Buddyhead Redux 

L.A.'s most loved and feared music Web site is back, leading the never-ending quest for music that doesn't suck

Wednesday, Jul 15 2009

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He laughs. “Even my mom knows more Led Zeppelin songs than Manson. I wouldn’t let it die all night. I would turn on ‘Black Dog’ like, ‘Ever heard this song before, dork?’ The guy is a fucking retard. He should be working at a 7-Eleven in Florida.”

Check and mate.

Travis Keller’s rapier wit and no-bullshit attitude are what Buddyhead is known for, and Manson’s coked-out Christmas party is the sort of episode that Buddyhead’s gossip column is famous for. When he started the site in 1997, Keller created more than one of Los Angeles’ earliest popular music Web sites: He created a community of like-minded and outspoken music enthusiasts that hot-branded a particular style of Internet rant culture. Or, one could say, they talked a lot of shit. The writers were bloggers-turned-laptop pugilists with an attitude problem and a self-proclaimed importance. Buddyhead’s tone was crass and intoxicating, its writers the bad boys of rock journalism.

click to flip through (7) JENNIE WARREN - Buddyhead.com founder Travis Keller
  • Jennie Warren
  • Buddyhead.com founder Travis Keller

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In its first six years online, Buddyhead snagged multiple cease-and-desist letters from the likes of Courtney Love, Fred Durst, Axl Rose, Drive Thru Records, The Firm, Vagrant Records, and a few major labels. The more letters they received, the more the Web site’s popularity soared. By 2004 the entire country was taking notice, in particular the music industry suits who scratched their heads, dumbfounded as to how a punk kid from Idaho–turned–maverick blogger in Hollywood had secured such a powerful voice among their target audiences, nailing down 9 to 12 million page views a month. That same year, 2004, Keller was listed among the “100 Most Creative in Entertainment” by Entertainment Weekly and named #37 in Kerrang’s “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Rock,” right above Eminem at #38, one of Buddyhead’s most lampooned subjects. Predictably, such Web traffic and attention grabbed the attention of Hollywood wheelers and dealers like the now-defunct online video and multimedia company Den.net.

Keller shrugs. “We blew it. We got offered 12 million bucks once and we were like, ‘Nah, that’s cool, we’ll keep our credibility.’ We were 22 and thought we knew everything. We didn’t have anyone around to tell us, ‘Take the money.’ We were like, ‘No. We’re punk,’ or whatever we thought we were, and stuck with credibility, which doesn’t get you much. When Buddyhead started, there were no rules or plans or organization, ever. It was a total cluster fuck. We didn’t make any money.”

By Keller’s own admission, the original Buddyhead was chaos bordering on anarchy, fueled by an abundance of youthful energy and excess. Of its 10 regular contributors, half were musicians in bands, the other half ran the record label, and most kept their day jobs. Money made off advertising afforded Keller a living through his 20s, but most of it was plowed back into Buddyhead and the record label just to cover costs. Keller shies at first when he’s referred to as a businessman and admits Buddyhead never took itself seriously as a job, and in that sense, shot itself in the foot. They were in their 20s, trying to give as many people the bird as they could — and having a blast. Hundreds of thousands of readers flocked to the Web site religiously just to see what Buddyhead would say or do next, but in 2005, without a viable business model, Keller’s brand of Internet anarchy began to fade from the spotlight. After years of not turning a profit and with the record label $60,000 in debt, Buddyhead’s treasured contributors left to pursue other opportunities.

Keller focused on his photography. Sex columnist Marko Shafer started the Hotel Café, one of L.A.’s most notable independent music venues. Writer Tom Apostolopoulos managed bands The Dillinger Escape Plan and Your Enemies Friends before starting a restaurant. Cartoonist Nate Cavalieri went to write for The New York Times. And Aaron North, original Buddyhead prankster and former guitarist for The Icarus Line, did a three-year stint with Nine Inch Nails before starting his new band, Jubilee.

Now armed with a business plan, the stubbornly independent Buddyhead.com is back, retooled to Web 2.0 expectations. Along with its original archives, it is replete with new writers, video interviews, an online record label powered by Topspin Media and that notorious gossip column — currently helmed by Keller, new recruits Meathead and Kevin Hillard, and returning Apostolopoulos. The challenge Keller now faces is whether Buddyhead can recapture that lightning in a bottle it had a half-dozen years ago. Despite the site’s relaunch and label makeover, the questions remain: Is Buddyhead still relevant, and does anyone still care?

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