Darryl Sterdan is an idiot with no taste in music. He is just jealous of pop stars because he is old, ugly, totally uncool and has less talent in his whole body than they have in their little fingers. That's why he lives in Canada and has wasted decades of his pathetic life writing bazillions of stupid album reviews and pretending he's so smart. Well, guess what? He's not. Seriously, who does he think he is? When has he ever made an album, gone on tour or won an award? And what's with that gross beard? He should do the world a favour and get a real job because he sucks at this one.
Believe it or not, every word above comes from actual hate mail Sterdan received during his lengthy tenure as a national music critic for Sun Media and Postmedia. But now the Winnipeg resident is getting the last word: He recently launched his own music website titled Tinnitist. Between cranking out reviews, interviewing musicians and rounding up interesting oddities from the far corners of the Internet for your listening pleasure, Sterdan took a minute to answer some questions:
Tell me about Tinnitist.
In a nutshell, Tinnitist is the new online home for all my music writing. I've been a rock critic for more than 35 years. I've gone from writing for fanzines in the ’80s to being the national music critic for the Sun Media and Postmedia chains. I've reviewed about 20,000 albums, EPs, singles, DVDs and concerts (which might have something to do with the site's name). I've covered everything from the Junos and Grammys to SXSW and Led Zeppelin's reunion gig. I've chatted with AC/DC in London, hung with Loretta Lynn and Chris Martin on their tour buses, met Metallica backstage, partied with Jack White in his Third Man compound, made small talk with Phil Everly and Gary Busey in Capitol Records' Studio A, mingled with Clive Davis and Carlos Santana in Vegas and previewed Pink Floyd rarities at Electric Lady while Ke$ha recorded downstairs. I've interviewed hundreds of rock stars, pop idols and working musicians. I've made a few cry and ticked off a few others. Now, I'm doing it online. Writing about music, I mean; not the crying part. But unlike the old days, now I'm devoting my time, space and energy to things that interest me. Which means more reviews of indie music and oddball albums and less about the latest chart hits (unless I happen to dig them). Along with reviews, I'm digging through my vast archive (and the Internet) for buried treasures, revisiting artists' back catalogues, resurrecting some long-lost interviews and even poking through my stacks of memorabilia — along with anything else that strikes my fancy.
I'm guessing we are roughly the same age. What motivated you to walk away from a steady paycheque to start Tinnitist? Any regrets?
First off, if you're as old as I am, you have my sincerest condolences. As for leaving Postmedia, I retired after a long and very satisfying career. I started Tinnitist after taking some time off to relax. But based on the positive response it's generated so far, I wish I had started the site years ago.
What were some of your favourite interviews? Your worst?
When you write about music for as long as I have, you talk to countless rock stars. You learn one thing fast: Even though they're cooler and richer than you, celebrities are like everybody else. Some are smart. Some are funny. Some are friendly. And some are stupid, humourless jerks.
On the plus side: Brian Johnson of AC/DC has always been my favourite guy to interview. Despite decades of stardom, he hasn't shed his working-class roots. He treats you like an old mate he bumped into in the pub. He calls you by name — or, even better, "me son." He's quick with a quip that never sounds rehearsed (even if it is). Once, he insisted I get their road manager's number so I could come backstage for "a wee whiskey and ginger" the next time our paths crossed. Rock gods don't come better than that.
Other favourite subjects include:
• Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, whose conversation is much like his drumming: Simple, understated, unhurried and tasteful. But much wittier.
• Sex Pistols and PiL frontman John Lydon, who has a deservedly prickly reputation, but has always been nice to me. I have also had great interviews with tough customers like Roger Waters, Wayne Coyne, Chrissie Hynde and Maynard Keenan. Go figure.
• Ozzy Osbourne. He's a trouper. He jokes around, shoots from the hip and always seems to be having fun even though you know he'd rather be left alone to draw or eat chocolate.
• Dolly Parton. She's a hoot. Once I said her big hits overshadowed her songwriting, and she replied: "Well, I think it's because I come on so strong with my big ... wait, you did say hits, right?"
• A few other names: Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, John Fogerty, Jeff Beck, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart from Rush, Slash and Duff from GN’R, most of KISS, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, most of Deep Purple, Jason Bonham, Chris Martin, David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Santana, Willie Nelson, Josh Homme and hundreds more.
I've had bad interviews, but I also learned over the years that celebrities have crappy days too. So I never took it personally if a chat went wrong. One time Vinnie Paul from Pantera yelled at me when I asked if he'd ever forgive Phil Anselmo. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is a terrible interview — talking to him is like a PoW interrogation. Gene Simmons can also be kind of a jerk, but I don't think that would surprise anyone. Mostly though, the bad ones have been very few and very far between.
Many Canadian artists find success outside of Canada. Do you think that Canadian musicians, regardless of the genre, do not get support from the Canadian music-buying public?
And why are they successful outside of Canada?
Honestly, I think Canadians do an incredible job of supporting homegrown artists, whether they're international superstars like Drake, Justin Bieber, Weeknd and Rush, or acts like Blue Rodeo, Max Webster and Tragically Hip, who never got the international recognition they deserved. As for why some artists are successful beyond our borders and others aren't, well, there are a lot of factors. A lot of it is luck and timing. But money also has a lot to do with it. Independent musicians can only get so far without financial backing to pay for real studios, professional videos, touring costs and so on. Sometimes, a band's success can have less to do with talent and more to do with how much a label is willing to spend to make them famous.
What's your view on the Canadian music landscape as it is today? Any ideas on how things could be improved?
In my opinion, the music scene — not only in Canada, but everywhere — has never been stronger. Simply because more people have more access to more music now than at any other time in history. It's something kids take for granted today, but to an old coot like me, it's still incredible that any piece of music in the world is a few clicks away on your phone. As long as that continues, music is in a great place. The music business is another story. That will always have its ups and downs. But even that seems to be doing better now than a decade ago, when it was imploding because companies were slow to adapt to the online world. One thing that disappoints me about our music industry — and that your site helps address — is that we don't do a great job celebrating our own past. As I'm sure you noticed putting together your exhaustive book, so many great Canadian bands and albums have fallen through the cracks of history. I understand why; we have a small market, and it's just not economically viable to keep everything in print. But I think it's too bad. A lot of those bands would be the subjects of box sets and documentaries if they were American or British. But here, artists just vanish. I wish we were better preservationists. But your site and book are definitely picking up some of the slack in that regard.
What advice would you give to those musicians who are just starting out?
I would suggest anyone harbouring fantasies of stardom give their head a shake. Chances are that's not going to happen. Those who want to be working musicians can definitely have a solid, sustainable career. Thing is, they have to do it themselves. Especially in the beginning. It's not enough to learn to sing, play an instrument and record some songs. You also have to be your own publicist and agent and manager and accountant. You have to have relentless drive, fantastic people skills, business smarts and unflagging confidence to keep paddling against the endless current of negativity, rejection and disinterest you'll get from all corners. On the plus side, you'll have way more control over your life and career. But it's a massive amount of hard work. And less glamourous than people expect — it's really like starting a small business. Other than that, the only advice I have is basic common sense: Think before you talk. Exercise and eat healthy. Get enough sleep. Be kind. Call your mom. Liquor before beer. And pack extra socks. You're in for a long haul.
Thanks, Darryl! Be sure to check out tinnitist - https://tinnitist.com/