Episode 173: Hutch Harris (of The Thermals)

22Jun

Change isn’t always easy when you’re a punk rock band — particularly one with a sound beloved and well-defined as The Thermals. After a pair of well-received LPs that cemented the Portland band’s place as one a low-fi, distortion-laden indie power-pop trio, the group released its masterpiece, The Body, the Blood, the Machine. Produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, the album was a dystopian concept record of sorts, that channeled Bush-era anger into the tale of a young couple forced to flee an authoritarian government. In 2010, the band offered up Personal Life, a far more somber and deliberate album that went a ways toward polarizing the band’s fanbase. This year’s We Disappear marks a return to form for the band after the somewhat disappointing performance of  2013’s Desperate Ground, both building upon the simple punk rock the band does best, while incorporating lessons learned from their more emotionally complex outings. It’s alternately anthemic and somber, a reflection on maturing while hanging on to one’s pop-punk roots.

Lead singer Hutch Harris sat down ahead of the band’s fiery Bowery Ballroom performance to reflect on the ups and downs of the band’s illustrious career. 

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Episode 172: Gabrielle Bell

15Jun

I haven’t seen Gabrielle Bell much since she moved out of the city. New York spoils you like that. Makes getting even a half hour outside of the city seem like a chore. It’s been a few years since we’ve sat down for an interview, and despite efforts to sync up, we just kept missing each other every time she was in town. 

 Thankfully, we were able to catch up following a memoir panel at MoCCA back in April, a sort of mutual lovefest, also featuring past guests Jennifer Hayden and Nicole Georges. 

 Though Bell’s classifying Bell’s work as straight memoir is perhaps something of a misnomer. For her, reality is only really a jumping off point into tales of something more casually fantastic, a sort of daydream come true. 

 We found the noisiest diner in all of Chelsea to discuss her magical realism, absent-minded sketching, and making friends outside of the city.

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Episode 171: Rogue Wave

8Jun

Delusions of Grand Fur is a sort of return roots. It finds the band experimenting with the sort of fast and loose improvisational set up that first gave rise to Rogue Wave. Like the band’s first record, which began as the result of a somewhat spontaenous cross-country trip by frontman Zach Rogue, upon being laid off from a startup at the height of the dot-com bubble bust, the latest record lacked a formal recording structure — even going so far as eschewing a producer. The result is breezier, looser, and more fun loving than the band’s recent work, thanks to both a change in recording techniques and the recent birth of Rogue’s son shortly after the release of the band’s last album. Back in April, Rogue and longtime drummer Patrick Spurgeon found themselves in New York for a few days, making the promotional rounds for the band’s latest record. The pair sat down at one of my favorite recording spots in the city to discuss the band’s return to form, musical experimentation, and how to separate the personal and the professional.

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Episode 170: R.O. Blechman

31May

He won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animated Programming, was inducting to the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and has drawn multiple covers for the New Yorker, but his most lasting legacy may be the mid-60s advertisements he created for Alka-Seltzer and CBS — a fact that makes R. O. Blechman a quintessential 20th century artist. This year, the swiggly-lined artist released his second graphic novel more than 50 years after his first. Amadeo & Maladeo is a whimsical prince and pauper story, charting the life of two musically-inclined half-brothers separated by vastly different circumstances. Blechman is quick to admit that he sees the product as only half-finished, a sort of storyboard for the animated film in his mind. Fittingly, the artist presented a truly incomplete film during an appearance at the MoCCA Festival in New York, debuting his attempt at a feature length adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide for the first time in public. It’s both a testament to the artist’s vision and a bittersweet look at what might have been. It’s a theme that has followed Blechman through much of his career. A victim of circumstance and a failure to fully embrace trends, it easy to imagine the New York City cartoonist having become more of a household name, but with a robust resume dating back to 1953, the Blechman has left an impressive mark on the fields of animation, production and cartooning.

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Episode 169: Mara Wilson

25May

A week or two after our interview, Penguin released the cover for Where Am I Now?, featuring a young, precocious Matilda-era Mara Wilson smiling for the camera. It’s the Mara Wilson most familiar to book browsing audiences, the one who will live on forever the hundreds of times every week Mrs. Doubtfire plays ad infinitum on basic cable The Mara Wilson who sits down for an interview is a million miles away. A professional writer eking out a living in New York City, having ostensibly given up the acting game decades early, she’s cultivated a large online following through published works, social media and frequent live story telling appearances. She’s become a regular on Welcome to Nightvale and recently made a return to TV with a cameo on Broad City, with an upcoming appearance on Netflix’s Bojack Horseman just over the horizon. In a sense, Where Am I Now? is where the two Mara Wilsons meet, the grownup, professional writer having finally found the proper distance with which to examine a childhood that has made her an iconic for a generation and the surreal subject of terrible internet clickbait.  During our hour-plus conversation, Wilson discusses the creative process, anxiety, and embracing the things that helped define us.

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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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