Episode 269: Yoni Wolf (of Why?)

22Apr

We start by talking about food. Something most musicians take for granted on road, but Yoni Wolf’s struggles with Crohn's disease have made him acutely aware of what he puts into his body. It’s a subject that’s featured heavily in his work, including, most notably the decidedly dark Mumps, Etc. 2017’s Moh Lhean finds Wolf in a reflective state. Having embraced meditation, mindfulness and writings by American buddhist writers like Sharon Salzberg, the practices make themselves known throughout the record as sung mantras and snippets from teachers like Ram Dass. It’s spiritual in parts, without being overbearing, a complex mix of musical styles, including, most prominently, indie rock and hip-hop. And somehow it all works.On a down night during touring, Wolf and I sat down in a hotel room in rainy Brooklyn to discuss illness, spirituality and dealing with music critics.

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Episode 268: (Bonus) Kevin Kendrick (of A Big Yes and a Small No)

18Apr

2008’s Jesus That Looks Terrible on You was a delightful debut from a promising New York indie pop band. In the intervening decade, however, things have been fairly quiet on for A Big Yes and a Small No, aside from a single hard to find EP. I jumped at the idea of interviewing frontman Kevin Kendrick, if only to discover what, precisely he’d been up to for the past 10 years. With a new record Mise En Abyme just over the horizon, Kendrick sat down after work one day, equipped with several lifetimes worth of stories. There’s the heroin addiction, the kidnapping, a false imprisonment — all things he casually touches upon as he gets to more important subjects like the topic of songwriting. It’s a fascinating and fittingly manic conversation that runs the gamut from addiction to coming to grips with one’s own mortality.

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Episode 267: Pete Bernhard (of The Devil Makes Three)

15Apr

I first heard The Devil Makes Three bleeding through the thin walls of Santa Cruz house all hours of the day and night. The trio had only just formed and practice seemingly nonstop a set of songs that would form the basis of their self-titled debut. There was nothing like them in Santa Cruz at the time, a music scene populated by freak folk, indie-noise and skater punk, but the band’s single-minded focus on stripped down, bluegrass inspired punk country was precisely what helped them stand out. And the fact that, in spite of those never ending practice sessions, they seemed to enter the world fully formed.  The world has, of course, come around to the band’s music. The band was perfectly positioned to be embraced by the indie scene’s newfound love affair with Americana, and had the songs and showmanship to back it up. When I met up with the trio, they were about to take the stage to an enthusiastic crowd at Brooklyn Steel, singing along to every song. Pete Bernhard, the band’s singer and guitarist sat down to catch up on the last 15 years and talk about what’s next for the group.

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Episode 266: Becky Stern

8Apr

I first met Becky Stern back in 2011, when she appeared on the Engadget Show as a blogger for Make Magazine. At the time, she was showcasing a hoodie capable of turning TVs off an off when zipped. It was pretty standard fare for the maker — a project that explored the cross section of art and fashion. Stern left that gig the following year for a gig at open-source hardware company Adafruit, where she served as the head of wearable electronics. These days, she’s a content creator at Instructables and Autodesk, while teaching her trade at New York’s School of Visual Arts. We sat down to discuss the state of the maker community, the pluses and minuses of launching a startup and having garbage knees in the era of uncertain health care.

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Episode 265: Julia Wertz

31Mar

It’s been nearly five years since we sat down with Julia Wertz, and naturally plenty has changed. Her latest book, Tenements, Towers and Trash is a veritable love letter to New York City, written after the cartoonist had moved back home to California. The book is a history of the city, told through obsessively detailed architectural renderings of buildings. It the same funny cartoon story telling that put her on the map in her long running strip, Fart Party, while exploring far more meticulous black and white line drawings. In her return to the show, we weigh the benefits of living in New York vs. San Francisco, discuss her newfound (and only slightly reluctant) passion for meditation and mindfulness, talk Tinder and find out what’s next for the artist.

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Episode 264: Laila Biali

26Mar

Vancouver-born and Toronto-based, Laila Biali has toured with some of the biggest names in music, from Sting to Suzanne Vega. The pianist/singer is also a well regarded color performer in her own right, having released seven albums, including a new eponymous record, which debuted in January. The album’s first single, “Refugee,” follows the plight of a child, the same age as her son, caught up in the Serbian refugee crisis. In addition to performing, Biali is also the host of CBC Radio 2’s Saturday Night Jazz, a weekly four-hour show that explores the broad expanses of the genre. In this interview, we discuss the state of jazz in 2018, programming music for a diverse audience and life on the road with a young child.

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Episode 263: Alec Ounsworth (of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)

18Mar

A decade after releasing Some Loud Thunder, Clap Your Hands Say took the album back on tour. A lot has changed for the band in the intervening ten years, of course — not the least of which is the fact that frontman Alec Ounsworth remains the band’s only consistent member. The short stint of shows kicked off after the band finished touring for The Tourist, the group’s most critically acclaimed record since breaking through as the poster children for blog rock. After that self-titled release, Some Loud Thunder fell on somewhat deaf ears — mostly a victim of the band’s own seemingly overnight success. I met up with Ounsworth on the final night of the tour, after watching the band meticulously reinterpret the album’s songs in sound check, so many years after their initial release.  The atmosphere put the singer in the perfect position to talk about those early years and his still evolving approach to writing a song.

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Episode 262: Luke Lalonde (of Born Ruffians)

11Mar

2018’s Uncle, Duke and the Chief finds Born Ruffians performing with their original lineup for the first time in half a decade. Such a return is always an important turning for a band, but it takes on an extra weight for the trio, who began performing together as 15-year-olds in a small Ontario town. It’s a clearly joyful experience for the band, who managed to tap into the initial excitement that fueled the group in their earliest days. According to frontman Luke Lalonde, that sense of pleasure is an essential part of the music making process. Sure the fuel for the songs often comes from ideal circumstances, but he adds that he’d rather hang it up than feel as if he’s simple going through the motions. In this conversation, the front discusses the songwriting process and taking inspiration where you can get it.

 

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Episode 261: Elizabeth Powell (of Land of Talk)

5Mar

In May of last year, Land of Talk returned after a seven year hiatus. At the height of her powers, following tours with bands like Broken Social Scene and The Decemberists, Elizabeth Powell took a break. Between her vocal polyp and a laptop crash that result in the loss of an album’s worth of demos, it was time to step away. Of all things, however, it was yet another personal tragedy that ultimately brought the music back. Powell’s father suffered a major stroke, and Powell began playing again as a kind of rehab. Her father pleaded for her to start making music again, and the resulting record, Life After Youth was became one of her strongest and most personal to date. We caught up with Powell, ahead of a show opening for a reunited American Football to discuss the healing power of making music.

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Episode 260 (Bonus): Minus the Bear

4Mar

Five years between in records is a drop in the bucket for many groups. For Minus the Bear, however, it marks the longest gap between albums in the band’s 17 year history.  The making of Voids was marked by both personal and professional changes, as the group shuffled members and began to settle down and have kids. But there’s a fresh energy on the record, kicked off by “Lass Kiss,” which find the band in peak form. It’s a document of a band that still has has something to say. In this short interview, the group sat down back stage, following an opening slot for The Silverspun Pickups in Brooklyn to discuss changing dynamics and Donald Trump.

 

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