Todd Taylor loves to write about punk rock, but don’t box him in. Even though his globally distributed and admired music magazine Razorcake solidified its foundation with interviews and articles on roots punk, garage punk and pagan-core-crust punk, the L.A. music scene’s ubiquitous four-letter word is more than just the bedrock for multi-hyphenated subgenres. If it’s grassroots, DIY and below corporate media’s radar, Razorcake will cover it.
(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)
To Taylor, punk was a way out of frustration, a way into a lifelong obsession and has continued to be his guiding voice in a city of hype — in his words, “a way to fly the flag internally.” Taylor’s own adolescent musical messiah, a record store clerk nicknamed Louie the Letch, fed Taylor ear-splitting yet wily melodious anarchy from Las Vegas’ only non-shitty record store at the time, The Underground. His first love: JFA’s Blatant Localism EP. The fervor persisted through his graduate studies at Northern Arizona University and inspired his move to L.A. in 1996 to work at the legendary music rag Flipside, his professional home for five years.
When Flipside’s lights went out in 2000, Taylor was crushed. But he persuaded Sean Carswell, a grad-school friend, to fly out to L.A. from Cocoa Beach, Florida, and together they started up Razorcake with money Carswell raised after selling a house he built while working as a carpenter.
“I knew Sean was up to it,” Taylor says. “He also loves punk rock, is down to earth, a smart guy, a great writer and a hard worker. He’s my closest friend. It felt like we were using the same brain.”
One of their riskiest early decisions was to structure Razorcake as a nonprofit enterprise. That means the 100 or so Razorcake contributors all work totally gratis (Taylor himself makes the equivalent of $1 per hour). Writers must also adhere to Taylor’s highly regimented list of don’ts, including: Don’t ask the band how the tour’s going. Why? Because, Taylor says, he’s going for stories — the other stuff can work itself out. Even if the music isn’t familiar and the band is unknown, Taylor wants readers to be able to pick up Razorcake and fall into an article the way you might with a John Fante novel — wholly, lovingly and tenderly — because the story is good.
The results can be extraordinary. I remember falling wholly, lovingly and tenderly into a 16,000-word, two-part 2004 article on the psychobilly one-man-band wonder that was Hasil Adkins. Piecing together Adkins’ rambling stories and eccentricities, Razorcake contributor Bradley Williams details a pilgrimage to see the infamous originator of the dance known as The Hunch at his polka dot–adorned West Virginia home. The story was the last known interview of the musical pioneer before his death in 2005, and is one of those pieces of writing that I always carry with me.
When Taylor, 35, isn’t busy memorizing international postal regulations so he can distribute the magazine all over the world from his modest two-bedroom home/office in Highland Park, he works on Razorcake’s sister book-publishing outfit, Gorsky Press, and makes a living as a freelance writer — he’s been a regular contributor to Thrasher for six years. He also does odd jobs.
“I just installed some data cables between two houses,” he says. “I’m handy.”
But his latest obsession is organizing zine and writing workshops in Northeast L.A. so others can follow in his DIY footsteps.
“Basically, we’ve taught ourselves a ton of DIY skills, and we want to share them,” Taylor says. “We’ll be hosting workshops with our friends who’re talented photographers, novelists, silk-screeners and zinesters.”
According to Taylor, L.A. is important as one of the last oases of multigenerational artists and rockers; too many people, he says, just don’t see it. With his magazine and now his workshops, he’s trying to blow the blinders off.