Rachel Nix: Memoir Mixtapes is unlike any literary journal around. How’d it all get started? Who had the weird idea that turned out to be brilliance?
Samantha Lamph/Len: In 2017, I was making a lot of big changes in my life. I had just moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, gotten married, and left academia to pursue a new career in the private sector as a copywriter. In the midst of all this upheaval and excitement, I still found myself feeling a certain lack of purpose in my life. I had been listening to the “How I Built This” podcast and felt really inspired by the stories of modern visionaries and the amazing things they built from a single great idea. I made a concerted effort to pay more attention to what I was doing and thinking in my everyday life with the hope of coming across an idea I could get excited about working on.
One evening, on my 1.5 hour commute from my office in Santa Monica back to Koreatown, a song I hadn’t heard in a long while came on the radio: “Silver Springs” by Fleetwood Mac. Hearing the song transported me back to a very specific time in my childhood, when I first started experiencing depressive thoughts and went through my first months-long bout of insomnia. Fleetwood Mac’s music defined this phase of my life because it was what my dad was constantly playing at the time; the music taunted me at all hours.
“I should write an essay about this.” I thought.
And then, because I was making a point to tune into my thoughts, I thought:
“Hey, I bet a lot of people have essays and poems they could write about the important songs in their lives.”
And then in the next instant, the perfect name for this project came to me. And the rest is Memoir Mixtapes
I purchased the domain, started building the website and social profiles, and wrote out our first call for submissions as soon as I got home. I wasn’t sure if we’d get more than 5 or 6 submissions, but even on that first day, I could feel that this project was going to be a special piece of my life, and I was so excited to get started.
RN: Kevin, what’d you think when Sam came to you with the idea for a literary journal set to a soundtrack?
Kevin D. Woodall: Honestly, it was life-changing.
I hadn’t done any personal writing in six years, and Sam and I hadn’t really spoken for about eight or nine years beyond annual “happy birthday” exchanges on social media. But when I saw her post on Instagram about this new idea she had to start up an online literary journal that fused memoir and music, I was intrigued. I’d been having a hard time finding anything to write about, but writing about music? I could totally do that.
The next month I split a lot of time between writing a piece on Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm,” and catching up/sharing older writing with Sam. Writing the piece was rewarding and therapeutic enough, but eventually, as she started to get more and more submissions, Sam surprised me by asking me to help her run Memoir Mixtapes. I’d just wanted to write something again, to prove that I could do it for myself—I definitely wasn’t expecting to be asked to help run the journal. But I thought she had something really cool on her hands, and her drive to create a publication that promoted diverse voices and viewpoints through the vehicle of music was something I greatly admired. I decided that if I could help grow and shape Memoir Mixtapes beyond just writing a one-off piece, I’d be a fool to say no.
It’s changed my life for the better, and hearing stories about how our journal has also helped change others’ lives never gets old.
Also, as an aside, I gotta say it feels really good when we get love from musicians. We had Liz Phair retweet one of our pieces (Meg Pillow Davis in Vol.6) and let me tell you we were buzzing for days.
RN: This issue is on the theme of Witness. As a music junkie, myself, y’all were my dream editors to approach for an interview—if only because songs are such incredible diaries for coming back to moments, both for the writers and the listeners. The avenues a single song can deliver us to is wild and for some of us, therapeutically necessary. I’m going to be invasive here and ask for your favorite memory conjured by a song—gives us some feels, yeah?
SL/L: Ooh there are SO MANY! So I’m going to cheat and talk about a couple favorites (and I’ll skip the story about crying in a sandwich shop when Incubus’ “Stellar” came on the radio…)
I will never be able to hear The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” without crying, because it is the song that is playing on the record player in the first clip on my baby video. In the video, my mom and dad are taking turns dancing with the infant version of me in the living room of my childhood home while the other parent films. Maybe I’m just more sentimental than most, but seeing the younger version of my family when we were literally “just beginning” our journey together with Karen Carpenter’s amazing vocals narrating the story…it’s just a lot for my sensitive little soul to handle. Waterworks every time.
I can pinpoint the moment I instinctively knew I’d end up with my husband forever—a full four months before we even started dating. We were sitting in his pickup truck watching the sun rise after pulling an all nighter due to a not-so-fun Lucy-in-the-Sky-with-Diamonds experience. Things had been a little tense between us at this time due to a previous failed attempt at dating, but getting through that rough night together cemented our friendship in both our minds. He put “All This Time” by The Heartless Bastards on, and it perfectly conveyed how my feelings for him had evolved after this shared experience.
KW: I was about twelve or thirteen, at a JC Penney with my mom and sister. I can’t remember why I was there, but I do remember that I didn’t want to be there, and it felt like it was the longest shopping trip in the history of all shopping trips. I was groaning and stomping around in the way only pre-pubescent kids can do, bored all the way out of my head. Fortunately for me I wasn’t the only bored person in the ladies’ underwear department—one of the cashiers nearby was staring, eyes glazed over, at a TV mounted above her desk.
Now, we didn’t have cable in my house growing up, so I didn’t immediately recognize that I was seeing as a music video on MTV, but what I did recognize was the music coming out of the TV: “Karma Police” by Radiohead. I already loved the song, having heard it burning up the radio over the past year or two, but I hadn’t seen the video—in fact, I’d never seen any music video up until that point. I shuffled slowly over to the check-out counter and joined the cashier in staring at the video. I could feel my heart beginning to pound as I watched the random middle-aged man being slowly, ever so slowly, chased by a car with an unseen driver, seemingly directed by a younger, slight man in the back seat. I’d never seen or conceived of anything like it, and my mind burned with questions: Who were these two men? What had the guy being chased done? How will he escape? Will he escape? What was the story behind this??
I could feel something happening in my brain as I asked myself these questions—something like an awakening. I was slowly realizing, in that moment, that music could be pushed beyond just something heard and felt. It could be a visual experience as well, and through the visual experience, music could tell stories beyond even those held in the lyrics. Little mini-movies, like short stories. It was revolutionary to me.
To this day, whenever I hear “Karma Police,” I still think about that time in the JC Penney, stuck on the longest shopping trip ever, having my mind quietly blown to pieces by that music video.
RN: What bands are y’all listening to lately? Who’s on your own playlists?
SL/L: I more often find myself obsessed with a single track vs. an entire album or artist’s discography. To give an example that makes me cringe, I’ve listened to Post Malone’s “Wow.” about 20 times in the past 3 days, but I have no desire to listen to any other Post Malone song. (Ok, maybe “Better Now” once in a while but don’t tell anyone…)
That said, there were some albums and artists I absolutely fell in love with over the past year. Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is a perfect album, in my opinion. Grizzly Bear, a band that I had listened to but had never really resonated with me before, finally hit me super hard in 2018. I’ve never stopped loving Death Cab for Cutie, but every three years or so, I get pulled back into the timeless magic that is Transatlanticism. Same story with Interpol and Turn on the Bright Lights. Yacht rock/ classic rock and Disco are my go-tos when I don’t know exactly what I want to listen to. “Bennie and the Jets” is my favorite song and belongs on every playlist.
KW: Right now I’m listening to the newest release from Ladytron—which, by the way, is a killer album—but I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve been rotating through lately. Looking at my “Recently Played” on Spotify, here’s who I’ve been vibing hardest with: Trevor Something, Thundercat, The Mars Volta, Cocteau Twins, Vangelis, Siouxsie and the Banshees, ALEX, Wu-Tang Clan, Chelsea Wolfe, Brian Eno and John Cale, Chavez, Preoccupations, Roy Orbison, Childish Gambino, Purity Ring, DJ Ten, Kavinsky, BADBADNOTGOOD, Depeche Mode, Beach House, and Charles Bradley.
RN: Samantha, I loved your creative nonfiction piece from issue 2 of Occulum, titled “You’ve Seriously Considered This.” Congratulations on having it featured in the upcoming Best American Experimental Writing 2020. What else are you up to? Any other work or current projects you’d like to point us to?
SL/L: Thank you! Getting the acceptance for BAX 2020 was such a surreal moment. I remember thinking “there’s no chance in hell this is happening” when I sent in the submission, so when the response came a year later, I assumed it was a rejection. I’m glad I opened it anyway just to make sure! I consider this one of my biggest writing accomplishments, and I’m just thrilled this weird little piece is going to reach more readers. I’m super grateful to Arielle Tipa for giving this strange essay its first home at the magical Occulum Journal.
I’m excited to see my poem, “Post-Post Traumatic Stress” come out in A Room of Her Own Foundation’s WAVES: An Anthology of Women’s Voices, hopefully sometime this year. It’s been a long journey for this poem & that project; I submitted in 2016, got the acceptance in 2017, and submit the updated clean copy in 2018. I’m hoping 2019 is the year I see this baby in print! I’m also looking forward to having my poem “Deafening” published in Issue 5 of Kissing Dynamite Poetry in May.
Coming into 2019, my two major writing goals were two get a poetry manuscript in order to submit to chapbook contests and to recommit to writing fiction—the genre I’ve basically abandoned since getting my MFA in 2012. I’m happy to say I’ve made some progress on both of those fronts. My chapbook manuscript Androphobia is currently out at two small presses. My fingers are all the way crossed, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I also have worked on a couple pieces of flash fiction that I’m hoping to polish up and start sending out soon. In general though, I’m trying to put more emphasis on writing & revising than submitting this year, which will be a challenge for me.
RN: Kevin, I was especially drawn to your piece, “Someone Else” from volume 6 of Memoir Mixtapes. Where else can we find your work? Plotting any projects we should know about?
KW: I’m not widely published, but I do have a few things kicking around. Most of my stuff is available in Memoir Mixtapes and can be found in Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 6, or in our Song Recommendations. I also have a short story about a very evil stepmother called “Let Me Love and Steal” in Issue 3, Exquisite Corpses of Moonchild Magazine.
As for upcoming projects, I have a few different things cooking: a creative non-fiction piece about my days in pizza delivery, a couple darker short stories, and poem that’s probably going to turn into a short story. The project I’m mostly focused on, though, is a horror/supernatural/adventure series, set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, told through journal entries. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Dracula meets Hellboy.
RN: We obviously wanna stalk y’all but who are y’all interested in? Who are some of your favorite writers? Whose work can you not get enough of lately?
SL/L: I love Ottessa Moshfegh’s work, especially her collection of short stories Homesick for Another World. I am drawn to the grittiness is present in a lot of her fiction. R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is my favorite book of 2019, so far.
A couple of my friends from grad school are doing amazing work in the writing world. Kamala Puligandla’s first novel Zigzags is coming out in the fall of this year from Not a Cult Media. Sara Borjas’ debut poetry collection Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff is dropping next month from Noemi Press. Ángel García’s debut collection Teeth Never Sleep is a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.
I’ve met so many amazing writers on Twitter. I won’t be able to name them all, but maybe just a few…
When I see a new flash piece from Cathy Ulrich come across my feed, I can’t click the link fast enough. She’s a master of the form, and a truly wonderful human being to boot. She is always promoting the work of other writers, and I’m so excited to read the pieces she curates for her new journal, Milk Candy Review.
In addition to running Occulum Journal, Arielle Tipa writes gorgeous poetry. Her chapbook Daughter-Seed just dropped at Empty Set Press, and I loved every second of the sensory ride that collection took me on.
E. Kristin Anderson is a poetry and prose powerhouse. Her Ted Cruz flash fiction series is brilliant. You can find a few of my favorites in Queen Mob’s Tea House.
I try to keep a close eye on what our previous contributors are working on, too. Meg Pillow Davis’ “We All Know About Margo” in Smokelong Quarterly wrecked me. Juliette van der Molen has a chapbook, Mother, May I, coming out in May from Animal Heart Press that I already know is going to be amazing.
KW: This is tough, because I’ve been terrible for reading lately—work and personal life stuff have been leaving me too braindead to read much, which is horrible, I know—and I tend to not be super obsessive over individual authors (with the exceptions of Edgar Allan Poe, whose portrait I have tattooed on my right calf, and J.R.R. Tolkien—I’m a major Tolkien nerd, and will gladly talk about why the Fellowship couldn’t just “fly the eagles all the way to Mordor,” in exhaustive detail if I’m given the chance).
The last book I read was Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which was harrowing and incredible and should be mandatory reading for everyone. It was the first of Colson Whitehead’s works I’d read, and it immediately made me want to dig into his other writing. I’m also super interested in reading The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley and the just-released Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.
RN: To be a bit nosier, we’re always on the hunt for publications to dig into and are curious where other editors look to in appeasing their own tastes. Online or print, which journals do y’all admire and follow regularly?
SL/L: You mean besides cahoodaloodaling? :)
Longleaf Review is my happy place on the internet. Everything that makes it onto that site—whether it’s a poem, fiction piece, or cover illustration—is beautiful.
Other favorites are Moonchild Magazine, Glass Poetry, Okay Donkey, Jellyfish Review, Cheap Pop, Kissing Dynamite, and in case I haven’t already plugged it enough already, Occulum Journal.
KW: I haven’t been able to keep up with as many journals as I’d like as of late, but I always like what the crew over at Rabid Oak have going on, and Longleaf Review and Pithead Chapel consistently publish work that I dig. And I have a deep love of darker writing, so I look to Déraciné and Coffin Bell to get that fix.
RN: We ask this in every interview because it seems like all writers have one book that’s defined them in some way. Any genre, and subject; what’s your favorite book? What book matters to you?
SL/L: I know it is totally cliché, but I have to tell the truth: The Bell Jar. My freshman year English teacher recommended it to me, and I absolutely hated it the first time I read it. But then I picked it back up again in senior year. And again two years later. And again…And again. I’ve probably read it between 5-8 times now, and I currently have it on hold at the library for another re-read.
One particular passage has always spoken to me. Esther describes envisioning her life “branching out before” her like a fig tree. At the end of each branch, a purple fig represents one of the many possible futures her life could take, based on the decisions she makes. But she doesn’t want to choose just one. She wants all of those futures. She can already predict that this indecisiveness—the inability to commit to just one—will leave her starving.
I’ve struggled with that same sense of indecisiveness and self-doubt my whole life. Thinking about this passage reminds me that indecision is a decision in itself, and while I haven’t fully conquered this impulse to remain paralyzed, it is something I try to actively fight against.
KW: This is so damn cruel—how can you pick just one book as your favorite? Come on, dude, come on.
But I guess if I have to pick one book that’s really defined me or mattered to me, I might have to go with Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I first read it in high school for a reading assignment. It hit me so hard. It came to me at a time in my life when I truly needed it, and I’ve re-read it four times since then. When I’m feeling particularly frustrated or lost or hopeless, I take comfort in its messages—that everything I experience in life is valuable, even if it’s something that feels like a failure, and contributes in a meaningful way to my own self-improvement. It helps me stay grounded and keeps me from spinning away.
RN: Let’s wrap things up by torturing our readers with ear worms. Do your worst—what song would y’all suggest to invade our readers’ brains?
SL/L: “Take Your Time (Do It Right)” by The S.O.S. band.
It’s an earworm, but you’ll enjoy every moment it loops in your brain. It’s such a feel-good track that instantly mellows me out whenever I hear it. The message is great, too. We’ve got one short life to live; we should remember to take the time to enjoy this human experience as often as we can. It’s easy to forget. We all get caught up in our day-to-day dramas and responsibilities. But we’ll never regret the moments we spend in pursuit of the things in life that bring us pleasure, joy, laughter, or love. I know I need that reminder more often than I’d like to admit, and I’m grateful this song exists to provide it.
KW: It’s not widely known, but the first hard rule Sam and I set down for Memoir Mixtapes is “positive vibes,” and we try to repeat it as our mantra during difficult times. With that in mind, I’m not sure whether torturing readers with something wicked like Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” or Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is in keeping with that ethos.
Instead, I’ll try for something catchy but good—get after “Annie” by Neon Indian. If it doesn’t at least get your toe tapping, or that chorus doesn’t invade your brain, I don’t know what will.
RN: Got a question for us? About the publication, the staff, what any of us sing in the shower?
SL/L: As someone at the helm of a newer lit mag on the block, I’d love to hear any advice you have in regards to how cahoodaloodaling has maintained quality, readership, and passion over time. Putting 28 issues out into the world is no small feat, and we hope to be there one day. Any words of wisdom on that front?
RN: Be selfish. A lit mag should never start out trying to repeat what others are making trendy. Run a journal because you can’t not run one. In our case, we wanted to promote the idea of being in cahoots: we’re down to publish any kind of art: literature, music, visual, or whatever anyone can creatively attach to our submission manager. We have a pre-announced theme, one based on our own curiosities or fiendings; what lands in the issue makes for a focused collection of diverse art, largely shaped by revolving guest editors. With this design, we kinda throw out the blueprints each time and it keeps us on our toes. That said, I think y’all have things nailed down in that regard. Memoir Mixtapes is as honest as it gets: every spin is fresh. I’m gonna start fangirling if I don’t hush.
Raquel Thorne: I’ll jump in here and piggy-back off of Rachel’s “be selfish”: practice self-care. Sometimes the world will conspire against your issue, and you’ll have to delay or make slight alterations to your original vision, and that’s okay. We’ve seen a lot of indie journals come and go in our time and I think a lot of that has to do with burnout. Like any healthy relationship, really, the only way to be truly good to your contributors is to be good to yourself.
SL/L: And of course, I gotta know: What’s your all-time favorite song? What’s your “Bennie and the Jets”?
RN: Ya know, it ought to be hard to pick an all-time favorite song but hands down, it’s Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” and has been since the first time I heard it.
It’s got this incredible balance of growl and rise—almost like my own little pissed off pep rally, which I know sounds weird, but we gotta take the boost however we can get it.
RT: I’d be lying if I said I had an all-time favorite song, but I come to Ricky Martin’s “Tu Recuerdo” again and again and generally still find myself weeping.
KW: I want to know what’s on your playlist lately! Tell me, for I always hunger for new music.
RN: Oh man. So I’m about an hour south of Muscle Shoals/Florence, Alabama, so I’m one of those who feeds off the local music scene more than whatever’s on the radio. I’m stuck on albums by the likes of Red Mouth, The Pine Hill Haints, Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil, The Bear, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Pollies, John Paul White—also pretty much anything out of Single Lock Records. Buy Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic, preferably on vinyl, right now. Y’all are welcome for this. I’m also binging on Rainbow Kitten Surprise a ton and being a child of the 90s, my fallback is always Pearl Jam, Blind Melon, and Nirvana when nothing else hits the spot.
RT: I’ve been listening to a lot of mariachi lately (which is my go-to when I need to remember good things, like delicious tacos and love, exist in this world). Check out Mariachi Flor de Toloache, a NYC-based group comprised of badass female musicians. Jessie Reyez has been a staple since I stumbled across her “Figures” two years ago—ditto to Barns Courtney, who won me over on my first listen of “Glitter & Gold” around the same time. I also listen to a lot of old country and Dwight Yoakam will always have my heart. Always.
Samantha Lamph/Len is a writer, editor, and content manager in Los Angeles. As you may have intuited from this interview, she is also the creator of Memoir Mixtapes, a literary magazine for music lovers. You can read more of her work in Occulum Journal, Moonchild Magazine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and Luna Luna Magazine, among others. Find her online at www.samanthalamphlen.com or follow her on Twitter @quandoparamucho.
Currently freezing in Calgary, Alberta, Kevin D. Woodall is an editor / writer / coffee-demon who probably smokes too much. He is pleased as punch to edit and co-curate Memoir Mixtapes, an online literary magazine that fuses memoir-writing and music. Most of his writing up to this point has been for Memoir Mixtapes, but you can read one of his short stories in Issue 3 of Moonchild Magazine. He can be found online at his (hastily thrown together and in need of more work) website, kevindwoodall.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @kevin.d.woodall.