Sarah Williams shouts loud about Papercuts!

For some time now, Sarah Williams has been a familiar and friendly face within the UK underground punk scene. Her work within the punk community both as a writer and as Editor of Shout Louder Magazine, has supported a number of notable bands over the years. Sarah is about to release the second installment of her Paper Cuts book, which features a collection of writings and photography from participants in the punk scene. Having also being a friend of TNSrecords for many years now, we decided to catch up with Sarah to talk about her new book.

TNS: Hi Sarah, nice book … could you tell us a little about it?

Sarah: Hi Ad, thanks for taking the time to chat to me, I’m so excited to tell everyone about the book. It’s 196 pages of words and photos from a bunch of seriously awesome people. It’s a snapshot of what live music and touring are like within the DIY punk community right now – not the glitzy glamour of Night Liners that I imagined as a kid, but instead tramping around A-roads in half-busted ex-Post Office vans with empty Red Stripe cans rattling around your ankles.

I gave an open invitation to the punk scene to submit tour stories, short fiction, essays and photos of some of their favourite experiences of gigs and tours … and they wholly delivered. There’s some crazy stories and some relatable ones, all wrapped up in a big shiny book.

Every single penny of profit made from the book is going to the Music Venue Trust’s #SaveOurVenues fund. What better cause could we support right now?

TNS: How did the notion to compile the first book come about?

Sarah: I’ve been working on Shout Louder since 2016 – it started as an online ‘zine’ and then gained a podcast and some gigs. Writing about music was fun, and a nice way of contributing to the ‘scene’, but I’d never thought about bothering to do a print zine. In 2019 my love for the online side was wearing off a bit, but I didn’t want to kill Shout Louder off and all my hard work.

Then, about halfway through the year, I got sober. Suddenly losing the cloud of drinking from my life left me with lots of time, clarity and crazed, restless energy, so I needed a project to sink my teeth into. I decided it was time to do a print zine … only when I started working on it, it grew legs. What was meant to be a 16 page cut-and-paste zine suddenly turned into a 92 page book. It was huge. I had to learn how to use Adobe InDesign (thanks, Andy), learn how printing works, and put on my ‘editorial’ cap as well as flexing my writing chops.

PAPERCUTS #1 sold out ridiculously quickly, and we sold a lot more copies than I’d expected. I wasn’t 100% happy with it though. I felt that with better planning I could have made something bigger, bolder and more aesthetically pleasing. PAPERCUTS #2 is that book. We’ve got more than 50 contributors, all of whom I’m intensely proud of, each talking about what matters to them. I’ve improved the graphic design, layout and the editing too, so the finished tome is something I’m bashfully proud of.

TNS: How important do you believe the relationship between writing and music to be?

Sarah: I don’t necessarily feel that writing and music are interlinked, but I do believe that they’re a good pairing. I think it is another creative muscle to flex. I find the way music affects people differently to be fascinating – that some folks take little notice of the noise, but others have a visceral reaction to and a passion for melody. I’m lucky enough to be one of the latter group, but unlucky enough to have absolutely zero musical talent. Personally, I find that writing about music, or my experiences of gigs, is a way of validating its importance in my life.

I do think that journalism will always play an important role in the musical ecosystem, though. Not so much to criticise and promote (as album reviews often do) but to preserve and enhance our experiences. With every new genre that comes and goes, we’re living through a moment of musical history. I feel a duty to record that – a gig review or an opinion piece gives a level of nuance to the scene as it is today, that you don’t get from listening to a Spotify playlist.

TNS: Do you feel that the current prevalence of online content which discusses, promotes, and underpins music culture, has impacted on music journalism and writing?

Sarah: I think that online culture has opened music journalism up to more people, which particularly benefits the DIY community. Anyone can write whatever they want and post it online for free, which gives writers the opportunity to be creative, improve their skills and support whichever bands they want, without the constraints of traditional print media.

On the flip side … this does mean there’s some real tripe out there. Fortunately, our scene is blessed with excellent writers and dedicated Instagrammers, so we don’t suffer too much with that. Some less conscientious ‘bloggers’ out there exploit bands who are willing to pay for mediocre promotion services and try to monetize their sites in a way that benefits them but not the fans or bands – I tend to think those folks have lost sight of the ‘music is for everyone’ ethos I subscribe to.

TNS: Your books are good examples of grassroots, DIY participation in music culture. Would you say that’s a fair summation of them?

Sarah: Yeah, I guess! DIY or die, right? I want to contribute to the community, and this is my humble way of doing it.

Something that was important to me was that this shouldn’t be a profitable venture. Although I’ve put a lot of work into it, the majority of the content has come from contributors across the scene, and I would never feel comfortable profiting on someone else’s work. That’s why all the proceeds are going to Music Venue Trust – we can’t go to gigs this year, but that is my way of making sure we’re still supporting grassroots venues.

TNS: Which music writers have influenced you?

Sarah: When I was younger I could have reeled off a list of journalists from the NME, but those days are long gone. I’ve always admired gonzo journalism – I love first-person narrative and, as music is in itself subjective, I’ve never thought there was any real need to be objective when talking about it. That’s probably the style I’ve tried to emulate, but I’m trying not to be too effete and post-modern about it. It’s just fuckin’ words.

TNS: Do you write/publish material outside of the music world?

Sarah: I do indeed. Writing was the thing everyone told me I was good at in school, probably because I had a lot of time to sit alone in my bedroom and practice. I’ve never particularly thought my own writing was ‘good’ per se, but I do enjoy doing it.

Over the years I’ve written a couple of unpublished novels, more short stories than I can count, and I’ve also been published in a few of the bigger music magazines. I’ve also done a fair amount of freelance journalism and technical writing now, some of which is hellishly dull, but it pays the bills.

TNS: What advice would you give to somebody thinking about writing about music?

Sarah: I would say not to be too constrained by what you’ve already read. Write what you feel is right, in the style that you like, and have fun while you’re doing it.  I think it’s cool to see different takes on it, and I like the unique styles that other people adopt. For example, Matt from Ear Nutrition has a totally mad verbose prose style where he uses a lot of archaic language and has a laugh with it. Tony from Apathy & Exhaustion has a truly honest and critical style that makes for an entertaining read.

Also, don’t get too tied up in how many people read your work. Some articles will have 30 readers, others will have 3,000. Write for you and for you only, and if other people get behind it then consider that a bonus. Give plenty of context, and don’t assume that your reader has all the same knowledge as you.

TNS: Any new bands you would like to recommend?

Sarah: The main thing I’ve learned in 2020 is that I really like jazz. Spotify informs me that I mostly listen to ‘jazz rap’, from which I’d very much recommend everyone listen to Ezra Collective, Tierra Whack and Moses Boyd.

From a punk perspective, go listen to Fabled Mind. Danish lads who played Do It Together Fest earlier this year and absolutely killed it. Onmigone are bloody brilliant too: Link 80 and RX Bandits members with Pook from Beat The Red Light / The Filaments making parpy horn noises … basically a ska-core dream come true. Borts have got some fall-in-love-instantly singles out and I’m also listening to The Sinking Teeth and Rebelmatic a lot.

TNS: And finally, what’s next for you?

Sarah: Fuck knows, I just can’t wait to get the book back from the printers. I will probably be social media spamming everyone – we’ve already raised £700 for the Music Venue Trust. I’m hoping to at least double that.

I’ve just set up a micro-publishing house called Beyond Cataclysm Books with Chris Lowry from Warrington Ska Punk, so we’ll be working on releases for that – including his awesome new dystopian novel, which I’m helping to edit at the moment.

Apart from that, I hope to squeeze in recording some new episodes of the Shout Louder Podcast, and plenty of time spent gazing lazily at my cat.

TNS: Pick up a copy of Papercuts from Shout Louder here: