15 Years of Innocent Words History – Part 1: The Beginning

Ani DiFranco

I had just turned 30 and I was working my ass off, not only trying to make ends meet, but to make a name for myself as a writer. I had a night job at the local newspaper, I was working days at a local chain CD store, and on weekends at an independent CD store. On top of that, I was writing CD reviews for several underground/independent magazines.

Even though I was busy and tired, it didn’t feel like work because I was working in both the fields I wanted to – writing and music. I knew the newspaper gig wasn’t going to be my career, but I learned a lot working there. My biggest problem at the time was wanting to do stories on independent bands which I thought deserved some press, but my editors at my freelance gigs didn’t find the bands worthy because no one knew who they were.

I still find that funny, because at one point all bands are small, nameless, and faceless. Someone had to give the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Soul Asylum a break at some point, right? I wanted to be that person to give the smaller bands a break.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my first step was covering my first-ever Ani DiFranco concert. She was playing the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 10, 2002, supporting her ‘Revelling/Reckoning’ album. I scored a couple of press passes from this lovely lady at DiFranco’s record label, Righteous Babe Records, and that lady has been a friend ever since.

I shared the extra ticket with a friend at the time, and we loaded up the car with a few friends and headed to the show. When we looked for our seats we kept walking until we got to fifth row center. We couldn’t believe our luck. A lot of the mostly female crowd looked at us like “Who are THOSE dudes?”

The lights went down, screams filled the air, and Hamell on Trial opened the show. A one man acoustic punk tornado of a man, Ed Hamell blew me away like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was a tough sell for the DiFranco diehards, but he won me over to the point where I’ve become a longtime fan and now a friend.

Next up was the do-it-yourself queen herself. As DiFranco came on stage with her band, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much high-pitched screaming in my life. This being my first DiFranco show, I just stood there and took it all in. She was like a small stick of dynamite as she sang her songs, told great stories and had the audience singing along. I stood there and watched I had what some might call an epiphany. I was kind of roaming through life, or at least I felt like it, and I thought to myself, here is a girl the same age as me playing sold out theatres, running her own label and doing things on her own terms. I knew right then it was time to get my ass in gear and do something with my life that I wanted to do.

A day or two after the show I had lunch with one of the friends who went to the show with me. I casually blurted out that I’d love to start my own music magazine and cover the bands the other magazines weren’t allowing me to. We batted around some ideas, and I thought it was just small talk over a bite to eat.

By the time, I got home, my friend had called me, and the magazine idea was being hatched. It would be me and him, and he knew a guy who had some computer skills to design the magazine.

After several meetings between the three of us, we forged ahead and started doing interviews, CD, movie, and book reviews. We had no contacts at the time, so everything we reviewed we had to buy ourselves or borrow it from someone else. With everything in order and keeping to our weekly meetings, we set out to put together the first issue. At the time, it was called Confronting Innocent Words, a line I took from an essay I had wrote. When the layout process started, it was evident we were way over our heads here. At one point, we spent 12-14 hours on a Saturday trying to put this little zine together.

Finally, in the winter of 2001 the first issue of Confronting Innocent Words came out. We published only 500 copies to see where we stood, and luckily the copies were all gone pretty quickly…then again, it was a free zine.

It wasn’t too long after the first issue hit the streets that the friend who went to the DiFranco show with me and helped start the zine bowed out due to time restraints. Being the layout guy seemed to be over his head, he bowed out soon after. My dream had come and gone with only 12 pages of one issue.

Edward Hamell

I was still working my trio of jobs, so work and money weren’t really an issue (forgive the pun), but I knew I didn’t want to give up so easily. I set up some meetings with the publisher of the newspaper I was working at. I talked to him to see if they had any ideas or could help. Luckily, they said if the printers would be up for printing the magazine and I could talk the paginators into helping, they would give me a good deal on printing and laying the magazine out.

I set up meetings with those people, and it was a done deal. I wanted to get the magazine off the ground in 2002, but only had a month or two to get everything in order. My first step was promo CDs. I got some from the CD stores I was working at, but what I did was pick up about 10-15 music magazines at the book store and went through page by page writing down all the companies’ emails and phone numbers to see about getting promotional copies. A few responded, a lot didn’t, since I had little to nothing to show for my product. I assembled much of the same people who chipped in for Confronting Innocent Words and had them write reviews on anything and everything we got sent to us. This in turn helped the magazine build a bit of a reputation, and a lot more labels and press companies came on board with promos.

When you start something like a magazine for fun and the love of music, you really don’t think or care about legalities, but I knew enough to cover my ass, thanks in part to a friend who knew a good entertainment lawyer. One of the first suggestions was to change the name of the magazine “just in case.” Confronting Innocent Words was now known as Innocent Words Magazine.

Not only did the magazine have a new name, but a new look. It went from an 11×7.5 staple in the middle zine to a 24-page tab format newspaper-style magazine. The first issue wasn’t great, but it was far better than the Confronting Innocent Words. Personally, I think the format change and the name change was the two brightest ideas we had from the get go.

A lot of things have changed since then, not only with Innocent Words, but the music industry and people who have come in and out of our lives for the past 15 years. It’s been one strange trip and I am grateful for all those who have contributed and supported Innocent Words.

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