Despite the fact that I have never met Jude in person, we are pretty close. Especially when we are talking about music. We both run blogs and small (cassette) labels. Additionally, he publishes a small B/W zine in small editions. We have collaborated in several ways. The last thing we worked on together was a compilation for Valentine’s day. This short description fits to a young blogger Jude Noel from Half-Gifts living in Kentucky. Recently, he celebrated his 17th birthday, so I asked him few questions about his music endeavoring.
How did you start doing your blog?
It started out in early 2012. I was starting to take an interest in writing at the same time that I was getting into bands like Wild Nothing and Craft Spells. I would always talk to my friends and parents about albums I was enjoying, but nobody I knew seemed to share the passion for discovering new music that I did. I decided to set up Half-Gifts as a music “diary” of sorts, a way to channel my interest into something constructive.
How old were you when you started your blog?
When I first started I had just turned fourteen. I feel like my age was something that made people interested in my reviews at first, so it definitely gave me an advantage when it came to attracting readers early on. Now that I’m seventeen, I find it fun to look back and see the progression of my writing and music tastes over time.
What was your motivation to start digging deeper in music scenes?
I remember during the summer after I finished fifth grade I was really starting to take an invested interest in music after watching Explosions in the Sky and The Decemberists play live on an episode of Austin City Limits. Besides the CD copy of Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister that my parents kept in the car, it was the first indie music I was exposed to. The Explosions In the Sky set affected me in particular. I remember waiting for one of the members of the band to start singing, but it never happened. I was transfixed by the quiet intensity of each person on stage and the minimal, intricate guitaristry. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I went out to Border’s Books and bought a copy of The World Is A Cold Dead Place soon afterward, which I listened to constantly. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite albums.
Discovering Bandcamp was what really got me deeper into underground music. The idea that someone’s bedroom recorded album can be heard instantly over the internet fascinated me and, as a person who can be obsessive about his interests, I began to spend a lot of my free time using the site to browse new shoegaze and chillwave music. From then on, Bandcamp browsing has been the main factor in what I listen to.
How do you manage going to school and blog?
School will always come first for me. Whenever I have a lot of free time to myself at home, I make it a point to take advantage of that and spend some of it working on material for Half-Gifts. Sometimes I’ll write a review on my lunch break in the library.
Are your classmates reading your blog? Did anyone want to contribute?
My closest friends have checked the blog out, but it seems like most of the readership is pretty far removed from me. It’s cool knowing that I can connect with people all around the world, though!
And not really, I have had a few people submit reviews to me and usually I’m more than happy to publish fan-written work.
How did you come up with idea of printed zine?
I picked up an issue of King Cat Comics at Shake it Records and found it beautifully intimate and personal. I see an issue of a zine as an open letter to all who stumble upon it and King Cat’s peaceful, zen-like approach to cartooning resonated with me, making me seek out more independent publications like it and ultimately to start a zine of my own.
Is it cost efficient to print your zine?
I usually break even by the time all the orders come in.
How long does it take to actually make it?
Usually two to three weeks. It takes a while to plan and compile interviews, but writing the reviews is quick and fun when I get into a groove.
How do you choose content for each issue?
I try to keep Half-Gifts as a record of my evolving tastes, so whatever I happen to be listening to at the time of publication is what I choose to include. This approach tends to give each issue a good variety of genres and sounds for me to write about.
Is your dream in the future to publish in a proper magazine about music?
That would be really cool! I love seeing my work in print; it makes it feel more “official”. My dream is honestly just to keep doing Half-Gifts! I have fun doing it and it gives me a sense of purpose. No matter what happens with Half-Gifts, I’ll be happy as long as I’m still writing about the music I enjoy.
Do you prefer working alone?
Yeah, I’m really particular about the image of my work. I like for everything down to the design of the blog to reflect my personality and state of mind. I want it to be a diary of sorts. But if I enjoy someone’s artwork or their writing and they’re interested in submitting material for the zine I’m totally cool with it!
How do you choose bands for your reviews?
I usually choose whatever I’m most enjoying at the moment whenever I get the chance to sit down and write. I make sure to write about music that’s fresh in my mind. The main criteria for what I review is that it has to be beautiful, minimal and intimate. If an album fulfills those three requirements, I’m probably going to like it enough to give it a review.
Do you read reviews on other sites?
Yup! When I do, I check out Cassette Gods and Raised By Gypsies. (and Start-Track of course!)
What do you think about writing negative reviews?
I refuse to do it, at least on my personal blog. Since I’m reviewing pretty obscure music, I feel like it would be destructive to hit them with a bad review. I prefer to make honest recommendations rather than to tear an album to shreds. If I were reviewing more well-known albums for a larger magazine/website, then I’d feel more comfortable panning an album. There’s so much negativity out there and I find positivity more rewarding.
Do you think there is something like an ultimate taste?
As long as you are actively seeking out new music and are willing to give anything a shot, your taste is the ultimate taste! Sounds kind of corny, but it’s something that’s taken me a long time to figure out.
What do you think of sites like Pitchfork?
I check them out occasionally, but I don’t have much of an opinion one way or another. I wish they’d review more bandcamp albums, though.
Is your taste progressing as you are getting older?
For sure. When I first started the blog I listened almost exclusively to shoegaze and chillwave. Now I’m into a much greater variety of music. I’m mostly into twee-ish stuff at the moment. I listen to a lot of c86, PC Music and lo-fi pop these days. I’m starting to listen to more pop music too, haha. I like Chris Brown’s “Loyal” more than I’d like to admit, and I’ve started to get into Madonna.
Do you play music yourself?
I make little song sketches on Garageband for fun. Making shoegaze and Yung Lean inspired hip-hop is fun for me as I love to layer guitar riffs and synths on top of each other.
Did you ever want to be in a band?
Yeah! It’d be fun! I’m always down to collaborate on music with new people.
What your plan for future with your blog/label?
Just to keep doing what I’m doing and to have fun with it! I’d like to come out with a t-shirt or something, though. That would be neat.
Name three songs that have been stucked in your head recently.
Madonna – “Live To Tell”, Jessica and the Fletchers – “Air Balloon Road”, Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief”
And lastly, name three bands that had shaped your music taste the most.
Wild Nothing, Tiger Trap, Cocteau Twins
Questions by Filip Zemčík
Answers and photo by Jude Noel