Daily Inspiration: Amber Bravo

January 24, 2013

For the last two years, Amber Bravo has been an editor at The FADER. Though she's been a consistent writer both here on TheFADER.com and in our print magazine, her influence has been biggest behind the scenes. A fantastic editor, she has an incredible ability not just to identify great stories, but how to make them better. If you've liked anything the FADER has done these past two years, chances are Amber had something to do with it. We're sad to see her go; on her last day, we honor her in song.

Gucci Mane, "First Day Out"

Before I met Amber, I read her writing. She was applying for a job as an editor, and she sent samples pieces from her days at Dwell. One was about an old man who was a graphic designer and another was about a house built on a tiny island. They were both beautifully written. Though neither topic was something I typically read about, I was drawn to her easy and paced prose, her ability to illuminate her subjects' inner workings. She was interested in these people because of what they did, sure, but what mostly interested her wasn't that final product, but their process of creation. How did the old man build his legacy? Why build a house on an island? Forget the legacy and the house, the everyday people behind those stories was the engine of her work.

That's a FADER instinct. We tell stories about musicians, sure, but more about what drives someone to create. Graphic design and drumming may not be interchangeable skills, but you can learn to understand the drums. It's a lot harder to teach someone to suss out what's in someone's soul. I was overjoyed when I finally met Amber in person and found her to be as thoughtful as her written words. We spoke for some time about magazines and what makes a good story and before the conversation was done I was fairly sure I wanted to hire her. My only concern was her lack of experience in music. She said she knew generally what was happening on the indie side of music, but never before had been someone who'd engaged with it critically. I worried about this a little, and wondered exactly how much she knew. "Have you ever heard of Gucci Mane?" I asked, a kind of litmus test. No, she said. It was my last question. I wrestled with how crucial that should be, and eventually realized not very was the logical answer. In the two years since, she's proven herself to be a quick study in the facts of music, but the important stuff she never had to learn. I've been lucky to be party to Amber's deconstructing of innumerable artists—from Lana Del Rey to The Rapture to Philippe Zdar. No one is better at figuring out what makes someone tick. Today I was trying to think about whether or not she ever got around to putting Gucci Mane's music through her mental prism and I realized that I don't think that ever happened. Here's one for the road. —MATTHEW SCHNIPPER

Jamie xx, FACT Mix

Amber and I moved together into a small, narrow office. It was narrow enough that if one person scooted their chair back from their desk, the other person couldn't really get by. It felt like we were in a dorm, except minus beds and plus a lot of magazine copy to read. It was one of those things that, if someone ever makes a documentary on The FADER, I will end up talking about with the sort of old man reverie that comes off as simultaneously warm and completely crazy.

Sharing a tiny office with Amber worked better than I would have expected. We ate a lot of snacks. There was a dark Reese's Pieces phase that thankfully ended when I left the magazine to pursue a freelance career, and before that (and, often, who am I kidding, during that) we ate lots of natural fruit snacks, nuts—Amber bought a certain trail mix that I would eat incessantly, even as I told her it was the most boring trail mix you could get—salads, drinkable yogurts, spoonable yogurts, fresh juice, water drunk from promotional Superbad mugs, Hawaiian chocolates… I could go on. Amber and I mostly just snacked. It's a miracle that we're both healthy, and I have no doubt that Amber is infinitely healthier than me.

One thing that I know I've never written down, and I don't think I've verbalized it either, is that when Amber started at The FADER I was skeptical. I wanted her to work there, but, like any seasoned employee, I felt like I needed to be skeptical until it felt ridiculous to be skeptical. I guess it's a territory thing? I imagined getting over it after a couple months, but it barely lasted a week. Here is a list of things that Amber Bravo did that made me not skeptical of her:

* Went to a Jamie xx DJ set at Le Poisson Rouge on a weeknight right when she first started at the magazine and proceeded to dance for the entire duration.
* Revealed that she had a tattoo on her foot that she kind of regretted, and then laughed at every joke about it.
* Told a story about how, because of a misunderstanding, she once almost got arrested because a cop thought she was breaking into her own car.

The tattoo and the car story got me on this whole kick that Amber, the sweetest, kindest person I'd met in years, maybe used to be bad. Sometimes I'd call her Bad Amber. I invented a whole fake history involving bar fights and living on the other side of the tracks. I vaguely remember that at one point I concocted a story about a fight outside of a Claire's in a mall. Working late does things to you. The point is: none of that is true. I was skeptical of Amber for those brief few days because she was new. She is a great writer and an immensely talented editor. We spent a lot of time together in the smallest possible space and it didn't once get annoying. I never had to retreat into my headphones, I was never bummed to see her, and her suggestions for my writing were essential. Those things will be missed.

The weirdest thing about working with someone is that you spend time with them constantly. Often these people become your friends. They're sort of your best friends. You see them every day. If you're sad, they have to be around you. If you're sick, they'll probably be there whether they want to be or not. You're stuck together. Now that I've left The FADER and Amber is leaving The FADER, I started thinking that we'll have to make time to be better social friends. To go to bars or dinners or concerts or get in brawls outside mall chain stores. I'm sad that Amber won't be editing my writing anymore, but I feel like our professional paths will cross again. Mostly, I'm just excited to be friends with her for real. I'll bet we could listen to a lot of Jamie xx mixes. —SAM HOCKLEY-SMITH

Brian Eno, Music for Airports

The truth is, I don’t talk to Amber about music much. You know why? Because I talk to her about a trillion other things that no one else I’ve ever met knows anything about. Do you know the history of chairs? No, probably not, and neither do I. But Amber does. She knows so many things about design and art and the world around us. It takes a special person who can look at a building and tell you when it was made and why it looks like it does, someone finely tuned to the world, who observes things freshly and who really looks around and thinks about the things they see, starry-eyed every time they leave their house. That is, partly, an unlearned talent, more a quality. And Amber has it—I can’t think of many qualities better.

I chose this Brian Eno song because it’s from his album Music For Airports and, like her, is all about meditating on those subjects of geographic space and architecture and the idea that something as simple as an airport can be filled with meaning and beauty if you think about it in a certain way. Eno was inspired to make this album by a humdrum visit to an airport, and the results are not the bland chaos you'd expect from such a visit, but rather pretty and patient and thoughtful—an attempt to elevate the conversation, imbue everything with a sense of intelligence. Amber thinks about things in that way, too. That makes her a good writer but it also makes her just an interesting person to talk to, someone who has something to say about so many things. To look at something average and see why it’s special is probably a goal we should all have, and Amber at least inspires me to try.

Also, it’s really just pretty, and so is Amber. —ALEX FRANK

Janet Jackson, "Got 'til It's Gone (Prod. by Q-Tip)

Q-Tip stole a riff from Joni Mitchell for "Got 'til It's Gone," the song and video Janet debuted her Velvet Rope-era sound and natural-glam look with. It was released the night of the 1997 Video Music Awards, the one with the crazy Fiona Apple acceptance speech. I was ten and so desperate to grow up and Amber was probably already wearing tube tops and getting foot tattoos with her friends. Now I'm somehow within arms-reach of 30, and often terrified. I'm not sure how to take proper care of my skin, what to make for dinner or how to apologize to my boyfriend. I don't have an older sister, and few female friends that aren't my age. Getting to know Amber, and finding that, while no one led her neatly through all the choices of her 20s, she's managed just fine, at work and in her relationships, has been a real gift. Amber's a tough critic but an efficient and flexible communicator, an accessibly glamorous dresser and generous recipe-sharer. That she's jumping in to a new position now is exciting, just another sign that an adult life like she's made, full of yoga and tequila shots, lies just a couple brave steps ahead. —NAOMI ZEICHNER

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "For Kate I Wait"

When I think of Ariel Pink, now, I think about Amber, because of this little thing she did in an interview with him last year. It's not like some big trick or secret, but at the time I first caught it I was pretty impressed, excited to try the same thing out sometime. He says, "I’m the least romantic person on the planet. I am all about longevity and stability and loyalty. I’m old fashioned." And she goes, "I’m married." And because she did that, instead of just going along like, "Do you think that's a good quality?" or like, "But isn't loyalty romantic too?"—because she instead just says, "I'm married," taking the conversation in a direction Ariel Pink couldn't have pre-thought, new pathways open and the guy is taken aback and becomes more revealing. "Well, congratulations," he says. "I hope it lasts. Just don’t get a divorce. I’m not into divorce. I got married. I got married before this last relationship. It’s one of my biggest regrets." And it goes on from there and gets pretty good. I like this interview, and this little dance in particular, because you learn about the interviewer in a way that actually furthers your understanding of the subject. That rarely happens, and it's the sort of delicate finessing I admire about Amber. —DUNCAN COOPER

Tyra Banks, Vaseline Frenzy

When I interviewed at The FADER last summer and met Amber for the first time, I was surprised to learn that she and I had gone to the same college, mostly because the world of music journalism is such a small one that I never thought I’d meet anybody else who had. When I started working here in August, that coincidence was compounded by the discovery that we had both spent a semester or two in the same, 2nd floor corner dorm room in the Amherst College arts house, and that our respective paths had now landed us in the same room for a second time, on the 13th floor of a building in Manhattan. It seemed natural that I should look to Amber as something of a mentor figure.

Amber edits most of my writing, and I edit hers, and I think it’s through a combination of reading her prose and reading her edits of mine that I’ve developed a real appreciation for the kind of writing that really zooms in on the finer distinctions. It might be all the Edith Wharton that she reads, but I think Amber just has a knack for taking the many shades of the human brain's responses to a given work of art (or a person, or life) and letting her reader know that she’s thinking them too. It’s meaningful when you come across a writer that knows things are never as straightforward as everybody would like them to be, because then you realize that you’re not the only one who sees all the little contradictions, and you feel a little bit less alone.

Getting to know someone while both of you are perpetually in the middle of listening to, writing, editing, reading, emailing, Facebooking and/or Tweeting something is a pretty sideways way of getting to know them, but you also pick up things that you might not notice if you were the kind of friends who went out for drinks instead. In the months I’ve spent working beside her, I’ve collected a lot of little details about Amber that I will miss very much. No matter how hectic things can get when we’re closing an issue, for example, she’ll always take the time out to care for the three little plants she keeps by the windowsill, and while she can studiously walk you through the differences between one very obscure school of Swiss graphic design and another, she’s also the kind of person who will send you amazing Tyra YouTubes, like the above. I don’t think I wrote back to her when she sent it, but thought now was as good a time as any to say thank you. —EMILIE FRIEDLANDER

Helen Reddy, "I Am Woman"

One of my earliest memories of kicking it with Amber was at a concert where French Montana and 20 other dudes with microphones pounded around the stage singing "Break Em". It was International Women's Day and, as the entire posse of dudes sang I break a bitch down/ Call me Chris Brown/ I breaka breaka bitch down, Amber and I looked at each other with our eyebrows raised. Amber has lots of thoughts about what it means to be a woman. As a younger female staff member, still figuring what these things mean for me, I appreciate the nuance that Amber represents in her writing and even in her personal style. Hearing literature, movies, music and style filtered through her prism, I'm encouraged by Amber's sense of femininity that is quiet but really tough as nails. It's not always a roar or a karaoke torch song, sometimes it's just wearing a semi-sheer dress in broad daylight, solely for herself, not caring what people on the F train may think. I will miss her fuzzy knit sweaters, leather jeans and great book recommendations. —DEIDRE DYER

John Cale, "Hanky Panky Nohow"

Last year, Amber and I filmed a FADER TV with John Cale in DUMBO. We walked with him to a nearby park and quickly decided he looked awesome sitting in the middle of a playground. There were some kids running around, a few chats happening at benches nearby and, last but not least, a loud train, I think it was the Q, buzzing by every few minutes on a track above us. We had settled into this red playground background and didn't really feel like leaving, so Amber and John, in the best of possible outcomes, decided to stop talking when the train came by and continue their interview when it was quiet again. It was pretty silly and we've never really done anything like that before, especially with someone so legendary. John was cooperative about it, and seemed content to talk in such a crazy setting. Since that day, Amber is forever embedded in my John Cale listening sessions. I think about her sitting on the cold, uncomfortable ground looking endearingly up at John Cale, sitting a few steps up at the top of a slide. I recently saw him perform at BAM and couldn't help but think about Amber during his softest and most beautiful songs (like the one above) because, well, Amber is really soft and beautiful too. Soft like a pillow, beautiful, strong and motivational. And I think I've told her this before but I want to be her when I grow up. —MAIA STERN

Posted: January 24, 2013
Daily Inspiration: Amber Bravo