have women throwing themselves at me based on my blog writings, but I really can't figure out what the draw would be. Married music geeks in their mid-30s can't possibly score that high on the "must seduce" lists of many women.