Episode 161: Stern Pinball CEO Gary Stern


Note: Hey listeners, we’re launching a Patreon. Please consider supporting the show to help keep us afloat. By the 80s, the pinball machine had seemingly been all but replaced, making way for machines like Asteroids and Pac-Man, which quickly began to dominate the arcade landscape. Within the next few years, a home gaming console explosion led by the NES would deal the industry an even further blow. It was precisely around this time that Gary Stern doubled down. A second generation pinball professional (his father having served as the co-owner of the profoundly influential Williams Electronics), he launched Stern Pinball, Inc. in 1986, as many of the leading forces in the space began fleeing in droves. Thirty years later, the company is the one of the last producers of the game, having weathered the storm long enough to see a modern pinball resurgence, through an explosion in the popularity of barcades and home collections. It’s made the company a bit of an outlier on the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show, flanked on all sides by drone manufacturers and virtual reality companies. Stern took some time out of the show to discuss the game’s lasting appeal in an era of instant gratification. 


Episode 160 (Bonus): The Dead Ships


Sometimes things just come together. Sometimes one of the geniuses behind Broken Social Scene catches one of your ramshackle live shows and decides you’re the first outside band he wants to produce. Sometimes you line up SXSW and Coachella before you even get yourself a booking agent. Not bad for a three-year-old band whose members didn’t particularly know how to play their respective instruments when they sat down to record their debut LP. The relatively short story that is The Dead Ships plays out like a list of cosmic coincidences, culminating with last year’s excellent Brendan Canning-produced EP I and a small print spot on Coachella’s Saturday lineup, alongside names like Ice Cube, A$AP Rock, CHVRCHES and local favorites, Guns N’ Roses. It’s an an digital era when artists are struggling to make ends meet that good songs, hard work, and a little bit of luck can still put you on the map. The Dead Ships (all of them – plus a live guitarist and manager) joined us to talk about their slow rocket to stardom.


Episode 159: Eleanor Friedberger


I first saw Eleanor Friedberger solo back in 2013, shortly after falling head over heels for her second solo album, Personal Record. Her band was an opener (for The Long Winters, featuring past guests John Roderick and Sean Nelson), but her voice is an unavoidable force of nature. It overpowers the instrumentation both on record and live, where, if you close your eyes for a few moments, you can trick your brain into believe that you’re witnessing Patti Smith in 1975. I’ve been trying to get Friedberger for the show since then, and we finally managed to sync up our schedules following the release of her terrific new album, New View. The musician was back in the city for a few days, having made an appearance on Seth Myers the evening before (as evidenced by the mug sitting on the counter of the apartment she was holed up in). Friedberger had gotten out of Dodge ahead of the new record, leaving New York City for the far more pastoral views upstate. We sat down on a cold February morning to discuss nature walks, home maintenance and the importance of getting out of town.


Episode 158: Chip Zdarsky and Matt Kindt


Chip Zdarsky wore a felt crown during our interview because he was promoting his new Jughead series for Archie — and because he’s Chip Zdarsky, and that’s just like a thing Chip Zdarsky does. The cartoonist has been responsible for some of the the funniest mainstream comics work of the past decade and a half, with titles like Howard the Duck and the Eisner Award winning Matt Fraction collaboration, Sex Criminals. The cartoonist, who also publishing humor pieces under his given name, Steve Murray, was nice enough to take a few moments out of his exceedingly busy schedule to sit and chat about his reimagining of everyone’s favorite hamburger devouring prankster. Like Zdarsky, Matt Kindt has parlayed indie comics success into a prolific career on big books, including, most recently, a glut of titles for the recently relaunched Valiant Entertainment. The artist/writer sat down with us to talk about  his work with the publisher and the move from small publishing to mainstream books.


Episode 157: Dan Friel


When I first met Dan Friel, he was working the front desk at The Onion. I was but lowly intern and he was tasked with, among other things, handing me a list of the newspaper boxes around the city that needed moving. Turns out the the guy was also pretty good at making music, too. For a decade Friel, was a driving force behind Parts & Labor, a raucous Brooklyn-based three-piece that released five terrific LPs of explosive, analog electronic-fueled noise pop. After the band’s dissolution in 2012, Friel has shifted his focus to his solo career, marrying pop hooks with sonic drone. The phenomenon is perfectly exemplified by Lullaby (For Wolf), the leadoff track to last year’s Life, which had its genesis in a bedtime song Friel hummed to his newborn son.


Episode 156: Douglas Rushkoff


There’s an art to interviewing Douglas Rushkoff — and really, “interview” isn’t the right word. It’s akin of offering suggestions and watching him takeoff, explore an idea, and just blow the thing wide open. As with all of his books, every page of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is utterly bursting with ideas — and every conversation with the author follows the trajectory, as well. It’s impossible to keep up, but if you’re lucky, you can contribute the occasional thought and marvel as Rushkoff runs with the ball. In his latest book, the writer grapples with issues of economics and fairness in the digital age, exploring why the utopian promise of digital democracy and doing no evil never quite came to fruition as many late-20th century philosophers anticipated. But much to his credit, Rushkoff is forever the optimist on the topic of technology, presenting hopeful solutions for every issue the book raises. In this hour-long conversation, we discuss Kickstarter, what’s going on with Twitter, and how all of us lowly cogs can make a meaningful impact.


Episode 155: Tom Hart


Rosalie Lightning is one of this year’s most difficult and most important books. It’s the story of a parent grieving the death of his young daughter the best way he knows how — through making a comic. Tom Hart taught the form for a decade at Manhattan’s school of Visual Arts before opening The Sequential Artists Workshop, a Gainesville-based school devoted solely to the art of comics making, where he serves as Executive Director. Hart has been producing his own work in earnest since 1994, when Hutch Owen's Working Hard earned him a Xeric Foundation grant for self-publishing. Over the years, the titular Wall Street-battling protestor has earned the cartoonist numerous industry awards and landed a daily strip in Metro newspapers. His new book i easily his most potent and highest profile, having landed the top spot on The New York Times’ best selling graphic novel list. As with the book, this conversation is not an easy one, but it’s one well worth having.


Episode 154: Brooke Arnold


“Other ATI beliefs that I learned range from utterly bizarre to downright barbaric,” Brooke Arnold writes in the essay, I Could Have Been a Duggar Wife, “like the creator of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls is actually a Satanic wizard who implants demons into the dolls that then sneak into children’s bodies while they are sleeping — along with the old standard that rock music is inherently sinful.” The story’s subhed labeled Arnold a “real-life Kimmy Schmidt,” as she exposed a laundry list of horrors perpetrated by the Advanced Training Institute, a fundamentalist homeschooling program that helped give rise to reality TV stars, the Duggar family. A week later, Salon published a followup in which Arnold admitted that if she had know how large a splash the story would cause, she “ would not have had the courage to press ‘send’ on the pitch,” while adding that the positive response from women with similar backgrounds ultimately made the decision worthwhile. The story also, naturally, helped raise the profile of a comedian working to establish a name for herself in the big city, as well as helping to inspired the creation of the forthcoming comedic memoir, Growing Up Fundie. We sat down to discuss starting over again in the big city and creating comedy from personal tragedy.


Episode 153: Gene Luen Yang


Not too long before our conversation, the Library of Congress appointed Gene Yang its “Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.” It’s the kind of announcement that makes everyone around the comics community cheer — another big moment in a space perpetually starved for legitimization as the institution chose its first ever graphic novelist for the post. Of course, they would have been hard-pressed to find a stronger candidate. Yang has been a fixture in the kids and YA comics scene since his 2006 book American Born Chinese became the first graphic novel to score a spot as a finalist for the National Book Award, Young People’s Literature. These days, Yang finds is at the helm of DC’s flagship Superman title and has released Secret Coders, an educational book that combines the cartoonist’s love of comics and passion for computer programming. We sat down at First Second’s triangular conference room in the Flatiron building to talk tech and the Man of Steel’s truly American immigrant story.


Episode 152: Nicole Georges (Bonus)


Friend of the podcast Nicole Georges joins us via Skype to discuss her brand new show, Sagittarian Matters, which combines her love of conversation, advice and eating food products past their expiration date. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a conversation about love, punctuation, offering unsolicited advice, and the pitfalls of writing comic books about your parents.


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