Monday, October 15, 2007

When Bland Questions Get Bland Answers

Word spread last Friday afternoon about an apparently bad interview with Sigur Ros on NPR's The Bryant Park Project. Prefaced that the interviewer still loves the band's music, he went on to write this:
. . . the band showed up promptly at 11am (EDT) and commenced to give what is possibly the worst interview in the history of electronic media.


It was that bad.

Right away, I'm thinking this is not going to be good. Didn't matter how bad the interview actually went; the claim about being "possibly the worst interview in the history of electronic media" rubs me the wrong way. It's just like whenever someone says anything is the "worst ever." Meaning, an exaggeration that makes something seem the worst of the worst when there has been way worse in our society's long and rich history. Besides, anytime a claim like this is made, there is usually a counter claim that this wasn't so bad after all. (I still stand behind the fact that there is nothing worse than terminal cancer, but I digress.)

So I watched almost three minutes of this five minute interview and found it to be a tough listen/watch. But I realized that the fault of this bad interview was not necessarily the band or the interviewer: it was the questions themselves. Here's a sampling with answers:

Did you start out playing this kind of music or did you start out as a more, regular sounding band and then did you go here as you experimented?

I dunno. I think we started playing out like this.

How do you guys create a song?

We sit down and create the song.

More questions rendered short, hushed answers:
Did you think you would be [a] band that would sell 2 million records?

Could you ever have imagined it would become this kind of phenomenon?

Are you enjoying life as a successful band? . . . Is it fun?

These are the kinds of questions that interviewers ask all the time, but I think they are a little bland. As a matter of fact, they're too bland. Softballs or even baseballs aren't being thrown here; they're set up like a T-ball game where the batters have to do most of the work.

I've heard interviews -- hell, even conducted interviews -- where the questions were very general in nature, but the interviews turned out fine. The band/band member played with the questions and was polite even if what we talked about just skimmed the surface. Yet ever since my college radio days, I've wanted to do more of a conversation that digs deeper into the person's life. That's just what I prefer to know and hear about.

Now, some people have sided with the interviewer saying the show was more for a "general audience" on NPR. I beg to differ. NPR carries such shows as Car Talk, Prairie Home Companion and Sound Opinions -- shows that are not for a general, lowest common denominator audience. In other words, it wouldn't seem far-fetched to ask Sigur Ros what kind of violin bow they use or how old their studio is.

I've come to realize that not everybody I interview is not going to be the most engaging person in an interview setting. No matter how extraordinary their work seems to me, some people just don't have a lot to say about it. With Sigur Ros, their music is way more interesting and it speaks for itself.

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