CHIMP Chats: Music Writer Josh Terry

Josh Terry | Photo credit: Samantha Sacks

Today we’re releasing the first in a series of monthly interviews from our friends at Chicago Music Professionals (CHIMP), a Chicago-based music industry networking group. CHIMP’s Dan O’Conor caught up with local music writer Josh Terry to talk about his career, his local favorites, and work during COVID.

EL: I’m here in Chicago with Josh Terry, writer extraordinaire. Give us an idea of what your regular beat is and who you’re writing for on a regular basis. 

Josh Terry: Right now I’m working four days out of the week at Vice. They’ve been sort of my regular freelancing staple and now they’ve kind of brought me along on a more full-time basis. This year has been a little tricky. So pre 2020 my beat was basically Chicago music, indie rock, hip hop, country. I write about a lot of different kinds of music, but this year is sort of shifted a lot with no live music, with no shows, with no avenues for artists to make a living, much of my beat has been moved to recording and talking about how the virus has really impacted the music industry, from record labels to bookers to publicists to artists, through how the slowdowns of the US Postal Service have impacted the lives of creative people. I’m doing a lot more reporting this year. Normally, I would be sitting at a bar with an artist and we would talk about their record, and I’d write what I thought about the record, but now I’m interviewing, cultivating sources, and interviewing people throughout the industry.

This year has been a little tricky.

EL: From your view do you feel you’re a record reviewer or more of a live music reviewer? 

Josh Terry: More of an interviewer, probably more of a writer like I would, you know, I never went to school for journalism. I really wanted to be a psychologist in college and my senior year I got an internship at the AV Club/The Onion and decided that instead of paying money for grad school it would be fun to interview artists and write about music. So when I cut my teeth, I was basically just writing music news, album reviews, and interviewing bands. It wasn’t really like any kind of nitty-gritty, hard reporting skills. But I’ve been writing for about eight years now. Over time you kind of learn on the job and cultivate those skills.

EL: Back to the beginning, when you first started writing about music were you writing for the campus newspaper?

Josh Terry: It was so weird. I’m incredibly lucky that I got that internship because I didn’t really have any clips.  I was writing research papers for the American Psychological Association, really technical, academic writing about a research study that I was working on. When I sent it to my editor, she was like, “this is useless to me. Do you want to do a sample news article?” And I sent it in, and then it turns out, it was good enough and I had my internship. I was writing for the AV Club and then after graduation, I got a job at a music blog called Consequence of Sound. I worked there for about almost two years and then got the gig at Red Eye Chicago, where I was the music reporter there for two years. So that’s quite a big CliffsNotes version of like, four years of my life. 

EL: One of the first articles I remember you wrote was you getting in the van with Twin Peaks

Josh Terry: Oh, yeah, the cover story of Red Eye. What was really funny about Red Eye was when I joined, my role kind of shifted and it was partially my big goal there to make Red Eye Chicago cover mostly local music. When I was hired, I was expected to write about the Taylor Swift albums, the Adele album, sort of the big-name records that are going to hit the number one on the Billboard chart. I realized early on that people weren’t going to look to me, a 23-year-old kid in Chicago, to see what I had to say about the Adele record. Chicago has such a great music community where I was going to shows three to four times a week, seeing these incredible bands that weren’t getting coverage in the national press, and I was like, “well, we have a daily paper in Chicago. We can cover these artists, the reason why we’re covering these acts is that we want to fill in pages and paper that has to run five days a week, right? We have this in Chicago already.” So my role there evolved over time for me to be like, hey, there’s gonna be like five incredible Chicago records that come out a month, why don’t we cover that?

EL: How do you archive your interviews and reviews? If you interviewed, Juice Wrld, how would you access that interview when he died?

Josh Terry: Well, I’ve never interviewed Juice Wrld and I tend to veer away from eulogy writing. It’s not something I’m comfortable doing. One, the deadlines for those are pretty crazy. And it’s like when you’re experiencing grief, you kind of want to just be sad, and it’ll take a week for me to get my thoughts ready and write about an artist in a way that’s respectful and not rushing to make a deadline while you’re emotional. But for me, basically, I do all my interviews on my handheld recorder. So somewhere on my laptop, there are 500 or so interviews just stored there. Sometimes I’ll go back to it if it was an especially funny conversation. I remember an artist talking about what it would be like if live music stopped or if there was a pandemic I remember joking with some friends who were touring musicians about the coronavirus in December. Yeah, like, Oh, this would suck if this became a thing, and little did we know.

I remember an artist talking about what it would be like if live music stopped or if there was a pandemic I remember joking with some friends who were touring musicians about the coronavirus in December. Yeah, like, Oh, this would suck if this became a thing, and little did we know.

EL: I was looking at what you’ve written since March about the industry and pandemic. You were interviewing people involved in the industry in March and at that point they thought it might be a few weeks off.

Josh Terry: Right, the goalposts have been consistently moving on a pretty regular basis. Yeah, I remember like interviewing some of these artists, “I hope my May tour doesn’t get canceled”

EL: Do you have a guess right now, when concerts will be back. It’s scary?

Josh Terry: Yeah, I think for big festivals, probably 2022. But I would say that at a certain point, I think one thing about Americans is that we kind of give up relatively easily. We’re six months into it now. And I feel like a lot of people are kind of fed up. And it’s a shame because there are still significant deaths. It’s not as bad as we thought, but I think that smaller clubs will be opened by 2021. I think the way we experience music is going to drastically change, we’re gonna wear a mask, bar service might not be a thing like what we used to remember.

But I think live music in some form will definitely return.  

EL: Have you seen anything since March?

Josh Terry: No, I haven’t.

EL: Do you recall the last show you went to before the shutdown?

Josh Terry: Yeah, it was Andy Shauf on March 10. The week before everything shut down. Unwittingly, I did everything wrong. I went to a Blackhawks game. I went to a Bulls game. I went to the Bernie Sanders rally. I went to a 1,000 capacity concert at Thalia Hall to see Andy Shauf. I think about that show a lot, in addition to Vice, my pretty regular source of income is album bios for bands. Andy Shauf is this Canadian songwriter who has been one of my favorites. He had asked me to do his bio for the latest record and I remember being so happy that he had asked me to do the bio and so proud of what he was able to accomplish with the record and selling out Thalia Hall.

And I wouldn’t have traded another show to kind of end things with. I hadn’t realized how extroverted I am until this year.  You go to shows multiple times a week or have a neighborhood bar or a group of friends. You sort of just realize that you see dozens if not hundreds of people a week, just familiar faces, like how many times do we see each other at a show? You don’t have that anymore. So this year is in sort of me trying to, like, stay creative when you don’t have that. I’m a person who needs people around me in order to feel creatively energized and motivated. How do I stay on top of new music? How do I listen to new things? How do I do my job when the way that I used to do my job is no longer. 

I’m a person who needs people around me in order to feel creatively energized and motivated. How do I stay on top of new music? How do I listen to new things? How do I do my job when the way that I used to do my job is no longer. 

EL: I see you have done a ton of movie reviews

Josh Terry: And no that’s not me. 

EL: That’s not you?

Josh Terry: Yeah that’s a really funny story. There are two Josh Terry’s that I get confused for a lot. One is a movie reviewer in Salt Lake City. He’s a Mormon; seems like a really nice guy. Yeah, he’s in his 40s. He writes movie reviews for the Desert Valley Times and this is a funny story about him. In 2016, he wrote a two out of four-star review of a kid’s movie called Sing. It’s like a CGI, karaoke movie with little animals who are singing classic songs, gave a two out of four, not a scathing review, not a rave. I was at Red Eye and someone made a Twitter account. That was like death to Josh Terry. And he tweeted at Red Eye my employer, my girlfriend, and my editors, and be like “this motherfucker is the Antichrist, Sing hater, Fuck Josh Terry”, blah, blah, blah and he would send death threats. And I was like, Man, that’s not me. But also the funniest movie to get so angry about is this Universal Pictures kids movie? 

The other Josh Terry that I get confused for is the manager of Mayday Parade. The Warped Tour veterans. I get calls occasionally from people who are trying to book a show, or trying to schedule a meet and greet. Fortunately, the calls have subsided recently, but yeah, that Josh Terry, I wonder how many people think that’s my side hustles. 

EL: To clear this up, you’ve written for Rolling Stone, Billboard… Is there one where you showed Mom, Dad, and family?

Josh Terry: Oh, yeah, Billboard was huge. Rolling Stone was huge. Chicago Magazine, Chicago Tribune all of these are outlets that I’m really proud of. I’ve been doing this for long enough to get Rolling Stone and Billboard and they are huge, especially Billboard which was in the print magazine. So being able to see that and send it to my grandpa. Yeah, it’s funny, my family is really supportive and they read almost everything. So you have my 91-year-old grandpa in Nashville like reading up about NNAMDI and all these different artists and it’s really cool.

EL: What do you think of the current landscape of Chicago music writing? The big news of Greg Kot retiring recently… 

Josh Terry: He’s a legend and he’s still active. Sound Opinions is still gonna exist. There’s a lot of talent in Chicago. I’m 28 but I’m starting to feel like one of the older heads since I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m seeing writers who are five to eight years my junior, putting out great stuff, you’re seeing [it] in Chicago and this is like [a general trend] nationally but Chicago doesn’t really have the ecosystem to sustain and pay these artists. I can think of less than 10 people, one or two in the city, whose music journalism from local outlets is their full-time job. I’m not one of them, I am in Chicago, but  I’m working for a national outlet. And yeah, and that’s a shame. It’s the general trend across the country, the first things that always gets cut are the culture and art criticism. And right now, you’re seeing people pivot to the newsletter system, which I think is really good. It’s really promising. But the big question is how is it going to be sustainable? I’m trying to subscribe to as much independent media as possible, but if I lose my job and I need to pay rent, that $10 a month is likely gonna be the first thing cut.

I’m trying to subscribe to as much independent media as possible, but if I lose my job and I need to pay rent, that $10 a month is likely gonna be the first thing cut.

EL: Where do you turn to for music and cultural reading?

Josh Terry: I think right now with Greg Kot no longer at the Tribune I think Leor Galil at The Reader is probably the best. He’s sort of the guy I’ve looked up to ever since I started, he’s one of the sweetest guys. There’s a lot of great writers right now, you have just a bunch of younger people. 

EL: What are the outlets that you go to on a regular basis for music writing?

Josh Terry: I like Stereogum and I think that their pivot to being fully independent has been really good. I check them daily. Aquarium Drunkard. I go there to look for things that I haven’t been listening to. They kind of like pretty groovy and far out kind of psychedelic stuff. But honestly, When it comes to discovering new music, it’s just sort of talking amongst my friends and seeing who likes what, kind of like old times? There’s a lot of really good music journalism out right now. It’s just all about sustaining it and making sure that these writers get properly paid. 

EL: From a local standpoint, who are some of your favorites from the last year?  

Josh Terry: NNAMDI has been my favorite this year. He’s released two incredible records that sound nothing alike: Krazy Karl [is] largely an Instrumental proggy jazz freak out. And then his April EP Brat. If Krazy Karl is more Frank Zappa, Brat is more Frank Ocean. He’s an incredible drummer and plays with a ton of bands. He’s the touring drummer for Ohmme, Lala Lala, Ratboys, an incredible musician. His Black Plight EP came out in June and he donated all the proceeds to charities around Chicago. I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $13,000.00 he donated. VV Lightbody is a favorite. I think in terms of artists who have records coming out that I urge artists to look out for, Minor Moon is a kind of old country singer and a band called Charlie Reed with Colin from Twin Peaks.

EL: Is there an artist that you feel you have to see every time they come through town?

Josh Terry: Oh, wow. Um, well that’s a really good question. There are a lot of bands that I have my personal connection to. I think for me, the most special ones are seeing bands who’ve become my friends play their biggest shows. The Twin Peaks and Whitney runs at Thalia have been fantastic. Pup, My Canadian friends whenever they play Chicago, it’s always a great time. As far as bands that I have to see every time… Wilco, I know no one’s gonna be surprised by that answer coming from me, but I’ve seen them a lot of times and they’re always such a good band. 

EL: Your ongoing feature Blind Spots, how did that start? Do you have a favorite of all time?

Josh Terry: Yeah. So Blind Spots. Blind Spots actually started via Spencer Tweedy. Five years ago, I randomly had tickets to Billy Joel. I’m not the biggest Billy Joel fan but I was given four tickets. Spencer Tweedy was my first Red Eye cover story and I remember him talking about how he was looking for an avenue to write. I thought Spencer and I should co-review this Billy Joel show and that would be really fun. So I texted him the idea and he said, “I’ve actually never listened to Billy Joel, and you’re not gonna believe this, but I’ve also never heard Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA, and Paul Simon’s Graceland.” I was like, “wait, you’re just kidding. You are Jeff Tweedy’s kid and you’ve never heard those records? You’ve never heard Rumors? You’re coming over tomorrow.” Spencer then said, “I think you just came up with a new interview idea.” And that’s basically how it happened. It became a pretty regular thing. My favorite of all time was having Ryley Walker, listening to Leonard Cohen for the first time. Listening to a record for the first time is a really fun way to get to know someone, you learn about what music they grew up listening to, what they look for in a record, how they recorded their record that they’re promoting. It’s just been a really fun way to do it. But with Ryley, and most artists have been like, pretty respectful. They’re like, and this may not be my thing, but I can see what they’re going for. Ryley was sort of the opposite. He was like, oh, my goodness, I can’t stand this guy’s voice, his whole vibe is not my thing. He just tore into Leonard Cohen for the interview. I think that was really refreshing. Another one was a bigger guy. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. He had never listened to Slayer. And I’m like, how does your band play Ozzfest if you’ve never heard Reign in Blood? That was a really fun one because he had already heard of the series and was interested in the idea. And that was really cool. Over the course of my doing the series, I’ve had artists reach out and say remember when we listen to that record; I have a song inspired by that artist on my next record. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, we haven’t done one in a long time, It’s probably not gonna happen for a while because of social distancing and no live music and all that. But it’s something I definitely want to get back into. 

I was like, “wait, you’re just kidding. You are Jeff Tweedy’s kid and you’ve never heard those records? You’ve never heard Rumors? You’re coming over tomorrow.”

EL: Well, I appreciate your time. I just want to know if there’s hashtags or your socials to promote

Josh Terry: Yeah, @JoshhTerry on Twitter, but I don’t have a website or anything to promote. 

EL: Thanks

Josh Terry: I have such newfound respect for people who are on the other side of it.