Andrew Stafford, author, Something to Believe In
I’ve always been musically hypersensitive, so my response to rock ‘n roll in particular was intense and visceral ...
Any Australian music lover would be quick to tell you that Brisbane boasts an impressive musical legacy. Beyond modern icons such as The Saints, Powderfinger, The Grates and Regurgitator, Brisbane has produced a diverse range of musical acts, each contributing to the city’s textured sonic tapestry. Andrew Stafford is a writer that is intimately acquainted with nearly every thread in this tapestry. The freelance journalist is the author of seminal music history tome Pig City: From the Saints to Savage Garden, a book that not only documents the work of Brisbane’s best artists, but also how the political and cultural landscape of Queensland shaped the music scene’s identity, for better or worse. The book endures as a riveting documentation of one of our city’s finest cultural exports, and also cemented Andrew’s status as a respected writer and commentator. Andrew has recently released a new book called Something to Believe In – a deeply personal work that once again combines Andrew’s love of music and ties it to his own past. Andrew will be discussing the creation of the book at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival, but before his takes the stage Andrew agreed to chat to us about his career to date and the soundtrack of his life.
We’d love to start with your new book Something to Believe In. It explores music’s ability to help shape, comfort and lift us through life’s many ups and downs. Was there a particular musical memory that spurred your decision to start writing Something to Believe In at the beginning?
No, there wasn’t. I began writing Something To Believe In entirely by accident, on my Patreon page. Because I was initially writing to a very small pool of subscribers, I began writing in a more intimate and personal way than I ever had, where music became a kind of trojan horse to talk about other things – much as it had been in Pig City, but in a very different way.
Your choice to write about music came from a realisation that making it wasn’t in your skillset. What did documenting musical endeavours offer you in terms of forging connections with songs on a level others might not experience?
I began writing about music because I was so passionate about it, more than because of a realisation I didn’t have whatever it took to perform it. But by writing about it, I was trying to touch the core of something that was ineffable and mysterious, as if I could somehow explain it – to myself, at least. I’ve always been musically hypersensitive, so my response to rock ‘n roll in particular was intense and visceral.
You’ll be appearing at two events as part of the Brisbane Writers Festival in September – one in conversation with Bec Mac about your most recent book, Something to Believe In. What topics can ticket-holders expect you to navigate in this session?
Music, memory and memory loss, mental health, family, loss and love. All pretty relatable content, I reckon.
You’ll also be paying tribute to the late Andrew McGahan in another BWF event. Can you give us some insight into how Andrew and his work impacted your life?
Both Praise and Last Drinks were important to me, in particular. The first because it made writing from, and about, Brisbane seem valid and real. For the generation before mine, the equivalent was Johnno by David Malouf, and fair enough too. But that spoke of a Brisbane long before my time. And Last Drinks confirmed something else – that people were becoming interested in reading about Brisbane’s sordid past. That was a huge influence on Pig City.
Are there any other sessions or special events you’re hoping to catch as a general audience member? (Or authors/journos you’re hoping to stalk?)
I’m too nervous to approach Chloe Hooper, though apparently she’s lovely. I’ll lurk somewhere at a respectful distance from any stage she’s on. I want to get Richard Cooke and Rick Morton in a room together, though. Both have interesting takes on Newscorp. Rick’s been in the belly of the beast, while Richard’s a gadfly that’s annoyed the shit out of it. Both have valid points of view.
Your adopted hometown of Brisbane features prominently in your writing, particularly the iconic Pig City: From The Saints To Savage Garden. How have you seen the city change for better, or worse, over recent years?
In some ways, Brisbane is unrecognisable from the city I knew in 1987 – the year I arrived from Melbourne. In others, the city (and the state of Queensland) is as insular, insecure and paranoid as it ever was, and as terrified of criticism – which is probably why I barely get published north of the Tweed River. But then, in a one-paper state, few writers worth their salt are. Anyone with a brain in Queensland inevitably ends up in exile.
In the soundtrack to your life, what tune would be chosen for this particular period right now?
Carbona Not Glue by the Ramones.
Does Andrew Stafford have a few more good books in him? Any hints as to what themes future works might explore?
Andrew Stafford hates talking about himself in the third person, but since you’ve asked, he would like to remind you that it was 15 years since Pig City and Something To Believe In, and so refuses to make any guarantees.
You’ve achieved great success in your writing career, but what in your life so far are you most proud of?
This is an interesting one because I spent 15 years driving cabs and doing other jobs; it’s only in the last four years (since Uber ate the cab industry alive) that I committed myself to full-time freelancing. I’ve been in the gig economy for 20 years, and financially I’m not successful, beyond keeping a roof over my head. But I’m proud of maintaining my integrity and independence.
You can catch Andrew at the Brisbane Writers Festival on two occasions – on Friday September 6 at 2:30 pm for ‘In Praise of Andrew McGahan‘, and again at 5:30 pm for a one-on-one chat with Bec Mac about his new book Something to Believe In. Read more about the festival line-up here.