Episode 116: Sam Seder

15Jul

Some context before we get started: I met Sam Seder five or so years back when he cohosted a video show in the Air America break room. By then the progressive talk station was on its last legs. Both Seder and cohost Marc Maron had been through the ringer with other programs and had ended up setting a desk directly in front of a vending machine in a radio station kitchen.After the plug was unceremoniously pulled, Seder did what countless abruptly unemployed comedian/radio personalities have since: he launched a podcast. The show borrowed the format, Jon Benjamin-voiced bumpers and title of an Air American show he had co-hosted with long-time friend Janeane Garofalo. Ten years after launching, The Majority Report is still going strong, featuring daily interviews with guests and left leaning political talk that would make many of the talking heads at MSNBC. When sat down at Seder’s downtown Brooklyn studio, the specter of Break Room Live was very much on my mind, thanks in no small part to a the fact that Maron had released an interview with Seder on WTF that very week. As such, there’s much talk about vending machines, political radio and how to deal with a friend’s new-found success.

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Episode 115: Lisa Wilde

7Jul

I would have been more than content to discuss Wild Cat Academy, the New York City second chance high where Lisa Wilde has taught for more than a decade and a half. What resulted from our hour-long conversation, however, was one of the more wide-ranging interviews we’ve run for some time, hitting on subjects like life in the city and juggling, life, family and part-time creative pursuits. And the, of course, there’s the factotum of jobs that factor so prominently into Wilde’s bio, from baking, to the BBC to the teaching gig that gave rise to Yo Miss, a self-published mini-comic turned anthology by our friends at Microcosm Books. Wilde sent me a few issues while I was writing about zines for Boing Boing, and I knew she’s make for a fascinating interview. It took a year or two for us to finally line our schedules up, but when we sat down in the drawing studio of the Brooklyn home she shares with her husband and son, it was well worth the wait.

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Episode 114: Kevin Allison

1Jul

This isn’t the first time this has happened, the realization that an upcoming guest has recently been on WTF fills me with an immediate sense of dread. Surely Maron has mined this person for all of their conversational juices. Of course, that worry subsides almost immediately when the interviewee is Kevin Allison The former State member has built a second career for himself standing on-stage and not holding back. The Cincinnati-born comedian founded Risk! as a weekly live show in Manhattan, in August of 2009. A few months later, the series grew into a podcast, setting itself apart from myriad other storytelling radio shows and podcasts thanks to some well-known guests and a dedication to Allison’s fearless confessional style. Risk’s explicit mission statement involves guests, “tell[ing] true stories they never thought they’d dare to share in public.” As a frequent Risk storyteller himself, Allison is no stranger to brutal honesty. It’s a great quality in a podcast guest — and one that was happily on full display as we sat down in an empty bar in Astoria, NY ahead of a Friday night standup set.

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Episode 113: Jeffrey Lewis

24Jun

I’m pretty sure I first heard about Jeffrey Lewis through his music. By the time I arrived in New York City, the singer-songwriter was already a veteran of the same Lower East Side antifolk scene that gave the world the likes of the Moldy Peaches. Turns out the guy also makes some really terrific comics as well. And better still, he takes every opportunity available to combine the two forms, as with with a series of comic essays on the songwriting process written for the New York Times, or the year we asked him to perform at Manhattan’s MoCCA Fest in which he combined singing with an easel baring drawings for a lo-fi multimedia storytelling experience. I ran into Lewis once again at this year’s MoCCA comics show and he happily agreed to an impromptu conversation on a scenic Chelsea rooftop overlooking the Hudson. It’s a relatively quick (by RiYL standards) conversation, due to the rapidly dropping rooftop temperatures and Lewis’s need to get back to his unmanned table at the show, but it’s still a wide-ranging and interesting chat on the nature of creativity from an artist who seemingly does it all.

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Episode 112: Ayun Halliday

17Jun

I’m fairly certain the phrase “mommy blog” is tossed around once or twice over the course this interview. I only mention it here as I’m sure it sends up a few red flags, though undeservedly so. For starters, there’s the fact that The East Village Inky predates the phenomenon by at least a decade or so. Ayun Halliday has been producing the pocket-sized, photocopied zine for over 20 years now, having just released issue 55 when we sat down for a chat a local watering hole following the Brooklyn Zine Fest. The series is a breezy and largely lighthearted first-hand account of two artists raising children in the city, told through a series of stories, mini-comics and whatever other assorted odds and ends Halliday opts to include. The Inky also manages to avoid most of the preachy and rose-colored trappings of its successors, which are no doubt a large part of what’s made the long-running zine beloved even amongst childless readers. Despite living in the same metropolitan area, I’ve had a surprising amount of trouble tracking Halliday down — due, perhaps, to a busy schedule of work related and artistic pursuits, travel and the whole raising two children thing. When we final sat down in the backyard of a Brooklyn bar, I’m happy we were finally able to make it happen. It’s a wide ranging and fascinating conversation about child-rearing, artistic ambition and the give and take between the two.

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Episode 111: Bruce McCulloch

9Jun

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.

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Episode 110: Jon Spencer

3Jun

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.

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Episode 109: Mark Stewart (The Pop Group)

26May

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.

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Episode 108: Shannon Wheeler (Again)

19May

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.

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Episode 107: Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal)

13May

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.

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