Coffee with Scott Simon of iHeartnola

I officially met Scott Simon a year or two ago when he interviewed me for his site, iHeartnola (IHN). He liked a piece I wrote about tattoo artists and when he reached out to me, I was excited to meet him since I’d been following IHN for quite some time. Started in 2009 and run completely by Scott, IHN covers local fashion, art, culture, entertainment, shops, food, and more. You can also find his photography book, NOLA / FADE, and prints at the IHN gift shop online.

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Scott is a freelance photographer, in addition to working a full-time job in the tech sector and running IHN. I thought it would be interesting to meet up with him and pick his brain about staying inspired, since his Instagram feed is consistently full of fresh content and he keeps his site updated weekly as well. Here’s what we talked about: from transplants, to crime, to frustrations with freelancing.

Okay, so you work a full-time job with benefits, in addition to all of these other creative endeavors. I’m curious about that because about a year or so ago, I decided I was going to try to grow my freelance business into a full-time gig for myself. It hasn’t really panned out that way and I’ve realized that I do like the security and stability of a full-time job.

I’m definitely comfortable in my position at my full-time job and I don’t see a future that doesn’t include that.

I’ve heard people kind of express this sentiment that working a traditional job with benefits and not finding work in your creative wheelhouse, or maybe not struggling, is a form of selling out or giving in. Did you ever struggle with any thoughts of whether this was true?

No! Doing what we’re doing is just smart.

I’ve come to believe that’s actually very true. Okay, so you’re from New Orleans, lived here your whole life.

Yep. I grew up in Old Metairie, went to Catholic school, graduated from UNO. Moved to Hot Springs, AR very briefly after Katrina but came back after and started IHN.

Can we just talk about transplants for a second? I moved here in 2009 and I was talking to my partner about this the other day, because he’s born and raised here, from Algiers. He doesn’t really see it but I definitely sense more and more of a resistance to people who are moving here and a wariness about them displacing locals and disrupting communities. I definitely see that this is an issue; I also think I’m pretty sensitive to this in general since I grew up as an Army kid, always moving around. I always feel sort of emotionally displaced and not sure where my home is. How do you feel about all of this?

Well, I embrace people moving here, but it can definitely be frustrating. I’m dumbfounded at people who just look at a map of New Orleans online, point to a historic neighborhood like Treme, and place themselves right in the middle of it. There’s a wide range of people who come to this city and many people just take advantage of it.

I don’t necessarily think people are carpetbaggers, but I think they sometimes come to appreciate a place where they can feel free and live the life they’ve always wanted to, or sow their wild oats – without investing back into the community.

I also wish people would talk about how life really is here – that it’s not all secondlines and Mardi Gras beads. It can be so frustrating when people aren’t interested in anything below the surface.

Actually, as you know, that’s why I left my writing gig at GoNOLA, because I felt like I was really sugar coating and sort of glamorizing life in New Orleans. What I was writing didn’t feel genuine to me anymore.

The tough part of all of it is that I want to believe people are coming here to make a difference – to bring new services, new ideas – and not just come to this cool place where they can do drugs, smoke weed, live this cheap, non-committal life. Basically: people should have a reason to come here. Contribute. A lot of what I’m seeing, especially with the tech sector and movie and film industries, is that they really just come down here, see what we have to offer, how much money they can get, whatever they can pull from the city – and then move along.

Sometimes it’s like everyone loves New Orleans, but only on the surface.

Yeah. You’re right.  

*sarcastically* Yeah, you right!

That’s so depressing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been walking with a purpose somewhere and people are just hanging around looking at their phones, completely oblivious to any security issues that are looming in every possible way. And to be honest – that’s another frustration, right? Let’s just come down and embed yourselves in a neighborhood that people maybe don’t want you in.

Yeah. I don’t know the solution.

I hear people complain about their favorite brunch spots being overtaken by transplants and tourists, but to be fair, that does happen in every major city.

I guess the overarching idea you can take from me here is that I want everyone to come and appreciate the city – the landscape, the places that I love – but respect it. I started IHN because I spent so much time as an adult living the same limited life and when I was displaced after Katrina, I was overrun with emotions. I sat there drinking sweet tea and eating puffy Cheetos for a month straight, and I realized I’d never even done a lot of the things that were taken by the storm –I’d never gone to places that were now lost, places that were never going to come back. Pre-Katrina, my range of experiences was very narrow. I started the site as a way for myself to experience the city more fully – not only to try new outposts but really, just to learn what the city was really like.

Why do you think you didn’t venture out before?

It could’ve been fear. Maybe lack of experience. Maybe too much alcohol. I mean, I was in the service industry life for a long time, just living that life where everyone goes out together after a shift – you go to a dive bar, everything’s just a blur.

IMG_8131Were you scared when you first started the site? I was nervous when I started mine because it was just me, putting myself out there.

The site was pretty anonymous, and still kind of is. I’ve always lived in a pretty gray area. For a long time, the tone of the site and social media was considered pretty feminine. A lot of times, people would meet me and say, “Oh wow, you’re a dude!” which maybe is a testament to my desire to remain fairly anonymous – which is harder now.

Obviously.

Yeah!

You recently turned 40. Happy birthday! Any major moments of clarity that came from this birthday? You know, when I turned 30, people kept saying it was going to be the best thing ever, and they were pretty right. Does it just keep getting better and better?

To be honest with you – actually I don’t know why I keep saying that, because I am being honest with you!

So, Katrina happened when I turned 30. In these last 10 years since then, I’ve gained something – whether it’s a true affinity for the city, a true style I’ve developed along the way, confidence – whatever you want to say about it, those 10 years could be considered either lost or gained. Some days I feel like I’ve lost, but mostly I feel like I’ve benefited.

Certainly the most important thing is my ability to feel confidence in and do whatever I want and not be concerned about that. There’s been very few times when I’ve been dumb and posted something political or put my foot in my mouth under IHN. Another good thing is that my reliance on other people has waned. In life, I just want to do what I want, feature what I want, feel comfortable with who I am and what I want to do. I’m only interested in genuine and authentic people and experiences.

Do you think all of that is just a natural byproduct of aging or brought on by your work with the site? I guess there’s no way to tell, really.

I would say it’s a natural progression. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m being true to myself and not concerning myself with what other people think.

That’s really nice because I struggle with that, even though I actively work on it. I have literally found myself Googling how to deal with people not liking me! It’s crazy to let yourself be controlled by that.

I’m accepting a lot of things with this recent birthday – that I have gray in my beard, that I’ll always have to shave my head, that I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and have a full head of hair like George Costanza. And circling back to us talking about full-time work and freelancing – I’ve realized it makes no sense to try to leave my job at this point in my life. Why should I stress myself out and have to sell myself to the highest bidder?

My plan this year is to do more freelance projects and apply my style to other brands. So far I’ve done a little bit of that and I’m starting to branch out to work with fashion bloggers and music artists. That in itself could be lucrative perhaps, but my schedule is also limited by my other job. In the end, the reason why I haven’t gone out fully on my own is that I’m way too old and wise for that now.

I’ve seen all these articles recently about types of introversion. For example, you can be an introvert but still be social. Do you think you’re introverted or extroverted?  

I’m actually categorized as an introvert because I like to be quiet, have my own space, and unwind. It’s ironic because I’m very gregarious and aware of who’s around me. My needing time to myself is a result of the time that I spend with other people and talking to them.

That’s how I am too. Where do you get most of your work done?

I have a home office. I’m a night owl, so that’s usually the best time for me. I try to stick to a routine for the most part. I generate most of my ideas in public, though – coffee shops, restaurants, where I’m most at ease with the noise.

Do you travel a lot?

Here and there, I do. I’m going to do a lot more traveling in the coming years. The ultimate goal is for me to take the experiences I have with IHN and wrap them into something less location-specific. I want to focus on the things I’m really good at, like street style and street photography. STREET / FADE is the new project I’m working on.

I also want to touch on something else. There are times when I question my decision to live here. When Will Smith was shot, I was really rattled, as I’d been out that same night and not far away. I wondered why I’m here, what am I doing? Why should I be acting as a source of inspiration for people to come to this city? Am I painting a picture that’s not totally true?

IMG_8110This is probably the most unsafe I’ve felt in a long time, and I’ve heard friends express similar feelings. I’ve been walking around and had people ride up and size me up – things I never used to worry about.

I think that’s very real, and it’s something I think about all the time. I have a moment maybe once or twice a year where I question if we should move, but I always feel so pulled to stay here, to believe in this place.

I’m going to stay, but like I said, I’ll be doing more traveling.

I just thought of this: I love vintage cars. I love muscle cars – I used to restore them, actually. They’re beautiful, original, authentic, and they can reflect a person’s personality. However, they can be very cantankerous. It’s kind of a good analogy for this city.

Like we love something that’s maybe not that practical from the outside looking in?

Yes. Exactly.

 

All photos courtesy of Scott Simon.

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