If you ever wanted to know more about music, Canada’s music scene or to hear a bad joke, Richard Trapunski is your man.
The Toronto-native is the editor-in-chief of chartattack.com—the online extension of the now-deceased music publication Chart Magazine—and a fixture in the Toronto music scene. (Full disclosure: this writer is the former editor of ANDPOP.com, Chart’s pop culture sister website.) He spends most—if not all—of his summer weekends at festivals, is on more guest lists than he has time for and, as he puts it, “checks other people’s dispatches from divey rock clubs for misplaced commas.” He was nominated for the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry’s Music Journalist/Blogger Award earlier this year and is a Polaris Prize juror.
The Rhapsody reached out to Trapunski via e-mail to learn more about the music writer’s loves and habits.
PB: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
RT: I’m the editor-in-chief of Chart Attack, a Canadian music publication that’s existed in some form or another since the early ‘90s. I’ve existed for slightly longer. I’ve lived in Toronto for that whole time and I fit all the stereotypes that go with it: I don’t have a driver’s license, I’m surrounded by restaurants and music and culture, which I take advantage of to the point of exhaustion when it’s warm and abandon for Netflix for the other 10 months of the year, and I assume everyone already knows everything about my city even though they probably mostly just know Rob Ford. I also used to sit behind you at work. Hi Portia!
PB: When did your interest in music begin?
RT: It’s kind of reactivated every few years since I was a small child. If you ask my mom she’d probably tell you it came from her – I used to fall asleep to Raffi and Sharon, Lois & Bram tapes that she took out of the library every couple of weeks. Then, I got really into Weird Al when I was about 10 or so… like, embarrassingly into Weird Al. In high school, I discovered Pearl Jam and the Beastie Boys through my older brother, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen through my dad’s old vinyl collection, and Metallica and Dr. Dre through Napster (which also, incidentally, got me banned from Napster).
After university, I started writing for NOW Magazine and got really into the local music scene, which is a whole world unto itself. Last year, I purged a bunch of my old CDs in front of my apartment and ended up walking some neighbourhood teens through my circa-’2010-to-2013 Toronto band promo copies. One of them got really stoked and walked away muttering to her friend about how she’d suddenly become such an expert on “old Toronto music.” I’d never felt so old in my life.
PB: Can you tell us a little bit about your very first album?
RT: The first album I remember really being my album was probably Bad Hair Day by “Weird Al” Yankovic, which kind of means it was Coolio and TLC and The Presidents of the United States of America, all at the same time. My parents would take me to Sam The Record Man (R.I.P.) and I’d mostly go straight for the Weird Al section. I also remember it as the first thing I ever looked up on the internet, right after learning how to use AltaVista. Did I mention I was really into Weird Al?
I also wore out the Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty after getting obsessed with “Intergalactic” after seeing it all over Much Music, but I stole it from my brother so I don’t know how much it counts. I have similar stories about Our Lady Peace and Big Shiny Tunes 2. I went a bit nuts in ‘98/’99 when I started to buy my own CDs: Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Blink-182, Sum 41… it was a good time to be an angsty young white boy. I’ll also throw in the fact that I bought Outkast’s Stankonia so you know I was always cool.
PB: How did you discover that you could turn your interest in music into a job? How old were you when this happened?
RT: Depends on your definition of “job.” If it’s stable, paying, full-time job, then, like, two years ago. But my music writing career kind of happened by accident. I got a job out of university as a content writer for a website called MartiniBoys (which sounds like gay porn, but in my experience gay porn sites rarely need content writers). The focus was bars and restaurants, but I found myself sneaking in music features wherever I could, even turning what should have been one-sentence listings into mini-essays. So I started to write for free wherever I could get published, started my own blog, and eventually people started paying me. There are few better feelings than when someone gives you a cheque for doing what you were essentially already doing as a hobby. So I chased that feeling and kept running.
PB: What’s your favourite karaoke jam?
RT: I’m generally too shy to get up and sing, so I don’t really have a “go-to.” I did once have a memorable duet with a friend on “Waterloo Sunset” by The Kinks at one of those Korean private room karaoke joints.
PB: How do you discover new music?
RT: It kind of discovers me, if I can say that without sounding douchey. So much of my job is centred around knowing whatever music has come out that day. I have an inbox full of glo-wave-core bands and struggle rappers with mixtapes I need to hear and so I’ve gotten really good and instinctively knowing what to click. I also follow a ton of music writers on Twitter, so there’s plenty of SoundCloud links to click. When all that fails I have a stable of blogs that I treat as a playlist: Stereogum, Pitchfork, The Fader, Fact Mag, etc. For me, the hard part isn’t the discovery but remembering if I discovered anything worthwhile and then remembering how to get back to it.
PB: What makes you decide whether or not you want to cover a particular artist or song?
RT: I tend to use the term “emerging Canadian music” as my catch-all term at Chart Attack, which means we tend to favour bands that are doing something new and exciting and/or challenging what it means to be “Canadian.” For me, that’s artists like Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Tanya Tagaq, A Tribe Called Red, Fiver/The Highest Order, Lido Pimienta. That will always be the priority, but generally if we like a song or a band we’ll usually find a way to write about it.
PB: How do you decide when you want to experience music for yourself rather than for work? Can you even separate the two?
RT: It’s pretty tough to separate. I started getting more writing gigs by going to shows and then writing led to going to more shows. I’ve made a lot of friends through writing and going to shows, so when I’m at what might be considered a “work function” I’m often surrounded by people I consider my friends and vice versa.
But those blurred lines aren’t always a good thing. I spend all day listening to music, so when I go home listening to music can sometimes feel like a chore. Luckily not all the time, but sometimes.
The stuff I listen to when I go home tends to be older music. I’m not going to write about Sonic Youth much anymore now that they’ve broken up, but that’s still comfort food to me. As is Dinosaur Jr. I also find myself reading a lot of books about music with a streaming service open – books about post-punk, biographies of Leonard Cohen, fictional novellas about Black Sabbath albums written by lead singers of critically acclaimed folk-punk bands, etc.
PB: What are your go-to tunes for:
– Getting out of bed?
The ideal getting out of bed song is something with a bit of strut to it, something that will give you confidence to get out of bed and get on with your day (I’m not a morning person). “Fame” by David Bowie fits the bill.
– For a night out?
I’m going to cheat and make a pre-going out pick. I discovered recently the Pixies Doolittle album is perfect pump-up music. This is what I listen to before a job interview. Also works for pre-drinking. I’ve heard this album so many times that I find it hard to hear one song without immediately thinking of the next. But let’s go with track 1: “Debaser.”
– For a night in?
Psychedelic, groovy, good music to lay low to. And this band is from Toronto, so bonus.
– A weekend morning?
The best of Kurt Vile’s music seems to drawl directly into your subconscious, which is perfect for that half-stupid haze (enhanced or not) . The more obvious choice would have been “Waking On A Pretty Daze,” but I prefer the older, weirder Kurt before his superpowers became too self-aware.
Richard Trapunski was photographed at East Room @eastroom by Olivia Seally @oliviaseally. Check out chartattack.com for the latest and best indie and alternative music. Listen to Richard’s interview mix here.