I noticed Hot Trash—a Portland-based blog about local music and related goings on—a little over a month ago. Authored by Victoria Karol, it mixes a great deal of information about local bands and shows with a fun, snarky, conversational narrative that reads as both sincere and hilarious.
Karol moved to Portland last year from Seattle. She has lived in Asheville and New York City. She has also written for High Times and managed the band SeepeopleS. While her musical interests appear all over the place, she claims she is not a music snob and underscores that her favorite bands are Queen and Nada Surf.
I asked Karol some questions about Hot Trash.
Your blog is fantastic.
Thanks, I appreciate that. It’s so funny. It’s something I started to do for fun, you know—for me—and it’s kind of taken off in a weird way.
How did you come to start writing about local music?
Through my work with bands [over the the years], I’d become consumed with the culture of being in a band. There is so much that’s hilarious about being in bands. Musicians have spent so much time getting good at an instrument. You don’t become good at it overnight; it takes years. It’s probably something you do as a teenager lonely on a Friday night, learning how to play Stairway to Heaven on your guitar and so there’s this loner aspect to it that drives the mind of a musician. I find that intriguing. You want to show people this craft you’ve spent years developing. But then there’s also this really overblown ego aspect to it that I also find hilarious. Every musician has this sense of their place in the world, like “You should come and see my band.” You know what I mean? As a marketing person I think of that as really funny, like, “No, why should I come see your band? You’ve given me no reason to.” Just because you’ve spent all this time becoming a musician doesn’t mean everybody cares. That’s always this sort of thing that plagues local bands—this tug of war—where there is this feeling everyone should be listening but also the feeling that no one is actually listening. I love all the things that fuels.
I sense that tension in the voice of the blog, actually, where there is this boastful quality in the tone, but at the same time there is a sense of wonder about the fact that anyone is actually reading or paying attention. It doesn’t feel like you’re actually all that concerned with an audience, and that’s refreshing.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s like, “Why would you actually read this?” That’s why it’s called “Hot Trash,” which is one of my favorite thing to call bands I like. “That is some hot trash right there.” You know, it’s not high art. You’re singing about girls or your friends and its gritty, grungy and dirty. It’s trashy art. I think of my writing the same way. It’s not high art by any stretch of the imagination. It’s pretty trashy stuff. I have my own overblown sense of my place in the music industry because I’ve been doing it for so long. For 20 years I’ve been hanging out with bands and seeing all of the silly things that go on. It’s the same patterns which repeat themselves over and over. I feel like I have something to say about that, but then again, why would anyone pay attention to what I have to say? It’s ridiculous. It has no meaning to anything.
So you’re a scribe?
I am not a musician, no. I tried to be one. My parents tried very hard to make me one but I’m not good at it. I took at least 10 years of piano lessons and I’m just no good. I understand music on this conceptual level, but I’m not made to make it.
But my goal with Hot Trash… a lot of music writing can be so dry. Music is this subjective thing and you want to be creative, and there’s so much going on but it can all result in dry, boring writing. On the other side, you have the Pitchforks of the world where it is so clever, cutting edge and alienating. Average people are casual in their conversation. Music writing doesn’t need to be super clever or super dry. It just needs to be relatable. A lot of times, it’s not relatable. I’m not interested in the sort of fuzz effects a band uses, and so that sort of reporting can alienate or not connect with an audience. I want for there to be something relatable for the average music listener.
There’s so much talent in Portland that goes unnoticed by people who aren’t already musicians or around musicians. So the lofty goal, and it may never happen, is to get people reading my blog so that they’re aware of the music that’s happening without the writing ever becoming alienating to them.
Why is that important to you?
I guess one of my intentions with Hot Trash is about how this music also relates to the local economy. There is a music consumer in my mind who is super conscious. They’ll go to a farmer’s market and spend $8 on a bundle of carrots from a local farmer, and they’re the same kind of people who will spend $300 on a ticket to Bonnaroo. The two don’t jive in my mind because you know, you want entertainment and you’re also conscious of keeping your dollar local, but you’re not keeping your dollars local when you’re spending on touring rock bands. I’m obviously not saying you should not spend money on touring artists because there is so much quality music out there, but there is this phenomenon where we have local shows and people say a $5 cover is too steep. But that $5 is an investment in the local community when you spend it on these bands. That musician lives around the corner and he’ll take that money he got from the club and spend it on local businesses in the community. This opposed to spending all of your money on touring bands who take that money to LA, New York or wherever and they take it out of state.
I think entertainment is still a valid arm of commerce. We don’t really think of it that way for some reason. And local music is so important to local economies. Buying local extends to music as much as it does to farmed food, meets, crafted product and everything else.