It’s been 15 years since Pig City, the debut (and, up until quite recently, the only) book by Brisbane-based music journalist Andrew Stafford.
The book was an acclaimed success, detailing the history of Brisbane’s music scene from the rise of punk in the ‘70s through to the breakthrough of acts like Powderfinger and Savage Garden in the ‘90s. Although Stafford himself had never ruled out writing another book, he had never made plans in earnest to follow Pig City up – and certainly not in the manner that he has with Something to Believe In, which was released just last week.
“I reached a point where I felt comfortable if I never wrote another book,” he says, speaking to Beat from his Brisbane home. “I mean, even writing one is more than most people will ever get to. It was a pretty good one, too – it exceeded beyond my expectations, and it essentially gave me a career. I needed the right idea if another book was ever going to happen – something that was going to grab me by the throat and make me want to write. This was one of the most intense creative experiences I’ve ever had. It may have been 15 years between books, but this was essentially written within two months.”
It all started with some ideas Stafford was kicking around after starting a Patreon page at the start of 2018, as a means to tide him over both creatively and financially in the sluggish new-year period. “It was a chance to write from a place that was more reflective and personal,” Stafford explains. “There was a comfort in writing for a small group of people who valued what I was doing enough to pay a small amount of money per month to read it. There was a great amount of freedom in that, and at that stage I was trying to show off my range in terms of the things I write about.”
After writing columns on topics such as politics and the environment, Stafford ultimately circled back to music at the end of January. As a writing exercise, he harkened back to what his first musical memory was – which lead to writing about his dad, who he describes as “a very fine singer”. Next came the first memory of pop music.
“Reluctantly, I had to come to the conclusion that it was ‘January’ by the Scottish band Pilot,” Stafford laughs. “It was really awful!” By the time Stafford found himself writing about watching The B-52s performing ‘Rock Lobster’ on Countdown, the writer had noticed a thread developing at a quickening rate.
“I sketched out a chapter outline, and it just poured out of me,” he recalls. “I wrote 30,000 words in three weeks. I found myself with half a book on my hands. What had started on the last day of February in 2018 was finished by Mother’s Day that year – and, indeed, was finished by my mother’s beside.”
His mother’s declining health, as well as other personal issues, were among the many things on Stafford’s mind in the writing process for Something to Believe In. It’s not swept under the rug in the book, either – in fact, it’s one of the central focuses of it.
“I found myself writing about music in a way that I never had before,” says Stafford. “It was a really great feeling. It’s the easiest thing I’ve written, in a lot of ways. I felt like I was channelling it, like I wasn’t in control of a lot of what was happening. At the same time, I was self-aware enough to have some boundaries. I had a mantra of radical transparency, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I feel this book gave me a renewed sense of purpose at a time in my life where I otherwise felt a bit lost.”
Something to Believe In can now be picked up in all good book stores. Find out more via the University of Queensland Press website.