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A Dose of Jeff
Written by Ava

It's time to take your music medicine!

Jeff Giles, creator of the hip pop culture news e-zine Popdose, has kindly offered to put aside his plans for world domination in order to talk to us about the music aspect of his well-recognized site. Jeff certainly has the chops for it. A music critic for various publications since 1987, he also ran a record label, released his own music, and promoted concerts. Better yet, his first blog prior to Popdose was one of the first MP3 music blogs of its kind back in 2004.

And for someone who doesn't play guitar himself, he knows an awful lot about it! We talked to Jeff about his present plans, the site, and the currents state of guitar and music.

What's your background in music?

I've been involved with music in some capacity since I started working as a critic in 1987. Over that timespan, I've walked away from the journalism side of it a couple of times due to burnout, but I've also run a label, released music by other artists as well as my own, and done some concert promotion, too.

How did you get involved with Popdose?

In 2004, I started a site called Jefitoblog. Initially, it wasn't anything I took seriously; it was just a place where I could talk about music with anyone who happened to stop by. I wasn't interested in going back to the traditional "music critic" format, but by providing mp3s, I found it opened up a forum where I could experience the music with my audience, and it really expanded the dialogue. Over time, I started thinking more about ways I could collaborate with some of the wonderful writers and music enthusiasts I'd met through Jefitoblog, so when that site went belly-up in late 2007 -- the victim of an unscrupulous hosting company called Jatol that neglected to pay its bills and went out of business without warning -- I put together a list of my "dream team" for Popdose. We launched in January 2008.

Popdose is not all music, but describe the music section of the site. Relate the history of the site.

We've always aspired to cover more than music, but the music section is clearly where the heart of the site lies; though most of us are interested in other things, we always come back to the music that moves us. That section of the site has the most content, from regularly recurring features like Dave Steed's incredible Bottom Feeders (a series that looks at all the songs that peaked between #40-#100 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the '80s) and Scott Malchus' Basement Songs (a weekly diary-like series that ties personal memories into songs) to reviews of new albums, reissues, and concerts.

What's your take of the modern influence of guitar on the current music scene?

Guitar almost seems like a novelty on the Top 40 at this point, doesn't it? It's either trotted out as a special guest on R&B songs or it's misused by so-called "rock" bands like Linkin Park or Hinder. I think if you're really a guitar enthusiast, you probably aren't very interested in the current music scene; aside from maybe Kings of Leon, your best options don't lie with what's popular. The current trend of compressing the bejeesus out of everything in a recording doesn't help, either -- listening to the latest tinny, clipped records from Metallica and Rush reminds me of the '80s, when even the biggest rock & roll legends were larding their albums with synths and drum machines. That doesn't mean great guitar music isn't being made...it just means you aren't going to hear it on non-recurrent radio stations. Steve Morse, for instance, just put out a fantastic guitar record.

Popdose represents the coming together of a plethora of music bloggers and writers. Name some of the ones that play guitar or often write about guitarists.

A number of the writers play guitar, including Ken Shane, Dave Lifton, Jason Hare, and Dw. Dunphy. Ken and Dw. have albums for sale at all the major digital outlets, too.

You yourself don't play guitar. How do you hold yourself as a veritable music critic or blogger about it when you've never played the instrument?

I do think the question is kind of silly -- it suggests that anyone who can't play an instrument (specifically guitar, I guess) can't appreciate music. I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that, but really, all a critic has to be is a reasonably articulate fan. Do you enjoy listening to music? Can you put together a coherent argument for or against what you're listening to? Then you can be a critic. I don't play guitar, but I've spent hundreds of hours in studios, and I have a passionate appreciation for the unspoken language between musicians.

Do you have any musical influences or has Popdose made any musicians or guitarists really stand out for you?

Aside from Popdose, I also write for Bullz-Eye.com, I run Popdose's spinoff site Dadnabbit (a consumer guide for dads), and I write for Rotten Tomatoes, so it's very rare that I'm listening for true pleasure; usually, whatever I'm playing is on for assignment. These days, I find that the things that really stand out are things I stumble across unexpectedly. Last Friday, for instance, I was in Connecticut for a fundraising show at a high school auditorium. I wasn't expecting to be blown away, but there were some tremendous songwriters there, including Lori McKenna, Catie Curtis, Fred Wilhelm, and Mark Erelli -- who, speaking of guitarists, plays a mean mandolin and tenor guitar.

Talk about some of the topics the music portion of the site features. What makes an event, performer, or piece of music worth covering?

I don't know how much of a criteria there really is. The site is dedicated to the idea that any piece of art is worth attempting to assess objectively. In musical terms, this means that whether an album is by Radiohead or REO Speedwagon, only a jackass will dismiss it without hearing it first. I think a lot of sites impose a sort of overall aesthetic on their readers, either explicitly or implicitly, and a lot of stuff is shoved by the wayside because it doesn't fit. Popdose strives to avoid that. We can't cover everything, simply because there's too much pop culture for anyone to handle, but we try to subtract the "cool/uncool" component from the equation. Hell, I just reviewed the new live album from Kansas.

What are your hopes for the future of Popdose?

World domination!
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