This summer we celebrate two decades of Paste Magazine.
While the idea for something like Paste began back in the mid-1990s, and our first venture into the world of music began with the launch of an online CD store in 1998, 2002 is when my friend Nick Purdy and I decided to leave the worlds of online marketing consulting (him) and non-profit communications (me) and give our full attention to launching an entertainment magazine.
There were others involved, of course. My first call was to Tim Regan-Porter, who’d launched a similar music magazine called Art Clippings I’d worked on in college at the University of Georgia. We’d been making sampler CDs to give away with any purchase on our website as a way to introduce our customers to the music we loved, and I believe it was Tim who convinced us that every issue should come with one of those CDs. He’d be full of crazy and creative ideas—and brilliant writing—during his dozen years at Paste.
We rented a one-room office upstairs from where Tim worked as a web developer in downtown Decatur, Ga., so he could come upstairs on breaks and help us put together the first issue. My brother-in-law Matt Benner came on to design and help layout the magazine, and Kristen Dabbs agreed to sell ads for us. We had 25 other writers, including Jason Killingsworth, who would later become Paste’s deputy editor, and Reid Davis, who would be managing editor.
That first issue nearly killed me. I moved back home to Atlanta in April, and we had a the first issue back from the printer on July 2. In the interim I managed to travel to California to interview Victoria Williams and Mark Olson for the cover story, shoot the cover photo (the only time I’d rely on my own photography; I’d quickly surround myself with more talented photographers) and visit Sam Phillips for an interior profile. I also wrote features on Damien Jurado & David Bazan, Chuck Prophet and music photographer Michael Wilson. I found us a printer and distributor. I handled the layout on about half the pages, crediting myself under a pseudonym for some reason. I remember leaving the office to the birds’ dawn chorus and heading back in after a few hours of sleep.
But we got it done. And the sampler turned out to be a key to us getting to keep doing it. Those CDs became Nick’s babies. In addition to some songs from bands we’d worked with on PasteMusic and a track off our own Paste Records release, Bill Mallonee’s Fetal Position, Nick was able to get us tracks from several of the artists in the issue, including Wilco, Patty Griffin, Sam Phillips, Speech and Over the Rhine. That caught the eye of a magazine buyer at Border’s, who recognized our potential audience overlap with theirs. With the commitment to put us in all their stores, suddenly we had a real magazine. We had 620 subscribers, whose $22 checks paid for that first print bill (if you’re one of those originals, you’re the reason we ever got off the ground), and once it hit magazine racks, that subscriber number started growing.
Our philosophy was simple: Make a magazine we’d want to read and hope that there were others out there who shared our tastes. There was a naivety in that first letter from the editor about “searching for signs of life in what looks at first glance to be a musical wasteland.” I proposed that “underneath the surface, the soil is alive with creativity, honest emotion and original thought.” Those signs were much more obvious to some, and my own digging at that point had barely scratched the surface of only the most familiar corners of music to me—primarily Americana and indie rock. But that passion for finding and sharing great music—along with the movies, TV shows, books, comedy specials, videogames, tasty beers and everything else we’ve grown to cover—remains at the core of what we love to do here.
As we celebrate two decades of Paste Magazine throughout the summer, we’ll begin posting Spotify playlists of those old samplers, along with articles from our 64 issues of the print magazine (2002-2010). Here is some of what you could find in Issue #1:
The cover story—Desert Music: Victoria Williams & Mark Olson at Home in the Arid Wilderness.
Josh Jackson’s first Letter from the Editor
Nick Purdy’s Q&A with Speech
Darkness & Redemption: A conversation with Damien Jurado & Dave Bazan
Patty Griffin on 1000 Kisses
Chuck Prophet on No Other Love
Andy Whitman on Bill Mallonee’s first solo effort
Tim Regan-Porter’s review of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Randall Wunder-Smith on Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis
Listen to Paste Sampler #1 on Spotify.