I won’t lie, I love to do interviews. Especially – considering the fact that I am now publishing in my native Slovak language – do to interviews with people who are virtually totally unknown to the readers in this small part of the Earth, although they might be well known, or be – as Alphaville would put it – , „Big In Japan“.

And I did a few. OK, more than a few, but who’s gonna count them, eh? However, I really love to talk to my kind of people – writers and publishers of the underground publications, be it a crude „cut’n’paste“ DIY zine of a few pages or the semi-pro or fully profesional magazine.

In the age of information, when – paradoxically – one can see the level of literacy and knowledge dropping, with critical thinking on the indeed critical levels, I think we owe it to ourselves and to society to keep such activities going. Although the prohibitive postage rates now basically kill every attempt to buy something in print from across the pond (both ways) and many of the publications I love to talk about are gone for a long time, many publishers no longer doing their publishing – for me, it’s a not only a labor of love, it’s also – as I see it – an important task of preserving the past for the posterity.

Today I am glad I am back again with yet another interesting interview with an interesting person. This time it’s Dom Salemi, the former publisher and editor of the great magazine called BRUTARIAN and the co-host of the BEATSVILLE podcast.

What, you’ve never heard of it? Well, today’s your lucky day…

Hello, Dom and thank you very much for your time doing this interview. How are you doing these days? Quite interesting times we’re living in at the moment, don’t you think?

I am doing well, thank you, and greetings to you. As for the times, I could write volumes as to the current state of the world at least from my side of the world. I won’t bore you with my take on things other than to say that I wish that my country would be more actively working for peace in the Middle East and the Ukraine. There are those who feel, knowledgeable and educated people, that, practically speaking, the United States is the greatest terrorist organization in the world. A cursory study of even recent history would find a great deal of evidence supporting this view.

Those who didn’t skip the introduction know that you are known and the editor and publisher of the Brutarian magazine. Rewinding back into the great 1990s, the year of 1991 marks the release of the very first issue of this distinguished magazine. Was that your very first adventure into the publishing? Can you recall what was the reason or inspiration of starting Brutarian in the first place?

My God, I didn’t realize that I started things so early, it seems so long ago; computers were in their infancy and there was no internet to speak of and we were using floppy discs. As for being a “distinguished” magazine, we were anything but that, if by “distinguished” you mean “dignified,” we were dedicated to a completely polar aesthetic; our aim was to shake things up in the world of underground and popular culture by unearthing and celebrating radically novel approaches to film, literature and art. This was my first venture into publishing and my inspiration was simply egotistical: I believed myself to be a great possessor of taste in all things and so entitled to let the world know what I thought it should be reading, hearing and viewing. Preposterous, but as I also had a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor, my readers discovered early on, that I often had my tongue pressed firmly in my cheek.

I didn’t know it before today, but I am learning, I am learning… so, from what I was able to gather, by its title, Brutarian refers to art brut, as defined by Jean Dubuffet. Did you have any certain vision of the magazine as per its content, or what was art brut in your understanding and why to choose it?

Yes, as a philosophical template it was meant as a guide to what we would cover: creative work in all its forms that were not burdened by the anxiety of influence. Academic takes on what the bourgeoise considered acceptable did not interest us.

Back in the 1991 I didn’t have a slightest idea about the cornucopia of goodies in the form of mags and zines being published in the good ole USA, and only now – browsing the old issues of Factsheet Five available online, which I haven’t also known back then – I am aware of a lot of titles I would sell my liver in a heartbeat to have them. Now, reading some issues of Brutarian, I can feel a familiar vibe, especially with the movie/audio/book review sections, which remind me of a great Psychotronic Video magazine and a few others with a similar style… You might have answered this question already in the question #2, but anyway, as I am pretty sure you’ve been aware of other publications while you’ve been preparing Brutarian – what do you think has made your publication different from others?

We were very well read, well educated, and extremely literate. While magazines like Psychotronic celebrated “bad taste,” they, due to their lack of sophistication – which can only be acquired through sedulous study and extensive reading – simply could not separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. John Waters once observed, in a pithy aside, that “to have bad taste, one must first have very very good taste.” And although some are lucky enough to be born with such a predisposition, most have to “develop” this attribute.

And on this road to the palace of wisdom, that is to say, good taste, rid yourself immediately of the notion that taste is subjective. It is not; is objective. In order to arrive at the proper objective view of any creative work, you ask yourself three questions: What is the artist trying to do or say? Does he or she do it or say it well? And finally, is it worth doing?

Although it may appear rough and crude, Brutarian from the very first issue was anything but… the general readership usually has no clue about the pains of preparing the publication, but for us, the publishers, let’s recall (with nostalgia, I hope) those moments. The layout is quite professional, have you had help from someone from trade to help you with the layout and press-settings?

The alternative art scene – both above and underground – in New York City in the ’90s, and I was fortunate enough to have made contacts with many of the artists in this scene while pursuing my bachelor of arts at the University of Notre Dame. When I broached said contacts about publishing an alternative culture magazine, they were more than happy to offer suggestions and, in many cases, lend a hand.

Also, from what I could find – you certainly have started with style and gusto! 1500 copies of the first issue…? That’s certainly not a small press thing! In the world of small, independent publishing, that’s quite unheard number for the initial issue, so – obviously – I have to ask… with the initial run given away for free, did this ever paid off, I mean, in the sense of getting a regular subscription base?

The cover of Brutarian’s debut issue

My work as an attorney left me with a little spare change for the first issue. After that, I needed subscriptions to keep it going. I desperately needed subscriptions as I, unlike almost every fanzine – and this is rarely spoken of in the underground publishing sector – paid my contributors, and paid the highest rate of any self-published, independent magazine. I was happy to do so, as I believed to be sinful to use the talents of others for personal gain. This was a well-kept secret in the fanzine world as most relied on donated contributions and for word to get out about Brutarian’s payment policy would only result in said contributors jumping ship. Not that I was competing with these publications, not at all, in fact I had a regular column in the magazine which would alert our readers to zines and underground publications we believed worthy of perusal.

However, I was never really able to acquire a broad subscription base and as distribution in this country was essentially a criminal enterprise, the only way I could continue to publish Brutarian was to take every spare penny I had and put it into the magazine. This left me scrambling every three months to get an issue to press, but well, I thought myself a writer, a poet, an artist and so the middle-class life of an attorney be damned.

One thing I’ve noticed with quite a few American publications I’d had the privilege to read – many of those include adult content in their pages without any shame (not that there should be any), which was not as usual on the continent (that’s the advantage of the First Amendment, I guess)…in case of Brutarian, it was quite often the adult comics. I guess it’s useless to ask about the response to such content … but out of curiosity, have you ever had a problem with the authorities because of that? I am asking, as anytime I see stuff like that I am reminded of Mike Diana’s trial, the PMRC… the whole lot…

Mike Diana

We published Mike Diana before and after he became a cause celebre. I thought his work, while not necessarily brilliant, was rather humorous, an unintentionally low-brow take on the pornography of violence. I believed, like D.H. Lawrence, that “What is pornography to some, is often the harsh croak of genius to others.” Or something to that effect.

I don’t think I/We ever had a problem with the authorities as Brutarian was so poorly distributed. And those stores that did stock us had our distributors placing the magazine in sealed plastic.

To be honest, I am – as probably the majority of people, publishers/readers alike – always surprised when some fellow publisher scores an interview with a famous person, celebrity, call it what you want… although I prefer to interview less-known or obscure acts/artists, I can’t help but wonder – how the hell have you been able to score inties for Brutarian with famous people? And talking about it – what artist interview (if any at all) do you consider your best, whether because of the celebrity status (grrr, I hate that term) or the quality of material contained?

Word got out that I paid; it’s as simple as that. Thus, the more professional and accomplished writers turned to us when their work couldn’t find a home with and in larger publications. I’d like to think it was because the intelligentsia recognized my genius, but really, it was that writers and artists knew I was as good as my word and that they would get paid promptly.

As for the interviews, there were so many wonderful ones, I don’t know where to begin: The Pretty Things, Ric Flair, Carl Perkins, John Carpenter.

What I absolutely adore about the Americana (I am sure we can use that term here) it’s not only the sheer size of various scenes, genres etc., but also the unbelievable variety, which only can be found in the U.S.A. Back in the day, in the 1990, how do you remember your local scene? Clubs, record stores…distros, zines… of course, it’s changed over the years, however, the question is – how much? Is the spirit of the wild 1980s-1990s cultural landscape still present?

It depended on the milieu – L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, D.C. – the bigger cities naturally had it going on so to speak. That’s all gone now. Amazon and the like put the hip little stores out of business. The distributors began to kill off the zine scene with their criminal practices; then the Internet put the final nail in the coffin.

Also… lately I am seeing and witnessing a lot of nostalgia sentiment (and I am „guilty“ of it as well) about the things from the past, for example, the grindhouse/42nd Street nostalgia and somewhat of the romanticism of the era. We, as people, kinda tend to remember only the good things from our younger days… do you also subscribe to this feeling, or you are more critical of the past?

No, as an older man, I certainly miss the grindhouse scene. It was dangerous though, people tend to forget that. Well, that’s because only a few intrepid souls like Michael Weldon, Rick Sullivan (Gore Gazette), Keith Crocker et. al, actually braved the confines of the cinema ghetto. One thing I don’t miss, and don’t understand the cult growing up around it, is the VHS cassette. The picture quality was horrible; but perhaps that’s the charm of it for some. The romantic aspect of the era was the thrill of discovery. An individual’s obsession became a zine and so their obsession could become yours. Or, at the very least, a subject for further study. Which the publishers willingly supplied for you with each issue. Remember this was before the explosion of the Internet and the establishment of Wikipedia.

Of course, Brutarian magazine was a collective effort, as witnessed by the list of collaborators. Can we name some of those, especially those still active in writing/publishing to give them a shoutout? It might be a tough question to ask, but which one was your favourite collaborator?

My favorite collaborator was co-founder and artist Jarrett Huddleston. A brilliant editor who recruited so many of his brilliant artist friends and writers to contribute. The magazine was never the same after he left as he was, not to put too fine a point on it, a genius. His abandoning of his art to pursue a career in the building restoration field was a great loss to the art world. Still, he is restoring historic buildings that are works of art in themselves, like the Empire State Building in central New York City. So there’s that.

There were so many great talents that worked for the magazine: independent writer John Oliver, music scholar and author Ken Burke, artist and cartoonist/musician Doug Allen, my fellow attorney co-worker Andrew Baxley, so many wonderful people.

There was a time Brutarian included also a vinyl record. Can you tell us what bands/artists have been included?

You can find them all on Discogs under Brutarian Records. We had two, bitchin’ cool compilation discs as well. Hmmm, let me see: Yes, there were the first two releases by The Bordellos a creation of one of the finest minds in music over there in the UK. Stateside there were two releases from the wonderful Cramps-styled band, The Ubangis. Margaret Doll Rod of The Doll Rods graced us with her debut record. The delightful UK horror punk band Zombina and The Skeletones allowed us to reissue one of their best discs and would have let us re-release all their work had we not thrown in the towel.

Brutarian has stopped publishing in 2011, having some 50 issues under its belt. I bet the decision to shut it down was not an easy one…what was the reason, or reason, for such a decision? Have you ever entertain the idea of reviving the publication?

People are on their phones; they no longer read (of course some do but not enough). A recent survey in this country shows that the average American adult reads only five books a year, 52% haven’t read a single book in the past year. So I’d have to be mad to even begin to entertain the thought of reviving the publication. However, my Beatsville blog does revisit the magazine by republishing selected book, film and music reviews. And the spirit of the mag is kept alive in the Beatsville weekly musical streaming radio show on Mixcloud.

The decision to shut down was a fairly easy one; I had no distribution to speak of, and few subscribers left. Everything was being placed on the Net and I was tired of losing money. Additionally, I was getting older and had to think about retirement. In the States, healthcare is abominably expensive and there is really no safety net for the individual citizen who has little in the way of savings.

As you’ve mentioned in our conversation, you’ve also released some CD releases under the Brutarian record label. What has made you to transition from magazine publishing to music publishing?

“We Went And Recorded It Anyway” CD compilation

We/I didn’t transtion; it was part of my publishing empire [insert bitter and hysterical laughter here].

Your activities were not really for-profit, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to earn some coin. From the top of your head, what was the best received music release from Brutarian? And from the distance of several years – what is your all-time favourite from those released?

They are all my children, but our second comp, We Went And Recorded It Anyway, received the most favorably reviews. Even the British The Guardian iked it.

However, that’s not all, as they say in shopping channels, haha. You are also known to engage in different cultural venues, either in the not-so-distant past or in the present. One of these was the organizing Colonial Beach Blues Festival in Virginia…. Well, I won’t be the only person not having a clue about it, therefore, would you be so kind to tell us more about it? As being a festival organizer is definitely not the easiest acitivity to engage in, what has made to jump into it? Although – being on a same vibe, I’m kinda guessing the answer, at least, a bit of it (let’s see how wrong I am, haha). How did the festival start, for how long it has run …any artists taking part we should definitely know about? Your warmest and most cherished memory from the time you’ve been doing it?

Again, as part of my media empire, I thought it would be just a gas to bring back a bit of the Americana to the people. And what better venue for it than in a small American river town in Virginia. My wife and I were operating a collectible-vintage shop in Colonial Beach, and we thought that through the store we could effectively promote the fest. It was fairly successful, it ran from 2009-2014 if memory serves, and we managed to attract some big names – Johnny Winter, Bill Kirchen, The Derailers. The Fest began as a blues celebration but we gradually diversified adding rockabilly, garage rock, alt-country, etc., to make if more of an Americana festival. And it was strictly a mom-and-pop operation. My wife, Charlene and I, printed the tickets, designed and distributed the advertising, contacted and contracted (being an attorney helped here) the bands, brought in and helped set up independent vendors on the sands overlooking the venue, the whole nine yards.

And we can’t forget your operation on the radio-waves and online radio space. We’re talking about „Beatsville“! The path you’ve chosen is an understandable one (myself I’ve dabbled in the podcasting and online radio for a while, and still haven’t abandoned the idea)…so, was the idea of Beatsville tied to the ending of the aforementioned festival?

No, we had long since shut down the festival – the Town began to interfere believing they were the reason for the Fest’s success – and moved to the beach town of Cape May, NJ. While there we thought it might be fun to DJ at the local low-watt independent radio station. We took the midnight shift (12 AM – 2 PM) Fridays – Sundays and when the radio station honchos began to dictate our programming, we left and started our streaming show.  We answer to no one with Beatsville and that’s a beautiful thing.

According to the information available, you’ve first started your show using the local FM station in Cape May, NJ… how long have you been broadcasting using the radio waves? Was the change to the podcast episodes caused by your moving to your present seat of power, Baltimore?

We broadcast for about a year at two different stations, but we found it much more relaxing and more conducive to our creativity to just put the programs together from our home. We moved to Baltimore because we liked the City.  Our moving had nothing to do with the show. We recently were literally forced to move from Baltimore as it has now simply become too dangerous to live there.

I am browsing the episode list and wow!…I thought I had a broad range of tastes in music 🙂 I confess I feel the need to bow my head in awe, as there are so many gems just in two episodes I’ve had the opportunity to listen to! How do you come up with the themes for the individual episodes? Halloween ones are easy to guess, of course…but others, are they based on your particular music tastes or created as you go? You host your podcast show with your wife, Charlene, a.k.a. Diabla, how much is she involved in the podcast content creation – and the most important thing, who has the final say? 🙂

Beatsville streaming show’s banner

There would be no show without Charlene as she is the engineer; I have no mechanical ability so again, without her, no show. Additionally, she serves as the editor of my editorial comments, advising me when I am speaking too quickly, or enunciating poorly, and so on. She has done a few shows where she was the host, and I wish she would do more as her shows are easily the equal of mine.

As for themes of the show, we have a rather large musical library and we read quite extensively so the shows just seem to suggest themselves. And I’ve been involved with music, one way or another, all of my life beginning with the study of classical violin at the tender age of seven!

The magazine, record label, festival, FM radio, podcast…is this the final activity you’re gonna engage in? Can we expect you to branch to yet another venue, say, Youtube video series or something similar?

My wife and I would love to branch out, but until FM radio or some other media giant comes a knockin’, we’re content with releasing our weekly radio show and working on our blog. Podcasts involve exorbitant payments for commercial rights so that’s out. And even if we were approached by an FM station that would probably take so much time from my research, reading and other scholarly pursuits (you have to keep listening to keep the radio show fresh for instance), that it probably wouldn’t be worth it.

I’ve noticed (a very welcome activity, if you ask me) lately, the whole run of publications long gone are being reprinted in paperback/hardcover editions, bringing the great stuff from the past to the attention and hands of the present readership. Do you plan to do the same with Brutarian maybe? Or to make the whole run available online?

Again, many of these republishing houses charge an arm and a leg to reprint your work, so unless someone makes me a great offer; you’ll have to look for back issues online.

Coming to the end of this great interview, I want   to thank you again for your time and input… any final message for the readers of the Rubber Axe webmagazine?

Charlene and I are honored and flattered by your interest. I wish you luck with your webmagazine and would ask your fans to make ample use of their library cards and never stop searching for that outside their comfort zone in the arts.