Jason Gonulsen On Four Years of Speaking in Code

At some point you just want to do something for yourself. It’s so much easier that way. It’s more creative that way. - Jason Gonulsen

IMG_0639There’s one thing that most writers agree on: the word blog is straight up blah.

It screams amateur press, right? Why would any sober person take the word from people who actually care about what they’re expressing? Why would the words of passionate writers who share their media-packed work online just because they love doing it actually be credible? Maybe because collectively, they’re changing the face of  the music industry into a newer model of a music anti-industry, where music lovers find the real gems from other music lovers.  Bloggers can be huge culture curators, promoters, and documenters. They can also spend an unhealthy amount of hours making playlists, or scowling at their WordPress admin page. And they do it all to reach that one person with that one song that will ultimately change the whole trajectory of their one life. And also because, you know, getting to talk to your favorite musicians for awhile aint so bad either.

Here enters Speakers in Code, a music blog based in St. Louis. The first time you stumble onto the Speakers in Code website, you may feel it safe to assume that whoever is behind the whole thing must be a huge Wilco freak. It might also be obvious that they love writing about music. Well, you’d be exactamundo righto on both accounts. Founded by music lovers and writing pals Jason Gonulsen and Katie Guymon, Speakers in Code is already celebrating four years of spreading the good word. Their anniversary party happens this Saturday at Plush St. Louis and features performances from New Albany, IN band Houndmouth and friends Howell Dawdy.

We met up with Jason at the new Euclid Records digs in Webster Groves and talked about blogging, creative independence, and this big anniversary party thing happening at Plush on Saturday.

Hey, Jason. Are you originally from STL?

I’m actually from Springfield, Illinois and Katie’s from a small town in Illinois called Christopher. She went to college in Champaign and I went to SLU. Now we both live in St. Louis. 

When did you start writing about music? What got you into it?

I started back in 2002. I used to go to shows like Steve Earle, Wilco, Neil Young, Ryan Adams. You know, that’s when music really started to mean something to me. I definitely always wanted to write. I guess you go to school and you hope that your degree will work for something. I was an English major with an emphasis in writing. It’s really been the only thing in my life that I haven’t suffered burnout from. I mean, I say that today. [laughs]

When did blogging seem like the way to go?

I hate that word. I just, I hate that word. I find myself saying the word website but that’s just snobby, right? Like I’m too good for the word blog[laughs] It’s just a dumb word. 

When Katie and I started this it was really just so we could have some independence. Blogging seemed to be the easiest way to do it. 

What made you decide there needed to be Speakers in Code? 

It’s funny because when we were first talking about starting the blog I was totally hesitant, because you know, it’s a lot of work. At that time we were both writing a singer / songwriter column in Glide magazine for a couple years. I had been writing for Glide before that for six or seven years. We really started to see that we needed to write about more than just singers and songwriters. You just don’t want to be limited with what you write about and it really started to feel that way. At some point you just want to do something for yourself. It’s so much easier that way. It’s more creative that way. So with Speakers in Code we could write about anything.

I remember Katie and I were emailing and going back and forth with some name ideas for the blog. She came up with Speakers in Code and I immediately knew where she got that from. Those are lyrics from the song “Can’t Stand It” by Wilco. It was cool because it all came together so naturally. Katie started doing a lot of photography. Then when she left Speakers in Code, I started picking it up. I don’t necessarily write too much about every show I shoot. You’re basically missing those first three songs but it’s a total adrenaline rush. You really can’t replace that. When you’re up there in the photography pit it adds a whole new dimension to live music.

This past year’s LouFest was so much fun. Getting to see Wilco down there for the first three songs, seeing them open with “Misunderstood,” for me it just doesn’t get much better than that. If I woke up tomorrow and this whole thing was over, at least I can say I got to do something like that. You can never just take this stuff for granted. It’s really a privilege. Luckily everyone that I’ve met in St. Louis who does this also feels like that. It’s great that we have really good quality people writing about music and shooting shows. I just feel lucky to know other people who never take this kind of thing for granted.

Do you remember the first thing you wrote about for the site? 

I remember our first post was about that “Can’t Stand It” song. Our first artist interview was with Neal Casal, the guitarist for Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. That was really cool because after their band broke up he put out this book of photography that documented a few years on the road with the band. We just reached out to him about an email interview because he was following us on Twitter. You just never know until you ask. We’ve had so many great things happen in the past four years just because we asked. We just cherish it when it happens and try to put out the most quality stuff that we can.  

Definitely, congrats on four years! What have been some of your most amazing moments doing Speakers in Code so far?

Shooting LouFest, covering Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits. I’ve seen Neil Young play with Crazy Horse. I’ve interviewed Neil Young’s wife Peggy in their tour bus outside of The Demo. During our interview, her band walked onto the bus! Guys like Rick Rosas who’s played bass for Buffalo Springfield, Spooner Oldham who’s played on “When a Man Loves a Woman” and is just this legend. 

I still remember my first in-person interview a few years ago at Austin City Limits. It was with Gary Clark Jr. He’s the coolest guy in the world and he’s doing pretty alright for himself now.

The four year anniversary party is at Plush this Saturday, and features performances by Houndmouth and Howell Dawdy. I’ve yet to see either of these bands but Houndmouth has some pretty cool videos hanging around online. They seem like they’d be a really good live show. 

Really great show. I caught Houndmouth’s set at Lollapalooza this past August and ever since then I’ve been keeping my eye on those guys. The show got booked at Plush and I was always going to be on it. So this year I thought Houndmouth would be a lot of fun and put on a great show for the anniversary. You can’t beat a $10 ticket to see an amazing up-and-coming band like that. It should be a really fun night.

One last thing, Jason. What’s your favorite Wilco record of all time?

Well, it’s definitely not A.M. [laughs] As a full album, I would say Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

IMG_0636IMG_0645Photography by Abby Gillardi at Euclid Records