An interview with music writer Jacqueline Codiga
DJ Horse Jeans is in the house
Today in the Molly Zone we have an interview with writer, DJ and podcaster Jacqueline Codiga!!
Jacqueline wears so many musical hats, they should all merge into one gigantic hat like that hat Pharrell used to wear for a while. I met her through the Indieheads Podcast, on which I have guested a handful of times, each episode a unique instance of musical hilarity (in particular, the time I went on and everyone listened to the song "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eyed Peas for two and a half hours is a treasured memory slash podcast recording blackout).
Since then, I've very much enjoyed following her writing career; she wrote a fantastic cover story for Paper Magazine about singer-songwriter Ethel Cain, contributes to Pitchfork, and has published amazing pieces on everyone from Cat Power to Kreayshawn. Her wonderful essay about coming out as a transgender woman through the lens of her relationship with the music of Sophie and Frank Ocean is essential reading.
In short, she combines irreverent humor, deep musical knowledge and a unique perspective into some of the best current contemporary music writing around, in my humble O. And her music recommendations on Twitter always hit. We talked about everything from the electronic music scene in L.A., to the power of the University of Michigan DJ club, to the role of music writing in teaching people how to listen to music. Get into it!!
this interview has been edited for length + clarity :) also just a warning that near the end there’s a photo with some fake boobs in it, if you’re uh…scrollin’ at work…some might call it NSFW 😎
MO: Will you first tell me how you first got into music, what kind of music you listened to when you were a kid, your general musical history up to this point?
JC: Mainly it comes from my dad. My mom's not much of a music person in general — she's the kind of person that has, like, a favorite album, you know what I mean? Carole King Tapestry is, like, where music ended for her. My dad is very much a classic rock, dad rock kind of guy. But when I was in elementary school, he would keep up with modern music, Modest Mouse and Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff that was popular around the time.
Then I jaunted off on my own journey. First I was into mainstream indie rock — being born in 1996, I was a teenager throughout much of the 2010s. My first ever concert was the Black Keys, is kind of how old I am. Then very quickly, I got into both rap and electronic music, which were both the first two things to really activate me in a non- “music that my dad listened to that I then put on my iPod” way. We just did an episode of Indieheads Podcast about rap forum music, a lot of which is turning ten years old this year. I started really getting nerdy about looking stuff up online, getting into the weeds.
Then I started to DJ by the end of high school, and I joined a DJ club in college at University of Michigan. The club owned its own equipment, so people could join and within nine months of joining the club, be DJing a party within this little local scene in Ann Arbor. I got into electronic music through some of the cheesier, more over-the-top stuff, and then I sort of worked my way backwards through house and techno music history. Then I came out of college and started diving into all of that full tilt, writing about it, and podcasting. And that's how I got where I am today.
MO: Amazing. The DJ club sounds sick. I'm like, very jealous.
JC: It was the coolest thing. Michigan is a really big school and finding people that you’re cool with is tricky at first. The moment I found these people I was like, Oh fuck. We were throwing parties for 200 or 300 people, because in a small college town where most of the bars are just playing generic pop music, it was very easy for us to be like, Hey, come and bring your friends and dance all night. Those parties are still some of the most fun I've ever had in a live music capacity.
MO: You work in so many different mediums: you DJ, you podcast, you write. Do those activities feed different parts of your musical personality?
JC: I have a really wide range of interests, and it's such a boring answer, but I try to get to the point where every kind of music can be good, to me. I think it's a good thing to have a really diverse diet of music in general. Joshua Minsoo Kim, a writer friend of mine, said that as a music writer, it’s important to have your area that you have a deep knowledge about, but also to continue to put yourself into new music as a way of continuing to spark your curiosity and keep yourself humble.
Between the podcast, writing for different publications, and DJing, all of it allows me to constantly search out new things. I listen to new music — not just new-to-me music, but brand new music — much more than the average person in general. And that's not, like, me flexing! I'm just someone that constantly needs to be throwing wood on the fire: find more music that's going to get me excited again, find stuff that I haven't heard before. Of course, turning the process of listening to new music into a sort of completionist checklist can make you lose sight of how music relates to you. So I’ll give myself different outlets, and find different ways to constantly keep myself excited, without burning myself out too much.
MO: That makes total sense. The checklist thing, I think especially with the way music media is, I understand that burnout is real.
JC: Such a big dilemma of being a music journalist right now is that there's just so fuckin' much music. As much as I want to find all the interesting stuff that's happening, and share it with as many people as possible, and make sure albums I like aren’t getting overlooked — with end of year lists and stuff I was doing last year, I was like, Oh, I can't make my album of the year list 250 albums (laughing). I have to be realistic and say, okay, what are the ones I really, really love? Making a mad dash to cover as much ground as possible, inevitably, you're going to have a much more shallow relationship with a lot of the music that you're you're dealing with, and it becomes more of an exercise.
MO: For sure. Ok, so tell me about the Los Angeles electronic music scene right now.
JC: Oh, that's a fascinating question. It’s a better place now than it has been in a while, I would say. There's always been underground stuff in L.A. that is cool, but we’re such a big city that the good stuff exists in such a larger pool of…slop, to put it not so nicely. I think the number one thing that plagues L.A. as a music city is the gap between the super high-end EDM club-style venues and the small independent venues. People inevitably get funneled into bad clubs.
Saw a big “make dance music great again” billboard for one of the worst overpriced clubs in LA and I apologize for using the world’s most overused reaction pic but
— Jacqueline (DJ horse jeans) (@Horse_Jeans)
Jan 12, 2023
And I try not to be too condescending about that because, like I said, I started out with fucking Tiësto and all that stuff. But there's a crucial difference between fun creative bullshit versus really monotonous, bad, uncreative bullshit. With the boom of “house music,” in big air quotes, as a popular form of pop music, people in L.A. are more receptive to good dance music than ever before, but how do we unhook people from the algorithm? And It's not like you need some some big history lesson to do it. That's what I love about dance music — even though it's really valuable to have all the history and context, it’s such a physical thing and such an immediate art form.
As much as there is a lot of bullshit, I have a particular mindset as a Los Angeles native, which is a real high tolerance for bullshit, growing up in a city that is both so beautiful and cultured but also has this very vacuous culture right alongside of it. This is the Coachella mindset for me: you learn how to have a fun time while also recognizing that there's stupid stuff going on around you, and you don't allow that to ruin your fun time.
MO (officially on the record as very tired of Coachella attendance slander): YES!
JC: Even though it's very easy for me to be grouchy about the Los Angeles scene, there is cool stuff happening underground. I really want better for people, in a non-patronizing way. You deserve better is kind of how I feel about it.
MO: I also feel like your L.A. native attitude kind of mirrors an attitude one could have toward Internet music culture at large, which has a lot of bullshit and also a lot of good stuff if you know where to look.
JC: It's the Tyler The Creator, “just walk away from the screen, close your eyes” sort of thing. With online music discourse, I'm guilty of it as anyone, letting it get to me and saying okay, now I need to weigh in on this. I'm trying to not do that as much as possible, but that's exactly it.
That’s how I've learned to love Twitter. Of course this thing is brain poison, but if you just use it for only the good stuff and you try your best to have a sense of self-control about not engaging with the bad stuff, you can get something positive out of it.
MO: Okay, one more question for you. So you work on these things like your profile of Ethel Cain in Paper Magazine, for example, that I'm sure took a lot of time and a lot of buildup -
JC: Less time than you would think!
MO: Less time than you would think??
JC: That happened really, really last minute. I found out that I was going to be writing that cover story about a week before it came out, which is insane.
MO: Oh, my God. I figured this would be months in the making.
JC: I talked to other music journalists and it’s not normal. It was just a thing that came together in a really quick way as she was rocketing out of the stratosphere. The reason I was able to do it was because before the process had even started, I had already read every Ethel Cain interview on the Internet when I wrote my first piece [for Merry-Go-Round Magazine]. So I was able to turn it around quickly. It all happened way more slapdash-ier than I thankfully was able to make it look by the end. But there was seriously a point where I was looking at a Word document wondering, How this is going to be coming out in a couple of days? But then it did, and we're here.
MO: Well, that puts it in perspective. I was going to ask, I guess, how it feels to have something like that launch into the world, something pretty high-profile that got a good amount of attention?
JC: It's definitely the coolest thing I've ever gotten to do. As much as the experience was stressful, it was also a rewarding thing to work on because I had the problem of too much good material to work with, rather than too little, which is a good problem to have.
And it was also really wild because I did not see any of the photoshoot until everyone else did. The tone of the story is very tender, and then the photos are like…not that. It was as striking for me with the fake boobs and everything as it was for everyone else.
The response that I've gotten is incredible. Her music brings so much out of people that people then come to me and are like, Wow, I have this really personal relationship with the music, and I love the way that you talk about it. I was at one of the Ethel Cain shows in L.A. and someone came up to me having recognized me and I, like, nearly cried. It was wild in terms of, holy shit, my work is being read by more people than it's ever been read by before.
The experience of being able to dig into a piece of art and try to figure out what really speaks to me about it, and then to be able to communicate that thing in such a way that the person who made the thing is like, you totally understood what I was trying to say? That feeling, to me, is as satisfying as anyone else's reaction to it because it means the connection I was forming with the music was not just, like, me projecting onto it. I was receiving a transmission and I received it, and tapped into what that person was trying to communicate. And then I was then able to transmit that in a way to other people? That makes me want to get up in the morning and do what I do.
For a lot of people, [the Paper cover story] was probably the first time they read about Ethel Cain, and especially as a trans person, I was able to be a part of that story and do it in a way where she felt like she came through really clearly and really honestly.
With music criticism, a lot of the time I think people assume that it’s supposed to tell you how you’re supposed to think. I give this example all the time of this one Pitchfork review of Remain in Light by Talking Heads from a couple of years ago. There's a part of that review where the writer is talking about rhythms and basically says, your brain can't count the rhythm, but you're going to feel it.
Reading that paragraph made me a better listener of Talking Heads! That is the most beautiful thing, that music writing can not only introduce something to someone, but frame it in such a way that they are able to have a significant emotional experience with it. And you can just hear something and feel it, instantaneously.