Episode #3: Matt Nelson from Mellow Pages - The Fabricant Way
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Episode #3: Matt Nelson from Mellow Pages

Matt Nelson is the co-founder of Mellow Pages in Bushwick, Brooklyn.  

Mellow Pages is a library and reading room that invites and supports independent writers and connects them with a community of readers and small printers.

In this conversation Matt shares with me how his community came to be, and a fun story regarding Kanye West visiting Mellow Pages.

The idea of Mellow Pages started when Jacob (Matt’s partner) opened his unused painting studio to friends and hosted reading nights with Matt.  The community started to grow and the rest, well, you’ll hear it from Matt himself.

One year after we recorded the video interview, I reached out to Matt while organizing a city tour and learned that Mellow Pages was closing and him and Jacob were leaving New York.

“We, Matt and Jacob, are stepping out of our New York pant suits and putting on whatever everyone else wears elsewhere. BUT that does not mean the death and destruction of Mellow Pages Library. Instead, we’re super excited to say that it will be in the hands of our highly capable, extremely intelligent, most amazing friends. They’re going to restart the library sometime in the near, near future and we’ll fill you in on all the cool new ways they’re going to make Mellow even more mellow as developments occur.”

Mellow Pages re-opened months later and it’s now located in at The Silent Barn.

Use the internet. Go on Tumblr or Twitter or Instagram, whatever you need to do. Get some people involved. Get them interested because it’s … You’re ultimately going to share whatever you’re doing with people regardless of what you do. It will involve other members of the human race. It’s just going to happen. It’s better to get that help early on because it’s just easier. It’s much easier if you ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Use the internet. Go on Tumblr or Twitter or Instagram, whatever you need to do. Get some people involved. Get them interested because it’s … You’re ultimately going to share whatever you’re doing with people regardless of what you do. It will involve other members of the human race. It’s just going to happen. It’s better to get that help early on because it’s just easier. It’s much easier if you ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Transcript:

Jennifer Dopazo: Hey.
Matt Nelson: Hi.

Jennifer Dopazo: How’s it going?

Matt Nelson: Good. How are you?

Jennifer Dopazo: I’m good. I read online that the starting of Mellow Pages somehow was because Jacob rescued some books from North Carolina from his brother who just finished grad school. I was wondering what’s behind this whole idea of bringing books, opening a space for people.

Matt Nelson: I was in grad school at the time and had plans to go back to Seattle and start a small press archive, non-profit in Seattle. I’ve been talking with my friend Summer about it. We had a name. We’re making a list of board members. I was talking with Jacob about it.

One night, after he learned that his brother was moving back to Portland without all of his books and once he got all those books, Jacob was like, “Why don’t we just do this here?” With those books, with my books, with Jacob’s books, we just started in New York because why not? It started as this big experiment.

Jennifer Dopazo: Basically, the first books that you two were all your own books? Could it be the first collection? I don’t know how you refer to it.

Matt Nelson: The first collection was definitely Jacob and mine’s and his brother, Luke’s books. Luke’s books were all philosophy, political science type of stuff because he has gained his PhD. We had a very strong, very select group of books in that manner but then, Jacob and I both have a lot of small press books. That’s what we’re interested in. It started as a very personal library that was just these three people’s choices in books, what they thought what we thought were good. This is fun.

Jennifer Dopazo: Is it fun?

Matt Nelson: Yeah.

Jennifer Dopazo: Besides that first batch of books that you got from Jacob and yourself and Jacob’s brother, there was a first person who donated book as well. Now, he’s running a podcast here.

Matt Nelson: He is.

Jennifer Dopazo: Could you tell us a little bit about what’s behind that podcast idea, how it happened?

Matt Nelson: Eric Nelson was the first person who dropped off a book here. He dropped off his own book, The Walt Whitman House. He’s been a huge supporter and help and friend to Mellow Pages ever since. He works here every Sunday. He and Sean H. Doyle decided do almost like a Mellow Pages, the podcast I think just because they thought it would be fun and would help create popularity or attention towards Mellow Pages in a new way.

We get a lot of readings here but this was a more intimate talk with some of the readers we’ve had or with authors that were interested in or just people we think are cool. This space is just basically a jumping off point for a lot of people and for Eric and Sean. They wanted to do this podcast. It was more or less saying yes to them.

We actually have little to do with it. It’s all them. They have the equipment. They get the guests. We just say, “Yes, do it.” It’s been pretty great. They’re always … Have you listened to any of them?

Jennifer Dopazo: Actually, I walked … Last week, I walked into one. I opened the door and they were just in the middle of a podcast. I just stood there in silence and they were like, “Just ignore. Just walk in. It’s a space and it’s open. It’s always available.” You’re always going to get people walking in and out, right? It’s hard to avoid that. For me, it was interesting because I was like, “Wow. Maybe, that’s how it is too.” It’s the life of the space.

Matt Nelson: Everybody is just walking in, getting in each other’s fun business.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. I bet there’s a group of people who are coming to Mellow Pages because they heard a podcast somehow.

Matt Nelson: Some people do because now, they’re on iTunes. It’s live on Volume One Brooklyn. It’s definitely reaching a new group of people who haven’t heard of Mellow Pages maybe and they come. We just started to get as … It’s funny how this happens but you just somehow reach into the void and then, people start coming. It’s just like a matter of directing your voice in different directions. This is like one direction.

Jennifer Dopazo: It was basically a member of the community you’ve helped grow somehow. That just wanted to do something to help you reach more people, something that, for them, it must be really great that people that they’re visiting you and they’re part of this active community. They just want to do something to also get more people into it. That’s pretty great.

Matt Nelson: It feels good. I just like sitting and talking because they’re so just funny together. Did you feel the dynamic between …

Jennifer Dopazo: It was great. I like that it’s very casual. It’s just sitting there. They’re talking about anything. I wonder is that the format normally or is it just …

Matt Nelson: It’s very loose. They just hang out basically and usually spend maybe half an hour beforehand just talking with the person to get to know them  a little bit and make them feel comfortable. Then, they start recording for about an hour. It’s very loose, very like, “Hey friend, let’s talk about life for 60 minutes.”

Jennifer Dopazo: … which brings me to another point which is you don’t sell books. I like also this idea of people can walk in and spend time. They don’t have this pressure that you have to buy something. It’s also somehow related to that energy that the podcast is also giving. It’s a friendly space. We’re all here. We can talk. We can chat.

I’ve read something about how it’s casual but it’s also intimate because you don’t have to be … Even if you’re shy, you don’t want to talk to someone, you’re there. We’re all here. We can talk to you if you want to. It’s very loose. Was this intended? Do you always wanted it to be this way? Is it something that just happened with the community and with the growth of Mellow Pages?

Matt Nelson: We definitely want that feeling to occur when someone came in. Books do that in general because in purpose, a one to one relationship between you and a book is like, “I’m going to read this.” Even if you’re on a subway, you can feel alone if you’re reading a book but we also want a place where you could talk about books too.

You can sit in a corner and stick your nose in a book and hide for a while. You can come up and talk to us and join our conversation. It’s very easy using books. I don’t know if it would be the same … It’s probably the same if it was an art gallery maybe, maybe not. It’s not something you can do at a movie theater or sometimes not so much at a café but because everyone is on the same playing field or just here because we want to be here and we like books seemingly, it creates this spontaneous community of knowing that you’re in a good place and like, “Let’s be friends.”

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s also at their own pace.

Matt Nelson: Yeah. There’s no pressure. We are the least pressure makers in the world.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s not like you’re going to open the door and you stand up on me like, “Hi.”

Matt Nelson: We don’t care on what you do here. You could maybe be a member and that would help us but we don’t necessarily force that down your throat. We just want you to hang out and read some books. That’s the main goal is really to get people to read these books.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s the idea of the reading room, more of them.

Matt Nelson: The other guy yesterday, a 21-year-old and just moved to New York, he sat in here for three hours and read Spencer Madison’s book in one go. He’s not a member. He’s just hung out and read a book. That’s awesome.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s nice.

Matt Nelson: I’m so happy for him.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s great to have a space that you can actually do that without having the pressure of you’re taking too much space or you just bought one coffee and that’s it. Why are you taking so much time? I love that. That’s great. You have a pretty big community right now in Mellow Pages. Do you mind sharing with us how this happened? Was there something in particular you did?

Matt Nelson: No. I mean yeah, not no, I won’t talk about it. The community I came about in Mellow Pages was not specifically grasped for. We just started [00:10:00] posting pictures and it became an internet thing for a long time. There’s so many people in New York who love books. They started coming here slowly and we got all this publicity.

I feel the community we ended up with was so great because Jacob and I were nice. We’re nice dudes. We’re not very desirous of social hierarchy or weirdly trying to promote what we do. We just like the idea of Mellow Pages and didn’t care if other people really liked it which I think is attractive to a lot of people.

This community and small press world itself is very small. They like people who like them. We like them and we’re not trying to get anything out of them. We just want to promote these books. That idea of the second party that wants to help you out without anything in return is cool.

People started coming here and we got a lot of really great readers, a lot of great books. Then, friends told friends. The community builds around this idea that we’re not doing anything crazy. We just like these books. If you like these books too, here’s a place to hang out and read them and talk about them and be with people or be with the authors who wrote these books because we are all people and we’re all doing the same thing [00:12:00] in the same world. That was something that other people latched onto and it was cool.

Jennifer Dopazo: It was a space and opportunity for them to just maybe get to know an author or just even discover something new that maybe you didn’t know that so many books and so many writers that you don’t have to know. You just come here and discover something new. There’s something about the membership which

I thought it was really interesting. I read an interview with Jacob where he said that he believe that if it was something that people have to pay for, it might didn’t work. I just wonder what do you think is behind that?

Matt Nelson: The idea behind that was we live in a world that costs a lot of money to live in.

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s New York.

Matt Nelson: We’re in a specific city that is not cheap. In the beginning, we just want books to be read. The demographic of a small press world is very small. They’re usually writers themselves which means they don’t have a lot of money. Not having a membership fee at the beginning was really important to us because we wanted ultimately for people to check out books. Now, we have a $5 a month membership fee which is not that expensive. This costs two books and it was one day.

Jennifer Dopazo: The fact that you can have a community and a space that you could just belong to. $5, [00:14:00] it’s nothing, again in New York. We live in a world … We talk about founders and startups and this sudden millionaires and success stories. That’s what people talk about a lot. I wonder if you get any reaction by people who just learned that you guys are for no profit.

Matt Nelson: It’s always funny when someone … That’s an immediate question in New York. It’s like, “How do you make your money?” It is funny being like, “Well, we don’t make money. We just do this.” Now, it’s gotten to a point where we can make rent every month which is really good. I don’t like paying for two homes. People are very confused by the idea that you can do something just because you want to even if it loses you money.

We were just losing money from that perspective for a long time. To us, it was just like, “What? That’s okay.” This is a project. This is what we want to do. It’s doing good things. Why not continue doing it?

Jennifer Dopazo: The whole idea of we’re in New York. It’s an expensive city and then, you guys decided to go for a non-profit business model, if we can call it that way, we’re all very into the online world. There’s a lot of people taking their businesses and their art or whatever they do online because they don’t want to pay for rent, for a space or a studio but you guys did it anyway. For me, it’s pretty brave. I also wonder what were you thinking when you guys decided to do it that way.

Matt Nelson: When we started, it was very much just, [00:16:00] “Let’s see what happens.” There was no goal. There was no desired outcome. It was just us trying to do something. The most important part is that there’s a space. If you’re going to create a community, you need walls and a door and a window, not necessarily windows but you need a place for people who can come and hang out.

The internet is great. You can have a huge community on the internet but you can’t hang out in the same … You can know someone but then, you can’t actually touch someone in a room which we really wanted to happen. The no business model is not even in our brains at the time. It was just, “Let’s make this room into somewhere where people can hang out and do their thing.”

Jennifer Dopazo: The space was used by Jacob, right? It was his art studio somehow.

Matt Nelson: He had stopped painting at that time and was writing but the whole space wasn’t being used because Jacob just needs this little computer area. The room was basically available. That’s why we used it. This whole place is just things that have somehow come into our lap.

The couches are old member’s couches or the blue one over there was one that Jacob and I found in Williamsburg and carried back from there. Most of these shelves are just things that we picked up off the street. It’s just this accumulation of life that happens to be available if you’re open to it. That’s very much Mellow Pages is. You just say yes a lot and good things happen.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. You say yes a lot but also it’s not, “I’m going to come in and dump all my old books to you.”

Matt Nelson: We do say no to books. There’s a lot of bad books in the world.

Jennifer Dopazo: You have an idea and a concept behind it. You want to keep your book selection maybe cohesive with this idea.

Matt Nelson: It’s funny. That’s a very hard part especially for Jacob and I where someone comes in with just a backpack full of books. You feel bad for them because they just carried it three miles on foot or something and it’s bad books. You don’t want to take them but you just want them to not have to walk home with the full backpack.

Jennifer Dopazo: What do you do when that happens?

Matt Nelson: It really depends. If we’re feeling super pissy, then we’ll say no because we’re human beings. We have emotions. Usually, it was like, say okay to some of them. Then, just find a different place for the books to go.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a good idea. Maybe you can just … another place or maybe members that you might know that they like it.

Matt Nelson: It finds a way back out into the world. We’re very particular about the books here. We only want really good books.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s good. It’s a good way of just keeping it the way it is because otherwise, it will be different. It will be just anything. It could be like any space with books. I also found that you created a document of how to create your own …

Matt Nelson: We did.

Jennifer Dopazo: … Mellow Pages somehow. [00:20:00] Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Matt Nelson: We were getting really excited about what was happening to us and confused. We were like, “What the … Why is this happening?” It doesn’t make any sense to us. Anyone could do this. Anyone anywhere could do this which maybe is not true in terms of the publicity aspect or the media reaction.

A room with books is something that anyone anywhere could do. We want to relay that information so that other people could do it. If you have a space, it’s not hard. The steps we took were not hard steps. We just did it. That’s what makes this special. Everyone should be able to do this. We wanted anyone to be able to do it.

That’s why we made that guide. We wanted multiple people and multiple cities to do something somewhere. The guide was a response to the fact that we were becoming popular in a weird way. We thought that was ridiculous because we just did something that we thought anyone could do. We wanted to show people that anyone could do this. All you have to do really is these things.

We wrote down what we did. It seemed possible that anyone could do them. It was also us wanting this to happen everywhere. This model, not necessarily strictly exactly what we did but the idea of sharing books with your friends. It’s very easy idea. We wanted that to happen [00:22:00] and be available to people and to take out any kind of hesitation.

If you don’t have a plan, it can be scary. With the plan, you might jump in a little quicker than if you were just like, “I think I want to share books.”

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s for motivation. I like how you mentioned that it could be your living room. It could be, if you have a space …

Matt Nelson: You just need a space.

Jennifer Dopazo: I like that idea that maybe people just would think that’s impossible. I could see people just doing that, taking their own spaces and sharing them.

Matt Nelson: PS1 is doing something right now that’s very similar. I think they’re doing a thing where anyone who’s … You just sign up and list your location. It’s a pop-up library. People are just saying, “Here’s my apartment. Here are my books. You can come hang out and read it if you want.”

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s nice.

Matt Nelson: Which is really cool. Books should be read. If you’ve read the book …

Jennifer Dopazo: It’s going to be in your library just hanging out there, might as well just have someone else use it.

Matt Nelson: You want people to read your books. It’s good.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s a lovely idea. Have you heard from people who have used your guide or have tried to …

Matt Nelson: Paper Darts which is in Minneapolis did a pop-up library and used our guide. Some guy just now in DC contacted us and he was like, “Hey, I saw your guide. I want to start this out of my coffee shop.” Vigilante Coffee I think is what is called. “Do you have any more suggestions?” It’s like a great jumping off point. People have used it which is awesome. It’s so cool. It’s like, “What?”

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great.

Matt Nelson: You actually are looking at something that we did and using it to model your library. That’s awesome.

Jennifer Dopazo: Somehow, even if you’re location based, you could say that the internet has helped you grow because you started posting pictures and now, it’s the guide. Then, there’s a story about a party and someone who’s going to show up. I want to hear about that too.

Matt Nelson: That was the Kanye party. That was fun. We said that … This is the thing with the internet is you can say anything and people will believe you. That’s a good and bad thing. We said that Kanye West was going to come here and shoot a music … or he was scouting locations which was true. He was at Brooklyn Fire Proof or something a week before. People in the area had this buzz about him.

We said that Kanye West might shoot a video in our old location. Could you please fill your room with people in case we do come by and want to shoot this video? We made it very specific. We’re like, “It’s going to happen at sundown. The sun’s going to be perfect. These 15 minutes is when it’s going to possibly be happening.”

We told all of our members. Bushwick Daily came out. I remember being at work and Jacob was just like, “Oh, shit man. There’s a lot of people here. What are we doing?” I’m like, “That’s okay. We’ll be okay.” When I get off of work, there’s just people lining the hallway. There’s so many members and not members. They’re all dressed really nice because they think they’re going to be in a video. They’re looking really cool. They’ve done their hair, brushed their teeth. They’re just very excited.

Jacob and I basically, we had some beverages and everybody was having a good time and tweeting. I came back from work and went in to the space to see all these people. Jacob, he’s fine but we had to somehow figure out a way after 8:00 rolled around when we said he was going to show up or we’re getting a call.

Jacob and I went outside and pretended to take a phone call from the producers, some made-up thing and basically said like … Came back in, “Hey guys, Kanye is not coming. Let’s just hang out and have a party.” Everyone just hung out. A lot of people left but a lot of people hung out. It was this funny thing where everyone’s like, “Screw, Kanye. Fuck it. We don’t need …”

Jennifer Dopazo: We’re just going to have a good time.

Matt Nelson: “We’re just going to have a good time. We don’t need Kanye.” It’s really ridiculous but it was fun.

Jennifer Dopazo: Do you think that helped Mellow Pages somehow, the word or what happened after that?

Matt Nelson: I’m sure it helped but it was just we didn’t even care. We were just having fun. We want to see if we could get people to believe. It’s just funny. Who would believe that Kanye was going to be in Mellow Pages?

Jennifer Dopazo: Why not? Try it.

Matt Nelson: It’s possible. Anything is possible but it is also really hilarious to us that possibility even existed. It’s like Kanye coming to your house. If you told people that Kanye were coming to your house, Kanye was going to come to your house, would your mom believe you?

Jennifer Dopazo: They wouldn’t believe but if it’s a space like this.

Matt Nelson: That was funny. We had the space. You could say that and it’s possible which is hilarious.

Jennifer Dopazo: People will believe it.

Matt Nelson: No way. Maybe, but people will believe it because it’s possible which is really cool in a way. We just wanted to play with that idea that it is possible.

Jennifer Dopazo: I wonder if some of his production or anything would contact you guys and be like, “Wait, what? He’s not coming.”

Matt Nelson: Which should be awesome, it’d be so funny if they actually got word of it.

Jennifer Dopazo: I think I read in Bushwick Daily that you said that, “No, we made it all guys. It’s okay.” What happened after that? Did people get like …

Matt Nelson: A lot of people during the event came up to us and be like, “This is fake. I don’t believe this. This is funny but it can’t be real.” Then, we just played along. Then, eventually, it just petered out. No one is really mad because like, “What’s there to be mad about? We all hung out and had a good time.”

Jennifer Dopazo: It was a great excuse to just come here.

Matt Nelson: There’s no real cost of that. We didn’t hurt anyone. We didn’t do anything horrible. We just had a party.

Jennifer Dopazo: I know something that many other, for instance, businesses would … There’s this whole term right now that’s called growth hacking which basically you trick people to get into your own spaces but it’s so natural and so like, again, making fun of it, making fun of a reality which is social media, internet, celebrities and Brooklyn. It makes sense. It’s a formula that you put it together. You shake it. Of course, people are going to show up because they want to meet the celebrity who’s coming.

I love that story. When I read that, I thought it was genius. It makes sense. Thank you. It was just wonderful [00:30:00] talking to you. I just wonder if … I always ask this. If there are three things that I would just ask you to tell anyone who’s listening to you today as an advice or anything that you’ve learned from this whole experience to anyone who want to pursue whatever project, what would it be?

Matt Nelson: I would say, for a prospective, creative person to say yes to the universe which means being open to change and allowing things to evolve on their own. I would tell them to ask for help because it’s great to do something by yourself like paint that picture, take that photo, make music but in this world or just like it’s nicer to have people with you doing the same thing with you and excited about it.

Use the internet. Go on Tumblr or Twitter or Instagram, whatever you need to do.

Get some people involved. Get them interested because it’s … You’re ultimately going to share whatever you’re doing with people regardless of what you do. It will involve other members of the human race. It’s just going to happen. It’s better to get that help early on because it’s just easier. It’s much easier if you ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Jennifer Dopazo: That’s great. I love it. Thank you.

Matt Nelson: Thank you. That was fun.

Jennifer Dopazo: That was fun. It was.