Interview with Todd Taylor

Todd Taylor is the editor and co-founder (along with Sean Carswell) of Razorcake Fanzine and Gorsky Press.

I first contacted Todd in 2005 when I emailed and asked if I could write reviews for Razorcake. He said yes and I have been writing, podcasting, and doing occasional proofreading for Razorcake since. I met Todd in person at a reading he did in Seattle a few years back and he’s super nice and has a great sense of humor. Todd used to work with Flipside Fanzine and has written for Thrasher as well. He’s also an author and has written a few books. Todd is one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet and no one could ever accuse him of not doing his part for independent music.

Who was the person that got you into punk rock?

That’s a good question. There was this kid that was a year ahead of me in grade school named Eric Redding. He was a big Dio and Deep Purple fan. He had gotten some tapes from a relative and he really hated them and he let me borrow them. I remember X, Agent Orange, Alley Cats, Bags, Suicidal Tendencies and Social Distortion were all on one of the tapes and I loved it. And I pretended I lost the tape so I could keep it. But I had no context for it at all. I didn’t know it covered so many different years and areas. I felt bad because I never gave him the tape back.

Also, I lived outside of Las Vegas in this small town called Boulder City and there was actually this really good radio station that had a punk rock program in the evenings. That’s how I was able to put some context to it. I was probably about 13 or 14 when all this happened.

Do you find you have any time to do any writing any more?

Yeah. I overloaded myself last year and put way too much on my plate. The last six weeks of 2010 and beginning of 2011 I was trying to clean my plate off of a lot of stuff. I’ve been putting together a book for a long time. It’s organized very poorly and it’s very long. I’ve spent the last eight months organizing it and making it make sense. My goal for 2011 is to finish a very tight, cohesive draft of that book. Right now the book is 1200 pages and it’s probably going to end up being 600.

Oh my god!

Yeah, it’s retarded. I’m a very structured person so if I get to a point where I know I want to finish something I can set a six or eight month goal and work on it every free day up until that point. Putting a magazine together helps me out a lot. I use every two-month rotation to do something. So, it’s difficult but it’s doable.

What’s your writing schedule like? When do you write?

My best hours are the first couple hours of the day. It differs. What I’m sitting on today is that I have to write some intros to a couple of interviews I’ve done, I have some record reviews to write and I want to work on the novel again. I write an hour or two minimum five times a week. I tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about stuff during the day so I’m not at my top form at night at all.

How did you get into writing?

I was in a really bad accident when I was about thirteen. I was incapacitated for several months. I could sit and draw and sit and write and those were the things I got out of it. I didn’t know if I was going to get full motor function back. I scalped the top of my head. I decided that I wanted to do something I could do for a long time if my body deteriorated so those were the two things. Then after college I stopped drawing and just focused on writing. It was pretty pragmatic, too, because you can write with ten cents in your pocket. You just go get a pencil and keep on writing. Painting and drawing you need a little bit more. It just came to a finer point over time. I was interested in a lot of things as a kid. I think my mother has a clip-out from when I was in junior high where I said I wanted to be a microbiologist or a pharmacist.

*laughs* Wow.

Yeah, I don’t know where that came from. It wasn’t a drug thing either. Drugs didn’t even enter into the equation.

You kind of took a left turn somewhere there I guess.

Yeah.

So, what’s something you used to believe in that you don’t believe in anymore?

I believe that you can have completely differing opinions and still be great friends with someone. Before I would totally dismiss someone if we had fundamentally different opinions about politics or religion or something like that. Now, the first and foremost thing is, “Do I think this person is an asshole or not?” and then it goes from there. They may be the sweetest person on the planet but they just have a different opinion on whether or not there’s a higher being. Okay. That’s fine.

To just drive it home, my brother, who is two years older than I, is a colonel in the Special Forces. He’s been to Iraq twice and Bosnia once. We have completely different ideas about how our country should go about its foreign affairs policies but I love my brother unabashedly. He’s one of my closest friends. I’m learning that I’m not being hypocritical. I disagree with him but I can still appreciate him as a person.

Especially with punk rock and particularly at the beginning if you look at stuff like the Dead Kennedys, it’s very dogmatic. They’re drawing lines in the sand when I don’t think you have to all the time. You can agree to disagree and actually have really good, long conversations that span over the years. I may not agree with my brother on the policies but I can understand where he’s coming from.

When it comes to work, do you force yourself to work really long hours or do you stick to a schedule?

I’m much better now. When Razorcake moved about three years ago I actually got it separated from where I lived. It’s now in a basement so it’s a lot easier for me not to go, “Oh, I’ll just check my email” or “I’ll just do this one last thing” because I have it separate. I do have a ledger in my head so if I have to work late tonight I’ll take a little bit of time off on Friday morning. Overwork doesn’t help anybody. I try to make it 40-50 hours a week but I think it’s important to separate it and to stop because then you can breathe and get a perspective on it.

When you have time off, what do you like to do?

Nothing real exciting. I’ve been cycling a lot lately. I love reading, listening to music. I’m a handy man – I like to fix things around the house.

With all the punk rock, have you ever played in a band?

No. Never. I have a ukulele but I’m never going to play it outside of my room except with maybe one or two people. That’s the only instrument.

One of the things people will say is, “Oh, you’re a failed musician and that’s why you write.” Or they’ll say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re writing but you’ve never played an instrument.” I want it still to be magical to me. With writing, I can disassemble things in my mind really quickly. I can diagram things and figure out what they’re going for. With music, I don’t want to know scale or notes or tones or any of that stuff. People have other things they believe in, but I believe in music so I want it to be magical. I want it to be transcendental sometimes. And then if I talk to a person who doesn’t have any knowledge of how the music is made specifically then I can gauge my response and also my comparative abilities and not just be a d-bag about it. Being a historian is good, too.

When you were growing up, what were some of your favorite records in your parents’ record collection?

I’m a huge Kingston Trio fan to this day. My parents didn’t have a record collection. My dad had a reel-to-reel collection. There were some records and they were rarely played. Kingston Trio was a big one. That was where we could all get along.

They had this weird collection – a band called Galaxy playing all the hits of Abba. So it would be an Abba record played by a completely different band. I’ve never seen that stuff again but my dad had plenty of it. I don’t know where he got it. So a lot of stuff now sounds vaguely familiar to me. “That doesn’t sound quite right, but I know all the lyrics.”

Music was always on but it wasn’t a deep thing with my parents. They enjoyed it but I don’t think they ever were in a fan club or anything like that. They didn’t even go to see live shows or anything except in Vegas which once again, is people doing other peoples’ stuff.

Nowadays, what does your mom think of your mom tattoo?

She wasn’t happy at first but as I told her, “Mom, how often do you see me without my shirt on? I’m not one of those guys.” And she said, “Yeah, that’s true.” She would prefer I didn’t have it but my parents are pretty cool.

Speaking of familial relations (so to speak), how did you and your wife meet?

A friend of a friend. Apparently I met her before at a party and don’t remember. We were at a barbeque together. I was dating another lady at the time and Mary-Clare and I chatted and afterward she asked about me. Apparently her friend said, “Yeah, he has a girlfriend and if you do anything she’ll kick your ass so drop it.” Then a year later, after I had broken up with the other girlfriend we crossed paths again and we started dating. We’ve been married for two and a half years.

Are you a boxers or briefs man?

Boxers. But I think I’ve had to modify lately because I’ve been cycling more. I have to wear briefs when I’m riding. I don’t really like it when I’m walking around. It feels like I’m being cupped. I need room to boogie, man.

*laughs* That’s a good one. There’s always a lot of boogieing going on in my pants, so I can understand that.

Have you ever had any major dental surgery performed on you?

No. I never have. Strangely enough when I was growing up we lived in Australia for five years and they hyper-fluorated the water and my teeth are scarred and discolored but the enamel is really strong. When I was a kid in Australia my dad was a superintendent of a children’s home. One of the places we lived was an old hospital and they had a dentist’s chair and a place for a dentist to come. So a rural dentist would come every six months or so and I got in the habit of having my teeth checked as a kid. I’ve never had dental insurance but every six months I go in and get a cleaning and x-rays. My brother had braces and I know people who have had major dental surgery from getting kicked in the face or from a bat or whatever. It’s scary.

When I was in second grade I slipped on the ice playing football on the blacktop and fell right on my top front tooth and clipped the bottom part of it right off. They had to buff out the specs of asphalt and put a cap on it. It was good times.

Oh, man.

Yeah – so why were you living in Australia? I didn’t know you had lived there.

My dad is a high-energy guy. When I was born we were living in Oregon. He had an English degree and a social services degree and the visas for Australia were pretty restrictive. So the deal was if he would go and train the replacements for his job, we could be there. We’d go from children’s home to children’s home and teach his successor as superintendent and then go to another place. He was actually born in England and lived in Canada so it’s part of the Commonwealth and he felt comfortable. He really likes traveling even to this day. He’s kind of a restless guy.

I’m the same way, so I understand. I’ve noticed you like to laugh a lot so I was curious who some of your favorite comedians are.

Well, you’ve got your classics – I’m a big fan of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. I really like George Carlin. I like Steven Wright a lot. Patton Oswalt is really great.

Do you ever go to watch any stand up or listen to albums?

One of our contributors, Joe Evans III, played in a house band for the Chris Gethard show. They did a show out in Los Angeles about a month and a half ago. It was incredibly enjoyable and really fun. Part of it was that they took an RV and traveled across the country. Also, this fourteen-year-old kid had expressed an interest in doing comedy and he lived in Detroit so they flew him out to do a three-minute bit and paid for all his expenses. He was funny but he was more endearing. Chris said this really short thing at the beginning. “I know you’re nervous but nobody here wants you to fail.” It was awesome.

Why was it important for you to make Razorcake a non-profit and be totally legitimate with the government?

One of my talents and also problems is that I can see things way in the future. I pretty much guessed that traditional magazine making was going to fail within ten years after starting Razorcake. Typical magazines have to run based on advertising revenue and it was super inflated. I don’t feel comfortable asking for money that I don’t think is going to be well spent. I looked at the structure of how magazines were run and somebody mentioned non-profit. No one I knew had good information. I heard bad advice. “If you put a steeple on your house you get non-profit status!” Seriously. He wouldn’t drop it for six months. Then you realize that non-profit doesn’t mean that you don’t make money.

We were dealing with an IRS agent who I think was in Ohio or something and we had to convince her that what we were trying to do had nothing to do with the music industry. We’re not out there to make money or enrich ourselves; it’s about something larger than us. It was an interesting exercise at times and really aggravating at times. We had to explain that when we would go travel around we would stay at peoples’ houses and then we’ll extend to them the same courtesy when they come here. This is unheard of if you’re a touring band in a bus. So we really had to take DIY punk rock and explain every single part of it. It was kind of fascinating.

I wanted to do something that separated us from other magazines. If you’re going to invest in us in one way, shape or form then we show we’re doing the best we can. I can’t be personally enriched. I can’t just cash out and walk away with a lot of money. Razorcake can’t be sold to an individual. All these things are very attractive to me.

We went through this really difficult process. It took us three years. They just didn’t believe us. We had to hire a lawyer at the very end to get it all worked out. It was conversations like this: I’d be on the phone with the IRS lady and at the time we weren’t even putting out records but we were just putting our feet in the water and seeing what we could do. She goes, “Okay, so Michael Bolton is going to come play—

*laughs*

I’m trying not to do what you’re doing right there. But she said, “You can have Mr. Bolton play a benefit and pay him $10,000 once because that’s his going rate. But what you can’t do is record him and sell the recording because you’re paying him over and over again for an activity he did once.” So there are a lot of particular laws that we can and cannot do. So instead of spending time paying taxes we spend time showing where every cent went. But it’s worthwhile because it presses on other people, organizations and foundations that we’re serious about what we do but we’re also a lot of fun. We’re not a bummer. This sounds a little calloused but we were doing this non-profit strengthening training and we were next to the Down syndrome people and the AIDS Hospice people and they really liked us. It’s not as serious of an endeavor but I still take what we do very seriously.

How did you finally convince that IRS lady? Did you have to send her records or copies of the zine?

We did have to send her stuff. They wanted examples. They do calculations of how much of it is advertising and so on. But it’s just something they can’t penetrate. Me looking at IRS laws for the first time is how they look at DIY punk rock. They just don’t get it. So she never had a revelatory type experience but she got everything checked off by her superiors. I think when the lawyer talked to her he decoded it for us and we just had to file a few more things.

The thing is – most non-profits fail within their first five years and we got a 98% on our five-year review. So that’s good.

So I’ve chosen the most important question for the end: What makes for a great burrito?

Well, I’ll give you the short answer: Love.

*laughs*

But I’ll give you a second answer. There are so many regional differences even in Mexico. We’re not even going to talk about El Salvador or Honduras or anywhere else. You can’t skimp on anything. Everything has to be great on its own. You should be able to eat the beans or the rice on its own. Then when you put them together in a tortilla it’s the best thing ever.

I’ve found out that the further you get away from the Mexico border (with the exception of Chicago) the more depressing Mexican food gets. Just get Italian or Thai instead. But Mexican food suffers greatly.

There are regional differences in Los Angeles and even San Diego. But we try to limit ourselves to two or three a week.

But you don’t have any items that HAVE TO be in there?

You definitely need salsa. I’m a big cilantro and onions fan, too. Salsa is really super important though.

What kind of salsa?

Well, there’s a place with a horrible name – My Taco – within two blocks of us and they have an amazing guacamole salsa. It’s an awesome spicy green sauce and they have a good chipotle hot spicy sauce, too. If you’re ever in Highland Park check out My Taco or El Atacor #11.

Here is a two part video on Razorcake:

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2 responses to “Interview with Todd Taylor

  • juan

    My Taco is one of the most underrated taco/burrito places in Los Angeles. King Taco and Tacos Mexico don’t even come close. Todd is right, the green salsa is magical! Do yourselves a favor and thanks for this great interview. I’m moving to the Bay area in the fall but my allegiance will always be to My Taco and more importantly Razorcake!

  • Roy

    I will be having My Taco the next time I’m in LA!

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