Giving Art Value.
Naarm (Melbourne, VIC).
THE PIN. Where did you grow up and what were you in to?
SHAAD D’SOUZA. I grew up in Northcote, I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life. I guess I have always been into reading books, music, whatever. I was never super sporty; and into pop culture mostly.
My parents were always really into music, my oldest sister loved to read, so I followed what they liked to do.
When it came to writing, did you think it would be the path you were going to take?
S.D. Not really, I think when I was in high school, I started reading music criticism online and I would Pitchfork reviews. Initially just casually, but then it became obsessive and I would read all of these different criticism websites, would check them religiously every day, and listen to all of the music, then go back and read old reviews so I could listen to music that wasn’t coming out right now.
Then I thought maybe I want to do this, because I get so much joy and get so much out of reading music criticism. It constantly changes the way I think about stuff.
Have you ever read a review that’s changed your mind about something you’ve listened to?
S.D. Not really. When I go into reviews I don’t really read them to know what to think about it. But I love to know the context and how other people listen to it, and what they connected to. At the end of the day, personal taste is personal taste, no amount of music criticism is going to change that.
Growing up, do you feel that there was a different culture within your household to outside?
S.D. I’m still finding that I have all of these cultural blind spots just because I grew up listening, watching, and reading such different things to my friends. We’ll go out to the pub and there will be Aussie classics playing, and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know any of these songs’ [laughs]. My parents have lived here for a really long time but I think they were quite disconnected from Australian culture. There is still definitely real disconnect. I don’t know about so many Aussie things, which I’m fine with [laughs].
Weird stuff, like Icehouse, I don’t know…
Do you think there is a difference between how you identify yourself in Australia and how your parents identify themselves as living in Australia?
I think my parents very much see themselves as ingrained in Australia. It’s really interesting, my mum speaks with an Australian accent, but then if we’re in Malaysia or if we’re with Malaysian or Indian relatives, she’ll revert to her natural accent. I’m not sure which one is being put on, maybe it’s neither, maybe she still has both and something in her brain gets triggered. I think it’s the same experience from different angles. In some ways I feel this is my home, but maybe one step removed. And for them, maybe it’s the same being migrants. This is their home now, they wouldn’t think of moving anywhere else, but it’s still different.
Growing up, did you have people in the media who you looked up to?
S.D. A bunch of critics like Lindsay Zoladz, George Gobel, a lot of American music critics who I really loved and whose writing I still find illuminating.
Do you think that’s an advantage of growing up in a country where there’s no expectation of what you’re supposed to be, media wise especially?
S.D. I’ve never really thought about that as an advantage, but I guess it’s true. Definitely. I also feel like writing in Australia is so undervalued, that for anyone to make that their goal in life is going to be met by people not seeing it as a profession - but a hobby.
Nowadays we have the internet and social media ingrained into our everyday lives, do you think that this has changed the way people view your work?
S.D. Yes and no. Social media has been so good for me to get my work out there, and to connect with writers, and other creatives. That has been really amazing. Even when I’m travelling - I can catch up with people overseas and have them give me a heads up about what’s good. In terms of work I don’t know how much social media has been helpful for me...as much as I love it…[laughs]
In terms of critiquing art and culture, it’s obviously something you’re passionate about - why do you think it’s important for people to critique art, social culture, pop culture...etc?
S.D. I just think good cultural criticism is so valuable for thinking about the conditions that led to its creation; gender and race, and class, and sexuality, everything.
You could read a book and, for me personally, I’ll read and watch it and enjoy it but then I’ll read a six hundred word article that makes me think about it in ten different ways and my enjoyment is magnified. Often people think of cultural criticism as someone telling you whether something is good or bad, but that’s bad writing, it should tell you how to think about it - or if it’s telling you whether it’s good or bad, that shouldn’t be what you take away from it. I think that’s led to a real de-valuing of good writing.
Have you listened to the Jen Cloher album? There’s one song ‘most critics are pussy’s who just want to look cool’. I understand why you would think something like that, but that’s upsetting because a good writer will add value to art. If we reduce art to Spotify metrics and sales numbers, what is it? It’s just another capitalist enterprise. There’s always going to be people who are enjoying it, and discussing it, but to have writing on it in the public domain, it adds news levels and new dimensions. People are always talking about how people don’t value music anymore, how things like Spotify have made music disposable, I think that’s true, I think good writing about music adds value.
Who has been one of your interviewees who you couldn’t believe you were interviewing?
S.D. About this time last year I interviewed The xx. There’s was the first album I bought when I was 12 or 15. It was just so surreal. I was sitting in their hotel room, and they were sitting across from me. It was just wild...it wasn’t a good interview, turns out they’re a bit boring [laughs]. It was also my first print article, and I still look at it and think, ‘f*ck that actually happened, if 12 year old me could see that now’.
You’ve written about diversity and the lack of in Australian media, do you think it’s becoming less mainstream in Australia and people are turning to other sources to find their representation?
S.D. Both and neither. The internet is just revolutionary. When I was a teenager, all the musicians were white and all the writers were white, and then I’d go on the internet and find J-Paul. I think Australian media is trying to make an effort but I’m sceptical as to what that effort is. We have great shows like Black Comedy and Cleverman, but at the end of the day I could still watch the Block, which is what 2 million Australians watch every week, and it’s still...you know.
The things that people watch aren’t changing, and until that happens it means nothing.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
SHAAD D’SOUZA. Not to worry as much. I feel like as a teen I was very stressed or anxious, but I’ve hit this point in my life where I feel like everything will always turn out fine. Learning to understand how fortunate I am, and that at the end of the day...even if I fail at everything I want to do there is still heaps more time to do it.
*This interview has been edited and condensed