For this edition of our continuing series “Conversations with Green Champions” Rolland President Philip Rundle speaks with No Depression, the quarterly journal of roots music, about its contributions to a more environmentally aware and culturally diverse world.
No Depression started as a bi-monthly music magazine in 1995, went out of print in 2008, operated on-line only for a few years, then relaunched in its current format in 2015.
Managing Editor Hilary Saunders talks about the strengths of this print publication and the smart fall 2020 issue, “Going Green.” It reports on the intersection of environmentalism and roots music, down to musicians finding solace in gardening during the pandemic.
No Depression makes subscribers smile
• Each ad-free issue has more than 100 pages of in-depth articles, along with eye-opening photography and original artwork.
• Published by an American non-profit that supports grassroots music, the FreshGrass Foundation, whose other properties are the FreshGrass Festivals and the Folk Alley internet radio service.
How has the 2020 pandemic affected No Depression?
Spending time at home has reminded people about what brings us joy, so we are watching more TV and movies, reading books more than normal, buying more records, listening to more music. And our print subscriptions have increased, incrementally. We are a boutique publication with uninterrupted long-form stories about roots music – subscribers want to support our independent non-profit journalism that in its own way supports the independent musicians we cover.
Has production been affected by market instability?
Our production process has remained exactly the same; since my tenure began in November 2017, our team has worked totally remotely. One major difference, however, is that we are not covering shows because live music is obviously at a standstill.
Why does your print issue regularly sell out?
We have published nine issues in my time here and three have sold out. I think this is because our format is so niche, not in the grand scheme of journalistic history, but for the state of media in the 21st century. Our quarterly timeline lets us publish more than 100 pages of in-depth reporting on stories that are under-reported in the music industry.
How does No Depression contribute to cultural diversity?
We try our best to highlight marginalized voices, both music makers and contributors – writers, photographers, illustrators, designers. My goal in a larger sense as a music journalist is to show how roots music can be a tool for social change. No Depression strives to be all-inclusive, reflecting all of the many people who make and listen to roots music. We cover stories and subjects and individuals and musicians and songs and traditions and histories that aren’t being covered elsewhere.
One example is a photo essay in our “Wellness” issue by Chad Cochran, who asked musicians and songwriters to open up about their mental health struggles – and how they worked through them. These poignant photographs of people whose words and melodies soothe us are powerful because they have revealed their inner lives. This is important because studies show creative professionals are more susceptible to these struggles.
Why is environmentalism your current theme?
We chose “Going Green” almost a year ago, with the goal of de-politicizing climate change, and addressing how environmentalism impacts the music industry and roots music in particular.
We knew “Going Green” would be out at the time of the US elections and wanted to raise awareness of environmental issues that will affect the way people vote, and the future of this country and earth. The focus is on how musicians and the music are affected.
Was it hard to find music makers working toward a more sustainable world?
Not at all. It was hard watching the 2020 pandemic affect articles in real time, though. We had planned to cover festivals that have great green strategies, and ways touring musicians lessen their environmental impact. With no live events, those stories were scratched.
So we took a broader perspective, with stories on the history of environmental protest songs, and the environmental costs of streaming and record production. And mini-profiles of musicians who have started gardening, or are getting back to it, now they have more time due to the pandemic, creating what are essentially 21st-century victory gardens.
Do you have a sustainability checklist for suppliers?
We do! 2020 is the 25th anniversary for No Depression so each issue this year opens with a story honoring our growth. This issue it’s the Fresh Grass Foundation Manifesto, setting out the sustainable choices and goals for all of the foundation’s organizations, including suppliers. A cool manifesto if I do say so myself, accompanied by an original watercolor that is just beautiful.
What led No Depression to choose 100% recycled paper from Rolland?
That choice was made before my time. As someone who has volunteered for environmental organizations since the age of nine, it was incredibly powerful to join a print publication for which this is extremely important.
How does Rolland paper measure up, in terms of print quality?
We are thrilled every day with the journal’s print quality. The paper we use to share our stories is part of who we are as a publication.
One of my favorite things is when new subscribers get the journal: they literally stick their face in it and comment on how good it smells. You do not get that by opening your laptop! You can’t replace the tactile appreciation of holding a high-quality publication.
Does the print journal do justice to the artwork you commission?
Here’s a story. A Montreal illustrator sent me a blind pitch along the lines of: ‘My dad read No Depression so I grew up with it, and love what you do in print. If you ever need visual artists, here is my portfolio, please consider me.’ That led to us working together.
During a trip to Montreal I visited her studio and she gave me the original of an illustration we published in the Spring 2019 issue. It is now framed and hanging on my wall, and the print version lives up to the original.
Do you see No Depression as a green champion?
I am proud every day that No Depression is part of the FreshGrass Foundation, a
non-profit that is so mindful of sustainability and the environment as a whole,
the natural world. Our stories parallel that. We want every single part of this
journal down to our raw materials like paper to be that conscientious.