Episode 326: Nick Thorburn

17Mar

When Penguins arrived late last year, it was the latest in a long line of projects from a seemingly restless artist. The Fantagraphics book found Nick Thorburn taking the plunge into comics for the first time, amid a long career as a critically acclaimed indie musician. His first published work is a remarkably adept one, showcasing a keen knowledge of the subtle art of wordless story telling. It’s an examination of the human existence through the seeming tragedy of flightless birds. For Thorburn, it’s also an opportunity to indulge in a new creative pursuit after a laundry list of beloved bands, including Islands, the Unicorns, Mister Heavenly and Human Highway (along with composing the music for Serial), as he wonders aloud whether there’s a continued place for him in the cutthroat music industry. I met up with the artist on a crowded Los Angeles street one sunny Southern California day to discuss his work in a new medium and what his creative future might hold. 

Episode 325: Matthew Murphy (of The Wombats)

9Mar

A move to Los Angeles may have mellowed Matthew Murphy out a bit. The warm weather and sunshine has tends to have the effect on people, and the results have certainly begun to manifest themselves on The Wombats’ fourth album. But as the title Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, clearly indicates, for all the talk of slowing down, the biting sarcasm that has come to define the Liverpool group’s output is still clearly in tact.  Murph certainly won’t go so far as calling himself “happy,” but at the very least, he appears to be doing a valiant job keeping those demons at bay.  The frontman joins us to talk about the trio’s 15 year journey and the importance of playing well with others.

Episode 324: Mimi Pond

3Mar

In 2014, Drawn & Quarterly published Over Easy. It was a story that had been percolating for decades in cartoonist Mimi Pond’s mind, but life, family and the daunting task of actually sitting down to write it got in the way. By the time the cartoonist was ready to pitch the story, the publisher insisted on breaking it up into two volumes. In 2017, the second part, The Customer is Always Wrong, arrived, wrapping up the tale of her time as a waitress in her 20s. These days, Pond is in the midst of researching a new book, having been liberated by the act of actually getting a massive two-volume graphic memoir into the world. This time, however, she’s sought inspiration outside of herself, in spite of her own fascinating history that involves writing the pilot episode of The Simpsons, penning a best-selling book on Valley Girls and writing for the 80s children’s classic Pee-Wee’s Playhouse alongside her puppeteer husband Wayne White.

Episode 323: Ed Solomon

24Feb

In a career spanning four decades, screenwriter Ed Solomon has worked on some of Hollywoods biggest titles, from X-Men to Charlie’s Angels. But it’s his film, co-written with longtime collaborator Chris Matheson, that may well be his most iconic. 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure remains one of the most wholly original major studio films in recent memory. The 1991 sequel, cowritten by Solomon and Matheson, wasn’t nearly the smash success of its predecessor, but the darker film has gone on to develop a cult of its own in the intervening years. After being batted around for decades, a third film, Bill & Ted Face the Music, finds the writers teaming up once again, as Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves return to reprise their titular roles. In a wide ranging conversation about collaboration, inspiration and working within the studio system, Solomon reflects on his sustained career and why the time was right for a return of his best loved creations.

Episode 322: John Vanderslice returns

16Feb

A lot can happen in six years. It’s the entire lifetime of some prominent bands. John Vanderslice has certainly been through plenty, including the death of a close family member and what might well have been the end of his own music career. In April, however, the musician with return with The Cedars, a sonically complex and emotionally rich new record, inspired by personal upheaval and a recent obsession with contemporary hip-hop. He’s also returned to touring, beginning with last year’s living room tour, which found him playing stripped down versions of his music to intimate audiences. During a stop in New York, Vanderslice sat down to discuss the past few years, the production of a “Protools record recorded to tape” and why he’s ready to leave San Francisco.

Episode 322: (Bonus) Lu Olkowski

10Feb

Unhappy as a creative director at Nickelodeon during the heady days of Ren and Stimpy, Lu Olkowski left the board room and offices behind to pursue her long time passion for public radio. The major career change found her starting over from scratch in a related, but still completely foreign field. Inspired by shows like This American Life, Olkowski entered the world of public radio as intern, rediscovering the harsh realities of creative pursuits along the way. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear she made the right choice, her work having now appeared on Radiolab, Studio 360 and All Things Considered, to name a few.These days, she is happily exploring the freedom of podcasting, including her work as the host of the CBC series, Love Me. In this wide ranging conversation, we discuss the ups and downs of giving it all up to pursue creative passion.

Episode 321: Michael Franti

9Feb

Relentless optimism may well be Michael Franti’s defining characteristic. It’s a rare trait, especially in these days of ideologically-driven, social media-fostered detachment. But for all the positivity of a record like Stay Human Vol. II, Franti and Spearhead never avoid the harsh light of reality. In fact, the album doubles as a soundtrack to the Franti-directed documentary that finds the musician traveling the world, in search of humbling stories. The Oakland-born singer has seen plenty in his own right. In an extremely frank and candid conversation, Franti discusses growing up as an outsider with an adopted family, coping with with parental substance abuse and the darkness of his own depressive moments. In a moment that feels historical dark for many, he’s a testament to the healing power of music and human stories.

 

Episode 320: (Bonus) Vera Sola

3Feb

Prior to Shades, music had never been a full-time pursuit for Vera Sola (Danielle Aykroyd). Splitting time between New York and Los Angeles, voice acting was her primary gig, until things went pear-shaped. Sick family members, the ends of relationships and myriad other issues knocked her flat. But encourage from peers helped instill confidence, first as a touring musician with indie folk singer Elvis Perkins and eventually under her current monitor. A well-received Slayer cover and an EP of Misfits songs followed, filtered through a smoky, folk sound. With 2018’s Shades, however, Sola both figuratively and literally found her sound.

Episode 319: Liana Finck

2Feb

It’s never quite clear where the memoir ends and the fairy tale begins in Passing for Human, and for Liana Finck, the distinction is incidental at best. Growing up, her home life was spent in a fantastical house built by her architect mother, provide a warm escape from the sometimes harsh realities of school life. These days, the artist is far more social, with a pool of friends in New York City and a growing army of admires amassed through Instagram comics and then the New Yorker. Her pen and ink work bares the influence of older cartoonists like Jules Feiffer, but the storytelling is uniquely her own. Fresh off the press push for her latest work, Finck sat down with us in Manhattan to discuss the ups and downs of socializing, the genius of Nabokov and the difficulty of telling one’s own story on the page.

Episode 318: (Bonus) FEELS

29Jan

Due out in February, Post Earth is only their second full length, but the members of FEELS going way back. A quartet of of Los Angeles natives, the members have been playing together in various iterations for well over a decade. And it shows. All four are crowded around a microphone, sometimes speaking in unison, as they discuss how their Tim Green-produced album became a kind of accidental political record. Better music through osmosis, and the feeling that the world is coming apart at the seams is a hard one to shake these days. It’s a fun conversation about bad Airbnbs, the Los Angeles music scene and playing music for the sheer joy of it.

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