INTERVIEW WITH TRAVIS FRISTOE (posted january 5, 2007)
how did you get involved in zines/d.i.y. publishing?
I grew up in Northern Virginia, close to D.C. but not really close enough. My parents listened to the countrypolitan songs of the day, along with the other young, hopeful families. Thirteen or so years later, my mom left for Florida with a jerk.I stayed with my father in a series of run-down houses with his biker friends. This new freedom of living situations lent itself to my interest in skateboarding, punk & comics. Which led me to befriend Erik Grotz, another scrawny, bespectacled kid at my school. Erik was years ahead in terms of hands-on & hardcore nerdiness. He did a zine ("action time!") that focused mostly on the Dischord scene. He took me to see Corrosion of Conformity, Fugazi’s first show & a local house party where some older punks played Govt. Issue covers. I helped the bassist steal beer at the convenience store, and that pretty much sealed my fate.
Shortly after, I was forced to move to Florida at the height (or low-point) of teen alienation. I’d interviewed 7 Seconds when they played at some crappy bar the week before, with plans of making that the backbone of some embryonic & unnamed zine. My friend Matthew had really supportive parents & they let us use their office & copier. Matthew’s mom totally took a posed picture of us pretending to work on the debut issue of shit & shinola, which then got published in the neighborhood paper, ensuring that when school started later that year, we would get heckled mercilessly.
I used to cut-up newspaper headlines & send them to Erik back in Virginia in vain hopes that he’d use them in action time! There was something about re-appropriating USA Today & Florida Today headlines into these really stark layout pieces that I loved. What’s better than black ink on crisp white paper & blownout photos? Eventually, Erik got sick of my barrage of collage & kept encouraged me to do some sort of zine on my own. Which, again, led me here.
why do you continue making paper zines in the age of the internet? how do you think the internet has affected the world of paper zines?
I put out paper zines for the same reason that I put out vinyl records. Or write letters, cry at movies, play guitar and try to grow things in my yard. Romantic, familiar & problematic forms of protest, expression & anti-depression.
As a reference librarian, I think about literacy & relevancy most days. I’m sure anyone reading this online interview knows the awkward connectivity of convenience & instant- gratification. Sure, I check my email multiple times a day when I’m at work. And on our last tour we used a goddamn myspace account as a tool for shows. Like many other Americans, I use the internet for bits of informations and as a mildly-amusing & time-killing device while on the clock.
Nothing will replace books. But even if the apocalypse does come, I’ll be pushing my shopping cart through the Mad Max wasteland seeking out something to read. Jokes about the Matrix only get funnier.
what is your writing/editing/layout process like?
Ramshackle, manic & full of existential dread and stifling self-doubt usually. I write things on receipts & other paper debris. It’s only when I’m on tour or traveling that I get focused. There’s something about being stuck in a van (or bus, plane, boat, train, etc.) really conducive to reflection & writing. Plus being in motion & away from home percolates vision & experience further.
On the more nuts-n-bolts side of it, I try to constantly write down images, fragments & quotes. Ideally, these later serve as keywords (like in Dune or the Manchurian Candidate) that bring back the whole message. Much gets lost along the way, and/or seems ridiculous after-the- fact. At some point though, a pattern arises and I work backwards through the wilderness.
I do try to keep somewhat of a schedule, even if its just writing letters or working on columns & reviews. A constant, daily practice is the dream. I like to write 1st thing in the morning, as though the other, subsequent things were mere errands.
Editing is a constant, and for me the only way to make something that’s not too unbearable in the future. I tend to write around something, maybe too much and with ineffective stabs, before I can whittle and reshape anything remotely useful. It’s like my poor bike wrenching skills--I have to make a lot of mistakes and break things before I can reach any sort of functionality.
Layout is the fun & easy part afterwards, icing on the cake.
how do you think the zine community or the process of making zines has changed since you've been involved?
"O, has the world changed or have I changed?" I really did think those Smiths lyrics had all the answers.
I don’t really know (or care) if what others call "the golden era" has passed. You see that sort of terminology in the history of hip-hop and comic books. In sheer, raw numbers, then sure maybe 1996 was a peak production time of issues & letters exchanged. But I take a long-term view, and try to do the things that still make sense to me. Even if zines now seem like open letters to friends, then that’s fine. All these different ways & means to stay in touch, to stay alive and focused.
I still view records & zines (& letters, all part of this greater dialogue) as articles of faith. I’m still haunted by the grammatically-awkward, damning lines of a heroin song- "insecure middle class white kids searching may sound like and be a joke...just trying seems like it could be worth just as much. 'cause for as much talk is bought and sold maybe a few of us will make it out. out to where? it doesn’t even matter."
are you "out" to people in your life as a zinester? how do you explain it to people who don't understand?
My mom knows I care a lot about reading and writing. That’s been obvious since I gave up sports at age 8 and ruined my eyes on comics & books. And she knows that I do book reviews for a few different publications, and write stuff for the local arts paper. My grandmother asks when the hell I’m going to write a book that she can read. She’s not in the best health, so I should probably get on it. One cousin tells me about the love poems she never shows to her boyfriend. Another cousin sent me the very raw draft of her bio after she got out of rehab. So I don’t feel like a total anomaly amidst my family.
To interested civilians, I generally explain my zine as either a tour diary or personal newsletter for the record label. No one really asks that many questions--co-workers & fellow kung-fu students are generally more interested in other, more obvious parts of my life--why I bike everywhere, if I really don’t eat meat, my political views, why I’m not married, etc. The zine that was just interviews with the collective record store volunteers was straightforward enough to explain.
what do you like best about the zine world? what do you like least?
Best is biking on sunny days to the post office and finding a zine waiting in the po box. Subsequent interludes of reading have only become more valuable to me. The time to read a zine is like the time it takes to brew & drink a proper cup of tea or listen to a record. It’s not huge part of your waking life, but how bleak & frustrating the hours become without such moments.
Also, that it led me to some of my finest friendships. And a constant critical & engaging dialogue with penpals, acquaintances, etc. about how we’re trying to live our ideals in the midst of American empire.
What do I like least? Probably that as with our other culturally-specific signifiers, that zines are a phase. I see the utility and beauty in phases, but there’s no reason to stop doing something you enjoy just because your peer group has peaced out. There is joy & reward in sticking with things.
Solipsism & self-importance remain tricky. Ideally, first-person narratives combine the present questions of context through the universal/personal filter of the individual. That probably sounds pretentious. William Vollmann’s An Afghanistan Picture Show, Joan Didion’s essays, Doris zine’s alphabet series & Susan Sontag’s work do a better job of this. And I know it’s not proper to compare zines to books.
do zines play a political role in your life? are you involved in other d.i.y. projects? do they play a political role?
Yes, yes & yes.
Zines were the first d.i.y. project I engaged in, so for that sort of 1st-person proselytizing & radicalizing, I remain grateful. For giving me critical tools, confidence & a community of co-conspirators, I’m indebted. There’s countless examples, but this past x-mas, I hung out mostly with people who do zines in other towns—chosen family that kept my sane while visiting with blood relatives.
Projects of all stripe (individual, d.i.y., short-term, long-term, mainstream) are my preferred weapon against depression & burnout. The enemies are so large & entrenched that I feel like a variety of approaches is necessary. Of course, I’m most comfortable in places where I’ve volunteered or helped with (Wayward Council record store, Books to Prisoners, Civic Media Center’s zine collection), but that’s because it’s by & for people like myself. Working on larger community projects at the public library has been a good challenge and a total learning experience.
Do they play a political role? Sure, insofar as they make concrete & hands-on the academic debates about tactics. Like songs though, the impact depends on the audience. I know what I get (and don’t get) out of putting out zines. I know how important having something relevant to read is when I’m on a work-break or stuck on a bus. And that my best friends have pretty much come via zines. Is it a ghetto though as the U.K. anarcho-punks pointed out a long time ago? Sure. Do we walk in other circles? I certainly hope so, because even though I could hang out just in hipster spots around town all my waking hours, that’d be a smoky, claustrophobic, pointless nightmare.
what advice might you have for someone who is new to the zine community?
Learn by doing. Write letters. Don’t settle--self-publishing can become the vanity-press if we’re not righteous.
what role do you think distros can/should play in the zine community?
The person setting up the show, or cooking for the bands, or who made the flyers is just as important as the band.
Not to pat ourselves too much on the back, but I do think that things like these interviews are just as important as zines. Documenting things ourselves in our own words.
The business side of it gets trickier certainly. There’s no real romance for me in standing in front of a copy machine, just as stuffing record inserts doesn’t always seem like a party. I recognize grunt-work in all endeavors. Know the tradeoffs.
are there changes you'd like to see in the zine community or your own zine creation?
Community? More readings, maybe. Given the deluge of terrible, terrible bands always on tour, it’s nice to see the occasional zine tour pass through town. Again, not to make a hierarchy of the few & self-promoting, but to foster a participant, inclusive scene that’s not based so solely on dude-rock.
Changes in my own zine creation? More cohesion & fearlessness. Feweer unanswerable questions. Thanks for reading.
you can check out travis's zine, "america?" through the distro.