Perfectly Imperfect – An Interview with Tyler Bainbridge
Perfectly Imperfect is a bi-weekly newsletter meant to serve up fresh and interesting recommendations from real people. Those “real people” happen to be some of the most famous people you might not have ever heard of or maybe you have (iykyk). What started out as a passion project has now turned into a cultural capstone that encapsulates more than just recommendations. Perfectly Imperfect has captured a moment in time and all the cultural bubblings that are coming out of the renaissance.
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Jay: Who are you and what do you do?
Tyler: I’m Tyler Bainbridge. I’m 27, I live in New York City, and I curate the Perfectly Imperfect newsletter.
J: In one sentence, how would you describe PI?
T: A newsletter offering a taste of someone’s taste twice a week. Or a bit dryer than that: A Culture Time Capsule.
J: Are you the sole entity behind Perfectly Imperfect?
T: I run it with my good friend Alex Cushing who lives in rural Massachusetts. He does the collage graphics, helps with big picture decision making, and he does monthly editor recommendations with me.
J: What else do you do besides PI?
T: I’m an open-source software engineer, so most of my 9 to 5 time is spent developing and thinking about the future of rich-text editors. Yeah, so pretty boring unless you’re a nerd. It can be tough to balance a real job with Perfectly Imperfect, but that’s what keeps it free and completely independent.
Outside of work and newsletter shit I love seeing live music, watching movies, smashing burgers, taking photos, sitting in the sun, and having 4-5 Guinness surrounded by good people.
J: What spurred you starting PI? Was there any relation to COVID?
T: Peak pandemic when I was still living in Massachusetts I got a new and very corporate job, so I needed to start a project like this to stay sane. I had way too much time on my hands and a deep longing to do something that “mattered”. Whether or not Perfectly Imperfect matters is up for debate I guess…
I was growing frustrated with how algorithmic everyones taste had become, myself included, and I wanted to help people get out of their bubble and find something new. At first Perfectly Imperfect was just my friends sharing what they were into. And eventually the guests simultaneously got bigger and more niche, but the format has always stayed exactly the same.
J: How do you manage to get recommendations from such a diverse and wide pool of people? There’s so much variety yet you’re still able to maintain personal/subculture feeling.
T: By being way too online. The internet has helped me discover people doing really cool things all over the world. Social Media can be as cancerous as it is helpful, but that’s a topc that’s been beaten to death by now.
At first I was cold emailing people that I had no business booking for my newsletter and occasionally I’d get really lucky and people I looked up to were down. And over time that got more and more frequent. These days most people are vaguely aware of Perfectly Imperfect whether it’s through a friend or friend of a friend that we featured or they found us through a bigger guest like Chloe Cherry or Dasha Nekrasova.
I think part of what makes our booking interesting is how we book names like those and smaller hyper-niche filmmakers, artists, bloggers, and even twitter shitposters. They’re all influential and important in different ways.
J: Stepping back to what you mentioned earlier about working as an open source developer(aka true superheroes), Do you feel like you carry open-source philosophy/ideals into PI? I feel like PI is a public good similar to something like Art21.
T: Maybe! But I think I’m just drawn to projects that aren’t explicitly for-profit, because that’s when compromises have to inevitably be made whether it’s only booking guests of a certain follower count or if you have to only recommend expensive products with affiliate links (which we don’t use).
I’m not saying that everyone should do things for free. I guess I’m just saying that not every side project has to make you money. Some things can just be for fun.
J: It really seems like PI embodies and captures components of a specific NYC scene/vibe. When we met the other night, you were saying PI is more than just recommendations. What do you mean by this?
T: To me Perfectly Imperfect will live on as one the best collections of who and what was “cool” in the early 2020s, especially in downtown New York City. You can learn a lot about someone through what they decide to recommend on our newsletter and how they write. My job is just to provide a bit of extra context in our introduction. Most importantly we want you to leave the page having learned about someone interesting. The new band or movie you found is just an added bonus.
It’s a new type of profile. One that people will actually read.
J: The overall ton and feeling of Perfectly Imperfect is very unique, especially when compared to anything else dealing with curation and recommendations. In a way it reminds of watching a music video. Short, sweet, sometimes chaotic and usually under 4 minutes. Was this style intentional or has PI developed its own personality with age?
T: Oh absolutely. I’m a state school college dropout, so I kinda get sick of psuedo intellectual up your own ass “my taste is the best in the universe” style writing. I wanted Perfectly Imperfect to feel like your friend is telling you what they’ve been into over a drink. Super low key and personal. Some people have said that this makes our tone feel condescending but I think they’ve just been chugging the big word kool-aid for too long. Chill out.
The format is also designed to be super skim-able. Everyone is begging for your time in the “attention economy” so Perfectly Imperfect is built to either be read quickly in 30 seconds or thoroughly in a few minutes. This makes our posts are rewarding no matter how much time you have.
J: Why do you feel its worth recording these recommendations? Is it important? What power/importance of word of mouth/human curation in an algorithmic era?
T: It’s definitely important. People used to find out about new things through a cool friend or a hip magazine. Those channels obviously still exist but there’s just so much noise now and it’s too easy to turn on algo auto-pilot. Maybe you don’t care about finding new things and you’re happy with the media you’re already consuming, but for those of us who are always looking for something new, Perfectly Imperfect will help you break out of your day-to-day bubble of the same 5 Spotify Radio songs and whatever the trendy TV show of the month is.
J: Do you feel there is a general lack of curiosity these days?
T: No, not really. I just think content discovery algorithms are “good enough” unless you’re a certain type of person. They give you the illusion of digging deep when you’re actually being corralled into the exact content they know you’ll like. You can definitely use them to your advantage and accelerate finding stuff that’s similar to what you’re already into, but they’ll rarely throw you a curve ball that ends up being your new obsession.
J: Every week I’m scrambling to keep up with what’s happening in the city. Do you feel like NYC is having a special moment right now? A resurgence almost.
T: I’m a transplant, so I feel like my opinion only means so much here. But I feel like there was a really special energy that came out of peak pandemic New York. The boredom of being mostly couped up inside and creatively caused a lot of people to start podcasts, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. Who’d have guessed that podcast hosts would be the influential “rock stars” of this era? That was an alien concept just a few years ago. All this new media helped create platforms and scenes for outsider artists that exist outside the world of establishment press.
J: One of the coolest aspects about PI is how everything is so connected but you don’t really explicitly provide that insight. Does this stem from the whole idea of PI being a source of discovery?
T: Everyone knows everyone. Or so it seems. I think that feeling mostly stems from the different people we feature. We jump from musicians to writers and models to podcasters every week, because Perfectly Imperfect is mostly a reflection of the culture I consume. I guess it’ll always be biased and flawed for that reason, but I think it’s better to have it feel like a real person who knows the guests is curating it all.
J: Do you feel like PI has had an effect/influence on what is considered cool?
T: Probably not, but it’s hard to know. I’ve noticed a few instances of potential influence but I always chalk it up to my own narcissism. Just because someone in Dimes Square is wearing shoes that were recommended on Perfectly Imperfect or posting Sugar Ray songs on their story doesn’t mean they’re one of the 20,000 people reading the newsletter…or does it?
J: Usually the term “micro-influencer” comes pretty loaded with negativity. To me, it seems like PI has actually shown the power of the micro-influencer(or whatever we want to call people who have small but dedicated followings). Perfectly Imperfect has also shown that there doesn’t have to be homogeneity within who and what we collectively find interesting. I was curious if you had anything thoughts on the term “micro-influencer” and how PI has really tapped into the power of dispersed collective attention?
T: Yeah, I don’t love that term. Or “tastemaker”. People have been sharing experiences and advice with each other long before people hopped on Instagram to shill DTC products, and creative outsiders have always lead the charge on what’s next. Perfectly Imperfect is just a revival of being normal about sharing it, haha.
And to be honest, our format would still be interesting if we were interviewing bartenders, accountants, and janitors. That being said…some people are more tapped in to what’s “next” than others and that’s who we try to book for Perfectly Imperfect.
J: I keep hearing phrases like “trends are dead” and “subcultures are seeing a revival”. Being someone who has interviewed so many people, do you think these statements have merit? Do you pick up on trends?
T: Trends are definitely alive and well. And the scary part is that it’s not immediately obvious that you’re part of one since a hundred new ones spawn every day. I saw a cool dude rocking Adidas Sambas back in June and bought a pair for myself (I was analog influenced…) and suddenly they’re everywhere and I still don’t fully understand why.
I also think that the trends are much more niche now. In the echo chamber of New York City media it’s easy to think everyone is wearing wired headphones or fully embracing indie sleeze 2.0, but it’s really the same circle of 100 people who tweet about trends a day and frequent the same bars.
J: We live in crazy times, some have said we(humankind) are entering a new dark age and others have said we are entering a renaissance. Do you have any thoughts on this?
T: It’s a mixture of both. I do worry about the implications of how hyper connected everything is and how much of my personal life I oddly feel compelled to share online with strangers. It can’t be good. I open TikTok and see young soldiers in Ukraine dancing to a trendy song while gunshots echo in the distance and scroll to see a girl dancing to that very same song in her bedroom. The amount of information being shared and collectively consumed is unfathomable, but it’s a profound and oddly beautiful time to be alive.
J: Do you ever see PI having an end or “finishing”?
T: It’ll finish when everyone in the world has shared recommendations on Perfectly Imperfect.
J: Is this foreshadowing anything to come??
T: Not going to elaborate further
J: Ha! Love the mystique! Do you have a favorite PI interview?
T: Madeline Quinn’s has always been a favorite. No one has come close to her range of Shark Tank, Brian Eno’s Journal, and Glock-19s. She saw the potential of the format earlier than most. But more recently I really enjoyed Laszlo Horvath’s.
J: If you could interview anyone dead or alive who would it be?
T: Um, off the top of my head: Lou Reed, Kanye West, Arthur Russell, Chloe Sevigny, Jonathan Richman, Mel Ottenberg, Charli XCX, John Lurie, Azealia Banks, and David Berman.
J: What is the most overrated trend right now?
T: People who’s entire schtick is hating on things.
I want to hear about what you actually enjoy, it’s way more vulnerable and interesting. Anyone can make fun of something trendy for likes. You’re way more likely to get clowned on for posting about what you really like than if you’re just firing off tweets hating on everything.
That’s not to say that I dislike criticism, it can be refreshing and important! It’s just when that’s the whole fuckin’ schtick it’s like… c’mon man.
J: Do you have any recommendations you’d like to leave us with?