Tom Johnson, Gold Flake Paint
Tom Johnson started Gold Flake Paint as a personal music blog in Glasgow, ten years ago. The site has evolved over the years, and in late 2018 he produced a print edition to accompany it. Aside from Gold Flake Paint, Tom works for US indie record label Saddle Creek as a European cheerleader. We talk to him as the fifth print editon of his magazine goes to press.
Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work
I climb out of bed, walk to the kitchen to make some tea, then head to the living room sofa and check my emails and social media stuff, trying to gently wake up. I work for an hour then have a shower and make some coffee. Then I sit at the table and get stuck into the real work. I work from home, so it’s the same journey every morning.
Maybe at some point we’ll have a real office and I’ll become a real person, but I actually enjoy working from home most of the time. We also have a couple of lovely cafes nearby which I’ll go and work in when I get cabin fever or need some fresh air. I’ve tried the office thing in the past but I tend to work much better this way. It also makes us prime dog-sitting material (please meet Rachel the greyhound, pictured).
Describe the state of your desk and what you can see in your office.
We live on a top-floor flat so even though we’re in the middle of Glasgow I can mostly see lots of sky, trees, birds, and the Campsie hills in the distance (on a rare clear day). It’s so quiet up here and we get all the morning sunshine, which is why it’s such a good place to work from.
I do a bunch of the writing for the journal as well as overseeing the operation so it’s good to have that stillness, to be able to put a nice record on and just sit and write some days. We do have a little office/desk set up in the flat but we also have a really comfortable armchair which is always staring at me. My posture is fucked.
Which magazine do you first remember?
As a kid I loved football and pop music so it would either be Shoot! or Top Of The Pops, both of which I bought whenever I had enough pocket money. As a teenager, I got really into films so I started collecting Empire magazine. I don’t think I missed an issue for about three years, and that was the first time I properly loved a publication. Then the internet came along and ruined everything.
Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
I think one of my favourite part of the past year has been discovering the magazine world, as we’ve always just existed in the music world. There are so many beautifully inspiring magazines out there. Over the past twelve months I’ve really enjoyed Psyche, She Shreds, It’s Freezing in LA!, gal-dem. And I’m a big fan of Nutmeg up here in Scotland which writes really intelligently about all things Scottish football.
Can you describe your magazine in three words?
Gold. Flake. Paint.
Joke! Ummm, probably something dumb but endearing like: MUSIC REALLY MATTERS!
That name – what does it mean?
‘Gold Flake Paint’ is a snippet of a lyric from a song that means a lot to me. I picked those three words nearly ten years ago when I was starting this thing as an emo music blog that nobody would ever read. And now here we are. I always took it to be about not settling for a life you don’t believe in, which resonated a lot with me at that time (I told you it was emo).
What music do you specialise in?
This is the question I always struggle with. I guess it’s kind of like 6Music with less old men? We like to celebrate often-new and always-interesting independent music from across the globe, in whatever form that comes. If you’re into music then hopefully you can pick up a journal and find an interesting conversation with an artist you already love and one with an artist you’re about to fall in love with.
It’s always trying to find that balance between discovery and celebration. Our cover feature for Issue four, for example, was this incredible indie-rock-pop-songwriter called Vagabon (above) who we’ve championed for a few years now and who’s new album is absolutely deserving of a front cover but is still somewhat niche, especially over here.
Then inside the magazine, we had interviews with people like Tegan & Sara (one million Facebook fans!) and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who I’ve been spent a decade trying to interview and who was on actual Parks & Rec. I guess our MO is that we only write about music we genuinely love and we hope that enough people trust our taste to engage with it, whether they’ve heard of it or not.
Favourite new music is the new Caribou album which isn't quite out yet but is very special indeed and wihch you might be able to read about in our upcoming issue *cough*
There's a quiet rise in the number of music magazines, despite the failure of NME et al. What do you attribute this to?
I think it’s maybe loosely tied in with the whole vinyl resurgence thing, in that there are enough people who feel somewhat weary of having (literally) all of the music ever available digitally at the touch of a button and want something a bit more solid to engage with. That’s where we’re coming from anyway.
We call ourselves a journal rather than a magazine because we’re very in-depth and I guess very sincere in how we write about music. We live in the age of distraction and disposability and I think that’s such a tiring thing for a lot of people. I think the NME, to use your example, tried somewhat desperately to embrace that, whereas I guess we’re trying to be the antithesis to it. I’m not saying either is correct or of more value, but I still think there’s a space for something that asks you to pause and slow down and step away from a screen.
You've been online for some time. What does the newer print edition add to the project?
Gold Flake Paint is ten years old in May of this year, which is horrifying and amazing in equal measure. It was only online for most of that time. I guess it was a ‘music blog’ but also not quite that. We were always more drawn to telling stories and writing long, weighty features so we’ve never sat in a natural place, I don’t think, which is why producing a physical publication always felt right?
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just felt like the work we did online was better suited to that medium, where we could be a bit more creative with the design and photography and layout, etc. I’d wanted to do something in print for a long time and then, in the summer of 2018, it just felt like we were in the best place to do give it a shot, for a whole number of reasons.
Success, for us, was selling out issue one in five days. That has given us enough belief and goodwill for, like, the rest of time. And we also just won a Scottish Magazine Award, which as a truly independent publication, we're very proud of.
Things definitely changed when we suddenly had to rely on Gold Flake Paint to be financially successful, which feels like the hardest thing in the world. We really believe in what we do and we really want to succeed. Not necessarily for financial reasons, but just because we think these stories we share should be heard and loved and cherished. Relying/wishing on people to part with their hard-earned cash to make that success a reality is a weird thing to navigate.
What’s going to be the highlight of your coming week?
Sending issue five to print! It’s been a particularly long and bumpy ride this time around so it’s going to be a big relief to finish it and get it to the printers. Also the new season of Always Sunny is on Netflix.