Painfully Slow and Meticulous: An Interview with Jeff Archuleta, a.k.a Eclectic Music Lover

If you’re at all like me – and I’m guessing you are if you’re reading this blog – you’re not just a fan of music. You’re also a fan of people who write about music. Given the nearly infinite number of choices available to even the most casual music fan these days, it’s always good to have a trusted guide to point the way not only to sounds we might be familiar with but also to artists who push us a little further out from our usual comfort zones. That’s why I’m a fan of Eclectic Music Lover, a music blog that Jeff Archuleta has made a labor of love since 2015. Knowing first-hand how much work has gone into some of my own writing endeavors, I decided to drop Jeff a line to see what goes on behind the scenes of his blog.

You’ve been blogging about music since 2015. Did you have any experience with blogging—or writing about music in other forums—prior to starting Eclectic Music Lover? What inspired you to start blogging?

No, other than a short essay about how much I loved the music of The Carpenters that I wrote for a high school English class, I’d never written about music before, nor did I have any experience with blogging. I started my blog at the suggestion of a friend, actually. I used to share videos of songs I liked, as well as some of my favorite song lists, on Facebook, but few of my friends ever engaged with them. So, I created a music group on Facebook, and invited those friends who I thought might be interested in reading or sharing music-related stuff. Approximately 25 joined, but the response was still pretty lackluster. It was then that my friend Matt suggested I start a music blog to express my love for music, and it’s grown to the point where I sometimes feel I’ve created a monster. The irony of it all is that, although I love talking about and sharing music, I do not enjoy the act of writing itself.

Yet you put out thoughtful reviews at an incredible pace—multiple reviews a week, plus your weekly top 30 lists. What’s your process, and how do you keep that pace going?

A significant percentage of the music I review is at the request of artists and bands, or their PR reps or labels, so in a sense, they determine my blog content to some degree. I also write about artists and bands I particularly like, or occasionally about favorite songs from the past.

As far as process, I’m a painfully slow and meticulous writer, so most of my reviews take me a great deal of time to get done. And though I’ve never been diagnosed, I also think I suffer from a bit of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which often makes it very difficult for me to focus, especially when writing album reviews, which I intensely dislike doing. I still work part time at a job, so it’s often a challenge to keep the pace of cranking out 3-5 reviews week after week. Also, I’ve never been able to handle stress or pressure very well, and become overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, depression and burnout with increasing frequency. Consequently, I’ve scaled back somewhat on the number of reviews I write per month to preserve what’s left of my sanity.

Jeff Archuleta, aka Eclectic Music Lover

It sounds like you get a lot of requests from bands who want their music reviewed! How do you decide which music to review?

I do! Some days I receive more than 10 emails from artists, bands or PR reps asking for reviews, interviews, etc., in addition to direct messages from artists on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, also wanting me to listen to their song, EP or album in the hope I’ll write about them. As I stated in my response to your previous question, it can sometimes be overwhelming to the point of despair, which causes me to consider giving up blogging altogether.

Though it’s easy for me to blow off PR reps, I have a very hard time saying no to an artist or band when they ask me to review their music, especially if they follow me on social media, so I generally agree to do it. On occasion, I must reject an artist or band if their music is really bad, which is terribly painful for me. I only write positive reviews, as I see no point in writing a negative one for an indie or unsigned artist. They would be unhappy and hurt, and would not want to share my review. I’m not a music critic, and do what I do partly to help promote indie artists and give them a bit of press.

The biggest shortcoming I’ve found with indie artists or bands is poor or weak vocals. But many artists such as Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker, to name just two, did not have great singing voices, however, they’ve put out some brilliant music. For those artists with weak vocals, I try to focus on their lyricism and musicianship, which have often been quite good, and simply make a brief comment that their vocals are a bit weak or lacking in spots.

One thing that always impresses me about your blog is that your reviews offer insights into both the music and the musicians who make it. More often than not, your reviews will include information that isn’t readily available on a musician’s Bandcamp page, for example, or even on their website. How do you go about learning about the bands and musicians that you like?

When writing reviews, I usually check out all of an artist or band’s social media accounts to find out as much information about them that I can so that I can write a coherent review or article. Some artists and all PR reps will include their bio info, a press release, and links to all their social media in their submissions, which is very helpful. But many artists do not, which can be frustrating, so I ask them to send me those things so I don’t have to waste my time hunting them down. Now that I’ve been blogging about music for over six years, I have a sizeable group of artists and bands I’m particularly fond of, who I write about numerous times. For those artists, writing a new review is somewhat easier because I already know about their history and music catalog. But the challenge is coming up with something new and fresh to say, without rehashing what I’ve written previously.

Your blog is aptly named—you really do review an eclectic range of music! Were you always into so many types of music?

Compared to some, my music tastes would probably be considered eclectic, though they’re also decidedly mainstream. I generally gravitate toward pop, dream pop, pop-rock, classic rock, folk rock, New Wave, synthpop, disco/dance-pop, R&B, soul and classical. More recently, I’ve come to like more grunge, punk, hip hop, progressive, experimental, fusion, jazz, World Music and heavy metal than I did previously.

Has blogging broadened your tastes at all? Have you ever been surprised to find yourself really enjoying something that you might not have loved so much if not for the fact that you were writing about it?

Writing a music blog has definitely caused me to expand my musical horizons beyond my comfort zone. I now have a more open mind about new and different kinds of music than I did previously. I’ve even come to enjoy a bit of screamo deathcore on occasion, albeit in small doses lol. I learned that there’s an art to being able to sing those type of guttural, screamo vocals, which made me more greatly appreciate that music.

Of course, “eclectic” doesn’t mean that you love everything. Are there any genres you’re not that into? Does that stop you from listening if someone asks you for a review? Along similar lines, do you ever write negative reviews?

As I stated earlier, I’m not heavily into deathcore or metalcore, though I do like some of it. I also like some hip hop and rap, but a lot of it just sounds awful to me, particularly mumble rap. But my least-favorite genre of music is bro-country, with its inane lyrics about riding in a truck with a hot girl and a beer. So boring and predictable that I simply cannot tolerate it for even a minute. I’ve never turned down an artist over the genre of their music, however. I’d like to write about more rap artists, however, I get very few requests from them. I would not write about bro-country music, and thankfully, none have asked me to. And no, as I mentioned in an earlier response, I do not write negative reviews, as I see no point. I’m not a music critic, and do what I do partly to help promote indie artists and give them some press.

Given your output, I imagine that burnout is a real danger. What do you do to maintain balance in your life?

As I stated earlier, I do in fact suffer from occasional bouts of burnout. When it hits, I stop writing for several days, though I’ve never gone more than two weeks. As a former Catholic, I’m also wracked with guilt when I fall behind on promised review deadlines or say no to an artist wanting me to review their music. It’s a challenge to maintain balance, which I’ve not been very successful at doing.

I’m also imagine there’s a certain amount of etiquette involved. Back when I used to write book reviews, I always appreciated when authors would share my reviews or, ideally, become regular readers of my blog – as opposed just reading my reviews of their own books. What kind of relationship, if any, are you looking for from the artists you review? Or maybe a better question is what’s the bare minimum an artist can do to show gratitude for the work you put in to reviewing their music?

I think I probably expect too much from artists and bands, and though I’ve gotten a little better about it, it can still cause disappointment at times. When I started writing reviews, I’d ask the artist or band to also follow me back on Twitter, which now makes me cringe. I used to also ask that they share my review on their social media, and though it’s terribly disappointing when they don’t, I’ve stopped asking them for that as well, in order to maintain a shred of my dignity. I guess my minimum expectation is that they at the very least acknowledge it by either thanking me for my review, or at least retweet my tweet about it, especially after they asked me to write it! Many artists & bands are greatly appreciative, but I feel used by some, who only interact with me when they want a review. Just this morning, I got a message on Twitter from an artist whose music I reviewed in 2018, and now wants me to review his new single. It’s the first contact I’ve had with him since then, and never once has he ever liked any of my tweets or Instagram posts.

Ugh. So what keeps you going as a blogger?

I honestly wonder about this myself some days. I’d have to say the primary thing is the friendships I’ve made with so many musicians, bands, fellow bloggers like yourself, and other music lovers – on social media at least – through blogging about music. Without my blog, I’d never have formed the relationships I have with some of my favorite artists like Two Feet, MISSIO, Ships Have Sailed, The Frontier (aka Jake Mimikos), The Million Reasons, Oli Barton & the Movement, Amongst Liars, Philip Morgan Lewis and Brett Grant, to name but a few. When I feel frustrated and burned out to the point that I consider quitting my blog, I remember all the great folks I’ve met, and that is what ultimately keeps me going. I was ready to give up on writing reviews last August, then reconsidered after Two Feet sent me some very kind words of encouragement.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Jeff! I really appreciate your insights!

My pleasure Marc!

Wherefore M. Zapatero?

As you may have noticed, my last few blog posts have included music attributed to M. Zapatero. It’s a name I’ve been thinking about using for a dozen years or so, ever since I found out that Zapatero is (more or less) Spanish for Schuster. I like the name for several reasons, one of which is that it begins with a Z and therefore reminds me of Zorro. I also like that the word “zap” is in it (as are the key ingredients of “zero“), and that it calls to mind the name of one of my musical heroes, Frank Zappa.

One of the reasons I decided to record (and write and perform) under another name is that a lot of my favorite performers have done the same thing: Elvis Costello (born Declan MacManus), Bob Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman), David Bowie (born David Jones), Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), and the Ramones (born Jeff Hyman, John Cummings, Doug Colvin,  and Tommy Erdelyi, aka Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy Ramone (not to mention Richard Reinhardt, Marc Bell, and Christopher John Ward, aka Richie, Marky, and CJ Ramone).

A bigger reason, though, is that I wanted to put some distance between myself and my artistic output. One thing I learned from writing a few books several years ago is that I hated the marketing end of things — “getting my name out there,” constantly trying to convince people to read what I’d written, and essentially turning myself into a product. But I kept at it anyway since, to some degree or another, I associated my success as a writer with my worth as a person.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t content to tell myself that I’d written books and stories that I considered good. Instead, I linked the quality of my writing to what people said about it. In this respect, risking a quick glance at Goodreads could be completely demoralizing, and so could visiting with certain book groups who had apparently invited me into their parlors for the sole purpose of raking me over some carefully arranged coals.

Yet while I certainly want to put some distance between myself and the slings and arrows of outrageous critics, the greater distance I want is between myself and the artificial persona that represents me online. The trouble with social media, as I see it, is that sites like Facebook and Twitter have a tendency to make us present ourselves in somewhat flat, two-dimensional ways.

Or maybe a better way to say this is that being on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter) always made me feel like an advertisement for myself. Everything I posted always had to be awesome: pithy observations, links to interesting articles, exaggerated news of my literary accomplishments — all in the service of creating an oversimplified version of myself that was increasingly at odds with the real me.

Granted, a lot of people are good at being themselves online. I just don’t happen to be one of them. What I need for my own peace of mind is a construct that is explicitly not me — a character who shares many of my interests and concerns, but whom I can also hold at a critical distance.

Ultimately, then, Martin Zapatero is a fiction, kind of like the Demon, the Star Child, the Space Ace, or the Cat Man that the members of KISS became onstage, or like the character David Jones became when he became David Bowie and, in turn, Ziggy Stardust. I can send him (along with his music and writing) out into virtual world and go about my real life in peace.

Follow Martin Zapatero on Twitter: @ZapateroMusic

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