Nightwatch: No Depression, the premiere journal of American roots music, based in Seattle, has relaunched as a Web site, NoDrepression.com, and a twice-a-year "bookazine"; the publication has a launch party Oct. 18 at Tractor Tavern.
In what could be seen as a harbinger of a tanking economy, No Depression ceased publication in June after 13 years as the premiere journal of American roots music.
In what could be seen as a harbinger of a brighter horizon, No Depression officially relaunches this Saturday as a revamped Web site and twice-yearly “bookazine.”
When No Depression debuted in 1995, CD sales were peaking around the world and music journalism was entrenched and authoritative. Based out of Seattle, it was the only magazine of its kind, renowned for lengthy, in-depth profiles of the icons and up-and-comers of the flourishing alt-country scene. No Depression published 45,000 copies six times a year, and was distributed as far away as Australia and Japan.
One Internet boom later, CDs are an anachronism and music journalism has lost its voice. (Mostly. Ahem.) Yet alt-country — a musical landscape that spans bluegrass, country, blues, jazz, rock, folk and more — continues to flourish.
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“There are a lot of people who knew the name of the magazine but obviously never looked at it, because they don’t realize the breadth and depth of the music we covered, bands like Iron and Wine and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket,” says publisher Kyla Fairchild, 45, a married mom and co-owner of Ballard hangout Hattie’s Hat. “Bands that we wrote 8,000-word pieces on, that certainly wouldn’t be considered alt-country, the same as an old blues legend or someone from more of a jazz end of things.”
(For context, consider that this column is about 675 words long. Flouting music-journo trends, No Depression was — is — intent on telling the whole story.)
It took a month after calling it quits for Fairchild to decide to rekindle the No Depression flame.
“It’s not because we were stupid that we went out of business; it’s because we were smart,” she says. “We weren’t gonna let this thing bleed us to death.”
The Web was the obvious choice, but that didn’t make the transition any easier. Of the magazine’s two lead editors, Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, Alden wasn’t interested in going digital, citing his reverence for the written word. Fairchild spent personal funds to buy him out; Blackstock is now sole editor.
Since February, Fairchild has overcome botched launches, sudden departures, and her general lack of professional web experience to get the site off the ground while banking on music industry advertising and donations from a “founders circle” to stay solvent. Over 200 individuals and organizations have contributed over $40,000 so far.
“[With the magazine] I knew what I needed to do, I knew what was needed to be successful,” she says. “With this it feels like this huge thing that’s so much bigger than me that I don’t fully understand, so I’m just work, work, working but not knowing if I’m getting anywhere or taking the right approach.”
Despite a few technical glitches, NoDepression.com is up and running. New articles and reviews appear daily. Within a few weeks, an online archive will host the thousands of articles written for No Depression, giving it scope going back over a decade. Few online resources can claim that kind of legacy. And the No Depression bookazine — a 150-page, ad-free softback published by University of Texas Press that sells for $19.95 — gives the brand real-world presence. Other revenue streams — paid memberships, banner ads and an affiliate advertising program with Amazon — remain untested.
“I felt like I wanted to challenge myself and be an innovator and not just settle back into complacency and end up being a 45-year-old woman who can’t get her e-mail,” Fairchild says. “I felt like I could create this huge, amazing thing and if I didn’t try that, I’d always regret that I never knew what it could’ve been.” The No Depression Relaunch Party featuring the Minus 5 is on Saturday at the Tractor Tavern. All proceeds go to MusiCares (9:30 p.m. Saturday; $15).
One other must-see show this week happens tonight:
“Lunglight,” the second release from Portland quartet the Shaky Hands, is one of the NW’s unsung releases of ’08. The band brings its loose-limbed jangle pop to the Tractor, along with the Acorn — the best thing to come out of Ottawa since … Alanis Morissette? (9:30 p.m. today; $10)
Jonathan Zwickel: firstname.lastname@example.org