I think what has been a struggle for me with interviewing isn’t a lack of any particular skill, but rather perfectionism.
On a practical level, I agree with all the tips given by the other girls in this cool feature – take your phone and use the record app if you’re meeting in person, so you can rewind and get an exact quote if you need too, but also write brief notes as they speak, so you have a quick, visual record of what struck you as important that you can use as a guide when it comes time to write and structure your piece. Have enough water and tea. Aim to let them talk around ¾ of the time.
What’s not been spoken about so much yet, but what can be really powerful in how good an interview you have, is the psychological level of it. I think the kicker of interviewing is learning to stop referring constantly to the imaginary more qualified interviewer in your head.
This can happen with anyone at all you’re interviewing, but I think it especially becomes a problem if they’re someone really cool.
I’ll give you an example – a few months ago I got the chance to do a 45-minute in-person interview with Peaches at her record labels office in West London. I cannot emphasise this enough – I had literally never conducted one single interview with one single human prior to this in my life. Getting this offer sounded as crazy and incongruous to me as it reads on the page.
The boy I sit next too at work saw it on the mailing list for a music magazine that he sometimes writes for. An email got sent to all the writers: ‘is anyone free to interview Peaches, we’ve been offered a 45-minute slot on this date.’
He told me about it because I’d mentioned the week before I’d been listening to her lately. I made some joke about him giving me the piece instead of taking it for himself. I was just goofing around; at the time, I wasn’t listed as a writer for this magazine – or indeed for any magazine – as well as just generally not being qualified in any way. To my mind it was the equivalent of saying, “hey – why don’t you let me fly that jet for ya buddy?”
But after I said it, he said, “okay sure, I mean I’m not that interested in this one, so I could write to the editor recommending you instead if one of the main writers hasn’t already taken it.”
I went along with this plan half-disassociated as though I was playing a character,- imagine if I was a person who did this kind of thing hahaha. Imagine if I was the kind of ballsy person who wrote back to this editor without over-apologising and using a load of caveat’s about this being my first time, and if he wouldn’t mind giving me a chance.
Anyway, it actually came good and I was dispatched to interview Peaches.
What made me almost not go to the interview, and what almost made me be colder or curter with Peaches than I wanted to be was a defensive belief that I didn’t deserve to be there.
I like her – I’d been listening to one of the 2 songs I’d previously known by her the week before when I spoke to the guy at work – but I didn’t have an idea of, oh I don’t know, the music scene she was a part of. I’d never felt compelled to see her live. I wasn’t a super fan. I just knew she liked to play with a lot of super-sexual imagery, she had this odd stage name and I liked the song Diddle my Skittle. I like to write too, and to chat to people, but I’d never been published in a magazine before. I didn’t have some academic interest in different forms of music journalism.
To my mind, there were so many people, so much better qualified, with so much of a longer history of enthusiasm than me who could go. In some part of me, I was waiting to be caught out, by the imaginary all-qualified interviewer McGee.
I thought about not going through with it. There is a fucked up comfort in telling yourself you never stood a chance anyway.
The older I get though, the more I think that it’s a real skill to let other people reject you. That sounds strange but I mean it. Its so easy to reject yourself first. It’s a power thing. To think there’s no way you’ll get as good as you want to be by the deadline for a project, so not try it. Think there’s no way you’ll be the best version of yourself – the version you’d want to meet Peaches, in time, so you don’t volunteer any of your own opinions when you’re talking about her.
I think it’s brave to think, ‘well, I’ll hand SOMETHING in, and in doing so, I will have to live with the risk it might be rejected.’ It gives you a strange kind of power to acknowledge that there are some things you don’t have the power over. People might reject you. Your work might not be good enough yet. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I honestly think the people who know how to give up on the perfect version of life in their head are the ones who spend the most time making their actual life better.
It’s also good to remember that while you might not know a lot about, sticking with my example, electronic music, you might know a lot about riot grrrl, and zines, and Aston Villa football club. My point is, editors don’t always want a certain perspective. If your main love is pop music but you’re sent to interview a footballer, it doesn’t mean you’ll be bad it it. It could be interesting and humanising to view footballers through the lens of their favourite pop songs. Just whatever you do, don’t wait to be a different person than what you are now to start doing it.
P.S. you can read my Peaches interview here
Clara is now a regular interviewer for The 405