Episode 064: Dan Kennedy

30Jul

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.

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Episode 063: Peter Kuper

22Jul

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.

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Episode 062: Lizz Winstead

16Jul

“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.


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Episode 061: Richard Hell

9Jul

When we sat down in the East Village tenement apartment Hell has occupied since 1975, the conversation turned turned to writing. His aforementioned memoir pretty well covers the years beginning with his birth up through the end of his music career, and as Hell made pretty clear early on in our conversation, he’s not particularly found of being asked the same question twice. Between last year’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp and all that goes on between the iconic red and white covers of Please Kill Me, there’s seemingly little about Richard Hell’s relatively short music making career that hasn’t been written. Save for an outing with members of Sonic Youth under the banner Dim Stars, the man who played such an instrumental role in defining the aesthetics and voice of New York City punk had largely retired from the music game by the mid-80s. It’s a tough proposition when speaking to an artist who’s been in and out of the public eye since the mid-70s, and it’s no doubt at least part of the reason Hell seemed to balk at my initial interview request. With his latest book having just been released in paperback, however, Hell agreed to sit down and discuss his career as a writer, from his early days in poetry to the novels Go Now and Godlike and his 2013 autobiography.

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Episode 060: James Kochalka

2Jul

It’s catch up time with cartoonist/musician/general purpose raconteur James Kochalka. It’s been a few years since the both of us we’re in the same room at the same time — even one the size of New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory — so there’s plenty to discuss with the Johnny Boo author. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, the last time I saw the guy was immortalized in his American Elf strip. Seated on a pair of folding chairs just outside the army recruiting office during the weekend of the MoCCA alternative comics, start things off by discussing why Kochalka really doesn’t leave the house all that much these days. Things immediately take an unexpected turn to a conversation about his childrens’ shared love of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic, which is not only still a going concern in 2014, which the cartoonist contends is “one of the most complicated works of literature ever created,” so take that Leo Tolstoy. Also on the list of topics: the star-studded Superf*ckers animated web series, the ups and downs of working on kids comics and we get a peek into the epic masterpiece that is his unrealized film script. Seriously, let's make a Kickstarter and get that thing made.

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Episode 059: Scott Aukerman (Again)

25Jun

Where does one go after the fake Zach Galifianakis talk show they produce books the leader of the free world? If you’re Scott Aukerman, you sit down on a gold-painted couch in the lobby of a swanky New York hotel to discuss such things with a Boing Boing podcast.

From Between Two Ferns, we move on to the other fake talk show in Aukerman’s life, Comedy Bang! Bang!, which recently kicked off an excellent third season on IFC. We discuss how the ubiquitous format manages to offer the perfect springboard for cutting-edge comedy. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an RiYL Scott Aukerman interview if we didn’t discussing at least one of the projects that never made it.

This time out, it’s Privates, an NBC pilot about a family of detectives co-written with fellow Mr. Show alum B.J. Porter. As always, Aukerman imparts some life lessons — namely what to do when something you’ve poured your heart and soul into fails to break through, including some sage wisdom passed down to him by Louis CK.

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Episode 058: Erik Friedlander

18Jun

I’ve encountered plenty of musicians who’ve made me come around on certain songs and even musical genres, but off the top of my head, I can only think of one who’s caused me to rethink an instrument I’d largely written off. It’s not that I’ve ever been averse to the cello, it’s just that, in all my years of music listening, I’d rarely given the instrument a second thought. Erik Friedlander first came onto my radar by way of the Mountain Goats, opening and playing alongside Johns Darnielle and Vanderslice at the old Knitting Factory in Manhattan, plucking and bowing on the band’s then-recent LP, The Sunset Tree. Over the years, his work has continued to surprise me, jumping around from modern classical to avant-garde jazz and playing alongside music pioneers like John Zorn and Laurie Anderson. It’s Friedlander’s solo work I’ve been most taken with, however, most notably Block Ice & Propane, a jaunty sort of tribute to the RV trips he’d taken across the country with his parents as a youth and last year’s Claws & Wings, which plumbed the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, as the artist coped with the recent death of his wife of 22 years, dancer and poet Lynn Shapiro. I met up with Friedlander in his Manhattan apartment to life, loss and the cello over a couple of cups of tea.


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Episode 057: Ray Wylie Hubbard

11Jun

After our interview, Ray Wylie Hubbard and I grab some coffee across the street. He asks me what new bands I’m listening to, and I rattle off a couple — for whatever reason, it’s always a tough question to answer on the spot. Hubbard’s already got his answer locked and loaded, of course: The Bright Light Social Hour. He tells me to go on YouTube and check out the song “Detroit,” the same instructions he’ll give the audience at City Winery when he takes the stage in 90 minutes. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when first walked backstage to meet Hubbard, the 67-year-old outlaw country survivor. An elder statesman of the same scene that produced the likes of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt — one of the few who’d lived to tell the tales. What I found was a man who was more than willing to relate some of those gems, many still fresh in his mind as he puts the finishing touches on an autobiography due out next year. The man who, most famously, penned “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” has always been a storyteller, a trait he’s been putting to good use as of late, creating some of the best music of his long career over the past two decades. And thankfully, the way he tells it, he won’t be slowing down any time in the near future.

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Episode 056: Paul Hornschemeier

4Jun

I tried to interview Paul Hornschemeier back in February, on getting a bit of last minute news from his on-again, off-again publisher Fantagraphics that he would be in the city for an event at the Strand bookstore. We missed one another, like podcasting ships in the night, but the cartoonist promised that he would be back soon enough, visiting to work on some project or another.  He delivered on that promise a couple months later, at the MoCCA independent comics festival, where he tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself. I’d had no idea he was going to be at the event — then again, neither did he. After all, he didn’t have a book to promote, but opted to show up on a bit of a whim. That’s not to say, of course, that Hornschemeier hasn’t been keeping plenty busy — in fact, given the number of irons he has in the fire, it’s something of a minor miracle he’s managed to carve out a weekend at all. In addition to a handful of graphic novels, the Hornschemeier makes music, animates and has recently tried his hand at writing and directing films. Just last week, his latest project hit Kickstarter with a splash. The short "animated crisis" Giant Sloth is well on its way to its $25,000 goal, with around $19k pledged as of the writing of this — a fact no doubt helped along by a voice cast that includes Paul Giamatti and comedians Jason Mantzoukas and Kate McKinnon.

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Episode 055: Ultragrrrl

28May

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.

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