We don’t need no preamble! If you have ever wanted to know how to write the most unique music reviews that this planet has ever seen, then you need to read on as we pick the mind of the one, the only, Mr. 1537 himself. He is one talented music writer that deserves all the praise you can heap.
M: It is a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. 1537. I understand that anonymity is important to you. It would matter to me too, if I had any sense. How would you like us to address you in this interview?
1537: A simple ‘sir’ would normally suffice, but in order to seem a bit more user-friendly ( I gather the masses tend to like that) you can call me 15 strictly for the duration of this interview.
Actually I sort of ballsed up the whole anonymous thang by using my name as the blog domain; oops, back to spy school for me! I don’t do any social media at all beyond WordPress and I am basically a needlessly secretive dude. I admire folk who can bare their souls in their blogs but that’s not me at all, I let bits and pieces of my life seep through the cracks sometimes but not very much.
M: As opposed to me, who built a cottage industry on the minutia of working in a record store. Now…Lego. You’ve managed to incorporate Lego in your articles’ artwork, in a simple yet innovative and endlessly entertaining way. How long have you been a fan of Lego, and is that longer than you’ve been into music?
15: Well, the Lego came first, my daughter got the Lego DJ figure and on a whim I thought it would look good on the circle of the Flying Lotus LP Cosmogramma, then Sleep Dopesmoker and then I started to look at the possibilities of making relevant figures for relevant LPs. I had a Blogspot thang where I’d managed three reviews years before, but I gradually realised that if you gave people something to look at they might stop by and read my Mighty Rock Words of Power (MRWoP) too.
It took me a while to hit my stride and then when people actually started reading it … wow, it really is the best feeling.
Oh, Lego. Yup, I’ve always loved it, way before I was conscious of music – although I grew up in a very music-oriented household. I used to make elaborate Star Wars games and fantasies up through Lego, way before they had brought out space Lego. You used to have to improvise weapons in those days too, because Lego didn’t believe in promoting weapons as toys for kids.
M: That’s right, you used to have to use the “bullhorns” as guns, until Lego started introducing actual guns in 2005. You seem to have a Minifigure appropriate for every single album review you do, no matter how bizarre or obscure. Presently how many figures do you think you own?
15: I have a couple hundred Minifigures, which is not all of them by a long way, I’m not obsessive about collecting them and there are plenty of gaps in my collection. I love it when they produce a new line and one strikes me as perfect for an LP I haven’t done yet.
A lot of the fun is improvising and putting combos of different figures together. I’ve also drawn on a couple duplicates I have to make an Alice Cooper, a Scott Ian and a Ziggy Stardust; oh and I have also added cleavage to a figure or two along the way; that’s normal behaviour for a 44 year-old isn’t it?
M: I’m not one to judge. What drives your review? Do you start with the text or the visuals?
15: Always the text. I think wordaciously, not visually. I’m a slow writer because I edit it all as I go along, most reviews take me at least 3 hours, with another 40 minutes or so on top for the pictures. If you add in the demands of family life, a really demanding job, a little socialising and even, hey, listening to music sometimes, it all adds up to why I don’t produce as many as I’d like to. There are never any ‘in the can’, I tend to write them, hit publish and go straight to bed, as it’s usually 1am by then. I like waking up to everyone’s comments.
Q: Do you use any fancy-pancy camera or lighting equipment? The images are always very crisp and vibrant, much better than I’ve been getting with my BlackBerry in my home office.
15: Absolutely not. Everything I do is done on my iPhone (the model before the last one – 6 is it?), I’m not particularly good at it, I just take a lot of photos. Shiny, shiny covers are the bane of my life.
What I am pretty good at now, by trial and error, is editing the pictures, I use a Windows App called Fhotoroom and another called KVADPhoto. I have never ever published a picture I haven’t edited for contrast, colour, or cropped and altered etc. Some of my favourites have been very boring photos before I have messed them around.
M: I crop everything, but I wouldn’t know what to do as far as contrast or colour, so kudos to you sir. A two-part question next: What are your favourite reviews that you’ve done, both in terms of writing and in terms of photos?
15: In terms of the writing I rather like this comparison between Andrew Marvell, English metaphysical poet and a Rhino Bucket song about oral sex – it’s even got my voice on it:
I’m also rather fond of doing interviews, that’s been a whole lot of fun when the right person has been on the other side who is willing to engage properly with the silliness of it all. It’s also a nice way to get to chat to bands when you go see them live too. Spencer from MFC Chicken was my first and favourite:
I have too many favourite pictures to pick a post, but these two have to come darned close – ‘Hatting’ Isaac Hayes and my take on The Shining:
M: Ahh yes, The Shining was a personal favourite of mine too. I find I often have to listen to an album while I write, and it can’t be the first listen either. I need a fresh listen in order to capture all my thoughts and pass them on to the weary readers. Your reviews are very different from mine, and frankly far beyond what I’m capable of writing. Do you use the “listen as you write” technique or something else?
15: I try to give it a good listen the night before, or on my way to/from work (an hour-long commute doesn’t have to be all bad) and I listen to bits of it as I write, or if I’m happy I know it enough – I might be writing about something I’ve been listening to in heavy rotation for 28 years (Christ, I’m old!), I have an ambient playlist I listen to when I write sometimes.
M: What else do you need to be able to write? I need to be in my underwear with a cold beverage. No bevvies and no skivvies means no review. I suspect you prefer warm slippers and oatmeal.
15: I need quiet, which is ironic given that most of my favourite music involves bellowing and shrieking. I write at a desktop (hate lap-tops) in the room that also has our biggest TV in and so there can be a certain amount of negotiation involved – it’s often why I write so late into the morning, it’s the only time I can.
Other than that my needs are simple, I prefer non-restrictive trouser ware and that’s it. You really write in your undies?
M: Hey, who’s conducting the interview here? I ask the questions! Is there any one band you really really hope reads your stuff?
15: Nah, although there is a fair chance of some artists tuning in because a lot of the LPs I bought in the late 80’s seem to have only sold one copy, to me – I always try to be pleasant because, you just should be. If I can’t write anything too complimentary I always add in my caveat along the lines of ‘These guys made a far better record than I ever have I’m just a loser boy sat behind a keyboard’.
Larry Miller from Uncle Sam stopping by was wonderful (I own an LP he signed and bit for me back in ’91) and we’re still in touch – I even helped get their debut LP re-released, that was a real buzz.
Oh and (coughs) Mark Wilkinson may have stopped by once too …
M: Do you have any particular influences in terms of writing? I’ve made no secret that in my early years, I was definitely trying to be Martin Popoff, Jr. Your style is unlike anyone I’ve read, but surely that didn’t happen in a vacuum?
15: I had to really think about this one. In terms of the character I write in, the tone of it, a lot of it comes from Stan Lee in those 1960’s Marvel comics – they knocked me for 6 when I first read my parent’s copies as a kid, the jokey references to himself and his fellow writers and artists in ‘the bullpen’; it was very playful and irreverent, that stuck with me.
You could maybe chuck in a bit of Harry Harrison and Douglas Adams, they were and are still, the only humorous writers I truly like and I do try to amuse.
Other than that there were all those fabulous late 80’s Kerrang! journalists, who were informative and, again, playful in the way they wrote – lots of irreverence and in-jokes, they painted their own little world and made it seem like the coolest place in the world to work. I met Phil Wilding at a gig once and was more excited about that than the band (Dangerous Toys).
Oh and I hope there’s enough self-deprecation in there to show I do write in character and I’m not really a megalomaniac with an omnipotence delusion.
M: Sure, sure. I knew that. Anyway, do you ever worry you will run out of things to say about music? Or do you see “1537” as a long-term project?
15: No, mostly because of the format I’ve set up for myself, my blog runs on rails to an extent – jokey title (usually), review of record(s), review count at the end, Lego images. I have enough of the little vinyl buggers that I don’t have to write about the same artist too often, which would fox me – the closest I ever came to a series, like you, Geoff and Aaron do so well, was spending a month writing about artists beginning with a ‘B’ – I found that really tough.
Anyway I’ve got 809 more records to review. Not sure where I’ll take it after that, because the whole point of the blog, apart from being an extended diary for myself, was to make sure I took time out to listen to everything I own properly – I have a horror of having stuff I haven’t heard, it makes me feel gluttonous and despicable.
M: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. The agent who set this up didn’t want me to ask this last question. But the interview is going well enough so I think I’m going to ask it. You’re a Lego man — this is clear. Meanwhile I’m into things that turn into little robots. With all due respect, I think we both know that robots > bricks, but that is neither here nor there. If you could transform into something, what would it be, and why?
I know the only reason you feel safe enough to ask me that is that I am currently orbiting earth at a crucial velocity on my space station, so I shall overlook your mortal impertinence this once. I always wanted to be a farmer when I was little and was totally obsessed with tractors, it was all I ever drew apart from digital watches (they were new then). So the obvious answer is a digital watch which transforms into a big kick-ass Ford County 1164 tractor (I always loved their colour scheme).
TRACTOR-TRON 1537 Lego/Transformers crossover set coming soon
Thanks again to 1537 for the chat. We’ll leave you with a suitable music video…”Rockin’ is Ma Business”…and business is good!