Interview: The Joy of Music Blogging: William Ruben Helms and His Devotion to a Lifestyle

In the five years that I’ve run The Joy of Violent Movement, I’ve conducted about 100 interviews, and as a result I’ve wound up growing quite used to the role of being an interviewer. But over the last couple of years, I’ve had the occasion of being interviewed. I recently was interviewed by the folks at Nezibo.com, a company that focuses on connecting websites to their users and creating an online community to discuss the web, about The Joy of Violent Movement, social media marketing, social media, music, some of the most memorable shows I’ve covered and more. Check out an excerpt from the interview below.  

The Joy of Music Blogging: William Ruben Helms and His Devotion to a Lifestyle, by Timothy Hands

“Did you just ask me if I liked music? It’s like asking me if I like food.”

That’s what Daisy says to Ira in Judd Apatow’s 2009 gem Funny People and it’s not a bad line for one reason and perhaps one reason only: people love music. Most people love music. Even if they aren’t music fans and don’t have a favorite singer or band, they still have their earbuds jammed in during work or on the subway. This is just how it goes. Music is universal. It’s something that everyone relates to, on some level.

Enter William Ruben Helms. As the owner of the popular music blog The Joy of Violent Movement, Helms is one of those rarefied scribes who commands respect from artists and readers alike. Some of that might be due to his diligence (you are likely to find him at some club or hall around NYC every weekend), his photography work, or the fact that this is simply a man doing what he loves and what’s more, doing it well. People can pick up on positive energy and Helms exhumes it. It is almost non-debatable. You don’t have to love music to appreciate what Helms has to offer if you are willing to understand the scope in which he operates with.

Since we like to chat with difference-makers in a variety of industries, I reached out to William Helms to get his insights on blogging, music, social media, and some other fun-filled topics. The timing was especially appropriate given that JOVM has recently celebrated it’s five year anniversary. Here’s how it went…

Nezibo: “The Joy of Violent Movement” is a pretty distinctive title for a music blog. How’d you come up with it? Is it from a line in a song or a piece of literature you read?

William Ruben Helms: Thank you! You know, I receive that comment on a fairly regular basis – and I’ve had countless people ask me about that over the past five years. The blog name comes from a line in a Metallica’s “2 x 4” off the Load album. I think that many Metallica fans will say that it’s not their best album, but regardless of that, the line “The joy of violent movement pulls you under …” was something that immediately caught my attention and stayed with me over the past decade or so. If you go to a lot of live events whether it’s sports or concerts, and there’s a connection between the performers (or athletes) and the audience, it’s very easy to get swept away in the energy of that moment. It’s a powerfully cathartic thing. And there have been countless moments before I started the blog where as an outsider, I would be at a show and remembered that Metallica song and just thought, “yes, this is what they were getting at.”

(William Helms photographing a concert. Photo credit: Jefe Birkner)

When I was first about to start the blog, I couldn’t come up with a good name for it but at the time, I was going to name an exhibit of music photography “The Joy of Violent Movement.” A former girlfriend suggested that I should just call the blog that, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened, really.

Nezibo: Before I forget, congratulations on JOVM’s five-year anniversary. Five years is saying something, especially in an industry where so many blogs come and go. What has contributed to its longevity?

WRH: Apparently, from what I’ve been told five years in the blogosphere is the equivalent of like 90. I think the main thing that has contributed to JOVM’s longevity is the fact that I truly love what I do. I grew up in a very musical household – musical in the sense that music across a variety of genres was always played in my house. And I think that the same love I grew up with filters through the blog. I once said on Facebook that connecting to music the way I did as an awkward, shy, nerdy 12 year old in the same way that I do now at 36, means that somewhere along the line I did something right. But seriously, at the end of the day, I’m a fan who gets to write about things that interest me. Also, I’ve had jobs I’ve loathed, jobs that I’ve been largely indifferent about. But deep down on a daily basis, I feel as though I’m doing something that is absolutely, completely right – and in a way that I’ve never really felt before.

What did you do before you started the blog and also, what inspired you to start it in the first place?

WRH: I’ve spent time as a freelance writer, photographer and journalist, writing for a number of publications including Publisher’s Weekly, the now-defunct New York Press, Ins&Outs Magazine, New York Magazines “Vulture” blog and several other publications. But through the bulk of JOVM’s existence, I worked in book publishing as an editorial assistant and an associate acquisitions editor at a business book publisher located in Midtown Manhattan. For about four and a half years, I had what I described as a Clark Kent/Superman life. I’d dress up for my fairly corporate day job and when the day ended, I’d change into street clothes to cover a show. Or I’d run home to write about music while watching my beloved sports teams. I think for the bulk of that time I was running on maybe four hours of sleep a night during the business week. But I’d repeat that every single time.

What inspired me to start JOVM is a pretty funny story, and I’ve mentioned this publicly once. In early 2007, I was working full-time as an editorial assistant at the business book publisher and I was also freelancing for a few publications here and there, including Publisher’s Weekly and New York Press, as it was a great way to hustle some much needed extra cash and it kept my professional options wide-open. Intuitively, I had always wanted to make sure that in the case of a layoff or some other situation that I was protected. In any case, I was recruited to write for a website operated by a fairly well known publisher and blogger, who is also responsible for helming a very well known indie singer/songwriter website. The publisher’s site was meant to be more of a general music site, covering a wider variety of genres. At the time, I suggested that it’d be a good idea for the site to cover an emcee, someoneI had written about a couple of times over the years and had gotten to know a little bit. This isn’t uncommon and in many ways, developing a relationship with the artist can allow you access that others may not have had. Maybe you get an interview before everyone else does or you have an advanced review copy and you’re the first to talk about it or something. You know, that kind of thing. Of course, at some point if you become friends, there’s an ethical issue involved. I think that generally, the artist has to let you be as impartial and critical as you were before you became friends. In any case, this emcee has a remarkable story that almost any indie artist could learn from. Basically, through a campaign in which he and his friends plastered almost every single subway car in the subway system, playing shows everywhere he could get shows, and word-of-mouth, this guy wound up getting love from MTV and HOT 97. Eventually, Stones Throw Records, one of the country’s renowned indie hip-hop labels signed him and man, did the label make a big deal of that signing, too!

At the time, I went to this publisher and suggested that the website needed to write about him. The publisher was reluctant because of my relationship with this emcee, which actually amounted to whenever I ran into him in the street, we’d chat for a few minutes and then I’d be on my way or he’d invite me to a show or something. But it turned out that the publisher somehow didn’t get hip-hop. How anyone could not get hip-hop and run a music website is beyond me but at the time, it occurred to me that I needed to be on my own where I could be my own boss and cover whatever I wanted. The girlfriend I had at the time was pretty instrumental in encouraging me or I doubt that I’d have ever started it when I did.

Interestingly, at the same time, I was friendly with a really great author, Heather Jacks, through this particular music site. And I wound up encouraging her to go out on her own and she started her own blog, which initially focused on New York City subway buskers, “The Noise Beneath the Apple.” She started her blog a little before mine and wound up turning it into a full-length book and a related business, actually.

One of the perks: laughing it up with Charles Bradley (Photo: William Ruben Helms)

Nezibo: Who were some of your favorite artists and bands growing up?

WRH: I mentioned this earlier but I grew up in a household where a wild and very diverse array of music was played. As a child I’d have to say that Miles Davis, The Police, DEVO, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Metallica. Motley Crüe, The Whispers, The Temptations, most of the Motown Records sound, Michael Jackson, Prince, Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Sting, Parliament Funkadelic, and New Wave were among some of the things I listened to when I was young. As I got older, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, Das EFX, Ice Cube, Biggie, Tupac and a bunch of other things kind of got incorporated into the growing playlist of my life.

Nezibo: How do you incorporate social media into your online marketing? Do you schedule posts? Is it all DIY or do you outsource any of your social media marketing?

WRH: As a blogger, social media is absolutely necessary. I honestly can’t imagine promoting a blog without being on Twitter, having a Facebook fan page, being on Instagram, etc. It’s relatively easy and any way that someone can find you or connect with you seems, at least in my mind, to be vital. JOVM has long been a (mostly) one-man operation with a scant budget. Remember, I started the site while working full-time and as a result, most things are pretty much DIY. Twitter is where I talk about a variety of subjects including politics, music, sports, TV and anything else on my mind, and I think it gives my followers there a good sense of the blog (obviously) and of me. There’s a fair bit of shameless self-promotion but I think and hope that I’ve managed that in a way where it isn’t too obnoxious. My Flickr and Instagram accounts feature my photography and videos – mostly live show based stuff, which eventually ends up on the blog at some point. I run the Facebook fan page for the blog where blog posts feed into the site, and I talk about music and other things.

Posts are usually scheduled in advance wherever possible. It allows me to work at least a couple of posts ahead to a day or so ahead. The actual scheduling of posts has been an interesting balance of timeliness, giving readers and listeners enough time to actually check something out, having new content and being active.

Nezibo: Do bands and labels provide you with music to review or are you forced to go hunting for it?

WRH: Interestingly, when I started JOVM, I had developed relationships with a couple of publicity contacts. Once I started posting regularly, I had an increasing number of publicity contacts but on occasion I’d seek out labels, publicity firms and the like. At this point, I’ve established a number of relationships with artists, publicity firms, labels and band managers across the world, and I wind up being provided music to review, shows to attend, and opportunities to interview musicians. The amount of email I receive is at times overwhelming but it also says that there are people out there who view my work with JOVM as valuable and necessary, and that people trust me as a tastemaker.

I should add that receiving emails from folks in Sweden, Germany, Poland, Russia, Israel, South Korea and a few other places is incredibly flattering while constantly reflecting how powerful the internet and the blogosphere really are. If you have the right blog champion you and your work/product, it can be a breakthrough. And you better believe that anytime a blogger from New York talks about you, as a musician it leads to instant legitimacy.

Neizbo: You seem to cover a really diverse mix of genres. I mean, I go to your blog and through the years I’ve seen you review punk bands, reggae bands, jazz singers, and even plenty of retro garage rock bands. It’s probably a shot in the dark, but do you have a favorite genre?

WRH: It’s funny that you ask me that because that’s another question that people have asked me over the years. Paraphrasing the great Duke Ellington, I have to say that I’ve come to the belief that in reality that there are only two types of music – good music and bad music. Beyond that, I can honestly say that I’ve stopped thinking about genre a long time ago. I find the concept of genre to be unnecessarily limiting and I think that if I were to cover one particular genre all the time that I’d quickly get bored. Ultimately, I think that the site’s diversity is a key strength because it sets it apart from even some of the bigger websites. I also think that in some way, JOVM reflects how I grew up as a child in Queens – wildly and almost unpredictably diverse. 

Continue reading the rest of the interview here: http://nezibo.com/article/the-joy-of-music-blogging-william-ruben-helms-and-his-devotion-to-a-lifestyle.html

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