Aaron Gilbreath Interview
Aaron Gilbreath is a journalist and essayist who has written for Harper’s, The New York Times, and many more outlets. He is the author of This Is: Essays on Jazz and, most recently, The Heart of California: Exploring the San Joaquin Valley. Previously an editor at Longreads, he now runs the Substack music series Alive in the Nineties.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
My life as a music writer started as a music fan. My friends and I went to so many concerts in our teens and 20s during the 1990s, and I occasionally wrote things down in a journal from those shows: memorable moments, things people in the band said, set lists. Some were human moments. Some were mundane details I didn’t want to forget. I kept flyers and posters from countless concerts, many from shows I didn’t even attend. I kept concert tickets, back when they printed them. I saved music magazines and articles about bands I liked from local alt-weeklies.
Even before I wrote finished music stories, I had a strong documentary impulse and the sense that the shows, and that time of our lives, were important fleeting things that needed to be preserved. So I literally just piled stuff in various boxes over the years and carried around the notion that I was creating some sort of music culture archive. Little did I realize that that archive was what I would tap when I started writing about music! I also started recording concerts I went to, first on cassette tapes on crappy equipment, then with a really good video camera, because live music was often my favorite music, because it had a unique energy often lacking in studio recordings.