Was there any anxiety over fan and media reactions eclipsing the work itself?
I had moments of self doubt, for sure, but I think that’s part of Taylor’s brilliance and kind-heartedness is to make me and others around her feel confident. She repeatedly would say, “There’s no hierarchy. This is as special and great as anything I’ve done before, if not greater, so don’t worry.” She has dealt with so much spotlight in her life, too much probably, so she knows better than anyone the kind of whims of the zeitgeist, so she was leading in that sense. We were on the phone when it came out, and it was a really special experience… We were just on the phone as people around the world were listening and reviews were coming in and the truth is, it went so well, that I have never thought about it again. It could have been the opposite.
In 2016, you and your brother Bryce, Justin Vernon and others launched a week-long Berlin residency called People that evolved into an online community for artists to self-publish work in real time. What’s the status of that platform now?
At some point People magazine told us that they own the word people in any media context, so we changed it to 37d03d, which is people upside down spelled with numbers and letters. We decided to start a proper record label in partnership with Secretly Group, and we put out as much music as we possibly can with the idea that — and this is very much a part of folklore — eventually there’s a large community of people feeding into the music and making it as great as it can be. [We’re] trying to create a label that really embraces that, and where decisions aren’t commercially driven. If somebody comes to us with this crazy noise record, we’re as interested in that as hit songs on some other record.
You and Swift made folklore without ever being in the same room. How do you see the pandemic changing the music industry?
I do think the way that we’ve had to embrace collaborating remotely and being open to it is a powerful thing. Everything is on pause, and everyone is listening in a different way. I’d like to believe that this is a chance for some shifts to happen.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.