"Anybody that partners with the machine has this really naive way of thinking"
The Fingers interview with Dan Ozzi, music journalist and author of 'Sellout'
You know how the worst people at any bar are the self-styled purists who loudly proclaim their hardo opinions about craft brewers who sold to Big Beer last decade, even though they rarely actually know what they’re talking about? Me too. Why is that?
So glad you asked. Today on The Fingers Podcast I’ve got an interview with music journalist Dan Ozzi, author of the new book Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk Emo and Hardcore 1994-2007. I met Dan a half-dozen years ago when we were both still working in New York media (me at Thrillist, him at Noisey, VICE’s music vertical), but these days, he’s based in Los Angeles, where he publishes the music newsletter REPLY ALT, and of course writes books, too.
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Fingers is no music newsletter, but when Dan first told me about his book, I immediately asked him for an interview. Having covered the rapid rise and somewhat rocky maturation of the American craft beer business over the past decade, when tensions ran high about those small brewers that agreed to be acquired by macrobrewers like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Constellation Brands, I’m always keen to explore how the concept of “selling out” shapes the relationship between art and commerce.
In Sellout, Dan covers how 11 bands deal with the commodification of their creative output. Some acts do well, leveraging major-label backing into global fame and lucrative careers; others are destroyed by the pressure to produce hits and the disgust of one-time fans who saw them as traitors to the scene that made them. (This should be sounding very familiar to anyone who was paying attention to the craft beer business over the past 10 years.)
In our interview (conducted 10/27/21), Dan and I discussed the parallels between our two beats, his experiences reporting Sellout, and the perspective it gave him on the dynamic between creativity and commodity. Also: which band was the hard seltzer equivalent in the post-punk music scene of the late Aughts. Hope you enjoy.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited and condensed. The full-length interview is available on The Fingers Podcast for paying subscribers. To become a paying subscriber, click here.
Meet Dan Ozzi, music journalist and author of Sellout
Dave Infante, Fingers: Dan Ozzi, author of the new book Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk Emo and Hardcore 1994-2007. Welcome to the Fingers Podcast. How’s it feel to have the book out in the world?
Dan Ozzi, author of Sellout: Relieving! It feels like it's everybody else's problem now. In the month before it came out, I had to be like, you know, like, every single day I had a schedule some kind of social media thing. Did you preorder the book yet? Don't forget to preorder it. Hey, when you preorder today, you get a free tote bag. Look at me, look at me, look at me, don't forget about me. And now it's like out and people are getting their copies, and they're just posting them on the internet, I kind of just have to sit back and watch it. I don't have to like be so thirsty on main anymore. So that's fun.
You can go back to being thirsty on finsta, where that belongs.
Yeah, where we'd all rather be.
You and I first met when you were writing for Noisey. That would have been… what, middle of last decade? How long have you been covering this scene?
I hate thinking about how long it’s been. Probably in earnest since 2013. So yeah, I'll be coming up on a decade. I got two books under my belt in that time. It seems good. I'd like to do another one within the next couple years. We’ll see.
Tell me a little bit about this book, Sellout. For people who aren't as familiar with how pivotal this period [1994-2007] was in the music scene, why did do you think this was significant in forming the music industry sort of as we know it today?
I see it as like an overlooked area, a very weird gray area. In the ‘80s, independent rock music was Black Flag, Fugazi, Big Black, Mudhoney, bands that were not interested in major labels. And major labels weren't interested in them, so they got to just fly their DIY flag. We look back at them as heroes, right? But in more recent years, popular indie rock music was like, The Strokes and The White Stripes, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. People who were like, well, yeah, fuck being poor, like we want go out with models and hang out with celebrities and be rock stars.
Whenever something is popular, you just get like 10 years of a watered-down version of it.
But there was this weird period in the middle that I grew up with that seemed to have gone undocumented until now, where you have the shift from one era to another. Some bands were just who were just kids were getting offered like, a million bucks to make two records for Geffen. But there was this weird punk guilt that came with it where you could take that million dollar check, but you might lose your entire fanbase. They might turn on you. So I wanted to document this weird era that I live through where it was like indie rock meets fame. The moral conflict, the ethical dilemmas that these people faced.