Frank Portman sends me his new record a few hours before we’re set to
meet up at a coffee shop on Market Street. The whole thing came
together at the last minute at the tail end of a three week long work
road trip, and I only have time to listen to three or four songs before
checking out of the hotel and meeting him down the street. But it’s enough. It’s
new and familiar. It’s self-deprecating and funny, bouncing sugary
pop-punk with a humorously cynical bit. The second song is called
“Sadistic Masochism.” It goes, “Sadistic masochism, that’s how its gonna
be / Sadistic masochism, baby you and it.” After a dozen years, the Mr. T Experience is back.
It’s a perfect sort of return to music for Dr. Frank, a soundtrack for the sequel to his hit YA book, King Dork. The
album, (like the book) titled King Dork, Approximately, finds Portman
inhabiting the voice of his protagonist, high school rock musician, Tom
Henderson, on 12 songs that are unmistakably the work of the MTX
starship. Portman’s time away from the microphone was largely
unintentional, the result of a changing record industry, the implosion
of the beloved East Bay record label that had served as their longtime
home, and a somewhat accidental career as an author. In this extra long edition of RiYL, the artist discusses motel laundry, the publishing industry and not being Green day.
We’re back after an unexpected bye-week (sorry, I’ve been traveling a lot) posting up a fascinating interview with Laura “LP” Pergolizzi. The LA singer-songwriter has released a string of critically acclaimed albums, including, most recently, Death Valley, a five song EP released on Vagrant in June. In spite of such acclaim, the singer has struggled to maintain the commitment of major labels in a time when the music industry seems in the constant state of death rattle. While other artists are forced to look outside their own creative medium in order to make ends meet, LP has built a fascinating side career writing songs for some of musics big names like Cher and Rihanna. During a recent stopover in New York during a string of shows opening for Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry, the singer sat down for a long conversation about creativity, making ends meet in the music industry and pop song bootcamp.
Up to now, Miss Lasko-Gross and Kevin Colden had never professionally
collaborated in any official capacity — not out of any conscious
decision, the pair had just never found the proper vehicle. After
all, there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of overlap between the
married couple’s respective output. Lasko-Gross’ best known work is the
autobiographical Fantagraphics series, Escape from Special and the
fantasy series Henni, while Colden’s 2007 rue-crime Fishtown was
followed by flirtations with the superhero side of comics. Penned
by Lasko-Gross and pencilled by Colden, The Sweetness fittingly marks a
departure for both, a grotesquely comic sci-fi work about intergalactic
drug smugglers. The pair joined sat down to discuss their first
collaboration and the ups and downs of trying to make a living as New
York City cartoonists.
Somewhere between the first LP and last year’s self-titled EP, things
really started getting serious, so Potty Mouth did what any
self-respecting rock and roll group would, packing up things in their
small Massachusetts scene and moved to Los Angeles. New York, it turns
out, just wasn’t in the cards for reasons they were happy to explain on
the hot summer day we sat down in the band’s midtown publicity office. The
band started in earnest in 2011, a casual side project from a pair of
Smith College students, neither of whom had ever actually played guitar.
The duo recruited an experienced drummer and rounded out the quartet
with a front woman who was still enrolled in high school. A perfect punk
rock original story, really. Later that same year, the band
recorded a demo, followed by a debut EP the following year and a full
length, Hell Bent, in 2013. Last year’s EP found the band working with
producer John Goodmanson, whose resume is a who’s who of music acts from
the past two decades, from Sleater-Kinney to the Wu-Tang Clan. The trio joined me during a whirlwind trip through the city to discuss Hollywood, touring and Pokemon Go.
Back in 2008, two funny guys saying funny things into microphones
with an optional third funny friend was the concept a podcast needed.
But we’re living in the age of Serial, a time when show need a central
idea to set themselves apart from millions of like-minded shows. Eight years after launching Stop Podcasting Yourself, comedian comic duo Dave Shumka and Graham Clark are giving their loyal audience even more bang for their podcasting bucks with Our Debut Album, a monthly podcast in which the pair force themselves to write and record a song in an hour. At
the end of the twelve-part mini-series, the pair will have produced a
full album, downloadable independent of the show.It’s as engaging as it
is ambitious, both in term of content and monetization, a strategy that
looks to generate income without a single mail order mattress ad. On
this bonus episode recorded over Skype, the comedians join us to talk
songwriting, supplemental income and what podcasting’s legacy will mean
for future generations of Shumkas.
Ruben Bolling should have been a lawyer. He graduated from Harvard
Law School, he married a lawyer, and he even does some work in the
field. But after seeing an ad in a school paper, the artist’s fate was
sealed, creating the first installment of Tom the Dancing Bug in a flash
of creative inspiration. This week, the comic celebrates its
1,300th installment. Thirty-years after its Harvard Law School Record
debut, the the strip has become a staple in alt-weekly paper across the
US, along with various online outlets, including, most notably, Boing
Boing, where’s it’s syndicated weekly. Tom showcases a wide range
of styles, satirizing politics, celebrity culture and his fellow
cartoonists, as is the case with both the reoccurring feature God-Man:
The Superhero With Omnipotent Powers! and Super-Fun-Pak Comix, which
jams a page of Sunday strip-style work in a single comic. After a
year or so of scheduling conflicts, we finally managed to sit down and
discuss Bolling’s beloved strip, just in time to get real about the role
of comic strip satire in one of the scariest political years in recent
I feel obligated to say that I was very tired when we record this. I had just gotten off a plane from New York to LA, and Carrie Poppy was kind enough to let me crash on her couch for the night. We turned on the mics and started podcasting almost immediately, because hey, why not? We sat at the dining room table, which was littered with all manner of herbs and over the counter remedies. Research for the latest episode of Oh No, Ross and Carrie, the Max Fun podcast Poppy hosts with fellow skeptic Ross Blocher, which features a broad range of investigations, from organized religion to oxygen bars. The episode the pair were currently preparing for on the topic of nootropic smart drugs was a relative walk in the park after a multi-part series in which the pair infiltrated the Hollywood wing of the Church of Scientology, an act that garnered the attention of a number of best of podcasting lists -- and the church itself. Naturally, we start the conversation with talk of plane crashes.
In the decade and a half she spent contributing to This American Life, Starlee Kine transformed deeply personal aspects of her life into some of the show’s most memorable segments. There was the time she employed Phil Collins to evaluate the breakup song she wrote for her ex, and the oddly heart warming story of her family’s annual vacation to the Disneyland Hotel (but never Disneyland proper). Last year, Kine kicked off her own show, debuting in May on fellow TAL alum Alex Blumberg’s Gimlet Media podcast network. Myster Show's six-episode first season follows the host as she attempts to solve low stakes mysteries for her friends, from a prank on a Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox to what’s on Britney Spears’s reading list. Kine fancies herself an Encyclopedia Brown-style detective, unfolding mysteries through extensive research and on-the-ground reporting, giving her subjects the kind of exhaustive investigation traditionally reserved for government coverups and political scandals. Busy at work on the show’s second season, Kine paid us a visit to discuss her mystery solving methods, the difficulty of podcasting and what its like going it alone.
It’s the long-awaited return of RiYL guest number two, the great Mary Roach, who was in town kicking off a press tour for her new book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. The author’s latest volume explores a subject near and dear to her heart, exploring her frequent theme of the human body as viewed through the camouflaged filter of the military. It’s a subject that links most of her books, gross and glorious popular science writing on topics from dead bodies to the stress of long distance space travel. In her new book, Roach examines everything from caffeinated meat to penis transplants with, balancing her delightful sense of humor with a serious inquisitiveness. Roach, who graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology has made a name for herself as a science writer, with a steady flow of best seller’s on the subject — six in all beginning with 2003’s ode to dead bodies, Stiff — in spite of having no formal training. It’s a remarkable feat, and a testament to her own engaging writing and unending inquisitiveness. On the day before she kicked Grunt press into full gear, Roach sat down with us in the lobby of her Manhattan hotel to discuss military secrecy, angler fish, and precisely what make a given subject “Roachable.”