I’m 30,000 feet in the air en route to Bonnaroo getting my schedule together for the acts I want to see and who I’m going to interview. Which got me thinking. What questions do bands get asked the most? In the hundred-some interviews I’ve given (as an artist), a few questions have come up again and again. But as a singer/songwriter, the questions have obviously been more focused on my personal background and influences. Bands are a bit different.
Eventually every artist gets into an interview groove. Answering the same questions interview after interview. Occasionally there are a few unique ones. And once in awhile the interviewer has really done her homework and asks about the 11th grade battle of the bands you took 3rd in. “What happened there?” Well done, blogger, well done.
But, without fail, you will be asked these questions. And most of you will get asked these questions in nearly every interview you give.
So, be prepared. If you don’t have interesting answers, create some. Have some fun with them. How do you think The White Stripes husband/wife/brother/sister myth started? They played with their interviewers. They were probably tired of the same questions over and over again and maybe they thought their real story wasn’t that interesting. I’m not telling you to outright lie like they did, but practice your stories so you have something interesting to talk about.
Make everyone’s job easier: interviewer and fan. Fans want to tell their friends the one most interesting thing about their new favorite band. What’s it going to be? Bon Iver had his cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin. Deadmau5 has his demented mouse head. Bruno Mars, Chris Stapleton and Meghan Trainer were hit songwriters before they were artists. Of course each of them have a million little stories, as do we all, of things that have happened, but everyone knows this ONE story. It’s not coincidence.
Find a way to weave your thing into your answers some how.
Here are the questions you will get asked the most:
1) What Does Your Band Name Mean?
Yeah, many bands just throw random words together. But don’t just say “we thought it sounded cool. And we changed the S to a Z because it’s hipper that way.” Nothing less hip than calling yourself hip. Come up with an interesting backstory for your band name.
2) Who Are Your Biggest Influences?
Believe it or not there are right and wrong answers here. We’re all influenced by a myriad of artists. Some are ‘cooler’ than others (as determined by hipsters). Some are more obscure than others. If you’re a pop singer/songwriter releasing his first album and sound just like Ed Sheeran, you don’t want to say your biggest influence is Ed Sheeran. Even if it is. There’s nothing wrong with Ed. He’s incredibly talented. But by citing him as your biggest (or only) influence feels like you haven’t done your musical research and don’t respect the genre enough to dig deeper than just 5 years ago. You may love Ed. That’s fine. But aren’t you inspired by Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Michael Jackson, Brian McKnight, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Elvis? Obviously, don’t say any of these artists if you don’t actually know or like them. But go deeper than just the current artist you sound exactly like.
Speaking of Ed Sheeran, he didn’t (only) cite Jason Mraz as his biggest influence in all of his earliest interviews even though, clearly, Mraz was his biggest influence. Come on.
3) How Did You Meet?
If you and the drummer met working in the factory, ok. But don’t just say that. “Uh, yeah, Timmy and I met working in a factory. It sucked so we formed a band.”
“The guy working next to Timmy got his arm caught in the box crusher one day. Timmy didn’t hear him screaming because he had his ear buds in and was extreme air guitaring. I heard this guy screaming, so I ran over and ripped his arm out. Dude ended up only breaking it. He could have lost it. Then I asked Timmy if he played real guitar or just air guitar. And it turned out we were both into horn bands from the 70s. So we decided to start a band. And that’s why we named it Broke Box Arm.”
Which is more interesting? Maybe the story happened. Maybe it didn’t. What does it matter? Just make it interesting.
4) What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened On Tour?
This is always an annoying question because when put on the spot you can never think of something good. Of course the most interesting thing happens 10 minutes after you give the interview. But come up with an entertaining story for each interview cycle that you’re going to tell. Celebrities come up with (and practice) the stories they tell on the late night talk shows. In the pre-show interview, the publicist tells the TV producer what the celebrity is going to talk about so the host can prompt it. Of course to the viewers at home, the conversations always seem completely off the cuff, but most often this is rehearsed and planned. Sorry to be the one to tell you mommy is really the tooth fairy. And daddy isn’t a CIA spy who’s been on special assignment for the past 15 years.
5) How’s The Tour Going?
No matter what, the tour is going well. Even if your show has drastically undersold and your agent is a nitwit, be positive. That’s what people want to hear. Find something that has been going well and focus on that.
6) What’s Your Songwriting Process?
Or interviewers who know a bit about songwriting may cut straight to “lyrics or music first?” I love when artists answer this question as specifically as possible. Because I like learning other songwriters’ approach. But fans want to know that all your songs come from a place of truth. It’s not super inspiring to hear that you came up with your hit song because the title was given to the entire group in a songwriting workshop. Even if that’s the actual case. Some of the biggest singer/songwriters in the world still go to songwriter workshops and use tricks like this for inspiration, but don’t tell your fans this. No one really wants to know how the meat is made. They just want to know that it was made with love.
7) Who Do You Sound Like?
This is a lazy question only really asked by wet-behind-the-ear college interviewers. Don’t just shoot back “isn’t that your job?” Yes, yes, it is. But college kids are sensitive. And, it’s good to have a few well-known bands to toss out when your single serving plane mate asks you this question. It’s no help throwing out obscure bands no one has ever heard of.