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Mothers News interview from MAXIMUMROCKANDROLL (MRR) #379. December 2014

interview by Greg Harvester


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MRR: Who are you and what's your deal? Who do you think you are?

MN: I'm the editor of Mothers News, it's a monthly newspaper.

MRR: Do you want to remain a nameless entity? If so, is there a reason for that?

MN: I'm more comfortable as an unnamed person.

MRR: Who is the "Mother"? Is this "News"? Why is there no apostrophe in "Mothers"?

MN: The apostrophe is a mark of either omission or possession. Mothers News neither omits nor possesses. It's not missives belonging to an entity known as "Mother", it's by for and about mothers. That said, we use "mother" in a fairly broad way, most commonly to encompass all agents of creation and manifestation that utilize the vital impulse as engine of growth. The paper is barely ever about sexual procreation. I would not even call myself an advocate of sexual procreation.

In re: news, I strive to pack each issue with things relevant to the time period. But I admit it's more "timely information", and less "current events". In October, the paper is reliably monstruous; in December we talk about death; in January: doorways. We don't publish horse race results, or a list of upcoming shows, that's not our utility. But we do talk about the weather a fair amount, maybe more. When the weather is less than fair we talk about it more than fair, by amount. On average.

MRR: Since this is an interview for MRR, what is your relationship to punk?

MN: We're punks. Sakevi of GISM had my favorite definition of punk: "Punk is D.E.A.D.: Distress Effervescence Awakening Delinquent". Mothers News is enabled and informed by this method. If you want to view it from the narrative of printed matter in the 21st century, basically everything (in the realm of physical print media) was in the toilet, and so all of a sudden nothing matters, and then everything is possible, including this totally fucked-up full-steam-ahead newspaper. The distress effervescence awakened the delinquent. So that's our approach to publishing, writing, designing, distribution, etc.; but beyond that, that's also our approach to many things in life. Like I said, we're punks. To call upon the original (?) 17th century definition of "punk", we are receptive. But the paper isn't about electric guitars, safety pins, Mohican hair-dos, or Doctor Martin boots, I hope that doesn't disqualify us. If it does: ultimate disgust in your enterprise. It was about spikey jackets only once so far, but it was a killer riff. Great question.

MRR: So, what is the newspaper about?

MN: It's usually about 8 pages long.

MRR: What publications, art or projects helped inspire you to start doing your own newspaper? Why do you publish your own paper?

MN: This is kind of dumb, but a big reason why I started MN was that I wanted to have something to hand out to people for free. I have a lot of friends who make things in fairly inexpensive multiples (zines, tapes, prints, etc), and they would give them to me, but the feeling was that they were trading for something I had yet to produce. So I wanted something to give back to people that had been giving me things, and to give in advance to people that might eventually produce something, or just to give out to people who I might want to talk to. Having a thing that you trade or give away is great, strongly recommended. Be in the world, strongly recommended.

The non-local B-side of this is the hope that the paper itself would function as a sort of liquid, seeping into weird corners I wouldn't otherwise get to, and finding people I wouldn't otherwise find, opening up interesting situations. Possibly soaking into an area and nurturing a seed somewhere to grow and find light. Happily I can report that this has been and continues to be the case, this is working out pretty good.

Also, the way I figured it, it was a way to make rent money, needed direly at the time and still.

All of these reasons are still bearing fruit. But also these are only the exoteric (obvious, directly communicable) answers-- the esoteric (occult, abstract) answers are, I imagine, fairly standard for all creative projects: peace, harmony, end of suffering, to provide a beacon, to make a record, to put my hand in the glass, "it's the thing that I do"/"call out your real name", etc..

Truest answer: it's the thing that I do.

As far as publications I'm inspired by and in the proud legacy of, I'd have to shout out: King Cat, Paper Rodeo (RIP), Rochester Teen Set Outsider, Famous Monsters (Forrest J Ackerman RIP), Whole Earth Catalog, Mad, Scam, New York Times, El Saturn Records, Crass Records, Archie, Fourth World (Jack Kirby RIP), Wu Tang, Rabelais (RIP). Favorite writer: Borges (RIP).

MRR: Before Mothers News, you ran a visionary junk shop called HBML, in Worcester, MA for 3 years. Do you feel like Mothers News is a logical extension of the shop or a completely separate endeavor?

MN: The junk shop was and still is a baffling morass for everyone, including me. Not sure how to talk about it. Maybe it was an experiment in seeing if I could have a satisfying artistic practice outside of a gallery or even craft setting, and have it make money? The very loose idea of HBML was to make a wild installation that took the form of a junk shop with lots of wild handmade or altered items, except that everything was for sale at pre-art prices, it was fun to do, and I didn't have to break my back or work another job to do it, or set it in New York or LA. This worked out pretty well- the answer was pretty much yes, it was an ongoing social success, it kept me afloat, and we won a New England Art Award for "Best Installation 2008". I stopped because there were some things seemingly inherent to the operation that I didn't care for, so I had to wiggle out of there. Besides which it was in my home town and I was struck with a desire to leave my home town, I feel like I don't need to explain that (Genesis 12:1). Also it was never intended to last as long as it did.

Anyway, after some time with nothing going on and totally no money at all I decided to try a new thing with better parameters- newspaper seemed good because unlike a store, you don't have to physically be present for it to work- once you publish an issue, that issue will continue to exist without you having to do anything. Contrast this with a store where someone has to open in the morning, stay there all day, then close it at night, it's a no-brainer. And I had lots of experience writing and publishing zines, so it was a natural.

As far as unity between the two, both HBML and Mothers News are/were public projects for a general audience, in legacy formats. HBML came to stand for Hermes Barnum Monkey Legba, all agents of transmission, all representatives of a character still integral to my current enterprise. Also both HBML and Mothers News can be considered social sculptures, and both are artistic practices that I treat as a job, outside of grants and other common arts-support mechanisms.

MRR: Being that you treat it as a job, does it ever feel like a burden to you?

MN: There are some drudgery elements, or things that I don't enjoy doing, or don't have the mindset for- the main one right now is selling ads, which can be a pain. I wanted to hire on for this but the scene at the moment seems to select against anyone with the aptitude for this kind of hustle. Le Sigh.... Other than that, the tasks that are burdensome mostly only seem burdensome when I'm not doing them, and then I start doing them, and I remember I like them. But I could really use a business manager, or something...

MRR: What is your print run and where do you send your papers to?

MN: Currently we run 8000 copies. 400 or so go out to subscribers, and the rest get distributed around Providence and at select spots across the country. We send the paper out to advertisers, or to anyone who buys a distribution bundle, which is $20 for around 100 papers, which they can resell for $.50 (suggested) or a dollar (but not more), and keep the money, or just give out for free (suggested). It's a good hustle for someone out there, but as a distribution model it's kind of kludgey. But that's what we're doing right now.

For the first three years it was strictly free, and we would send it out to places for free, but this... became no longer tenable. It's kind of a drag to move it into the world of sold things.... I always liked that it's free but it has a secret cost, which is the belief that something free might also be good without restriction (which almost no one believes). Anyway we must do what we must, and $.50 isn't a lot of money, maybe $.50 is free in essence, or "free, plus shipping fee". The upside is that I've found that we get way more mail from people who bought it than from people who picked it up for free. And I love getting mail.

MRR: In your early days, you had a "coffee news" format, but now that no longer exists? What gives? (submitted by a disgruntled, yet still subscribing reader)

MN: Haha cool, it's great to hear that you're disgruntled about the paper being larger! If you're really upset why not just tear off the front page and throw the rest away? We expanded because we're expansive by nature-- magnificent. I don't know, might go back to onesheet format, it's more manageable for sure... True believers shall be gruntled anon....

MRR: You've been publishing every month since May 2010. Do you have an end goal or cut off date in sight (like Crass or Darby Crash) or will you just continue this project until it's no longer fun or financially viable?

MN: Great question. Our custom is to only plan a year in advance, at most. We are now in our 4th year, which we plan on wrapping up December 2014. Whether we will continue to operate beyond that, I will not say. We will get to that point and reassess. The reasons for this are both practical and psychological (which is also practical): At a certain point, we will stop publishing-- that's not just my opinion, that's the second law of thermodynamics (which thus far has proven useful). I've found that if I declare a specific potential end point, I can work more or less dilligently up to that point, even if the work becomes difficult. But if I don't have an endpoint in mind, I have the tendency to just quit when it gets difficult, because I know that I'll have to quit sooner or later, and quitting when it's difficult makes the most immediate sense. So I set an end time to hold myself accountable, to make sure I charge through until that point. It's already been periodically not fun and/or not financially viable, but then, historically, it gets more fun than previous (and this tends to usher in a return to financial viability, though this is more correlation than causality).

MRR: It seems that with both the junk shop and your newspaper, you look into giving up when it gets difficult. Is this an aversion to taking part in harder labor? Is it a way to just avoid unneeded stress?

MN: ??? I think that's a complete misread of what i'm saying. I apologize if I wasn't clear. Setting a potential end point is not a method of giving up, it's a strategy to work through difficulty, and _not_ give up. Also the year-end mark isn't even strictly an end point, it's a point at which we reassess without baggage. But I mean, we've been publishing since 2010, by the time this interview comes out we'll be on issue #43 or something... I work very hard on the paper.

MRR: In our society that keeps pushing more and more towards an all digital future, what keeps you motivated and interested in putting out print media? Have you had any interest in putting an archive of the newspaper online?

MN: Print media has a lot of advantages over online- it's still there when you turn off your computer, it's in the bathroom, it seems important, it gets on your hands, you can put it in your pocket, no agency is keeping a list of who reads the paper and selling that information... I could go on. All these things keep me motivated and interested. But on top of that, I find that people care about a newspaper or a magazine or a zine or a comic book in a way that it's tough to care about a website. Why is that? I have a theory, which is mine to think about.

Computers are ok though, and I do love and adore the open web (and deplore walled gardens like Facebook et al). Recently we caved and put almost all of the back issues (the first 36 issues anyway) online at Archive.org, to be better digested by the global non-human and meta-human intelligence, and to be a pointer pointing in. For good or evil, it's a gamble. I'm also working on reformatting selections from the back issues as a handsome book, for continued human consumption. Still shopping this concept around though...

MRR: Do you have an idea of when this book might come out?

MN: No, still shopping the concept. Industry types, bark at me.

MRR: Do you write for the newspaper with an audience in mind? Who do you envision your audience as?

MN: Great question. As far as giving people what they want, or even what I think they might want, I do not mess with that stuff at all. Maybe this flies in the face of my claim that the paper is a social sculpture, but I basically don't think about the audience. I don't not care- I care what people think about it. But I absolutely do not write based on what I think people will want to read. Basically, I can't afford to care about it. I've found that whenever I try to please people, no one likes it, not me, not anyone- both the result and the process are miserable. But when I just put forth the best thing I can, pertaining to myself on Earth at the present moment, that tends to work. My mood is unconfused and my vector of movement is isotropic- each direction equally probable. So it's a seemingly loopy but ultimately pragmatic decision. I'm not trying to sound tuff: I know that people read it, and I write it expecting it to be read by people, and I adore my readers and I certainly hope they like it, but... it's my belief that I can best serve the community by following my own star and reporting back. I'm a whistling moon traveler, with report, that's my incendiary profile.

That saidddddd, the paper is available unrestricted in public places, and so I try to be accessible to as general an audience as possible-- not too arcane, no massive leaps requiring specialized information or a specific approach beyond a measure of openness. I'd like for a kid to be able to pick it up and extract a small life-changing nugget out of it, potentially bigger than just "other things are out there", which is a very important but default nugget for "underground" media.

MRR: The paper boasts a comics section of well known artists like Brian Chippendale, Michael DeForge and Mike Taylor, among others. How did you pick who you would feature in this section and is it difficult to get such busy people to stick to deadlines every month?

MN: The comics section is pretty crazy, I'm very lucky to have assembled such world-class talent- in addition to BC, MDF, and MT, I can't forget: CF, Katrina Clark, Charlotte deSedouy, Mickey Zacchilli, Kate Schapira, also for a while we had James McShane drawing kind of a Bill Cunningham people-on-the-street page, Melissa Mendes doing a kind of goth Dennis the Menace one-panel called "Mercyful Fate", Charles Forsman doing a witch family serial called "Witch Beach", and Matthew Thurber ripping a variant on his comic "Infomaniacs" (now a major book on Picturebox (RIP)). We picked them because they're the best- talented, imaginative, unafraid, plus they work within the format, which is difficult and important. And yes, with some exceptions, it is difficult to get people to stick to deadlines. Everyone comes from self-publishing, which is a less-than-rigorous route. But also everyone's psyched to be doing it in the same time-honored hard-assed way as their heros. I'm not going to say who's good at getting in under deadline and who isn't, that's not helpful. It's a great team. Danzig interviewed comics legend Jack Kirby one time and he asked him about his work ethic and Kirby (who was extremely prolific) said "if you want to run a mile, you can run a mile". That's the vibe. How did I assemble this epic staff of cartoonists? I published the paper for a year, then asked them if they wanted to help. Everyone was pretty psyched to get on board. I've found that it's a shared relief to party with people who like to party as hard as you.

MRR: What do you do to make money to live off of? Does it ever interfere with the production of the paper? Does it ever contribute to the production of the paper? If you use the newspaper to make a living, what are your thoughts on living off of your art?

MN: The paper is how I get money to live off of, which both contributes to and greatly interferes with the production of the paper. it contributes in that it forces me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, it interferes in that the money aspect is the most stressful part, and honestly maybe I would get more done if I just worked a job to pay for the paper, and wrote at night.

Making a living on your art is a tough road and not for everyone, but I find it doable with sacrifices. I feel like being a punk gives me a leg up because being punk, or at least my experience of it, is like training to live on less money, to thrive under duress, to commit fully to an absurd premise, and to navigate through a crowd of punching idiots with clarity and purposelessness (this probably isn't everyone's experience). Another thing about punk (as I percieve it) is that there's a strong community of support that squares can't access. Although squares are probably more likely to get bank loans or just "do things the way everyone does them", which is more fiscally responsible.

So yes, this is my job, with no other job, savings, or personal/family wealth stream. But in order for this to be true I have elevated my thriftiness to the level of a spiritual discipline or martial art.

Also while I am loath to reveal personal information, I need to say that I am aware that my priveledge (as a common-bodied more-or-less-neurotypical white cis-male in America) affords me the leeway to sacrifice things that others are not able to sacrifice, work less hard, and have doors open for me that would be shut for others, some of which I am not even cognizant of. I am trying to act appropriately with this awareness. And absolutely no disrespect if your art does not and will never pay your bills- no one but a complete turd would call that a viable measure of success.

MRR: Is this art?

MN: Great question. I try to dissuade people from looking at the paper as art, because I think that a lot of people put art in a category apart from things-in-the-world, and I'd rather the paper be a thing-in-the-world, like a trashcan, or a puma. That's how I can be most effective. I see that there is a trend to view art as something totally protected and allowed to do anything, which carries with it the caveat that it isn't in the same world as us. I would rather be held accountable, and for my words to be read as true. Not to posit myself as a trickster or a meta-meta-- the paper is meticulously researched. It's good, true, and it exists-- it's a three-pronged attack. John Cage has a quote that he quoted from someone else, can't remember who-- "we don't make art, we do everything the best we can". I should've said that right off the bat.

MRR: What's your favorite painting?

MN: Whoaaaaa tough Q! I mean, not really, because I don't believe in favorites or bests, so the true answer is "this question is wrong", but what's a satisfactory answer I could give? I was just invited to give a lecture at the RISD Museum here in Providence, a sort of tour of a selection of their 20th century gallery, and there's a Matisse there that I really love, "Still Life with Lemons", that's a good one to talk about. It has a kind of mastery that contains both complete love and idle carelessness, calm and unrestrained. At this point in the tour we stopped and listened to a part of the tape "Hermetic Devices" by Noise Nomads. That's kind of the feeling.

MRR: What's the worst thing you've seen done to the paper?

MN: People are pretty disrespectful of a free publication, which is largely understandable-- in an overwhelming number of cases a free publication is a waste of every resource involved- a barren shitpit of dim commerce and tepid misery. But everyone that knows what the paper is loves it, and everyone that doesn't could be forgiven. My friend CJ sent me a picture of a goat REFUSING to eat the paper-- that was pretty harsh, those things eat poison ivy for Christ's sake! They eat car tires, and the automotive industry destroyed the fabric of American life! Yet this goat would not eat a comparatively nutritious newspaper. Harrumph.

MRR: What question did I leave out that you really wanted to answer?

MN: Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth, Body/Head) did an interview recently and the last question was "what's your favorite pizza topping?". This is a great example of a leading question, because it excludes the best kind of pizza, which is plain. Who wants pizza with a bunch of goddamn shit all over it? A: a child. Anyway her answer was perfect- "red pepper flakes". She unasked the question in a very gracious way. I was astounded...

Anyway I don't have a desire to answer any specific questions, I'm happy just to talk about the paper. I had fun doing this interview and I hope this was helpful. No parting wisdom (or otherwise).

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