By: Frances Molina
Almost immediately after Jazmyn Griffin arrives at my apartment Tuesday morning, she asks to lie down. “I just came back from the gym and I haven’t had my nap yet,” she murmurs, curling up at the end of my bed like a cat. “You don’t mind if we do the interview like this, do you?” I don’t mind, so I close the blinds to keep the sun out of her eyes and settle across from her with my first cup of coffee, feeling sheepish that I’m still in pajamas, just now starting my day.
Jazmyn and I met last fall on set for a friend’s photo shoot, and we were almost immediately simpatico. I was drawn to her softness, her constant energy, her seemingly endless curiosity for everything. With so much to see and so many people to meet, Jazmyn’s schedule is unbelievably busy. When she isn’t working at the Eastside Music school and taking drum lessons, she’s modeling for eclectic Austin brands, interning at Empire Control Room, and spinning records for KVRX during her very own music hour. She sleeps, according to her, “like once a week.”
“Those are all the things I do,” she explains, “But in my essence, I’m a creative individual. And no matter what I’m doing, I feel that it always brings me back to being as storyteller. That’s just me on a basic level - a wordsmith.”
These days she spends most of her time and energy on her new website, Views From the Pit, a music and culture blog dedicated to highlighting and showcasing local musicians and creatives. VFTP is the collective of Jazmyn and friends Kristen Balderas and Alexis Crutchfield started in May 2016. I somehow managed to snag an hour or so of her time to talk to her about the blog and about what she and her team have got to offer Austin’s infamous music scene.
S: Tell me a bit about your website. What is “Views From the Pit?”
J: Views from the Pit is an independent music and culture site based in ATX. That’s my elevator pitch. But, basically, VFTP is what the editors, the contributors, and I care about. For me, that’s mostly local music, fashion stuff, people who I find intriguing. But it’s different for everyone on our staff.
There’s no real limit to the type of things we’re up to do: music and culture pieces, fashion pieces, more hard political stuff. The whole premise of the site is “Views,” so it’s a very visual and aesthetic based platform. We try to take what we’re passionate about and share it with whoever cares to listen.
S: What was your motivation for starting VFTP?
J: I spent the first two years of my college career working under strictly university controlled media outlets. As much as I think that gave me a great experience, I didn’t like the restriction; I’d rather be my own boss. Also, I had an incident where I, an extremely hard working black woman, got passed up for a staff position I deserved by a white girl who just sort of showed up. That’s when I decided I was done with what – and with who – I was working with before.
Also, before VFTP, I used to interview bigger artists and it all fell very surface level. Very rarely would we talk about anything that actually mattered – it was a real quick get-in, get-out process. So whenever I started covering local music, I found that people actually cared to go in depth about their art. It all just felt so much more real, so much more passionate. And then the people you interview become your friends because they live so close to you anyway.
S: What do you feel VFTP has to offer that sets it apart from all the other music and culture media out there?
J: I think one of the things that makes us stand out is that we don’t really have any boundaries. Since we don’t really have rules, we don’t always write about the pretty stuff. Nobody is regulating us – it’s very raw and unfiltered. Very NC-17.
Whenever we do event coverage, we want to make people who weren’t there feel like they were. If we’re reviewing an album or doing a playlist, it’s all about harvesting emotion, capturing a moment in time. For example, someone recently created a sex playlist and when you listen to it, you really do feel like you could get down to it. And that’s what our content strives to do – capture something fleeting. And, of course, I would say to expose our viewers/readers to new artists they might not have known or heard of. There’s so much talent in the world and so much of it gets overlooked.
S: When you set out to start VFTP, what did you feel was missing from the current music/culture coverage scene in Austin?
J: You know, I’m going to give you my honest answer. I think what was missing, initially, was a fresh perspective. So many people cover the scene who have been here for so long that I feel a new set of eyes definitely adds something. Also, I think we’re taking some serious risks, covering topics others are too timid to tackle - or may not even have the perspective on staff to get in-depth on. This especially goes for our upcoming stories in which VFTP takes the time to criticize and correct even our our actions and mistakes. It takes a lot to admit you were not always the “most woke.” And to put it in a story for others to read and criticize - that’s brave.
Finally, I think the scene was also missing the perspective of people of color, which is an area where even VFTP needs to improve.
The majority of our staff are POC, but I can’t say the same for the people we cover. Even though we do have a variety of music tastes, so much of that music is white-centered. Our culture pieces are definitely more diverse. Musically, however, we tend to focus on white dudes with guitars. But I think especially right now, with the President we have and the current political state, we are growing more and more conscious every day and thinking of more ways to include the marginalized. But it often feels like it’s never enough.
S: Why do you feel those differences that set VFTP apart are important?
J: It’s important that we take risks because you never know what’s going to work until you try it. Pieces that I’ve felt super uncomfortable writing eventually turned out awesome. Furthermore, Austin is such a white city – overwhelmingly white. It gets discouraging at times. Especially when so many artists of color are doing the same thing as their white counterparts and getting ignored. That’s why we’re trying to incorporate more people of color in our content. That’s why I have such respect for organizations like ourselves and Brown State of Mind and Mud Magazine. We’re doing the dirty work and highlighting each other. Because if we don’t no one is going to do it.
S: Would you say those organizations are your contemporary inspirations for VFTP?
J: Totally. Local inspirations are definitely Brown State of Mind and Mud Magazine. On a wider scale, the Fader is probably my biggest inspiration besides iD Mag, Dazed and Confused, NAKID magazine. On an individual level – Amarie Gibson from Mud, Adrian Armstrong, Nikisha Brunson, Levi Thompson, Kelly Ngo, Déi Randall, Blake Myers. Currently, I’m looking to those people for inspiration. It’s motivation. You look at people like that and you know you can do it too.
S: Plans for VFTP in the future?
J: I think initially we aimed to do what we were doing at our earlier production but better, but now it’s taken a completely different turn. We’re going in depth and we really only want to go further. I think besides just generally gaining traction, we want to feel like we actually made a mark and made a difference. In the next year, we’re planning our first official event and pre-planning a print release. We’re going to making t-shirts, stickers, totes, whatever the fuck people want as far as merch.
We’re trying to get as many people who care involved as possible. I plan on leaving ATX when I graduate next May. I know I want to make my mark in Austin with VFTP while I can and the rest will come when I have planned the rest of my life, I guess…We’re constantly achieving goals and the only way to grow is to set more goals. We’re just never going to stop growing.