Liv Siddall has managed to do almost all the creative things. And she’s done them ridiculously well.
Her incredibly impressive list of accolades stems from a graphic design internship at London creative magazine, It’s Nice That, resulting in a job as one of their editors and a massive 1,789 articles to stand behind, or in front of (there is a lot to be proud of there). After working in freelance, Liv took on the brave task of creating the Rough Trade record store’s first ever magazine. She writes, publishes, produces podcasts, gives advice, talks at big and scary conferences, laughs a lot, talks a lot. She has contributed to, and worked with a number of publications, including Dazed and Riposte – and she has interviewed some of the most fascinating people imaginable, according to anyone (Miranda July, Brown Cardigan and the 13 year old astronaut-in-training, Alyssa Carson).
When I told Liv I had sent her a list of questions for this interview, she said hoped she was clever enough to answer the questions. Here are the silly, amusing, and ever so clever answers she gave me – about being a person, about being a woman.
What interests you about the music industry? How did you get involved with Rough Trade?
Well, the music industry – or at least that term – doesn’t reeeeallly appeal to me. Music does. I’ve listened to music all day every day since I can remember. First thing in the morning, commute, all day at work, commute, all night at home. I’ve been spending all my money on gigs since I was allowed to leave the house. Strangely, when I was offered my job at Rough Trade they hired me on my past magazine and podcast experience rather than my taste in music. I had been shopping at Rough Trade since I was a teenager when I tentatively bought The Moldy Peaches album in Rough Trade West. Then about ten years later when I was floundering as a lost and lonely freelancer they emailed asking if I wanted to come in and chat about a magazine and some radio shows they wanted to make. Getting hired to do that job was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. I’ll never forget it.
What’s the team like you work with? The music industry internationally is characteristically male dominated. So how do you fit in as a woman documenting parts of it? Do you feel like you do?
Well I don’t have a direct team. With the magazine I work for about one week per month with the amazing designer Bruce Usher who works remotely. Then on the radio shows I work alongside John Webb who edits and produces. That said, working at Rough Trade East means your “team” is just all the shop staff and mail order and cafe staff that work there. As you can imagine they are a very, very cool bunch of people. All very kind, funny, sweet and knowledgeable. We go to festivals together, have long evenings in the pub, cuddle each other in the cafe, joke around all day – it’s very blissful and sociable. I have always adored colleagues – those people you get thrown together with that you would perhaps not hang out with otherwise. The humour you have with them is so, so good. That’s why I could never get to grips with freelancing. I was so lonely – there was no one to muck about with. I love camaraderie, that’s when I’m at my best.
You worked as editor of It’s Nice That for a loooong time, and freelancing since then seems to have given you buckets of writing experience – thousands of article and interviews so it seems. What has the writing industry been like for you as a female?
I have no idea how it’s been for me as a woman. It’s been great for me as a person. There are times when I wonder if I have only been invited on a panel, or asked to be in a magazine just to make up the female numbers…but I appreciate if that is the case then it’s for the good reason that people are actively trying to make their magazines or events more equal. And yeah I have written hundreds of articles for so many magazines. It’s such an honour to be asked! I do stuff for tiny zines or big magazines, I sort of say yes to everything. That’s the best way, right?
To be honest, recently I have been a little wary of my internet footprint. A lot of my older writing and interviews are a bit dodgy and I sort of wish no one could see them. But I’ve made my own bed, and for the most part that bed is comfy and fun, so I can’t complain too much.
As for why I’ve done so many, it seems to me that the more you write, the more you get offered to write. People seeing my name in loads of magazines can only be a good thing I suppose, in terms of getting offered more work. I do turn down offers too – mainly when I just think I’m not the best person for the job as opposed to me being too busy.
What was starting Rough Trade like? Did you experience any significant obstacles that seemed to be related solely to your gender?
Well, I was a little taken aback at how few women work here, for sure. But it wasn’t an issue for me personally. To be honest when I first started I was so caught up in making a music magazine on my own for a 40 year old company and getting it right, I didn’t really notice. I actually went to a school that was 90% boys, then at university I hung around with mainly boys, then at It’s Nice That it was very male-heavy as well. I’ve always been in very male-dominated places throughout my life, and I really like hanging out with and working with men, so it has never been much of a problem for me. I enjoy it.
With the magazine I make, sometimes it can be hard to feature as many women as men. In my monthly spreadsheet full of the magazine contents I make a list of men and women so I have a constant idea of the ratio per issue, but it can often be more male-heavy just due to the genre or the nature of music Rough Trade sells and promotes. There have been times when I have wanted to get rid of a great male feature to insert a woman instead – but then the idea of shoehorning someone in for the sake of it seems strange and unappealing. To get around the problem I tend to commission a lot of female contributors instead, particularly photographers and writers. Working with incredible creative people like Aly Comingore, Cara Robbins, Lydia Garnett and Anna Victoria Best to name but a few is actually some of the most pleasing parts of my day-to-day job.
How does being your own boss lady (because that’s really what you are, in all contexts) as editor and creator of Rough Trade, compare to freelancing?
I didn’t really like freelancing. I found it lonely and I had to do a lot of things that didn’t fire me up just so I could pay the bills. Really what I missed most was colleagues. I adore colleagues.
Working in Rough Trade with the 20 or so amazing, hilarious, weird, different people who make up the staff here is such a pleasure. The kind of mucking around and gossiping reminds me of the better parts of school. We all get drunk together and love each other and go to gigs together – it’s the best. Freelancing was just so lonely for me – no one to talk to, and no one to tell me what to do. So I was sad and unmotivated. Without people around me, I’m nothing. Does that mean I’m a show off?
It makes such a difference to me to actually have a purpose, or a job to do. Without someone telling me to get up and do something, I find it very hard to motivate myself and I end up panicking or flapping. By having a job title, and a to do list, I feel a lot calmer. When someone asks me what I do, I can tell them. When I was freelance I’d be like: “Welllllll I do pottery on Mondays and I write for a bunch of magazines and sometimes I do talks and sometimes I run events and I kinda wanna make a magazine but I wouldn’t call myself a writer, and yeah I studied design but I don’t actually design stuff..” etc etc etc until I am red in the face. Not ideal.
Do you feel taken seriously in your industry? I mean, you seem to be someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously to start with (we like that about you), but do you feel respected and supported in your role as editor of Rough Trade?
I don’t take myself very seriously at all but I do take my career very seriously. Even when I give a talk and it’s all jokes and swearing I still am trying very hard to get across how much I adore what I do. I like it when people say that the magazine is their favourite because it’s not too serious, and I suppose that was the appeal of It’s Nice That too. Every day I seek out fun and great people, purely for my own benefit so I can feed off them, and I always have done that. The product of what I churned out at It’s Nice That, or the magazine now, is made up purely of the funny and silly relationships I have with like-minded people. It’s a great feeling.
I do also feel that perhaps there could be a little bit more fun and silliness in this world. The only reason I give (hopefully) funny talks and lectures is because I have sat through about 1000 boring ones and I know what it’s like to be in the audience during someone droning on about their work and giving the people nothing. Also I was born with a hot, burning desire to be liked by everyone. Maybe it’s something to do with being the youngest child, I don’t know.
How do you feel about being a woman? Are you empowered or challenged by your womanhood? What has your documenting the music industry taught you about being female?
I’ve always been somewhat masculine. Well, perhaps not masculine actually, but definitely not overly feminine. I wear men’s clothes and have done for years, and I sometimes even struggle a bit in the company of women. I think all the hanging out with men my whole life has just made me a little more boyish. I definitely don’t feel empowered by my womanhood. It barely crosses my mind. I like to read books and listen to music that deals with the idea of feminism and womanhood, but purely in a bid to grasp what it is I lack in finding it, and feeling it.
Who are the women that inspire you? Which ladies make you feel all gooey inside?
Apart from every woman I have ever worked with or am friends with, the list would be something along the lines of Mum. Sister. Joan Didion. Caroline Aherne. Justine Frischmann. Joanna Lumley. Laura Marling. Susan Sarandon. Tavi Gevinson. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Beyonce. Hope Sandoval. Gillian Wearing. Joni Mitchell. Donna Tartt. Francoise Mouly. Patti Smith. Tracey Emin. French and Saunders. Yoko Ono. Judee Sill. Joanna Newsom. Martha Wainwright. Julia Roberts. Zadie Smith. Kate Tempest. Sharon Van Etten. Ali Smith. Roseanne. Emmylou Harris. Oh my god, there are billions more.
What is the future looking like for you?
I have absolutely no clue. Keep making this magazine for the time being, then who knows! I’ve been working solidly with no break for nearly a decade and I never took a gap year or anything, so some time off to trade would be my dream. To America I think. Aside from that I just wanna move into radio – it’s my calling. I want to be the host of Desert Island Discs.
Finally, do you have any good advice for aspiring female writers/editors/musicians/girls just trying to survive in this world?
I suffer heavily from Imposter Syndrome – I never feel I’ve deserved any of the opportunities I’ve been given, and also I really feel like I have no real skills. If someone were to ask me to teach them something, I’d be completely unable to. All I’ve ever been is myself, and I’ve never tried to do anything because I felt like I should. With that, I’ve never done anything I don’t want to do. Every job I’ve had has been a blast – even flipping burgers at Wembley stadium or working in cafes and bars. Perhaps my relentless positivity and quest for fun and cheer has got me quite far, in terms of personal enjoyment at least. In fact, an old friend recently congratulated me on my career and told me that I was great because I had basically built an entire career just off the back of my personality as opposed to academic or tangible skill – which is true. So maybe that’s it; just have fun and be yourself. And if the fun stops, or you’re not who or where you want to be, just try and work out what you enjoy or what interests you and lean towards that instead. I’d say find something that you find incredibly easy and go from there. If that’s talking to and meeting people, great. If it’s organising stuff, even better.