Sarah O’Holla is on a mission: she is reviewing over 1500 records collected by her music obsessed husband, Alex Goldman. The project, according to O’Holla, is going to take years to be completed, but she’s having a blast doing it and her love for writing has been rekindled and you can read all of her honest and funny record reviews at the viral My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection. Bare in mind that the “stupid” in the title is very tongue and cheek and not meant to be mean. Check the interview below where she explains why she started the blog and how I ask for a book and invite her to go to a concert at St. Vitus.
Punchland: You are reviewing your husband’s records (Alex Goldman is a producer for WNYC’s On The Media), alphabetically, top to bottom. How far into the ABC’s are you now?
Sarah O’Holla: I’m into the B’s. I’ve done 45 reviews so far.
Punchland: Why did you start the blog?
Sarah O’Holla: I’ve been living with Alex (and his record collection) for 9 years now. I use it, but never really took the time to explore albums and bands I’d never heard of (of which there are a lot of in his collection.) I mean, when you decide you want to put music on, it can be hard to play something brand new- you want to play music that you know you’re going to like. Anyway, the fact that I didn’t know about a lot of these records has always bothered me a little bit, and one night I had the idea of going through the collection and writing about each one. The next day I started the tumblr My Husband’s Stupid Record collection and went from there. So, I started the blog to give myself a reason to do this project, and be held accountable for it, but I also started it to just start a blog. I’ve been blogging since 2008, and had been feeling uninspired by my old blog for a while now, so it felt good to have a new idea and start over with something fresh to write about. I love to write but I also love to feel excited about what I’m writing about. Turns out, this idea worked and made me feel exciting about writing again.
P: How long do you think it’s going to take to complete your mission?
SO: A long time. If I did a review everyday it would be around 5 years, and while I try to do a review every day, it’s more like every other day, and sometimes less than that, because they take time, and I don’t always have a few hours free after work. So, if I keep going at the pace I’m at now, my guess is 10 years?
P: How many records have you reviewed so far? How many records do you listen to a day? What’s your process?
SO: I usually do one a day. I’ve had a few Saturdays where I’ve done two- it would be nice to do a couple of extras to have to post during the week, but it’s really hard to do more than one a day, and I really don’t think I could do more than two a day. I try to really get into the album I’m listening to, so after doing that with one, it’s exhausting and I’m afraid I won’t be fully present for the second review. It’s easy to put a record on and listen to it without really listening to it. Even if you’re just sitting there, your mind can wander about things you have to do later etc. And that’s a nice feeling sometimes, it can be kind of meditative, but for the purposes of the blog, that’s not how I’m listening to these records. Which is why one a day is plenty. If I decided to do this project for myself without the writing component, it would be a lot harder to listen as actively as I do, then I could listen to 4 a night or something like that, but I’d probably forget about them really quickly. Because I’ve written about each album I’ve listened to in detail, I now feel like I could have a conversation with someone about any of them. It’s like reading a book instead of just hearing about it or reading the review about it. I feel like I’m actually learning about the music this way.
P: What’s your favorite so far? And the one you hated the most?
SO: I’ve had a few favorites that I’ve put on when I’m not reviewing, and that’s been really great. Those would be The Au Pairs “Playing With A Different Sex,” Syd Barrett “Barrett,” The Beachwood Sparks “Make The Cowboy Robots Cry,” and The Best of the Big Bands. The ones that I know I will never want to put on again willingly are AC/DC, Albert Ayler “Spirits Rejoice,” Big Black “Atomizer,” and The Blasting Concept.
The occasional Vine showing the record being reviewed.
P: Do you feel like you have a better understanding of Alex so far?
SO: I don’t know if I’d call it a better understanding, but it’s been a great way to have new things to talk about and a different thing to do together in the evenings. I’ve always understood that music is a very important part of Alex’s life and this project has helped me connect with him about that part of his life on a deeper level. I’ll ask him questions or tell him what something is reminding me of and we’ll have great conversations about a song or an artist or an album. I think he’s gained a better understanding of me though. There’s been a lot of music that’s a little out there and not something I’d normally listen to, and he’s been surprised at how open minded I’ve been and at how much of the music I actually really like.
P: Your writing (on the blog) is conversational and hilarious, and often insightful, but very frank. It’s not pretentious in any way. It feels like there are a preciousness that only a thoughtful listener would give. Is this self conscious? Is Sarah O’Holla, the record reviewer some kind of a character?
SO: No, it’s not a character. It’s just me writing in the moment about the music I’m listening to. If I think of something funny, I try to include it, because I love to make people laugh, but it’s still me, I’m writing the same things I would be saying out loud if I was listening to the music with someone. I often do say what I’m writing out loud to Alex before I write it down. It’s my genuine voice, which is what makes it so conversational. I can only write as a character if I’m writing fiction, and this is my real life right now.
P: The internet has a lot of opinions about your project. Some say it’s about gender politics. Some say it’s sexist. Some say it’s fun. Some say it’s adorkable. How are you dealing with the scrutiny of the internets? What say you?
SO: I addressed the scrutiny in a blog post after a bunch of articles came out with different opinions about what I was or wasn’t doing, and since then, I haven’t thought about it that much. If someone asks me about it, I’ll tell them what I think, but most people just want to read my reviews, so that’s what I’m focusing on the most. I will say though, that the scrutiny reminded me that people were actually reading my work. I’ve put my writing on the internet for years and have never had more than 50 to 100 people reading what I’m writing about. The criticism put in perspective what it means to have a bigger audience- something I’ve always wanted! It means you have to read your drafts a few more times and maybe take a little longer to write a post before putting it up. Now, when I know I want to talk about something bigger, like gender, I take a little more time to feel thoughtful and confident about what I’m putting out there. I still stand behind everything I’ve written so far though and I’m not going to shy away from certain topics. I was really proud of a recent post about The Blasting Concept Cover art. I knew I wanted to talk about the gender politics there. In the past, I might not have dug as deep and just written something in the realm of, “this cover makes me feel uncomfortable, I don’t like it.” But this time I called my friend and we talked about it together and then I wrote about it. That post resulted in my having a cool conversation with a pal, and a satisfying writing experience. It’s the scrutiny of all these strangers that are reading my reviews that helped me do that. It’s more time consuming but also more fulfilling. And of course, it didn’t get as much attention as a quicker post about Anthrax which only got into the surface of the gender politics behind a band like that. A part of me hoped that my critics would see my post on The Blasting Concept and say, “hey she’s not sexist at all, she’s doing something good for women here!” But, of course, no one said that. I did get continued support from people who have been supporting me from the beginning though, and that’s what I try to concentrate on. There are a lot of people connecting with my writing and that makes me feel really good. If it’s not for you, then there’s nothing I can do about that.
P: When My Husband’s Stupid Record Collection come out in print, will you send me a signed copy?
SO: Haha. Sure.
P: What are the reverberations, work-wise, to the blog? Is it inching closer to a full-time job?
SO: No, I don’t think so. I’ve been asked to write one article for a website which I’m working on now. I’m open to it leading to more writing gigs, but not being super active about that either. I still love my day job, I love being a school librarian. I have the summers off, and am planning to really focus on the blog, and maybe see if other writing opportunities are out there during that time too. But I’m also planning on learning how to garden and taking piano lessons and reading lots of books and going on day trips to Asbury Park, so we’ll see.
P: One of the comments I read about your blog was somebody criticizing your views on seeing Anthrax live and mosh pits. You said it would be too violent and too dangerous. Will you go to a show at St. Vitus with me? I don’t want to change your mind, but you could get a different perspective.
SO: Yeah, I’d do that! We should do that and then write about it!
P: What’s the positive engagement you are getting on social media?
SO: I should be more active on social media. I have a twitter account that I don’t use and facebook is just my friends and family (who were originally the only ones reading my blog). But tumblr has been an amazing community, I’m so glad I decided to start this blog as a tumblr, my old blog is on blogger, and something about this blog being a tumblr feels like it works better. I’ve gotten so many sweet notes from strangers, men and women, some casual music listeners like me, others crazy record collectors like Alex or musicians or djs. It’s really meaningful to think about a stranger taking the time to sit down and write me a note about how they like what I’m doing, it always makes my day. Ultimately the common message has been that they like the way I’m writing about music and encourage me to keep on doing it.
P: Last question: you are set with these 1500 records, right? Does that mean Alex is not buying more records or you’ll be reviewing his records forever? I feel like you should.
SO: He’s actually still buying records so yeah, I’ll probably be doing this forever. And I actually think I’m ok with that.