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Lisa Root on Keeping DIY Print Media Alive via New Noise Magazine

The current cover of New Noise magazine features Bad Religion’s famous “crossbuster” logo splashed up against a white brick wall. Inside is an interview with Greg Graffin and Brett Gurewitz, two of the sharpest lefty antagonist-theorists in the second generation of punk rock.

There’s also a Bad Religion flexi-disc to support all that, “The Profane Rights of Man,” a fast, melodic punk rocker:

So it’s criminal, antithetical, inimical
To an enlightened plan
If you seek to make divisible the principle
Of the profane rights of man
And so it turns the bourgeoisie
The bastard child of democracy
Morphs into aristocracy

The issue also has features on L7, J. Robbins, Death Angel, and Fury.

Foreing Language by Can't Swim out October 11

Pretty damn cool, right? 

Sorta. 

“A single woman running a punk magazine in the Bay Area sounds a lot cooler than it is,” says Lisa Root, who does just that as editor-in-chief and publisher of very cool glossy punk-metal mag and website New Noise. “We put our hearts into it, but it’s really hard.”

“All of us,” Root continues, speaking for her staff of six, “have side jobs.” 

One of Root’s jobs: cocktail waitress at a pool hall. The other she is doing over the weekend, as we speak on the phone from a tiny home in Berkeley.

“Right now, I’m dog sitting for someone who’s a magazine editor for a finance magazine at his very well-appointed house, which is two blocks from Gilman Street,” she explains. “I’m dog sitting for someone who realized where the money was in publishing. There’s all kinds of ironies.”

Still, New Noise’s very existence and perseverance proves that as anachronistic as it might seem (and maybe ironic that this story appears only online), print is not dead. New Noise publishes every 45 days – eight issues a year. A single issue costs $4.99 (cheap). A one-year subscription with a flexi-disc included is $35, or $20 without. The next issue has Ceremony on the cover.

The magazine has various columnists, but in the early years one of them was Cheetah Chrome, the highly politicized songwriter-guitarist from Dead Boys. “I love the Dead Boys, so that was real cool,” Root says. “Things come and go, but his time was taken away.” 

Chrome, for his part, loved and still loves New Noise. He says a divorce got in the way of his continuing to write, but “it’s a glossy that reads like that punk magazine MaximumRockNRoll and that’s a good thing. It gets information across. It’s intelligent, isn’t a bunch of drivel or crap. Writing for it was a lot of fun.”

Hard Noise: You started doing this when and with what concept?

Root: I’ve been doing New Noise just over six years now. Before that, I worked with someone else and did another magazine for ten years, AMP.  Then we expanded and did a metal magazine, Hails & Horns, and a street punk, Oi!, ’77 punk magazine Loud Fast Rules. But the industry kind of collapsed on itself a little bit and it wasn’t very well run in the first place. They spent money faster than they could make it. 

When that went under, I decided print media sounds like a great idea. I’ll continue going with that.

Being we’re on the phone, I can’t see you. I’m guessing your tongue is firmly in cheek.

Right.

Financially speaking, how do you manage to keep the lights on?

It’s not a big money-making endeavor for anybody, but the bulk of financing comes from ad bills. I keep our ad rates really low and it becomes increasingly difficult to pull that ad money in, but I am persistent and dogged. 

In an on-line world, launching a print mag, a glossy one at that, with cool flexi discs inside … What caused you to think this lunatic idea could work?

I’d been doing it under someone else’s financial direction and wanted to be able to do the things the way I wanted to be able to do them, so I felt I owed it to myself to prove it could be done. We had been doing three magazines spanning genres before and I feel like in an environment where you have access to everything at your fingertips, people are well-versed in so many more genres that being more expansive in the underground genres we cover was kind of key. I wanted to have metal in there, I wanted to have indie, I wanted to have punk, I wanted to have hardcore together in one place. I felt readers wanted that.

There are so many niche publications, online and on the racks.

Very much. I feel people were more genre-specific before there was all this availability. But I think now people want to show they know [things] beyond the basics.

That’s one of the things I like about New Noise is you got scads of stories about new fresh bands, but also stories about bands that are kind of the foundation of what we listen to. Kinda like an alternate universe MOJO. Do you ever regret that you personally missed some of ‘77 music you loved first time around? You were born that year.

Hmm … yeah. If I could get a time machine I’d love to go back. But the world wasn’t any better then, the world hadn’t progressed. If I could go anywhere with a time machine I’d go into the future and hope people figure things out at some point.

Of course, dissatisfaction with the way things are — anger about it — fuels a lot of the music we like and your mag. How political is New Noise?

We’re a music magazine first and foremost, but I feel everyone is political. We put a band called Iron Reagan on our cover — for the subscribers who get the flexi-disc — that came out at the inauguration and the cover image is an eagle carrying a decapitated Donald Trump’s head and the White House is being blown up in the background and there’s money everywhere. And Iron Reagan being a throwback to ‘80s thrash. We brought that back and thought that was a perfect iteration of what we wanted to stand for. I turned 40 a couple days before he was elected. Whenever you go through a milestone like that and realize the next decade of your life might be like that … it’s kind of depressing.

Most of us live on the left or center-left. Do you encounter or write about any right-wing metal bands?

I really don’t mind hearing other people’s opinions, but I don’t feel anyone’s been wanting to step out and say it. All the people I grew up with that became Republicans, they really don’t show it on Facebook. I come from a redneck area, born and raised there, and I had a feeling the election was going to go the way it was. [In terms of New Noise] if someone says they have more conservative politics, sure, but the things that go along with it tend to be racism and misogyny. So, if that were the case, no [coverage]. We’re primarily a women and queer-owned magazine, so that does factor into what we cover and have covered since we started. We were organically covering a lot of these artists that were being ignored and now it’s become more fashionable [to cover them], to put more women in the pages, put more queer artists in.

How do you see your demo, the makeup of the readership?

I really don’t know. I would think … our readers are humans. We don’t really break it off into male and female. We don’t look at it that way. People probably in their mid-30s that like a wide array of music.

Are you getting teens, too?

Yeah, I would imagine. Things go through waves and now it feels like post-punk and kraut rock are making a resurgence so I’m looking at a lot of “If you like Wire or Siouxsie and the Banshees…” If teens like that, I don’t know. So many things are derivative of [music] that’s ahead of my generation that I love and enjoy. Everything old is new again all over again.

What’s your circulation?

We print around 8,000. Retail sell-through is hit or miss. We have about 2,500 subscribers. The majority of our sales are direct sales. We do Barnes and Noble and go through regular distro, too. We do two cover variations. If I’m putting a magazine out through Barnes and Noble, I’ve realized my choices don’t really sell as much. So, we do the bigger metal artists, metal. A punk cover doesn’t sell that well. With our subscription cover we do the “art” covers with a flexi in it — we’ve done 28 of them — and that gives us an ability to pick bands that have a core audience that will get it. We can take more risks with that and be creative. 

We’re a really small staff and what we’re trying to accomplish is pushing our distribution to independent record stores again. I’m trying to carve out some time and reach out to them. When we started, we did it free and sent it out to record stores that participated in record store day. Then we went into retail distribution and added the flexi-disc as an incentive for people to subscribe. Now that we have both of those, we’re trying to expose new artists to people. Some of our peers will maybe cover 20 bands in an issue, and we’re covering near 60. There’s tons of reading you can do in each issue.

How do you differentiate between print and online, the mix and the overlap?

We prefer the streamlined look of an article style [for the print magazine]. We do a Q/A format on the web. I put together all the upcoming releases, the content, how to cover as much as possible. I feel there are so many important artists that need to be heard. We do some online exclusives, premieres. I’m a little bit myopic in my print [version] so I’m mentally working on those kinds of deadlines, rather than putting the web [version] upfront, which I’m working on.

New Noise is you and how many others? 

We’ve got six other people on staff and a lot of contributors. I’m the only one really handling advertising. That’s my biggest thing, going around and nagging everybody.

So, the advertising is sustaining the magazine?

We’re mostly sustained by print ads, but are trying to adjust to a changing landscape because that has become more of a challenge. 

Our goal is to spotlight artists and new releases and provide a snapshot of what’s worth checking out every issue cycle. We put an emphasis on emerging artists. We also like to include the other underpinnings of the scene — the industry people that make it all happen.