Behind The Blog: Blogs Are For Dogs
I've got no evidence to suggest Josh McDonald is a supertaster, one of those genetic exceptions who taste everything with greater intensity. But even if he's not, there's no arguing that the guy's got some pretty awesome taste. He's notably consistent in his championing, zeroing in time and time again on acts that deserve the spotlight. Six days a week, he builds Blogs Are For Dogs into a solid site with a strong focus and a reliable level of quality. In fact, if I were to compare it to any band out there, I'd say Blogs Are For Dogs would be the Spoon of the cyber-set, subtly refining and fine-tuning amid a steady output marked with hard work and good taste. Here's my talk with the man behind the blog:
Blogs Are For Dogs: Hi, Nerd Litter.
Nerd Litter: Hey man, how's everything going?
BAFD: Fantastic. It's a good time to be a music blogger.
NL: Why's that?
BAFD: I think this has been a pretty good year for new music, at least as far as my tastes go.
NL: Yeah, it's getting better. Are you still infatuated with Ga5?
BAFD: Very much so. It’s pretty remarkable how a band can vary so little in their style and yet sustain everyone's interest over almost a decade together. If Spoon keep it up for a few more albums, I may have to start one of those oeuvre blogs.
NL: Kill The Insight. I could see it.
BAFD: What, do you have some sort of clever title generator program over there at Nerd Litter HQ?
NL: Yeah, it's a pack of indentured elves. They're like Oompa Loompas, but with no health benefits.
BAFD: Keeps your overhead down.
NL: Exactly, keeps the blog millions rolling in. You said recently that you realized Spoon was your favorite band. What were some of the others in contention?
BAFD: I don't think about my absolute favorite all that much, but I have fallen for bands before—embarrassingly enough, I loved Dave Matthews for a period in college.
NL: Yikes, you know there will be other people reading this.
BAFD: It seems pretty incongruous now, but my friends and I listened to Radiohead and Dave Matthews and the Pixies and didn't feel all that weird about it.
NL: Yeah, I was looking at my first booklet of burned CDs and it’s such a weird mix of cool and mortifying and coolly mortifying.
BAFD: Hey, even Ryan Schrieber has his embarrassing P-fork archives to live with.
NL: Which is all of them.
BAFD: Well, that Rapture review was only a few years ago.
NL: I’m nervous my archives will embarrass me eventually, if they don't already. Oh well, that's the price you pay for putting yourself out there. What do you think of your predictions about the best albums of 2007? Are you still standing by those?
BAFD: More or less, yeah—what I think really helps about those albums is keeping them in my memory as the year goes on. So much of blogging is disposable that you tend to forget about what you loved a few months ago, so remembering what impressed me back in January gives those early albums a chance. Menomena, for instance, I really like that record.
NL: Yeah, that's still my favorite album this year. I'll get into fistfights over that one. Or really for any other reason. What's been your biggest surprise this year, either positively or negatively?
BAFD: I think Sky Blue Sky was really a surprise. Especially the reaction it received, which tended to inspire a few fights itself. As much as I've listened to it, I still don't know if I like it that well.
"I'm like Scrooge McDuck.
I come home to a pool of money."
NL: Yeah, they kind of lost me after YHF. I still can't really get into A Ghost Is Born either.
BAFD: it was sort of a sidestep in my mind, but SBS is a whole other thing.
NL: Definitely, I can't get into them for totally different reasons. I see what they were intending with both, but I dunno, I never have the urge to put them on. I'd rather hear Summerteeth or Mermaid Avenue any day.
BAFD: Now you're talking, Summerteeth is pretty much impossible to argue with.
NL: True. All right, I'm going to backtrack a bit now, since we kind of leaped into the thick of it. Why'd you start your blog originally?
BAFD: Like most bloggers, I read a lot of blogs originally and so I decided to try my hand at it. At first, I was writing mostly about pop culture with MP3s occasionally tossed in, but that genre was so dominated by writers with such original voices that I wanted to go in a direction that wasn't so saturated. Music blogging was a natural choice, because no one writes one these days and there’s no competition.
NL: That's true. We're total pioneers. In fact, I usually have to explain what MP3s are to people. They're like, my typing box will play melody-beats? And then I'm like, yes Mom, please stop calling me. Where'd your name come from?
BAFD: My wife actually—she was getting angry over all the time I spent online and jokingly said, “blogs are for dogs” in a derogatory sense. Next thing she knows, I'm spending even more time writing one of my own and using her words as an inspiration. It's a miracle we're still married really.
NL: Has she come to terms with it yet?
BAFD: More or less, although unlike most of my friends and family, she rarely reads it.
NL: That’s interesting. Did she say why? Unresolved resentment?
BAFD: That’s probably it—it’s hard to live with someone whose musical interests border on obsession.
NL: I feel like I'll have to marry a music blogger. That'll be the only way to ensure sympathy.
BAFD: As “mainstream” as they've become, explaining blogs to the uninitiated still makes you sound impossibly nerdy.
NL: When I hang out with other bloggers, we mostly just commiserate about how it takes over our lives. And we drink like alcoholics.
BAFD: Hey, if you're going to do something, do it right.
NL: So you're from Garland originally?
BAFD: Yeah, the suburbs.
NL: How much like King of The Hill is it?
BL: Parts of it, very. There are a lot of trucks and high school football is everything, especially on Friday nights. I went to a few games my senior year, and I have to admit it's quite a spectacle. I think if you took a poll of MP3 bloggers from Texas, you'd find them much more inclined to like sports than the general MP3 blogger.
NL: My high school football team played on a field in the Bronx two hours from our school. I think four or five people went per game. Do you like living in Texas?
BAFD: Not particularly. Until we bought a house this year, my wife and I were always hatching harebrained schemes that involved running away to Hawaii or Fiji that never quite materialized. And also it’s too damned hot, although lately so is everywhere.
NL: But Texas is still a world onto itself. I haven’t been there yet, but I doubt I'd fit in there. I'm so East Coast, I'm practically European. I rock a beret and everything.
BAFD: There are enclaves of liberalism here, or else I don't think I'd survive.
NL: Yeah, that’s how I felt about living in Virginia.
BAFD: And on the plus side, being so close to Crawford makes it easier to protest Bush.
NL: Yeah, one more protest, and I’m pretty sure he'll see the light. He's right on the cusp of total enlightenment.
BAFD: We're so close!
NL: I'm gonna go make my sign right now. I think it'll say, "My dick would make a better Vice-President" or something equally charming.
BAFD: At least it gives me an excuse to wear my Point Break-style Bush mask.
NL: Dude, you don't need an excuse for that. Just waking up is all the excuse you need.
BAFD: It's called Casual Friday.
NL: No, that's when I wear my wifebeater and cutoffs to the office. And the beret, natch.
BAFD: You're quite the sporty dresser. Did you like Public Enemy a lot or what?
NL: I'm also single-handedly reclaiming bowties for the Democrats. Yeah, I do like Public Enemy a lot, but really, who doesn't? Racists, that's who.
BAFD: I'd take Prof. Griff's style over Flav's any day.
NL: Yeah, and to Griff's credit, he hasn't appeared on any VH1 nonsense. Who are some of your favorite philosophers?
BAFD: Heidegger has been very influential on the way I think, probably many of the other well-regarded existentialists—Sartre of course, Nietzsche is very trendy, but Heidegger is the one who probably dominates my bookshelves the most.
NL: That's impressive to me. I find Heidegger and others like Hegel too impenetrable to delve into on my own.
BAFD: That's why I got the degree—to impress people—that, and the money of course.
NL: Yeah, between the BA and the blog, you must be edging up into the seven-digit range. I make a lot of money in my job too though, which is counterfeiting money.
BAFD: I'm like Scrooge McDuck. I come home to a pool of money. My backstroke is Olympic-caliber.
NL: That show made no sense to me. How the fuck do you swim in a vault of gold coins? Have you tried that? It hurts like hell. What are they teaching our poor, impressionable kids?
BAFD: Okay, but what’s not to get about Launchpad? He was awesome.
NL: He promoted bad messages about air traffic safety.
BAFD: Also, we just transitioned from Heidegger to Launchpad McQuack in less than a paragraph. That's got to be some kind of interview record.
NL: Sadly not for me. What's your favorite part about blogging?
BAFD: That's easy—I'm a whore for the audience, I get a kick out of knowing that people are reading what I have to say and the conversations it engenders.
NL: What's the worst part?
BAFD: I think it's changed the way I approach music. Though I still blog out of a sense of fandom, it also carries a certain feeling of obligation and an urge to keep moving on to newer and shinier things. It makes the music even more disposable than it already is in MP3 form.
"No, sir, I'm Spencer Krug Fanboy #1.
At least that's what my T-shirt says."
NL: Yeah, especially when you're getting bombarded by so many publicists too.
BAFD: Thank God for Gmail’s spam filter. Although a few gems do turn up that way, mostly from the bands themselves.
NL: How do you find out about the music you write up?
BAFD: Message boards are a great asset. You hear a lot of good recommendations that way. Going to the fans of a band you like tends to get some pretty passionate opinions. Sometimes, the rare promo find, or even some MySpace trolling will turn up something really good. Just reading a lot of blogs and participating in this sort of ad hoc community we're creating, it exposes you to a lot of music you wouldn't otherwise hear, so even if you aren't the first to discover a band, you can still write interesting and passionate things about it.
NL: Yeah, but if you're not first, what's the point?
BAFD: Look at blog comments—people are always eager to shout FIRST!, but the more interesting comments are the well-thought out ones that come later.
NL: Yeah, but being thoughtful can get depressing. I get way more hits from a Justice remix with no text than a review that took me three days to write.
BAFD: If you were in it for the hits alone, I doubt we'd be doing this interview though.
NL: What do you mean? Don't you write Stereogum?
BAFD: No, dude, he's from New York.
NL: Ahh, fuck.
BAFD: I'm from Gorilla vs. Bear.
NL: I went to this Idolator party once and people kept asking me who I was. Of course, all the girls were like, Nerdy who? So I told one of them I was Gorilla Chris and she actually got really excited. I told her I wasn't Chris in the morning at least.
BAFD: Right, blogging gets you laid! When I go to shows around Dallas and people find out I'm a blogger, they always ask me if I'm Chris.
NL: In New York, nobody asks because literally everybody in the front rows is a blogger. It's like a who's who of sad geeks.
NL: So how much of an ongoing and deep-seeded rivalry with GvsB do you have?
BAFD: We might leave the odd comment on each other's blogs, but dude doesn't have time for rivalries, I'd imagine. When both of our blogs were in their infancies, I entered a contest of his and won, but I gave him the wrong address—it was a fiasco. You can try and create a rivalry out of that if you want to get creative.
NL: “Gorilla vs. Dogs: ‘Chris’s Contests Rigged,’ charges livid Josh.”
BAFD: Mostly, I just try to craft a niche in the giant shadow of his daily awesomeness.
NL: Who's a musician you think deserves more attention than they're getting?
BAFD: I think Emily Haines should be getting more attention. Maybe people just know her as a Metric/BSS member, but her solo debut and recent EP are awesome.
NL: I didn't like the album that much, but I love "Doctor Blind." I pretty much just play that song and look at a picture of her.
BAFD: Or you could just watch the video on your typing box.
NL: Yeah, it is a pretty sweet video. Why did you decide to feature short stories recently? Was flouting musical copyrights not enough for you?
BAFD: Right—it makes me a little nervous, but I wanted to live on the edge. I'm a full-fledged intellectual-property rights outlaw.
NL: I sell printouts of Harry Potter on my lawn. I figure if J.K. Rowling has a problem with it, she'll email me.
BAFD: I haven’t read Harry Potter, but the Chinese bootleg versions are pretty entertaining.
NL: I'm about to go to China. Maybe I can write my own out there. Harry Potter and The Litter of Nerds.
BAFD: Dude, pick me up a copy. I’m dying to find out if Darth Vader will kill Hermione before Gandalf comes back from the dead.
NL: Spoiler alert! He turns out to be Hermione's father.
BAFD: Actually, the screen just cuts to black at the end.
NL: And it turns out it was a flash-forward, not a flashback.
BAFD: And to totally kill this joke, Harry wakes up at the end with Suzanne Pleshette and it was all a dream. Ta-da!
NL: I haven't read any of the books, but if it actually ends any other way, I’ll now be disappointed. Thanks for ruining a decade of whimsy in one fell blow.
BAFD: It's what I do. I'm a ruiner.
NL: All hilarity aside, tell me about the short stories.
BAFD: I thought of it while reading Said The Gramophone or Tuwa or someone who practically writes short stories of their own with every MP3, and since I'm not talented or brave enough to share creative writing of my own, I thought I'd just steal from others, more or less.
NL: What are some of your dream concerts? Without resurrecting any cadavers.
BAFD: Fair enough. Actually, I'm pretty excited about the Spoon/New Pornos show coming up in Dallas, but a dream come true would be some sort of Last-Waltz-era The Band supergroup with Tim Rutili from Califone and Feist and the guys from Grizzly Bear, with St. Vincent on guitar and John Stanier on drums. Reading that now, it sounds really weird and I would probably hate it, but that's what I've been listening to lately.
NL: Is John Stanier the guy from Helmet and Battles?
BAFD: Yes. Weird pairing, I know, but I think he would do great with St. Vincent. Some sort of proto-prog fantasy.
NL: I actually had no idea who he was. I just pretended I did and then looked it up. Ahh, if only I had Wikipedia in real-life dialogues, I'd be unstoppable. But anyway, yeah, I agree that St. Vincent's great. She can pretty much do anything. I'm eagerly awaiting for her nu-rave and reggae albums to surface.
BAFD: She's pretty amazing. I think Sunset Rubdown could do a pretty great reggae record.
NL: I think Spencer Krug will progress to something so dense and thick, he'll invent a whole new genre called sludge. I feel like I need rainboots just to wade into Random Spirit Lover. What are some of the best concerts you've seen over the last few years?
BAFD: I recently caught Menomena for the second time, and they're pretty mesmerizing live. St. Vincent of course too. Her natural charisma is probably what makes her so appealing.
NL: I keep missing Menomena by some weird fluke. I’ll either be out of town or on the run from the law or something equally disappointing.
BAFD: They pull off the density of the record pretty well and the harmonies are even better live. And I know what you mean about Krug. He's on the verge of something great, maybe with this new Wolf Parade record.
NL: When I saw him live, he was really depressed because it was his birthday and he barely even wanted to play. Even after I hugged and high-fived him, it didn't help. But I would say Shut Up I Am Dreaming is great already.
BAFD: True, it was my official favorite of '05, whatever that amounts to. But I think he could do something like Kid A-level great. No, sir, I'm Spencer Krug Fanboy #1. At least that's what my T-shirt says.
NL: Shut up and keep dreaming.
NL: He was my artist of '06 after all. Top that.
BAFD: '06? Yeah, that's what I meant. Shut Up came out in '06, didn't it?
BAFD: Damn it, you can have my shirt now. I don't deserve it.
NL: Yeah, that was a pretty humiliating flub on your part. Meanwhile, I don't even know what day of the week it is. Yesterday, I was like, I'm so glad it's Saturday, I don't have to blog. And my friend, was like, I don't think it's Saturday.
BAFD: Now with these short stories, I only take Sundays off.
NL: Wow. I'd like to write every day, but it's hard to be a writer and a blogger at the same time. I have only a small reservoir of creative energy and only so much time.
BAFD: I tend to get burned out pretty fast myself, but there’s usually enough music to keep my interest.
NL: According to elbo.ws, there are 2300 or so blogs right now. If we all just combined our efforts into one superblog, we could each contribute our very best effort every six years or so. I could definitely put together one hell of an amazing post in six years.
BAFD: Agreed, but by then we'd all have moved on to some other band.
NL: Damn, that's true. Other than that, it'd be really viable though.
BAFD: Right, that's the one hang-up.
"If for no other reason than
tax purposes, I can't wait to claim
some little dependents in the future!"
NL: If I ever retire my blog, I'm just going to write occasional posts in your comments section.
BAFD: Look out—my spam filter is pretty rigorous. It'll probably assume you want to transfer money from Nigeria.
NL: Yeah, in June, Blogger took away my blog because they thought it was spam.
BAFD: It isn't?
NL: No, it is. I sent them an email congratulating them for figuring it out. But somehow, through a series of unfortunate coincidences, it got reinstated and now I have to write it again.
BAFD: I hate Blogger now, although it did once play host to my inauspicious beginnings.
NL: Yeah, everybody has their own domains and hosting but me. I'm the only dude still keeping it real. And by real, I mean poor.
BAFD: Whoa, right. Rock the old-school PE beret and kick it Blogger-style.
NL: I'm living like it's 1989. Ms. Pacman is the biggest thing in my life right now. I just figured out how to warp to World 4 in Super Mario Brothers. Madonna is still somewhat relevant.
BAFD: I got in an argument about this once, but if blogging was around in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, how would it have changed indie back then, and how would blogging have been different? Could we have kept the Pixies from breaking up?
NL: No, even bloggers couldn't hold back that hate. But I do think that the indie community would've been more vibrant and able to reach lots of undiscovered listeners. It's just hard to throw down fourteen bucks on a band you've never heard and that nobody is covering. Streaming and sampling before you buy make it easier to wade before you dive.
BAFD: I guess we would’ve just been like zines, only online. I dunno if it would've been that different.
NL: Right, but I don't think blogs would've looked very good in QBasic. And hey, at least our collective powers willed the Pixies into reforming.
BAFD: If you can call it that.
NL: I dunno, they were still amazing when I saw them in '05. Frank Black can still wail like a banshee on steroids. Plus, now we’re keeping Britt Daniel in jewels and furs and making bands like Spoon, that got so unceremoniously dropped by Elektra, into household names. Well, if college dorms and crappy studios count as households.
BAFD: I know, things get scarier every year—you can't watch TV without listening to Iron and Wine.
NL: What's a TV? Oh, you mean non-interactive typing boxes?
BAFD: Exactly. Now that I realize 30 Rock is online, I don't have to watch NBC anymore.
NL: It’s online? I've been meaning to check it out. Tina Fey is a UVA alum and I’ve gotta support the Cavaliers.
BAFD: Yeah, the whole first season is on nbc.com, I think. Tina Fey is my nerd crush.
NL: I'm still suspicious of officially released media. I'm like, wait, I don't have to download it on a torrent? What's the catch here?
BAFD: They still have crappy ads is the catch.
NL: Hmm, my nerd crush is... God, I'm so unnerdy. All my crushes are stunningly hot in the usual ways.
BAFD: Jessica Alba supposedly likes LCD Soundsystem. Make of that what you will.
NL: I’ll pass. I need the total package of hotness and good acting. So I was thinking of getting married. Do you recommend it?
BAFD: Definitely. If for no other reason than tax purposes, I can't wait to claim some little dependents in the future!
NL: That's both sweet and economically savvy. Okay well, I guess I'll start looking for someone then. I suppose that's the first step.
BAFD: I know, right—plus, you get to make a little bet with yourself: which will last longer, my marriage or my blog?
NL: Hmm, that’d be a tossup for me. On the one hand, I think about quitting this blog every morning I have to post. On the other, I saw this really amazing coed, and I thought to myself, wow, she'd make a great third wife. How'd you meet your spouse?
BAFD: It's a pretty sappy story actually—we went to high school together. We didn't actually start dating until the day of graduation, so it isn't a textbook high-school-sweethearts thing, but it’s pretty close.
NL: Hmm, that's a good idea. I'll start hanging around high schools more. And also graduating from them more.
BAFD: That’s the ticket. Pull a Billy Madison.
NL: Hey man, this is a PG-13 blog.
BAFD: Sorry, as it turns out, most of my advice leads directly to felony charges and grand juries. I once told Michael Vick to get a pet and look how that turned out.
NL: Too soon, dude, too soon. Who are some writers you really like, other than your already revealed short story favorites?
BAFD: As far as music writing, I really admire Jim Derogatis. Obviously, he's great, but for fiction, I never outgrew my adolescent admiration for Salinger. I also really like Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, and Michael Chabon as contemporary writers. Don DeLillo is great too; his new one is growing on me.
NL: Yeah, I recently read Falling Man for my book club. DeLillo's the first serious writer I really got hooked on and I love Eugenides too. Franzen and Chabon I like, but sometimes, they get on my nerves. Like when they appeared on The Simpsons instead of me. Tell me three facts your readers may not know about you.
BAFD: 1. I like old school hip-hop more than I let on, and would write about it more often if there weren't already so many better such blogs out there. 2. I was a major debate nerd in high school and college. 3. I actually don't own a dog at all.
NL: Wow, I feel like I don't know you at all anymore.
BAFD: I know. I desperately want a boxer, but my wife wants something smaller and cuter, like a papillon.
NL: Don't get a papillon. That's not even a reference to the National.
BAFD: I know, right, I try to work that into every decision I make—What would Matt Berninger do?
NL: Drink in lonely bars and occasionally scream psychotic things probably. But yeah, if I get the tie-breaking vote, which I don't see why I wouldn't, I'd say go with the boxer.
BAFD: It's settled then.
NL: What should my last question to you be?
BAFD: Something witty and offensive like that adorable Carlos Mencia.
NL: He is so adorable. I was just thinking that.
BAFD: I love him so much. How can we fit more of his commercials into The Daily Show or The Colbert Report?
NL: What's the best thing about you?
BAFD: I just grew my first beard at age 27. It looks glorious.
NL: But you have a babyface. There’s so much cognitive dissonance there.
BAFD: I know, that's why I had to have the beard. Otherwise, people confuse me for Nick Carter or some other boy-bander. Now I look like Nick Lachey!
NL: I think that might be a step down. Like, a whole step in the evolutionary chain down.
BAFD: Oh crap. I should've gone with Sam Beam.
NL: I just grew a beard too. It's really ugly-looking and scraggly and weird. I kind of like it because I look as tortured as I feel. I'm also ready just in case grunge decides to come back.
BAFD: Oh yeah, any day now.
NL: Hell, I'm just one plaid shirt away from digging up all my old Candlebox CDs. [Editor's note: I don't really have any old Candlebox CDs.] So is 27 turning out to be everything you hoped it’d be?
BAFD: That and more—when we finally have kids, I think that'll be the sign that my marriage has finally outlived my blog.
NL: You could spinoff your blog too though. Blogs Are For Puppies. Write about indie children's songs and lullabies on vinyl.
BAFD: But until then, it's daily MP3s with a healthy dose of marital resentment.
NL: I'm still kind of daunted by the fact that you're already married and have a house. I'm 25 and I'm just happy when girls return my calls. Maybe I should quit taking them to Red Lobster and then to the backs of Buicks on every date.
BAFD: It's been four years of marriage now, and five years of dating before that. We're almost at ten years together.
NL: Holy fuck, I'm intolerable after about a year of knowing me. And even that year isn’t all that full of sunshine. I'll have to get a wife per year just to make it work. Oh, and also, for some reason, the main thing I picture doing while married is parasailing with my bride. I have no idea why i imagine that.
BAFD: That’s pretty surreal, but also pretty awesome. Is she in the wedding gown?
NL: No, we're both wearing wetsuits and grinning wild jester grins. Oh, and she's wearing a Cheney mask too. But it’s hot younger Cheney, not scary older Cheney. Yeah, I should probably just go ahead and learn to parasail. That’s probably what’s been holding me back.
BAFD: Everyone knows that’s the first step in wedding planning: 1. Learn to parasail 2. Buy the dress. I thought that was assumed.
NL: I think I'm going to wear a kilt at my wedding and my wedding song's going to be "Work It" by Missy Elliott.
BAFD: It's good that you have a plan.
NL: Yeah, "Work It” is going to be the dealbreaker.
BAFD: Oh, it certainly will be that.
NL: When you have kids, can you name one or more of them Charlie?
BAFD: If I do get that boxer, my wife will probably want naming rights for all the kids.
NL: If you get the boxer, can you name it Matt Berninger then? Or Abel or Karen or Ada at least.
BAFD: Deal. Abel, I kind of like that. It’s certainly catchier than Mr. November.
NL: Or The Geese of Beverly Road.
NL: Man, talking to you is like a dream I never want to end. In a straight way, that is.
BAFD: You sure know how to make a guy feel comfortable.
NL: Only online. In person, I'm a sweaty, stuttering nebbish. My handshakes are like melted candy bars.
NL: Do you think we should end it on that stunning note?
BAFD: I suppose so.
* MP3: "The Underdog" - Spoon from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga [Buy it]
* MP3: "Doctor Blind" - Emily Haines from Knives Don't Have Your Back [Buy it]
* MP3: "Slow Show" (White Sessions, 5-24-07) - The National [Buy other National]