Read Slow: Gold Flake Paint's New Chapter
Gold Flake Paint founder Tom Johnson talks us through the story behind turning his beloved music blog into a print journal, and the benefits of slowing down
"As with any endeavour that grows a life of its own, often into shapes that you wanted, occasionally in ways you never really imagined, there comes a time when you have to take stock, to work out what you now want to get out of this thing that you’ve created."
Open issue two of Gold Flake Paint’s new journal to page 19, and you’ll find these lines within Tom Johnson’s story about The Twilight Sad, and their journey towards new album It Won/t Be Like This All the Time. Strangely, the words capture something about the changes he’s made in the last year, too. After eight years of nurturing his music site, based in Glasgow but beloved by a faithful global readership, Johnson replaced it with a paper journal, to be released four times a year in coincidence with the seasons.
We’re often told that journalism is dying and people won’t pay to save it. Starting a print magazine in this financial and cultural climate might sound counter-intuitive, but when media organisations are under phenomenal pressure to translate digital page views into profit, perhaps it makes perfect sense. What’s more, within some corners of the music industry, there’s a growing movement towards a mode of cultural consumption that’s intimate and tangible. Not only in the fact that vinyl sales continue to rise (because, when you take a closer look, it’s more likely to be a Pink Floyd reissue than a new LP that make up these figures), but in the ever-closer relationships musicians and labels are building with their listeners. It’s here that Gold Flake Paint comes into its own.
Since the very beginning, when Johnson was the site’s only writer, Gold Flake Paint has offered a counterpoint to the rapid pace of the music machine. The website offered deeply personal, deeply felt music reviews, with the perspective that often only comes after listening to a song for as long as it needs to take root. "The ethos of the site was about longevity," Johnson says. "An album shouldn’t be 'over' within four weeks of it coming out." Visiting the site felt like a deep exhalation of breath, and a world away from the competitive rush of would-be tastemakers. "I feel like it did well because it wasn’t a part of the whole 'how many records is this selling' side of the industry. We just wanted to write about what we liked, even if it had one [other] listener…"
And yet, shortly after celebrating its eighth birthday, Johnson took the plunge and pressed pause on the site. The catalyst was a chance encounter a long way from home, at the infamously relentless music industry showcase South by Southwest in Texas. "The website was growing; it didn’t seem like a good time. But I’d just been at this horrible festival and I was sat in a cafe talking to the waitress. She was like, 'Oh, I know Gold Flake Paint!' It was really overwhelming, and [after] the conversation I thought, I could go home and turn off the website. I felt like that would be an amazing moment to finish. As soon as I thought it, I was like… I’m going to do it. I think it’s the same with anything: if you’re self-releasing music on Bandcamp, the end goal [might be] to produce a beautiful vinyl. So, let’s try a magazine!"
The patient process that set the website apart from many of its contemporaries makes even more sense on paper. The journal feels a conscious step away from the wave of new music that hits the Twitter timeline each day, and offers a chance to reflect on albums you might otherwise never have found. A generous combination of personal essays, reflections on music already released, and reviews of LPs to come ensures that there’s no need for a shelf-life – these are publications to savour, and to return to a year from now, when you need inspiration for a perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack.
The first issue took six months to put together, and sported gloriously tangerine pages and a luminous cover story on Mitski, a perennial GFP favourite. It was also incredibly popular, selling 400 copies in the first two days. "I said to the printers, give us a quote for double!" For a brief moment, Johnson thought he’d made his millions – "I’m going to do this every three months and make £50,000 a year and retire to a French cottage!" – but the transition from producing free, daily content to creating a series of physical publications requires a whole new kind of patience, and an acceptance of a slower kind of growth.
Johnson’s been seeking sustainability in the team behind the magazine, too. While his writing still makes up a large percentage of the page plans, the influence of editor Hannah Boyle and designer Tom Rogers has brought him fresh perspective. So, too, has his growing team of trusted contributors. "I want it to feel like a real family, and it's really exciting to let Gold Flake Paint’s voice grow into something else," he says, grinning. "I’ve spoken a lot, so I’m happy to guide it. It’s still Gold Flake Paint, but it’s a new chapter."
Gold Flake Paint: A Music Journal, Issue Two Winter 2019 is on sale now