Get to know Atwood Magazine‘s writers in our special column where they become the interviewees, sharing their personal playlists and talking about their experiences covering music!
A snob that loves low culture or a swine that aspires to high, Danny Vagnoni’s love of music grew in parallel with his love of words and stories. Eventually, they met. Passionate about sonics and social justice, Danny’s favorite pieces to write (or film, or record) are those pieces that address the joys and sorrows in life, advocate for artists in the face of industry, or have some greater social valence to them.
Stream: Atwood Writer’s Playlist: Danny Vagnoni
Meet Our Writers: Danny Vagnoni!
Where are you from and where are you based?
Danny Vagnoni: I’m originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and (for now) living in the city proper. I could probably fall out of bed into like ten different venues and, knowing Philly, I’d probably be the most normal person there if I did.
How did you get into music writing?
Danny Vagnoni: Out of college I connected with a producer of some famous classic rock albums who was also an alumnus of my undergraduate program. He has an enormous archive of rarities and interview clips from the 60s to the 90s, so we were turning them into a narrative podcast. One of them happened to be an interview with Cameron Crowe, the director of Almost Famous. The movie is about a teenage journalist who tours with Stillwater, a stand-in for Led Zep, and covers them for Rolling Stone. Having been laid off of a copywriting position I hated, I felt like I had found my calling. Stars in my eyes, I started writing. Both publications I wrote for before Atwood are now defunct, but I’m grateful I had space to build my voice before submitting my work to Mitch.
These days I view music journalism as one part of a greater call to storytelling. I believe that very ordinary things can be turned into great and universally appealing stories – often the best! I’ve tried to evolve my music writing by adopting different mediums and covering topics that aren’t just reviews. I don’t view myself as an amazing review writer anyway and I gag at certain words anymore. I’ll never again call anything ethereal.
I didn’t even expect to get where I am right now, so I hope to keep growing.
Who was your very first concert, and who have you seen most recently?
Danny Vagnoni: Uh, I believe it was Weird Al in 8th grade. I cringed at my youthful love for Al for years, but these days I’ve regained respect for him as a hilarious dude and insane multi-instrumentalist.
I didn’t actually get into “real” music, whatever that means, until 11th grade, because I was a hopeless pop-culture contrarian. But after I unlearned that, it was a torrent. Literally. I think I torrented probably 50 to 100 gigs of music in September 2010, so enthralled was I with this brand new world. The only time I got a copyright notice was from Atlantic Records for downloading Love Beach by ELP, which is just embarrassing. At least catch me for something cool.
The first concert I chose to go to after that was Arcade Fire, supported by Spoon. I had never really experienced anything like it at the time and even though I barely knew any of their songs the pure air of the concert is still branded in my memories. It was a melancholic autumn day and we were sat on a great green plain overlooking the Philly skyline. The venue itself was a cavernous amphitheater, and I remember a gentle breeze sweeping through as the band started playing. Don’t remember a lick of what they played, but the impression it left nurtured my already flourishing love for music.
Most recently, I went to see Otoboke Beaver, my absolute favorite active punk band at the moment, and maybe my favorite overall. The venue was tiny and the moshing was excellent, although I regret to report I didn’t get a bloody nose. This time.
Who are two or three of your favorite up-and-coming artists right now?
Danny Vagnoni: NewJeans are like 50% of what I’m listening to right now. Even though it may seem laughable to call a group with millions of followers up-and-coming, they are still considered rookies in the context of the Korean music industry. Aside from their music which is refreshingly minimal (compared to their contemporaries), I’ve never liked a group’s choreography so much. It’s loose, it’s free.
Soul Glo – Philly represent – released a thrilling album last year and reinvigorated my interest in hardcore. Their calls to anti-racist, anti-colonial (and so on) action juxtaposed with their over-the-top, self-deprecating humor gave the hardcore scene a much needed open window. There’s plenty of good hardcore out there, but their direction is electrifying and their stage presence is dynamite. I can’t wait to see more from them.
Haru Nemuri released my favorite album of 2022, Shunka Ryougen. While the album can be a bit uneven at times, I found Nemuri’s songwriting articulated something rare. it is furious and precious at once – I’ve never heard a more frenzied scream than on “Kick in the World (déconstructed),” but the album’s last full song is “Ikiru” with an airy chant of “how beautiful life is.” Shunka Ryougen, with its bevy of influences from hardcore to hyperpop, first and foremost cherishes life. Whatever Nemuri does next I’m sure will be just as varied and interesting.
What’s something you’ve learned from working as a music journalist?
Danny Vagnoni: One of the most important things in life, if you want to do cool things, is just to be a good hang. Unfortunately for my ego and my sense of meritocracy, being a good hang is often more important than being a good writer in this absurd industry. I’ve had to learn to overcome that, to varying levels of success depending on the day.
What’re your favorite moments covering music? Can be from interviews, reviews, in-person events/shows, anything.
Danny Vagnoni: My podcast interview with Evan Greer stands out as the thing in music journalism I’m most proud of to this day. It was a conversation that actually came out of my work in my MA program as I was looking into Spotify’s effects on the media landscape. I went into the conversation knowing it would be horrifying, but Evan so potently explaining the specifics really brought the interview to a new level. It also fit well with my interest in evolving how I cover music – the Spotify conversation, from royalties to privacy infractions, is unfortunately evergreen.
Interviewing Caravan Palace, an electro swing band from France, was also really sweet. It was at my favorite venue, the Union Transfer, and they poured me a bunch of wine. A+, very chill.
If you could ask one question to any artist or band, who would it be and what would you ask?
Danny Vagnoni: I’d ask Grimes for compromising info on Mr. Tweet and then [redacted] him.
What are you most looking forward to this year, music-wise?
Danny Vagnoni: Getting back into music, lol. I haven’t been to a concert in 6+ months because I’ve been so busy finishing my MA – but now that I have and now that I’ve cut my teeth doing documentary work, I’m looking forward to applying those skills to my storytelling in music journalism.
As far as specifics? I’m sure NewJeans will keep releasing new music every few months. That must be exhausting. Coletta is set to release a full album this year, they just barely didn’t make my artists to watch out for. NEUPINK, a digital hardcore act, has been King Gizzard-level prolific.
I’m sorry haha, I’m pretty out of touch right now. Still climbing down the Ivory Tower. What is almost a certainty though is that whatever excites me the most this year will probably be something I don’t even know about right now.
Can you please explain why you chose the top 5 songs on your playlist?
Danny Vagnoni: They aren’t in order but yes, these are the top five.
- “Playing God” by Polyphia. There are a few guitarists out there who have single handedly expanded my view of the instrument. Gabriela Quintero was my first exposure to flamenco and using guitar as a percussive instrument. Tom Morello has a suite of insane innovations. Tim Henson, of Polyphia, is an incredible virtuoso for our time, combining elements of classical, hyperpop, and hip-hop to create a unique sound that makes me excited for where the instrument can still go.
- “Leather Jacket” by HYUKOH. My friends and haters (I don’t have haters) all know I love kpop, and the English speaking world is steadily falling in love too. But what about k-rock? Enter HYUKOH, originating from the Hongdae region of Seoul, which is widely known as a hotbed for great indie acts. When I first discovered HYUKOH, I couldn’t help but compare them to early Arctic Monkeys: they have swagger, but can also be earnest, and something about their instrumentation reminded me of the lad’s early years.
- “Haitian Fight Song” by Charles Mingus. The song that got me into jazz, simply put. The bassline is one of the first pieces of music I learned to play, ever, and remains one of my favorite figures in music, full stop.
- “New Noise” by Refused. I didn’t listen to hardcore before Refused. It’s sort of a weird place to get into the scene, because they’re kind of pretentious (The Shape of Punk To Come is a rather self-absorbed album title). Still, it’s a great album and this song was my access point and the track that turned me from a squeamish baby to someone who likes dirty vocals.
- “All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem. They’re my favorite band, and the song makes me incredibly happy but also cry. It’s the ups and downs of life. I figured I’d end the playlist with that.
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:: Stream Danny’s Playlist ::