Episode 177: Minty Lewis

20Jul

When my sister’s beloved dog passed away just before my trip to LA, Minty Lewis did me a solid. When I wanted to commission a portrait of a Yorkie, no other artist made any sense. After all, the cartoonist had made a name for herself in the indie comics community filling minis full of the little terriers and talking fruit — much of which can be found in her 2009 Secret Acres collection, PS Comics. These days Lewis has a more profile gig scripting storyboards for the hit Cartoon Network series, The Regular Show, a job that’s also landed a voice over gig as Eileen, a shy bespectacled mole who waitresses at a coffee shop. The cartoonist has also parlayed the gig into her own pilot, Bottom’s Butte, starting Freaks and Geeks alum, Busy Philips. Lewis and I met up at a Japanese restaurant in Toluca Lake, to hand off the Yorkie picture and discuss her animated output.

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Episode 176: Mary Roach

13Jul

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.”

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Episode 175: John Holmstrom

6Jul

I got more than I bargained for when I interviewed John Holmstrom — which is saying a lot when you know going into things that you’re sitting down with the guy who co-founded Punk Magazine for a couple of hours in an East Village watering hole. We kick things off with a conversation about Holmstrom’s time at SVA, which led to part time gigs working with comics legends Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner. In 1975, Holmstrom, publisher Ged Dunn and (past guest) Legs McNeil co-founded Punk, a magazine that helped cement the name for the burgeoning undergrounding music bubbling up around them. Holmstrom edited the magazine and contributed Mad-inspired cartooning that would become a trademark of the scene and also contributed cover art for the iconic Ramones records, Rocket to Russia and Road to Ruin. In the years following Punk’s folding in 1979, the artist has contributed work to a wide range of publications including Scholastic’s Bananas Magazine, Spin, The Village Voice and Heavy Metal, along with an extended stint at pot culture chronicler High Times, where he ultimately served as publisher and president. Holmstrom sat down at a table at Manitoba’s, the East Village bar run by the Dictators front man of the same name. It a long and fascinating look at an artist who bridges a wide range of cultural touchstones and who, thanks to events like the on-going Ramones retrospective at the Queens Museum, appears to finally be getting his due.

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Episode 174: Eggs Over Easy

29Jun

It’s hard to say whether their timing was extremely fortuitous or really unfortunate. After all, until this month’s Yep Roc reissue, Eggs Over Easy’s work had gone largely unheard in their own country. The UK, on the other hand, is another story. The California band’s country-tinged roots rock and explosive live shows inadvertently started a musical revolution in London, well after the band packed up and left, inspired the pub rock scene that would give rise to artists like Nick Lowe and the 101ers, featuring a pre-Clash Joe Strummer, making the band the unwitting link between Dylan’s Greenwich Village and British punk rock. All these decades later, Eggs Over Easy and their stellar and criminally under appreciated recorded work are finally getting their due, courtesy of a lovely reissue and a smattering of reunion shows featuring founding duo Jack O'Hara and Austin de Lone, two of the band’s three singer-songwriters (the third, Brien Hopkins, died in 2007), All of that only scratches the surface of a crazy rock and roll story that also includes members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and songs with titles like "I'm Gonna Put a Bar in the Back of My Car (And Drive Myself to Drink).” Thankfully, both O’Hara and de Lone joined me at a friend’s East Village apartment to recount the story in all its gory detail.

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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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