We recently discovered HIGHWAY magazine, a new music magazine based in the D.C., covering people in the background of music-making. The magazine is deliberately pocket-sized, according to its creator, Vicente Gutierrez. The first issue, which came to us in October, is thick but it has an enormous range of content varying from band photo archives, interviews, memories from people in the independent music scene. Vicente Gutierrez shows us what is behind his idea of a music mag.
First of all, we want to congratulate you for the work you have done in HIGHWAY. Can you tell us a little bit more about HIGHWAY’s DNA?
Thank you very much David. HIGHWAY is a new publication about the culture in and around music and sound so we’re putting each issue together with the musicians, writers, artists, thinkers, documentarians and storytellers involved in these two areas. We devote less space to aesthetic commentary because this conversation is already vibrant in a number of other outlets. There are also pieces on musicians who are relevant or contemporary and worth checking out. As a magazine, HIGHWAY is interested in everything from the way music has been used in political campaigns to how it propels people to completely alter their lives and much more. In terms of our visual DNA, I didn’t want to place the portrait of one artist on the cover for a number of reasons, and I see this gesture as an effort to alter the conversation. I think the magazine will be a meaningful addition to our existing conversations and thoughts concerning music in our lives. HIGHWAY is also meant to be a slower read so we are releasing two thick issues per year.
What does it mean to you to have launched a project like this one?
The release of HIGHWAY means that there is now another voice in the international conversation, speaking about the role music and sound play in our lives— the way we listen, the way we remember particular cultural moments and objects. Page to page, we embrace anachronism as time travel while remaining suspicious of both nostalgia and what is readily considered “new” — the magazine doesn’t rely on the “latest” as an editorial model because as I said, that conversation is happening elsewhere. This leads to a concern for the future, and this partly influenced the naming of the magazine.
You run a publication targeted at select market niches which, as it happens, are also becoming more significant. How do you deal with the challenge of reaching those desirable niches?
While we know we have a different editorial approach to music and sound culture, I would like to say that HIGHWAY is not necessarily trying to be niche, and from the earliest stages of production, I have aimed to have our first issue available internationally, whether we have a distributor or not. To date, I’m grateful for the support of our initial retailers, like Printed Matter in New York and Colette in Paris, who understand what we are trying to do. HIGHWAY is open to reaching anyone who is interested in reading about music or sound— from the most popular music magazines to independent zines. People know the world can be explained through a variety of lenses. Music and Sound permeate our surroundings and relations and, unlike our eyes, our ears don’t have lids to block stimuli. We also know sound waves vibrate through walls and to me this means sound even pervades into our institutions— cultural and political. The way to address this challenge is to subtly blend forceful writing— perhaps radical critique— with satire to complement readers’ world views. Another challenge we face is becoming a reader-supported publication. One way we’re working towards this is through a varied international events program and having digital subscriptions for smart phones and tablets. As you said, the challenge is reaching and building an international readership, so we’re on Instagram and Twitter, we’ll be doing some events, and the content is available through a minimal reader-style App to go where our print edition may not be able to.
It is a big challenge to launch a printed magazine taking into account the current supremacy of digital technology. Yours is a pocket-sized magazine with an app version for smartphones. Why would one choose paper today? And why go for this size? How do paper and the App complement each other?
It is challenging but you have to take that challenge head on and not let any naysayers deny you. People who love print, love print— from books to magazines to even gift wrapping paper. I think everyone should take a moment to assess their media budget— in terms of how much time and money they spend on all forms of print and digital media— to see if they’re getting too much of the same or how they could diversify what they read. Personally, the perceived crisis surrounding print isn’t solely a technological argument and we are seeing digital and print thrive together in a variety of scenarios. I have long felt that print and digital media suffer from the same crisis— bad ideas. Slick coding, design and hashtags can only take you so far. Print and digital publications cease to exist when the editorial ceases to be relevant or challenging to our contemporary, or more importantly— future— setting. Print does wrestle with cost structures, but readers—and advertisers— love compelling content. There are independent print and digital publications thriving because they are intriguing and bold. It’s not enough just to “be different” or focus on “the best.” There is a lot more to the story than that.
One reason we decided to print HIGHWAY is because of the distractions when reading in cyberspace— from advertisements or other intrusions. And that is OK, it’s a fundamental part of participating. Publishing in print or on iOS devices allows readers to sit wherever they are and focus in on our content. I wanted to create a simpler reading experience that is also variable, so that’s one reason we went with the pocket-size format, to accompany the reader wherever. This magazine is meant to be a conversation starter and a companion— people can bring HIGHWAY in their pocket or bag and start reading or looking at the images and start talking or thinking.
This issues carries a wonderful selection of images that complement the interviews and the concept. What were your criteria when researching and choosing them? What should an image convey in order to be part of this collection?
Thank you for your kind words, there was of course a preference towards unpublished work, so when my friend and photographer Joe Dilworth shared some of his photography, for example outtakes from a My Bloody Valentine album cover photo shoot, I was enthused because it’s just one of those photographs out there collecting dust. But I’d like to answer this question by referencing our interview with the iconic music photographer Glen Friedman, who also provided a selection of images that had not been published in print prior to the release of his latest book this past September. I wanted to ask Glen about the music photography we are seeing today. I think most music photography is increasingly looking the same, in the sense that most photographers are relegated to the pit between the barrier and stage, photographing from the same distant angle below. Further, stage and primary-color lighting rigs are rather similar too so the first question I asked Glen was about this development. I think everyone should read and discuss his answer. When we pause to look back at photos from particular eras, we can still feel and acknowledge the energy and discuss a social, cultural or political milieu. When we look at these photos from today, what will we think? Are these images reflective of our music culture today? It’s very important for people to remember that music as a cultural sphere is very symptomatic of our current cultural, social, personal, sexual and political predicaments, and that’s been true throughout history—the protest song, fashion, censorship, or the long history of culture shock are but a few brief examples. Music always leaves a trace. A different kind of echo, if you will. What does it mean when photographs begin to look the same? With this discussion in mind, we wanted to print images that are vibrant, cathartic and unseen— and this is a challenge we embrace.
I guess that sometimes we in the media focus too much on the latest news and trends. We look to do an interview with the latest group just because they happen to have released a new album or speak with that band because they are about to tour. Sometimes, this prevents us from discussing things that are interesting but don’t happen to fit today’s agenda? Yet, you do so. How do you go about this? Did you always have this approach?
I love reading about and listening to new artists and there are thousands of new tracks uploaded and streamed everyday. At the same time, I think we all need to acknowledge “landfill indie”— the wasteful physical pressing of CDs and vinyl of bands no one really listens to. It’s tough to bring up because people get offended easily. Listening, or writing, about all these new releases can bring a form of exhaustion, and we come close to entering a state of somnambulant listening. For me, politics, art and culture have always been inseparable and I’ve wanted to write this way more and more so I just needed a space for it. Now with the space, I felt a particular and delicate complexity needed to be infused. As I mentioned, music and sound pervade our total environment, and that includes inside our minds and bodies, the attachment to memories, the space between our friends and enemies, lovers old and new, and our politics and culture.
Frank Zappa said that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. How does one bring an art that feels so abstract closer to the public?
That’s a great quote, and I think Zappa was talking about a particular style of music writing. We’re not writing about how a guitar sounds like a tin can or a power drill. I think it’s a valid approach to describe aesthetic qualities to the reader but perhaps with the ubiquity of music streaming accompanying record reviews online, it’s perhaps redundant because listeners have more access to music than ever before. Personally, I think this style of music writing over-relies on free association, is largely inconclusive and sometimes is a form of vanity for the music writer to see what literary acrobatics they can pull off. I certainly read the writers I follow, but I’m also interested in the space, limit, context in which a subject is practicing. When writers imitate each other, stylistically, it can get noisy. Noise can become a background hum and eventually be relegated to silence. So we need to start presenting, and making a case for music and sound to be interesting to the reader within a wider context, and relevant to the reader’s life. Today, people can stream whatever they want and make up their own minds. There is still space for vibrant conversation and curation, and HIGHWAY is taking steps through its own editorial program.
To finish off, being as you are a regular contributor to this publication, I would like you to carry out your own interview. What would you ask yourself and how would you answer to those questions?
I would ask myself— what does it mean to participate in culture today? I think it’s the stalwart editors who have launched new publications. They are inspiring. These publications are building collectives, frameworks and international conversations, making connections and provoking debate. Let’s not forget that last year Haus der Kunst held an exhibit of independent publications highlighting their efforts and accomplishments. While we are seeing more and more people draw from a limited pool of influences, or seeing publications just repeating the same old story, at the same time, there are countless examples of legacy cultural institutions, such as museums, working with new magazines because they possess an intriguing and challenging worldview which is meaningful. To participate in culture is to imbue it with power and to support not only publishers, but the valid artistically and politically minded cultural practitioners we encounter: writers, photographers, artists, editors, and so on. I think culture is returning as a force for political or social change, something like a salve to enforced market participation and a hegemony of political soundbites. Who knows, maybe culture will stop the next war. As we saw in recent developments, the pen is still quite mighty.