Telling slow stories, led by the musicians themselves, through more than just words and photos
Lately, music journalism feels like it's been replaced by a cycle of press release paraphrasing, tracklist postings and lifestyle commentary, with the occasional interview peppered in between. The same background information, recycled adjectives and name-dropping of influences bubble at the surface. Newly reshaped editorial platform Yours Truly (YT)—which originated as a music blog and later developed into a creative studio—has taken up the challenge to provide something different, and dare we say, purposeful beyond clicks. With no standard template, the SF-born, LA-based outfit dedicates each week to one musician's story, in a direction the subject wants to explore and through mediums of their choice: be it a series of self-portraits, text scores, email screenshots, T-shirt designs, demos recorded on a phone, etc. This, of course, is accompanied by original words and photography. Consider the site a rock for fans to rest and return to, while the Niagara Falls-like torrent of Tweets and Soundcloud embeds relentlessly roars by.
Merging the long-term planning of print with the creative flexibility of digital, Yours Truly relaunched at the beginning of this summer with Kindness. Visitors could read an interview, watch a short film, view personal Polaroids, listen to a specially made mix, and even read texts between him and regular collaborator Dev Hynes. You leave with a sense that you've learned more about a musician's creative process, where they're coming from, why they're doing what they're doing, and how. It's meaningful storytelling that stays evergreen, and YT is carving out a special space to host it. We spoke with co-founder Will Abramson and editor-in-chief Frannie Kelley to learn about where they're coming from—and why.
What are the origins of Yours Truly?
Will Abramson: My partner is one of my best friends from high school. We started six years ago, in San Francisco. (He and I have been friends since we were 14, so we've been friends for 17 years.) It was a music blog with original content. We posted about new songs, music videos and whatever—but always, original [video] content was what we were known for. A lot of performance stuff, and docs as well. We have a series with Nowness called Sunrise, Sunset; we did a series with Dazed, MTV, a bunch of work with Pitchfork, etc. We found that we got a lot more out of in-depth portraits and documentary stuff than bands performing.
So when did you start having this internal crisis and rethinking what Yours Truly should be doing?
WA: Maybe seven months ago. Our editorial work, Yours Truly, has led us to do a lot of brand and commercial work. That's good—because it keeps the lights on—but it took us away from the original mission, which is doing music editorial. We realized that we'd kind of stopped focusing on it as much, and we missed it. We had this idea to change the format of Yours Truly—as a response to the deluge of content that's out there. To do slow journalism, essentially. And we brought Frannie on three or four months ago to be our editor-in-chief.
Frannie, how did they pitch the new direction of YT and convince you to join?
Frannie Kelley: To be honest, it’s changed a few times. The thing that has been maintained was the idea of slowing down—and understanding that we’re all overwhelmed, all the time, by information and other people’s opinions and fake news. There was room for us to do a better job. When I started at NPR, it was a very small group working on this NPR music project, which didn’t exist quite yet. And since ’07, it’s changed a lot, partly because of its success. I wanted to get back to what it felt like early [on], when you weren’t beholden to anybody. And that’s what I like about rolling with these guys: they’re a little bit like the Third Way [laughs]. They’re not totally hermits—they know what the fuck is going on—but they’re also not a part of the echo chamber, in a way that has become really unproductive for me.
I think that the audience for music journalism is really, really smart, and really, really frustrated by the lack of quality and tidal wave of mediocrity
We don’t write for ourselves, we don’t write for our homies—you have to write for somebody you’ve never met before, somebody you can only imagine, and you have to get out of your own head and your own circle… The way that Will and Bab had a solution to this “circle jerk” problem was just exciting. Ultimately, I think that the audience for music journalism is really, really smart, and really, really frustrated by the lack of quality and tidal wave of mediocrity.
What if we just focused on as many musicians as we could listen to at once? Which is... one.
Will, what about your thoughts on the current options out there?
WA: I think that the age of the music blog is dead—it's passed. For us, our music blog now is our Soundcloud. Any song we like, we repost and like it on Soundcloud. A music blog is basically a Soundcloud link plus whatever you want to say about the song. But the truth is, every track write-up or track review, ends up [being the same]. So we were just like, we don't need to do that anymore. What can we do to add something new to what's happening in music now? How do we add anything new or of value to this ecosystem where everything is just going, going, going—writing about the same people, doing the same kind of coverage. What if we just focused on as many musicians as we could listen to at once? Which is... one. Just do really deep, in-depth coverage of them, but also invert the traditional journalist-musician roles and ask artists, "What do you want to show about yourself?"
With Chaz [Bundick], for example, we talk about his design work because that's what he's interested in. How do you do something new with Toro y Moi? He's four albums in, everyone's already written about him in so many different ways. Let's focus on something that he's really interested in; that's how we arrived at that angle for the story. With these artists from Nashville called Bully—a traditional rock and roll band—the drummer, Stewart [Copeland], is a director. So it was like, "Why don't you direct the piece, and we'll edit it and work together." We also did a limited edition poster with them that's available for sale. It's like, "Let's do stuff that you really care about and you really want to show, and we'll help you do it."
What's the process for selecting artists to feature?
WA: It's always been the same: if we love it, and if it's worth it. Also, people who have interesting stories. People who either haven't been covered a lot, or haven't been covered right. Some people are mis-covered: you'll see a feature goes up about them and you see them Tweeting, "They took this out of context" or, "This isn't correct."
Where do you hope to see Yours Truly in a year, and evolve into?
WA: I want the projects to become more creative. What we're doing is documentary each time—following them around, etc. What I really want is for artists to think of Yours Truly as a place to help see their creative visions come to life—Yours Truly as a weekly artist platform, if you will. Right now we're doing documentary because that's what we can afford to make (and that's also a good start to prove the platform). But ideally, one week is a music video and a bunch of other stuff with that artist. Another week is a documentary. Another week is a poster. Really treating each collaboration as a meeting point for what that artist needs to be talking about and wants to do. We want each week to feel like its own thing: be reflective of where that artist is coming from, who they are.
This week on Yours Truly (beginning today at 9AM) features an in-depth look at the singer Miguel, including camcorder footage from seven years ago when YT first met him. We also recommend reading Kelley's essay on why YT exists.
Kindness images courtesy of Mikael Gregorsky, all other images courtesy of G L Askew II and Yours Truly