► You’ve already mentioned that the impulse for the book came from the publisher, but did you at any point consider not partnering with a publisher and instead going the do-it-yourself crowd funding route with the book, too?
That is an interesting question. I did consider that, yes. I knew that if I wrote the book on my own and self-released it, I would probably make more money in the short term and reach a lot of people instantly. But I really want this book to reach outside my existing fan base. And I know enough about publishing and distribution – and I’ve run my own fucking record label – to know how much the job of getting it into people’s hands entails. I didn’t want to become my own publisher, because I didn’t want to spend my time and put my staff to task to get my book into stores. I was very happy to give that job to somebody else. (laughs) And they have done an incredible job. One of the most wonderful things about writing this book is how refreshing it has been to work with a book publisher versus working with a record label. It’s like night and day.
► In what way?
They are much more honest. They are willing to listen. They are not cutting corners financially at every turn of the way. They seem to actually be interested in the art and in my experience as an artist. It’s a lot more humane. Over at Roadrunner Records I really did feel like I was a packaged piece of meat in a factory and they were just looking at me with dollar signs in their eyes. I don’t feel like that with this publisher.
► I readily admit that I am bad at asking people for anything. Is The Art Of Asking going to change that?
You don’t need the book. Just do it! (laughs)
I think if my book accomplishes anything, it is not as a self-help book, but as a book to remind people that they are not alone
► If it was that easy, I would. Clearly there are barriers in my mind that keep me – and a lot of other people – from doing it. Can the book break down those barriers?
I sincerely hope so. Here is how I feel about it: So many people – especially after the TED Talk – have taken me aside and said that they are bad at asking and how they appreciated the talk and how they wished they could hear more. However, my book is not an instruction manual about how to ask. It is more a book detailing how fucking difficult it is to ask. I think if my book accomplishes anything, it is not as a self-help book, but as a book to remind people that they are not alone, that we are all struggling with this paralysis. I hope that, in that feeling of not being alone, some people find the path to themselves. Because I’m not going to write a book called How To Ask Your Boss For A Raise or How To Ask Your Wife For A Blowjob or How To Ask Your Neighbour To Take Care Of Your Plants While You’re Away. People know how to do that, they are just afraid. But there is a place to remind people how scary it can be, that it is okay to feel that way, and that you’re not alone with it. And if you finish this book and you’re still feeling alone, I have failed as an author.
► Or I as a human being.
Maybe as a reader. (laughs)
► Talking about not being alone, you’re known not just to have a huge online following but to engage with it a lot. Let’s take your Twitter account with over a million followers. You frequently retweet people’s links. It almost seems like you’re saying: I’ve built this following and this attention, now let me use it as a billboard not just for myself.
Well, maybe. But I actually see it as many things. I improvise with my Twitter feed every day. I don’t have rules for it. If I have them, they are very vague. Sure, if you are really bothering me and are tweeting me 20 times a day to ask me to share your Kickstarter link, that is the easiest way to get me to ignore you. And if you are actively hating and trolling, I will block you. But these are pretty much my only rules. Other than that, I improvise and do what I feel like. If I do feel like asking a random question and retweet 50 answers, that’s what I’ll do. I believe that is what people like about my Twitter feed so much – it’s totally unpredictable, just like a human being. It is not a daily billboard of “Here are the ticket links for my tour” and “Here is how I feel today’. It is a huge combination of me sharing things, of me responding to people, of giving them a platform to speak, of talking about my upcoming tour, sharing my own fears, getting very silly, getting very melancholic. Which is as human as it gets. And those are the Twitter feeds I also like following – when I have the feeling that I am getting an insight into someone’s life. It doesn’t happen so much these days, but I used to go on these retweet sprees, where people would share their darkest secrets, and I’d retweet those, like 50 in an hour. And some people would complain that I retweet too much. To which my answer is: You probably shouldn’t be following me then. Because I think this is fucking fantastic.
► Has having this instant audience ever made you do something that you otherwise wouldn’t have?
Yes, because it is so exciting to have an immediate audience for art. Last night was a perfect example. I had a very hard day yesterday, after getting some bad news from a friend. So I was feeling really melancholic, driving down the street, then the sun burst through the crowd, I took a photo, but I forgot to post it immediately. Late at night, before going to bed, I went to back to post it and I wrote a poem to go along with it on Instagram – I really liked that poem, so I expanded on it on Facebook. And I was so happy with it that I reposted it to my actual blog, which is not something I do with all my Facebook posts. Then I read a book for half an hour and then I went back to that Facebook post, to find that there were hundreds of comments on the poem because it had touched people. I don’t know that – a few years ago, when I only had a digital camera – I would have taken that photo. Or that I would have written the poem down in my journal and earmarked it along with that photo for publication in a poetry book, to be published a few years down the road. I probably wouldn’t have. But it took five minutes to write and post it – five minutes that were really satisfying in my soul, because it was the act of sharing, more than the actual act of writing it. And there is really no shame around that. I write about that, too, in the book: The internet age is a real blessing for artists like me, who love the instant gratification of sharing and feeling connected. It’s one of the fascinating things about our time. The internet is affecting and driving the way we make art. You can look at the pros and the cons, but you can’t possibly argue with the existence of this force. And I personally think it is beautiful. :x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.1 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Allan Amato/em>
Interview by Ewan McGee.