11 Questions: Brent Cole

For kicks, this month we decided I would be the 11 questions subject. I was the subject years back when Boris Budd was asking the questions; it must’ve been for my 40th birthday. So, we posted on Facebook and folks asked some great questions! Here are a few – all the questions will be online by the middle of the month. I had a lot of fun answering these; took a hell of a trip down memory lane. Thanks for reading!


What inspired you to start What’s Up!? Also, what band may have influenced your start up? (Bob Arthur).

I had been a fan of the local music scene for about five years and was beginning to get more and more involved with what was happening – booking shows and championing the scene. At the time, Death Cab for Cutie, Sharpie, Eureka Farm (which included future DCFC drummer, Jason McGerr) and the Revolution Hydra were playing inspired music to small crowds and, outside of small blurbs in a weekly paper at the time, there wasn’t any press talking about these great bands (this was all before the web explosion). So, my friend Sean Spain called one day and said we should start a paper, which I had been thinking about as well. We added my girlfriend at the time, Amy Marchegiani (who did graphic design) and within six weeks we had our first issue. (As a side note, Bob’s band, FAT, was one of the first bands I saw in town and made me realize this was a place I wanted to be. So, in a way, it’s his fault).


After 20 years at the helm of What’s Up!, do you still enjoy walking by a stack of new issues, picking one up and thumbing through it? (Kelly Fleek).

NO! Not at all! I pick up a copy and see our mistakes or things I would’ve like to have done different if we had more time time or more resources. I do like seeing other people read it, though, always get a kick out of that. The other day I was at a show and saw a guy from one of the bands walking by with it in his hands… no big deal for him but it made me pretty giddy.


Do you think Bellingham’s music scene is as good as it once was? If yes why? And if no do you think it will ever come back? (Jeremy Hunter)

At any given point, the Bellingham music scene isn’t better or worse than other times… it’s more like a river that keeps flowing – sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes the waters are really rough, but it always flows. So much of how a local music scene is gauged actually has to do with snapshots in time and based on people’s memories. It’s, generally, a young person’s scene so as they get older, their involvement often lessens and friends aren’t making music or going to shows. So, it feels like there’s less involvement, but people are actually just getting older. That being said, it does change and shift – 10 years ago, everyone was in a mind, now half those people are in their room creating music that isn’t going to be performed live (or don’t interact with others). But, 20 years ago, when the magazine started, there was 20 or so worthwhile bands and one real venue (that had a capacity of 200 or so) with a couple half venues. THAT WAS IT. Music rarely happened during the week and big shows didn’t happen outside of campus. Now there’s music seven days a week, a bunch of venues and those that have closed are reopening with new management. Also, I booked the birthday celebration and found 100 bands to play – bands I liked or respected, plus I had a list of another 100 or so that could’ve potentially done it. Bands are making a point to tour (something that didn’t happen 20 years ago), there are a couple all ages venues, legit practice spaces and some folks here are professional musicians. Stuff is happening.


Have you though about expanding beyond Bellingham, what has kept you true to this city? (James Skar)

Yeah, I thought about it a few times, but, in the end, we like it up here and felt this community deserved the attention and love. It’s home.


What were you doing before you started publishing What’s Up!? And what would you be doing if What’s Up! never happened? (Jen Castaldo)

Before starting What’s Up!, I was doing nothing… nothing at all. My seasonal job had ended in October and I was just hanging out, trying to figure out my next step! As for what I’d be doing if this never happened – I’d most likely be living a miserable existence in Seattle working for a company so I could get a paycheck, as so many my age do. I probably wouldn’t be involved with the arts and I’d have regretted not doing something different when I was younger (I think I went down the better path!).


Saddest goodbye to a Bellingham band over the past 20 years? (Tommy Calderon)

There have been some bummer ones along the way – when Bill from Federation X moved to NY (effectively ending the band), when Eureka Farm and Death Cab moved to Seattle… those from the early years stung because I didn’t have a full understanding of the band cycles that happen in town. Probably the saddest goodbye was The Palisades – they’d just finished a several week tour and, I hoped, would come back ready to take on the world. Instead they came back and broke up! I was pretty heart broken by that one (hence why I begged them to get back together for the anniversary show). So many bands just flame out, but they seemed ready to take the next step… I still believe in them, actually.


What has been your largest obstacle? How have you overcome it? (Jamin Dmama)

CASH! We’ve never had an investor, we’re chronically underfunded and have been since the beginning. So, we run a bare bones operation and I take on odd jobs in the summer for extra income. But, ya know, we’re a small business, so this is pretty much the norm.

What is the strangest place you spent the night in/at unplanned? And why? (Major Sturm)

GREAT question because you get a window into one of my quirks – I always go home after a night out. Always. Always. Always. When the night is over, I head back to my bed and my scene. I, literally, can’t think of a time I went out and ended up sleeping somewhere cool or wild.


What was your best wow moment? Where you were interviewing someone or watching their show and you were just totally taken back feeling completely fortunate to be there? (Ali Hawkinson)

That was Feb. 24! I’ve had some “oh my god” great moments while running the magazine, but I had the honor of meeting Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley and Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine/Thurston Moore’s band) as well as hanging out with the members of Heron Oblivion (which includes Noel and Ethan from my all time favorite band, Comets on Fire). Thurston liked the cover of the magazine and we had a nice little chat – plus the music through the night was bonkers good. It was a recent “I can’t believe I’m this damn lucky” moment.


Best show of all time that you saw in Bellingham? (Terry Foster)

Zen Guerrilla at the 3B Tavern in the summer of ’98 (pretty sure it was August). I remember leaving before Zen G was going to start because I needed to drive my girlfriend home and a good friend stopped me to make sure I wasn’t going home for good – I’m always thankful Brad Lease did that. Zen G had more energy and love than any other band I’d seen or have seen since – it was as if Otis Redding (though, as a 6’ 7” awkward dude with a crazy fro) fronted a rock ’n’ roll blues explosion. 20 years later, I’ve never seen anything like it and never had a band hit me the way they did. The guitarist and drummer went on to form Carlton Melton, who played Bellingham five years ago and were sonically ridiculous. But… wow… there’s never been anything like Zen G.


Which band did you think would “make it,” but didn’t? (Jeremy Peterson)

Sharpie (which most of you have never heard of, unfortunately). My god that band was amazing and I swore they’d move on to bigger and better things. The mag was young, I was young and the idea of a band making it was still something I thought and cared about. It was the late 90s and I swore Sharpie was going to take on the world. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. In hindsight, Sharpie didn’t go on the month long tours that would help them get a following out of town which is a must for all bands. Now I don’t look at bands in the context of making it or not – I’d rather focus on if they’re doing their part… touring, working, making good records and caring about art.


What has been the most beautiful struggle? (Victor Gotelaere)

The most beautiful struggle has been doing this paper over the last 12 or so years with my family – and, at times, it’s been a legit struggle. From the beginning when my wife and I were putting papers together while kids were in diapers to even now that our kids are 11, 8, and 6 and we’re running around to basketball practice, drum lessons, activities, volunteering… We’ve done this for family – it’s also a struggle every day, but a beautiful one.

We live in a time where a great majority of music focused print media has folded. What motivates you to continue a print issue? Love of music, new discovery, providing an outlet for bands and the local community? Or something else entirely? (No, this is not an environmental question but a financial/time based query).

Yes. That’s the simple answer, yes – I’m motivated by my love of music, my love of the community, providing an outlet for local bands and discovering new music. God knows we don’t make any real money, so I’m not motivated by that.

When I was in high school in Seattle, I fell in love with the local music scene – bands like Pure Joy, Soundgarden, and Green River were happening and I loved the electricity of a local music scene. There was a great music magazine called The Rocket (which inspired What’s Up! immensely) and it was the first place, as a suburban kid, that I felt like I had a place. I wasn’t friends with the bands, mind you… it was just a spiritual place, I guess. I felt right when listening to, reading about and discussing local music. All that time I never thought about actually having a career in music, but when I look back… it’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m not much of a “climbing the corporate ladder” kind of guy, so being in a creative small town, talking about local music is perfect. It matters to me and seems to matter to others as well.  So, I kind of have to do it.


It doesn’t seem like it’d be an easy thing keeping on top of new music/bands here so how, HOW do you do it? (Kelly Hoekema)

I keep on top of bands through a mix of different ways – the biggest being I input the calendar every month. So, I can start to see when a band gets a show, then they get another… pretty soon they’re playing a few times a month and playing with bands I know and respect – at that point they really get on my radar. I’m always checking bandcamp as well and will have friends as well as writers keep me in the loop with a few things. With all this I can kind of get a helicopter view of what’s going on and see what should be covered, what needs to be covered within the next few months, etc… The process, though, can be really frustrating because a band will get to a spot where I want to put them in the mag and they’ll break up because members are moving… or, as was the case a couple months ago, we did a story and the band literally broke up that month. We have limited space, so it sucks – that space can be used for someone else. But, that’s the nature of the biz.


Is there an issue of the mag that you remember standing out among others? And what did it accomplish that you find memorable? (Tom Fitzgibbon)

I think it was April of 1999. I wanted to have an issue that would help propel the music scene to something special and cover some incredible bands that were coming through (like Olivia Tremor Control) and good local bands (Sharpie was on the cover). I wanted that issue to be a watershed moment for the music scene… and while it wasn’t that, because that doesn’t necessarily exist, it was an issue that was packed full of music that was happening and one I always look back on as a special one for me. It was the first time I felt like the mag looked as it should. A second memorable issue was January of 2010 because the mag went to a larger size and THAT is when it really became what I wanted.


What’s your favorite whiskey? Neat or on the rocks? (Kelly Fleek)

While I love Makers or pretty much any whiskey, my go to is also Beam on the rocks. I didn’t have it until I was in my early 30s and that first night, I knew I’d found my home.


What music venue (over the last 20 years) do you miss the most? (Lance Vangraham)

3B Tavern… I still think about that place often – it was my home away from home for nearly 12 years. The very best music, the very best owner (Aaron Roeder, owner of Cap’s and now Red Rum) and the very best vibe. I could literally give you 2000 words on how much I miss the 3B and why, but I’ll keep it brief – I saw my favorite bands and hung out with my favorite people every fucking weekend there. Also, the place was so cool that when Slim Dunlap of The Replacements played there, he told Aaron it was the best bar he’d ever been in and he’d been kicked out of bars all across America. That was like God telling Aaron he was the best. One of my favorite moments in life.


How do you envision the music scene in the short and long term in Bellingham region over the next five to ten years? (Randall Walker)

I don’t know – I’ve been thinking about that one for awhile now.  I think there’ll be a increased move towards electronic music – it’s just so easy to make records at home in your room now that more and more artists are exploring that route. Five years ago, everyone was in a band, now everyone is making solo electronic music. Plus you have Odesza who has become the biggest band ever to come out of Bellingham providing inspiration… That being said, when there is a push one way, there is always a push back and I expect garage/punk or riff rock to make a healthy come back, something yer already starting to see as well as more jam bands.

What I get stoked about is bands like Noisywaters who are working to incorporate the live instrumentation as well as recorded electronic sounds – I’m so stoked about what this band has going on.


In your 20 years of covering the Bellingham music scene do you feel like you could name a memorable high point and also a low point? When I say high and low I mean musicians, venue owners, sound people, producers, photographers/videographers and whoever else make up the scene, all being active, and happy and have plenty of $ to put into the music biz to support each other vs the other hand where everyone is broke and trying to find ways to find gigs, pay musicians, make records, and basically survive.

The low point was actually April of 1998 – I think a venue had closed and, for our second issue, we literally thought about putting the titanic on the cover as a joke. The 3B tavern was pretty much all that was left, though that’s one hell of a great option. There were amazing bands, but it felt hopeless – music ONLY happened on Friday and Saturday nights. As for a high point, I’d probably say now or the last few years, at least. Bellingham has never had this many venues and music happening with music going on every damn day of the week.

It’s Bellingham and it’s a music scene – there’s never going to be money and when you’re dealing with artists and creative types, no one is ever going to be happy (it’s kind of the reason a lot of us get into music). Plus, the idea of getting paid is a relatively new concept – when the mag started, there were very few professional musicians… maybe one or two, really, at least in bands we would cover. No one stayed here if they wanted to play music – no one. So, while folks will be frustrated at the lack of funds in town, it’s so so so much better than it used to be.

That being said, I’m extremely concerned with how Bellingham is changing and it’s changing very quickly – there’s money moving in (which, in theory is great), but with that, places that are part of Bellingham’s character are being gobbled up (like The Hub). It’s growing so quickly and if we don’t take some pretty drastic measures to help keep any kind of artists culture in town, we’ll lose it forever. Plus, it’s getting so expensive here and the jobs aren’t keeping pace with cost of living, so musicians and artists, among many others, are being priced out right now.