When I started Heavy and Weird there were a few different people who inspired me to do so. One of the main humans responsible was a local writer by the name of Bianca Valentino. I had been a fan of her writing for a good number of years and I admired deeply the way the way she would conduct her interviews, especially the ones contained in her Conversations with Punx series. The joy of Bianca’s work stems from the fact that she is a true communicator who understands the value of listening to her subjects. When Bianca interviews someone she not only illustrates a great degree of respect by doing a heavy amount of research but she also goes out of her way to construct a series of questions that boycott the laziness of copy and paste journalism. Bianca is a fearless leader who uses love and light mixed with her own vulnerability and darkness to chase her own passion in order to bring to the world some of the greatest writing ever. Further to this she is an incredible mentor to many, myself included and I’m constantly on a journey to be as powerful and as effective as Bianca but in the process to nurture my own individual voice.
I was lucky enough to interview Bianca for my Show Me Your Riffs series and I’m incredibly excited to share this with you as it is a brilliant insight into Bianca as a person and a true master class for anyone wanting to be a writer:
H&W: For those who don’t know who you are, introduce yourself:
BV: Hi! I’m Bianca Valentino. I live on the Gold Coast. I create zines, enjoy writing, love interviewing people and have a lot of fun doing art stuff, especially screen printing shirts with my favourite person ever, Jhonny (Mystery School). I adore hanging out with my mini foxie dog friend, Vincent and I Love listening to records, reading biographies, watching documentaries and thrifting. I’m the creator of the blog, conversationswithbianca.com and have had my work published in Rolling Stone, art and design magazine No Cure, on Everett True’s Collapse Board and I’m a staff writer for Tavi Gevinson’s teen girls’ mag, Rookie. I do collaborative projects with awesome LA-based publication Sound Colour Vibration too. Very soon I will be writing for a couple of other outlets: a collective of kick ass female creatives from around the world and the other is a fashion collective. I believe in self-empowerment and betterment through self-knowledge, DIY, Magick and PMA.
H&W: How did your journey with journalism start?
BV: I started out making my own independent publications – zines – when I was 15-years-old and it grew from there. I started writing for (now defunct) Brisbane street press Rave Magazine in 1997, reviewing live shows, music and interviewing musicians (I did around 200 live reviews and 400 interviews for them). The editor gave me the green light to write for them after I had a meeting with him and showed him my zines. I contributed to the publication for around 15 years mostly doing all the punk stuff.
H&W: Your resume is full of a lot of really engaging interviews where your subjects really go deep and open up to you. What is your process when it comes to conducting a meaningful interview with an artist and what level of discipline does it require?
BV: Thank you Dan. I’m glad you enjoy my work, it means a lot. What you’re doing with Heavy & Weird is pretty cool too. It’s nice to read thoughtful, lengthy features online. I like that you don’t follow formulas or rules and that you don’t just copy and paste press releases and content from other sites. Both you and your writers exercise your own opinions and write from the heart.
As for conducting meaningful interviews, I believe that the following is important: curiosity, lots of research, genuine interest in the person you’re interviewing and their work, solid questions that haven’t been asked of them before, listening is very important and using your intuition. I was watching an interview with journalist/media personality Larry King the other day and he said, “I never learnt anything while I was talking.” I think that’s a great thing to remember, I feel the same way. I’m also really good at tuning into people’s energy. I seem to find people to interview at really interesting, challenging times, often when they’re at turning points in their lives.
Knowing as much as you can about your subject is important. The more you know, the easier it is for you to go wherever the conversation takes you. A lot of books on interviewing that I’ve read have said that the journalist should be in control of the conversation, I don’t believe in that totally though. In my mind we’re both artists and it’s as if we’re working on a collaboration together. I’m not into fulfilling the artist’s publicist, labels or management’s agenda. I am mindful of what the artist is promoting and working on, but there is so much more to an artist than what they’re selling. As you’ve observed, I like to go deeper. I find the best conversations happen when you don’t have a rigid agenda. Depending on which publication I’m writing for, it can also influence the way I do the interview. I’m lucky that I get to write for a variety of publications that have different tones and personalities that enjoy and value my work.
When it comes to my work I’m pretty much always on, always absorbing stuff, always keeping notes. I am constantly working on my craft. Reading and watching lots of interviews helps you to get to know what works and what might not, question-wise, in interviews. I always keep a note book and pen with me too, because I’ve found that inspiration strikes often when you least expect it.
Bianca with Tavi Gevinson
H&W: As an artist yourself, do you find that it is easier to connect to the people you are interviewing because you understand and respect the unique process involved with creative communication – regardless of whether the subjects medium is art, music, fashion etc – and how do you as a writer gain that respect from the artists you speak to?
BV: I think one of the biggest reasons I connect with people I’m interviewing is the fact that I care and my questions show that. As I’m sure you’re aware, sometimes bigger artists do days of pretty much nothing but interviews, so the same stock standard questions most mainstream publications and media outlets ask, get tiresome. When they get to someone like me with fresh, thoughtful questions that show I’m knowledgeable about their body of work and career they get excited and are more than happy to open up. I want to talk about what the artist wants to talk about. An interested interview subject will engage with you. I don’t shy away from asking tough questions either. I have a lot of creative friends and I like to interview them, so if you have a pre-existing relationship with someone that can also produce an engaging interview. Same goes for interviewing someone repeatedly throughout their career, you build trust and connection. Over time I’ve become friends with many people I’ve interviewed, which is nice.
H&W: I’ve been a big fan of your writing for quite a while and one of your most engaging pieces of writing has been your Conversations with Punx project. How did this project come about?
BV: I’ve always been inclined to lean towards mysticism, ancient knowledge, the esoteric and the spiritual. As a kid I had a lot of books on myths, ancient civilizations, witchcraft, and stuff like that. I am incredibly fascinated by history and documenting things. When I started the project I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was questioning a lot of things, like people and situations in my life, most of all myself. I had some bad people in my life that didn’t have my best interests at heart, when people show you who they really are you should believe them. I have a tendency to see the best in people and focus on the positive which sometimes can get you in a not so great place; I’ve learnt to find a nice balance these days. At the time I started to search for something more, something better than where I was at. I decided to explore that through the medium I knew best—punk rock. I did my first interview for the project in 2003 and now in 2014 I’m pretty sure I’ve done my last interview…I did it only a few weeks back and it was really powerful, revealing and made me face stuff that I’d been pushing down deep inside myself and that was blocking me to finishing the project. That conversation kicked my ass you could say.
Copies of Bianca’s Conversation With Punx Series
H&W: With the rise of the digital age, we’ve seen the dumbing down of engaging and meaningful communication. How do you keep your message full of light and love in an era that no longer favours depth and intensity?
BV: Well, what’s the alternative to having a message of light and love? I have no interest in the opposite of that…I’ve experienced too much pain and negativity in my life that I have consciously chosen to fill my life with love and light and to promote that. Have you ever read the book, The Four Agreements? One of the agreements is to be impeccable with your word meaning, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.” There’s already too much negativity in this world, I will not add to that. I will do what I do regardless of trends and what everyone else is doing. You know, I have bad days just like everyone else but everyone doesn’t need to know my problems, they have enough of their own. I’m a pretty private person and I get conflicted about how much of myself to share, especially online. I have a hard time being in the spotlight, I like my work to speak for itself.
H&W: In 2011 you were the Zine maker of the year. How important has fanzine culture been to your creative evolution and in the digital age, how important is it to keep the underground music scenes alive through this vehicle of communication?
BV: Most of the time I feel like an outsider amongst outsiders…to be honest I’ve never felt part of the zine culture so much. I started working on remedying that and trying to get involved more with other zine makers by starting the zine collective, Paper Cuts Collective with zine dudes I know, Staples and Matt Limmer. I really love Justin George’s zine, Wasted Opportunities and I love fellow Rookie contributors Suzy X’s stuff and Brodie Lancaster’s Filmme Fatales.
H&W: What connects you so deeply to the art that you write about and why is art so important to your existence?
BV: Art needs to move me in some way, if it doesn’t I’m wasting my time. I get things pitched to me all day long by PR people, management and labels. It’s very rare I connect with what they’re selling. I’m online every day actively seeking out new music and art. I love mixtapes and mix-CDs too. If someone has taken time to lovingly curate a mix, more often than not it’s going to rule.
As far as my own art, I’ve been exploring what I can do creatively. It’s not even always about the final product of the art, it’s about the process and the connection that comes with sharing. Until now I’ve always been kind of scared to share my own art. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by such talented people who I always saw as true artists and well…I didn’t think of me as one at all. I just make stuff. I’m getting better at owning what I do. I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Ian from Japanther about this last week, you can read it here: http://conversationswithbianca.com/2014/06/07/japanther-interview/
H&W: Who has been the most influential person in your life when it comes to your writing?
BV: There’s a few. Anthony Bozza, if I could write half as well as him, I’d be happy. Everett True has helped me a lot to be more confident in what I’m doing; I joke with him too that I usually do the opposite of what he suggests, or how he does things…his passion for music and championing of female artists is incredibly inspiring. Tavi and the contributors at Rookie are just the greatest extended family a gal could ask for; each one of them is crazy talented and inspire me every day with their work. I cry reading Rookie all the time because it resonates so much with me. My homie, Erik Otis from Sound Colour Vibration has one of the most inspiring work ethics ever and his words are poetry—he really cares about what he does! I’m also inspired by songwriters like Matt Caughthran from The Bronx, Jesse Michaels, Jennifer Charles from Elysian Fields, Elisabeth Esselink aka Solex…I could go on for days here. I love word play and poetic licence. The rhythm of words fascinates me too. In life in general my Jhonny inspires me more than any other person ever has, he’s the most phenomenal soul I’ve ever known.
H&W: You’d had the opportunity to interview some of the most influential figures in Punk Rock, how has that helped change and evolve your understanding of what Punk Rock is and circa 2014, what does Punk Rock mean to you?
BV: Punk to me is about: individuality, creativity, posi energy, fearlessness, community and togetherness. I’ve picked up little bits and pieces along the way, there’s too much to explain it all here. When you read my project’s book you’ll get a much better understanding.
H&W: If you engage the various music publications, both physical and digital, you find a lot of lazy and clichéd forms of journalism and a lot of negative reporting. What do you think is the main influence of the laziness that can exist in the mainstream music media?
BV: For the most part, I don’t really care what other people are doing. I like to focus on my own work. To answer your question, maybe stuff like writers and journalists not truly caring about what they’re doing, treating it just like any other job…being enamoured by celebrities etc., free perks etc. rather than the actual work and craft. I make my own media and teach others to make their own media through workshops.
H&W: How would you describe your dedication to Spirituality and how does this influence your writing?
BV: My writing and interviewing is part of my spiritual practice. I am dedicated to it for life. It is my life. Spirituality is life.
H&W: What is your definition of bad music?
BV: As I’ve said before, I like to concentrate on, and promote positive things I enjoy. Bad music is subjective to people’s taste. People can listen to whatever they want. There’s room for everything, except (in my eyes) racist, sexist…you get the picture, kind of stuff. That being said, raises the idea of freedom of speech and free will; should people be allowed to say and think what they want? It’s a complex issue.
H&W: What is your definition of bad journalism?
BV: Pretty much the same as what I’ve said for bad music. Getting specific I would add though: cutting and pasting press releases; journalist not asking researched questions; reviews written to a formula, ripping apart something to get attention; misleading headlines…those are a few things that come to mind right now.
H&W: What is your definition of bad art?
BV: I don’t like labelling something that has come from a fellow Creatives heart as bad. It might be very important to them or cathartic for them dealing with stuff in life. You have no idea what battles most people face in their daily lives, art is something that can offer relief from that. I encourage as many people as I can to create, especially the ones that don’t believe they are creative. I believe we’re all creative in some way. We’re creations our self after all. I even support my friends that do art whose work I might not personally be into, it’s important to nurture that creative spirit in people and to encourage art. Being an artist has helped me navigate life without killing myself.
H&W: With such a rich dedication to the history of music, who are some of your favourite musical acts?
BV: I love people that do interesting things and that are always challenging themselves. I like people that help foster community too. Some favourites off the top of my head are Japanther, Regurgitator, Monsterheart, Mystery School, Le Butcherettes and Bosnian Rainbows, CSS, Nightmare Air, Against Me, The Units, Del The Funky Homospaien, Pyyramids, Little Trouble Kids, Millionaire, Arcane of Souls, Santigold, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Secret Chiefs 3, 13th Floor Elevators, Mark Lanegan, Gogol Bordello, Chad VanGaalen, Gary Numan, Designer Imposter, PJ Harvey…
Bianca with Gary Numan
H&W: What projects do you have coming up?
BV: My new Conversations With Punx zine #9 “Magick” will be out by the end of this month. It features chats with OFF!’s Keith Morris, ex-Blondie bassist and esoteric writer Gary Lachman, Wade Youman from Unwritten Law, Ian from Japanther and Don Foose from the Spudmonsters. I also have like 16 interviews in the works for my site. I’m putting the book version on CWP together. I’m shooting to have that out next year.
H&W: I believe that an artist’s role within society is to tell the truth. I see all the work you do as not only some of the most vital pieces of communication I’ve ever read but as a work of art itself. To my eyes when I read it, it comes together like a song and is full of different emotional dynamics that help it connect to the reader. In a world that values censorship and fevered egos your existence within the reporting of the art world is a treasured one. How important is it to stay true to your morals and belief systems in an industry that generally favours shallowness and fear? What is your advice to young artists and writers who are trying to make a difference and find an audience whilst staying true to their own truth and moral codes?
BV: It’s everything. Truth is the ultimate. It’s the highest. You can’t escape yourself. You need to be able to put your head on the pillow at night and know you’re living your truth and that you’ve done your best. If you’re not being truthful you’re not being your best. My first CWP zine was called “Truth” because that is super important to me. As far as advice, just do you. Don’t try to be someone else or fit into what you think others want you to be. Write and create from your heart, that’s what will make your work special and yours because no one else can do you. Don’t be swayed by others, think for yourself.
Thanks for this interview Dan. It’s weird for me being the interview subject…ha! Thanks for the work you do at H&W, glad you guys exist.
Conversations With Bianca Website: http://conversationswithbianca.com/
Interview Conducted by: Dan Newton