7 For Seven: emo cat, minimalism

How not to interview people, Billy Corgan wearing lime-green sweatpants, the glories of the American alt-weekly, Vampire Weekend, the stressful sadness of Trader Joe's.

Brady Gerber’s “7 For Seven”: Seven links on writing and creativity in your inbox by 7 AM EST every Wednesday, as well as Headphone Nation and ARTS & FARTS song reviews. 1st Friday: a new short story. 2nd and 4th Fridays: interviews with writers. Read on your browser.


this stock photo is the most influenctial marker of the 5.7th wave of midwest emo minimalism, in this essay I will-

It’s Wednesday morning. Oof. Here are seven things to make your week more interesting:

1. My favorite features make me go, “oh, DUH!,” and I loved Cooper Fleishman’s deep-dive into the literal art and design of emo minimalism. (I don’t hate that Oasis album as much though.)

“You know emo minimalism when you see it. There’s usually one photo; some simple, humble text; and a monochromatic background, often black or white. Its aim is not to overwhelm you with a visual treasure hunt. The best of this art makes you think about what’s not there.”

2. I get asked many times about how to interview musicians; what’s the secret? I’m still trying to figure it out. Something I do know: here’s how NOT to do an interview.

(In all seriousness, try to avoid “Do you remember?” questions when you can. The artist will either remember and be annoyed that you want to talk about something that happened a long time ago and not about their current project, or they won’t remember and will be annoyed that they can’t remember. Here’s a real-life example of how “Do you remember?” questions can backfire.)

3. Speaking of interviews, for Vulture, I interviewed the great Willie Nelson. We covered a lot of ground, including Bob Dylan (he hasn’t heard the new album) and “Old Town Road” (he hasn’t heard it).

4. Also this week, I did a guest review for the also great Album Daily newsletter. I reviewed New Radicals’ Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, which I could have written 30,000 words about yet was challenged to write only 200 words! If you enjoy ARTS & FARTS, you should give Album Daily a follow.

(This might be the smartest sentence I ever write: “If Billy Corgan wore lime-green sweatpants.”)

5. I loved this deep dive on the current state of alt-weeklies across America, which are always under threat of going under yet have had an especially hard past decade.

(As someone who reads tons of alt-weeklies across the U.S. for work, I can say without hesitation that some of the best, most vital stories are being written in alt-weeklies; local journalism is so important - the newly revived Gothamist has been essential in helping me get through living in NYC during lockdown - and it’s worth protecting in any way we can.)

Alt-weeklies, historically, thrive on chaos, even as that chaos usually poses an existential threat to them specifically. By mid-March, just a few weeks into widespread national shutdowns in response to COVID-19, the phrase ‘total annihilation’ had emerged as the best way to describe the industry’s outlook. ‘This has, without a doubt, been the single worst week in the history of America’s alternative press,’ wrote Joshua Benton in a March 19 Nieman Journalism Lab piece already then tallying the layoffs, the suspensions of print issues, the impassioned calls for donations, the outright shutdowns. (Poynter has a comprehensive updated list surveying the carnage across all media.)

Local journalism overall has, of course, struggled mightily for years, if not decades, but this is a comically awful time to be a free, hyperlocal newspaper largely distributed in the same bars, clubs, and restaurants upon which it depends for advertising. Bonus points if the paper’s covering a region where the government response to COVID-19 has been especially inept. Like Texas. ‘I told everyone from the beginning,’ says longtime Austin Chronicle music editor Raoul Hernandez. ‘I’m a journalist in a disaster area.’”

6. I also loved Matthew Perpetua’s write-up on Vampire Weekend’s “2021” and what makes it so special, especially in its very different live form.

(Father of the Bride was one of my favorite albums of last year, as I acknowledge that the album was 100% targeted towards an old young millennial dad-rock fan like me. This also was a case of hearing a specific album at the right time and place. But I believe if Ezra were to remake the album in a stripped-down live version, it would be the best thing Vampire Weekend ever did. The live Spotify Singles version of “This Life” is better than anything on the album.)

“The song, just over a minute and a half long, is brief meditation on time and patience. It’s all questions and incomplete thoughts, the space between weighing options and making decisions. The core question – “I could wait a year but I shouldn’t wait three” – changes over the course of the song, the second time Ezra Koenig sings it the second part becomes “couldn’t wait three.” He’s thought about it enough in that space to realize the damage the wait would do to him, but it still doesn’t sound like he’s fully committed to anything else.”

7. And finally, anything you say in this Trader Joe’s line may be used against you.

(One of the better things I’ve read about classic NYC passive-aggression, which New Yorkers pretend is justified. I dedicate this to any fellow New Yorker who also has had to experience the stressful sadness of Trader Joe’s rush hour.)

“It began, as so many things do in New York City, with people who would not shut up.”

And so …

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(think global)

Juno Is (Dunedin, New Zealand) "Ur Looking So Ideal" starts off as a (good) Tame Impala demo, then out of nowhere it turns into Alvvays. But they're their own thing. I love it when songs can still surprise me like this.

Apostolos Kaltsas (Athens, Greece) from a few years ago, some lovely drumming inspired by the city of Alexandria

sevenism (Nottingham, UK) Godwalk Them! Cool Producer(s)

Axel Karakasis (Berlin, Germany) it's all about the repetition - you're constantly waiting for a release that never comes, which is weirdly compelling

Nero Diaspora (Naples, Italy) from 2014, using fuzz (?) and drums to sound like old Agent Cooper falling into the void

… we carry on …

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Song “reviews”

New Radicals - “Flowers” (1998)

Yeah, if we could give this song a few more million streams, that would be great. I think about this piano melody a lot while walking around New York, or pretending that I’m walking around a park in London feeling pretty and sad.

François Couperin - “Les Barricades Mystérieuses” (1717)

I love Thomas Adés’ take on this Couperin classic, originally written for harpsichord. (You have to turn up the audio pretty high on this one.) According to the song’s Wikipedia page, Vampire Weekend’s “Bambina” apparently is a clever rip-off on Couperin. I couldn’t hear the connection until I heard the original on strings.

Prince - “Cream” (1991)

I’m out of my league when it comes to ‘90s Prince, but after watching this music video - in which Prince and I have the exact same quarantine hair - I’m trying to go through the albums. I came here from Jehnny Beth’s Pitchfork deep dive into why “Cream” reminds her of Los Angeles.

Bright Eyes - “Nothing Gets Crossed Out” (2002)

When you hear a song 113,227 times across a decade … and then on the 113,228th listen, it finally hits you. Those shimmery guitar tones were everywhere in the ‘00s.

The Pretenders - “Don’t Get Me Wrong” (1985)

If you want to study strong melodies, you can’t go wrong with The Pretenders. As Jeff Tweedy said in his memoir: melody is king.



Brady writes about music (and other things) and draws cartoons. You can find him in New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Interview Magazine, McSweeney’s, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and more. Check out his website, where you’ll find his reading list this year, his latest features, and more ways to connect. Brady is a freelancer for hire who can do interviews, reporting, criticism, and playlists - get in touch if you need a writer.

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All cartoons by Brady Gerber. Headphone Nation logo by Sophie Wiener. This newsletter was made possible with the help of Simon Morrow, who also designed the ARTS & FARTS logo. Thank you, Simon!