Why do we casually refer to mediocre male musicians as "geniuses" and "legends," but rarely afford women the same effusive recognition? How come most of the nominees for major music awards, year after year, are men? Even behind the scenes, stories are constantly emerging about the predominantly male producers and agents who have exploited and abused their clients. Women and non-binary artists offer so much to the music industry and finally, there is a publication making noise about their importance, specifically. Love Letters is a zine founded by 23 year old Lola Stephen that covers the music beat and fosters a communal discussion around the ways that female and non-binary musicians are making their mark - on the industry, and also on our lives. The zine fêtes the cathartic power of music and its power to connect people with a shared experience, identity, or dream. As Lola begins working on the second issue, we chatted with her about all things music, publishing, and intersectional feminism.
What is your background in the music industry or in publishing?
I’ve always loved magazines, flicking through the pages and taking in the words and imagery, never wanting to throw any away - even as a child. I moved to Edinburgh to study journalism at university and during that time started publishing zines with friends showcasing other friends work. We’d leave them in cafes and shops for people to take for free and it was a really beautiful collaborative process.
My love of music also runs deep, and am constantly on the search for new music or music I haven’t yet discovered. When I lived in Australia I worked for a music programming and promotions company and that’s what really confirmed that I’d like to work in music in some way. I also write and am beginning to record and play my own, after wanting to for as long as I can remember but always being too scared to.
Why did you start Love Letters and how did you go about it? In the 21st-century, how did you fundraise, prep, produce, and edit a zine?
I started Love Letters about a year and half after I moved to Perth, Australia. I realised I hadn’t created anything of my own in a while, especially not a printed zine like I’d created so much of when living in Edinburgh. At the time I was feeling a bit shit, going through my first break up (if you could even call it that), and had this playlist on repeat that was one of the only things making me feel better. It was filled with powerful songs from amazing women like Patti Smith, The Runaways, and Angel Olsen and hearing them and their shared experiences was making me feel so much better about mine.
I remember thinking it’d be cool to create a collection of love letters from myself and people that I know, thanking these women who’s music and work get us through shit times. I started work on it and recruited my co-editor Pam and from there it grew arms and legs and turned into what it is now.
Creating our first issue was done with zero fundraising (rip my bank balance) and we kind of took everything as it came. For a big part of it, I was back home in Scotland while Pam was still in Perth so we did weekly video calls to share ideas and decide what each of us would work on for the week. Putting the issue together was a really special process, and we met so many musicians or people who work in music that we admire and getting to chat with them and hear their stories was really wonderful.
Lola and Pam, Love Letters founders and co-editors
Once we had all of our content, we’d edit together and then I designed and put the whole thing together before we had our launch party where lots of the musicians featured in the zine played at one of our favourite venues. From having the original idea to the final product the whole process took about a year and it was so special finally having it in my hands.
I feel like in 2018, so many people will go on about how “print is dead,” but I don’t agree. I see so many independent magazines and people putting their thoughts into print as a result of the over saturation of the internet. Having something tangible and being able to take the time to sit down and digest cover to cover has a lot more meaning than quickly skimming an article that popped up on your timeline.
What fanzines or feminist zines did you look to for inspiration?
SO many. It’s so great seeing so many women create spaces for other women and femme identifying creators. Some of our favourites are Polyester Zine, Bricks, Sister Magazine, Messy Heads, Swampland, Crybaby, Gusher.
Are there any particular stereotypes or ways of reporting on female musicians that you wanted to dispel with Love Letters?
Of course. A lot of music journalism can be very lazy, especially if the reporter hasn’t taken the time to fully learn about that person and their music. They’ll often fall to the usual boring and stupid cliches like “what’s it like to be a women in music/this band/etc” or will focus on what the artist is wearing or how they look. It’s the same shit that’s always applied to women in general, so we just want to make the conversation more about them and their work, hearing their voice rather than projecting an image or fantasy onto that person.
What do you think about some music festivals now being women/non-binary only? How do you think the music industry can be used for community building?
I think it’s great and I think it’s so important that we create these not only platforms, but spaces for women and NB people to create and to just be. It’s no secret that the music industry is incredibly dominated by cis-white men, a lot of which are incredibly mediocre but still garner so much praise and weight by media and people in general.
Festival line-ups is something we speak out about often, as it’s so important to have representation on there as not only does it create an exciting festival that so many different types of people would want to attend, but it also helps to inspire those who are thinking about getting in to music themselves. Jennifer Aslett (San Cisco), said it perfectly in our first issue: “you can’t be what you can’t see."
Non-binary musicians haven’t been given as much of a voice at all in popular culture, especially the music industry. How do you see that changing and how has Love Letters tried to reframe or promote this conversation?
I definitely think it’s slowly changing, the internet helps any person who is marginalised or has been misunderstood speak out and use their voice. Their is definitely more of a conversation around gender and it’s broad spectrum right now which is so important.
We just really hope that with Love Letters we can provide a platform for a diverse range of femme/NB identifying people. I would never speak on behalf of a person who identifies in this way and I’m always learning from those that I know and think that listening is so important.
What has the response from the public been like? Any plans for a second issue?
It’s been really great, so many people love what we’ve been doing and it’s really great to hear how things we have published or worked on have helped inspire another person. We’re starting work on Issue 2 now which will be out early next year and we have some really exciting things planned for it.
Follow @loveletterszine and visit loveletterszine.com.