10 November 2008, 07:04
What is Coilhouse? It’s a love letter to alternative culture, in a time when alternative culture no longer exists. It’s the squirming, excitable brainchild of three amazing women: Meredith Yayanos, Nadya Lev & Zoetica Ebb. All three serve as editors, & all three bring their own unique experience & charms to the table. Coilhouse started as a blog in October 2007, & made the flying leap to print a little less than a year later, in August of ’08 — & with issue 02 due out before the end of the year, it’s clear that they have no intentions of slowing down any time soon! Their blog is brilliant, & their magazine is truly unparalleled. In a world where the word “magazine” is synonymous with “dross”, Coilhouse is glorious, a glistening tribute to all that is magnificent about ink on paper.
Of course, running a blog & putting together a magazine — especially when it’s not your full-time gig! — is a task of elephantine proportions. Here then, for your mind-blowing pleasure, is an interview with Meredith, Nadya & Zoetica!
Tell us about what you do.
Meredith: Well, in addition to this wonderful collaboration with Nadya and Zo, I do a few other jobby-type things: making music, performing with a circus, low-budget wardrobe and prop styling, and various boring part-time jobs. But at the heart of everything, I’m just another one of those typical, overstimulated Gen-Xrs who’s constantly shouting “HOLY CRAP, do you know about ________? It’s amazing!” and tossing media at anyone willing to absorb it. Music, books, comics, movies, frippery, perverted internet memes, whatever. Just about all of my output reflects a compulsion to disseminate.
Nadya: Mer, Zo and I have been working on a magazine and blog called Coilhouse for a little over a year. We launched the blog in October ’07, released Issue 01 last August, and we’re just putting the final details on Issue 02, which will be out in December.
Zoetica: Coilhouse, the unruly baby conceived with my comrades Meredith and Nadya, is growing up fast and takes up much of my headspace. In addition to this alternative art and culture magazine/blog, I paint, draw, photograph ladies and desperately try to find time to read. Someimes I model, too. Not long ago, I was part of a cabaret troupe and spent about a year doing makeup, mostly special effects stuff. Unfortunately, I’m confined to a body that seems to require more than 2 hours of sleep every so often. While I’m looking into more efficient housing for my brain, caffeine is a close associate.
How long ago did you start on this path?
Meredith: I’m a lifelong bookworm and have always enjoyed writing. I’ve been dabbling in various forms of journalism since junior high, from making homemade zines, to editing my high school’s literary magazine, to co-running a college newspaper, to doing copy-editing and grunt work for a progressive rag in NYC, to penning columns for indie magazines, to the occasional freelance gig for more mainstream publications.
Nadya: My first print endeavor occurred in second grade, when my dad bought a Xerox machine. In junior high, I wrote some articles for the school paper. In high school, I got very involved with and eventually edited our literary magazine, Demogorgon. In college, my favorite class was called “Magazine Editing and Design.” Then I became interested in photography and began to contribute to all the alt-y publications: Gothic Beauty, Elegy, Meltdown, Marquis, Skin Two, etc.
Zoetica: Always being told that I would end up writing prevented me from doing it in my teenage years. The fact that I’m a huge bookworm, and thus hyper-critical of my own work, didn’t help. For a long time I filled dozens of journals cover to cover and excelled in school writing classes, but defiantly avoided taking writing seriously. It was difficult to shed my inhibitions, but in recent years much has changed and I finally feel like I have something to offer. Blogging helped a lot, actually. Writing in my own pressure-free webspace had everything to do with getting comfortable and eventually, getting serious.
How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
Meredith: Wait, I’m supposed to be making real money doing this?!
But seriously, I only committed to journalism as a potentially viable career option once Coilhouse got cookin’.
Nadya: Because of the print quality and the fact that Coilhouse is available in major bookstores, it may look like our full-time job. I wish! It may happen some day, it may not. Right now we’re all working very hard at other jobs and pouring pretty much all the free time we have into the blog and the magazine.
Zoetica: That is just a hope at the present – photography remains my chief source of income. One day!
Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
Meredith: The latter, mainly. I’ve been stubbornly persistent, and I’ve been plain lucky. One of the most unexpected (and lucky) turns was meeting Nadya two years ago. After a few months of knowing one another, she just asked, “hey, you want to try doing this thing with Zo and me?” I was pleasantly stunned and hopped aboard without thinking about it too much. And here we all are.
Nadya: There was one seriously humiliating moment that made me decide to start a magazine. The story goes like this: when I was 21, I landed the covers of both Gothic Beauty and the 50th-anniversary issue of Skin Two, which made me think that I was a hot shit photographer (I was not). High on the feeling of appearing in print, I set my sights on what I considered the next level: the fashion glossies. I called up their Manhattan offices leaving hopeful voicemails, never to hear back from a single one. But by some strange twist of fate, when I called up Flaunt, one of their founders, Long Nguyen, picked up the phone. He introduced himself and told me that he was stuck in the office working late on a deadline, and very agitated as a result. Naively, I began to tell him my story of being a young photographer dreaming of a shot to submit my work to their amazing magazine. Well, he totally shot me down. “Listen,” he said, “do you know how many people call us every day and try to get published? Dozens. Hundreds. You think you’re something special? You’re not. Do you know how much crap we’re forced to look at every day? You can’t even imagine.” We stayed on the phone for awhile, and he belittled every attempt I made to get them to even look at my work. Anxious to get off the phone with me, he cut off my pleas with a request for my phone number. “OK,” I said, “it’s 2-1-5…“ Before I could finish, he cut me off again, crying out exasperatedly: “OH my GOD, you’re not even in New York?!” He pretended to take down the rest of my number and hung up, leaving me deflated and humiliated. My dreams of being a part of a really cool magazine were crushed. That’s when I realized how much I loved magazines. I’d show him. I’d show all of them! In hindsight, the whole thing’s really funny. I still love Flaunt.
Zoetica: Back in Russia, my father was a journalist and my mother worked for a publishing house, so the industry had long been part of my life. I’d been writing on my website and for the Suicidegirls newswire when Nadya approached me about starting a web and print magazine. By this time I’d had a taste of being published – my art, photography and modeling work had all been printed in various mags and I was hungry for more. With writing experience now under my belt I could hardly wait to get started on a new project. The more I talked with Nadya, the more I realized this was something I would dedicate myself to long-term; electricity was in the air. We were thrilled when Mer came on board and thus our little trinity was forged.
Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
Meredith: I don’t think an official collegiate degree is necessary, but one must, at the very least, be a devoted autodidact. One should be well-read, and I think it’s crucial to have a solid grasp of grammar and syntax. The following unofficial qualifications are equally important: reflexive problem-solving skills, a healthy imagination, and the ability to graciously give and receive constructive criticism. Most importantly, I think we all have to be responsible about what we say and how we say it. Especially in these frontier days on the info superhighway, where anyone can claim authority and say anything they like… and the same goes for self-publishing.
Nadya: The traditional way to get a job at a big-time magazine is to get an internship and work up from there. In order to even get that internship, most times you need to have a degree. If you’re outside the print industry and looking to start your own magazine, I still believe that having some experience is crucial. Mer, Zo and I all had some experience in print before working together on Coilhouse. Not enough experience to get a call for a job interview from Conde Nast, but enough to feel confident going into it and start researching in areas we knew we lacked. So to anyone that wants to start a magazine, I’d suggest you help at least one other magazine first. If nothing else, it’ll help you decide if it’s something that you really want to do.
Zoetica: Above all, deep respect for the work along with passion for constant improvement are essential.
What do you think is the best thing about working for yourself?
Meredith: Making my own hours and basically just ruminating about whatever I feel passionately about. Getting paid a bit of pocket money to sit in a cafe or a park or on my rooftop, writing about whatever pumps my ‘nads? Bliss.
Zoetica: Besides the benefits of making my own schedule and doing what I love? Waking up and having the first thought in my head be “Coilhouse”. Even though I’ve always been consumed with various endeavors, the notion of something a partnership has poured its heart and soul into is immensely gratifying in a completely different way.
What’s the worst thing?
Meredith: As I’ve said, I’m an active freelance musician. At this point, I still make most of my bread that way. I have session work, bands I tour with, teaching gigs, and recording projects with strict deadlines. Balancing my time (and my brain) between writerly and musical obligations can get stressful. Also, living hand-to-mouth is not fun. Still, I vastly prefer my life as it is to cubicle purgatory, and I’m grateful every day that I get to do what I’m doing.
Zoetica: My time management has suffered greatly. Presently, I’m happy with the illustrations I’ve been creating for the print magazine – it’s the one way I’ve been able to combine my two biggest passions. I’m still trying to smoothly make time to work on everything else I love while leaving time for actual fun. Life is short and stopping to enjoy it is of dire importance, but it’s been a precarious balancing act thus far.
Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
Meredith: I’m happier right now with what I’ve been able to accomplish career-wise than I’ve ever been. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement, so I’ll say I’m at a respectable 89. Not too shabby, right?
Nadya: 95. I don’t take a moment of this for granted. It’s not always “fun,” but I remind myself every day that many people don’t come as close to realizing their dream as we have. There are days when things definitely don’t go our way, even some days on which I want to give up. That’s why it’s 95, not 100. But I definitely try to keep those moments to a minimum.
Zoetica: I’m not an easily satisfied person so I’d place myself at 80. I’ll be truly happy only when I’m finally able to paint and write simultaneously, while looking out at my parked rocket from the balcony of my Martian tower.
Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that?
Meredith: Yep. I’m a workaholic, and I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies. Don’t sleep much, and run on caffeine and adrenaline. I’m all right with that, mainly because I can’t remember ever being any other way. I have a feeling my comrades may give you similar answers. We’re some high-steppin’ fillies.
Nadya: I am not a textbook workaholic. I’m a person of extremes; when I work hard, I work really hard, sacrificing food and sleep to get a task done. But when I decide that I don’t want to work, I turn into a vegetable; I don’t return emails, I don’t charge my dead phone, and I usually end up doing something useless that I take very little pleasure in, like having an ANTM marathon on YouTube. With Coilhouse, a lot of my bad work habits have improved, but they’re still there. At my best, I do work very hard and reward myself with a type of rest that’s actually positive for me, like going for a walk, reading or visiting friends. Even though Coilhouse is technically my “second full-time job,” I really believe in work-life balance. I just wish I was better at managing my time.
Zoetica: It’s a truth I’m comfortable with accepting, yes. This level of madness is not only normal but necessary for small startups such as ours. Mer, Nadya and I are constantly busy with a variety of personal projects while keeping the Coilhouse engine chugging – workaholism is the holy juice the gets us through it all.
Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
Meredith: Oh, definitely. You’re going to find restless, multi-tasking, frantic type A folks in just about any line of work, but journalists are an especially hyper-extended lot.
What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Meredith: Stay curious, stay open, and really make the effort to listen to people when they speak. Empathy. Always.
Nadya: Get a job that’s completely separate from your most ambitious pursuits, and use it to fund what you want to do most. It’s sad but true: what we love to do often gives us very little money, and what we’re good at, but not passionate about, is what pays the bills. The idea is that eventually, you can take off doing your own thing, but not overnight. So in the meantime, learn to enjoy that job – don’t treat it as the obstacle that prevents you from doing what you love, but what enables you to do it. Learn as much as you can there and apply it to what you love to do in your spare time.
Zoetica: Read. It may not sound like much, but when you life is taken over by magazine work, time to read becomes precious and vital. Brains need input to produce good writing – it’s impossible to have one without the other. Read, damn it.
...How about number two?
Meredith: Read and write constantly. Seriously, write something creative every single day. Don’t worry if it’s caca. Just keep the channel open.
Nadya: Learn to listen to other people. A magazine is a collaborative venture, and you have to surrender your ego and listen to what others say. If you do this with the right people – people who also listen to you – that’s when the best possible product emerges.
Zoetica: Understanding the production process is just as important as polishing your writing and research! Get to know all aspects of the business end, even if business is not your direct responsibility.
What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
Meredith: Honestly, I wish I’d had more confidence in myself and my abilities in my early-to-mid twenties. I was too timid. I should have just gone for it, instead of waiting around for permission from… who? From no one! Morrissey said it well: “Shyness is nice, and / Shyness can stop you / From doing all the things in life you’d like to.”
Nadya: I wish I’d known more about the advertising side of things. I still do. We’re trying different things and we’ve had success selling ads, but not as quickly as I’d like. Magazines live and die by their ad revenue, and that’s really what we need in order for the magazine to stand on its own.
Zoetica: I wish I’d taken my writing seriously, sooner. I wish I’d known everything there is to know about the business of publishing and advertising. Ultimately, however, there’s no way to know all without trying it out hands on. Actually doing this has been the greatest learning experience I could have asked for.
Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
Meredith: That print is dead. For alternative publications like Coilhouse, it’s anything but! Another misconception: that a tiny, close-knit, somewhat green group of folks can’t pony up to create a marketable publication that’s really engaging, relevant and beautiful. We’re proof that it’s possible.
Nadya: I think a lot of people believe that running a traditional print magazine and a very involved, daily-updated blog with lots of original content are mutually exclusive activities. But for us, the two formats are inexorably linked. We pour just as much effort into the blog as the print magazine, and at this stage one can’t exist without the other. If not for all the people who bought the magazine because they found out about it through the blog, we wouldn’t be able to put out Issue 02. And if not for our blog, we wouldn’t have been able to attract some of our collaborators, advertisers and distributors as fast as we did. Our main national distributor, RCS, said to us: “if your magazine is anything like your blog, we will carry you starting with Issue 01.” So there you go.
Zoetica: That alternative culture is an ominous creature of exclusivity. It is not so! Nurturing the strange and off-beat does not mean simultaneously spouting hatred at all things mainstream. Too often fringe media sources take a stance of habitual disillusionment. I cannot agree with this toxic and wasteful world view. At Coilhouse, we curate content that gets us excited, in hope of igniting the same kind of inspiration in our readers. We’re not shy to yell “Hey, peeps – check out this awesome thing we love!” and our slogan “Inform / Inspire / Infect” illustrates this credo well.
What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
Meredith: Coilhouse has helped to foster a really nurturing online community, and I’ve made some wonderful friends because of it. The overwhelming majority of readers I’ve communicated with are folks I’d love to have over for tea. These are curious, intelligent people who favor sincerity over snark, and creativity over cynicism. Creating a space for that has been so important to me, and really healing on a personal level.
Nadya: It’s going to sound sappy, but the best thing has really been the people I’ve met and friendships I’ve made. Our readers, our contributors, our advertisers… everyone we’ve come in contact with has been awesome. When we had our launch party, I was just floored by how diverse the readership was. Doing Coilhouse has exposed me to a more interesting and diverse group than ever before.
Zoetica: Without a doubt, the wonderful community that’s come together through this project. Because of Coilhouse I’ve aligned with people I hope to know indefinitely. When we started out I couldn’t have dreamed of such a curious, erudite and all around formidable bunch to stick by us through this endeavor.
What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Meredith: Working as a team with Zo and Nadya, and knowing that we’re all counting on one another to keep this going, definitely spurs me onward. I think it’s safe to say that all three of us really want Coilhouse to grow and evolve, and we’re all working really hard to keep improving and expanding the venture.
Nadya: Mostly the idea that it gets better all the time. We’re comparing the proofs from Issue 02 to Issue 01, and it looks like a totally different magazine – in a good way. The blog currently has 5 times the number of readers that it had a year ago. The quality of writing and amount of different guest contributors has gone up. We’re still learning new things, branching out. We have a lot to look forward to.
Zoetica: Knowing that we can reach so many. A kid from the boonies without web access can now come across our magazine at a local store and discover an entirely new universe. This really began to sink in when we received an email from college students who found us in their school’s book shop. It’s a wonderful and humbling sensation that makes me want to do better, always.
Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
Meredith: Well, I know I’ll always be a writer, and I’m pretty sure I’ll still be the same ol’ culture vulture when I’m 93, zooming around on a prune fart-powered jetpack, hurling obscure records and esoteric books at people’s heads. As for Coilhouse specifically? Who knows! But let’s shoot for the moon.
Nadya: There are many other things that I want to do in life that I feel Coilhouse will prepare me for. My real passion is writing, and all the writing I’ve been doing for Coilhouse is helping me come out of my shell and get comfortable with the process, just the same way that doing photography helped me figure out that I want to do a magazine. But I think that if Coilhouse succeeds that it’ll be a very fulfilling outlet and rewarding collaboration for many years.
Zoetica: I’ll always be an artist, writer – of this I can be sure. I’ll always seek warmth in particular corners of the world and the web, where like-minded individuals cluster and exchange ideas. Of course, the future is uncertain but I hope with all my might that Coilhouse will continue to flourish. And I intend to do everything within my power to make it so. To victory!
What are your next big steps?
Meredith: I want to become more financially stable, buy some health insurance, and find a way to travel and write about it. Mostly, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. So, in other words, I really want to see Coilhouse chew bubblegum and kick ass.
Nadya: As far as making the magazine succeed, it’s all about getting more advertisers.
Zoetica: Bigger, better, faster, stronger! Beyond that, I’m in the early brainstorming phase of designing Coilhouse merchandise. Earlier this year I joined forces with future fashion label Plastik Wrap to create a limited T-shirt line with the Coilhouse space girl on them, but that’s just the beginning.
Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
Meredith: My old friends Douglas Wolk and Warren Ellis spring immediately to mind. Those two inspire the holy effing hell out of me. Douglas is one of the most consistently imaginative, thoughtful journalists working these days. Warren, in addition to being a prolific and gifted storyteller, has this uncanny knack for online curating/networking/tastemaking. Both are walking encyclopedias, both are generous with what they learn, and each has patiently helped me muddle through all sorts of ungainly creative molting processes over the last ten years. I’ve got a slew of mentors back in NYC: musician/musicologist/professor Kyle Gann (brilliant guy, got me my first internship at the Village Voice), musician/bootlegger/know-it-all Sport Murphy (proof that you can always cram a little bit more information into your cranium, and that cynicism and worldliness need never overtake one’s sense of wonder), singer/composer/radio programmer David Garland (a gentle, thoughtful man whose interview style reveals the vital importance of really hearing something), and radio personality/landmark preservationist/outsider music expert Irwin Chusid (a top tier documentarian and chronicler who never worries about whether his subject matter will have an audience, and whose career is a great example of the success one can have if they just trust their inner compass). Suzanne Gerber (Wurzeltod) continues to impress me to no end. Then there’s that weirdo over at Ectomo, Ross Rosenberg; he’s ridiculously clever and funny. On that same tip, I’m dying to bake Cintra Wilson some red velvet cupcakes, and I’d love to snort some of Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes.
Nadya: In the publishing industry, I definitely admire Sandra Yates, the woman who founded Sassy. Yates was a single mom of two who worked as a typist, a messenger and a secretary before becoming the only woman on a sales staff of 30 at an Australian daily paper. Yates was sent to the US for two weeks, and there she got the idea to launch Sassy, one of the most progressive and meaningful publications ever made. Yates was not directly, creatively involved with the magazine, but she made the right decisions about who could make it work, like when she hired a then-unknown, 24-year-old Jane Pratt to helm the project. Doing sales for Sassy must have been an incredibly difficult job because the magazine rarely backed down from controversial topics. Why would anyone want to advertise in a new teen magazine that sparked boycotts in the Midwest when they could put ads in the tried-and-tested, decades-old publications like Seventeen and YM? It was Yates’ job to convince advertisers why, and she kept the magazine afloat against all odds for many years. Going way back in history, I really admire Kurt Schwitters and El Lissitsky, who, in the 20s and 30s, collaborated on Merz Magazine – one of the most beautiful avant-garde magazines ever made. It still looks awesome. I was looking at a lot of Merz when trying to plan a layout for Coilhouse. Another person who really inspires me is Darby Romeo, who published Ben is Dead. Darby had a very distinctive voice and proved to me that you don’t need a big company to publish a cool magazine. My boyfriend at the time bought me a copy of their last-ever issues at Borders. I also have tremendous respect for Mark Frauenfelder, who published bOING bOING magazine starting 1988. The BoingBoing blog has been in action for over 10 years, and continues to fascinate and inspire me. It really is the best.
Zoetica: Fellow artist and writer Jhonen Vasquez has seen me through work endeavours of the past 8 years. He reminds me to work hard and not to take anything too seriously. Warren Ellis is a brilliant storyteller, productivity machine and perpetual source of awe. There is a growing network of brilliant young women here in the US who stop at nothing to do what they love. One of them is artist, entrepreneur and kindred spirit Molly Crabapple; she continues to show me that drive is everything and is one motivating young lady. From the old school: Mikhail Bulgakov, who started out as a journalist but is best known for his novels, and the irreverent science fiction gods Strugatsky brothers. They remain my biggest inspirations to this day.Though some of the Soviet nuance gets lost in translation, I don’t think anyone’s life is complete until they’ve read The Master and Margarita and Roadside Picnic.