YOU KNOW you've made a pop-culture impact when your zine gets name-dropped by a little band like Belle & Sebastian. It was the fanzine chickfactor—a chatty, indie-rock bible for the jangly mid-'90s, chockablock with co-founder Gail O'Hara's photography, interviews, and record reviews. In its pre-internet flush, it was an indie-music fan's dream—sporting such pre-fame scribes as Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), and interviews with Liz Phair, Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo, and Neko Case. As further evidence of its portentous taste making, I submit this 2002 quote from Carrie Brownstein: "I think most people think of Sleater-Kinney as a comedy routine first and a rock band second." Ahem.
While there were a scant 16 issues of chickfactor, they made quite an impression on a generation of music fans, most notably because of O'Hara's 5,000-plus-word Q&A interviews. I sat down with O'Hara in a sunny bar patio, and asked if she thought her zine was the predecessor to the ever-popular music-blog Q&A.
"Interview magazine had that back in the '80s. It's hard to believe now because it's a shadow of its former self. It was such an amazing magazine with huge long interviews, and it was always some great person interviewing. I remember reading it, saying, 'Wow, Dolly Parton is an amazing person—like, who knew?'" she says.
For the 20th anniversary, O'Hara has been assembling chickfactor-approved bands for a run of coast-spanning parties, with Portland's version stuffed with venerable Northwest indie rock from bands who haven't played together in 12 years, from the fragile and lovely emoting of the Softies to K Records queen Lois Maffeo.
"I hope it'll bring out some old-timers! I hope it's quiet when people are playing, because all the bands are pretty quiet. The Softies will go on last, because they're so rockin'. No, I'm kidding!" she laughs. The future of chickfactor has some legs, too—O'Hara wants to print an issue this year (the first issue in seven years). She's also assembling a photo book with an exhibit at Reading Frenzy on June 7, and hoping to work on a best-of book of some of the only-in-print content. Twenty years later, chickfactor is still gently rockin'.