Profile: Will Carroll (National Teenset Outsider)
by Gino Fanelli | published Feb. 8th, 2015
The zine, a pivotal piece of counter-culture. These independently published prints face the dilemma that all print media face in the age of computers; that is, the uprise of blogs and social media has pushed the demand for physical copies of alternative media scattered through coffee shops, record stores and music venues further toward obsolescence. Today, the zine is championed by a rapidly decreasing number of dedicated independent journalists. In Rochester, the heir to this throne is Will Carroll of National Teenset Outsider, a small black-and-white publication featuring quirky local stories, interviews with local underground celebrities and hand-drawn comics. Teenset carries the aesthetic of true alternative media: something created by the outsiders, for the outsiders.
In a house cluttered with retro action figures, sculptures and posters that fill every open space, Carroll and his girlfriend MaryKate Ventura (DJ MK Ultra) sat down at a 70s-style diner booth situated in the center of their kitchen and littered with ash and cigarette butts to discuss the story of Teenset.
"It all started about five years ago when a local pizza shop burned down," Carroll said. "I went down to go check it out, and the police told me that only the media was allowed to look. So I decided to become the media, and things just progressed from there. Today, we've got copies in pretty much every record store in town, and every coffee shop and most venues. I think what it shows is people want to read about weird local stories, stuff the bigger newspapers don't pick up on. People are willing to pay a dollar to read about stuff that they can actually relate to."
Carroll went on to discuss the local media, both in a positive light and with an emphasis on the void they miss, and the one he fills.
"I think places like the Democrat and Chronicle and City do a good job, but they just don't publish the real local stuff," Carroll said. "I don't really care about politics, I care about the unique things in Rochester. Rochester is a great place, and a lot of its stories aren't being told. It makes me feel like a lot of those places are just out of touch. I mean, I love local news, I think its the funniest show on TV. It's all so extreme and trying so hard to get your attention. But I still don't feel they're showing what Rochester's all about."
In the field of alternative media, especially when editorializing for a certain scene, there is always a possibility of causing controversy. Beyond the Occupy Rochester incident, Carroll has experienced the brunt of this controversy firsthand.
"I'd like to point out that I never have the intention of hurting people's feelings or pissing people off. That does happen, but its not something I ever set out to do," Carroll said. "But I remember one incident a couple years back that followed a guy who I knew in the [punk] scene who was beating his girlfriend. He ended up getting hit by a train and dying, and I published a little blurb in Teenset that said 'Rochester has two things to look forward to in the new year: a bunch of great new bands and another potential woman beater off the streets.' People got really upset. I was at a party when a kid came up to me, crying, saying how the guy was his best friend. I didn't mean to make him cry, and meanwhile a bunch of his friends were tearing up all the Teensets. So we got out of there.
Later that night, we got a knock on the door. [It was] three guys who said, 'Are you Will Carroll?' and I said 'Yes.' They ended up breaking the glass and coming in. Threatened us. I just ended up giving them all of the magazines."
Despite events like this, Carroll reveres the punk scene in Rochester as the foundation that has allowed Teenset to thrive.
"I owe the punk scene everything," Carroll said. "What we have in Rochester, its something really unique. There's so many different cliques and scenes, and all of them merge together at some point. Its a real community, and only a real community like that could let me do what I do. The people at the Bug Jar in particular have been so great to me, it's like a second home where everyone can go, have fun, dance, listen to music, maybe a couple fights break out, but everyone has a great time. That's something special. I recently did, in the newest issue of Teenset, a ranking of my top five musicians in Rochester right now, all of which are really making this community so great."
Although Carroll reveres Rochester, he hopes to expand Teenset to a more broad span.
"Well, I changed it from Rochester Teenset Outsider to National, because I want to make it bigger. I want to grow," Carroll said. "I'm picking my top 10 coolest cities in the country, like Detroit or Salem because of witches, and finding places there to take in copies. It's just a matter of calling record shops and seeing who's interested. But I really think if I can get people in Rochester interested, then people in other cities can get interested, too."
While Teenset is nothing more than a small, 4-by-3 plain black-and-white folded piece of plain paper sprinkled with spelling errors and sloppy designs, it comes together to create something beautiful. It carries the aesthetic of the true underground scene of Rochester. Its stories are demonstrations of something entirely original, and its voice is that of just what its name implies — an "outsider." An outsider of conventions and of change, creating something that is uniquely and beautifully nostalgic yet entirely contemporary in an era flooded by blog posts and Facebook updates. Perhaps it is the simplicity of Teenset that makes it so ambitious. A single, dedicated person with the support of a community keeping a form of media with little breath left alive and still kicking.