Episode 111: Bruce McCulloch


For me, it goes Kids in the Hall, Kurt Vonnegut and punk rock, in that order. I shudder to think what sort of person I might have become had Comedy Central not started airing the Canadian sketch show in reruns right after show during my formative years. KITH presented new frontiers in comedy my tender suburban brain never imagined were possible. And Bruce McCulloch was their poet laureate. McCulloch was the weirdo in a group of weirdos. The angry young man with a penchant gruff voiced, world weary characters and flair for beat poetry, as evidenced by 1995’s criminal underrated comedy record, Shame Based Man. Spending a Halloween chewing on an unlit cigar with half a head of cabbage taped to my skull seemed like a no-brainer in high school, and when I found out that KITH were making a triumphant live show return to New York City, his publicist was the first on my list to receive an overzealous email. When he answered the door to his room, McCulloch gently ribbed the hotel employee for letting the riffraff through security. Once inside, the comedian opened up about his time the troupe and the youthful rebellion behind his new TV series, Young Drunk Punk.


Episode 110: Jon Spencer


Jon Spencer is tired of talking about music. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s been talking about it professionally ever since Pussy Galore emerged from the garages of Washington DC 30 years back. Or maybe it’s because he’s knee deep in the press junket for Blues Explosion’s 10th full-length, Freedom Tower No Wave Dance Party 2015. I met the musician at his practice space, a nondescript spot, located in a lower-Manhattan basement down a dank flight of stair a few days after I managed to catch him during the final show of his five boroughs tour.  It was an explosion ending at a brewery in Astoria, Queens, which found Spencer unraveling and wearing a giant American flag and hanging from a balcony while performing daring feats on rock and roll.  As excited as I am to talk about what I’ve just seen however, the singer really comes alive when the topic of comics arise, as he discusses collaborations with cartoonists like Paul Pope and Tony Millionaire, and his love for the magazine Heavy Metal, whose back page rock writing turned him onto rock and roll oddities like The Residents. Spencer also happily discusses the late night horror films that introduced him to the otherworldly sound of the theremin that has become tentpole feature of the group’s unhinged sound. By the end of the conversation, he pulls out a backpack full of the week’s scores at the nearby comics shop, Forbidden Planet.


Episode 109: Mark Stewart (The Pop Group)


Mark Stewart doesn’t want to talk about music. Least of all his own. A few hours ahead of The Pop Group’s appearance at The Bowery Ballroom in support of their first record in 35 years, he makes that much clear. He’s been talking about for decades. He’s bored. It’s not so much that the musician is a difficult interview as others have suggested, it’s more a matter of figuring out precisely what he wants to discuss. Sometimes finding that out is a simple matter of stopping the interview and asking outright. Tonight it’s politics. “Post-punk secret agents,” as he lovingly puts it. Contemporaries who have managed to find their ways into positions of power to help spread the word of progressive politics. For Stewart, spreading the word of political disarray means harnessing the power of pop culture press. It’s a wide-ranging, hour-long conversation that touches on aspects of global politics, cryptocurrency, popular music and creative inspiration.


Episode 108: Shannon Wheeler (Again)


The Too Much Coffee Man creator became a member of the extremely rare two-timers club, with a second RiYL appearance. Shannon Wheeler was among the show’s original guests early on when the interviews were primarily recorded remotely. When he mentioned that he’d be in New York for work for a few days, it seemed as good a time as any to give the interview thing another shot, this time face to face. In a lot of ways, the interview is the platonic ideal of an RiYL episode, a casual cafe (or, in this case, tea house) conversation that likely would have gone the same way whether or not I’d decided to bring my microphone setup along with me.  Though, for the record, most of my conversations these days don’t begin with a discussion of Ayn Rand — but when Wheeler confided in me that he was attempting to watch the Atlas Shrugged film series, I couldn’t help myself. Also, I’m not sure I’ve talked that much about God in a single sitting in college, but when you put out an abridged adaptation of the bible like God is Disappointed in You, it gets to be a fairly regular topic of conversation. But don’t worry, much like the book itself, there’s plenty of laughter to be found throughout.


Episode 107: Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal)


Kevin Barnes has a cold. He looks tired, taking swigs of coconut milk from one of those oddly-shaped cartons, but his face is sparkling in the mid-day sun. It’s the first truly nice day in New York City in several months, and we’re jammed into a corner on the southside of a packed Union Square Park. Barnes asked if we could find a sunny spot to speak, so we walked the five blocks up from Webster Hall and now he’s sparkling in the sunlight with the residual glittering of last night’s show, like those teenage vampires of lore. It’s bright and it’s crowd and noisy as the city takes momentary respite from the longest, coldest winter any of us can remember. It’s hardly the ideal spot for frank and intimate conversation about the creation of art in the wake of lost love, but it somehow works, as Barnes and I discuss the Elephant 6 alum’s 13th record, Aureate Gloom and the painful separation from his wife that followed shortly after the release of his last album. It’s an honest and fascinating conversation with an artist’s whose musical themes are sometimes seemingly impossible to penetrate.


Episode 106: Joe Biel (Microcosm Publishing)


Several years ago, I began to notice a pattern emerging. Practically every book of interest I'd pick up at independent bookstores and zine fest had the same logo on the back: a small bicycle gear with a heart at the center. Microcosm had seemingly come out of nowhere to corner the market on things that fascinate me. Joe Biel formed the indie publishing empire out of his Cleveland bedroom in the mid-90s, moving Microcosm to greener Pacific Northwestern pastures of Portland, Oregon in 1999, where the company still remains, along with with a retail storefront baring the same name. After a year and a half of attempting to coordinate an interview, Biel and I finally found ourselves in the same place. He was kindly enough to make a detour to my Queens apartment during a brief stopover in New York following an appearance at bicycle policy convention in Colombia. It's a subject matter than has long been near and dear to the publisher, recently manifesting itself in the form of Aftermass, a documentary exploring Portland's cycling community. Biel and I sat down over a couple of cups of tea to discuss cycling, his filmmaking and the strange and fascinating world of independent publishing.


Episode 105: Jean Grae


The last time I saw Jean Grae in person, she was giving out free hugs in Union Square. The event was a unique attempting to cope with and have a discussion around the events unfolding in Ferguson. Grae and a group of fellow #TheHugStation attendants were offering a slew of hug varieties off of a lengthy Hug Menu. For the life of me, I can’t remember which variety I settled on, but I’m happy to report that hugging is, in fact, yet another one of her seemingly endless list of talents. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Grae was solely an emcee. She has, after all, issued dozens of records since she began rapping in the mid-90s (included several EPs in 2014 alone). But her ever-increasing portfolio also includes producing, writing, directing and starring in her an online sitcom (Life With Jeanie), writing and recording the audiobook The State of Eh and several live comedy shows like January’s Ghostbusters II ½: The Rise of Winston. And that’s all with the last year.Since 2008, Grae’s mission statement has more or less been stop talking, start creating. That year she opted to true embrace digital distribution as a means by which to eliminate the endless string of middlemen and the roadblocks and excuses they bring, telling her fans, "I don’t wanna complain anymore, I just wanna change some things about the way artists are treated and the way you guys are allowed to be involved, since it IS the digital age." Grae began releasing her work through Bandcamp, embracing the new found freedom of self-distribution to deliver a diverse array of work unfiltered to her fanbase. Her steady output means, among other things, that Grae is a tough person to pin down for an hour-long interview, but after a year of trying, we finally managed to sit down over a couple of drinks at a Williamsburg bar to discuss creativity, mentorship and moving to Los Angeles.


Episode 104: Brooks Wheelan


I knew Brooks Wheelan was moving. His PR reps had already alerted me to the fact that the comedian only had a few days remaining before moving on to greener entertainment pastures. And, of course, he hadn’t exactly been quiet regarding his intentions to leave the city after his unceremonious departure from Saturday Night Live (nor anything regarding those unfortunate circumstances).Even still, I wasn’t fully prepared to find his entire life in boxes when I arrived at his soon-to-be vacant Lower East Side apartment. He had one final standup set directly following out conversation, and that was pretty much it for Brooks Wheelman and New York City. All of his worldly belongs were now stashed away in U-Haul boxes, but there were, thankfully, a few beers left in the fridge. We grabbed a couple of beers and sat cross-legged on the floor. In what many might have reflected upon as a moment for regret or solemn reflection the comedian expressed only excited at a new life on a new coast full of unlimited possibilities.


Episode 103: Vivek Tiwary


I shouldn’t have been surprised when, in the email lead up to our interview, Vivek Tiwary told me he was pals with former RiYL guest, Mike Watt. When, after the interview concluded, he asked me who I was speaking to next, it also shouldn’t have caught me off-guard that he friends with Alex Winter, as well (who subsequently referred to Tiwary as, “a ray of sunshine” when I name-dropped him during the subsequent conversation). Tiwary has seemingly lived a million lives in the entertainment industry, rising through the ranks of the major label record companies, running a entertainment financing company, producing musicals like American Idiot at the forefront of a new wave of Broadway shows and, most recently, penning the Eisner award winning graphic novel, The Fifth Beatle. Perhaps more so than any other projects, that book was a real labor of love for Tiwary, the culmination of multiple decades of research about legendary Beatles manager Brian Epstein, a figure who perfectly embodied the writers dual fascinations with music and business. When we finally sat down to speak at Tiwary’s Manhattan office, the conversation was, fittingly, equally wide ranging, discussing Broadway production, film making, and Eddie Vedder’s basketball prowess.


Episode 102: Guy Branum


While the old adage about truth making for great art certainly applies to standup, the equation can be something of a mixed bag. After all, comedy is often as much about deflection as it honesty, a slight of hand designed to distract from larger, painful and more personal truths. But honesty, it seems, isn’t really an issue for Guy Branum. The comedian, writer, podcaster and  former Chelsea Lately guest deals in truths — largely about himself. As Branum put it in a recent comment about the Trevor Noah Twitter dustup, "Good stand-up comedy cannot be safe; it must shock or surprise an audience. Some comics can do it magnificently with insights about socks, but the best do it with bracing commentary about the stuff that really matters to us." For Branum, such truths are largely internal, tackling obsessions, body issues and coming to grips with his own sexuality, in spite of a less than supportive environment. This quote from his new standup album, Effable, sums the whole thing up pretty nicely. "When my parents realized I was going to be gay, they figured they might as well raise the largest in the county. If there not getting grandchildren out of the deal, at least they could get a blue ribbon." And thankfully, for interviewers such as myself, such honesty isn’t designated for the stage alone. Freshly arrived in New York, Branum made the trip to my apartment for a wide-ranging and deep digging conversation about comedy and life.


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