Tweeted from the bottom now I’m here

 

4 years ago today, I sent a tweet that would become the defining point of my career.

But before I get to that story, I need to give you some context. It was early 2011, and I was an unemployed 24 year old living in my mom’s house in Santa Clara, California. This was the house I had lived in throughout most of my high school years, and the room hadn’t changed one bit since then — the walls were still painted a splotchy shade of turquoise, decorated with set lists peeled off of the stages of San Francisco’s concert venues and signed by obscure indie bands.

I had just moved back after spending a year and a half in London, where I did an MA degree in International Broadcast Journalism at Westminster University. After the initial excitement of catching up with family, friends, and getting thoroughly reacquainted with proper Mexican food, the dreaded quarter-life crisis came in like a wrecking ball. My student loan money was nearly all spent, and I had no job prospects.

At this point, a typical day was something like:

10am: Eat a bowl of cereal while transfixed by games of Plinko on “The Price Is Right.”

Afternoon: Halfheartedly scour job sites, anticipating rejection before even writing a cover letter because the job market was so grim.

Evening: Crap, dinner time already? Guess it’s time to get out of pajamas and take a shower…

That PJ life though…

Late night: Distract myself from thoughts of, “what’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you found a job yet? You had a stable job before, why did you have to give it up for London? Look at you now, you unemployed slacker!” by reading books, watching TV shows/movies, and browsing the internet until passing out.

So yeah…it wasn’t one of the happiest periods in my life. Luckily, the power of Craigslist and my mom’s instinct joined forces to get me out of this funk. She was also unemployed at the time and, while on her own search for work, came across a Craigslist posting that she thought I should take a look at. It was at a small startup in Mountain View, and they were looking for a summer music writing intern. Because I had been doing music journalism since I was 18, she thought it would be right up my alley.

Initially, I dismissed the posting because I thought that with a Master’s degree, I deserved a job way beyond internship level. Besides, it wasn’t supposed to start until summer and it was only early February. What would I do until then, even if I applied and managed to get the internship? But after taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting, everything that was written in it resonated with me. I remember feeling physically tingly with excitement while reading the tasks this internship would require. At this point, I decided it was worth it to dig a little deeper and to find out everything I could about this company, 955 Dreams. Mostly to make sure it wasn’t really a phone sex hotline (“for a good time, dial 955-DREAMS”).

In actuality, they had just built this cool iPad app called The History of Jazz, which was an interactive timeline of jazz history.

History of Jazz app

In my research, I found the company’s Twitter handle and saw that they only had a couple hundred followers. At this point in my job hunt, I was so jaded that I just had a “meh…I kinda don’t give a shit about anything right now” attitude. So instead of just sending a cover letter and resume like any sane person would do, I impulsively decided to tweet at them, “You can take down your internship posting now. www.linkedin.com/in/amandavanwest.” To my surprise, just a couple of minutes later I received the following DM:

First tweet

 

The next thing I knew, I was invited to their History of Jazz launch party, where I had to meet all of the founders and their closest friends, family members, and professional acquaintances before going through the formal interview process. Luckily my decision to stick to a two drink maximum (while encouraging other party-goers to imbibe more…) meant that I made it through the party without embarrassing myself, and I was invited in the following Monday for the interview. I was given an assignment to pick an up-and-coming band and write a short review on their music, so I wrote this review of The Vaccines self-titled EP. 

Shortly after, I was given an official offer and I became the company’s first hire.

Welcome to the family

Four years later, I’m now the most senior woman in the company, singlehandedly running our music discovery app Band of the Day. I’d like to think that my geeky inner 17 year-old Strokes/indie band fangirl would be proud if she could see me now.

It’s been an incredible learning experience, peppered with a heavy hand of surreal moments like judging a Battle of the Bands competition in the Bahamas, speaking on a music tech panel in Spain, and putting on a showcase during SXSW that resulted in tens of thousands of people wanting to get in.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see what this next year at Applauze (a necessary name change!) will have in store. Like any other tech startup, we’ve gone through our fair share of ups and downs, but I think our strength lies in how we’ve used the downs as learning experiences, and so that’s how we’ve managed to prevail.

I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom and the spambots reads this blog, but if you’ve somehow stumbled over here, feel free to leave a comment. Or, y’know, just tweet me.

Sunrise In Northwick Park

We just witnessed the “double rainbow” of all sunrises.

Stumbling our way across Northwick Park, the night before melting into the morning after without a wink in between.

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Finateu, http://isabellefinateu.com/

Morning dew adorns itself to the freshly cut grass, as if someone came during the night and took a microscopic bedazzler to every perky green blade, willing or not.

A thick white fog envelops us as we descend into the misty unknown. Time and worries are temporarily suspended, just like our warm exhalations hitting the brisk Harrow air. It’s as if we’ve ascended into the clouds, and we’ve become infinite.

Somehow the darkness of night managed to slip away, like a regretful one night stand, before we had a chance to realize it.

The skyline is fading from deep magenta, to shades of violet and baby blue; the backdrop of the glorious sun that’s about to take center stage.

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Finateu, http://isabellefinateu.com/

Beams of warm light cut their way through the fog and trees, hugging our bodies and dancing across our retinas.

We become momentarily frozen in awe, before breaking out and running and twirling and skipping and laughing in the golden light.

We admire our black silhouettes against the rising sun, like shadows ripped off of the ground and given a corporeal form.

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Finateu, http://isabellefinateu.com/

The caked-on beer on my boots has been replaced by a 5 o’clock shadow of grass clippings.

A single white dandelion stands on the field, daring to be plucked, beads of moisture disguising it as a mini disco ball.

“Make a wish.”

Photo courtesy of Isabelle Finateu, http://isabellefinateu.com/

California’s Cannabis Culture

It’s been a couple of months in the making, but my final MA dissertation/final project documentary, “California’s Cannabis Culture” is officially done!

And it can be viewed here:

It’s a journey into California’s marijuana scene, which could take a pivotal turn in November, when Californians vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana.

Please watch, comment, share, and enjoy!

Interview With Craig Monk: From The Voom Blooms to the Defector’s Weld

Two years ago, I interviewed a British band called The Voom Blooms for our music/culture show, “Visionz”, on USFtv. I recently caught up with Craig, former guitarist/keyboardist, as part of an interview for my Arts and Entertainment Reporting class, to discuss what he’s been up to since the band split up last year. Check out our episode of “Visionz” below, and the interview with Craig!

With his tight black shirt, even tighter black trousers, and a shaggy mop of dark brown hair, 27-year old Craig Monk looks ready to strap on his guitar and step out onstage to a mass of adoring fans.

But it’s not the stage of the Royal Albert Hall he’s stepping onto, and there are no swarms of fans screaming his name. It’s the Defector’s Weld pub in Shepherd’s Bush, a pub he’s been managing since his former band, The Voom Blooms, split up nearly one year ago.

It’s a quiet afternoon at the Weld, with just a few people scattered around the heavy wooden tables, enjoying pints of lager and seeking shelter from the drizzly London weather. Mellow jazz music permeates through the air, blending together with the murmurings of deep conversations.

As he sits down with a fresh pint of Guinness in hand, Monk seems relaxed, despite this being his first interview in almost one year. Since 2005, he played guitar and keyboards for The Voom Blooms, a Loughborough-based indie rock band.

But after four years of living the rock star lifestyle, the band decided to split. “We were like a unit, a family, but it got to a point where we had enough and were tired of being poor,” explains Monk. “But I still have great memories from being in the band,” he recalls with a nostalgic grin.

Blooming Blossoms
The Voom Blooms started gaining momentum in the summer of 2006, after getting over 12,000 fans on Myspace in just a couple of months. After recording their first single, ‘Politics & Cigarettes’, they spent many late nights adding friends on Myspace. “But that was back when Myspace counted for something,” explains Monk.

Their persistence paid off, though, garnering the attention of BBC Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq, who played their single on his show. A week later, after receiving a phone call from Babyshamble’s manager—who had heard their single on Lamacq’s show—The Voom Blooms went on their first tour and signed a one single deal with Fiction Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.

However, industry politics proved to be difficult for the band. “When our second single ‘Anna’ was released, our former manager decided that we needed a hook in order to get press. He came up with this story about me and George [lead singer] being secretly gay, and missing a gig in London because we were arrested in Paris after getting too drunk. We basically said, ‘Fuck off’, and so we didn’t get a story,” he recalls with a sense of disdain.

“Pressure comes from the top down. The record labels want a certain image, one that will sell. They try to tell you what to do and if you say no, they drop you,” he continues. “It got to a point where it stopped being fun.”

A New Label
Eventually the band moved to an independent label, managed by Brandy Provenzano. Under new management, they were received better in the U.S. than they were in the U.K.—even gaining a residency at Hollywood’s infamous Viper Room.

“I think the U.S. is more open to different genres of music, and the people are friendlier,” explains Monk. “I remember playing one gig at Neumo’s [in Seattle], and I didn’t have the right converter for my plug. The bouncer drove all the way to his house to pick one up for me!” he reminisces in amazement.

“You don’t get that in the U.K.” Despite finding success—and friendliness–in the U.S, the combination of exhaustion and outside obligations led to The Voom Bloom’s split (“But we’re all still good friends”).

Although he didn’t pick up a guitar for six months after the band split up, music is still an integral part of Monk’s life. All of his staff members are in bands (“We have seven drummers, and we even have a drum kit in our basement!”), and The Defector’s Weld often hosts after-parties for his friend’s bands. So will he ever get back into playing music?

Finishing off his pint of Guinness, he replies, “Music is like a drug; of course I’d like to get back into it. But if I do, I’d just like to quietly release something, and not have to market it.” You can take away the tour buses, sound checks, and recording sessions, but Monk’s passion for music remains as strong as ever—band or no band.