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Thoughts From a Music Critic: Interview with Sean Maloney

In Nashville, those of us in the hip hop and electronic music scene get our info on what’s good in a few different places. Eventually, we all take our cues from Sean Maloney. Writing for the Nashville Scene, he’s established himself as the voice of hip hop music and electronic music in Nashville. This gives him a unique perspective on a music scene and vast connection to all the different pockets of every genre. I appreciate that he took some time out to answer a few questions.

QE: I first knew you as Bawston Sean. Are you from Boston? How did you end up in Nashville?

SM: I grew up in Massachusetts and lived in Boston right before I moved here, though my family is actually from the city of Lawrence. (The same city as Statik Selektah for those of you keeping score at home.) In ’97 I had met the dudes from a now super obscure Nashville band The Methadone Actors and they told me that they studied the music business here. I forgot about that conversation for about five years, until I had a roommate steal all of my stuff and decided that it was time to get the hell out of Boston.

QE: My very first show in Nashville was actually filling in a slot that was left by you at Springwater. Tell me about how you got plugged in to DJ-ing in Nashville.

SM: Socially, I tend to gravitate towards record nerds wherever I end up and the nerdiest nerds even in this nerdy town tend to be DJs. About a year after I got to Murfreesboro my roommate Linwood — currently the drummer for Those Darlins — and I started a night called An Unzipped Fly at the Campus Pub. We played punk, soul and garage at a shitty dive bar. It sounds pretty by-the-numbers now, but 8 years ago nobody was doing that, so we ended up pulling a good crowd. Then I worked at Grand Palace Records for a few years, doing promotions stuff, booking shows and DJing at said shows. But mostly everything for me starts with figuring out that they had dollar drafts at the Campus Pub.

QE: How did you end up with the Nashville Scene? Had you been writing a lot before linking with them?

SM: I wrote lots and lots of bat-shit insane PR emails for Murfreesboro bands and for some reason folks at the paper paid attention. Well, the bands were pretty fucking awesome. Ghostfinger, The Bang Up, Glossary, How I became the Bomb. But ya, I had been deluging the Scene with spam and starting flame-wars on the Nashville Cream for years when I decided to move to the city. I just sent the music editor at the time, Tracy Moore, an email and said ‘Yo, I wanna write’. And she said yes.

QE: It appears that within that publication, you’re the official voice of the local hip hop and electronic scene. How did that fall into your lap? Or did you plan it that way?

SM: In that first email, I mentioned that I could cover hip hop and electronic music; even though at the time there wasn’t a lot of hip hop or electronic coverage in the paper at the time. And again, I’m a nerd, so when I commit my interest to a topic, I tend to go overboard. I’ve loved hip hop and electronic music since I was a kid and found it sort of frustrating that nobody was writing about it in the local papers. I’m lucky enough to have editors that have trusted my taste and instincts. It’s really just dub luck on my part that I started writing just as things were really gelling musically.

QE: I heard about you being a comic. How is that going?

SM: It’s…interesting. I haven’t been doing a lot of stand-up lately, because it’s really tough to turn my brain around from writing music criticism all day. I do have some new material I want to work up, but mostly I’m just making guest appearances on The Chris Crofton Show podcast. That takes care of my comedy-jones most weeks.

QE: Tell me about any other project you’re a part of.

SM: Currently teaching my cat monlogues from the work of Anton Chekov.

QE: How has being a writer helped you add value to the music scene?

SM: Fucked if I know, but it definitely keeps the lights on at my house.

QE: I wrote a blog about how to get a write up in the Scene. What’s your best advice to an artist trying to get press coverage or trying to get on your radar?

SM: Don’t be a dick. Get your shit together. Work hard on the art of music and don’t try to impress me with you tangential knowledge of marketing lingo. Nobody gives a fuck about your “brand”, just concentrate on making good records. Make sure your links work and your meta-data is complete. Don’t expect a response. Don’t let that discourage you. Go to shows, all the fucking time. Talk to people, meet people. Stop spamming Twitter if you ain’t gonna show up when it counts.

QE: You have a unique perspective in that all the different sections of the local hip hop community will contact you or try to keep you informed of who they are or what’s going on. What are some things that you wish everyone knew about the hip hop/electronic scene?

SM: That people even know it exists at all is enough for me.

QE: One day someone will tell me that Nashville’s hip hop scene is great; then someone else will say that it’s horrible. I like our scene a lot. But how do you think our scene compares to other scenes around the country?

SM: I think people forget that even awesome scenes with big national artists still have lots of shitty music. Most music, in any scene is generally going to be bullshit. I think a lot of people have these really crazy expectations for what a scene can be, and then they’re disappointed when their wildest dreams don’t come true. But if you want to eat, breathe and shit music 24/7, there’s no better scene in the world.

QE: What mistakes do you see being made in the Nashville hip hop scene?

SM: Too many people are trying to get everybody else behind their “movement”. Fuck a movement, make a record worth listening to. A lot of people put the cart before the horse, concentrating on branding and imaginary clothing lines when the need to be working on their craft.

QE: What about the electronic music scene?

SM: People need to rediscover the glory and the majesty of house music.

QE: 2011 was a great year for Nashville hip hop. What would you like to see happen locally in 2012?

SM: Some outside attention would be great, but I’d be happy with having more good music to listen to.

QE: What artists do you see “doing it right” in Nashville and what are they doing?

SM: I there’s a lot of artists that are “doing it right” but that also means different thing for different people. I think in general, it’s the people that are the most patient and willing to work, the people that have spent years doing their one thing regardless of the recognition they may or may not be getting. The folks that are concentrating on music rather than all the peripheral bullshit that are definitely doing it right.

You can follow Sean Maloney on Twitter. Also check the Nashville Cream blog for his weekly Party & BullSh*t covering hip hop.

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