Hello and welcome to another edition of the Haulix Blogger Spotlight series. We received your numerous requests for this column to appear more frequently, and through the coming month of October we will attempt to do just that. Today’s interview runs a little longer than most, but it’s definitely worth your time.
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I never get tired of meeting new writers with interesting stories to share. There may be well over a two-thousand music bloggers in existence today, and though we have spent over a year speaking with people in that realm we have barely scratched the surface as far as understanding life in music today is concerned. Today however, we get a bit closer thanks to an amazing conversation with the man known to most of the digital world as Johnny Ringo.
Brandon Ringo, the real world person behind the moniker Johnny Ringo, is a seasoned writing veteran with a wealth of experience already under his belt. He writes for New Noise Magazine and Nothing Original, as well as Amps And Green Screens. His online moniker is the result of a childhood memory involving a cast member from Duck Dynasty, but truth be told that’s a story best left for the interview. I wanted to feature Brandon for several months now, and just last week I finally got the opportunity to ask him every question I had ever thought of in regards to his career and where he sees himself in the future. His answers were, as expected, incredibly insightful. You can read our conversation below.
I’m not sure where Brandon will end up in the years ahead, but I know that as long as he keeps writing content that is on par with, if not better than what he’s been delivering in 2014 up to this point he will be able to write for anyone he desires in no time at all. Everyone, including myself, can learn something from his journey. If you have any additional questions or comments for Brandon, please post them at the end of this article.
H: Hello! I’m excited to begin and hope you are as well. Please take a moment and introduce yourself to our readers:
B: My name is Brandon Ringo, I’m 29 years old and I’m a writer for New Noise Magazine (http://newnoisemagazine.com/), which is available in both print and digital formats. I also do reviews for blogs like Nothing Original (http://nothingoriginal.net/) and Amps & Green Screens (http://ampsandgreenscreens.com/). In addition to writing, I work a full time job for “the man” helping out Small Business customers, which has turned out to be a lot more gratifying and fulfilling than it sounds. I also have an amazingly supportive, wonderful and patient wife named Amber and a one year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Charles Barkevious Ringo, who I have taught to bark the chorus to “Who Let The Dogs Out?”
H: It’s great to have you with us, Brandon. Though, we should say that some may also know you by the name Johnny Ringo. I guess that’s probably as good a place as any to start. What’s the story behind the nickname?
B: Wow, it’s kind of hilarious you ask that, actually. That nickname was given to me about 16 or 17 years ago by a man named Jason Robertson, who many know as Jase from the A&E show Duck Dynasty. My dad is good friends with the Robertson family and we went to their church for a while and Jason was my Sunday School teacher for a while. The first time he met me, he said “Johnny Ringo! Son, you know they wrote a song about you?” and as I stared back confused, he started singing the Lorne Green song “Ringo”. Eventually, when I started using Myspace and Facebook to promote local shows I was booking, I thought it’d be way more fun to use a nickname and it just kind of stuck. Also, it should be noted that my uncle once traced our family history and realized that we are in fact kin to the outlaw Johnny Ringo somewhere down the line and his death in Tombstone still makes me cry to this day.
H: Well I appreciate you telling me and for letting me call you by your real name. Let’s talk a bit about your history. What are your earliest memories of music?
B: Music has been all around me ever since I can remember. My dad has been a DJ at various radio stations since well before I was born and used to have a massive record collection and music was always playing in our house. As far as musical memories go though, it all really started with Steely Dan. The very first song I remember being my favorite was “Deacon Blues” at a very, very young age, which is kind of funny when you think about the song’s story. In addition to Steely Dan, I remember my dad playing a lot of Doors, Pink Floyd and Allman Brothers records when I was a kid, as well as stuff like ZZ Top, Deep Purple and Humble Pie. At one point, he was working at a pop station and a lot of that music rubbed off on me as well. Specifically, I remember being obsessed with the song “She Drives Me Crazy” by Fine Young Cannibals to the point that it was all I wanted to listen to until my tape magically disappeared, haha! As far as metal goes, I also remember the incredible waves of fear and awe that crept over me the first time I heard Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. It was loud and scary and I didn’t know how to process it entirely, but I knew I liked it. I also will never forget the time a guy in high school told me to listen to “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse thinking it would scare me to death. Naturally it did, but I was more intrigued and excited about it and had to hear more!
H: Did you aspire to be involved in music from an early age, or did you have other passions when you were young? I know I wanted to be a scientist until a few pop punk albums changed my world.
B: Though I’ve always been obsessed with music, I wanted to be a football player when I grew up, honestly. That is until I actually started playing football in high school and realized it sucked. At that point music took on a substantially more important role and I was more excited about Metallica and Led Zeppelin than anything ever. I didn’t really start aspiring to have something more to do with music though until I graduated from high school and started getting a lot more involved in my local scene.
H: What was the first album you purchased with your own money? Format?
B: It was Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? on cassette tape. A friend of mine had the cd and played it enough to where I became obsessed with hearing more of it and bought it as soon as I could! Also, a few years later, I had just got into collecting cd’s when one of my neighbors lost her cat and was offering a reward for it. Well, somehow the cat had snuck into my house and nobody noticed, so when I found her and brought her back over, she gave me some money and I promptly spent it on Jimi Hendrix – Live At Woodstock and felt like a king!
H: Do you remember the first artist you saw in concert? Bonus points if you share an early ‘fan boy’ story of sorts.
B: This story is always kind of embarrassing, honestly. My mom used to work at this TV station in Florida that would give away tickets to concerts at this big amphitheatre in town. One time, she won tickets to a Celine Dion concert and I decided to tag along and it was one of the weirdest experiences ever! A few years later after moving to Louisiana, my aunt took me to my first “metal” concert, which was Ratt, Warrant, Dokken, LA Guns and Firehouse, which was awesome! Not only did I see my first pair of rock concert boobs (unfortunately they were from an overweight older lady), I caught my first pick ever from the guitarist of Dokken! Both were equally as important however, because one taught me to appreciate the art of live performance and the other taught me that rock/metal shows were 100% my favorite thing in the world.
H: Going back to something we discussed a minute ago, was there ever a ‘lightbulb moment’ in your life that let you know music would play a major role in your life? You know, as something more than a hobby?
B: It was the first time I went to a local show, actually. A friend of mine invited me to see his pop punk band Lot 27 play at this coffee house in town and it was the first time I really saw underground music played live. It was one of those things that I didn’t really get at the time, but I knew it was special and interesting and from then on, I went to as many local shows as I could. Eventually, I got involved in the scene enough that I decided to start booking shows of my own and it was from there that I began to truly fall in love with all of the facets of the music industry. I remember always getting as much thrill out of the chase-and-catch of emailing booking agents to put shows together as I did the actual shows themselves. Although to be honest, dealing with publicists is WAY easier than dealing with booking agents since there aren’t huge guarantees on the line!
H: One of the topics we’re most often asked to discuss is whether or not aspiring industry professionals should pursue higher education. Some believe it helps get a leg up in the business world, while others believe it’s better to try and make your own path and learn along the way. Where do you stand on this topic?
B: I personally feel that both methods are incredibly effective. Getting a degree is obviously something that looks incredible on a resume and you can definitely learn a lot. It also increases your earning potential and can help gain a lot more contacts. However, I also believe that it isn’t worthwhile going preposterously in debt unless you know for a fact that you’re going to get something to show for it and the career field you’re going into is something you will be happy devoting your life to. Personally, I went to a community college to get an IT-centered degree and figured I would be chained to that sort of thing as my future career. As these things happen though, I took an English class with a teacher who told me I had a knack for creative writing and encouraged me to pursue it more. I didn’t really believe her, but I decided to try it, so I started a blog and began writing reviews of new albums that I thought were pretty cool. I think that it’s definitely been more gratifying learning as I go, rather than being taught exactly what to do. It makes it easier to inject my personality and write from the heart, rather than feeling pressured to do things a certain way because I spent $100,000 to learn how to do it, you know?
H: You’ve written for a number of entertainment publications over the years, but what was the first site or zine to give you an opportunity to write about music? Please tell us about that initial experience and the work you did.
B: My first real forays into writing about music seriously were these crappy WordPress and Blogspot blogs I started in college. My first REAL opportunity though, came from Hails & Horns Magazine. It was this magazine that was sort of the heavy metal spin-off of AMP Magazine, which was more well-known for covering punk and hardcore at the time. One day they posted an email address on Facebook to contact them about something and I decided to take a chance and inquire about contributing. Sure enough, a couple of days later a wonderful man named Tony Shrum wrote me back and told me they would be down and had me contact their editor Lisa Root. After a few days, she replied back and said she would be glad to let me contribute and the rest is history. Also, I’d like to say that Lisa and Tony are both with New Noise Magazine now and are maybe my favorite people ever. They have seriously spoiled me and made this whole experience a lot easier and more fun than I ever thought was possible.
H: Do you remember your first album review and/or interview?
B: I honestly can’t remember what albums I first started reviewing. I do remember my first interviews like they were yesterday though! My first big one for Hails & Horns was an emailer with Jacob Bannon of Converge, which was a dream come true and a half. The truly scary/amazing thing though, is that my first ever phone interview was with Steve Harris of Iron Maiden to promote his upcoming solo record. Up until that week, I didn’t even know any of the logistics of how to record a phone interview or how to do the questions or anything, really. The scariest part was when his manager came on and said “Brandon, you’re on the phone with Steve Harris”. I almost had a heart attack! Amazingly though, it went supremely well and no interview since then has had me as nervous, because Steve Harris basically invented heavy metal, so if he didn’t hate me nobody else would be allowed to, haha!
H: This is more for fun than anything else, but have you ever thought to take some time and revisit those earlier works? Sometimes I cringe thinking about the way I probably wrote when I was just starting out.
B: Honestly, I will go back and read old interviews and reviews every once in a while, but for the most part I try to avoid it. I guess because it can be a tad embarrassing. There have been occasions though, where I’ve been lost on question ideas and gone back and found interviews in the past with questions that worked really well and tried to incorporate those and they’ve worked wonders.
H: You’re currently located in Louisiana, which is not exactly the first place people think of when imagining the homes of music journalists. What can you tell us about the music scene where you live? I know you also lived in Florida at one point, so if you’re able to compare the two areas we’d love to hear it:
B: It really is a huge surprise to me that there aren’t more writers/journalists in this state. Though it certainly isn’t the best place to live in terms of politics and skin-seering humidity, it’s a musical treasure trove, especially in New Orleans. As far as my town’s scene goes, it’s kind of hit or miss. There are a lot of interesting and enjoyable local bands in town like The Vidrines, Prestor Jon, Mailbomber and The Flying Humanoids. But I don’t get out to a lot of local shows as much as I used to though because I don’t drink anymore and a lot of my friends have moved away, so it’s not as fun as it once was. As far as Florida goes, when I lived there I was way too young to ever go to any local shows, unfortunately. What made this more depressing was when I read the book Extremity Retained which mentions multiple mind-numbingly brutal shows with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Immolation and Malevolent Creation going on in the town I lived in during that same timeframe. A few years ago though, I did actually get to see a show in Florida while visiting my mom. In fact, the headliner was Sky Eats Airplane, this band that went on to be kind of big. The funny part about it though, is that the openers were all super lame and I ended up getting bored and leaving when one of them did an emo version of “Hey Jealousy” by Gin Blossoms.
H: I don’t personally think geographic location matters as much today as it did twenty years ago, but some think everything cool only happens in LA and NYC. Do you travel a lot for coverage, or do you wait for tours and artists to come through your area?
B: The good thing about my location is that I’m 3-5 hours from Dallas, New Orleans and Little Rock, so plenty of cool stuff is at my disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel as often as I’d like, so it has to be something super big and worth the trip and expenses. Also, when I go to that stuff, I don’t feel like working, so I just buy my ticket and enjoy it like it’s more of a vacation of sorts. Every once in a while, bands worth covering like Helmet and The Sword have come to my town, which rules, but that stuff is few and far between.
H: I’d like to talk about your work conducting interviews, if only because that is how I first came across your work. You’ve done many interviews of the past several years, perhaps more than any other type of featured content. Is there anything about this type of article that holds your interest more than, say, album reviews?
B: The funny part about this is that I never intended on doing interviews. When I first started, I was mostly into reviews and lists and stuff and interviews didn’t seem like a thing I would be good at, so I didn’t worry with them. Eventually though, I wanted to help promote my friend’s bands, so I started doing email interviews and truly fell in love with the process. Once I started writing for Hails & Horns and then New Noise however, interviews became substantially more important. At first it was the thrill of talking with bands that I really liked, but eventually it turned into a genuine fascination with the songwriting process and how different it is for each artist. I still like doing reviews, but it feels weird sometimes because I know that you don’t need to read my review to decide if you’re going to like a record or not. Whereas with interviews I get to tell the artist’s story and really discuss the thought process behind the record, which is substantially more interesting.
H: Do you have a favorite interview? We’d love to hear a story about your most memorable interview experience.
B: There are quite a few that I would consider favorites, but for different reasons. In fact, last night I had one of my favorite overall conversations ever with Steve Austin of Today Is The Day. It was super insightful and definitely the most personal and heartfelt conversation I’ve had with a musician thus far and left me sort of shaken. The one I’m most proud of was Rob Zombie though. It was one of those that started out with boring, generic answers, but after three or four questions I could feel a switch flip and he got comfortable and the answers got progressively better and better! Another memorable one for me was the time I got to interview Oderus Urungus (R.I.P.) of Gwar and he was more interested in talking about drinking dog piss than discussing music!
H: Do you have a method or routine you follow when working on interviews? If so, what is it?
B: My process has evolved quite a bit as I’ve gotten more experienced, but two things have always remained the same and will never change. When the request is first approved, I begin obsessively listening to the band’s new record and their past discography and jotting down the stuff that immediately pops into my head. As the interview gets scheduled and gets closer, I start repeatedly asking myself “Okay, what do you REALLLLY want to know most about this person?” At that point, it all depends on if it’s being done by email or phone. If I’m doing by email, I get a list of 5-10 “skeleton questions” and kind of mold them into real questions. I used to do the same thing for phoners, but now I just leave the topics in their skeletal form to avoid asking robotic-sounding questions and use them more as topic suggestions, basically.
H: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers and future industry professionals who may be reading this about making it in the music business today?
B: Unfortunately, success in the music industry is something that boils down to 50% hard work, 30% good luck and 20% knowing the right people. My best advice is to realize this up front and only get into the business if you are truly obsessed with your field, because most music industry jobs are incredibly thankless. As a writer, the most important thing to remember is that monetarily speaking, you’ll never get out of it what you put in, so dedication to the craft has to be your main motivation. If you are truly motivated by and obsessed with music all of your hard work will still be rewarded, but the reward comes in other forms. For me, it comes in the form of getting new music early, landing interviews with people I love and respect, as well as the catharsis that comes from finding the perfect wording for a piece and finishing the piece in general. I know there’s better advice I could give, but understanding exactly what you’re getting yourself into ahead of time and deciding from there if it’s worth your time is the best thing any budding professional should know.
H: We should note that you are not a full time writer at this point. You freelance for many publications, but you also have another job on the side. Would you ideally like to write full time, or are you happy with where you’re at right now? I know many don’t want to be full time writers because there is very little job security with those roles.
B: When I first started writing for Hails & Horns, I was really sick of my day job and all I wanted was to write full time because it was more fun and interesting. Now though, I’m really happy with where I’m at with my day job and writing has taken its natural place as simply a creative outlet/hobby that I GET to do. I think if it turned in to something I HAD to do, it would probably get boring as well. It’s just so nice to take a break or lunch and start working on interview questions or an article or review or something, because it truly provides a nice break for my brain to think about fun things for a little bit.
H: You’ve used many digital distribution platforms to preview and review music over the years. Which services do you prefer and why?
B: Though I have used a lot of different sites, I’ll still never forget the first time I was sent a link from Haulix, honestly. I just really loved being able to read the press release and stream/download music all in the same place without having to download huge pdf files and stuff like that. I’m also a big fan of this site called promojukebox.com which also has great functionality, plus I can actually use it on my phone, which is very cool.
H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
B: I truly don’t think there’s a lot I would change about the music industry. Though it sucks that musicians aren’t able to make money the way they used to, it truly separates the cream of the crop nowadays. Before, labels would throw fistfuls of dollars at any trend they could find, whereas now bands have to work harder and put more effort into being creative and interesting and they have to tour their asses off and truly bleed for their art. Thus, if you’re not truly committed and obsessed with your craft, you’re better off becoming a doctor or lawyer, because they are way better ways of earning money. One thing I would actually change though, is I would do away with Clear Channel. As someone who enjoys occasionally listening to the radio on the way to or from work, or even as the little kid who would sit glued to the radio ready to record songs I loved for mix tapes, Clear Channel has completely shattered that experience in many ways. I’m not going to go off on a huge rant, but I truly believe they have had a massive hand in the music industry’s apocalypse. Also, as far as downloading music is concerned, I think it’s fantastic that bands and labels have finally learned to embrace that technology and learned how to use it to their advantage rather than running away from it with their tails between their legs and blaming it for all of their problems.
H: What are your biggest goals as far as writing is concerned, and what stands in the way of you achieving them?
B: My goals as a writer seem to be changing every day, honestly. When I first started doing it, I told myself that I was only in it for the new records and anything else was gravy. At this very point in time though, I have three specific goals. The first is to interview a member of Metallica, my favorite band of all time. The second is to interview Lemmy of Motörhead. The third would be to interview Donald Fagen and/or Walter Becker of Steely Dan. The only thing standing in the way of Lemmy and/or Metallica is just finding the right opportunity at this point. Eventually, a time will come up when those are feasible, but it’s just a matter of being patient. As far as Steely Dan goes, there are a few obstacles. Specifically, the sites/magazines I contribute to don’t really fit the mold of a publication that they would normally be covered by, so that is a big one. The other obstacle would just be finding the right time/reason/opportunity like with anything.
H: Where do you see yourself in five years?
B: I honestly don’t know. With the way the world is right now, there’s literally no telling. My only true goal in life is to be happy and make others happy when I can. As long as I have my wife, my puppy and my record collection, I think I’ll be good! To give you a better answer though, I’d really like to be in a higher-up position at work and I’d really like to still be contributing stories for the print version of New Noise. It would also be rad if I was also able to contribute stuff for Decibel Magazine, my favorite magazine of all time! Oh and if I landed that Steely Dan interview, that’d be pretty cool as well.
H: Okay, I think that covers everything. Before I let you go, are there any final thoughts or observations that you would like to share with our readers?
B: Kind of going back to advice I would give to writers, I would just like to say that the most important thing any writer can do is learning to consistently finish what you start. For some reason, I have had difficulties with this in the past, but it really is incredibly important to your personal/professional growth to learn how to create an idea and see it all the way through to its completion. If a piece or project or something seems like it’s getting the best of you, let that motivate you to work harder to finish it instead of letting that scare you off, because in the end you’re only making yourself better for finishing it and turning it in.