Episode 168: Ariel Schrag

17May

When I mentioned casually to a friend that I would be interviewing Ariel Schrag, her answer was less excited that confused, “you haven’t had Ariel Schrag on your show yet?” Fair enough. I don’t really have any great answer as to why I haven’t had had the cartoonist on in the three-plus years we’ve been doing the show, but I’m happy to say I finally managed to amend that at this year’s MoCCA Arts Festival in Manhattan. Following a panel on autobiography in comics, which Schrag sat out but was name-checked as an influence multiple times from the sidelines, we found a reasonably quiet spot in the hotel lobby to discuss the artist’s accomplished body of work, starting with 2014’s Adam: A Novel and working backwards to her precious comics creating youth. Along the way, Schrag has written for Showtime’s The L Word, been name checked alongside Angela Davis and Gertrude Stein in a Le Tigre song and been the subject of her own documentary at the tender age of 23. It’s a fascinating discussion about sexuality, comics, and writing what you know.

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Episode 167: Kelvin Swaby (of The Heavy)

4May

The Heavy makes no bones about it. The Hurt & The Merciless is a breakup record, through and through, from the leadoff track that repeats “The raindrops won't stop falling from my eyes,” to the fittingly titled closer, “Goodbye Baby.” The pain of real life has seeped its way into the record’s marrow. But it’s celebratory, too. Granted, it’s not quite the giant middle finger that put the band on the map when “How Do You Like Me Now” became one of 2009’s monster hits, but the record does employ pounding the rock and roll neo-soul that’s defined the British group across four records, in hopes of finding catharsis somewhere on the other side. Lead singer, Kelvin Swaby joined me for a couple of pots of TV during a stop in New York just ahead of the band’s upcoming appearance at South by Southwest to talk love, loss, growing up, and the eternal importance of a great record collection.

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Episode 166: Rob Crow

27Apr

When you write an open letter on your Facebook page about quitting the music business forever, it’s bound to be the opening line of every review of your next record. It’s just the way of of the world. Rob Crow looks great, for what it’s worth. He quit drinking and started running (losing a considerable amount of weight as a result) — as we make our way to the Knitting Factory green room, he asks somewhat distractedly how long the whole thing will take, as he has to fit some exercise in ahead of the evening’s show. But the prolific Pinback/Heavy Vegetable/Goblin Cock frontman hasn’t necessarily quit quitting music. The prospect looms large over his latest, Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, along with practically every word he utters about the tour, a sometimes indecipherable mix of dry humor and melancholy, not so subtly hinting that he just can’t keep doing this forever. It’s a good talk, and tough one at times. It’s a reminder of the difficult touring life of an indie musician casual listeners so often takes for granted. As we finish and I begin winding up my cables, Crow strips off his clothes, throws on some neon exercise gear and takes off for a run down the Brooklyn streets.

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Episode 165: Adam Green

18Apr

Aladdin is a crowd-sourced paper mache fever dream. It’s both completely singular in Adam Green diverse portfolio of work and perfectly representative of an artist who has made a career or tearing down the barriers between conception and execution. After first making the scene as one half of the seminal anti-folk act The Moldy Peaches, Green has released a steady stream of terrific solo records, marrying a crooning singing style with often hilarious stream of conscious lyrics. In 2011, he made his feature length directorial debut with The Wrong Ferrari, employing an impressive cast of contributors, including Macaulay Culkin and Alia Shawkat, along with fellow musicians Devendra Banhart and Har Mar Superstar — all of whom also star in Green’s latest. Green and I met in his Brooklyn art studio, surrounded by hundreds of his paintings, to discuss the film, his music career, and the nature of creativity.

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Episode 164: Glen Weldon

13Apr

You don’t know Batman like Glen Weldon knows Batman, and the frequent NPR contributor has the book to prove it. Out now on Simon & Schuster, The Caped Crusader is a fascinating examination of one of the comics’ most beloved characters, from his early days as a pulpy shadow knockoff to today’s record breaking box office draw. After years of online correspondence, Weldon and I finally met face to face, while he was in town promoting the book. We grabbed a couple of seats at a tea place in midtown Manhattan and proceeding to talk Batman for an hour — or, rather, he talked and I just took it all in, from unique insights into the character’s creation to an appreciation of Joel Schumacher’s much maligned late-90s films from the standpoint of gay comics reader.  Weldon offers from fascinating insight into the dark knight’s long and storied history that likely holds some surprises for even the most knowledgeable of Batman fans.

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Episode 163: Eszter Balint

11Apr

I didn’t recognize Eszter Balint’s name when I got a PR pitch about her Airless Midnight, but I the record a quick listen anyway and shot her representation a note about getting her on the show. Lucky for me, the musician has the sort of backstory press release writers kill for, the daughter of experimental theater troupe members who moved her and the theater from Budapest to New York at an early age, putting her at the epicenter of the city’s late-70s avant garde scene. In 1984, friendships with musicians John Lurie and Richard Edson led to a leading role in Jim Jarmusch’s pioneering Stranger Than Paradise, with roles in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog and Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge following (along with a lesser-cited Miami Vice appearance). Disillusioned with acting, Balint dove headfirst into a musical career that found her collaborating with a wide range of musical visionaries, from Michael Gira to Marc Ribot, along with the release of two critically acclaim solo records more than a decade apart. 2014 also saw an unexpected return to acting, as Louis CK cast Balint as his violin-playing Hungarian neighbor in Louie. Balint was kind enough to sit down at a Manhattan cafe to cram as much of her fascinating life as possible into an hour-long interview.

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Episode 162: Lloyd Kaufman

5Apr

The real Tromaville is an unassuming place. Located a few blocks from the East River, in an industrialized section of Long Island City still untouched by the rapidly encroaching gentrification of art galleries and speakeasies, the country’s longest running independent movie studio is headquartered in a Queens commercial space, extremely nondescript, save for the giant Toxic Avenger painted on the big metal security shutter. Inside, the walls are littered with old props like a makeshift living museum dedicated to 40 years of some of the most colorful movie making in film history. A few small spaces have been converted into makeshift movie sets, while the majority of the downstairs space serves as a complete film archive of Troma’s four decades of prolific output. Upstairs, it’s business as usual. Lloyd Kaufman is in the middle of an important business call. Even after all this time, the company’s cofounder, director, and long-time mouthpiece still has to hustle get things done. Nothing comes easy when you’re perpetually swimming upstream — and Kaufman’s disinclination to hold punches when discussing the big studio movie machine likely hasn’t helped matters much.

It does, however, make for one great interview.

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Episode 161: Stern Pinball CEO Gary Stern

30Mar

Note: Hey listeners, we’re launching a Patreon. Please consider supporting the show to help keep us afloat. By the 80s, the pinball machine had seemingly been all but replaced, making way for machines like Asteroids and Pac-Man, which quickly began to dominate the arcade landscape. Within the next few years, a home gaming console explosion led by the NES would deal the industry an even further blow. It was precisely around this time that Gary Stern doubled down. A second generation pinball professional (his father having served as the co-owner of the profoundly influential Williams Electronics), he launched Stern Pinball, Inc. in 1986, as many of the leading forces in the space began fleeing in droves. Thirty years later, the company is the one of the last producers of the game, having weathered the storm long enough to see a modern pinball resurgence, through an explosion in the popularity of barcades and home collections. It’s made the company a bit of an outlier on the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show, flanked on all sides by drone manufacturers and virtual reality companies. Stern took some time out of the show to discuss the game’s lasting appeal in an era of instant gratification. 

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Episode 160 (Bonus): The Dead Ships

23Mar

Sometimes things just come together. Sometimes one of the geniuses behind Broken Social Scene catches one of your ramshackle live shows and decides you’re the first outside band he wants to produce. Sometimes you line up SXSW and Coachella before you even get yourself a booking agent. Not bad for a three-year-old band whose members didn’t particularly know how to play their respective instruments when they sat down to record their debut LP. The relatively short story that is The Dead Ships plays out like a list of cosmic coincidences, culminating with last year’s excellent Brendan Canning-produced EP I and a small print spot on Coachella’s Saturday lineup, alongside names like Ice Cube, A$AP Rock, CHVRCHES and local favorites, Guns N’ Roses. It’s an an digital era when artists are struggling to make ends meet that good songs, hard work, and a little bit of luck can still put you on the map. The Dead Ships (all of them – plus a live guitarist and manager) joined us to talk about their slow rocket to stardom.

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Episode 159: Eleanor Friedberger

21Mar

I first saw Eleanor Friedberger solo back in 2013, shortly after falling head over heels for her second solo album, Personal Record. Her band was an opener (for The Long Winters, featuring past guests John Roderick and Sean Nelson), but her voice is an unavoidable force of nature. It overpowers the instrumentation both on record and live, where, if you close your eyes for a few moments, you can trick your brain into believe that you’re witnessing Patti Smith in 1975. I’ve been trying to get Friedberger for the show since then, and we finally managed to sync up our schedules following the release of her terrific new album, New View. The musician was back in the city for a few days, having made an appearance on Seth Myers the evening before (as evidenced by the mug sitting on the counter of the apartment she was holed up in). Friedberger had gotten out of Dodge ahead of the new record, leaving New York City for the far more pastoral views upstate. We sat down on a cold February morning to discuss nature walks, home maintenance and the importance of getting out of town.

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