17 min read

on better yet: an interview with tim crisp

on better yet: an interview with tim crisp

If you know who I am and are reading this, you probably know who Tim is but I’ll do a little bio of his recent work anyway. Tim Crisp is a podcaster and writer. His newest podcast was about Sit Resist with Laura Stevenson (and is the reason I like that album). He also made one with Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms while building up to the release of their new album. Oh and also one talking about every Alkaline Trio song. Other than that, he wrote this awesome Chicago Reader piece about Nnamdï that isn’t like seminal to knowing who Tim is, I just like it.

Tim has been super supportive of my writing and zines and has given me loads of wonderful advice over the last year. I won’t wax nostalgic about Better Yet or how delightful I think he is but when he told me a while back he was bringing back the podcast, well, I was jazzed so we did chatted about it and now you get to read it [in an edited for clarity fashion]! Sick! Better Yet is the best version of an interview based podcast out there so I hope y’all check out the new episodes tomorrow and hey maybe go back and check out some old faves.

Scene: I’m sitting in a zoom waiting room. Tim lets me into the call. We’re both wearing hats. He has better lighting than I do.

Better Yet. It’s back. Did you always kinda know it would come back or when you ended it did you think that was it for good and just move onto different projects?

Yeah when I ended it I thought that it was gonna be done. That was December of last year. I had been pretty worn out by that time. I had an abdominal surgery that really really did a number on me and I just was so worn out and so.. tired and a little bit depressed, honestly. And then Chloe died. It was the end of a stretch that had been pretty draining then when Chloe died the idea of— so this was mid-December of last year and we’re rolling into the new year and at the time I was having people come in from Chicago but a lot of the guests that I had were touring. The stretch of January through February was always a really tough one to get through because I was so limited on who was coming into town and I think it was just time.

With everything that has changed over this year and doing Road to the Skeleton Coast with Brendan Kelly and the Laura Stevenson Podcast I realized like, “Oh! I can still have good interviews with people over Zoom!” I’d always been much more inclined toward face to face interviews but I think that was the beginning of thinking I can still do this and, in fact, do it with a lot less stress by just talking to them online.

And I know back before everything fell apart you were planning to do merch for Ratboys on their tour in the Spring

Yeah that was supposed to be a fun thing. I’d really built up a lot of energy just to go. I’d spent the two months leading up to when we were supposed to go getting back into physical shape— a lot changes when they cut your stomach open!

I’d been sad and depressed and I wasn’t sure what I was doing then the opportunity to go on tour with Ratboys came along so I was like, “okay cool if I’m gonna go that means I have to get back in shape, I have to get like physically able, and once I have a goal I can do all the work that I need to so that was definitely a rejuvenating period.

Then such a let down, obviously, for everybody.

Yeah do one show..

Two shows

Two shows!

Yep! They played The Hideout the next night

Right right! Play Lincoln Hall, play The Hideout, go home for the next six months. That was the last show I went to before everything shut down.

Me too! It was a very fun show though! Seeing them do that Lincoln Hall show; they sold it out. Seeing them do The Hideout show; they sold that out. That was a very inspiring thing. It’s like, you watch this band really reach a level that is meaningful.

For a while it felt like every show I went to Ratboys would be playing no matter what so it was fun to see. It sucks that they put out a record at, arguably, the worst time.

I know. It’s gonna be really interesting to look at the quarantine album retrospective lists that are gonna come out in like two years like “here’s all the great music you might have missed!” for however long we’re still doing this.

When did you decide you were going to definitely bring back Better Yet?

That happened in probably July. The moment I stopped doing Better Yet I was also without a job. Surgery had led me to losing my job and I was spending time trying to find some kind of copywriter or whatever gig and that was.. a very strange time. I don’t know how to get a job. I do not know how to do it.

Me neither [i’m putting off law school reading to transcribe this interview]

And it wasn’t high on the list of reasons why I had to stop doing Better Yet but it was a part of it. Once I decided I don’t think I have this in me anymore I was finally allowing myself to tell myself, “you shouldn’t be spending as many hours as you do on this thing that you’re not making any money off of even though you love doing it.”

I’d always, I think, been aware of the ways in which podcasts are monetizing but I’d always looked at Better Yet as being a very unmarketable program, sort of by design. I never like had the capacity to think about what I was doing in those terms because what I was doing felt so ground level and small and particular that it didn’t really make sense.

Once I stopped doing it I was pretty quick to realize I know how monetizing podcasts works, I’ve seen it, so now that I have a clean slate that’s when Road to the Skeleton Coast came up. I told Brendan [Kelly], “hey I think you should do a podcast— you should be doing a podcast anyway just because you’re very entertaining— what if we did something where we talk about each one of your records” and that kind of morphed into something where we talked about each one of his records and then we let everybody know that there’s a new Lawrence Arms record coming out! It was a cool way to get people excited about a Lawrence Arms record without thinking about the fact that what we’re doing is promotional.

Then I reached out to Mike Campbell. Mike Campbell and I have been becoming very good friends during the quarantine because he just had a baby and ever since this thing hit— at least for the first few months of it— my hours of being awake shifted to like weirdo territory. So I was talking to him a lot while he was up with his baby and I’m just like hangin out and told him, he’s now the promotions person for Don Giovanni, “I’m doing this thing with Brendan if you ever want something like that for Don Gio I’m down” and then the Laura Stevenson podcast just fell into my lap.

Both of those were just like ok this is exciting. This is promotional material that is not anything like what’s happening in music from where I sit. I’m getting paid.

We love money

I haven’t had to get a job yet! This has become my job which is amazing! And that’s when I started thinking about Better Yet, if i were to bring it back, how could I do it in a way that is also different? Coupled with the fact that I’d been observing all the difficulties people are having with promoting their new records. It’s such a tough time to take space on a timeline to say, “hey I made a record! feels weird to be telling anybody to spend time or money on my music!”

That’s a really tough position and it’s hard to see people have to— I think punk in general, and DIY, it’s already filled with humility. Everybody I’ve ever had on that show is like, “I know this sounds obnoxious for me to say but yeah.”

I’ve always wanted to take that instinct away from people in general when I talk to them because I think that what they make is amazing. I know they’re humble when they talk about it, but when they talk about it with no regard for how they might sound it’s exciting, it’s invigorating, it’s inspiring.

when they talk about it with no regard for how they might sound it’s exciting, it’s invigorating, it’s inspiring.

So then it was like okay how do we do this in a way that invites that kind of positivity in, one, talking about their own music and then let’s talk about an organization on the show. That way we have an extra reason for us to be there. It’s you, it’s me, and we’ve got this third thing that’s working toward something better.

Then I came to the idea to do it with a Patreon and let’s have the Patreon’s revenue be equally distributed to me, the person I’m talking to, and the organization that we’re talking about.

I’ve liked seeing things take that form lately like James Cassar and some other people in Philly just announced a record label called Moon Physics where it’s a similar model— profits split between artists and community organizations of the artists choosing.

Yeah and I think that I’ve become aware of the fact that PR is something that bands are expected to pay into. That is, obviously, beneficial when it works but from my perspective, I get to talk to these people. I’ve only ever reached out to people whose music I like and who I wanted to talk more about what they’re making! So the idea of paying them to do it is something that once it popped in it was like, “oh! of course I should be doing that!” It’s their time that they’re giving me.

Yeah I’ve got pretty strong opinions on the place of PR especially in small independent music and how dependent music media is on it. It feels very wrong a lot of the time.

I think that you can really tell when a campaign is going through the motions. I think that’s something that we as a culture are very aware of when it’s like— we see the playbook, people are going to disengage. That’s how a lot of it feels to me. I think there are great PR people who are out there, I’m working with one of them, I’m not in the least bit anti-PR but I think there is a certain formula that has become the norm that doesn’t excite me. When someone can take the excitement and fun out of music? They’re doing a bad job.

Yeah

Do a better job! Music is fun!

How did you even do that where it’s not fun!

I got this PR email for this artist and all it is is about how heartbreaking and devastating this person’s lyrics are. And it’s like yo they are a fucking phenomenal guitar player, they write songs like nobody else, and all that this is to you is someone who is a sad girl. Gross. I hate it.

Yeah and you can tell when a PR email is worded like that because that’s how so many of the articles that get written about it end up reading. It sucks that you’re only focused on this one thing so everything else sorta gets pushed away.

There’s this formula where the first single is on Stereogum then the second single is premiered on Consequence of Sound and it’s set to come out on a Friday but on Wednesday there’s a full album stream on some other website. That just doesn’t do anything for me. When it works it works but when it’s just the same thing you do for everybody.. I don’t care.

The whole premier structure is so— just make the song available. Have the band write something nice about it. Just have writers do full reviews or a profile on the artist. I’d like to see what the data on premiers is. Do people click on them? Do people really read them? I don’t have any data on that.

Yeah I don’t either which is why I like to stress that this is just my opinion. It just seems to be the thing that people do just because that’s what people do now.

There must be better ways— or other ways at least. What do you think the role of podcasts in independent media, or independent music media, is?

Yeah… I don’t know. I feel like I’ve done a lot better focusing on what I like and what works for me and not— I’ve done the best just going into it being like, “what do I want to know about this person and their art.” I can’t say how that interacts with everything else. I just know it’s where I go— where my head goes with questions and the types of conversations I wanna have and I don’t think I’m very unique.

I think that the people who I talk to they all enjoy the conversations that we have. I think that’s been the best thing for me. I know that what I’m doing, for a listener, I’m getting people to talk about the things I want to hear about. I don’t mean to like give myself anything more than I have earned, but I get very good feedback from the people that I interview about the interviews themselves. So that works for me. And I think the people that find the interviews tend to enjoy them and my thinking beyond what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with is the best thinking that I can do for the general field. If it doesn’t change anything, that’s cool, I’m not saying that what I’m doing is any better but I don’t hear it anywhere else.

I shouldn’t say anywhere else but you know what I’m saying.

Yeah for sure. How much do you think about the people who are listening?

I don’t know!

[laughing]

It’s an interesting thing because— well I guess Patreon has changed it a little bit where the interactions I get to have with people on the like As You Were Patreon and the Road to the Skeleton Coast Patreon are awesome. It’s super exciting to know that just a lot of different people are enjoying the conversations and they’re getting a lot out of it. That’s amazing. But podcasts are a very like— when you’re doing them by yourself? You really just have to focus on doing— like I have to just be like, “this is a good episode of this podcast!”

I’m never gonna go on tour! I’m never gonna get people who are like reacting to it in real time which is different from music so it has to just come from— I think this is good.

So I am excited about having a Patreon and hopefully getting more interaction with people who do like the show. I do hear from people on Twitter and email who all say very nice things and that’s kind of— those are very, very meaningful. And when I stopped doing it I remember a bunch of people that I’d never heard from were just like, “sad to see it go” and I still think about that. That meant a lot to me.

That’s nice. Got five stars on iTunes.

You have to be kind of a jerk to give a bad rating on iTunes, I think. Except when we did— on as you were, the podcast about Alkaline Trio, has some kind of negative reviews and that’s cause we don’t like all of the songs. That upsets people. That’s understandable. It’s a weird thing to give something that is free a one star review but—

For sure! It’s like rating an uber driver negatively.

Right

Like how bad does it have to be for you to not just give it five stars?

Yeah there’s that— Jaboukie has a really good joke about being in an uber that was like a 3.9 that he’s like—

Did you kill someone?!

Yes!! That shit is so funny!

You know it’s just like some asshole who thinks way to highly of themselves giving some shit review

Yeah totally.

If you’re going to take time out of your day to review a podcast, why make it a negative one? Seems like a weird thing to do.

Yeah some of them are so funny and that’s always great. Like when I do Road to the Skeleton Coast I like kind of play a bit where I just act like Brendan and I are best friends. I have a lot of fun doing that especially knowing that it does annoy some people. There are some funny ass reviews that are just long, “I wish this guy would stop being so annoying” and I’m just looking at that like OH I can’t WAIT for this episode coming up because I’m going to be so much more annoying and this person is gonna hate it! But I’m gonna have a lot of fun.

I’m gonna pivot to something perhaps more serious?

All right!

You and I talk about ethics and morals in punk and DIY quite a lot, I guess I just wanna know the impact of punk on you and your choices in politics— either with podcast stuff or in your everyday life?

I think that I was taught a lot of lessons early on through punk that have ingrained themselves in me in ways that have— it’s been interesting to see the ideas of prison abolition, police abolition, it’s been interesting seeing things like that be things people are interacting with for the first time. It’s encouraging and it’s been helpful for me, I think, to reassess. DIY, in and of itself, its’s just been the only way that I’ve ever approached anything.

I’ve never vibed with the idea that well the music industry is fucked right now and we have to think how we’re going to go to battle with that. I’m like.. fuck that! I don’t want anything to do with the music industry. I’ve never wanted anything to do with the music industry. I am a full anarchist. I think that shit is bogus.

We could create entire economies based on fucking sharing with each other here. If somebody doesn’t want it then they can go fuck themselves. Seeing DIY get co-opted a genre that describes a genre is like.. take it. It’s yours. I still refer to the music that I like that is current as punk music. It is all punk music to me.

We could create entire economies based on fucking sharing with each other here. If somebody doesn’t want it then they can go fuck themselves.

I see that distinction clearly even in bands that don’t present as punk bands. You get it. You play basements. There are steps you can take to be integrated into the larger industry as it exists, and that’s cool, I support anybody who’s trying to make a living, I think that should always be celebrated. I think the idea that something that involves making money being inherently a flaw because it’s capitalistic is absurd. You are talking about people who are trying to make a living on their art. I would like to know what other option they have for living in a capitalist society than.. capitalism.

Embracing the gimmick that we’re all stuck in, whether we believe it or not, embracing the fact that if you do these things then you can make money and live and not have to work a day job while you do your job— that is a good thing. Anyway that a band can maintain integrity and make a living is a positive thing.

The inherent bad of capitalism is preventative of someone like using that as a means to earn enough like they can’t stop once they stop. Yeah, cool, we get it. You make a million dollars and you become a different person. What about making $50,000 a year and just being cool with that? That’s all I’m after!

Better Yet, LLC is a corporation and I started it so that I could buy records and write them off. That’s the reason that I started a corporation. When I was looking for a job and I sorta re-framed that notion just being like, “okay if I think about podcasting as a job, if I put my hours into this job, how much can I earn doing this job?” and I used the idea that for forty hours a week I am a corporation what can I do to make sure my time is at least somewhat efficient for that goal?

I got to a point where, ok cool, I have a base income. That’s invigorating. Helps me be a better partner and person and ends up giving me a lot more time to spend with the dogs, sounds good to me.

[It’s right here that Tim and I got off track chatting about something unrelated and I could just cut off here except that he says some stuff I liked a bit later so I’m gonna pick up there where we’re talking about the role of music journalism]

Like, what is the role of music journalism? What is the point? What is it for? You can’t divorce it from the fact that it is inherently promotional for something right?

I think that, something that’s been lost is the fact that the job, the journalist’s job, in 1985 was to get people to go buy records. You’re working with the goal of convincing someone to spend money on something. And now it’s like you’re convincing someone to listen to the thing that is available to them for free. I realize that we pay for Spotify subscriptions but I don’t have to pay money to obtain a record and I think that in not having that intention of “how do I get someone to spend money on this music” there’s a lot that gets lost.

I think it’s important to the future of music journalism that there is a drive to [push people to] not just spend money on this music itself but spend money on this band! Spend money on the people that are doing this so that they can continue doing this and so that they don’t have to work two jobs and maybe when touring comes back they can operate on more of a solid foundation of income. That way it’s not so imperative that they go across the country in order to make money.

Spend money on the people that are doing this so that they can continue doing this and so that they don’t have to work two jobs and maybe when touring comes back they can operate on more of a solid foundation of income.

We’re aware enough as a society that like, yeah, advertising, marketing that’s what’s killing us all right now. That’s very true, but the idea that you are spending money on art is a good thing! Especially if you’re in the space where you can send that money directly to the person who made it and not send 85% of it to a record label and all of that shit, that is good! That is sharing! Sharing is positive and it creates a socialism [within a larger system].

After this we talked about traveling and coffee and art museums. We also talked about how he came to decide the tiers of his Patreon pricing but I’ve tried to make sense of it sitting here writing and can’t do it. What you need to know is that while the podcast itself is free, there will be extra content from all the artists available on the Patreon page that goes alongside their interviews. There’s a $3 tier that supports the podcast and a $10 that provides you access to all that sweet, sweet extra content!

Thanks so much, Tim, for talking to me and being so supportive of everything I do! Better Yet comes back tomorrow with an interview with the inimitable Nnamdi and will be followed with episodes every Thursday featuring more delightful guests! The Patreon can be found at patreon.com/betteryetpodcast. I hope you’ll check that out as well. You can find Tim online @betteryetpod.


Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like polling the emo community on where good pizza in Philly is: @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading!

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