Above the Fold

A digital 'zine by Original Fuzz about creativity and making stuff.

★  Jun 15, 2024  ★

A Conversation with T. Cole Rachel of The Creative Independent

Featured photo for A Conversation with T. Cole Rachel of The Creative Independent

It is, without a doubt, a great pleasure to shed some light on The Creative Independent, an NYC based website, publishing valuable, relatable daily interviews with some of the most prolific and progressive creators of our time. The Creative Independent, ran by four full-timers and one excellent intern, is changing the way we interpret the internet, one meaningful story at a time

With its first published interview just over few months ago, Senior Editor T. Cole Rachel and his family of creative independents have released inspiring conversations with artists, musicians, authors, filmmakers, dancers, designers, and others, who've made an impact on the world with their talents. Guests who have been featured thus far include Stevie Nicks, Bret Easton Ellis, Shepard Fairey, Phillip Glass, Björk, Ian Mackaye, and an impressive collection of others. 

The daily interviews with artists are more like small conversations that explore topics on collaborations, creative beginnings, processes, failures, triumphs, fear and anxieties, and bouncing back. These conversations, long enough to enjoy over your morning cup of coffee, or evening glass of wine, inspire, educate, and foster creative growth for those who'll embrace it, straight from the creator's mind.

Join our conversation with Senior Editor T. Cole Rachel below on how The Creative Independent got its start, what it's doing to change the internet game, and why you'll want to read it everyday.


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Cole and I’m the Senior Editor at The Creative Independent. I’m also a poet and I teach poetry writing workshops here in NYC. I also teach music journalism at the NYU Journalism School during the summers.

What is The Creative Independent and how did it come about?

The Creative Independent is a an art/culture website that publishes one interview per day with a different type of creator. We are, as our manifesto states, “a new resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people. Our goal is to educate, inspire, and grow the community of people who create or dream of creating.”

I love the vision of the snail as the mascot and the theory of the spiral, can you elaborate on how this idea was formed and how it’s applied to the core of The Creative Independent? Do you think of the spiral and the snail when interviewing guests, or creating your own work?

The snail concept evolved pretty organically as we were building and conceptualizing the site. To be totally honest, the snail really came about thanks to the thoughtfulness of our creative director, Laurel Schwulst. She wrote a really nice thing for our site that sort of neatly articulates where our snail fascination comes from:

Snails (and other gastropods like slugs) excrete slime. They make this slime to move, so that their bodies don’t lose moisture to the rugged terrain beneath them. This slime is beautiful because it glimmers. It’s also beautiful because it’s a map of time recently spent by the snail. Where is the snail now? And where was it going in the first place? We think the snail is a good mascot for TCI, as it is biologically forced to leave its slime (process, path) everywhere. You could say our goal is to illuminate the (often hidden) slime of the artists we talk to. You could say we are a growing archive of slime.

Similarly, our love of spirals comes mostly form their shape—the idea that you are circling certain core ideas over time.


What’s your background? How did you get involved with The Creative Independent?

I went to school to study poetry, but after moving to NYC sixteen years ago, I became a music journalist kind of by accident. It went from being something I did kind of as a hobby and eventually became my full-time job. For the past ten years or so I’ve been living as a freelance writer, writing about music, art, and books for a variety of different websites and print publications. I got involved with The Creative Independent after Brandon Stosuy (a longtime friend and my former editor at Pitchfork) sold me on the idea. It’s been a great pleasure to work with him on the site—and to experience building something totally from scratch.

The Creative Independent is run by a small team, are you all volunteering your time, or is running this website a full-time gig? Where did you all meet?

It’s a very small staff (four full-time employees, one amazing intern) and it’s a full-time gig for all of us. It’s the first real day job I’ve had in over a decade, but it’s been great.

All of your guests are incredible humans and talented artists in their own right, would you say that it’s easy to find and select guests, or do you have a rubric of certain criteria to follow?

It’s been surprisingly easy to find people to interview for the site. The world is full of fascinating, creative people. Since Brandon and I have both been doing this kind of work for so long, we had pretty extensive contacts to draw from. It felt really nice that so many people were willing to talk with us before the site was officially launched. It was really lovely—and quite humbling—to experience so much goodwill towards this project from so many people. Almost everyone we approached to interview for the site said yes, even though the site was still being built and we didn’t even have anything to show them yet.

You guys are funded by Kickstarter, what was the process like? Are you glad you used Kickstarter to get you up and running?

Our site is backed by Kickstarter and it was actually the folks at Kickstarter who came up with the idea. So, it wasn’t as if we raised funds via Kickstarter to fund this site, but rather that Kickstarter approached us with the general idea for the site, which they are generously willing to fund. For those who aren’t familiar, Kickstarter is a Benefit Corporation whose charter basically lays bare their mission to help celebrate creativity and bring creative projects to life. I think Brandon and I both felt incredibly fortunate to be working with them on The Creative Independent.

I appreciate the ad-free site, are you going to have to find other, creative ways for funding in the future?

As we are funded by Kickstarter, we don’t really have to worry about this. But having worked for places in the past whose editorial content was often dictated—either directly or indirectly—by advertising, I can tell you that we’ll never have advertising on our site. Again, given the state of things in the publishing world, this feels like an incredible blessing.

If you were approached by a large corporation like Conde Nast, would you let them buy you out?


How do you all juggle your different roles and responsibilities at The Creative Independent? How do you keep up with the daily publishing schedule?

We did a ton of interviews before the site even launched, so we had already built up a sizable backlog of stories before the site went live. That really saves us from ever having to scramble for content and really allows us to be thoughtful about how the interviews are scheduled. Publishing one interview per day might seem like a lot to some people, but in comparison to a lot of websites that publish a million things a day—reviews, news, profiles, etc—our daily output is pretty simple. That was a big part of our mission from the beginning. The internet feels so cluttered and chaotic and overstuffed with content that it’s overwhelming most of the time. We wanted to give people one thoughtful thing per day—an interview that you could read in one sitting—that would feel both inspiring and (hopefully) instructive.


What’s the best thing about living in NYC?

Accessibility. I grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and spent my childhood dreaming about running away to a big city. It seems ridiculous, but being able to see bands every night of the week, shop for anything on earth I might want, AND have food delivered at 3am—those things still really excite me. Also, the proximity factor of New York City—being so close to where people are making so much amazing art and music makes you feel like you can do it too. I’m not sure I would have had the same kind of ambition—or would have been as inspired to try new things—had I not moved here.

What’s the most important ingredient in getting a good interview?

I think the most important thing is just to talk to people like a normal human being. In my experience the best interviews are just really great conversations. It’s important to realize that the interview subject is actually just a person. I think most people who are creative really do like to talk about what they create and how they create it, so it’s often best just to engage at that level. I’m a big believer that you basically get back the same kind of energy you give off. Also, most people really do like to talk about themselves, even if they don’t always realize it.

Rank the following forms of creative expression in order of superiority, starting with most important: music, painting, poetry, fiction, drama, graffiti, podcasting, dance, photography, cooking, instagram, sculpture, film, twitter, speech, comedy, speechwriting, email.

Oof, I feel like if I’ve learned anything over the past 16 years or so of interviewing creative people it’s that no one form of art really trumps any other form of art. In fact, the thought processes and emotions that go into creating any of these things is often more similar—or rooted in the same kind of thinking—than most people realize. However, as a person who has an MFA in poetry, I’m gonna say that Poetry is far-and-away the most important and most noble and most sorely neglected of all the arts.

What’s been your favorite TCI interview so far?

There have been so many great ones, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t partial to Stevie Nicks. I’ve interviewed her many times over the years and she’s always so wonderful. Kind and earnest and totally magical. I love her.

Do you recommend any recent podcasts or books that we should check out?

I don’t really listen to any podcasts other than the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, but that’s mostly because I used to work for him and he remains a friend. I love how contrary he is. Otherwise, right now I’m reading Sharon Olds’ Odes and I just finished Grace Jones’ memoir, which was amazing.

In one sentence, describe what it’s like to live in 2016.

Noisy. I honestly feel like we’re living in a kind of golden age right now as far as the arts are concerned and I genuinely get bummed out when I hear people go on and on about how much better things used to be. I feel like investing too much in nostalgia really keeps you from experiencing and fully appreciating what’s happening right now. That being said, because of social media and considering how in thrall we all our to our phones and computers, the world just feels really noisy and chaotic. So many competing voices all the time. It’s nice to find ways to try and tune all of that out and just focus. That’s why I read poetry as much as possible.

What’s the best part about the internet? And, favorite URL besides thecreativeindependent.com?

The ways in which the Internet allows me to do research and to stay in touch with friends around the world 24 hours a day never ceases to amaze me. I came of age without the Internet, so in some ways I think I’ll always be kind of inspired by the novelty of it. As for websites, I look at internetkholeblog.tumblr.com a lot for amusement/inspiration.

How has living in NYC impacted your approach to TCI, and how does it affect what you publish?

Being here means that we have direct access to a lot of creators and artists, but we still end up talking to a lot of people on the phone or via Skype. Again, the Internet really allows you access to people all over the place, which makes our jobs easier. Being in NYC just imparts a certain kind of energy to the whole process. You really do feel like you are in the middle of where everything is happening, which is pretty amazing.


Who or what is The Creative Independent’s biggest influences?

That’s a tough one. Brandon and I have worked in various aspects of journalism and publishing for many years, but when starting TCI we never really talked about influences. It was really about creating the kind of thing we’d like to read, not about recreating the vibe of something that already existed.

What are you guys trying to do that’s different than what’s already “out there?”

By only publishing one interview a day, there is the feeling that we’re kind of trying to slow down the internet in some way. Here’s one thing that you can sit and read and digest in one sitting. One thoughtful thing. At a time when most websites feel so busy and cluttered and overwhelming in terms of sheer information, we wanted to strip things back and give you something readable and relatable and (hopefully) meaningful as well.

Thank you to Cole for letting us ask you questions, to The Creative Independent for inspiring us, and to everyone who creates. The world needs you.

Catch up on all TCI conversations on their website thecreativeindependent.com, and follow them for updates on Facebook @thecreativeindependent, Instagram @thecreativeindependent, and Twitter @thecreativeindp