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The Decline of Northern Civilization: Jenn Gray of AK INK

(This is an ongoing interview series about the alternative / punk music scene in Anchorage and its attendant culture, from the 80s through the 00s.)

Jenn held down the punk rock fort in Anchorage from 2002-2006 with her zine AK INK. Local music live reviews, attitude, beer reviews? The local music scene needed an infusion of fresh blood, and she delivered. She was kind enough to speak with me a few years ago about her days in the Anchorage scene trenches.

Interview by Josh Medsker

When did you first get involved in the punk scene in Anchorage?

I guess I first became involved in the scene when I was 16. My family moved back to Anchorage from Germany in 1993. I started dating musicians, and going to the local shows.

Who were some of your models for zine writing? What zines (local or non-local) had you read or contributed to before the start of AK Ink? I still remember your Skeeve’s Christmas Story comic! Hahaha! I loved that.

I liked comics a lot, and tried to make some. Not dumb boy action adventures, but more cynical crass feminine humor. I wasn’t interested in zines at first because I had only been exposed to perzines where people drone on about their personal bullshit. I was familiar with the reproductive aspect of zines, and replicated my comics in the same way. I remember NNN a lot because of how the half legal sized pamphlet felt nice to hold. The full sized letter zines were bulky and lame, and the half letter sized zines were too narrow and awkward. I started making AK ink in half sized legal sheets too. NNN seemed to have the right amount of scene coverage, music reviews, and other shit that I found appropriate of a scene zine. I figured if I made one, I could interject all of my drawings and comics in-between the scene coverage. With NNN I could see that the past was documented, but at the same time I could see that no one was documenting the present.

I left AK in 2000, and honestly… from 1996 when I quit NNN, up until then, there didn’t seem to be a lot of zine-ing going on. And by the time you started AK Ink, the Verve had gone kaput, right?  What was the local zine/small press scene like at the onset of AK Ink?

Yeah we began at the end of 2002, and not a lot was going on zine-wise, aside from a few perzines found at Subterranea. There was some scene coverage in AK This Month and the Press, but I wanted AK ink to focus primarily on the local underground punk scene, because there wasn’t much documentation of that.

An important note about the timing of AK ink, was that it began right as the internet was starting to explode. Paper zines were practically already obsolete. So if there weren’t a lot of zines out there, that’s a huge contributing factor. Making copies at Kinkos was all revised; you had to have a credit card to run the machines, so I’m sure that deterred some of the kids. We intended AK ink to be a website zine only because we lived in this new digital world, but we made the paper version just for fun. Then we said fuck it, and made it paper too. Good thing because the paper copy is the only thing that remains.

I don’t know if you experienced this, but during NNN, it almost seemed like–because we were writing about it, more bands popped up, or maybe, the bands that were around took what they were doing a tad more seriously… dunno.  Was that your experience?

I think we noticed more bands pop up because we were searching them out, and collecting them into history. Not everyone remembers the lame band that three of your friends were in back in the early 2000s, but zines do. I think creating a zine is a big contribution to the scene, and compliments the contributions of the bands. Not everyone is a musician. Instead of making music with melody and lyrics, we made visual art with photography and type. Perhaps it does inspire, and encourage some people, but the scene was definitely already alive and kicking by the time we started writing about it. There were lots of mohawks in the pit, and fist banging all around.

Also, looking back on it, it seems like AK can only support one ongoing local zine at a time! Hahaha! I think the Ak Verve/NNN dual run was a fluke.  In the 80s, it was only Warning.  In the 90s it was me and Bmac (an anomaly), and it seems like in the 00s it was only you. Did you find that to be true?

No, I think we tried to encourage each other to create, whether it was in AK ink, or in other zines. Actually, there were several zines going on the same time as AK ink, maybe not as consistent, or in the same vein, or as reproduced and promoted, but we would run ads in each other’s zines to show support. The more perspective, and the different perspective, on the same subject is wonderful for archiving.

Tell me about the birth of AK Ink. What made you want to start a seriously local zine in Anchorage?

I wanted to do several things. I wanted to get my art published, I wanted to have a fun creative enslaving project, and I wanted to document the scene so I could remember it. I have a terrible memory so creating a zine was perfect. I was going to all the local shows and hanging out with band people anyway. I coupled it with my favorite genre, punk rock, and AK ink was born. “AK” stands for the geographically fucked location, and “ink” stands for pen art, type, toner, and the blackness in reproducing art. A nice plus was that it gave me something to do besides drink at the shows.

Why did you fold it up, ultimately?

It folded because I was poor and working with my back. I figured I better get my shit together and finish my bachelors before I got all crippled working manual labor jobs. I quit the zine, and my shitty warehouse job to go back to school.

Do you think you’ll put out #20 ever?

Yes. Everything for it is sitting safety in my attic waiting for my next move. Though, I’m not sure if I will release it this year, next year, or in 10 years, whenever the inspiration and time comes.

What are some of your favorite AK memories?

I’m really interested in subcultural group thought/aesthetic/action, and the conformity of nonconformity. Youth culture and underground communal response might be found in all cities, but we got to experience it, and document it, in Anchorage. I like how the scene doesn’t really pedestal the bands. They are usually just dudes with day jobs dragging their equipment through the snow, keeping the scene alive, giving a reason to congregate. The scene is about the people who come together, the bands and the crowds. Granted, everyone is usually more interested in finding drugs, an after party, or a lay, rather than focusing on the sound, but the music is the soundtrack to this weird intermingling. Sometimes there are tons of people contributing to this collective, sometimes people just stop trying, and go about their lives. It doesn’t matter; the Anchorage underground scene always peaks again. I find this shit fascinating.

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