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EXPERT FOCUS – NATASHA SCHARF TALKS BECOMING A GOTH, AN AUTHOR AND HOW THE INTERNET HAS CHANGED THE PRESS

At a music industry conference in Epsom last year, Natasha Scharf described herself as “the go-to girl for goth.” She used to run her own goth magazine, has written for various other publications, been a broadcaster and has two books on the subject under her belt, so she certainly has the credentials.

Speaking via Skype, the first words I hear are: “I haven’t got the webcam on because it slows my connection down too much, you’ll just have to imagine me looking glamorous.”

Natasha is certainly an expert on goth, but how did she first get into it? “Goth oh gosh,” she says laughing. Like many people, she got into it through punk. “It wasn’t called goth in those days, it was punk or post-punk.” The first band she got into that was known as goth was Siouxsie and the Banshees. “I was attracted to them because of the way they looked, I liked the imagery, I liked the music. It had a very sort of nursery rhyme like quality to it, but it was also very dark. There was obviously just something about it that resonated with me.” And it was from there that Natasha got more into the music as well as the look. “It wasn’t until I was probably in my late teens that people actually started calling me goth, even though that was the music I had always listened to, the look that I had and the lifestyle I guess I had followed,” she says.

At this point in her career, Natasha is best know as the author of two books: ‘Worldwide Gothic’ and ‘The Art of Gothic’. After establishing her career as a music journalist, what made her take the leap to becoming an author? “Well, I’d been trying to get some books published for quite a while actually, and I had written a lot of synopses and kept getting rejected.” But she persevered because of the appeal of having a book published. “I guess the appeal of doing a book rather than a magazine article, I mean I still do magazine articles, is that there’s more permanence in it.” Many people do keep magazines, but just as many throw them away too. “I’m the kind of person that hoards magazines, so I think it’s terrible somebody throwing it away.” Books, people don’t tend to throw away.

Natasha felt the need to take on a bigger project, something that had more permanence and involved a lot of research. This was when she started submitting synopses to publishers. “I actually got an email completely out of the blue from a publisher who wanted me to do ‘Worldwide Gothic’,” she says. “I said to him, ‘How is this book going to to be different to anything else that’s out there?’” To her delight, the publisher gave her the freedom to approach the book however she wanted.”I thought brilliant, I started digging out all my old research and years worth of work and creating a book out of it. The same thing happened with her second book, ‘The Art of Gothic’. A company approached her with the proposal. “They did a whole series of ‘The Art of…’ books and they wanted to do ‘The Art of Gothic’ as well. Again it was something I really liked the sound of.” There hadn’t been a book done it that way before. “Yes, there’d been books on gothic art and books on goth, but nobody had actually used art and goth in a book that tells the whole story of the musical subculture as well, so it really appealed to me to do something along those lines,” she says. They were both books that she wanted to do, “so it all worked nicely.”

Although they were both books that Natasha wanted to do, taking on such a big project doesn’t come without its challenges. “The biggest ones I guess would have been getting all the research done and writing the book within a very tight time frame,” she says. Publishers can be very strict with deadlines, and their schedules are planned far in advance. “If you’re doing something as a labour of love, quite often you don’t have a deadline there, and you can carry on working. I meet people who have been working on books for ten plus years. I think, it must be so lovely to have so much time to be able to do it.”

Another challenge was cutting down the content, if you’re passionate about a subject that just makes it even harder. But it’s not always a choice. “Sometimes that decision was made for me, because we couldn’t get hold of certain things and certain people didn’t want to be involved, particularly with ‘The Art of Gothic’, they didn’t want to be involved in a book that had the word goth in the title. Because, as you know there are people out there who dislike being referred to as goth or gothic, and some people consider it to have a bit of a stigma attached to it.”

Of course, having a book published has its rewarding aspects too. Speaking to a journalist it might be easy to guess what some of those are. “Finding out the stories, interviewing the people that had wonderful tales to tell and particularly tales that I’d wanted to learn about, or tales I kind of vaguely knew about but wanted to elaborate on,” says Natasha. Again, the aspect of the books permanence is rewarding. “Getting them in print and seeing the finished product, being able to hold the book in my hands and do the launch party and everything,” she says. “Yeah, wonderful. And, the characters that I met when I was writing the books, there were some incredible people, amazing bands, artists, promoters, designers… yeah, everybody, some incredibly talented people. Goth is a very creative thing.”

With two books under her belt, will the third one be coming any time soon? “Yes, I’m in the middle of one now,” she says laughing. “But, I’m not allowed to talk about it, except that it’s goth related. So, yes, lots and lots of research being done at the moment, lots and lots of writing and not a lot of sleep.”

Throughout her journalistic career, Natasha has performed a variety of roles including everything from writing to being a DJ to being a presenter, but she sees everything she does as part of the same package. “I think the way that I’ve seen my roles, I haven’t really seen them as individual roles,” she says. “So, it’s very difficult for me to pick one out and say I like this the best, or I like this the least, because they all seem to be part of the same kind of thing. When I’m deejaying I’m finding out about new music which I’m then writing about. When I’m presenting radio shows and TV shows, again I’m finding out about new things which then inform my writing.” She comes up with an analogy to describe the way she sees things. “It’s all kind of like a big spider diagram if you want to refer to it like that.” Well, spider web would be more goth, but that will do. “Where there’s kind of me in the middle with lots of different offshoots and they all kind of compliment each other and work really nicely together.” So, a bit like a web then.

As a journalist, you live and breathe your work, and if you write about music it’s most likely you have a passion for what you do. This means it can be very rewarding, but the in-the-moment and unpredictable nature of the profession means that things can also go very wrong. I asked Natasha what her best and worst experiences as a journalist have been. She hesitates before answering: “The best experience I guess is when you interview somebody and it goes really well, you find out amazing things and you, I guess, get friendly with them afterwards.” One of the best interviews she’s done was with Ogre from Skinny Puppy. “He’s always great, he’s a really incredible, intellectual fascinating guy who just knows so much about so many different things and you can have wonderful conversations.”

For most music journalists, the fan inside never dies and Natasha still gets a thrill out of interviewing her idols. “I’ve interviewed Siousxsie Sioux, Carl McCoy several times now, Peter Murphy…” She laughs and says, “it sounds like I’m a name-dropper but these are the reasons you become a journalist, to interview this people.”

Natasha likes her job so much that she’s lost track of the question, so I repeat it, and when it comes to bad experiences, there aren’t that many she can recall. “Very, very early on, I did an interview with somebody, it was a radio interview and it was over a recording device and I did the whole interview before realising the device wasn’t switched on.” I tell her that it hasn’t happened to me so far, and she assures me that it will one of these days. The only bad experiences she’s had that haven’t been down to technology are the times that interviewees haven’t had much to say. “That always happens, it’s bound to happen,” she says. “I’ve always kind of made them work in the end. When something hasn’t worked on one occasion and I’ve seen the person again it’s been absolutely fine.” For Natasha, technical problems are definitely the worst kind to have, “it makes you look like an idiot,” she says.

Natasha is perhaps best known for writing about goth music and subculture, however that is not all she writes about. I asked whether her focus expanded naturally, or whether she broadened her horizons for survival. She answers with a sigh: “Well, when you say that I’m goth or gothic that’s just one facet of my personality, my interests as a music fan. So, I’ve got pretty diverse taste in music and I’ve always enjoyed lots of different styles, lots of different genres. So, for me to be writing about different styles and genres, that to me is perfectly normal.” In her opinion it’s healthy to listen to a wide range of music and to have broad horizons. “I think you do need to listen to lots of different genres to be able to appreciate what your favourite thing is.”

One of the publications that Natasha currently writes for is Prog Magazine. “People are like ‘oh well goth and prog that’s completely opposing.’ Well that’s not true.” Some bands like Fields of the Nephilim have lots of prog elements within their work. “Of course, you come across the album Elizium which was their third album, that was produced by Pink Floyd’s sound engineer. It was recorded in David Gilmour’s houseboat studio, Astoria. So there’s lots of proggy elements within goth.”

This takes us onto the subject of pools of influence. “I think it was Steve Severin from Siouxsie and the Banshees who made a comment once about how a lot of the particularly contemporary gothic music was a carbon copy, and each time you photocopy the carbon it loses its quality because your deviating so far from the original influences. It loses its specialness. And, I can see what he meant by that. I think he was referring to a lot of the bands that were on MySpace at the time.” This isnt just a problem that applies to goth, “it’s the same with any genre,” says Natasha. “If you don’t go back to the source and keep a wide pool of influences, you can end up sounding a little bit flat.”

It doesn’t just apply to the music itself either. “And I think it’s the same for a music journalist,” she says. “If you don’t have a wide pool of influences to dip into, and to inform your listening habits, then I think your writing can risk being a little flat at times.”

Going back to the original question: “So yeah, it was a natural thing, and I’ve never really thought about it. People always seem surprised that I write for different publications, but it’s not something that feels weird, it’s something that feels perfectly natural.”

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About Jacob Ovington (9 Articles)
Dark music connoisseur and expert on all things gothic.

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