Episode 6: Everett True

Everett True is a freelance music critic and author.

Penmanship podcast episode 6: Everett True, interviewed by Andrew McMillen, 2015Born in England, True was involved with several key British music magazines throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including NME, Melody Maker and Plan B. He moved to Brisbane in 2008 and immediately made a name for himself by deriding popular bands such as Silverchair, The Vines and Savage Garden as “musical abominations” in a memorable article for The Guardian.

At the time, these comments caused significant waves among the Australian music writing fraternity. As an arrogant, opinionated young writer myself, it took some time for me to see past True’s brash, abrasive style of writing and view him as a real person with real feelings. Over the years, we became friends and colleagues, supporting each others’ work as freelancers and forming an unlikely bond.

Besides his work as a prominent music critic, True is an accomplished author, having written books on Nirvana, Ramones and The White Stripes. More recently, while living in Brisbane, he has been a PhD student at Queensland University of Technology, and when I met him at his home in the western suburb of The Gap in early June he had just submitted his PhD thesis. You’ll hear his children running around and playing nearby, as we talk about how he failed English in high school, the Blondie song that first endeared him to pop music, the origins of his pen names, his tumultuous relationship with alcohol, and the time when he pushed Kurt Cobain in a wheelchair in front of tens of thousands of people at Reading Festival in 1992.

Everett True is a former editor of Melody Maker, VOX, Careless Talk Costs Lives and Plan B in the U.K. He has written for more rock publications than most people can name. He is the author of several books on rock music featuring Nirvana, Ramones, The White Stripes and others, and was a key writer covering the rise of Nirvana and the Seattle scene in the early 1990s. Nick Cave described one of his live performances as “more entertaining than Nina Simone,” while Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs called him “the coolest man in England.” The Gossip’s members say he’s the most important music critic of their generation.

Everett True on Twitter: @EverettTrue

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2.40 Everett and his family are about to emigrate back to the UK at the end of June, having lived in Brisbane for seven years
3.20 His recently-submitted PhD is titled The Slow Death of Everett True: The changing role of popular music critics in web 2.0 environments
5.10 “It’s pretty amazing that rock criticism is still around, in many respects”
5.50 He felt that moving to Australia and working in the field of arts criticism was “like stepping back in time”
6.50 “Music criticism still isn’t valued very highly here [in Australia]”
7.40 Previously, Everett lived in Melbourne between 1999 and 2000 and wrote for The Age
9.20 Everett didn’t have any writing work lined up when he arrived in Melbourne, or in Brisbane a few years later
10.05 When Everett was 15 or 16, he would visit the local library and read about six books a day
11.50 Everett failed English in high school, partly because no-one taught him how to write essays
13.10 “I only learned how to write when I started editing people”
13.40 Everett’s parents were both teachers toward the end of their careers; previously, his father worked at Marconi Electronics, and his mother looked after the six children until she was into her 40s
15.40 Of the six children in his family, Everett was the fourth, and “felt invisible” in the hierarchy
16.50 “When most people first meet me, they think I’m an extrovert. I don’t see that myself at all; I’ve never felt that way”
17.40 On being bullied at school, and learning how to avoid that kind of attention
19.20 Everett went to university to study maths and philosophy because he didn’t want to disappoint his parents
20.20.00 Everett’s ideal job now is to be a staff writer at a “decent publication” such as The Guardian
23.10 Music entered Everett’s life at age 17, when some friends started listening to punk
22.40 The moment where it all clicked was hearing ‘Denis’ by Blondie for the first time. “I heard the promise of a future life”
23.40 Another song that Everett has never tired of is ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronnettes, which he has heard “thousands and thousands of times”
24.30 Everett worked a newspaper round and at a newsagent as a young man, where he first encountered music magazines
26.00 “Some of the writers, they become like gods to you, because you’re following their every word. They are writing the gospel within your own world”
26.50 What Everett learned from his job working a newspaper round and at the newsagent
27.40 “It’s pretty bad; I stole for several years in my late teens because we didn’t have any money. I shoplifted, I stole; I was pretty lucky not to get caught”
29.10 The first music concert he went to was in 1978, when he was 17: The Buzzcocks at Chelmsford Odeon, “a big cinema”
30.40. The first band that Everett was in with his brother was named Fixed Grin, formerly named Blowjob
31.30 Like Daniel Johnston, Everett learned to play piano via The Beatles songbook
32.20 How Everett moved from playing music to writing about it
33.20 The other band with his brother was named The Legend and His Swinging Soul Sisters. “I still think, to this day, it was the best thing I’ve ever been involved in”
36.20 “It was not important to rehearse the songs; that didn’t matter. It was actually funnier if you didn’t rehearse them. What was important was to rehearse the ad libs”
36.50 His friendship with Alan McGee, who founded Creation Records and asked Everett to write a column for a fanzine, titled The Sound of Music
39.50 The origin of Everett’s first pen name, ‘The Legend’, which was a shortened form of ‘The Legendary Jerry Thackray’
41.50 The origins of the pen name ‘Everett True’, which arose from his time at Melody Maker
43.00 “It’s a performance, music criticism; I was performing every time I sat down and wrote”
45.10 “No one wanted to do the Letters page; it was considered a pain in the arse, drudge work”
46.10 Everett started making decent money from writing when became reviews editor at Melody Maker in 1989
47.20 “I always abide by deadlines. If I’m not given any, then I won’t do it, which is a pain in the arse when it comes to writing, say, PhD theses or books”
49.20 Everett’s relationship with alcohol and its role in his creative process
51.40 “In rock and roll, one of the main ways you establish social capital amongst your peers is by getting more fucked up than the rest of them”
54.00 “I’ve never, at any point in my time, thought that more than a handful of people like me – even today, I don’t think I’ve got any power or influence at all”
55.00 “The one thing that angered me more than anything else when I got over to Australia about the street press was [that] you’ve got this vast, untapped potential, this established resource. You can do what you hell you like with it, because no-one really reads it, no-one takes any notice”
56.10 “None of us went into this for the money. Nobody does. Not writing about music. No-one thinks they can make a living from it”
56.40 On writing while intoxicated or hungover, largely between 1989 and 1996
58.20 Everett was approached to write a Nirvana biography, which he turned down, though Kurt Cobain then suggested they write a book together
60.50 He wrote a couple of photo-led books in the 1990s on The Lemonheads and Supergrass, which “literally took a weekend to write 20,000 words”
62.40 How Everett navigated the ethical question of whether or not to be friends with the musicians he was writing about
63.50 “I immersed myself in the music, and if you’re going to take that approach, then to me it feels weird if you don’t know the musicians. Why would you have an immersive approach where you’re putting some things behind a wall, deliberately cutting them out?”
65.00 “I didn’t see there was any difference between what I did and what the musicians did – except I was normally more entertaining, and more creative”
65.20 Everett’s relationship with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love when Nirvana were one of the biggest bands in the world
66.20 The moment where Everett pushed Kurt on stage in a wheelchair at Reading Festival in 1992
68.10 Everett’s other books on The Ramones and The White Stripes; he also gave back advances for books on Sonic Youth and Daniel Johnston
70.20 “The Nirvana book should’ve been cut back by a quarter, really”
72.50 What went wrong with the Daniel Johnston book he was commissioned to do, and which Everett did around 25 interviews for, including eight hours with Daniel
73.50 How Everett started the online music magazine Collapse Board, in conjunction with Brisbane music photographer Justin Edwards
74.20 Everett on the “big kerfuffle that happened after I wrote that Guardian column about [Australian] street press” in 2008
76.10 The website name came from a Laughing Clowns song, “the greatest live band I’ve ever seen”
77.20 “I’ve always wanted as many people to read my stuff as possible”
78.50 How Everett will look back on his seven years in Brisbane as a professional writer
81.00 “I would have preferred it if I had been more engaged in the community; if I had had more of a dialogue with other people”
81.40 “I think I got off on the wrong foot with that [Guardian] column, but I wouldn’t change that; no fucking way”
83.20 Everett has taught a class called “Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll” unit at Queensland University of Technology for the last few years
84.40 “There’s no good or bad way to listen to music, only good or bad listeners”

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