Interview: Christopher Weingarten on hipster puppies, longform writing, and more

Posted by Tobias Carroll

The last time I interviewed Christopher R. Weingarten was in 2009; he’d just debuted his 1000 Times Yes project, reviewing a thousand records over the course of the year on Twitter. 2010 saw the release of his book on Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; this time out, his current project is Hipster Puppies, the book edition of his blog of the same name. And while Hipster Puppies (and hipster puppies) was the focus of the interview, we also touched on the tape compilation that will accompany it, the current state of music criticism, and more.

For the excerpt from the book that appeared on Sound of the City, you talked a bit about the genesis of some of the captions. When you were coming up with the book, did you generally start with the image, or were there certain things you knew you wanted to touch on (weird bacon, absurd pet names, etc)?
I would say for about 25% of the photos, I look at the photo and a story emerges. I see a dog, ponder the props he or she surrounds itself with and I invent a story about what type of person this would be if they were made flesh. For example, someone sent me a photo of a dog laying on a copy of The Economist. This may say more about the type of people I associate with, but honestly if one of my friends was reading The Economist, it would only be to show off the fact that they were reading The Economist. So naturally I imagined this dog to be a psuedo-intellectual, who’s greatest shame would be caught mispronouncing words. Thus the caption, “Mattie was already caught mispronouncing ‘bourgeoisie’ and isn’t going to make the same mistake with ‘gauche.’ ”

How did the idea for Hipster Puppies first come about?
I posted a lot of snarky comments on a music message board before I was unceremoniously banned for my bad attitude. There was a week in February 2010 where everyone seemed to be posting and reposting “hipster”-related tumblrs. I thought most of them were stupid and unfunny and often had a real jocky, outsider idea of what a hipster was. I started Hipster Puppies on a lazy Saturday afternoon as sort of a parody of these sites. Basically, “If you think anything can be a hipster, well then these puppies will be hipsters too.” I even bounced around the idea of the even droller concept of “Hipster Food,” which would have been like a pair of sunglasses floating in a bowl of soup or something. Thankfully, my love of dogs won out.

Is there a type of dog that you would consider — for lack of a better word — the archetypal hipster puppy?
I don’t know as far as hipster puppies go, but people seem to send me an inordinate amount of Boston terriers.

How far along in the process were you when you decided to assemble the tape compilation?
I came up with the idea when we put out a call for pictures. I wanted to make sure the people who had photos in book knew they were appreciated. I felt like just giving them a copy of the book wasn’t enough. I wanted to create something special to say “Thanks, from Brooklyn.” What better way then exploring the music that inspires me! I’m getting the tapes printed professionally printed, 350 copies on my own dime

How is the tape being distributed?
I’m mailing 150 copies to the people who submitted photos. The other 200 will be given away at Brooklyn events. I’m going to be doing puppy-related DJ events at record stores and book stores in the upcoming months. They haven’t arrived yet, but hopefully I should have tapes in hand to give away to anyone who buys a book.

Some of the artists on the tape are onetime bandmates of yours, others are artists you’ve written about as a critic, and there’s a Weingarten/Bieber Duo recording there as well. How do you navigate the different roles of critic, musician, and — for lack of a better word — curator?
When I left Parts & Labor three years ago it was because my music career and my writing career we both blossoming simultaneously in ways that required me to donate more and more time to both. The choice I made was critic by profession and drummer by hobby. I can’t really say Weingarten/Bieber Duo is “going for the brass ring” like a band is supposed to—I play maybe once a month, usually playing first and happy to. I’m not going to be that guy that hands you a flyer every time you see him. Losing that sisyphean mentality of trying to “make it” as a musician has been very liberating.

Alternately: is the existence of the tape going to make writing about, say, Liturgy or Ava Luna more difficult in the future?
All the tape says is “I’m a fan of Liturgy and Ava Luna.” Which is ultimately a fact you can determine by my constant championing of both in the Village Voice. The tape is just like a blog post except you can hold it in your hands and put in on a shelf. My friend Paul Jeffrey made some pretty beautiful art to go with it, very Chris Ware aware.

You’ve written and spoken frequently about the current state of rock criticism in various forms. Do you see the rise of newer outlets, oriented towards longform writing — Byliner, The Atavist — as having a positive effect on music writing?
I hope so! I mean, I’ve been reading a lot more longform music writing thanks to my Instapaper app. But, obviously, the only way we’re going to get good longform music writing is if people pay for it. All the big players–Rolling Stone, XXL, Spin, the Village Voice–have really great longform stuff still and I hope the rush to post bloggy news never crushes that.

At the 33 1/3 event at Greenlight earlier this year, you mentioned Hipster Puppies as the next book you had forthcoming. Is anything else longform in the works?
I spent a day brainstorming about how to bring back my beloved “record guide” in the age of the internet. I think I found an idea that may pull it off, but that’s all I’m going to say.