Amy Fleisher Madden, better known to South Florida's punk scene as Amy Fiddler, began a strange journey into self-publication and independent record label operating at the tender age of 16. Her fanzine, Fiddler Jones was indicative of the pop punk '90s with a Cometbus-styled bend that balanced band interviews, reviews, and personal musings with humorous anecdotes about the scene strewn about for good measure.
From the fledgling upstart, undoubtedly fabricated during the heydays of the Office Depot "honor system," Fleisher went on to found Fiddler Records in 1996 that released records by local favorites the Vacant Andys, Milkshed, and the Agency as well as national heavy-hitters like New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, and Juliette Lewis & the Licks.
It's been many years since her hectic teenage years as an entrepreneur and Fleisher has reinvented herself first into the world of advertising and more recently back into the world of publication -- armed with her first novel A Million Miles. We had a chance to discuss her past and the book. And while she might no longer be a local resident, this local girl done good, is proud of her South Florida roots.
New Times: Let's start at the beginning. How did you manage to make South Florida a viable punk rock option when you were only 16 years old? To a certain degree, your parents had something to do with that, no?
Amy Fleisher: My parents were (and still are) extremely cool. To this day they stay out later than I do. So, when I started getting interested in music, they were incredibly tolerant. Like, they let my friends come over and use spray glue to put liberty spikes in their hair before shows. And growing up in South Florida I didn't know that our city didn't really have a thriving punk scene, I thought it was amazing. We all just made the best of it and I loved it.
What was the original goal of Fiddler Jones? And what gave it enough chutzpah to achieve a legacy out of 8 ½" by 11" folded?
I would love to tell you that I had major goals... But at 16, I just wanted to do what the older kids were doing. For some people that meant sneaking cigarettes and beer, but for me that meant following Tim Far Out and Chuck Loose around and getting all of the information I could out of them. I don't know if it was chutzpah, although my grandmother would have been thrilled to see that word in print. It was more like an obsession. I just loved everything so much; I wanted to be around music all the time.
That aside, what went through your mind once those initial signings began making waves in the mainstream?
I was both excited and confused. The excitement comes from an obvious place, but the confusion came from the feelings that we all built our own scene, and I thought that we were building things so we wouldn't need the mainstream culture to be involved. So it all felt backwards. Like, why were we doing this if everyone just wanted to leave?
Things can get confusing when the checkbooks come out. And then I realized that a lot of indie labels were just a means to an end for the bands that were breaking. That's when I knew I needed to work with a major label if I wanted to keep up.
How did you manage to retain composure? As an incredibly young businesswoman and fan of the music, if it's not too much to intrude upon, how did you balance life at that point?
I didn't. Or maybe I did? You should ask my friends. I realized at some point that my label was like a bizarre roommate. It was this thing that I lived with and it was always there, filling my house with bands and boxes. But really, I started doing the label at such a young age that I didn't really know any different. I was always driving to shows to see bands and when it actually became my real job, it was incredibly natural because I'd already been doing it for so long.
So now you've been a few years removed from the record label business. What prompted you to leave and choose to go into advertising?
I would love to say that the label went on to achieve great success and we all lived happily ever after... But that didn't happen. After two (or three?) distribution deals gone horribly wrong, and a few too many bands leaving for greener grass, I couldn't keep up. The recession was on the horizon and it was time to change gears.
The label had prompted me to drop out of college twice, so I never really had a normal college experience. And when it was time to figure things out I realized I had always loved the design side of the business as much as I loved the music. I initially started looking around for graphic design programs, but once I went in for an interview at Art Center (in Pasadena) they thought I'd be a perfect fit for advertising, and they were right.
In this interim, any regrets? Things you would've done differently with the wisdom of your current age guiding?
Ah, the time travel question. Well, I'd have to say no. I love how things turned out, I love my life, and if I went back and changed things, things wouldn't be the same. Now, do I wish I had a seasoned mentor back then who could have helped me avoid some serious pitfalls? Yes. But I was in my twenties, and I probably wouldn't have listened to them anyway.
What prompted the book? Where did the narrative seed get planted?
The earliest rumblings of the book happened in 2009-ish, while I was still finishing my degree. I was starting to learn about copywriting and these memories of tours and all of the amazing characters I knew from music were starting to roll around in my head. It wasn't until two years later though, sitting up really late one night in my tiny Gramercy Park apartment (it was more like a tree house) that I really started to get things out on paper.
How much of the book comes from a personal recess?
The story is fiction, but Maddy and all of the main characters act, feel, and see the world in all of the different ways that I did when I was 19 years old. It took a lot of digging to get those carefree/angst-sy feelings out of me at a ripe old age of 30-something, but after the first or second "fuck it" I was like: There it is!
What's the basic synopsis of the book and what sets you apart from other recent publishers of indie-punk fiction?
A Million Miles is the story of Maddy Traeger, the ultimate music fan, setting out on the road with her favorite band, Crimson + Clover. For people not familiar with music and whatnot, I just tell them it's like Almost Famous, but with a girl and in 1999 and tiny clubs, not arenas.
My story is unique and it comes from a real place. I've had friends that were in bands that toured during the same time period read the book and they've said things like, "This was my life," which is amazing. And I talk to younger people in bands now that are in their early twenties and they say things like, "I can't believe you toured without GPS and an X-Box."
What methodology/process did you undergo when putting together your manuscript?
My writing process has a very technical name, I call it "word vomiting."
Really though, for me, once I created the characters and mapped the story out, it was like hanging out with ghosts. I got very into who would say what and when, and I'd stay in my bedroom for hours writing, and when I was finally done for the day, I'd go out to eat or to see a movie, but I would still hear these made-up conversations in my head -- so I would rush to write them all down on my phone so I wouldn't forget anything for the next day. I was used to writing advertising campaigns which could be a sentence, or three words even, but when you're constructing something of the thousands-and-thousands-of-words size, you're very distracted from everyday life.
Would you consider penning a nonfiction work regarding your meteoric rise to the top of the indie-punk world? You did enjoy an unprecedented moment in time and you happen to have two unique perspectives on the whole situation: female and independent.
I love the word meteoric. And, I would consider it, sure.
What are the immediate plans for the book?
For now, I'm doing everything I can with and for the book. I have a few amazing musical friends that are going to lend me their voices, and we're going to do some fun in-store appearances in 2015.
What's next for you? Something to follow-up in mind?
It just depends on when the ghosts start talking again.
A Million Miles can be purchased at amillionmilesbook.com.
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