I had the opportunity today to interview a legend, Louis Black. Don’t even relate him to the comedian, Louis Black is much more than that. You may not have heard of him though, but I can guarantee you’ve heard of the music/film/interactive festival South By South West (SXSW) held in Austin every March. Also, anyone who lives in Austin, or has visited, has seen or heard of The Austin Chronicle, our local paper. Louis Black is co founder and creator of both of those. Basically, he is the reason that Austin is the way it is today.
Louis was nice enough to take 30 minutes out of his day to let me come in to The Chronicle and interview him for one of my classes. Unfortunately, the questions that were approved by my class were boring and didn’t even scratch the surface of who Louis Black is. Why and how he created bliss for not only Austin, but millions of people all over the world. Fortunately, Louis didn’t mind me asking him a few other random questions. They went something like this.
Me: What made you want to start a newspaper like The Chronicle?
Louis: We started writing at the Daily Texan. Nick and I both wrote for the Daily Texan. A lot of people wrote for the Daily Texan. We did the kind of writing that we wanted to write about the culture, but with an ideological awareness with a political sensibility. So we did a lot of that. So, eventually we outgrew the Texan which is a student paper. Some of left school, some people graduated. So the idea was how do we keep doing this independent of the Texan? So two friends, Joe Dishner and Nick Barbaro thought we should start a paper and they really began to talk about it. Then months later we started the paper. So we just filled a niche in Austin that Austin would be good for and up until the Chronicle every paper that had started lost out to The Texan. The Texan completely owned the student community and eventually, we won. Won our own independence, got our own market. So essentially, we beat The Texan which was unheard of and was one of the ways we helped establish ourselves.
Me: That’s awesome. What inspired you to start a music festival like SXSW and how has it changed over the years?
Louis: Roland Swenson who is still managing partner and Louis Meyers who has left, came to Nick and I and said “Let’s start a little regional youth convention.” There were people who were in the region that dealt with each other in the music business and never met. You know, there might be a band manager in Austin who booked his band in a club in Kansas City and never met the club owner. Had gotten press in Kansas City and never met the Kansas City press people. They always dealt with each other by the phone. This is before e-mail and all of that, so it was all by phone. So, the original idea was why not have a regional gathering? So all of these people that work together could actually meet each other. The original idea was a 5 state area. Which is why we call it South by South West. It was really going to be this little 5 or 6 state area. It started growing immediately and became bigger than a 5 state area. You know, it’s grown enormously and changed dramatically. I think it’s still about independent regional music. It’s about people who make music because they love music. I think it’s still really about how the more you know the business, the more you have control over your creativity and your creative output. I think it’s always been about that and with in terms of film and interactive as well.
Me: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. What is your best SXSW experience?
Louis: You know what, that’s just too hard to say. I love SXSW. For years on Saturday night I would go stand on 6th street or Red River and just watch people. That was always one of the best experiences because people were so jazzed and running and so excited. There was so much love. I mean, there’s so much creative energy, you can feel it. I mean it’s not cynical, you can really feel the excitement and the energy. I think, you know, I’ve had lots of great experiences. I’ve met wonderful people. I’ve talked to wonderful people, but I think more than anything else it’s the general feeling that’s really been important.
Me: Yeah. I’ve had friends move here after going to SXSW.
Louis: Yeah, we’ve had real estate businesses tell us they’ve had an up in business after SXSW events. People come here and think they’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s what everyone’s dreamed about. There’s friendly people, there’s Mexican food and BBQ, there’s tons of clubs, there’s incredible music. You know, people really adore what it’s about.
Me: Speaking of music, what are some of your favorite bands of all time?
Louis: I can’t do that. Stuff like that makes me truly crazy. You know my favorite band live ever was probably the Talking Heads. You know, I’ve been lucky to see so many great bands. Neil Young is great, you know. My favorites are who I’m going to see next. Who I haven’t seen already. I’ve been blessed by living in Austin and being apart of SXSW. I’ve seen so much free music. Springsteen was just amazing last year at SXSW. I’ve seen him 5 or 6 times and still this was one of the best shows and performances. The fact that we were involved with putting it on made it really cool.
Me: Do you have any local Austin bands that you like a lot?
Louis: There’s tons that I like. Not as much now as there used to be. I used to go out and here music 6 days a week. Now, I rarely go. I go during SXSW. I go if there’s a friend in from out of town. There’s a lot of local acts that I like. Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Fastball, Barbara K, there’s a lot of them. I would be hesitant to grade them because I like so much of them. I’m a film person more than anything else. People say, “What are your top favorite films of all time”? I don’t answer that question. It just makes me too crazy, because it’s too difficult.
Me: That’s good to know ahead of time, because I was going to ask you what your favorite films were. So, I’ll avoid it. How about, what are you looking forward to this coming SXSW?
Louis: You know, I have a 22 year old son and it’s like what will I be expecting from him next year? The event has a life of it’s own. It’s constantly surprising, it constantly grows in different ways. Again, the energy for me is so pure and so exciting. It’s dynamic in such a way. You really get to see creativity and you really get to see the notion that this is a business. We’re not naive, we’re very much aware that all of these creative adventures are a business. The more you know about the business end of it, the more control you have over your creativity. So, it’s exciting to watch that, especially a new way every year. It’s great.
Me: I know you received your MA at UT. You have been apart and produced films in the past. Do you have any plans of being apart of any films in the future?
Louis: I’ve been lucky. I produced Townes Van Zandt that premiered at Toronto and went on to do very well. The same film maker Margaret Brown, I was involved as a producer in The Order of Myths that won a Peabody award. So, I produce other films as well and kind of I reintegrate into my life, one of the areas I want to do more, work with film. I’m looking at a couple of films now that I’m attached to. One of the things about documentaries is they have their own speed and their own pace. It’s not like a narrative film where you have a shooting schedule. There are a couple of documentaries that I’m connected to that I’m waiting to see what happens.
Me: Alright, best taco shack in Austin?
Louis: Again, I don’t do bests. There are so many great ones. Curra’s caters a lot of our events because they’re so good. So, off the top of my head, I’d say Curra’s. I’m just not good at gradation. Especially in Austin, where there is so many great bands, so many great movie makers, and so many great restaurants. To pick one is to deny others and that’s kind of awful.
Me: I work at Guero’s by the way. Curra’s is one of my favorites.
Louis: I like Guero’s, too!
Me: What is the best advice that you have ever received?
Louis: Follow your passion. It’s silly to do something for money or that’s going to advance your career. Obviously we all need to support ourselves, but one of the things I’ve always done is follow my passion. Do things that I’m passionate about and it’s been really successful. I’m foolish enough that is a working motto. Do what you’re passionate about.
Me: Anything else you’d like to add?
Louis: Well, I’m just so lucky. I’ve been so blessed to be doing extraordinary things with extraordinary people. It’s been as great a ride as you would think it is. There’s no cynicism or hiding behind screens, it’s what you would think it is. It’s just been a blessing of an experience.
Thank you, Louis Black for enlightening me.
See you all at SXSW 2013!