An Interview with Travis Fristoe
Posted by Josh Jubinsky on April 28, 2009
A slightly dated interview for sure – being conducted in April of 2003. But what’s true then is (mostly) true now. I’ve known Travis for 5 or 6 years now, having co-released records with him and kept up with both his zine and musical output during that time. It’s fitting that the first interview we post – though simply reposted, if from not only a fellow Floridian, but a Alachua County librarian as well. It’s also perhaps a good first glimpse into ‘ zine culture.’ Thank you Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing for allowing me to repost this.
Anyway, enjoy. -Josh
Travis is the editor of America?, a critique of punk culture and touring as well as a travelogue of his adventures as a roadie for various bands and also stories of a (zine and children’s) librarian in Gainesville, FL. Joe Biel interviewed Travis in April, 2003.
Joe: Who are you? What do you do?
Travis: Hello. My name is Travis Fristoe. I’m guessing Microcosm interview-worthy because I do zines (america? & drinking sweat in the ash age), organize a zine library (at the Civic Media Center), volunteer at a zine-friendly store (Wayward Council) & am usually willing to make it to the big zine gatherings (Portland Zine Symposium & Bowling Green’s Allied Media Conference).
Joe: Are you happy with that role and the way that you just described yourself?
Travis: I wouldn’t spend so much time around photocopied bits of paper if I didn’t think it worthwhile. But, I don’t consider it a ‘role’ in the same way that I spend most Sunday nights role-playing a dwarvish beserker named M.I.T.B. Zines are a familiar methodology, one link in a larger chain of communication, resistance, support and community.
Am I happy with that? Usually. But it’s just one-side of the d20. I work 5 days a week at the downtown Gainesville public library in the children’s department. I try to make decent vegan meals everyday. I practice once a week with people I respect, occasionally playing shows out as reactionary 3. I write letters to friends that donít live in Gainesville. I flea-comb Ivan and let him sit in my lap as I read good books & poems until my eyes hurt. I play city-league soccer for No Idea F.C. I hang out with Joe & Pablo & talk comics & watch pirated Asian films. I try to keep Blue Baby, my í76 Ford Econoline, running. Etc. Some combination of those makes for an okay night’s sleep. How pretentious does all that sound? Better to be pretentious than suicidal. I admit to being a lot of clich’s. That’s fine. I refuse to stop being involved in something I involve because it’s occasionally frustrating and/or overrun with squares. Am I happy with said roles? More happy than unhappy. If it was just about ‘happiness’, I’d slip over to the dark side with some cable tv, fast food & alcohol.
Joe: What motivates you to make zines and produce things in general?
Travis: Anti-depression. A not-too-embarrassing way to interact with the world? Music is awesome, but when I was 15 I didn’t have a guitar. Or a microphone. Or the courage to play music even if I had some sort of an instrument. When I found out about zines, it was glorious. Even a dork like me could take part in punk culture through zines. There can be no undervaluing the process of finding your own voice and the confidence to speak it to others.
In a larger sense, I try to look at production in a healthy D.I.Y. sense and not as part of the gruesome, dehumanizing machinations of capitalism. Yeah, I produce cultural artifacts (zines & records) that I occasionally get money for. But we’re also creating work that speaks for itself rather than having an academic come in years later to validate & interpret. Or waiting on museums to catalog and sell our sweat.
With zines I try to give my version of history. My interpretations. With records, I put out local records that would otherwise go undocumented. And with Mikeís comic of Richís thesis about house shows in Gainesville, I simply wanted to have a copy of it. I think itís brilliant and I wanted others to read it and respond. Things happen because you work to make them happen.
Joe: Do you feel that it is wrong to profit from making zines? What about if no compromise of ethics is necessary? How about in terms of sustainability?
Travis: I’ve never seriously considered making a living from my art. Zines & records make my life better and worth fighting for, but it’s way easier for me to work a morally-okay job elsewhere rather than focusing on marketing my art. I like those distinctions – I operate better with those separate roles. I’m in it for the long haul (whatever that means), but not in a careerist-sense. Some people don’t mind self-promotion, but it’s not my style and I’m not very comfortable about doing it. Even writing a description of my zine for a distro can be excruciating.
And to be honest, even if I wanted to write some sort of bestseller (or play some kind of hit song or market cleverly-sloganed coffee mugs), then it wouldn’t work. I have a terrible voice. I use too much awkward grammar & high-falutin’ words. No one gets my jokes. I don’t really understand what is popular and why. Etc.
I haven’t developed that sort of business sense, nor do I want to. If I get a few bucks for zines at a show, I’ll probably spend it on food later that night. If I get a dollar in the mail for a zine, Iíll probably buy a bagel or some coffee or spraypaint with that dollar. That’s sustainability for me-being able to make it through the day with these small rewards.
The closest I came to such a syncronous life was when I worked at No Idea mailorder. They make a living without compromising their ethics too much (i.e., giving most of their workers healthcare & vacation; keeping things reasonably priced, etc.). But working around music & punk stuff all day made me a bit neurotic. I don’t want to see that 30 people order Get-Up Kids cds in a day and no one orders Yard Wide Yarns or Clamor. It’s not that I don’t know these things, I just don’t particularly care to be reminded of marketplace realities constantly. Ideally, zines exist outside of the mainstream of business. And yes, there are punk distros that I respect and gratefully use– Hello Mary Tree of Knowledge! Joe & Alex Microcosm! Gavin Stickfigure! Troy in Vancouver! And bookstrores across an underground America.
Joe: How do you feel about the zine community being comprised primarily of white kids in their twenties? (if you believe that it is). What about predominant bike culture, leftist sentiment, dumpstering, hitch hiking, train hopping, etc.
Travis: If zines are an offshoot of the punks and if the punks are overwhelmingly white & in their 20s, then the math makes sense. Which is a small consolation when you think you have all the goddamn answers. Why does a certain demographic embrace punk over underground hip-hop or Limp Bizkit? Or prefer Steven Seagal action films over Wong Kar-Wai?
The trends you listed (bikes, leftist politics, dumpstering, alternative modes of travel) are all positive things. Even if someone is riding a thousand-dollar fixed gear (instead of driving) and baking vegan treats (instead of going to McDonalds) just to earn scene points or impress someone, aren’t they still doing good things? Motivations are tricky things that I don’t relish examining all the time. How foolish is it to cut off allies during wartime? I’m off on a tangent again, sorry.
These homogenized topics can be interesting insofar as maybe everyone will have a different slant. Even within similar themes, there should be huge and revelatory differences in how people write about them, why they write about them and what sort of conclusions they draw. I don’t mind the similarity of topics. The problem(s) lie in treating such things as dogma.
Joe: What about in terms of limiting various viewpoints in the community and challenging that dogma which would otherwise be taken for granted?
Travis: The viewpoints are inherently limited. And challenged by those that don’t read or write (or care about) zines. I was mostly answering for those rare souls that embrace this medium. It’s limited appeal can be seen as the most relevant critique.
Joe: Your zines are like a collection of vague allusions. Is this intentional? Do you feel that your opinions and stances are less important than people generating their own opinions?
Travis: Vague? Hmm… At least here in Gainesville, anything I write or say seems painfully, painfully obvious. Which is an inevitable part of participating in a small scene in a fairly small town. There’s already complaints about me using real names. I don’t want to gossip, there’s enough of that on the streets (and in our record store & coffee shops, etc.). But I also don’t want to avoid huge local issues. I write about what I know and what I obsess about. Which means Gainesville as well as the larger zine & D.I.Y. music scenes. While trying to not avoid America outside of said scenes, in all its horror. Do you know the ee cummings poem ‘humanity I love you’? It’s relevant somehow.
Anyway, the issues aren’t necessarily different in Providence or Little Rock. How do we deal with chronically problematic people in our circle? How do we foster our own endeavors while still resisting the larger death cultures of war, unfettered capitalism, sexism/misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism? How do we support each other and still be critical? Okay, I’ll be less vague, can I go on tour for a month and not have personal relationships fall apart? Less vague? I mean traveling with a bunch of music dudes instead of going camping with my (former) partner. Will Wayward still be open when we come back? How much responsibility do I have to keeping it open? Work at No Idea or the library? Stay here and keep trying, or go on to Providence and start somewhat over? Even larger and vaguer, how can I live a life with dignity and as few regrets as possible? How do we not shoot ourselves in the foot with a joyous moan?
I’m just as interested in storytelling as I am about talking about the minutia of the FIYA / Against Me! tour. I can give dumb details to whomever asks, but I’d like our writings to be larger (i.e., not timebound to a certain context or trend) documentations of our lives and struggles. Because the repeatedly-smashed windows at Wayward are both metaphors for the brutality of the world, and the literal consequence of stating an opinion. The way that swimming in a river in Montana is just a summer dip, but it’s also a glorious affirmation of life and possibility.
Is this intentional, you ask. Writing is a deliberate, conscious act even if most people forget about the editing and revising part. Or if what I think is specific, recreant and damning, comes across as vague. I’m more interested in paring things down to the bone, an economy of poetry. Ursula K. LeGui’s novels don’t waste words, and they don’t mess around either. Like early Minutemen, I want personal, political, undeniable dance songs that last about a minute and a half. Zines aren’t books and I don’t treat them that way.
Joe: So have you had a lot of your personal relationships wrecked by your lifestyle of touring with a band and working on projects so often?
Travis: I don’t particularly care to speak about my personal life on the internet. I do, however, try to take full responsibility for my actions. And, obviously, if I choose to stay in my room & work on layout, rather than going out drinking or dancing when someone asks, then that will affect my personal life. It’s more complex than choosing “A” or “B”, but choices are made and you live with the consequences.
Joe: Do you feel that your opinions and stances are less important than people generating their own opinions?
Travis: Importance is a treacherous and subjective word. My opinion and stance is important to me, but I respect the stance & opinion of others. I listen when other people speak. I expect the same. I don’t try to speak or write authoritatively. People are smart enough to make up their own mind, right? Anything else is coersion & patronization; or fascism. At the same time, I realize the fine line between being passionately outspoken and being an overbearing bore.
Yes, my zines are mostly my words, opinions and stances. But it’s part of a dialogue. Write me a letter and tell me how pretentious and full of crap I am. Or write your own zine (cryptic slaughter #13 or 14 is a ‘good’ example of this, if you’re interested in how lame Gainesville is and how deluded I am).
Joe: How do you feel about people treating Crimethinc/Evasion as some sort of bible or doctrine? What do you think causes this behavior? How do you feel this phenomenon is affecting punk/zine culture?
Travis: I don’t want to come down on the sources of people’s inspiration. Many people I otherwise respect get some sort of pleasure out of Bruce Springsteen. No, really. If this fires them up to be better teachers and lovers, then my critiques of ‘the Boss’ or Evasion zine are counterproductive. Personally, I’d much rather read Eduardo Galeano’s Days and Nights of Love and War or SCAM zine than these new, pale imitations. As a sidenote, I’d like to say that Lungfish is not a cult.
To be fair, the Crimethinc literature that I’ve read seeks to decentralize any sort of doctrinaire attitudes. Aren’t they aiming more towards self-empowerment and alternatives? Can we blame them for creating sheeps & clones? I’d rather blame them for assuming anyone other than clean-cut, white college kids can walk into stores and shoplift without suspicion (unlike my brown-skinned friends). Crimethinc assumes you can quit your job without repercussions (unlike working moms & people supporting their parents). Or that sleeping outdoors, eating out of trash cans and being homeless is a cool, risque vacation for privileged whites instead of an all-too-harsh reality for veterans, drug addicts and others on the wrong side of the free market. But if it keeps a few punx from entering the corporate workforce for a few years, then I’m all for it. And if it was them that put out the JD Salinger short story bootleg, then that should weigh in their favor in the courts.
Joe: So you are saying that the release of JD Salinger’s 22 Stories was a positive thing in their favor or a negative thing counteracting other positive things?
Travis: Positive, as positive as brutal fiction can be. Positive in debunking the 2-D view people have of “Catcher in the Rye”.
Joe: Do you think there is a hierarchy at play in zine culture?
Travis: Of course! Power dynamics are constant in any relationship whether its reader/writer, band/audience or novice/’professional’. An intrinsic part of our community is the deconstruction of such roles. Sure, someone will know more about said band or which photocopier makes the best copies, but don’t we share such knowledge? It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone who collates & staples, but I try to give people a chance.
Maybe these awkward relationships can be opportunities. If someone wants to talk because of something I wrote (or which band I’m travelling with, etc.), then it can be a real chance to create a dialogue. What are you going to do with the spotlight? Ask someone about their own zine. Or how they can start their own band. Or collective space. Or organize a protest! Not that I have all the answers communities need to listen & learn from each other. Be willing to trade art & ideas, even if that person is more of a novice than you are.
As far as zine hierarchy goes, anyone doing a zine for more than 5 years is going to get some sort of status, don’t you think? For what it’s worth, the zinesters I’ve met (who I looked up to when I was younger) have all been friendly and supportive.
Joe: Do you ever worry that your zine may come off as having its own set of DIY textbook ethics and rhetoric while your criticize such a thing?
Travis: Every piece of art conveys aesthetics and world view. A distinctive and recognizable style is a compliment. Again, the joy of heckling is that everyone can participate.
Joe: How are you responding to the war? Actions/Mentally/Emotionally/Writing/Activism/Feelings?
Travis: Thankfully, there’s a sizeable number of people here in town that also think George W. Bush is completely full of sh*t. Meaning, I can go from feeling decadent and out of sorts at a dessert potluck at Allison’s house over to the OttoHouse at 1am and work on banners & coffins for upcoming protests and marches. Painting with Caroline and listening to her roommates sing along to Chumbawumba gave me a bit of hope on an otherwise depressing day. Such positive, supportive spaces are not to be undervalued or underutilized. What does all this music & writing mean if weíre not going to be vocal in a time of war? The Civic Media Center has never felt more precious to me as a community space for dialogue and alternative information.
How is it effecting me? It doesn’t take much to overwhelm me. I don’t want to take the typical, self-indulgent route and bemoan the wreckage of my love life when there’s killings happening around the world funded by my tax dollars and executed in my country’s name. It’s so easy to get caught up in personal drama and forget that the U.S. is being more of an asshole than ever. Not that you can solely concentrate on activism and forget about your personal life, but there’s a time to be morbid and a time to bust out the stencils, you know?
Joe: How do you feel that growing older has affected you as a person? As a writer? In your ethics?
Travis: How about an ulcer from worrying all the time. Or a hernia from lugging around guitar heads. Or repetitive stress syndrome in my wrists. I watch the worry lines (laugh lines?) on my brow deepen every morning. But I also try to work smarter now.
As a writer growing older, I’ve had time to read more and wider. And make tons of mistakes that I can maybe learn from. And be more embarrassed of my earlier writing.
In my ethics? I interact with more non-punks and non-zinesters nowadays & itís interesting to hear about other people’s lifestyle choices and regrets. At the same time it makes me so grateful to have so many amazing friends that are doing such rad things whether it’s thoughtful parenting, creative activism or living in Kathmandu.
Joe: And it drives me (and possibly others) batty; why don’t you ever expand on an idea or subject?
Travis: Again, we’re viewing things differently. I feel like my past 5 issues have dealt obsessively with touring and whether or not punk is irreparably overrun with turds. I like to revisit topics rather than try to write exhaustively about them in a single sitting.
I’m planning on doing some topical issues in the future: one on the Smiths, one on libraries, and one about the seductive nihilism of Jawbreaker’s Dear You. That single-minded enough for you, fickle reader?
Joe: I meant this more along the lines of, well, it seems that you never talk about a single subject for more than 2 sentences even when you are telling a story. It often leaves me wondering if I could have learned more from you writing a ‘fleshed out’ thought.
Travis: You might learn more from “fleshy” expansion; or it might ruin the details you’d filled in on your own, like a book turned into a hollywood film.
Joe: How do you feel that your contributions affect the “bigger picture”?
Travis: How can I answer this without either seeming like an egotist or ascetically humble? The ‘big picture’ mostly depresses the hell out of me, since the ‘big picture’ seems to consist mostly of people getting f*cked over by either a random, cruel God (like in the Acme Novelty Library comics) or American corporate interest. I do what I can, both in personal interactions and larger, more public projects. Tactically, keeping the ‘big picture’ in mind is important, but I operate on faith that at the very least I’m not as much a part of the problem(s). Small consolation in the belly of the beast.
Joe: How did you get involved with the Civic Media Center?
Travis: When I moved back in 1997, I picked up a volunteer shift. The CMC depends on volunteers and I wanted to walk the walk, if you know what I mean. The zine library came about when Jason (who moved to Seattle to organize longshoremen for the IWW?) asked me about starting a zine collection. Most people in town have zines sitting around their closets, bathrooms and coffee tables, so why not collect, organize & display them centrally? Yvette & I split a shift and put all the zines in individual folders, which soon became an overwhelming amount of work. Then Kurt helped out and now itís Joe & I inputting the zines into the library’s database.
Joe: Why do you think Gainesville is such an epicenter for creative folks?
Travis: Cheap rent? Supportive people? The lack of an annoying Northeastern accent? I came here initially when I was 17 to go to school (and because I heard there was a riot when Dinosaur Jr. played). I moved back here in í97 (instead of to D.C. with Greig) because of the incessant letters from friends here who said that Gainesville was really active and had the potential to do a lot more. So I came back. I stay for a lot of reasons, mostly because the things I want to do I can do here.
Joe: Do you ever want to take your cynicism and create a new culture from the ashes of punk?
Travis: The question implies that punk is in ashes, and doesn’t allow us to create any sort of viable, new culture within it. I can understand why people wear ‘punk expatriate’ patches, but I don’t subscribe to that view. Not that I see punk (or zines) as some sort of religious cure-all. I feel very lucky though that the people I’ve met through zines (or punk) have changed my life. The culture is what we make of it. To paraphrase Mos Def: stop talking about hip-hop as though it was some giant sleeping in the woods.
Joe: Do you ever feel regret in your lifestyle choices? How do you deal with this? What about burnout?
Travis: Like do I wish I hadn’t got that Morrissey back-piece when I turned 18? No, man, that tattoo still looks good–it won’t ever fade out! Let’s take a moment here & refer to the new Propagandhi record: “I like to party f*cking hard. I like my rock and roll the same. Don’t give a f*ck if I burnout. Don’t give a f*uck if I fade away.” Sounds appropriate.
Joe: How do you feel about recent trends in hardcore music toward fashion, pretension, rock-star-like attitudes, matching language, and behaviors?
Travis: How do you think I feel about something I love, something that saved my life from constant mediocrity and despair, being turned into a dude-fest? God’s will: not yours, not mine. It makes me try harder. It makes me respect others that keep trying even more. I try to keep it in perspective. Yeah, bands that play too long or expect you to do their dishes are annoying, but I wouldn’t rank it alongside gentrification, animal slaughter and the Patriot Act. Are there too many bands out there? Undoubtedly. Should we confiscate their guitars & new amps? No, but don’t expect me to bend over backwards to get them a show in Gainesville or feign interest as they attempt to rock out. F*ck the labor pool.
Joe: What are some of your favorite zines?
Travis: Brazen Hussy. Scenery. Ration. Teenage Death Songs. Doris. Error. Negrita. Crude Noise. Complete Control. Finger on the Trigger. Walkie Talkie. Picaflor. Slant. New Year. Smash Action. Fear Siberia. Scam. Grundig. Full Gallop. Cometbus. Clutch. Invincible Summer. the new MRR.
Joe: Which zinester should we interview next?
Travis: Caroline Paquita.
Joe: What else do you want to say?
Travis: Stop the war. ‘Save the fucking children.’ Check out James Baldwin’s early novels; Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller book; anything by Arundhati Roy; & William T. Vollmannís Seven Dreams series. To paraphrase True North: your friends are already changing the world, so stop being so morbid. To speak in code: I keep mine hidden, too. Write me @ PO Box 13077 Gainesville, FL 32604-1077 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Hi, Kurt–thanks for coming by for curry the other night.
Joe: How do you feel this interview came out? Does it summarize you well?
Travis: I guess it came out fine. you asked good questions, I tried to give ample replies. Dave Eggers-style self-consciousness can be dangerous. Therefore–the interview went great! Everyone knows all about me now! Now I have to go open up the library & turn on the patron pc’s.