By Steven Ward
Revolver is the best American music magazine that exclusively covers heavy metal and hard rock. Although that’s something to be proud of, it was the not the original intention of the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Tom Beaujour, nor the magazine’s publishers, Harris Publications. In the spring of 2000, Harris launched Revolver as a general interest rock music magazine. The magazine’s tag or cover line in those days was “The World’s Most Wanted Music Magazine.” Beaujour, who was the original Revolver‘s executive editor, said he and then editor-in-chief Brad Tolinski wanted to create an American version of Mojo–the classy and wordy British rock title. They did, but people didn’t buy enough copies. So after five stellar issues, Harris pulled the plug on Revolver and the magazine was retooled and recreated as a fan-orientated metal magazine.
Today, Revolver‘s tag line is “The World’s Loudest Rock Magazine.” And today, Beaujour says, Revolver is successful. Even though he was recovering from back surgery, Beaujour, 33, spent a couple of hours on the phone with rockcritics.com recently to talk about the evolution of Revolver, how he and Tolinski’s best rock mag creation intentions went down the drain, how “buck-a-word” writers can help sink an already failing magazine and how Blender did it and continues to do it right.
Steven: You and Guitar World editor Brad Tolinski were the two guys behind the original Revolver magazine–the general interest version. Did you two pitch the idea to Harris Publications or did Harris Publications come to you guys and say, we want a new rock magazine?
Tom: I was the managing editor of Guitar World…I quit Jan 1, 1998, because I was in this band and I wanted to go on tour and see if we could pull it off, etc. etc. And Brad and I had already been knocking around an idea of doing a general interest music magazine. We talked about it a lot. I disappeared for a year, did some touring. I did some writing for Guitar World. A year after I quit I wanted to go back because I was going insane. I needed money. So we had been talking about Revolver the whole time. Essentially, I didn’t…Brad trained me. He hired me as an intern at Guitar World in 1993. I never worked anywhere except at Harris Publications. In high school, I was actually quoted as saying I would either become a rock star or work at Guitar World. How I got in there was not at all the product of a college education.
Steven: OK. So you wanna get back in journalism and you and Brad are still talking about this idea for Revolver…
Tom: At that time, Mojo was kind of a newer thing. We both thought Mojo was the best.
Steven: Yeah. When I first saw the first issue of Revolver, it looked like a cross between an American version of Mojo and the old Musician magazine from the ’80s and ’90s.
Tom: Yeah. And I loved Musician. Before it took–the last year of Musician was tragic. Anyway, that was what was in our heads. We didn’t put it in press releases or anything, but it was going to be the American Mojo. With a little bit of Q. That’s what we were looking at. We weren’t looking at anything that was coming out of America because there wasn’t anything there to fill that gap. It was seeing these British magazines and thinking, these magazines are so fucking good. From the paper to the photo editing to the content. I have very issue of Mojo. I may have tapered off a little lately.
So we decide to so this thing. I needed money so badly. Brad got me back into Guitar World as a freelancer to do a GW buyer’s guide and to do a metal guitar God one-shot issue thing. At that same time, we started working on Revolver. I will tell you the truth. There was never any real enthusiasm on the part of Harris Publications. It was like…GW made that place (Harris). When they sold it (to Future Networks Publishing), they made a lot of money off it. GW was really the magazine that took Harris from a ghetto place that did crossword puzzle books to a serious–a little company that could. And that was essentially Brad. So he wanted to do this thing (Revolver) badly, and Harris, a very small company, were not gonna tell Brad no.
Steven: Because Brad was their editorial star…
Tom: Yeah. It was a legitimate reward for Brad. He took a really small amount of money to do it. I was the only person on staff for a while that was only assigned to Revolver. They were paying me shit. So it was an inexpensive proposition to launch it. In terms of staffing.
Steven: Yeah, you had a small staff but you had all these big time writers and contributors. The biggest names in the business. Big names. And you had to come up with money to pay people like Anthony DeCurtis and Greg Kot and all of those people.
Tom: That’s kind of how we fucked ourselves. We’ll get there later. You wanna hear the whole arc of it, right?
Tom: The overhead of Revolver was not staggering because it was done with GW resources. I was working like crazy hard on the Revolver thing. And Brad was working double time.
Steven: What did you two do? Were you editing copy?
Tom: We did everything. Everyone at GW was really enthusiastic about Revolver because we had all been writing about guitars for a long time. I mean people like Christopher Scapelliti, who is now the executive editor at GW and is a copy editing genius. And a spectacular writer too. He was doing it. I’m a good copy editor. But not like Scapelliti. Harold Steinblatt, who was at GW too, another copy editing wizard. He was pitching in too. But Brad and I…I remember being on the phone everyday. The amount of attention that went into copy of the first five issues of that thing,. Everything was agonized over. A lot of it was piggy backed on GW. But it was done lo-fi. The good thing about Harris–when they get revved up about something…History has proven them right by the way. A real music magazine geared toward real music enthusiasts was maybe not such a good move.
Steven: Well, I wanna talk to you about that. But I guess we will get there later.
Tom: And how Blender did it right…
Anyway, Harris really cares about newsstand sales. Harris likes to sell actual magazines. Once we made Revolver, they shot it out through their distribution. They got it out everywhere. They got it into the Wal-Marts. Our publisher, Dennis Page, he knew we were doing something really good but he didn’t think it would sell but allowed us to do it through a limited budget scope that we respected and then when it was done, it went out everywhere. No one at Harris, except me and Brad, thought this thing was going to sell a lot of copies. However, the music publicists of America were excited. They went ape shit about it because they thought, oh my God, we’ve got this place to put our bands and they really care about music. And all the writers. They thought, there’s finally an American magazine where I can write about bands I care about. So the amount of goodwill from the industry, the press side, was big. There was a real buzz there.
Steven: Surely, there must have been. I loved that magazine. There has not been anything like it since. There are people who want to read good music magazines but don’t wanna spend $9 for a British, hard-to-find magazine…
Tom: That’s where we….I had lunch with Brad two weeks ago. Every time we eat, for two minutes, we say, “Fuck. That thing was so good.”
Steven: It was.
Tom: Then, we move on. The truth of the matter is that there are not enough…Harris. They wanna sell magazines If they are not selling 150,000 magazines, they don’t wanna sell them. And I respect that. That’s their business model. But there were not enough people buying Revolver.
Steven: So that’s what happened? Harris came to you and said, it’s too all over the place. I didn’t know if the problem was advertisers or readers. Too many genres of music?
Tom: The record labels–I learned this after–but we had planned on huge amount of advertising from the labels. They did not. Advertising was not a disaster. A bunch of companies understood what we were doing. What happened was, we put this thing on sale and it sold abominably. The Jim Morrison issue (the first issue–Spring 2000) did, like…it was horrible. That U2 cover (the third issue) which was the right band at the right time…that was a catastrophe.
Steven: So it was the readers. We did not buy enough of the magazine?
Tom: Yep. Let me say this. I think we fucked up badly. In hindsight, we should have just…We were thinking a little too much. We were panicking with the covers. The first issue didn’t do well. But people liked it and were psyched.
Steven: Yeah. You went from The Doors for the first issue to Limp Bizkit for the second issue.
Tom: Yeah. Issue 1, Jim Morrison, bombed. Oh shit. We are doing a magazine about the past and future and the continuity between the two of them. Let’s try–the biggest band in the world, Limp Bizkit. I mean they were huge at that time.
Steven: And then you go back to the old war horse, U2 for a cover. But like you said, that was a big album at the time.
Tom: Yeah. But let me tell you what happened. U2 was coming off the last of their glam trilogy of albums or whatever. Rolling Stone had passed. We wanted a U2 cover. We got Anthony (writer Anthony DeCurtis) on board. That was the worst cover we had. It was astonishing. The record was doing great but the issue did not sell.
Steven: Then you did it again. You went the opposite. U2 did bad this time, then you do the Korn cover with Jonathan Davis.
Tom: Yeah. Some of this is reflected in the people we had contacts with at Guitar World. I had relationships with the people in Korn at the time. Getting the cover artist, that was never a big deal for us. Once you start having discussions of what the magazine is, what is its direction? And once it’s not selling, you start having a lot of those discussions. It’s exhausting. It’s totally fucking exhausting. Brad and I would have…arguments. At one point, Brad wanted to do more techno stuff. He thought that was the next big thing in music and I was totally not into that. I was an indie rock guy. My favorite band of all time is Guided by Voices.
Steven: Yeah. I remember that piece you did on them in one of the early Revolvers.
Tom: Hands down, they are my favorite. That’s the kind of stuff I was into. Like the Magnet stuff. I love Magnet.
Steven: Yeah. I love Magnet. It reminds me of Option from years back. Do you remember Option?
Tom: Vaguely. Yes I do actually. A good alt rock magazine. That’s what I was into. I mean, Brad and I were on the same level for classic rock. But I was the indie rock guy. I mean, the Big Star article we did where we tracked down Alex Chilton…
Steven: That was amazing.
Tom: But that was my sensibility. During this whole time, you have a magazine–once you start a magazine, you have to go six times a year quickly. If not, people don’t know when you are coming out. You don’t know what to put in what issue. So we hired J.D. (music writer J.D. Considine who was hired as Revolver‘s managing editor) and he was not exactly the best personality fit. I mean, I love J.D. He had a whole other set of obsessions. He’s Fela this, Fela that, Japanese pop. The thing about Revolver was that it was so malleable there was no argument that you could make against anything. With Revolver right now, I can tell someone, that band is not heavy enough. It’s very easy. It makes it so much easier. When you have every publicist pitching you. We so wanted to be ahead of the curve, a tastemaker. Like, do you purchase Spin?
Steven: Not anymore.
Tom: But you look at it on the newsstand when it comes out, right?
Tom: I watch Spin right now… They are kind of all over the place. That’s because they are in deep shit right now. It’s horrible to go through. So the fourth cover was Jonathan Davis, you said?
Tom: That cover did OK. It did good.
Steven: And on the fifth and final cover you go back to classic rock. Led Zeppelin.
Tom: That was a cool cover. But again, too much thinking. We should just have put them on the cover and–you know, Page and Plant, iconic live shot. But fuck, we were like…Let’s find a shot no one has ever seen before. You get so far up your own ass thinking about it..The other shot we were thinking of was the shot of Jimmy Page swigging the bottle of Jack Daniels.
Steven: Yeah. That was a famous shot.
Tom: That might be my favorite issue.
Steven: You said earlier that you guys hired some big time writers to write for you…
Tom: There were a lot of writers that were…buck-a-word writers. I don’t even know what a buck-a-word writer is anymore. Maybe its a buck-50-a-word now. Dudes who wanted a buck a word. And believe me. I don’t pay that for Revolver right now. I pay well. But not a buck a word. Seriously…I won’t go into specifics and it’s probably not even who you think, but there are plenty of buck-a-word writers who are not awesome. A lot of people were blowing smoke up our asses, including the buck-a-word writers, who were pretty psyched about writing about what they wanted to. Had it been now I would have been like, fuck you, if you want to write about this band that you really like in an intelligent way, we are going to give you this–but you can’t hold me up for this much money. We were a little awe struck. I don’t think we would have gotten the U2 story without Anthony DeCurtis. He wasn’t one of the problematic people by the way, however, were there other writers who would do a good U2 for less money. Yes.
Steven: I won’t ask who the buck-a-word writers you are talking about because I know you are not going to tell me anyway.
Tom: We wanted to make the best rock magazine, so we were like fuck it. But that was not the way to prolong the life of Revolver. It was foolish. It probably cost us a couple of issues.
Steven: Maybe people will read this interview and learn from it.
Tom: Yeah. Some of the shit we were in–I never got in more bad copy. One of the things that made Revolver exhausting was that it terrified and paralyzed some people who wrote for it because it was the new music magazine everyone wanted to exist and everyone had their agenda for it. I don’t think people who wrote their first drafts for Revolver were that good because they were trying to be too smart and inside, too writerly. It was all very difficult and tiring and it wasn’t selling. So the Led Zep cover comes out. So we go to South by Southwest and we have our triumphant South by Southwest Revolver party with The Cult. We come back and our publisher is like, what the fuck? This is not working. In that four weeks, I just turned 30, I had gotten married, I went to South by Southwest and was then told by the publishers that Revolver, as we know it, was done. To the credit of Harris Publications, they don’t liquidate people. I had been there forever and they didn’t fire me. JD got nuked but they gave him a decent amount of time to get his shit in order. It happened very fast. We knew it was in trouble. We knew it wasn’t selling. But we didn’t expect to come back from South by Southwest and then have it end.
Steven: So did you and Brad say, we can save this title and change or did Harris come up with the idea for the metal version of Revolver?
Tom: No. We didn’t. We didn’t know what to do. It was all so exhausting. And we were really tired. I don’t know–honestly, they must have decided before we left for South by Southwest. You know–let them go finish this issue and go off and have fun. But to answer your question, it was the other way around. Dennis Page said this is not working. He said what are you going to do? Two ideas were thrown up. One was to completely gut it. Make it a quarterly, 98-page piece of shit classic rock thing. The other thing was go metal. Dennis Page came up with the classic rock thing and I think Brad said, “Well, how about metal?” We talked about it a lot. Classic rock is starting to falter in the newsstand world. We learned that at Revolver and at Guitar World. So we decided to make it metal. And then Brad said, I’m going to give you the magazine.
Steven: I was going to ask how you went from executive editor of the old Revolver to editor-in-chief of the new Revolver?
Tom: That was….Brad was going crazy running both magazines for two years. Revolver for him might have been an aggravation at that point. I’m really grateful he did it. At first, to be downgraded to a metal magazine…I can tell you, at the time, that’s what I felt like.
Steven: So you started the new Revolver. And you don’t go after the bigger writers. You sort of have a mix of some of the older writers from Revolver…
Tom: The great thing about the Revolver experience is that we found Dan Epstein (Revolver West Coast Editor Dan Epstein.)
Steven: He is a great feature writer.
Tom: Dan brings that quality to Revolver..He’s been through a lot. He’s written for Mojo. I think I can say this about Dan and he won’t mind. He’s not the most ambitious guy in the world. He doesn’t want to go to a show every night. He’s very good at having a good talk with the guys in a band. I mean the amount of work he does for Revolver…I’m very loyal to Dan.
Steven: I can tell you, from someone who reads a lot of rock magazines every month, Dan Epstein is real asset to Revolver.
Tom: Yeah. He is. Dan is the secret weapon of Revolver. His real passion is weird garage rock. Things like the Kinks. Still, he would rather go on the road for two or three days with a band like Shadows Fall then sit in a room across from someone like Morrissey, you know what I mean? That’s not a reflection of musical taste. It’s more of his taste in people or personality. So anyway, we put Slipknot on our first cover.
Steven: And what happened?
Tom: It sold. It sold well.
Steven: And did you notice as time went on that the metal issues would sell more than the old Revolver?
Tom: Yes. It’s a really small media. I mean, we do well, but it’s not a spectacularly profitable magazine. Knock on wood, it sells a respectful amount each month.
Steven: Do you guys see yourselves as competition of magazines like Circus and Hit Parader?
Tom: Yes and no. One for the reasons we did Revolver, was to do something good.
Steven: I see Revolver as a literate metal magazine, versus Circus and Hit Parader, which today, are horribly written and horribly copy edited.
Tom: Yeah. I couldn’t make a terrible magazine like that. It would turn my brain to mush. The hard rock market–there was nothing really good there. Circus is shit because they don’t have anybody working there and they don’t pay their writers anything.
Steven: Yeah. You guys have a good cross of writers. Recently, you have guys like Phil Freeman and Mikael Wood writing for you. Those guys do stuff for the Village Voice too. So they have to know how to write for their audience.
Tom: Mikael Wood was recommended to me by a publicist. He really can write. Sometimes we have to dial him back some. He will go too far. And Phil is completely different.
Steven: He sure is.
Tom: With writers…with Mikael, we started him with a record review. That’s how we can tell. If it’s garbage, we can just stop right there. That’s the test. Let me go back for a minute. So we decided we wanted to do a really good metal magazine because there was nothing there.
Steven: Right. Especially in America. I mean in Britain, you have magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, which are really well written. It’s hard to find them and they cost $9.
Tom: Yes. But their covers really don’t reflect what’s going on over here. I read all of them. Kerrang! is really good.
Steven: So, are you happy with results of Revolver now? How things are going..
Tom: You know. It’s odd because I think Revolver is the best kept secret in the music industry. It’s part of the responsibility of the magazine, it’s not about our musical taste, as much as what the audience wants. And I think we have broken bands. A band like Lamb of God.
Steven: Going back to the first version of the magazine, I said there was no American music magazine like that then, and the only thing I see that’s trying to come close to what you guys did then is Tracks. Do you read Tracks, and what do you think?
Tom: I’ve never…Not Tracks. Blender. Blender is the way we should have done it. Americans don’t really like music magazines with long historical pieces. Americans don’t really like long pieces on Pink Floyd. People don’t give a flying fuck about Badfinger or Big Star for that matter. There’s not many music history geeks here.
Steven: Well, there are some of us. I read them but I have to buy British magazines. Classic Rock, Mojo and Uncut.
Tom: Uncut is real good. That may be the best. I bought one issue of Tracks. I didn’t like it. The problem with Tracks is, it’s hard to tailor a magazine to…We had the same problem with Revolver. No one wants to read a long interview with Jackson Browne. It’s like, the person who owns Eric Clapton’s Unplugged doesn’t want to read about it. They like having the record but they don’t want to read some long piece about Eric Clapton. That’s why Blender did it right. First of all they put chicks on the cover. The premise: People don’t give enough of a fuck about rock and roll to buy or read a magazine about rock and roll, so they put a hot girl on the cover and we will buy a magazine with a hot girl on the cover. With Tracks….Alan Light is awesome and a great writer but Tracks doesn’t move me.
Steven: I subscribe to Blender. How can you not? It’s only $9 or $10 a year.
Tom: Yes. Their record review section is the best there is. That’s what we wanted the Revolver record review section to be. They have everything and they have just enough classic rock. If you want to know how to make a magazine where you have your cake and eat it too, look at Blender. They figured it out. It’s really well written too.
Steven: What do you tell aspiring music writers who want to write for Revolver? What advice would you give them?
Tom: The main thing I learned…We have a couple of people who are so knowledgeable about metal. They live and breathe it–Amy Sciarretto, who does our news and notes column. She knows her shit. What we don’t need at Revolver is someone who is an expert at metal. I don’t care. Learn how to write. Be able to write about it in a clear, insightful, humorous, respectful way. That may sound stupid. But that’s why we have so few writers at Revolver. Nina Pearlman, our Executive Editor, is an awesome copy editor, but not a fuckin miracle worker. If you turn in a review or story, and you get names spelled wrong, etc., you are out. If you fuck that up once, you are out. Your copy needs to be clear. I throw so much stuff in the garbage. We don’t have the time to deal with that.
Steven: There are too many talented writers that can do the job.
Tom: Yes. And I don’t need that many of them. You have to be real good to write for us. Like Mikael Wood. He’s really good. Jon Widerhorn. He loves heavy metal and he’s such a great writer. Of all of our writers, he’s loves metal the most. He brings so much quality to the magazine. Writers need to learn how to write clean and clear copy. If you want to be experimental, start your own fanzine. We are not a gonzo metal magazine. Write a review and then look at yours and look at what we print. We get so much bad copy.
Steven: What’s the lesson you learned with the original Revolver?
Tom: Knowing what your magazine is. That’s important. I mean, people didn’t buy it. And I made a bunch of stupid judgments and errors. But remember this. If you can’t explain in five words or less what it is, forget it. And that was the problem with the original Revolver.