Thumbing those fat glossies in Borders might keep you up to speed on tastemakers in New York and Los Angeles. But you may have failed to consider the hub of hipness that is Gaithersburg, Md., where Laris Kreslins publishes three of the indie-music world’s fastest-growing magazines, Arthur, Sound Collector, and Sound Collector Audio Review.
“I’m not a Gaither-hater,” says the 29-year-old, who publishes all three mags from the basement of his parents’ house. “But without the Internet and trips to the city, I’d be publishing magazines on strip malls—although Roy’s Place has 250 different sandwiches.”
After graduating from Temple University in 1997, Kreslins wanted to do something constructive with his growing disenchantment with “generic” music publications such as Alternative Press and Spin. So, with credit cards and blind faith, he started Sound Collector, a journal-format periodical containing articles on his favorite bands. SC quickly created buzz in the music world, and submissions began to pour in from writers equally frustrated with mainstream.
“I had no idea what went into making a real magazine,” Kreslins says, “but SC seemed unique.” One key editorial rule: Weary of phoned-in copy, Kreslins “insisted on interviewing the bands in person to gather as much information as possible.”
Following SC’s seventh issue, Kreslins birthed the spinoff Sound Collector Audio Review. “Most publications were reviewing the same albums in the same way,” he explains. “I wanted long-form reviews to cover any album that was ever released, particularly those ignored by mainstream press.” Accordingly, SCAR is as likely to run 1,500 words on a forgotten gem by Bobby “Blue” Bland as it is on the latest from Ghostface Killah.
In 2002, Kreslins and Los Angeles–based writer and SC contributor Jay Babcock joined forces to produce Arthur, a bimonthly featuring not only articles about music, but also comics, art, and editorials on everything from politics to the imminent apocalypse.
“The magazine world was becoming homogeneous…with shorter articles about shallower subjects,” argues Babcock, who has helped bring a wide variety of pieces to recent Arthurs: T-Model Ford offering sex advice (“Watch the breasts. They get sassy and nasty.”), Thurston Moore reviewing a box set by French protopunkers Metal Urbain, and Will Oldham sharing a pie recipe.
“I haven’t eaten the pie,” Kreslins notes, “but my cousin’s girlfriend made it and said it was good.”
But pie recipes from New Folk heroes don’t come easy. “Four hours at my job [at St. Andrew’s School in Potomac, Md.], then 12 with the mags,” says Kreslins. “Luckily, Gaithersburg is pretty much devoid of culture, so there’s no distractions, but the air is clean.” (No thanks to Kreslins, who can generally be found hauling a carful of his projects to D.C. shows, bars, and record stores any time of night.)
Most start-up magazines fail within the first year, so Kreslins’ success with three publications is unusual: distribution to more than 80 cities, the resources to include compilation CDs in issues of SC, and—most of all—increasing revenue from indie advertisers.
“[Kreslins] isn’t someone who’s solicited praise. He’s just gone out and done it,” explains Matt Wishnow, owner of the online music store Insound. Sub Pop Records Publicity Director Steve Manning agrees: “Laris is so genuine and really believes in what he’s doing. When he started…I thought, This is never going to work. But it ended up being really successful.”
For the moment, Kreslins is happy with his accomplishments—even if the road to cred has led back to his parents’ place in the ’burbs. “I don’t have to pay rent, and my grandma helps out with mail orders,” he jokes.—Michael Kabran