Blog On Blog: The Skyline's Ryan Clark
Blog: The Skyline Network
Started: Late 2006, early 2007
Typical Topics: Local music - concert reviews, album reviews, gossip
Day Job: I do marketing and communication for an oil gas company.
Hair Balls: How did The Skyline Network enter the blogosphere?
adr: It started out as a parody news site. I was mostly just taking inside jokes about music in Houston and extrapolating them out into ridiculous full-length articles. At some point, writing that way gets really old and never as funny as you want it to be, so I just started writing about music in Houston, instead of just trying to be funny.
Hair Balls: There are a lot of interesting additions to The Skyline you don't see on other blogs like Scene Wiki (a Wikipedia page dedicated to the local music scene). Do the add-ons ever make it overwhelming?
adr: No, what's great about things like the Wiki is it generates its own content. It is a lot to do and it is probably something where it would be helpful if I had other people doing it with me. But the fun thing about a blog is you only have to do as much of it as you want to and that you have time for.
Not adding other writers is a conscious choice, because, for me, I feel like that would take the fun away.
HB: It also seems like it would be difficult to give up the distinctive voice of The Skyline, your voice, like it would be hard to compromise that with another style.
adr: It's a hard voice to explain and it would be a very hard voice to try and get other people to write in. So that's definitely a barrier, too.
HB: Speaking of that voice, there's a definite tendency to ramble, sometimes even off-topic when reviewing or discussing bands or shows - but not in a bad way, it works. For example, in your review of the News On the March EP, you spend most of the introduction talking about your childhood summers in Wisconsin. And you seem very conscious of it - even calling yourself out in your own writing. Where did that style come from?
adr: I guess what's fun about a blog is that you can kind of ramble on about whatever you want. When you're very conscious of it and you tell people, "Yeah, I don't know what that was either, but it sure was fun to write."
Blogs are just - it's vanity and maybe I want to talk about the idea, maybe I'm fascinated by the fact that "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is a poem about the first total war where the industry and the economy were more involved in warfare, more than any conflict before that and it also happened to be a war where people started wearing these things called "balaclavas" which actually happens to be the name of a local band. I think that's funny and ridiculous and I just like going down rabbit holes like that.
HB: I like how you're answer to my question about rambling was a ramble.
adr: Yeah, exactly. And I knew I was doing it, too. [Laughs.]
HB: You've also used The Skyline to put on local awards (The Sammies) and concerts (Hootenanny). It's almost as if you're turning your blog into an enterprise.
adr: That's fair to say, I would agree with that.
HB: Did that just come naturally out of being so involved in the music scene and wanting to do more to help it out? Has the decision to keep up blog about local music made you more active in it?
adr: It certainly makes me more interested in it. Part of it was doing things that I think are really fun - again, going back to the vanity concept. But having a brand to do them under makes it seem like The Skyline is all these things where really I just wanted to see "Oh, a Wikipedia page, is that hard to set up? How does that work? Or it would do a lot of fun to do a show where bands cover other bands (Hootenanny)." Having the blog is a good sort of cover, I guess, for having other things and trying them all together.
HB: Do you have a memorable post? One where maybe you rambled at your best?
adr: I can't really think of one.
HB: Do you have a post that you wish you would've done differently?
adr: Yeah, I recently reviewed the album Get Down by the band Woozyhelmet and it's a great record and I had trouble writing a review of it - I couldn't find the right ramble for it. So I tried something fun and different and it just flopped.
HB: In what way?
adr: Well, what I did was, I put the record on - I was in Las Vegas for work - and I asked if it was a lucky record. So, I put it on and put $20 in a nickel slot machine and gambled and took notes of where I was with that 20 bucks throughout the album. And in Vegas, you're never up.
I put the review up as a chart of how much money was in the slot machine at the end of every song and I thought it was kind of fun and something different but, in retrospect, it looked like this line graph of "this album is making you lose $20." And there was just a little bit of paragraph at the end where it was like "Yeah, this is fun, good time record and it's all good." But in retrospect, it's one of the better records that came out last year and it looks like I spent 15 minutes listening to it once, wrote a paragraph and made a line chart in Microsoft Excel - I think that was probably the worst post I've done.
HB: How would you describe your relationship with your readers and commenters?
adr: I actually know, in the real world, about half the people who comment on the site. There seems to be a lot of one-off comments from people whose album got reviewed and their fans are usually agreeing or disagreeing with reviews.
HB: How do those "real world" relationships - both with your readers and the musicians and bands you're discussing - factor into your reviews and posts?
adr: That sucks. It's the worst, it's horrible. Good guys, bad bands - that's the worst thing in the world.
adr: It's really hard and I really struggle with it. I really try to go out of my way to find bands that I don't know anybody in and they don't know who I am.
Blogs are supposed to be fun - especially The Skyline is supposed to be "woo hoo, party, good time." But some people make bad records and you have to be honest about it and it's hard to do.
HB: Is your method more to go ahead and say that, or just not review records that you don't like?
adr: I think there is so much out there that I try to just write about the ones I enjoy and the flipside of that is there is so much out there that sometimes even records I do enjoy I don't get around to reviewing. Indian Jewelry is a perfect example of that - put out a phenomenal record; it was on several critics Best Of lists - never got around to reviewing it.
HB: Are you surprised at the attention The Skyline has received?
adr: It's surprising. Especially, when someone you don't know comes up to you and says "Oh, you do that." That's always weird. That's another reason to keep it on the posi-tips, because you don't want strangers angry at you.
HB: [Laughs] I'm sorry, to keep on the positive? I thought you said posi-tips?
adr: I did, on the posi-tips. Keepin' it posi. P-o-s-i. The posi-tips.
HB: [Laughs.] Speaking of slang, you seem to use a lot of it on The Skyline. Care to explain any of it - like where did "whips" come from?
adr: I think it's a shortened version of "whip's ass." I don't remember where it came from, but it was sort of a throw away thing someone said. So I was like, I'm going to keep that going.
Also, the phrase "Party. Call me." comes up a lot, which is actually a reference by [my friend] Carrie Murphy who was in the band Awesome. It was a reference to how great it is cook with crock pots because you just put the vegetables in there and then the meat and eight hours all day - Party. Call me - when it's all done, call me and we'll all eat crock-pot food. It was just a lot of enthusiasm for crock-pot cooking.
If I was ever to add a second writer to The Skyline all they would do would be "Cooking with the Stars" and they would go make bands cook food and share the recipes, because I'm really into cooking.
HB: Is that what you do when you're not blogging? Cook?
adr: Yes, and be interviewed by other bloggers.
HB: Any reasons you would stop The Skyline?
adr: It's a time thing for sure. There's a big list of things that would make it go away. If I had a family, that would not leave enough time for it. If I decided to be in a rock 'n' roll band again, that would probably take away from it. If I decided I always wanted to have clean laundry or mow my yard.
HB: As involved as you, what are some of the biggest misconceptions people - both in and outside of it - have about the local rock scene?
adr: For people outside the scene, I think I would tell them there is really quality music going on in Houston right now. I get worried because I don't see a lot of kids at shows right now and I wonder "where are the cool kids?" Even at touring shows. Kids these days: what are they doing? And I think part of that is that there are not a lot of under-21 clubs to go see that.
And for people inside the scene: Why so serious? I think inside the Houston music scene - I mean the part I write about, not the hip-hop community or some of the other communities - it's ridiculous, there's nine blogs who write about the same bands.
HB: You think there's too many blogs?
adr: I mean, there's good music, but there's not that much good music and it seems like all the blogs write about the same small section of bands.
HB: Is a question of quality, diversity or repetition?
adr: I just hope we don't get carried away. Houston has a really, really, really good noise scene and it's known for the people who come out of it and do really experimental things like Jandek and Future Blondes and Insect Warfare - bands like that who were known for those things. People in other cities know that about Houston, but there's no blog that writes about it [in Houston], you know?
Like it would be more awesome if [instead of] nine blogs writing about indie music, there were five writing about indie music and one that wrote about noise and maybe a good hip-hop one. I think there should be one that writes about all the Navy rock bands that play at places that I don't go to (Editors note: adr describes "Navy" bands as those who play "the music you hear in recruiting commercials for the Navy - you don't hear Sufjan Stevens!) I would be interested in hearing about what's up with Thee Armada and bands like that - there's a scene there, it packs up Fitz all the time. Where do you go to learn about those bands? It'd be cooler if there was more diversity.
HB: [Laughs.] Well, my last question is what other blogs do you think are worth checking out?
adr: My favorite blog right now is You Can't Be Metal and Be Comfortable and it's a blog about the Houston Rockets, Heavy Metal and love and relationships. Long format posts, very personal, very entertaining - this guy has got amazing slang.
-- Dusti Rhodes