The most famous contributor, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, snapped photos of couples kissing, black metal wannabes, and baby rats in toilets while writer and bartender Zachary Lipez tossed off essays about cocaine and ex-girlfriends. Then editor and designer Stacy Wakefield sorted the creative chaos into a perfect little package.
Today at 4 p.m., the three friends and co-authors will be at the Miami Book Fair International for a music-meets-reading-meets-slideshow performance kinda thing.
New Times: You three have worked on several book projects together. How did you meet?
Nick Zinner: I can't exactly remember when it was we first met. But I know that my old band, Challenge of the Future, and Zach's old band and Stacy's old band were kind of all playing the same block parties and small Brooklyn clubs at the end of the '90s.
Zachary Lipez: Stacy lived in a place called Happy Birthday Hideout, which housed a lot of touring bands and local bands played there all the time. Also, there were only so many bars to go to at the time.
Stacy Wakefield: We just knew each other from around the neighborhood.
How did you decide to make that first book?
Nick Zinner: It probably started just from sitting around at a bar where most good ideas spring forth. "Most," not all. [Laughs]
Stacy Wakefield: Well, Zach had been writing poetry and he wanted to do some kind of self-published thing.
Zachary Lipez: I was writing and for the most part I couldn't get it published. I've always been incredibly lazy. So when I say I tried to get it published, that means I tried to get it published four or five times and that was enough rejection for me. And I had seen Nick's photos up at cheap art parties, so I asked him if he wanted to do something together.
Stacy Wakefield: Their plan was to put them together and they knew that I made books, so they came to me. That was our first book in 2001, No Seats on the Party Car.
How did the idea for Please Take Me Off the Guest List come together?
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Stacy Wakefield: We all went out to dinner to talk about working on a new book. And we started working on our parts. I was making a mock-up. Nick had given me photos. And Zach was working on writing. And then Akashic got in touch with us to see if we had any book projects going. That was just really fortuitous.
The Please Take Me Off the Guest List short story sections are basically little books inside a book. Had you ever used that technique before?
Stacy Wakefield: I did something kind of similar for a limited-edition artist's project, The Tragic Books by Artichoke Yink Press, where everybody made like 15 copies of a piece of artwork and it got bound together into a book. And I was, like, "I don't make artwork that makes sense in two pages. I make zines and books." So I contributed one page, but mounted on that page was a little, tiny book with a story in it. I just always found it really satisfying. I love the little, tiny book. It's such a little surprise.
Why did the little book inside a book seem like the most natural way to present the photos and stories in Please Take Me Off the Guest List?
Stacy Wakefield: It seemed really perfect to me because I didn't want the photos and the writing to expressly comment on each other. I didn't want the photos to illustrate the stories or the stories to seem like captions to the photos. So separating them seemed like the best solution to me.
Nick, what kind of photos where you looking for? Anything in particular?
Nick Zinner: For this book, I was personally adamant about not using music-heavy or band-reliant imagery. Obviously, it's something I can't get away from, nor do I necessarily want to. But I definitely wanted to use more abstract images for this project. Like some things were too Yeah Yeah Yeahs or too rock.
Some of the photos seem to be grouped into series ... Like cars, kissing couples, animals. Was that something you thought about when you shot them?
Nick Zinner: It definitely came together towards the end. I'm sort of in the shoot-first-ask-questions-later school of belief. I take pictures of whatever's around me. So after a while, a lot of similar scenes or motifs or whatever really started merging. I never realized I liked taking pictures of animals so much but I do. [Laughs]
Stacey, what part did you play in choosing stories that made it into the book?
Stacy Wakefield: Most of these stories started with me and Nick telling Zach what we'd want to read by him. Like "Boring Coke Stories," that was something when we were at dinner, we said, "You gotta write this stuff down. Just call it 'Boring Coke Stories'." And Zach was, like, "Alright, I'll do it." And then the one that became "You Can Always Do Better," that story came out of a conversation that Zach and I had where I said, "Why don't you write 'Boring Coke Stories' but about the women you've dated?" Obviously, he did the writing. But something that was really fun about this book is that Zach allowed both me and Nick to be very involved in developing the story ideas.
How does a presentation of Please Take Me Off the Guest List work? There's like a billion possibilities.
Nick Zinner: We just tried to figure out some kind of reinterpretation or presentation of the book. And the winning formula we came up with -- that may or may not be winning -- is just having Zach read his story and make sort of background music as a soundtrack while showing slides from the book. Initially, we were really inspired by NPR's Joe Frank who does these really weird and funny kind of monologues with freaky soundtracks in the back. We wanted to copy it. But we just did it our own way with, like, guitar and keyboards. We're not trying to overwhelm Zach's reading too much.
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Zach Lipez: It's a pretty simple set up. It's Nick on guitar and Stacy on keyboards and/or typewriter. We set up a slideshow of Nick's photos and then I do my little song and dance. It's one of those things that could have gone really wrong. But I think it's genuinely entertaining.
Do you read the stories word-for-word?
Yes. And actually, there's neither song, nor dance.
Nick Zinner, Stacy Wakefield and Zach Lipez on Please Take Me Off of the Guest List. Sunday, November 21. Miami Dade College, Auditorium (Building 1, Second Floor, Room 1261), Miami. The book event begins at 4 p.m. Visit miamibookfair.com.