The term “artist” can be defined in many ways, and Joshua Fitzwater’s many talents apply to most of them. However, appealing to the masses has never been his objective. For more than six years, Fitzwater has been an innovator in the way photography, music, and food is viewed in Hampton Roads. Since launching his own freelance photography service under the moniker Fitzfoto, he has striven to create honest, open discussions about music with 757E ZINE, which was his first print publication, and food with Southern Grit, his most recent project with co-founder Chris Fellini. In addition to writing about the music and food of Hampton Roads, Fitzwater is also the leading man of GUTTER GLOSS, which is an electronic-based project that combines elements of electro, darkwave, drum and bass, and industrial music with hardcore vocals. Through each of these endeavors, Fitzwater has never been one to shy away from the truth, even though at times the truth may be “hard to swallow.”

Besides sharing similar names, we also share a passion for photography and music. Can you tell me about how you got into photography initially, and how that interest expanded into starting your own freelance photography business?

I went to college for painting and drawing — applied arts — and to be honest with you, in my early 20’s when I decided to go back to college and pursue artistic endeavors, I actually did not respect photography that much. I thought it was kind of the easy way out. I thought it was more technology-based, but I had to take a photography class for an elective. I was lucky enough that both of my photography classes were under two guys that are extremely talented. At the time, I didn’t know how talented they were because I didn’t know much about photography.

I was taking a class under Sam Hughes, who started his career in journalism photography early in his career out in Mississippi and now is the leading wedding photographer in Hampton Roads, and I took a photojournalism elective class with Stephen Katz, who is one of the head photographers at the Virginian Pilot and has been published in several national magazines, as well as journalism tours in Iraq. Now, he is actually back in Vietnam doing some follow ups for, which is pretty exciting. I pretty quickly discovered that some of the things that I was good at, like composition, color theory that I had learned from other things applied in editing, and I seemed to have a knack for being very good with catching good “moments.”

I’ve been heavily involved in music for most of my life, but I got really involved in music by the time I finished my two associate degrees. I noticed there weren’t really any cool zines around Hampton Roads that I had seen in a while. So kind of on a whim, I wanted to create a zine for the all the musicians that I was booking shows for and working with. I was in a band called GUTTER GLOSS, and we were friends with some other bands that were electronic-based in the area. Basically, without much thought, a couple of us got together and created a zine that was based around my photography, as far as the visual aesthetic of the zine goes, and Thomas Duerig’s writing initially for the release of the first edition.

How do you feel like you experience with photography prepared you for starting your own magazine?

When we started the magazine, I was still learning about design and typography, and I think what the photography allowed me to do was to keep the visuals strong even though there were errors with some design components. At the very least, we were able to have visually striking cover, to some degree. I really do credit Stephen Katz and Sam Hughes for a big part of this; I really got the best of both worlds. I got this leading wedding and portrait photographer experience with Sam, and I got this really strong journalism perspective from Stephen. I think, to some degree, my style is a combination of those two.

There is definitely a lot of attention paid to portraiture or at least stature of people, but I still am able to center in on a moment. I think that when you actually capture a spontaneous moment — even if you are doing a portrait — where the person puts their guard down for a second, and it’s not like they are “performing,” which involves getting them comfortable with you and getting them away from the fact that they are having a photo taken of them — if you are able to get that moment where there is some authenticity to who they are as a person, it just kind of comes across.

When someone sees an image, they often don’t know why they like it, and I think composition is part of that and a certain moment or certain attitude that is more authentic to the way the person really is does, to some degree, come across. When those elements are in place, it is more appealing to the viewer. In that way, my photography really did help out the magazine early on.

I really like that perspective. In addition to your freelance photography and publications, you are a very talented musician, and you go by the name of GUTTER GLOSS, as you previously mentioned. Is that project still active?

The funny thing about music for me is that I’m the least talented in music, and I realized that pretty early on. I could always draw, and I could always paint. I took to photography pretty naturally, and I got good at design after not too long. Music took a long time for me to not suck at (laughs). I tried a lot of things in my late-teens and early-20’s, a lot of different vocal approaches. I definitely could never play an instrument. Around the time that a I started a band with Jeremy and Jesse Crowe, who were in the hardcore bands in Hampton Roads IRON BOOTS, and VICTIM, and NOTHING PERSONAL, I kind of found my voice as a vocalist.

What I did was I said [to myself], “This is going to sound however it’s going to sound, and there are pitches I can try to hit when I’m doing an aggressive metal vocal. But it needs to sound like me, and I need to stop worrying so much about it sounding like a certain genre or certain vocalist.” I definitely had influences, including Daryl Palumbo and Aaron Weiss. I can never do anything like Aaron can do, but, if nothing else, Mike Patton is who I learned could follow all the rules and then chose to break them. He is my biggest vocal influence.

Once I fully committed to sounding like me, I found my voice, and I think that came across also lyrically. For me, lyrics are just as important as the actual vocals. A lot of times if I can’t identify with what a vocalist is saying, it’s hard for me to be into the music, since I am so lyrically- and vocally-driven when I listen to music. Honesty has been key to not sucking as a vocalist and being true to who I am, as well as accepting who I am and that this is my voice.

Tell me about what inspired the creation of Southern Grit and why Norfolk needs “an honest debate over food.”

Two things really. Southern Grit would not be in existence without Chris Fellini — who, while I was doing 757E ZINE, which is now called Fuss Magazine — wrote an article about food for the zine. He was definitely one of the more talented writers that I had come across. I like to think that I know a lot about music because I have been so into it [throughout] the years, and I felt like he was the equivalent of that with food. He has worked in the industry for a decade now; he reads The New York Times restaurant reviews section; and anything that he can get his hands on has to do with food, and cooking, and chefs. He also reads about a lot of social issues related to food. So coming across Chris Fellini was a really important step in even thinking about doing a food publication.

The other thing is that I have always had a complex relationship with food. I really love food. I’ve never really used anything else as a vice. It’s always been this almost dangerous love affair with the taste of food, and that love for food, and that use of food as a coping mechanism as well, led to me weighing 370 pounds at age 30. When I decided to lose the weight, I had to approach food differently. I had to think about calories, and I had to learn more about what foods are better for your body, portion control, and things like that. As I lost the weight, which in total was about 150 pounds, I learned more about food, and I think I appreciated food more. It became less of a vice and more of something I loved but in a responsible way. I wanted to continue to learn more about it, and I thought this was a way personally for me to do it.

Also, I would be remiss [if I didn’t mention that] it is a very exciting time in Hampton Roads for food. There are a lot of good restaurants like Saint Germain and Nouvelle opening up. There is a myriad of them actually, but those are the two that we have been working with recently that are probably the most progressive. It’s an exciting time, and I learned what not to do with the other magazine. I thought it would be interesting to take on a partnership with Chris and create a food magazine that was on a higher, more honest level than some of the pandering publications that talk about food around here.

One thing that I found really interesting about your debut feature on Toast was the magazine had a nice mosaic of photos you captured, and Chris Fellini told the reader to visit your website for a review of the restaurant. Personally, I thought that was a bold way to start the first issue.

Everything is so digital now, and Chris and I both really love print. For me, I grew up when things were transitioning to CDs, and I remember going home and reading liner notes, and looking at the photos in the CD booklets. That transitioned into my love affair for records because they are even bigger than CDs, and the record covers and booklets are even better.

We definitely wanted to create a publication that had a print element. I get off on physical products for music and art and so does Chris. We like the feeling of paper; we like the look of prints; we like to hold it; we like the full interactive and less screen-based experience. But we also understand that this is the digital age, and it has been for a while. It’s almost stupid when anybody says that — that’s a given. The Internet is king with media, with reading, with the consumption of information, and news.

So my call with that was to do a heavy photo story, where the images told the story of what it was like behind the scenes at Toast for its opening, like what the chefs were doing, some of the dishes and what it looked like, and while that was going on, we could hint toward what Toast was and send people to our website.

Were you happy with selection of “Women in Whites” as the theme for the premiere issue?

I think that we could have gotten a little more into a few more social issues, such as some of the sexism that the female chefs in the area deal with. We got into a little bit of that. It was also the first issue where we were kind of getting some kinks out, and I think that if you look at our online content since then, it’s a little more hard-hitting and even more honest. We are basically driving to be the most honest publication in Hampton Roads when it comes to food.

We don’t want to be one of these culture rags that says anything that comes out in Hampton Roads is amazing. Ultimately, that does a disservice to the area in the long run because it props up things that maybe aren’t that good. It is an arbitrary thing, and it’s going to be the opinion of our writers. But we do take time to make sure that whoever is writing it knows their shit, and if they have asked to be a part of it and have submitted work to us, we check it. And if Chris or I am writing it, you can bet your butt that we have done our research on it.

If it’s a social issue, we are going to investigate it and make sure we know as much as we can before we write about it. If it’s a review, when we go in there, it will be a clean slate. Whatever happens, we are going to write about it as honestly as we experience it. We hope it doesn’t hurt people’s feelings because that’s not why we are doing it. We are doing it to truly give the experience as true as it really is. We are not going in there to insult or hurt anybody’s business, but we are going in there to report on exactly how the experience was.

Artistically, this has been my M.O. my entire life. With the weight situation, I, for years, did not take off my shirt in public. I had horrible sexual issues with women because I was so embarrassed of what my physical self was. But when I really got into GUTTER GLOSS and started to bring in conceptual elements about, “Why is fat considered so gross?,” and “Why is ‘stupid’ and ‘fat’ so closely associated to each other by a lot of people?” There were times where I had to strip down on stage to make an artistic statement. I had to throw my weight at people in a visual sense by mocking their stereotypes of why I would consume food and what the reasons were. I would strip down and bathe in ice cream and swallow two gallons of milk in front of people, and be in front of a broken mirror made out of candy glass, which had to do with the reflection of how we perceive other people. I had to put my body out there even though I was always embarrassed of my body because the artistic statement was more important than my concern about how it would make me feel, or my embarrassment.

Has a theme been determined for the next issue?

There is a beer boom going on in Hampton Roads, and there is a lot of talk going on about craft beer or microbrews. Like I said, it’s an exciting time for anything culinary across the board from food to beer. Chris wanted to touch on that but in a way that wasn’t so standard. So he is actually doing what he dubbed “The Drunk Issue,” which is more about drunk life in a way that isn’t shitty. It can be shitty, don’t get me wrong, but it will be about enjoying yourself as a drinker.

I know there will be features on dive bars, upper end bars, and the life of somebody that appreciates alcohol and the occasional drink, as well as where are some of the better places to go. The focus won’t be on how it’s made but more so the life of a drinker. We are trying to come at it from an angle that is not so stereotypical compared to what is pushed around here. We can’t add to the conversation, but we want to start a new one.

Have you set a publication date for your next publications?

The next edition of Southern Grit comes out May 23, 2015, and the next edition of Fuss Magazine, which was previously 757E ZINE comes out May 2, 2015.


Can you tell me more about your plans for rebranding 757E ZINE to be called Fuss Magazine?

Initially, Gianna Vogel, Thomas Duerig, and I created an electronic music collective called 757electronica, and we didn’t really see any cool zines out. So without much thought, we put out the very first 757E ZINE, but I didn’t want to write about just electronic bands. The first one was definitely more electronic-based, but there were some exceptions. When we kept expanding, we didn’t just touch on that genre. We wrote about electronic music across the board, and then art came into it as well.

It basically outgrew its “zine” status, We were dealing with advertisers and seeking out advertising; we were making promotional videos for it; and in this next edition, as with Southern Grit, there is going to be web episodes that coordinate with the release of the print issues. It’s a magazine, and it’s treated like a magazine. The writing now is a lot better than it was, which is ultimately the most important thing.

So I felt like I needed to rebrand the name and have be something more true to what the content was going to be about. It’s not solely going to be rooted in electronic music any more. It’s not going to be rooted just in Hampton Roads. It will grow, and it will also be very opinion-based. So that play on “What’s all the fuss about,” as well as fussing in a good way, including a debate about what people like and don’t like, and why, is why I decided to go with that name.

What are your long-term goals for Southern Grit, Fuss, and GUTTER GLOSS?

Chris wants to take Southern Grit regional, and he wants to continue to expand that, which I am in line with. But honestly, I want to be practical too. I want Southern Grit to be “the food publication” that people read in Hampton Roads. We want an honest debate about food and issues related to food in Hampton Roads, and I think the only way for us to do that is to stay away from that “pander mode” that most publications are doing in the area and try to be as truthful to the experience as possible.

I think this also applied to Fuss in the sense that it’s time to be a little more honest in what we think about music. For example, there is a lot of drama that is always online about the goth scene in Hampton Roads, and the truth about the goth scene is it’s a struggling scene that had trouble supporting nights and is really divided. The fact that it gets lauded to be more than it is, it’s not really a “scene.” But it’s something that has to be talked about. If I’m going to write about that scene, I’m going to be honest as to where that scene really is. I want Fuss to be the most honest music publication in the area.

As far as GUTTER GLOSS goes, music for me is the most rewarding, and it is the hardest, as I said earlier. I used to make music because I was so unhappy with my physical self, and I wanted to say to other people that your body is not what defines you. But at the same time, I had to tell myself that because as much as I don’t want that to be the case, I still can’t get past that. I has invaded my insecurities with myself in dealing with gynecomastia and dealing with being very heavy. GUTTER GLOSS has always been this conversation that I’m trying to have with people with similar struggles as me, and also I’m kind of talking to myself in a lot of these songs trying to reassure myself that the fact that I was able to find a voice matters more than being a man and having tits.

It’s always going to be this thing that I need, but it’s more of something that I really need. I would be afraid of where I would be without being able to make music, and the people that have made music with me won’t ever quite know that they played a significant role in helping me stay alive and live. If I did not have that outlet, I do not think that I would be here. GUTTER GLOSS will always be around. We have a show in about a month with two new members, and I am really looking forward to that. It will always be something that I do.

For more updates on Joshua Fitzwater and his myriad of projects, check him out on Facebook, and be sure to “like” the Southern Grit, 757E ZINE, and GUTTER GLOSS Facebook pages. You can find copies of Southern Grit at any of these locations.

Joe Fitzpatrick

Joe Fitzpatrick

As editor-in-chief, Joe is very passionate about promoting music and culture in Virginia and DC. A resident of Falls Church, Joe enjoys going to shows, checking out local breweries, and trying new foods with friends.

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