Nov 22 2020 48 mins 4.5k

Get dropped in the middle of a long form conversation with musicians, cartoonists, writers and other creative types.

Episode 213: Josh Bayer
Apr 24 2017 68 mins  
Josh Bayer is coming a teaching class up town, and I’ve just finished work, so find a middle ground, a coffee shop called Ralph’s, bathed in the shadow of nearby Trump Tower. The place came highly recommended online, but there was no mention of the fact that it’s stashed away on the second floor of a Ralph Lauren store. Descent coffee, though. Bayer’s already there when I arrive, poring over comics on a tablet. He’s excited to talk about his work as a comics educator, having just come fresh off a class. His students run a broad spectrum, from upper east side kids to adults in need of a sort of art therapy. A deconstructer by nature, the work has caused the artist to pull the curtain back even further on what goes into making a great comic. The artist’s best known works are exercises in their own right. His Suspect Device anthology made a mission of turning well known comics source material on its head, with postmodern popcultural mashups and collaborations with a broad range of different alternative artists. His latest work, the ongoing All-Time Comics finds the artist paying homage to golden and silver age comics superheroes published by Fantagraphics, an odd destination for the tights and cape crowd. The each issue focuses on a different character, an experiment of sorts of step-by-step word building with a broad range of creative collaborators including the late-Herb Trimpe and covers by the likes of Jaime Hernandez and Anders Nilsen.

Episode 192: Jon Ginoli
Nov 02 2016 55 mins  
I must have been 12 or so when I first saw the Pansy Division. The band was opening for Green Day at a benefit show in Oakland, a return to the Bay Area following the triumphant Dookie tour. I had no idea what to make of the band at the time — and my dad, who’d kindly agreed to chaperone, was, I believe amused. He may or may not have said, “don’t tell your mother about this.” But that was always the Pansy Division’s MO — in your face sexuality backed by songwriting that rarely took itself seriously. The band no doubt blew the minds of young teens all across the country as the opening act for the soon to be biggest rock band in the world, and it appeared to have a hell of a time doing it. This year marks the group’s quarter-century anniversary, a milestone it celebrated with Quite Contrary, its first album in seven years, which is both celebratory and reflective, featuring a cover shot in the same room that graced the band’s seminal 1996 album Wish I'd Taken Pictures, starring the same two cover models. Frontman Jon Ginoli already did a thorough job reflecting on the band and its influence in his wonderful 2009 memoir, Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division, but a twenty-fifth anniversary offers yet another opportunity to recognize how far he, his band and the world around them have come in the last few decades. We sat down at a cafe in Manhattan following a recent appearance in the city to discuss the band, its music and mission.

Episode 175: John Holmstrom
Jul 06 2016 68 mins  
I got more than I bargained for when I interviewed John Holmstrom — which is saying a lot when you know going into things that you’re sitting down with the guy who co-founded Punk Magazine for a couple of hours in an East Village watering hole. We kick things off with a conversation about Holmstrom’s time at SVA, which led to part time gigs working with comics legends Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner. In 1975, Holmstrom, publisher Ged Dunn and (past guest) Legs McNeil co-founded Punk, a magazine that helped cement the name for the burgeoning undergrounding music bubbling up around them. Holmstrom edited the magazine and contributed Mad-inspired cartooning that would become a trademark of the scene and also contributed cover art for the iconic Ramones records, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin. In the years following Punk’s folding in 1979, the artist has contributed work to a wide range of publications including Scholastic’s Bananas Magazine, Spin, The Village Voice and Heavy Metal, along with an extended stint at pot culture chronicler High Times, where he ultimately served as publisher and president. Holmstrom sat down at a table at Manitoba’s, the East Village bar run by the Dictators front man of the same name. It a long and fascinating look at an artist who bridges a wide range of cultural touchstones and who, thanks to events like the on-going Ramones retrospective at the Queens Museum, appears to finally be getting his due.

Episode 105: Jean Grae
Apr 29 2015 78 mins  
The last time I saw Jean Grae in person, she was giving out free hugs in Union Square. The event was a unique attempting to cope with and have a discussion around the events unfolding in Ferguson. Grae and a group of fellow #TheHugStation attendants were offering a slew of hug varieties off of a lengthy Hug Menu. For the life of me, I can’t remember which variety I settled on, but I’m happy to report that hugging is, in fact, yet another one of her seemingly endless list of talents. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Grae was solely an emcee. She has, after all, issued dozens of records since she began rapping in the mid-90s (included several EPs in 2014 alone). But her ever-increasing portfolio also includes producing, writing, directing and starring in her an online sitcom (Life With Jeanie), writing and recording the audiobook The State of Eh and several live comedy shows like January’s Ghostbusters II ½: The Rise of Winston. And that’s all with the last year.Since 2008, Grae’s mission statement has more or less been stop talking, start creating. That year she opted to true embrace digital distribution as a means by which to eliminate the endless string of middlemen and the roadblocks and excuses they bring, telling her fans, "I don’t wanna complain anymore, I just wanna change some things about the way artists are treated and the way you guys are allowed to be involved, since it IS the digital age." Grae began releasing her work through Bandcamp, embracing the new found freedom of self-distribution to deliver a diverse array of work unfiltered to her fanbase. Her steady output means, among other things, that Grae is a tough person to pin down for an hour-long interview, but after a year of trying, we finally managed to sit down over a couple of drinks at a Williamsburg bar to discuss creativity, mentorship and moving to Los Angeles.

Episode 102: Guy Branum
Apr 14 2015 96 mins  
While the old adage about truth making for great art certainly applies to standup, the equation can be something of a mixed bag. After all, comedy is often as much about deflection as it honesty, a slight of hand designed to distract from larger, painful and more personal truths. But honesty, it seems, isn’t really an issue for Guy Branum. The comedian, writer, podcaster and former Chelsea Lately guest deals in truths — largely about himself. As Branum put it in a recent comment about the Trevor Noah Twitter dustup, "Good stand-up comedy cannot be safe; it must shock or surprise an audience. Some comics can do it magnificently with insights about socks, but the best do it with bracing commentary about the stuff that really matters to us." For Branum, such truths are largely internal, tackling obsessions, body issues and coming to grips with his own sexuality, in spite of a less than supportive environment. This quote from his new standup album, Effable, sums the whole thing up pretty nicely. "When my parents realized I was going to be gay, they figured they might as well raise the largest in the county. If there not getting grandchildren out of the deal, at least they could get a blue ribbon." And thankfully, for interviewers such as myself, such honesty isn’t designated for the stage alone. Freshly arrived in New York, Branum made the trip to my apartment for a wide-ranging and deep digging conversation about comedy and life.

Episode 101: Jesse Malin
Apr 08 2015 50 mins  
I never knew New York before the war. The towers were gone by the first time set foot in the city. But nearly a dozen years after making the place my home, I have a fundamental distrust for anyone resident who claims not to have a conflicted relationship with the city. Even in my relatively short while here, I feel as though I’ve watched the city undergo constant transformation. It’s to be expected to some degree in a city famous for never stopping, and life certainly can’t exist in a vacuum of nostalgia. But there’s forever a sense that something fundamental about the city is quickly eroding. Jesse Malin is an expert on the matter. The Queens native spent his whole life in the city, and his love of its native sounds is precisely what led him to plumb its depths, diving headfirst into the world of New York City hardcore at age 12, fronting the legendary band heart attack before officially entering his teens. Malin’s musical leanings have mellowed out considerably since Heart Attack’s Hilter Demo, but City has continued to play a key role in his songwriting, taking center stage for this year’s New York Before the War. We met up in the East Village ahead of the record’s release, grabbing a table at the back of Odessa’s, a rare reminder of old New York remaining in amongst the long ago gentrified East Village, directly across the street from Niagra, a bar co-owned by Malin that proudly boasts a rainbow colored Joe Strummer mural on the side that faces Tompkins Square Park. Malin and I ordered a couple of teas in the happily familiar location and talked collaboration, commitment, the Big Apple and The Boss.

Episode 100: They Might Be Giants
Mar 28 2015 57 mins  
Flood is my Beatles on Sullivan, my self-titled Velvet Underground record and Run-DMC on MTV. It was the first time I remember being keenly aware that an ever-expanding musical universe existed beyond the confines of the rock and Motown the radio played on the way to and from soccer practice. It was a strange and idiosyncratic world of misplaced accordions, horn-rimmed glasses and lyrics that only began to take on some semblance of meaning after repeat listens. So I listened, over and over again on the cassette tape a friend had record on, the mystery only deepened by the lack of official art work. I was in college by the time I realized I’d been getting key lyric to “Particle Man” wrong all these years—singing it at full volume in a car full of people who knew better. The sense of discovery is inextricably linked to the They Might Be Giants experience. It’s a tie that bonds so many of my generation, discovering in those days just before the mainstream adoption of the internet that maybe we weren’t so weird after all — or, perhaps more appropriately, that there were other weirdos out there just like us. Dial-A-Song is the most literal manifestation of the phenomenon, an old answering machine purchase by the band to get its music out into the world as John Linnell healed from a broken wrist and Flansburgh recovered from an apartment robbery. The duo advertised a phone number in the back of the Village Voice readers could call to hear the band’s songs. The band resurrected the project this year, through the decidedly less intimate medium of YouTube, with the ambitious goal of releasing a new song each week for the full calendar year. In this 100th episode, we discuss Dial-A-Song, the importance of partnerships and the role of discovery in art.

Episode 097: Alex Winter
Mar 17 2015 65 mins  
If I’m being totally honest, it takes me a few minutes to shake the fact that I’m sitting across the table from Bill S. Preston as I unspool mic wires in the kitchen of some stranger’s Tribeca apartment. But if there’s stigma attached to having starred in a number of iconic films at a young age, Alex Winter shed it years ago. The career of the self-proclaimed “showbiz lifer” has been a fascinating one to watch over the years, as he transitioned from child/teen star to respected filmmaker, first through the uniquely absurdist comedic visions of his MTV sketch series Idiotbox and the Troma-esque feature Freaked to award-winning features like 2012’s Downloaded, a documentary detailing the rise and fall of Napster soundtracked by former RiYL guest, DJ Spooky. I caught up with Winter as he was in town filming the culmination of the followup, Deep Web, capturing the trial of Silk Road founder Ross William Ulbricht, which concluded three days before our conversation. Though the director was shockingly at ease despite having a number of interviews to conduct just over a month before the film’s premier. That film, which premiered this week at SXSW in Austin, complete with narration by once and future fellow Wyld Stallyn, Keanu Reaves, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the focus of our conversation, from its birth as a Kickstarter campaign to the relationships he formed with Ulbricht’s family during shooting. Even still, it’s a wide ranging conversation from an accomplished director with no concerns about rehashing old gigs. And hell, when the conversation turns to a third Bill and Ted film, I’m not going to be the one to change the subject.

Episode 094: Vijay Iyer
Feb 25 2015 58 mins  
I’d have been content to spend the whole time talking about Thelonious Monk. There’s a picture of the composer wedged in one corner of the home office located in the lower of Vijay Iyer’s Harlem brownstone. But while he invariably comes up over the course of the conversation, there’s far too much ground to cover to spend too much audio card space dwelling on the matter. And you get the feeling, sitting with Iyer for longer than a few minutes, that’s he’s never been one to stay in the same place too long. His creative impatience has paid off, winning the pianist a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2013 and a professorship at Harvard last year. And on a more selfish note, he’s got me thinking a lot more about contemporary jazz, a genre I’d—perhaps foolishly—written off in some stubborn decision somewhere along the line to not listen to anything recorded after 1975. But Iyer’s thoughts and records like this year’s intricately-woven Break Stuff form an extremely compelling argument that there’s still plenty of ground to be tilled in both that genre and the more ancient realm of classical — though Iyer, unsurprisingly, is not hung up with those sorts of tags. In this wide ranging conversation, we discuss Iyer’s creative growth, from learning to play violin at age three to his rise as one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of the modern era — including an ever so brief detour that landed him degrees in math and physics at Yale and UC Berkeley.

Episode 092: Scott McCloud
Feb 11 2015 62 mins  
The phrase “those who can’t, teach” runs through my head pretty consistently when I sit down in front of a blank page in an attempt to flex some creative muscles. It’s the curse of the critic, the curator, the teacher — anyone on the outside looking in who assumes their work, perhaps rightfully, will be subject to that added level of critique when they finally unleash it on the world. That, no doubt, is a large part of why it took Scott McCloud so damned long to bare himself in such a way. The artist has, quite literally, written the book on making comics — three of them, in fact. For decades, his work has been largely regarded as the gold standard for making and interpreting sequential art, a watershed moment in the academic approach to the form. Like so many on that side of the creative process, however, McCloud’s bibliography has long lacked a major, self-contained narrative work. In the 80s, the artist produced Zot, a manga-influenced light-hearted take on superhero books, but until The Sculptor, McCloud has never given himself a long-form opportunity to put into practice the rules he’d first committed to paper in the early 90s. A half-decade in the making, the new book shockingly lives up to the hype. It’s a masterfully constructed and pitch-perfectly paced take on the Faustian archetype with creative roots that reach back well beyond the publication of McCloud’s earliest work. I sat down with McCloud in a colorful room at First Second’s Flat Iron Building offices ahead of his speaking engagement at the 92nd st. Y to discuss The Sculptor, thinking critically about comics and the frustrating notion of the effortless artist.

Episode: 091: Legs McNeil
Feb 04 2015 47 mins  
I feel a bit bad entering the hotel room. There was a bit of a miscommunication on timing, and Legs McNeil is clearly quite comfortable lying in bed watching Law and Order. It’s an episode he’s already seen multiple times, a fact he lets be known by rattling off the entire plot in a couple of quick sentences, so he’ll be able to give me his undivided attention as Detective Briscoe successfully apprehends some pure. McNeil and frequent collaborator Gillian McCain finished up an talk at the Rough Trade record store earlier in the evening, discussing their latest, Dear Nobody, a posthumously published diary of troubled young teenager, Mary Rose, though the pair had devoted most of the New York City trip to a forthcoming book focused on Charles Manson, which McNeil promises will shed new light on the well trod story — even if he’s admittedly a bit cagey on the specifics. McNeil and McCain’s first — and best-known — collaboration was 1996’s Please Kill Me, an oral history of punk rock’s early years that is widely regarded as the definitive document of the movement’s New York City roots. It’s a story McNeil knows as well as anyone, as the co-founder of Punk Magazine, the iconic fanzine that give the CBGBs movement a name. These days the author no longer calls New York his home, having traded in the skyrocketing rents and disappearing culture for a far more bucolic life in a small Pennsylvanian town, where he lives, writes and catches the occasional rerun of Law and Order.

Episode 088: Jim Woodring
Jan 13 2015 61 mins  
I’m not sure where to start with one, but the gallery seems as good a place as any. It was, after all, the reason Jim Woodring was in New York for a particularly cold few days last week. Fine art has been the cartoonist’s focus off and on for the better part of a decade, bouncing between the world of galleries and the paneled pages on which he first made his name. It’s hard to believe, then, that the artist is only now having his first solo gallery showing. Honestly, though, that’s likely the least surprising revelation in this hour long interview. I defy you to have an extended conversation with the artist without having your mind blown a bare minimum of four or five times. Woodring has long used his comics work as a method for exploring his singular vision of reality, beginning in the 80s with the publication of Jim, which explored the artist’s dreams and long standing hallucinations in the form of autobiographical comics. His most beloved work, Frank, was a more fully realized world inhabited by assorted anthropomorphic beings, including the titular buck-tooth hero. The last time I spoke with Woodring, the artist was promoting Seeing Things, a collection of his charcoal drawings that presented an even more direct insight into his visions. At the time, the artist had seemingly turned his back on comics, but has thankfully returned to the medium with even longerform works. These days Woodring works in whatever medium best represents the images he’s attempting to represent as he walks through life, moleskin sketchbook in-hand. I ask to see what he’s been working on during his days in New York City and he happily stands up from his hotel bed and rummages around in his jacket pockets. Woodring is that rare and wonderful sort of interviewee who creates work that requires no additional discussion, yet is perfectly willing to discuss it ad nauseam when the time comes. The result is a frank and fascinating conversation tracing the course of the artist’s career, beginning with his very first frog hallucination.

Episode 085: Francoise Mouly
Dec 23 2014 77 mins  
The Greenwich Village loft space occupied by Toon Books is one part office space, part living comics museum. There’s a row of iMacs where most of the business is done, from filling orders to taking product shots, while just above on a second level balcony, a spool of bubble wrap roughly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle leans against a wall of bookshelves fit for a small library. There are decades of fascinating ephemera lining the walls, original comics pages, an in-store cardboard cutout for Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library and, most compelling of all, the Gary Panter classic comics head mashup painting that graced the first issue of the RAW’s second volume (1989’s “Open Wounds from the Cutting Edge of Commix”). It’s hardly a surprise, of course, that so many amazing pieces call the space their home. Francoise Mouly has been here for decades herself, since the days when she and husband Art Spiegelman first altered the course of the New York City avant garde comics community with a nascent anthology aimed at offering a publishing home to unknowns like Charles Burns, Joost Swarte, Ben Katchor and, naturally, Spiegelman, who used those pulpy pages to serialize a groundbreaking first-hand account of the holocaust starring a cast of cat and mice. That the Toon Books office occupies the same space is certainly no coincidence. Like RAW before it, the kids comics publishing company was launched to fill a perceived hole in the comics community in the wake of a media that had arguably overcorrected. Thanks to trailblazing works like Maus, the headline-ready phrase “comics aren’t just for kids” had quickly turned from rallying cry to cliche as adult-focused books rapidly became the norm in the intervening decades since RAW closed its doors. In the 00s, Mouly — by then the art director of The New Yorker — pitched a line of education kids bolstered by Jeff Smith’s epic fantasy masterpiece to Scholastic. By 2008, the idea gave way to Toon Books, an independent entity focused on books by cartoonists like Spiegelman, Smith and Eleanor Davis aimed at teaching kids to read and bolstered by detailed lesson plans aimed at reintroducing comics into a classroom setting. A half-dozen years later, Toons’ scope continues to grow, including the recent publication of a Hanzel and Gretel adaptation penned by Sandman scribe Neil Gaiman. I sat down with Mouly in the middle of Toon Books' cramped quarters to discuss the company's role in the ever-evolving perception of comics as a educational tool.

Episode 084: Tom Scharpling
Dec 16 2014 64 mins  
It must be around 11PM by the time Tom Scharpling arrives at my apartment, and he’s predictably exhausted. We’d scheduled something for earlier in the evening, but he found himself sitting though four hours of traffic making his way into Queens, making the executive to skip directly to the live podcast he’s appearing on a ten minute ride away. He’s tired, but ready. This is his moment of triumphant, one of the final few podcast appearances on a victory lap before ending The Best Show’s year-long self-imposed hiatus, resurrecting the beloved public radio program as an internet-only concern. It’s a world the comedian has (somewhat) lovingly ribbed, but later this month, after a dozen-plus years as a terrestrial radio show, WFMU’s former tent pole program joins the ranks of standalone podcasts. Scharpling and indie rock drummer turned comedy partner Jon Wurster have spent the past year piecing together the infrastructure for a proper relaunch, taking a much needed break to pursue other avenues of expression and reflecting on the program’s strange and steady transformation from music-based radio program to one of the purest and most unique pieces of on-going comedy in the last 20 years. The intervening months have also seen a number of Best Show-related projects that have afforded further reflection, including the suitably off-kilter Adult Swim one-off The Newbridge Tourism Board Presents: “We’re Newbridge, We’re Comin’ To Get Ya!” and the forthcoming Scharpling and Wurster Numero Group boxset, which collects 79 of the duo’s best bits over a massive 16 CDs. Even after all that, I still managed to squeeze around an hour or so out of Scharpling to talk social media, success and Donald Sterling.

Episode 082: Matt Sharp (Mini)
Dec 03 2014 30 mins  
I’ve had questions for Matt Sharp since 1994. Hell, I had the guy’s visage on my wall back in the mid-90s, in the form of a blown of poster of the Blue Album, the first pop record of the era that really tapped into sensibilities of an indoor kid growing up amidst piles of X-Men comics. And if Weezer was the quintessential geek rock group of the mid-90s, then Sharp was its quintessential geek, an image he fully embraced for Return of the Rentals, the Moog-drenched debut of the newly band that would establish the bass player as a songwriting force in his own right. I’m not sure what I would have asked Sharp 20 years ago, but these days my questions revolve largely around notions of success: namely, how the musician’s multi-decade career has been impact by his early successes. After all Weezer’s first album put the band on the map almost immediately, and Sharp managed to strike gold yet again with The Rentals’ scoring their biggest hit to date with the their very first single, “Friends of P.” But while the band would never manage to recapture that success, subsequent albums have found the group’s rotating cast of players evolve into something far more exciting: a beloved and ever-evolving indie rock band, reinventing itself with every subsequent release. And Sharp has evolved right alongside them, severing his ties from the music world and moving to the rural south following the release of The Rentals’ terrific but moderately selling sophomore record Seven More Minutes. Over the years, he’s release heart wrenching solo work, played synths for indie darlings Tegan and Sara and even managed to reconcile things with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo in the face of mounting legal concerns over songwriting royalties. But all the while, the Rentals have represented a sort of homebase, a safe place to which Sharp could return even after years of absence to produce something beautiful, most recently with this year’s understate Lost in Alphaville. We sat down ahead of the band’s triumphant return to New York City to discuss the musician’s idiosyncratic career.

Episode 081: Mike Watt
Nov 26 2014 51 mins  
There’s a whole of confusion when I arrive at the Mercury Lounge. By the time I emerge from the front of the club, on being informed that I was supposed to meet Mike Watt at “the boat,” the I spot the musician limping his was toward me on Houston Street. He’s longer the skeletal figure the late D. Boon described as a dimensionless “serious of points” of course, but the bassist is still a force of nature, now barreling through the crosswalk. I introduce myself and add that I’m more than happy to go back to the van, but Watt waves me off. “It’s fine,” he answers. “We’ll find something inside the venue.” And for once, I’m disappointed at the prospect of not following a stranger back to a van, the giant white Econoline at the center of year’s worth of road stories, behind whose wheel Watt conducted the lion’s share of interviews for the delightful 2005 documentary, We Jam Econo. We settle in a small alcove, where the instruments are stashed between sets. Watt takes a moment to settle in, compensating for a bum knee exacerbating by chronic touring and then asks in earnest why I’m interested in speaking with him. There’s no false modesty there. He is, after all, just one-third of Il Sogno Del Marinaio a trio formed with two Italian musicians from a younger generation marking yet another sharp turn in the Watt’s long and winding career path. “Because you’re Mike Watt” seems a strong enough answer, but instead I sit and listen as he maps out the band’s approach in typically democratic language, playing alongside two tremendous young musicians in a situation that requires continual musical growth, nearly three and half decades after the release of the first Minutemen LP. He may be limping slightly, but Watt shows no outward signs of slowing down, music or verbally — and hell, I’ll be the first to admit that for the first few minutes of our conversation, I have some trouble keeping up. As with his music, Mike Watt speaks in a language uniquely his own — a sort of Southern Californian free jazz approach to verbal communication that requires dialing into his very specific frequency. And as with everything else the music does, once you’re tuned in, it’s best to just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Episode 080: Tim DeLaughter
Nov 19 2014 47 mins  
In 2013, The Polyphonic Spree released, quite possibly the best album, a decade into their existence — quite the feat for a band many had written off as little more than novelty the first time its 20-odd members took to the stage in matching robes. But, then, Tim Delaughter has built a career out of defying exception. The Spree itself was one of those crazy sorts of what ifs that artists sit around and discuss but rarely ever deliver on: as much a happening as a band, with two dozen members in choir outfits, born out of the dissolution of Tripping Daisy a damaged 90s psychedelic alternative act that recorded a handful of wonderful records that will forever be relagated to the Buzz Bin of history for its sunshine single “I Got a Girl.” Delaughter’s determination is the glue that’s held his deeply satisfying pop experiment together since 2000 in the face of financial strain and all of the other numerous logistical considerations that come with such a massive operation at a time when similarly positioned groups with roughly one-eight the band members struggle to make ends meet. The singer looks slightly worse for wear when we sit down upstairs at Brooklyn Bowl in a meeting spot oddly positioned just outside the ladies room before the doors have officially opened. But once the music starts — after a very brief but extremely wedding ceremony between audience members — the band puts on a show with every ounce of energy that defined the Spree in its nascent days. Over the years, unsurprisingly, members of the massive group have come and gone, but Delaughter has maintained his position as the excited and chaotic nucleus. The band has already outlived Delaughter’s previous group, and if Yes It’s True is any indication, The Polyphonic Spree still has plenty of life ahead of it.

Episode 075: John Porcellino
Oct 15 2014 74 mins  
I’d spoken with John Porcellino not all that long ago for Publishers Weekly feature discussing The Hospital Suite, the indie cartoonist longest self-contained work to date. Published by Drawn & Quarterly, the book is deeply personal, exploring long standing health concerns that caused Porcellino to be hospitalized numerous times over the years. Toward the end of that conversation, I asked the artist whether he’d be willing to meet up again for yet another interview when his book tour brought him to New York City. He’d only be in town for a couple of days for the Brooklyn Book Festival and would only have a couple of hours to spare, but he happily agreed to devote one of them to sitting down with me in front of a microphone yet again. Porcellino greeted me in the lobby of his Brooklyn hotel a few weeks later in a white t-shirt bearing the visage of celebrity cat, Lil Bub. He recognized me before I recognized him. He looked different than the last time we’d met, when I’d interviewed him on-stage at the Minneapolis Indie Expo a few years prior. Back then, he’d been in the throes of the health concerns at the center of his new book. “I’ve put on a little weight,” he said proudly. “I just turned 46, after all.” He didn’t look overweight, he just looked, well, healthy. He offered me an English muffin and apologized for tucking into the hotel breakfast that had only just arrived. He was making the most of his limited time as I set up the recorder. After five ten minutes of discussing the relative niceness of various hardcore frontmen (Ian MacKaye, Kevin Seconds and Keith Morris all get gold stars), any concerns I harbored about our ability to fill yet another hour’s worth of SD card with conversation melted away. For episode 75, here’s a wide ranging one with one of the most fascinating and longest lasting figures in the world of self-published comics. Punk rock, buddhism, nature, health and art all abound.

Episode 073: Art Spiegelman
Sep 30 2014 57 mins  
Two years ago, while on a take a half day off following a photography convention, I ran into Art Spiegelman on the streets of Cologne, Germany. Actually, I spotted his wife first, and it took me a moment to place the familiar face so completely out of context — New Yorker editor and former RAW Magazine partner in crime, Francoise Mouly. I reintroduced myself, having interviewed Art a year or two prior for a HEEB Magazine cover story. Spiegelman nodded his recognition and invented me to a talk his was giving at a modern art museum later that night. Naturally, I obliged. It was one of the more surreal experiences of my comics-adjacent life. What began as a conversation about the cartoonist’s beloved holocaust book Maus, soon transitioned into a slideshow featuring holocaust denial gag strips Spiegelman had drawn, answering then-Iranian president Amedinijad’s call in the wake of the uproar over the massively controversial 2005 Dutch Muhammed cartoons. Watching the German audience crack up at the work offered a fascinating glimpse at the coping mechanisms of a country whose psyche is forever changed by the topics Spiegelman has unflinchingly embraced. It was also a reminder that, along with being a vocal pundit in the ever-shifting give and take between “high” and “low” art, Spiegelman has long been a showman. His new touring act “Wordless” is the most direct manifestation of these two qualities. The event mixes multimedia, lecture, a live jazz band and conversations revolving around the influential if often forgotten pictorial novels of artists like Lynd Ward. Spiegelman spoke with me ahead of his upcoming tour about Ward’s on-going impact on his own work, the power of the visual medium and the often questionable pursuit of multimedia comics.

Episode 072: John Darnielle
Sep 24 2014 47 mins  
“Once a bugle stood in the window of a store that sold brass goods.” That’s the first line of The Magical Bugle, a short story written by a young John Darnielle after acquiring an old Royal typewriter for his seventh birthday. It was a line so good his father taught it to his Freshman composition students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Darnielle has, it turns out, been a writer his whole life, and if that first sentence is any indication, he’s been always been a pretty good one. Since the mid-90s, he's been best recognized as the frontman and sometime sole member of The Mountain Goats, a southern California indie rock outfit defined by the musician’s intensely emotive vocals and narrative song structures that play out like two to three minute short stories. His early career was also marked by lo-fi recording techniques, with songs often taped directly to a cassette boombox. In 2002, Darnielle released Tallahassee, a concept album relating the story of a embittered Florida couple perpetually near divorce. The singer’s second LP that year, the record also marked the first Mountain Goats record to be performed by a full band. An arguable disappointment to some of his hardcore fanbase, the record was a perfect manifestation of Darnielle’s desire to pursue new challenges, having taken home recording to its logical conclusion with the equally brilliant All Hail West Texas. Wolf in White Van marks is a similar pursuit in some sense, the novel serving as a manifestation of his desire to perpetually challenge himself, though Darnielle’s decision to pen a novel likely didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with his songwriting abilities — or any mid-70s Cal Poly composition students. Darnielle and I sat down in the Manhattan offices of his publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a veritable shrine to the written word, to discuss the novel, his life long science fiction and the importance of being able to throw things away.

Episode 070: Whitney Matheson
Sep 10 2014 62 mins  
“It’s funny how life can change on a dime.” That’s how Whitney Matheson put it, asking whether I was still planning on running this interview. That’s the downside, I suppose, of stockpiling these interviews, though in my defense, these conversations tend to have a shelf life of a bit longer than month. When the news came out last week that USA Today would be pulling the plug on Matheson’s beloved pop culture column Pop Candy after 15 years, the thought of killing the piece never actually occurred to me. We touched upon some really interesting topics during our conversation in a midtown Manhattan tea shop. And in some ways, it’s perhaps even more important in light of Pop Candy’s end. What really struck during the interview was a conversation about a piece Matheson wrote about Seinfeld, which the titular comedian referenced during an interview with the writer. The essay was part of a larger Pop Candy project exploring the ways in which popular culture effects us on a personal level, with Matheson revealing how the iconic sitcom helped her survive a bout of depression. Matheson touches on similar themes in the Pop Candy farewell letter she published on her site today: Every major event in my entire adult life took place while I wrote it, too: marriage, three moves, the losses of loved ones, my daughter’s birth. With each of them, I received a stream of unwavering support from thousands of people I’d never even met.It’s a good conversation about the power of popular culture to connect, inspire and persevere.

Episode 068: Sean Nelson
Aug 27 2014 76 mins  
Harvey Danger was one of the last of the Buzz Bin bands, in those waning when major labels were still forces to be reckoned with and MTV rotation was all it took to cement a song’s status as a generation-defining hit. Fresh out of college, the band scored its one major hit with “Flagpole Sitta,” the second track on the band’s debut record, which, all told cost around $3,000 to record. Through some combination of unpopular choices, one major flub on the part of some crew member for 120 minutes and poor choices from above, the band would never manage to recapture such success, in spite of, quite arguably, releasing two far stronger records before disbanding for good in 2009. In the days since, Nelson’s seemingly tried his hands at everything, playing keyboards for indie darlings The Long Winters, taking on backup vocal duties for the likes of Nada Surf and Death Cab for Cutie, taking roles in a number of films and writing for Seattle’s alt-weekly, The Stranger. Last summer, Nelson even returned to songwriting, releasing his first solo record, Make Good Choices for the tiny Seattle label Really Records. Nelson and I met up while he was in New York to help a friend work on a musical, also using the opportunity to play an intimate show downstairs at Brooklyn’s Union Hall, along with his new wife Shenandoah Davis, who accompanied him on piano as he worked through solo songs and the occasional Harvey Danger number. We spoke about gauging one’s own accomplishments in the wake of massive success, occupational diversification and how to take a backseat to someone else’s creative force.

Episode 067: Dave Wakeling
Aug 20 2014 46 mins  
There’s always been some degree of confusion over what, precisely, constitutes The Beat. Here in the States, the group has long added the word “English” to its name, so as to avoid confusion with the contemporary Paul Collins’ power pop project. In recent decades, things have only gotten trickier as the band’s two frontmen have pieced together their own versions of the group. If you go see The Beat in its native UK, it will likely be the project led by toaster Ranking Roger and his similarly named progeny. Here in the US, lead singer Dave Wakeling retains the name, heading up a revue of the band’s greatest hits, with a few choice cuts from his followup band General Public mixed in for good measure. It’s a strange thing, of course, to hit the road playing decades old songs without the aid of any original members, but Wakeling, to his credit, puts on a tremendous show each night for packed houses, middle aged women inviting themselves on-stage as the opening notes of “Tenderness” ring out during the encore. Of course, that he’s still able to tour on songs like “Save it For Later” and “Mirror in the Bathroom” is a testament to some quality in their DNA that has made the music outlive subsequent generations of ska bands, who have come and gone like so many porkpie hats. Wakeling and I sat down in the back of the band’s tour bus to discuss longevity, life, Margaret Thatcher and what keeps bringing him back to the songs that made him famous.

Episode 064: Dan Kennedy
Jul 30 2014 77 mins  
Over its 17 year existence, The Moth has shaped the age-old art of storytelling into something uniquely its own, a style as instantly recognizable as any music style or movie genre. And like a great song or movie, there’s something in a perfectly executed Moth story that leaves the listener feeling as though they could never imitate such a perfect feat. Of course, if the organization’s show runners are to be believed, just about anyone with a story and the willingness to be coached by a few professionals can do precisely that. And that, really, is one of The Moth’s greatest attributes: the ability to balance populism with transcendence. In some sense, the podcast’s host Dan Kennedy embodies exactly that, at least the way he tells the story: jobless, furnitureless, recently dumped and newly sober, stumbling into a storytelling night so many years ago. Until I heard perform the story of a magazine-assigned trip to Indonesia to search for an elusive nine-foot reticulated python on the Moth’s weekly podcast a couple of months back, I knew little about the guy beyond what he sounds like attempt to convince a large internet audience to redeem an Audible coupon code. Turns out, just as one would hope from the host of The Moth's weekly podcast, Kennedy is a man brimming with stories — and over the years, he’s gotten pretty good at telling them. In fact, he’s got a few books to his name. There’s Rock On, which revisits the 18 months he spent working marketing for Atlantic Records and Loser Goes First, a memoir of Kennedy’s uncanny knack for stumbling into interesting situations — not unlike the one that brought him to the Moth in the first place. But first a conversation about Roger Daltrey's mic technique.

Episode 063: Peter Kuper
Jul 23 2014 44 mins  
Every time I speak to Peter Kuper, the conversation invariably turns to New York — or, as is often the case, begins there. It’s my own fault. I’ve got this insatiable need to ask fellow residents, artists in particular, what keeps them in the city’s orbit. Kuper is a particularly interesting case study, having left the city — and country — in 2006, for a life in Mexico. It was, as one might, expect, a multifaceted decision to move his entire family down to Oaxaca, in part an attempt to expose his daughter to another language and culture — and certainly leaving the country at the height of George W. Bush’s second term was seen as a net positive for the oft political cartoonist. A few years later, the Kupers found themselves back in New York, but the experience generated, amongst other things, the lovely Diario De Oaxaca, a sketchbook diary chronicling Kuper’s time in Mexico, immersed himself in the area’s stunning counter-cultural murals. More recently, Kuper returned to the book’s publisher, PM Press, in hopes of helping to anthologize World War 3 Illustrated, the progressive comics anthology he co-founded with fellow New York cartoonist, Seth Tobocman. The process was a touch more complicated, and when we sat down to speak at the MoCCA Arts Festival back in April, the duo had recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. Even outside the long-running anthology, Kuper’s career has long been both fascinating and diverse, from multiple Kafka adaptations and his 2007 semi-autobiographical Stop Forgetting To Remember to an on-going stint as Mad Magazine’s Spy Versus Spy artist. So, you know, plenty to talk about.

Episode 062: Lizz Winstead
Jul 16 2014 67 mins  
“It’s not usually this crazy,” Lizz Winstead apologizes, greeting me at the door of her Brooklyn apartment alongside two overstimulated dogs. Inside, a small staff helping prepare Lady Parts Justice for its upcoming launch. The site is the latest in a long line of projects that straddle the sometimes treacherous line between comedy and politics. Winstead’s impressive CV includes co-founding both The Daily Show and the since-departed left-wing radio station Air America, on which she co-hosted a program with Chuck D. and then relatively unknown politics wonk named Rachel Maddow. In the wake of a series of standup shows throughout the midwest, the comedian opted to focus her political efforts on a primary political cause — on that has been at the forefront of a number of recent news cycles due primarily to unfortunate turns of events. Built with the help of a recent Indiegogo campaign, Lady Parts Justice aims to sign light on the struggles of reproductive rights through a series of well-produced, star-studded comedy videos and some cold, hard facts. It’s an issue that’s been at the front of Winstead’s activism since the product of a conservative midwestern upbringing found herself at an abortion clinic at age 17, an experience she writes about at length in her 2012 essay collection, Lizz Free for Die. We grabbed a couple of chairs coated in dog fur to discuss the cross section of politics and comedy and how some funny YouTube videos might some day effect change.

Episode 055: Ultragrrrl
May 28 2014 55 mins  
There’s something slightly surreal in reading a book, knowing the final chapters will dovetail with your own life, if only slightly. By the end of Marc Spitz’s new memoir Poseur, the rock writer found his way into the masthead at SPIN Magazine, and for a few months during his reign as senior writer, I found myself there as well, albeit as lowly intern who’d moved across the country with dreams of one leveraging his love of the written word into New York City rent money. Sarah “Ultragrrrl” Lewitinn plays a major role in those final chapters, first as a coworker and then as a partner in crime. When I arrived at the magazine, hers was a rare friendly face in amongst grizzled rock journalism veterans navigating an anemic industry, inviting us plucky little interns to rock shows and club nights, once sneaking me into a Jarvis Cocker DJ set at her weekly brit-pop night. By the time I got to New York, Ultragrrrl was everywhere, breaking bands like The Killers, managing groups like My Chemical Romance and appearing on the cover of The Village Voice in full ironic martyr mode, a Photoshopped shot of Lewitinn chained to stake as flames lapped at her designer dress. Finishing Spitz’s book, I shot her an email, proposing an opportunity to catch up on mic after a decade or so, and Ultragrrrl jumped at the chance, inviting me over to the East Village apartment building where she’s resided for the majority of her time in the city.

Episode 054: Keith Morris
May 21 2014 64 mins  
“I’m sorry if I can’t look you in the eyes during the interview,” Keith Morris apologizes, taking the microphone from me. I’m slightly baffled by the statement until he lays down on the couch, feet facing me, mic resting on his chest. It takes a few minutes to shake the feeling that this is some sort of on-the-record counseling session. Morris isn’t feeling 100-percent. Not too surprising, really, for a 58-year-old hardcore singer grappling with diabetes and emphysema, but the mere fact that he’s made it this far is an accomplishment in and of itself — and then there’s the fact that, in a couple of hours, he’s set to take the stage with his new band, OFF. For the time being, however, the former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman is attempting to exert as little energy as possible, as we sit in the Bowery Ballroom’s backstage, in amongst assorted foodstuff that looks to have been plucked from the shelves of a nearby health food store. But while Morris will barely move a muscle during the hour-plus conversation, his mind and mouth hardly ever stop. There’s plenty of ground to cover, of course, from the early Southern California hardcore days of the late-70s/early-80s to his recent rebirth, creating arguably his best and most immediate music since Golden Shower of Hits. And then there’s the health concerns and the lawsuits and the time spent on the Black Flag Facebook page defending his old pal, Henry Rollins. As for their old bandmate, guitarist Greg Ginn, however, Morris isn’t likely to be rushing to defend him on social media any time soon.

5 • 1 Ratings

trered Apr 28 2020
Informed interviewer gets to the discussion right away, without steering himself. Grounded, relevant and concise.