Q&A: Gail O'Hara on 20 Years of Chickfactor

Music writer, editor and filmmaker Gail O'Hara has spent the last two decades using her influential 'zine, chickfactor, to celebrate heartfelt indie rock that favors buoyant pop melodies from singers who seem too shy to share their thoughts any other way.

To celebrate 20 years in the game, she's throwing herself a party.

This week O'Hara has taken over The Bell House, and programmed three nights of soft hearts and sharp hooks.

Nonstop Sound recently caught up with O'Hara to talk about organizing the festival and memories from 20 years of celebrating her favorite tunesmiths.

Nonstop Sound: How did this festival come about?

Gail O'Hara: "I love setting up shows, or having chickfactor parties. I have set up a few events in Portland and London but hadn't had a proper festival since 2004. The 20th anniversary of chickfactor was an excuse to have a big party and to bring together a lot of people and music that I love. I made a big dream list of bands in 2010 and probably started sorting out dates and venues in 2011." 

NS: The style of indie-pop you're promoting here is not the most popular subgenre of indie rock out there, but people like Black Tambourine and Versus and others have maintained a dedicated cult-following over the years. To what do you attribute their continuing appeal?

GO: "I don't really think of music in terms of 'indie pop.' To me it's all music. I think the Zombies and Ellie Greenwich make sense next to the Smiths and R.E.M. and the Aislers Set and Lois. Bridget St. John has been playing music since the '70s. Black Tambourine and Versus just have fantastic songs that people want to hear played live, and their members are charismatic and foxy."

NS: Has organizing this festival brought back any nostalgia for the beginning of chickfactor? What memories are running through your mind this week?

GO: "This is like a total lovefest. This community of people has known each other for 20 years, so it's been an amazing experience already ... I have been thinking a lot about Pam Berry, Mike Schulman, Brian Nelson, Archie Moore and some of our other D.C. friends who influenced me with music and friendship back then. I think about shopping for records with them at Pier Platters and Vinyl Ink Records in Silver Spring, Md., where Mike used to work and was a great recommender. We drove up to shows at Maxwells to see bands like Small Factory and Honey Bunch. I had just moved to New York in 1992 and some of the first people I met were Dawn Sutter and Lydia Vanderloo, who were music writers at CMJ who ended up writing for chickfactor and now work at Agoraphone and B&N. Their husbands run Other Music, Chris and Josh, who were record recommenders at Kim's on Bleecker in those days. Records and live music have been a huge part of my life and it was much harder to discover music in those pre-internet days so I appreciated the sharing of information." 

NS: Anyone in particular that you are excited to see, or that you can't believe you got?

GO: "I am still pinching myself that Black Tambourine is here and playing and sounds ace. All the bands playing are special to me and many played at chickfactor's 10th anniversary soiree as well. It's going to be such a special week and I'm still hopped up on Dopamine from the past three days. Bring it on!" 

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