Write Man in the Palais: Michael Azerrad’s New Site Brings DIY Ethos and Peer Review to Music Criticism

As it turns out, other musicians would, including Greg Saunier, the drummer for Deerhoof, who offered a withering examination of the Rolling Stones single “Doom and Gloom”—which Mr. Azerrad referred to as “one of the best things I’ve ever read about the Stones”—and founder of the legendary dB’s Peter Holsapple, who was less than impressed by Willie Nelson’s latest offering.

But there is an innate sense of respect built into their assessments, which stands in contrast to some other sites that seem to operate on nothing but the need for punchy copy. And one gets the sense that The Talkhouse is part of something larger, that it taps into a collective dissatisfaction—among musicians and fans alike—with the way music is now discovered.

“Honestly, man, there’s this feeling on our side of the glass that the industry moves so much faster these days,” said the guitarist Ben Greenberg, who has contributed to the site. “And people tend to attribute that to shorter and shorter attention spans. I don’t agree. I think it’s mostly the music media community who are all constantly racing to the next finish line of the next new band or scene or region they hadn’t known about before.”

While The Talkhouse certainly stands out as the first notable site of its kind, a big reason that musicians are willing to write for it in the first place is that they respect Mr. Azerrad, who brings many connections to the job and exerts a kind of totemic influence in indie circles past and present.

A former longtime contributor to Rolling Stone, Mr. Azerrad has been writing about music since 1985, and in his work he gets musicians to open up, quoting them extensively, as he is often the first writer to record their thoughts. His first book, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, was published in 1993, six months before Kurt Cobain committed suicide, and it’s generally viewed as the definitive examination of Seattle’s seminal grunge band.

But Mr. Azerrad’s most notable work is Our Band Could Be Your Life, his 500-page paean to the punk scene that swept the country in the 1980s and early 1990s; the underground scene itself served as a kind of guidepost for his own personal development.

“I can’t say I was ever a punk,” Mr. Azerrad said. “I never had blue hair and a mohawk or anything like that, but in terms of thinking for yourself, that was really huge. Fugazi, in particular, made a huge impression on me—politically, as a consumer and as a citizen of the world.”

As it turned out, Our Band made an equal impression on musicians and has operated as a kind of secular bible among modern indie stalwarts like Mr. Greenberg, the Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective and Merrill Garbus. That notion solidified two years ago when the Bowery Ballroom hosted a 10th anniversary concert for Our Band, to which musicians came out in droves to express their appreciation.

“I think our generation—chasing the coattails of Gen X but still old enough to remember life before cellphones—sorely needed some sort of cultural and spiritual link to relate to and to learn from, and Michael nailed it,” Mr. Greenberg told The Observer.

And so Mr. Azerrad—a former musician himself who spent several years playing drums in indie rock bands—was in a prime position to take on The Talkhouse. The website seems like a logical extension of his identity, just as it is a logical outgrowth of the Internet’s punk-y potential for “Do It Yourselfism,” as Mr. Azerrad likes to say.

“It’s in keeping with Michael’s DIY and punk roots,” said Ms. Johnston, “that you can be a reader of this site, and learn from it, and apply it to your own band and your own music.”

Launched in March, the website is still in beta—there are plans to add artist pages and other small features—but the basic architecture is already in place, and the concept is simple enough that it doesn’t need much tweaking.

Along with reviews and the occasional feature, The Talkhouse has comments sections that only allow its contributors, and those who have been written about, to weigh in. And the threads have been surprisingly civil, a relief from the vitriol that dominates most online discussions. There are also separate forums in which musicians can discuss the things they usually talk about backstage, or on long cross-country tours. (Sample question: “Have ‘punk ideals’ become totally irrelevant for musicians?” The answer? A resounding no.)

While the contributors mainly consist of indie rock musicians, Mr. Azerrad has made an effort to include as many voices as possible, and as the site gains momentum, more and more artists are asking to take part.

“I don’t think I’m going to ask Madonna to write for us just yet,” Mr. Azerrad noted, “but maybe by the time the next Daft Punk album comes around, she’ll want to contribute.”

Mr. Azerrad also hastens to add that the site, which pays its writers and features one essay a day, is not meant to replace conventional criticism. “This is a really important point,” Mr. Azerrad said. “I don’t think that musicians make better music writers. I just think that they provide a point of view that’s been underutilized.”

More than anything, Mr. Azerrad wants to draw out musicians’ stories, to preserve their voices and to give them a venue to be heard. And so far, he’s been more than pleased with the results.

“It’s incredibly satisfying to get great copy,” Mr. Azerrad noted. “Sometimes it’s so good I get a little choked up, honestly.”

And while it remains to be seen if The Talkhouse will inspire a new generation of musicians in the way Our Band did, it certainly points the way to the future for meaningful musical discovery in an era of manifold distractions.

Write Man in the Palais: Michael Azerrad’s New Site Brings DIY Ethos and Peer Review to Music Criticism