Episode 38: Marcus Teague

Marcus Teague is an editor, freelance writer, songwriter and musician.

Penmanship podcast episode 38: Marcus Teague, interviewed by Andrew McMillen. Published in June 2017.His contribution to Australian music journalism during the last decade has been significant. After co-founding a magazine and website devoted to independent music named Mess+Noise, Marcus went on to work as music editor at The Vine for six years from 2008. Under his editorial guidance, this pop culture-centric website became one of the most popular and respected outlets for music writing in the country. It also provided a regular home for thoughtful, longform journalism and criticism for many freelance writers, myself included. Writing for Marcus at The Vine was an incredibly important aspect of my development as a journalist and music critic, and I have many fond memories of my time writing for the site for four years from 2010.

Since he left The Vine in 2014, Marcus has freelanced for the likes of Rolling Stone and Guardian Australia, while copywriting and working on artist bios on the side, in addition to his day job as commercial editor at Broadsheet. One evening in April, I met Marcus at a studio in Fitzroy, and our conversation touches on why he thinks suspicion is an essential character trait for music journalists; how he developed resilience as a fledgling musician who dreamed of making it in Melbourne; how he started writing songs in tandem with publishing a magazine that was a precursor to Mess+Noise; why he now finds it harder to write songs as he becomes more invested in journalism, and what happened when the drummer of Metallica read a concert review on The Vine and decided to give Marcus a call.

Marcus Teague is an editor, freelance writer, songwriter and musician based in Melbourne. He formed the band Deloris in the late 1990s, and wrote and recorded four albums until the band split in 2008. While in Deloris, he began writing about Australian music, first in the self-made, small-run zine Poolside with friend and bandmate Leigh Lambert, then as co-founder of magazine and website Mess+Noise. In 2008, Marcus was hired as full-time Music Editor for new website The Vine, a pop-culture offshoot of Fairfax Digital. Writing daily about music, it was there many of his formative experiences as a music journalist occurred: covering CMJ in New York, becoming a panelist and guest on the likes of Bigsound, triple j, and Face the Music, filing reviews for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and being asked to tour with Metallica after the band read Marcus’s review of their live show. After leaving The Vine in 2014 Marcus freelanced, becoming a regular contributor to Rolling Stone and Guardian Australia, among others. He also began a sideline in writing copy for music industry clients and artist bios. Marcus is currently the Commercial Editor for Broadsheet, and continues to freelance as a music writer. He also writes and releases music under the solo moniker of Single Twin, as well as in the band Near Myth, whose debut album, Idiot Mystic, was released in late 2016.

Marcus Teague on Twitter: @MarcusTeague

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2.30 Currently, Marcus is writing freelance music journalism, writing bios, and working at Broadsheet as their commercial editor, while “trying to still play some music”

3.30 Being commercial editor means “editing native comment for a publication; commissioning, editing, and working with a publication to make sure that everybody’s story is being told”

6.00 Marcus says that for music journalists, “it’s partly their role to elicit the kinds of things and find the stories that are outside of what the label or the publicist or the band wants you to tell – but nonetheless, it’s still a transaction that is hopefully ending in someone selling some more records”

7.30 Marcus has found that the commercial editor role still has “all the same interesting rules and challenges, and things to try and figure out that you innately have as a writer or editor”

8.30 Marcus grew up in Frankston, which is 41 kilometres minutes south-east of Melbourne’s city centre: “The kind of town that’s close enough to the city that you feel the attraction to what’s happening in ‘the big smoke’ […] but far enough away that you’re never truly part in it, so you’re always wanting for something”

10.00 As a fledgling musician, Marcus found that you have to develop resilience in order “to buy into trusting what you’re doing enough to continue doing it, even though people don’t show up to the show, or someone says you’re shit, or you get a bad review”

13.00 Marcus started writing songs with his brother about his parents, as a child; one song was titled ‘The Battle of the Parents’, featuring the lyric “Mum and Dad coming down the hall / To see who’s the best of all”

16.30 After learning drums, Marcus moved onto guitar and started writing his own lyrics, which led to “writing bad teenage poetry, essentially”

17.30 “Writing stuff, and writing songs, is a lot about making your own bubble of that experience. You get to create this little thing that you have ownership over; you get to fill out, arrange and decorate that bubble”

18.30 Marcus stayed in Frankston until the age of about 21, when he moved up to Melbourne. “By then, the band that I had, Deloris, were playing pretty regularly up here, and we had a couple of records out, so it felt like a natural inclination to get up here”

20.00 Marcus studied Fine Art at university in Melbourne for three years before he moved here, which required a daily train ride; then studied design in Frankston before doing a professional writing and editing course

20.30 Around this time, Marcus and a friend started a zine called Poolside, which was “a collection of dumb ideas, thoughts and emotional stories that we’d written, or asking some friends in bands to contribute some lyrics”; it lasted three issues

23.00 Marcus also worked part-time at a Liquorland bottle shop in Frankston, then later got offered a design job in Melbourne for a marketing services company named Sensis

29.00 Later, Marcus was interviewed by Danny Bos, who ran an Australian music website called Mono; the pair became good friends

30.30 “Growing up in Frankston, it took me a while to realise that the band on the cover [of street press] wasn’t there because they’re good. They’re there because someone is paying for it”

33.30 In 2005, Marcus and Danny Bos decided to start a bimonthly print publication called Mess+Noise, where they could put whichever bands they liked on the cover

37.30 Marcus described the monthly magazine as being “about interesting, local, independent music – and it’s free, so just take it”

39.00 Pre-Facebook, the Mess+Noise discussion forum became “a community unto itself, of lovers and haters, and people interested in the Australian music scene and beyond”

40.30 After leaving Sensis, Marcus found a job working at a call centre as a mystery shopper; “an interesting experience, and pretty soul-destroying”

42.30 One day, Marcus got a phone call saying “Hey, do you want to talk to us about being our music editor at The Vine?”, before the website had been launched in 2008

44.00 Marcus was the first person hired after editor-in-chief Annie Fox, and “kind of fell into it; I never considered that being a music editor was a job that you could do”

46.30 Marcus was given free reign to pay freelance music writers for The Vine based on his past experiences with Mess+Noise and while touring with Deloris around Australia

48.00 The Vine was partly funded by Fairfax Media and Lifelounge, and it was designed as a place to discuss and analyse youth and pop culture for people who didn’t buy newspapers, but were interested in fashion, music and entertainment

50.00 Marcus’s job was to publish four music stories per day, about anything he wanted, while trying to meet traffic targets across the whole website

51.30 “We were in that great window where we still got to be an authority on stuff, and trying to convince people, without them coming back and saying, ‘I’ve already heard that on YouTube and it sucks, and you don’t know what you’re talking about'”

52.00 With live reviews on The Vine, Marcus was motivated to try to capture a moment in time, and to document history: “To try and put a stake in time, that this little blip happened”

52.30 One memorable live review on The Vine was Marcus’s review of the final song performed at The Tote in Melbourne in 2010 (The Drones covering ‘My Pal’ by GOD), which shows Marcus taking that role as a documentarian seriously

53.30 “One thing being a music editor affords you is that you read a lot of music writing, so you get past all the stuff that reviews usually talk about pretty quickly. You’re so flooded with reviews or writing that you realise the only way to survive is to do it differently”

54.00 With his review of the final song performed at The Tote, Marcus wanted to talk about the moment and its significance, and to use his words “to put someone in that spot, because that’s going to be far more powerful than just listing a bunch of stuff that happened, or explaining the circumstances around it”

55.30 Another example of capturing a moment was Marcus’s review of a Bluesfest sideshow by Modest Mouse in 2016, where he noticed a spider descending from a very high ceiling

56.30 In 2010, Marcus wrote a review for The Vine of the first show of Metallica’s Australian tour. He wasn’t a big fan of the band, but was taken in by the spectacle of the event when he sat down to document it afterwards

60.00 A couple of days after the review was published, Marcus got a call from Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, who said he’d read Marcus’s review and found it interesting. Lars asked if Marcus wanted to come on tour with Metallica for the last week of its Australian tour for the band’s fan club magazine; Marcus said yes

62.30 On this assignment, Marcus decided not to ask about Metallica; “Just be a dude that is backstage, like anyone else. Don’t fan out. I wasn’t a fan, so that helped”

63.30 One night at rehearsal, singer/guitarist James Hetfield was late, so Lars asked if Marcus knew how to play ‘The Outlaw Torn’ on guitar; to his crushing dismay, he did not

64.30 Marcus’s article was published in So What, the Metallica fan club magazine, and ran to about 5,500 words. [He later published it on The Vine in two parts under the title ‘My Week With Metallica’; you can read the whole story as a PDF download here]

66.30 What Marcus thinks about web publishing, and how the value of web content is valued largely through the number of clicks each article receives

69.00 Marcus brought an open-minded ethos to The Vine‘s music journalism, where he and his writers could “try to make everything interesting”

70.00 In 2014, Marcus’s whole identity was wrapped up in The Vine, and when the site was being sold, he was offered the chance to stay within Fairfax Media or take a redundancy payout; he chose the latter

70.30 Around the same time, Marcus was asked to write for Rolling Stone, which is part of the reason why he left the full-time role and chose to become a freelance journalist

72.00 At The Vine, “we were lucky that we didn’t dictate what people could cover. If you wanted to email [pitch] and write about something, and we figured out that you could write about it, you could generally write about it”

72.30 “It’s fun to take that stuff seriously, as well. It’s fun to have a really long email argument about what you’re actually saying at the end of this Tool review. That is a fun way to spend your day”

73.30 At The Vine, Marcus started publishing a music writer named Tim Byron, who pitched a column called ‘Number Ones’, where he used music theory and history to analyse each #1 song on the ARIA single charts (link to ‘Number Ones’ archive on Junkee, where it was published after The Vine closed)

74.30 “That was one of the funnest things to work at. [Tim and I] had a lot of arguments behind the scenes, and that’s a fun thing as well; spending a large part of your day tussling over the second verse in Christina Aguilera’s new, shit pop song”

75.30 One example of Marcus taking an email conversation to publication was his review of the cancelled Harvest Festival in Melbourne

77.00 “That became the fun of a lot of that stuff; you could start to do surreal galleries of stuff, poking fun at online culture before Clickhole took off”

78.30 It took Marcus a while to adapt to becoming freelance, and “not having free reign over stupid ideas”

79.30 “I’ve been lucky that I’ve never really pitched anything; people just ask me to do stuff”

80.00 Marcus has also taken some “weird copywriting jobs” like writing surreal reviews of customers for hotels, called ‘Reverse Reviews

81.00 In his work, Marcus gets the biggest kick out of writing about the surreal, and “trying to make the surreal real”

82.00 Marcus has enjoyed writing longform artists profiles for Rolling Stone, including A.B. Original and Violent Soho, and he tends not to outline the articles before he starts writing them, preferring instead to start writing and trust his instincts

84.00 One skill that Marcus learned from The Vine was that, as music editor, he was the backup interviewer. On a few occasions, he was called out of the blue to interview people he had no idea about, such as George Pettit from Alexisonfire, a band which Marcus knew nothing about

86.30 “I had this whole interesting conversation because he didn’t get asked any of the usual questions – because I didn’t actually know any of the usual questions! So to him it was fascinating, I think, because I got to talk to him like a regular dude”

88.30 Marcus has found that, the more he’s gotten into journalism, the harder it is to write songs, because it seems a lot of his brain space is taken up by working on non-fiction writing or editing

90.30 “I find when I’m trying really hard to keep my eyes open before falling asleep, that’s usually the best time to write some stuff for songs. That bit where you can’t really think all that rationally anymore, and there’s almost a weird, subconscious poetry to your messy brain, or something, and your filters are down a bit”

92.00 Marcus recently found a fan-made music video for a Single Twin song that he wrote, ‘Came Home Dead’, where the fan literally acts out many of the lyrics; Marcus has considered writing about the strangeness of this entire situation

96.30 “Music journalism [today] certainly doesn’t affect peoples’ lives in the way that it traditionally has, for a long period of time”

97.00 Marcus finds that, as a former music editor, it’s hard to take edits from his own editors

99.30 “Music journalism has almost become the hobby that’s attached to you trying to write and edit, and exist in other parts of the industry that actually pay you – which is maybe not a bad thing”

101.30 “Maybe the up-cycle will be that people do start getting interested in it [again]. People will come out of Dune Rats show after being a fan for ten years and think, ‘What did it all mean?'”

102.00 Marcus believes that bio writing is a “privileged position, because the artist doesn’t yet know how to talk about their music, or their album that they’re about to talk about”; he compares his role to that of a therapist

103.00 “Bios are interesting in that you’re setting the template for what they then have to talk about for the next few years”

103.30 In that moment, artists can be fragile and unsure about the work, and Marcus enjoys sometimes helping them to discover what their art is actually about

104.30 Bios are often ghostwritten, meaning that the writer’s name is not attributed as a byline on the final work

106.00 “You’re at the service of what they’re trying to do. And maybe it’s a challenge as well: ‘Here’s all this interesting stuff; take out the interesting stuff, and make it interesting!'”

107.00 Marcus transcribes most of his own interviews, having found that paying someone else to transcribe them loses some of the meaning and nuance of the conversation

108.00 “Who am I to be able to take this person’s album, or years that they’ve put into this thing, give my version of it and give it back, and they go, ‘Yep, that’s what it’s about! That’s what I want to say!'”


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