(L) 'The Hard Times: The First 40 Years' is on sale now, (R) Founder Matt Saincome.
In 2016, Matt Saincome left a reputable job as SF Weekly's music editor to launch a website rooted in a decidedly niche concept: what would happen if punk rock had its own version of The Onion? At first, The Hard Times seemed like an obscure endeavor. But over the past three years, the satire site has gone on to garner a global audience, expand into live events and a podcast and earn praise from The Onion itself.
In the midst of a tour in support of hilarious new book The Hard Times: The First 40 Years, KQED Arts caught up with Matt Saincome—who was born and raised in the East Bay town of Danville—to talk Bay Area punk, creating a business out of thin air and the sheer volume of people who still think Hard Times stories are real.
What inspired you to start The Hard Times in the first place?
I already had a punk comedy zine called Punks! Punks! Punks! and I went to journalism school and learned some news writing skills. My friends told me to look up The Onion and I fell in love with it, but The Onion's everyman had a wife, a couple kids and a job. I wanted to create a satire magazine for people who had a band, shitty roommates and depression. That was the life my friends and I were living, and there was no satire outlet representing that culture.
How did growing up in the Bay influence all this?
I grew up on [bands like] Rancid, Operation Ivy and Monster Squad and spent a lot of my formative years going to—and being banned from—924 Gilman. The Bay Area has a rich history of punks who take themselves far too seriously, so that was just too tempting to start poking fun at. Anyone who has been an active member of the DIY punk scene for over five years, but still can't spot the toxic ideologies and hypocritical scene leaders, shouldn't be allowed to operate a motor vehicle.
Oh, dude. One time we booked a band and they were rude to our booker all night. Eventually, they even started flipping him off. He walked up to them and said, "Guys, is something wrong? We did our best to promote the show." And they explained that before they left for tour, all of their girlfriends saw that article, shared it in a group chat, and now they were all in unison upset with the band. It was causing a bunch of fights, so they were pissed at us.
Is that the funniest response you’ve ever had to a Hard Times piece?
The funniest was probably this letter I received from [residential and commercial flooring publication] Floor Trends magazine threatening legal action if I didn't take this down:
[The letter reads in part: "This is a serious matter and we trust we will have your immediate attention. Please contact me no later than Monday to confirm the article, any related images and all references to Floor Trends on your website, social media accounts or any other media you have control over, have been removed." Saincome replied succinctly with a: "Go f--k yourself."]
Do bands ever get that annoyed with you?
A few, but 99% are positive. People are thrilled to be on Hard Times. I've seen huge musicians tweet excitedly that they've "made it" when they finally get a Hard Times article. Even when it's negative, they celebrate. It's great to see. Alien Ant Farm was pissed though!
How often do people think Hard Times articles are real?
Every. Single. Day.
If you had any advice to people wanting to create a brand from scratch, what would it be?
Every founder story is bullshit. It's probably 45% timing and luck, 45% environmental class privilege stuff that makes you less risk averse, and only 10% all that visionary hustle porn stuff you see in TV and movies. Sometimes that 10% can win out, but I had the 90% advantage. I think sometimes people see founders and assume that the thing they saw on Instagram about waking up at 4am and reading 10 books a day must be real. It's not.
You're straight edge. There’s an old stereotype that says straight edgers don’t have a sense of humor. Is all of this an elaborate ploy to prove the world wrong?
It's actually a long con for me to collect the IP addresses of suspected future edge breakers so I can get my straight edge revenge.
New book, The Hard Times: The First 40 Years is out now. Matt Saincome and website co-founder Bill Conway will be appearing at Green Apple Books on the Park, San Francisco, on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
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