So This Is What the Volume Knob’s For

Poptional Reading chats with one of the masterminds (and a Valley resident) behind the popular music blog, Volume-Knob



sufjan stevensSufjan Stevens, a favorite topic of discussion for the Volume-Knob bloggers

A well-known fact about pop-culture bloggers is that they spend most of their time reading other pop-culture blogs. One of my favorites is So This Is What the Volume Knob’s For, a music blog I keep in my RSS reader for album reviews, gig recaps, song downloads, videos, and other indie rock-related tidbits.

I’m not sure why it took me so long, then, to catch the mailing address listed on the side of the blog: New Rochelle. I was so thrilled to see that someone was representing all the indie-rock fans out in the ’burbs. I tracked down Jessica Gentile — one of Volume Knob’s five bloggers — and found out that she is a New Rochelle native (though now living in the city for grad school). I picked her brain about blogging, music, and doing both from outside the city:

What made you decide to start a music blog?
Volume Knob really was created out of an organic need to have an outlet to share musical discoveries with friends. We were all constantly gushing about new artists and albums and with the sheer overwhelming volume of new music out there, we wanted to have some sort of written record to keep track of new discoveries.

We genuinely love the music we write about. You could say we’re downright obsessive, especially when it comes to artists like the ever-prolific Mountain Goats — we’re named after one of their lyrics — or the magnificent whistling of Andrew Bird, or the orchestral wiz Sufjan Stevens, or really most music that falls under the indie/pop/folk genre heading. We really seek to expose artists who might not get the coverage they deserve from the mainstream media and write about them in an accessible and sincere way, with minimal and always well-meaning snark.

You write with a few other co-bloggers. What can you say about the collaborative nature of blogging?
I think the collaborative nature of our blog is one of its greatest strengths. It provides so much varied perspective. June is a pastry chef in Seattle, Megan is a student in Australia, and Julie is a lawyer and a mother of two in Florida. I’m a grad student in New York, so right there you get a great geographical and generational breadth in the scope of what we cover.

What band mentions/posts of yours get the most hits?
Definitely the ones about Sufjan. He’s one of our favorite artists, so we tend to get a little obsessive and post rarities, b-sides, live songs, and readers really seem to dig our devotion to being such completists. We got linked to in New York magazine two years ago for releasing a Sufjan Christmas album that no other blog seemed to have access to, so that was pretty major.

Do you know the breakdown of your readers? Are a lot of them from New Rochelle?
Actually, yes! If you looked at a map of our readership, there’d be a big green dot over the entire New York tri-state area, starting in upper Westchester, extending to Northern Jersey.

What do you think about making music and being a music fan in the suburbs?
I think there is a slight discrepancy in access to culture, given the saturation of venues in the city. However there is this thing called the Internet that really narrows the gap between cultural awareness. Music scenes are no longer as insular as they once were.

Also I’m not sure what’s happened in the past few years or so, but some pretty major artists have made their way through Westchester. I saw Neko Case with my mom in Tarrytown about two years ago, didn’t recall anyone of with vocal prowess playing [Westchester] before. And then not too long after that, I read Andrew Bird played a show there, too. And that’s to say nothing of the Hold Steady in Ardsley. I did a double take when I saw their tour itinerary. Ardsley? Really? Yes, really! So I hope this maybe bodes well for other artists’ future tour trajectories.

Any predictions for the future of music in our area?
In terms of music: I think local, grassroots music scenes can sprout up anywhere, as long as there are passionate people and organized planning. Anyone can throw a concert, you don’t need a proper venue. You just need an open space. There are lots of lawns in Westchester, so I’d like to see more kids take initiative, get out there and play.

Even if — or especially if — you haven’t heard of the Mountain Goats, the Hold Steady, or Sufjan Stevens, you should give the music on So This Is What the Volume Knob’s For a listen. Check out the blog here, and be sure to become a Facebook fan.

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Pop Culture in Hudson Valley

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Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY


Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.

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