Rise Above: Interview with Vanyaland Founder Michael Marotta

Michael Marotta of Vanyaland. (Photo of Michael - Sarah Sparks)

Michael Marotta of Vanyaland. (Photo of Michael – Sarah Sparks)

Michael Marotta is the Founder of Vanyaland, an excellent online music magazine which ironically rose from the ashes after the storied and historic alt-weekly, the Boston Phoenix, ceased publication this past March. Michael was the music editor at the Boston Phoenix as well as the music director at WFNX.com. Marotta’s also the DJ/promoter of the long-running indie dance party the pill, and is an all around champion of music and the Boston scene.

Visions of the Unexcused: The closing of the Boston Phoenix occurred when you and others with the paper were down in Austin, TX at South by Southwest – far away from Boston. Do you think that was a conscious decision, or just poor timing?

Michael Marotta: I’m really not sure, and it still doesn’t make too much sense. You can’t just shut down a nearly 50-year-old operation on a whim, so of course it was planned by the higher-ups for a while. Why the hammer dropped while we were in Texas, who knows? Although I like to joke that none of my superiors wanted to tell me I couldn’t go to SXSW, so they said screw it let them go and we’ll deal with it when he comes back.

Visions: How soon after the announcement did you decide to shift your efforts at both the Phoenix and WFNX and pour them into Vanyaland?

MM: It took about 36 hours until boredom set in and I re-booted Vanyaland, which I created around 2008 as a means of staying busy and covering Boston music while I was at the Boston Herald. I didn’t get many assignments while I was there, so I filled the void with my own personal blog, posting mainly about music but also baseball and hockey and reality television. I left it up when I joined the Phoenix but rarely updated it. After the Phoenix died, I starting posting regularly again, just to stay sharp (and sane), with the idea that I would re-launch it in the next few weeks as something bigger, almost like the Phoenix’s music page, with a stable of writers and more varied voices and coverage.

Visions: Do you ever see Vanyaland making the shift to print? Or was Egon right – is print dead?

MM: It’s unlikely, though I’d never rule it out. Printing costs are prohibitive, and the world moves too fast in 2013 for a print publication to keep up. Possibly one day we could morph into a newsprint alt-weekly – I wasn’t a fan of the glossy magazine the Phoenix had become in its final months – that would serve as a best-of, so to speak, for our longer-form pieces.

Visions: What made you decide to re-launch on the one year anniversary of the sale of WFNX’s signal? Do you view the future of Vanyaland inherently connected to the past of the Phoenix and WFNX?

MM: It was a bit of a coincidence, honestly. We originally were going to launch in mid-April, but with the Boston Marathon bombing it didn’t feel right, the city was vulnerable and still shaken up a bit, and launching something like this takes a bit of chest-thumping and cheerleading, which I didn’t feel was appropriate at the time. When we looked to mid-May, the re-launch date – May 15 – made sense; I’ve always had an affinity for the number 15, as it was my baseball number when I played competitively when I was younger. When I realized it was the day before the one-year anniversary of WFNX’s 101.7 FM signal sale (I learned about the sale the day before), it seemed poetic.

A lot of things in my life seemed to go sour after the sale of 101.7 FM – I lost my radio show, an intense personal relationship ended a few weeks later, and the black cloud stretched all the way to March’s closing of the Boston Phoenix. It wasn’t a great year. So having a sort-of rebirth on that date made sense to me, as I was starting a new chapter.

My approach to Vanyaland is similar to the Phoenix, though we only cover music. I will always be grateful of the opportunities I was given by WFNX and the Phoenix, being music editor of the Phoenix was by far the best job I’ve ever had. I miss it tremendously.

Visions: There’s a lot of great new acts coming out of Boston, which ones do you think have the best chance of making a National impact?

MM: Bad Rabbits are just about there, they owned Boston Calling and are now doing the late-night TV circuit, playing for a national audience. I think North Shore garage rock trio Fat Creeps are ready for a breakthrough, as are modern rock band Burglary Years. And the Western Mass scene is incredible right now, with Speedy Ortiz and Potty Mouth ready to put Massachusetts, as a state, back on the map. Closer to home, but not quite Boston, is Worcester’s Secret Lover. Boston’s RIBS just did a quick tour with Joy Formidable. And of course there’s Bearstronaut, a dance-pop band from Somerville, who I love so much I started a record label in 2011 out of my bedroom just to put their music on vinyl.

Visions: What’s the best way for up and coming bands to contact Vanyaland for a possible feature? If you had a choice, would you rather have a Sound Cloud link, CD, or Record?

MM: Soundcloud/Bandcamp links are preferred, I’m always at my laptop and the easier I can hear a band’s music, the better. CDs are clutter, and vinyl is cool only when you like the band (haha). Anyone can email me at Michael@vanyaland.com. I get a ton of email, so no one should be discouraged if they don’t hear back; a lot of times I’ll get an email, pull up the band links, and listen to the music while I’m doing other stuff. Many times I’ll get an email and mark a show into my calendar.

Visions: Your favorite “classic” Venue to see a show in Boston/Cambridge is…

MM: The Paradise is still the best place to see a show in Boston, and we’re spoiled around town with Great Scott, the Middle East, and TT The Bear’s. I love the network of clubs we have here.

Visions: Your favorite new Venue to see a show in Boston/Cambridge is…

MM: The Sinclair has a great feel to it, and sounds incredible, and Radio in Somerville (I guess they’re not really new anymore) is a super friendly place that I never have a bad time at.

Visions: Your favorite place to get late-night grub is…

MM: Tedeschi because Boston hates late-night culture.

Visions: The best album of 2013 thus far is…

MM: Suede’s Bloodsports. I’m still amazed that my favorite band of all time pulled off a remarkable comeback a decade after I left them for dead. I’ve also been really digging Charlie XCX’s True Romance, as well as the Jagwar Ma record and the new Gozu disc.

Visions: The future of music reporting and discovery lies in…

MM: Twitter, the most important online entity in the world.

D. Hixon


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