A Quickie with Buddyhead: Travis Keller on (Not) Selling Out, Growing Up and Buddyhead 2.0
The rules of rock can be quite complicated: never wear the T-shirt of the band you're going to see at the show, never play air guitar during a concert, and never -- ever -- crap on the tour bus. But what happens if you're actually in the band, what can and can't you get away with? In 2002, Buddyhead.com's "Rules of Rock" were simple and included the following:
Buddyhead: For the Children Since 1997
- Don't misspell any words in your band's name. Many bands opt to switch the letter 'I' for the letter 'y'. This is cool if you're into everyone with 1/8 to 1/6 of a brain assuming that you are a crappy jock/rap/metal band. For instance, Limp Bizkit, Strait Up, and Korn are all these type of bands. Are any of them good? Check and mate.
- Don't play reggae unless you are in Bad Brains.
- Avoid using the words "theory,""project," or "plan" in the title of your band name.
- Don't play funk. Don't even joke about playing funk.
- Kick out the fat guy, he's the reason you are never gonna be big.
- If you're fat, kick yourself out, you're blowing it for the rest of the band.
"Oh, this one's good," Buddyhead co-founder Travis Keller says, scrolling through the site's archives on my laptop during a recent visit to the L.A. Weekly offices. "If your band has a cozy fan base of say, five, skip out on the huge rock star banner. It is key to grasp the idea that people don't operate on the if-they-have-a-banner-they-have-to-be-good mentality."
He laughs. After he launched the fiercely independent music site in 1997 with Aaron North, it didn't take long before Travis Keller's merciless skewering of rock's rodeo clowns made Buddyhead the most loved and hated (but never ignored) source of music critique online. Pre-dating the multitude of music blogs as we know them today, Buddyhead branded a particular style of Internet rant culture that had the music industry elite scratching their heads as to how two kids in Hollywood had secured such a powerful voice amongst teen and twentysomething audiences. Things moved quickly for Keller -- by 2000 Buddyhead had branched off into a record label, and by 2001, the site many remember for its very public feud with Limp Bizkit secured its place in rock infamy when Keller broke into singer Fred Durst's Interscope Records office, stole three of Durst's red baseball hats, auctioned them off on eBay and donated the money he earned to a rape charity.
"I hate to pigeonhole [Buddyhead]," Keller says, "because [that feud is] all anyone ever remembers. But at the time I just remember thinking, 'Wow. This is the biggest band in the world?! I can't believe no one else thinks this is totally hilarious.' It's weird to think back because now it's totally obvious that those guys are dipshits."
Now, after years on hiatus, Buddyhead is back. When we heard the news in March that the site had re-launched -- complete with its archives, new contributors, interviews, reviews and notorious gossip column -- we had to get the scoop and invited Keller to our office to chat. Travis Keller...
On Buddyhead 2.0:
Since we relaunched the site people are coming out of the woodwork to ask to help. People want to be involved for some reason [laughs]. Some of them helped three or four years ago, some are new people that read the site when they were young, which makes me feel really old. I kind of face planted into 30 and I think a lot of people go through that. It wasn't like a meltdown, it was just being confused; like, okay, I spent my whole 20s fucking off and telling people they suck, that's kind of all I know, really. Then I kind of fell in with my friend Ian Rogers who [now] runs Topspin, who was at the time the CEO of Yahoo. I approached him and was like, "We're putting out this single and is there anyway we can pull a Radiohead and put out our own record?" I went over and looked at [Topspin] and was the first one to use the program; I started beta testing it and got excited about everything again. Ian's whole theory on the music industry changed my mind about running a label: "Instead of people making a little bit of money off millions of people, now the whole theory is you make a lot of money off a little bit of people and give them more access." Topspin was the first thing I believed in in a long time. Being involved with them and actually seeing them make a difference in the music industry, they actually had answers. I would just hang out in the office and soak it all up even though they wouldn't hire me [laughs]. It's exciting because it's a whole new era in the music industry, obviously. No one really knows what's going to happen but I think those dudes do. It's a new way of doing things, a whole new chapter.
On not selling out:
We didn't make any money [laughs], we blew it. We got offered 12 million bucks once and we're like, "Nah, it's cool, we'll keep our credibility." We were just 22 and thought we knew everything. We didn't have anyone around to tell us, "Take the money." We were like, "No, we're punk," or whatever we thought we were, and stuck with credibility which doesn't really get you much [laughs]. But who knows?
On starting Buddyhead in 1997:
I was on the Internet at age 14. There were like five other people on the Internet [laughs]. When I moved to L.A. at 17 I started a Web site to put my photography up because I couldn't afford a portfolio. But it became more of a fanzine. My friends interviewed some bands and we were like, "Oh, we'll write some reviews and our friends will think it's funny." The whole motto was not to hold back at all, just like if me and you were driving to Taco Bell and we put in a record... what we would say about it? These guys fucking suck, or whatever. It didn't seem that weird to us. Everyone's got a blog now; the there were literally five Web sites when we started. I don't even remember what they were.
On growing up in Idaho and his move to Los Angeles:
I made skateboard videos as a kid and sold them on the Internet out of my parents house for $7 until I was 17. I was into skateboarding, film and photography. I grew up in the kind of town where you grow up and die there. I didn't want to marry my high school sweetheart because I didn't have a high school sweetheart. I was a nerd. I got called a fag for wearing a Minor Threat T-shirt to school, you know. I wanted to move to California where there were more kids like me.
On other music sites that have sprung up in Buddyhead's absence:
That's another reason I started Buddyhead, I don't really give a shit about anything on the Internet. When people ask me to describe Buddyhead like, "Is it like Pitchfork?" Well yeah, if we were virgins and bedwetters. None of [those other sites] have an opinion. There wasn't anything that had the voice that I wanted to hear. Thats when I was like, "Fuck, well I guess I should start talking again." I'm more excited about being positive and being a tastemaker... yeah, it's fun to make fun of people but even in the past a lot of our stuff got overlooked when it came to what bands we turned people on to. I see Buddyhead more as a tastemaker than a shit talker. Especially these days. I'm a huge music fan. That's why we talked shit because music was so sacred to us. That's like my religion. It's like, dude, you're pissing on my shrine. That's the only reason we ever really talked shit, because we're such big music fans.
Travis Keller DJs tonight at The Bar from 10 p.m. - 2 a.m. with Jeordie "Twiggy" White and Tim Burgess. Expect some damn good rock and roll. 5851 Sunset Blvd (at Bronson Avenue), Los Angeles, CA 90028. For more information go to Buddyhead.com or follow @buddyhead on Twitter.