Since its launch three years ago, Noise & Color has sometimes been a hard magazine to pigeonhole, but founding publisher Bryce Turcotte did have a consistent vision for it.
“My unofficial slogan for it was always, ‘Cool shit for cool people,’” he said.
The cool people are still around, but for a while at least they’re going to have to get their cool shit somewhere else. After three years and 35 issues (they took a break one month), the glossy magazine that covered the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Billings and beyond pulled the plug last week.
With a black cover that announced its third anniversary and the news that it was also the final edition, Noise & Color served up one last helping of eclectic fare, including a “Montana Bucket List,” an in-depth look at artist Louis Habeck, a profile of the band Hubba Hubba and a feature story on the graffiti-rich “Art Alley” in downtown Billings.
The Ration steps into the breach
Noise & Color may be dead, but Alexander Clark hopes its spirit will live on in The Ration.
That is the name of an online publication he hopes to launch in two or three weeks, filling up the template he has already posted online. Clark, who used to sell advertising for Noise & Color, said he wants to do online, with little overhead, what Noise & Color was doing in print.
He has gathered some of the writers who worked for the magazine, and they have already produced eight stories. When he doubles that number and rounds up some photography and other graphic elements, he’ll launch, he said.
He has asked Turcotte to do some photography and ad design, and Turcotte said he is interested—after a good, long rest.
Turcotte said putting Noise & Color out never stopped being fun, but finances were always tight, and in recent months, for a variety of reasons, some of their biggest advertisers either cut back or stopped advertising altogether. When Turcotte paired the bleak financial outlook with how burnt out he and his small staff were feeling, he knew it was time to quit.
Right now he’s preparing for a trip to Portland, looking forward to his first vacation in three years that won’t involve having to do some work every day.
Turcotte, a native of Laurel, got involved in publishing six years ago, when Ken Crawford launched Grindstone, a newsprint tabloid that also aimed to cover the arts and culture. Turcotte was working as a photographer then and started out by taking some photos for Grindstone, but eventually he got involved in every aspect of the business except writing.
Grindstone lasted two years, after which Turcotte went back to photography and graphic design. Then, about a year after Grindstone’s demise, he ran into Wayne Wilcox, a Billings native he’d become friends with when they both attended MSU Billings.
They talked about Grindstone and Wilcox wondered if Turcotte was interested in starting a similar publication himself. A week later, over lunch on the patio of the Broadway Deli, they decided to start a magazine, and Turcotte began assembling a team of contributors.
Wilcox would be the money guy, and it helps if the money guy is actually a money guy. Wilcox has always had a lot of irons in the fire, but his mainstay business is Big Sky ATM. He also owns Advanced Wall Advertising and is a partner in a comedy show, Lukas Seely Presents.
The first person to join them was James Hickman, an old friend of Turcotte’s, and Hickman soon brought in Doug Oltrogge. They remained the core of Noise & Color, with Turcotte as publisher and creative director, Wilcox as business director and Oltrogge and Hickman as editors and writers. Other key partners were associate editors Zach Duval and Peter Tolton, and Shawna Willoughby, a copy editor.
Turcotte admits to having “this weird affinity for business branding and good advertising,” and he was responsible for photographing and designing most of the magazine’s hip, slick ads, which were often as much fun to look at as the editorial content.
He also threw himself into finding the right name. His brother-in-law got him hooked on the concept of two words joined by “and,” so Turcotte spent countless hours trying various combinations before finally hitting on Noise & Color.
“I repeated it to myself about a million times, pacing in front of my house,” he said. “The name and the logo were really important. It was, like, we need to get that part right. That’s the part I’m saddest to see go. Man, that was a hell of a name.”
Another early decision was to abandon the newsprint of Grindstone and go with glossy magazine pages. Turcotte and Wilcox both thought that was important, and Wilcox was willing to pay for it.
“For me, if you’re gonna go in, you have to go all in,” Wilcox said.
It was an expensive decision. Turcotte said it cost 10 to 12 cents a copy to print Grindstone. For Noise & Color, the cost was about $1.15 a copy. When you’re printing 3,500 to 4,000 copies every month—well, you do the math.
They got more efficient at producing the magazine as time went on, but in the early days, Turcotte said, he and Hickman, sometimes joined by Oltrogge and others, would spend 36 hours straight whipping the ads and editorial material into an issue.
“We were a big group of creative scatter-brains,” Turcotte said, fueled by beer, pizza, Gatorade and cigarettes.
The scatter-brain aspect of the enterprise sometimes manifested itself in sloppy editing, best exemplified by the masthead that identified Oltrogge, for two issues in a row, as the “Executitive Editor.” In the last issue, Oltrogge wrote a profile of visiting folksinger Todd Snider. Snider’s name was spelled correctly in the story, but the big headline said “Todd Schnider.”
Oh, well. If their fans minded, the partners never heard much about it. They wanted to promote the arts and artists, kick-start the local entertainment scene and have fun doing it, and they met those goals. They also staged a couple of massive, expensive anniversary parties and other gatherings, including big feasts featuring local chefs, and most of the fun they had was chronicled in self-referential stories in the magazine, photographed by Turcotte.
One thing they didn’t do, as they acknowledged in a farewell editorial, was make enough money to award grants to artists and otherwise directly help creative people do what they do. “Sadly,” they wrote, “we were never able to rise to those noble goals.”
But those 35 issues hold a lot of memories. One of their favorites was the “beard issue” in November 2013. The cover of the magazine featured a perforated, detachable hipster beard, complete with hooks for the wearer’s ears. Readers were encouraged to post photos of themselves wearing the beard on the Noise & Color Facebook page.
Hundreds of readers responded with photos, and it became one of the most popular covers ever. Turcotte is also proud of the June 2013 issue. In the lead story, writer Kate Olp lacerated two local disc jockeys, CAT Country’s popular “Breakfast Flakes,” for mocking transgender people, and then mocking a young girl who wrote in to tell them of her parents, who were in a transgender relationship.
The end, when it came, came quickly. This summer, Turcotte was swamped with graphic design and freelance work and Wilcox was completely preoccupied with his Big Sky Comedy Festival, which runs Oct. 7-10.
In the face of those pressures and the slipping advertising, Turcotte talked to Hickman about pulling the plug. Hickman said maybe it was time to go out like “Seinfeld,” when people were still enjoying it and nobody expected it to end.
Turcotte said Wilcox was ready and willing to keep going, despite all the losses he’d absorbed in three years.
“I mean, Wayne lost his ass,” Turcotte said. “But even to this day it doesn’t really bother him.”
Wilcox said that was true, and that if Turcotte wanted to give it another go and asked him to sign on, “I would. I don’t think I would think twice about that.”
“It never had to do with money,” Wilcox said. “It was always about doing something great.”