A Brief History of Comes With A Smile
As my time as editor of Undergrad (the Thames Valley University Students' Union magazine no less) came to an end I somewhat foolishly entertained the idea of combining the only two enjoyable elements of that job (design and music) into a little fanzine that would perhaps make a nice portfolio to encourage the inevitable surge of design work destined to come my way. With long-term pal, photographer and fellow designer Paul Heartfield at a similar post-university crossroads it made sense to combine our limited expertise and, over a Notting Hill latte, we came up with Comes with a Smile - the title of which derives from a lyric in Red House Painters' 24, not some cheap innuendo as you all seem to think. (CWAS Trivia Note 1: 'A Different Drum' and 'Mmmm…Nice!' were also considered - so be thankful) Shamelessly abusing the list of press contacts I'd accumulated from my time with Undergrad (and indeed stealing interviews to kick-start the new project) we soon had sufficient material with which to launch CWAS on an apathetic public (CWAS Trivia Note 2: The first post-Undergrad interview was with James McNew of Yo La Tengo).
's 28 pages look a bit pathetic sat next to the chunky new issues. What hasn't changed is that odd size (CWAS Trivia Note 3: The reason it isn't exactly square is because our first printer told us he could squeeze extra copies on the press it we cut the height by 10mm) and the tinted paper. What's different is the length of the interviews which are incredibly short! The emphasis is very much on the aesthetic, and Paul's influence is everywhere. The issue also saw my one and only editorial column, an arrogant little spiel about offering an alternative to cut'n'paste photocopied zines. My comeuppance came in the form of around 100 sales and the loss of a big chunk of money.
was a big step forward. 40 pages and a stellar line-up of interviews that would grace the cover of any magazine. Mark Eitzel, Jim White, Tortoise, Rex, Aerial M, Ben Folds Five, The Sea and Cake and Sleater-Kinney all took time out to talk to us. Interviews got a little longer and the reviews section began to bulge.
was the last before the long hiatus that ended with the new-look, CD-enhanced re-birth. Up to 44 pages and mirroring the upsurge in the alt.country arena (Calexico, Willard Grant Conspiracy and Grand Drive were interviewed, many more were to be found in the reviews section), the third issue outsold it's predecessors (not much of a challenge, admittedly) and things seemed to be looking up. We were still in a mess financially, but held onto some idealistic notions of future success. The Geoff Farina quote that I closed the issue with ("You whine of being poor to me but we're rich with possibilities") was directed very much at myself. (CWAS Trivia Note 4: This issue saw debuts for regulars Stephen Ridley and Martin Williams).
And then it all went very, very wrong. Unpaid printers' bills, jealous girlfriends and nagging parents had been fended off for long enough. Whilst Paul was photographing a band for the doomedCWAS#4
I chatted away to their manager and the subject of money came up. Help was offered and empty pockets thankfully accepted. With renewed enthusiasm we steamed ahead with the new issue, and pushed our design talent to the limit with a bunch of layouts that sent us close to insanity. What pushed us over the edge was the realisation that, behind the scenes, promises were being broken, deals weren't being finalised and the money wasn't coming. We had an issue ready to go, I'd taken a huge loan for a new computer and had taken to living with my parents (in Essex, for god's sake!) in an effort to hold on until the backing was in place. Everything came to a sudden, shattering halt. This was the autumn of 1998, dark days indeed. You'll find what was salvaged from the mess on this site somewhere, sometime. Interviews with Elliott Smith, Buffalo Tom, Cat Power, Lisa Germano, Josh Rouse, Silver Jews and others have remained unread for nearly three years.
At risk of sounding even more self-obsessed than usual, the next year was tough. Paul had understandably had enough. We didn't talk for a long, long time. Ditto my girlfriend. Around this time I hooked up with Foundry Recordings, Dreamy Records and Rocket Girl who for the past few years have kept me busy with sleeve design, the irony being that whilst that was the initial aim of Comes with a Smile, I had inadvertently become a music journalist and editor of something I continued to believe was, in some small way, worthy. I couldn't shake it. (CWAS Trivia Note 5: An early version of 'All The While…' the first CWAS CD was assembled at this time. Many of the tracks made the final version, 18 months later. Those that didn't include Matt Keating, Hank Dogs, Circulus, a different Grand Drive track, Pete Krebs and John P. Strohm).
A new offer came, and for the next year I tentatively went about putting together what would become CWAS#5
. I pulled a few of the lost issue interviews and updated them as much as possible (Superstar, Jason Falkner, Vic Chesnutt, Dakota Suite and Jon Auer all date back to 1998.) The first new interview was with Joe Pernice in May of 99, over a year before CWAS#5 saw the light of day. Of course, CWAS#5 proved to be the beginning of something. The wait was over, I had real distribution and we printed 2000 copies. It sold out.
I guess if you're reading this then you know how the past year has gone for Comes with a Smile. Three successive sold-out issues and an increased circulation (4,500 copies for CWAS#8) hopefully tell their own story. With distribution slowly filtering overseas we intend to continue this pattern without losing sight of why we do this. Paul returned to the fold for CWAS#7
, no doubt thrilled to hear that all contributors remain unpaid.
History update, August 2003
We continue to struggle for recognition and financial stability to this day. Since issue 7 we have had no less than three financial backers, the latest of whom we hope will help to build CwaS's profile beyond the 3000 copies we currently produce. Survival is dependent upon such ambition. For six years I've toiled, with of course much help from similarly unpaid cohorts. The gaps between issues have varied wildly as we jumped from one sinking ship to another clinging onto our modest dream all the while. And still the mags get snapped up by the faithful and the new.
The issue we're working on now (CWAS#13) is the first put together on this new PC. It'll also be the first time we've printed entirely on white stock. For all the 'identity' we've built with the tinted paper over the years, Paul and I are fed up with looking at pictures that looked so much better before they hit the shelves. So, we're upping the quality and eager to be proved correct. While we're at it, we've decided to shrink-wrap the package in an effort to protect it from an unforgiving distribution network and chain-store chancers. Such steps are not to be seen as signposts to an eventual loss of what makes CwaS 'special'. They're not the beginning of the downward spiral that has befallen so many other titles in recent years. We'll not be changing our editorial slant (because we don't have one), and we'll not be consulting a marketing team to maximise our demographic reach. We won't be filling our pages with advertisements for mobile phones and no, we won't be sticking Eminem on our cover in this lifetime.
Comes with a Smile will endure while there are people out there who care about music. We'll interview artists we think you'll like (disregarding trend and marketability), and we'll write about records that may otherwise pass you by. It's a simple formula, but we like it.