Episode 206: Reverend Jen

19Feb

Reverend Jen Miller was a Lower East Side fixture when I moved to New York more than a decade ago, an elf-eared, chihuahua-toting being who seemed to show up everywhere in those first few years, from The Village Voice to cable access. She ran a Troll Doll museum and wrote books, served as the sec columnist for nerve.com, starred in low budget films with names like Elf Panties: The Movie and Lord of the Cockrings. These days, her vibrant and idiosyncratic output has taken a major hit courtesy of sky rocketing Manhattan rent prices. When we sat down for an interview, Miller was grappling with a recent trip to a psych ward, spurred on by the recent passing of her beloved dog, Reverend Jen Jr., a pocket-sized chihuahua that rarely left her side. In spite of everything, she lights up when time comes to discuss her varied career as a performance artist, author and one-time professional submissive at a Manhattan S&M dungeon. Miller discusses coping with the changing state of the city and the first time she ever put on a pair of fake elf ears.

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Episode 205: Jon Ronson

12Feb

Jon Ronson confesses with a laugh that he feels at least partially responsible for the rise of Alex Jones, the once-fringe Texas-based radio show host who since has become a central figure in Donald Trump’s political rise and the development of his subsequent White House policies. It’s a strange claim coming from the This America Life contributor behind The Men Who Stare at Goats. Ronson speaks in a soft Welsh accent, and in many ways seems the exact antithesis of the radio conspiracy theorist who growls loudly to millions of devoted listeners about Obama and Clinton smelling of sulfur. But it was Ronson who helped Jones grow from local radio personality to national phenomenon, as he recruited the right wing ideologue in his mission to infiltrate Bohemian Grove, a playground for the super rich, which helped launch both men’s careers, almost 20 years back. The pair’s link is at the center of Ronson’s latest work, The Elephant in the Room, a Kindle single exploring the rise of Trump and the alt-right, using his relationship with Jones as a springboard into the strange and scary world once simply dismissed as the fringes of the Republican Party. It’s perfect fodder, really, for a writer whose work has centered on themes like internet shaming, extremists and psychopaths.

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Episode 204: Kid Congo Powers

5Feb

Punk rock resumes don’t get much better than Kid Congo Powers’. The Southern California-born musician has been playing music professional for nearly 40 years, since the then-president of the Ramones fanclub was recruited by Jeffrey Lee Pierce for the band that would soon become the Gun Club.Soon after, Powers was recruited by fellow punk rock weirdos, The Cramps as rhythm guitarist, staying with the band for two of their most influential records, Psychedelic Jungle and Smell of Female. After another multi-album stint with The Gun Club, the musician joined up with Nick Cave, recording two records as a member of The Bad Seeds. For the past decade, Powers has served as the front man for The Pink Monkey Birds, an amalgamations of decades of music influence, including the Southern California Chicano rock sound that helped ignite his love of music.  To celebrate the release of the band’s latest, La Araña Es La Vida, Powers sat down for a far reaching interview about his long and storied career.

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Episode 203: Adele Bertei

30Jan

“I think about music as joy” sounds like one of those things that musicians just say. But then you go see Adele Bertei live, and there’s really no other way to describe. She ought to be rusty, out of shape and out of practice after a long hiatus, but when she took the stage at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan a few nights after out interview, she was a goddamned force of nature at 5’0 tall and dressed to the nines in a full suit and tie.A surviver of Cleveland art-rock, New York No-Wave and radio pop, Bertei’s solo may continue to be the thing she’s best known for, but the musician has seemingly leapt from one fascinating gig to the next, working as a personal assistant to Brian Eno, singing backup for Tears for Fears and Blondie and directing films for Playboy. Her next gig finds her embracing a number of past artistic passions, writing, directing and composing music for a web series about an all-female punk group and enamored with one member’s No-Wave surviving grandmother.

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Episode 202: Ted Stearn

22Jan

The latest Fuzz and Pluck (last year’s The Moolah Tree) begins with a rough visual — one I’m admittedly a bit hung up on during my conversation with Ted Stearn a few months ago. In it, Fuzz, the hapless teddy bear character, is unraveled until he’s little more than a long thread and a pair of eyeballs. I’d seen in before in an old issue of the Fantagraphics anthology Mome, and it had stuck with me ever since. Admittedly, it ultimately proves a dream sequence and one of the darker scene in what’s a fairly lighthearted fairy tale, but it’s a fairly good insight into Stearn’s sense of humor and visual sensibilities.
The Moolah Tree was seven years in the making, with the odd seen (like the aforementioned dream sequence) popping up here and there, while Stearn focused on his day job, working on big budget network animated shows like King of the Hill and Futurama. It’s a testament to seeing a project through and the power of the comics media to allow an artist to see every aspect of a creation through, from beginning to end.

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Episode 201: Slow Club

15Jan

When I arrive backstage at Le Poisson Rouge green room, Charles Watson is digging into a pre-set dinner, with  Rebecca Taylor seated in the back on the phone with another interview. He’s asking her about Brexit — seeking advice, really, a mere day or so after our own shattering electoral upset. The duo flew in on election day, the whole thing feels like an unwelcome bit of deja vu — but they’re happy to help us through it nonetheless.Taylor, for one, has never shied away from the intimate in her own work, even as Watson’s contributions to Slow Club tend toward the fantastic.Their opposite approaches to music and life have ultimately proved one of the group’s greatest strengths, with two strong and divergent approaches coupling nicely on record, including last year’s fittingly bluntly titled, One Day All of This Won't Matter Anymore, that finds their sound stretching out and mellowing slightly (in tone, if not content) from the pop sensibilities that have defined previous efforts.
 Their distinct but complimentary personalities are on full display during a deep but light hearted backstage conversation that finds Taylor experiencing the wonders of American cold medicine for the first time.

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Episode 200: Al Jaffee

10Jan

It was important to me that we have a special guest for episode 100. They Might Be Giants fitted the job perfectly, a band that played an incredibly important role in the early development of my musical tastes, as strange and idiosyncratic as they might ultimately become. With episode 200, the camera gets pulled make even further, to a man and a magazine that, for better or worse, let an indelible mark on my impressionable young mind, as they have for generations before and since. Weeks before I sat down to record this interview in Al Jaffee’s amazing Manhattan studio, upcoming guest Kid Congo Powers made reference to a club “looking like a scene out of Mad Magazine.” I knew what he meant immediately. The strange cross section of the human experience filtered through the lens of the Usual Gang of Idiots. And at their center is Jaffee. The cartoonist is now 95 (“closer to 96,” as he handily points out during the interview), with his signature fold-in having appeared in virtual every issue between 1964 and 2008, along with his other mainstays like "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” The longest working cartoonist in history kindly agreed to sit down for wide ranging interview about life, death, cartooning and the importance of a steady gig. It’s one my absolute highlights of doing the show and great way to spend episode 200.

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Episode 199: MariNaomi

1Jan

Mari Naomi sat down for an interview a matter of days follow the election, a fact that unavoidably colored the conversation. It’s pretty clear listening back almost two months later that we were only beginning to process our thoughts at the time — not that most of us have made all that much progress in the meantime. For a cartoonist whose work deals so often with issues of cultural and sexuality identity, there were a number a of topics we likely would have broached over the course of our 50 minute long conversation even if the election had gone a different route entirely. But all of the recent goings on do have a way of bringing such concerns into sharp relief. As such, it’s a sometimes depressing, sometimes funny and always enlightening conversation with the cartoonist, who says with a laugh, “The worst part was that I couldn’t even draw a comic about it,” when referring to a recent accident that resulted in her breaking both of her hands. Hopefully it’s the sort of combination of darkness and light we can all use as we cast aside the darkness of a recently ended year and look toward the potential for hope in the months to come.

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Episode 198: Dame Darcy

26Dec

Dame Darcy’s got a great comics show gimmick. While cartoonists look on sad-eyed as show goers flip through their work and move on, the artist offers up tarot readings through her own custom deck, giving curious parties insight into their future and perhaps selling some books in the process. She’s engaged and curious, and even if she didn’t manage to move any books at Comics Arts Brooklyn, she clearly would have enjoyed the experience nonetheless — a unfortunately uncommon trait in the often introverted world of comics artists. But this work is only one aspect of her multi-faceted career. Darcy has lived many lives, both figuratively and, to hear her tell it, literally. This time around, she’s been an activist, a model, a designer, a screenwriter and a sailor, all the while producing her underground indie comics series Meat Cake for more than 20 years. These days, she makes her home in Savannah, George, the aesthetic embodiment of her work and the cultural opposite of New York City and Los Angeles, where she made her home for some time. In this wide ranging interview, we discuss witchcraft, mermaids, 9/11 and the importance of finding fellow weirdos.

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Episode 197: Cecil Baldwin

19Dec

There’s no real podcasting precedent for Welcome to Night Vale. In the decade or so since I started podcasting, I’ve never seen a phenomenon like it. The show seemingly came out of nowhere and shot to the top of the iTunes chart with loyal fanbase built up around Tumblr communities, creating fan art and fiction and dressing up as their favorite characters whenever the show rolls through town. The brainchild of writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the show centers on the goings on of a small desert town somewhere in the southwest, an impossible place where occult creatures are commonplace and conspiracies are the law of the land. Baldwin, a Neo-Futurist actor based in New York, portrays Cecil Palmer, the host, main character and moral center of the program, imbuing the character and show with a hypnotic voice and elements of his real life personality that have become a rallying point for so much of the show’s communal nature. In honor of Night Vale’s 100th episode, we sat down with Baldwin to discuss the show’s origin, his acting history and the recent announcement that he is HIV positive.

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