Blogger Spotlight: Joshua Hammond (Mother Church Pew)

2015 has been a transformative year for the music blogging community. Sites big and small have been falling apart while the lack of paying positions continues to shrink. Everyone has a drive to succeed and the passion needed to create great content, but people can only chase a dream for so long before they need some kind of return for their effort. We have highlighted a number of influential voices who have chosen to walk away from the sites and columns that first gave them a name in music, and to be honest we can’t blame a single one for their decision. Music writing is, and will likely forever continue to be, a cutthroat corner of the entertainment industry.

Joshua Hammond has appeared on the Haulix blog before. He spent several years running a site of his own before deciding to walk away and start freelance writing for a variety of sites he had no ownership stake in whatsoever. From there, Josh transitioned into the world of music PR as a member of the Reybee publicity team, which gave him a full time position in the entertainment world he never expected to hold. That said, the move was one Josh needed, if only to have enough time away from writing to find the passion to start over again.

Recently, Josh decided to return to blogging by launching a new site dedicated to the world of folk and americana. Mother Church Pew, which launched in the last few weeks, is Josh’s first attempt at running a site of his own in half a decade. Such a move struck me as curious, so last week I had a conversation with Josh about his motivations for returning to music writing, as well as his goals for the new site. You can find highlights from our conversation below.

H: To help us begin, please tell everyone a little about your history in music writing. This isn’t your first time tackling the journalism side of the industry.

J: Roughly 100 years ago in industry time, I started an indie blog in Kansas City called Popwreckoning. It was more of a hobby than anything, but it built a pretty decent following and was getting somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 reads a day by the time I left. I ended up leaving it behind to find homes at Under The Gun, The Deli, Property of Zack, Diffuser and High Voltage (to name a few.)

H: The last site you ran, PopWreckoning, lead a long life online. What initially lead you to step away from site leadership, and what was it that inspired your recent return?

J: PopWreckoning and I had a very complicated relationship towards the end of its life. In reality, life got in the way in a mental capacity. I was working on the site when both my grandfather and my mother (unexpectedly) passed away. So there was some guilt attached to that I guess. It made it hard to keep going I guess? So I opted to walk away and do something new rather than stick around a place with a black cloud hovering above it, even if it was my baby.

H: You have also spent time contributing to various sites you have no ownership stake in at all. What would you say you gained from those experiences that you might not have found when running a site of your own?

J: I find that freelancing I have more of an opportunity to express my voice. I always found that at Popwreckoning I was stuck behind the scenes working on the editorial side of things. The spreadsheeting and assigning. When I’m writing for someone else I can just speak.

H: Let’s take a step back and talking about writing in a more general sense. When did you first realize you had a passion for the written word?

J: It sounds extremely silly, but I can remember be a really young child (4 or 5 years old) and writing stories at home. I always had a passion for creating things with words. I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to write.

H: Do you attribute your interest in writing to anyone or anything?

J: My grandmother use to read to me when I was younger. She would also push me to read the words myself and retell the story as I would have written it. I believe that my love of words probably comes from that.

H: Back to the world of music, you’ve spent the last few years working in the world of publicity. Having worked on both sides of the journalism fence, what has doing PR taught you about music blogging?

J: I think if anything it has taught me to look for unique angles. Everyone who writes can give an opinion. I’ve learned that music journalism is far bigger than my perspective on anything. It is about finding the story that one one is telling and pushing it out into the world. It has made me look for the most interesting bits of stories in a way I guess.

H: Are there any common/frequent mistakes you see sites make when dealing with PR you can pass on?

J: I think that the most common mistake I see being made is that writers on the smallest level of blogging are not open to working with the smaller bands. Everyone is looking for the quick hit and biggest name. Frankly I find that boring. There is so much music out there that people are overlooking, but you have to dig and search for it. I think there is something special about being the person finding a band to love rather than recycling the bands that everyone already loves. I’d rather read a site where I’m going to learn something new any day of the week.

H: Now onto your new effort, Mother Church Pew. What’s the story behind the name?

J: The name comes from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It is referred to as “The Mother Church of Country Music” in the Americana circles. You walk in to this extremely old room in Nashville, where literally EVERYONE who matters has played and you can feel the history of the room. The venue is set up like a old church and there are these very worn and beat up pews that fill the room. When I saw that I was really taken by the fact that people had sat in these seats and watched Cash and Elvis and countless others play. I wanted to play tribute to that concept because it is as Americana as it comes.

H: What type of content will we find on the site, and how often are you going to be updating it?

J: We’re leaning very folk, americana and roots on the site. We’re trying to very modern in our coverage in a hype machine kind of way, providing lots out interactive parts where you can listen to music as you read. I think that’s important today in a world where streaming has become so vital.

H: You’ve already ran some great content. What has it been like re-entering the world of blogging?

J: It has been hard. I’m often swamped with publicity stuff, so writing has had to be done on my own time. I’m lucky to have a great partner in Susan Hubbard, who also runs a little blog in Nashville, East of 8th. She bails me out a lot when I’m overwhelmed.

H: Do you have any goals for the site, or for yourself through the site?

J: Really I’m doing this for the music. I missed the part of discovery when I was running PopWreckoning. I always loved digging through emails to find a new band that kicked me in the face emotionally. So I guess the goal in this is to rediscover that part of me that I had lost when I walked away.

H: You told me in our email exchange that you’ve been planning what to run in the future. How far out does your content calendar stretch? Do you feel that kind of planning is key to success, or just sanity?

J: I have things planned through about the second week in October right now in terms of album reviews. Schedules always change and things always pop up, but there are blueprints.

H: Are you looking for more contributors? If so, how can people get in touch?

J: We’re happy to take a little help here and there if someone has something they’re really passionate about, but for the most part we’re keeping the site simple and between Susan and I. I can be emailed at joshua@motherchurchpew.com

H: Looking ahead to the future, where is Josh Hammond in five years?

J: Honestly, I’ll be 40. I’m hoping to be living in a cute house in Nashville and hopefully still be part of the game.

H: Thinking even more longterm, do you feel music is your home at this point? Do you see yourself exploring careers that lie outside the entertainment industry?

J: I 100 percent feel at home in music. I worked extremely hard to get here and I can’t see myself being happy doing anything else.

H: I think that is all I have for now. before I let you go, is there anything else you would like to mention?

J: Everyone should listen to the amazing trio of guys bursting out of the Oklahoma music scene right now; Parker Millsap, John Moreland and John Fulbright. Amazing things happening in that scene right now. It is definitely worth paying attention to.  

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.