Episode 052: Ben and Ellen Harper



Ben and Ellen Harper are in New York for a few days ahead of a trip to Europe. It’s a tour the former had scheduled for some time now, 17 “acoustic evenings” beginning in England, through Belgium, the Netherlands, then onto Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. With the dates kicking off a week prior to the release of his new record, however, it only made sense to bring the album’s collaborator along for the trip. Out this week, Childhood Home marks the first album length collaboration between Ben Harper and his mother Ellen, a lifelong musician who runs Claremont, California’s The Folk Music Center. The combination music store / museum is Southern Californian institution, opened by her parents in 1958, which has hosted everyone from Leonard Cohen to Taj Mahal in its 50-plus years of existence. A single mother, Ellen put her professional musical ambitions on hold to raise three boys. Now back on the road, she’s stepped into something far removed from those nascent coffee shop folk days, thanks to Ben superstardom. Today, the pair are staying at the Ritz, just below Central Park, doing phone interviews with international press and making a handful of television appearances ahead of the new record.


Episode 051: Chris Hayes


Chris Hayes arrives carrying a sandwich in a brown paper bag. When I make some offhanded joke about the host of a primetime cable news show having to get his own lunch, he thinks nothing of it, just appreciating the chance to get away for a moment. Not that he doesn’t love his job, of course. It takes a very specific sort to host a show like All In five days a week, a few if any are as perfectly suited for the 24 hour political news bring as Chris Hayes. Over the past four years, the bespectacled pundit has worked his way up from guest on the network to the host of MSNBC’s 8PM slot — a position that puts him directly up against Fox’s O’Reilly Factor. Hayes kindly took 30 minutes out of his busy TV show hosting / sandwich procuring schedule to discuss his career and the increasingly prominent role of cable news in our always-on society.


Episode 050: Rhett Miller


“She Loves the Sunset” from 2008’s Blame it on Gravity is a peppy little number about love and loss. It’s a good song from a good record, but hardly a standout in the Old 97’s catalog. What makes the track so fascinating is its origin story, and while I’m generally one to wince at the prospect of discussing 9/11 three minutes into an interview with the front man of an alt-country band, the events that led Rhett Miller to write the track entirely on a toy güiro borrowed from a marionette in the wake of the biggest attack on US soil are fascinating indeed.  Among other things, it’s the story of a musician compelled to make music at all costs, a story that plays out several times on the band’s forthcoming record Most Messed Up. “I’m not crazy about songs that get self-referential,” Miller sings in the lead off track. “And most of this stuff should be kept confidential.” But if it doesn’t break his own rule, “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” and a number of other tracks from the LP certainly bend it as the band tackles precisely what it means to have been playing in a band for longer than many of its fans have been here on Earth. Miller and I took up that conversation over some whiskey and plate of pepper backstage at New York’s City Winery.


Episode 049: Bob Fingerman


In April of last year, Image Comics published Maximum Minimum Wage, a hardcover compilation of Bob Fingereman’s long-running Fantagraphics series. To this day, Minimum Wage and the subsequent collection Beg The Question remain the cartoonist’s best known work, telling the close-to-home tale of an artist struggling with work, love and life in New York in the 90s. After a 15 year hiatus spent on various comics projects and a trio of prose novels, Fingerman picked up the story again in January with a new series bearing the same name, set three years after the end of its predecessor. I met up with Fingerman in the Manhattan apartment he shares with his wife to discuss returning to a project after nearly a decade and a half and how to get back into the mindset of younger, poorer time.


Episode 048: Avi Reichental


When 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental swung by the city to address the Inside 3D Printing conference in Manhattan, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss the technology. The company has been at the forefront of the space since 1986, when co-founder Chuck Hull invented the process of stereolithography, which gave rise to the world of industrial additive manufacturing. The company’s been a player on the business side since then and has also spent the last several years developing a consumer facing arm for the quickly growing world of desktop 3D printing.  There’s a lot of ground to cover here, of course, but I think we make a valiant effort, tackling the the viability of consumer technology, the on-going patent wars and the recent controversies surrounding 3D printed weapons.


Episode 047: Box Brown


I can’t think of a single cartoonist whose work I’ve watched progress from such an early stage. And it was no doubt that exact drive to put his stuff out in the world that helped Box Brown improve by leaps and bounds, culminating with the forthcoming release of his first full-length book, Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, which examines the man behind one of professional wrestling’s largest legends. Brown and I met up at a coffee shop next door to Locust Moon, my favorite comic shop in Philadelphia. We discussed giving it all up to pursue your dream — and, like zine publisher (and friend of Brown) Robert Newsome before him, the cartoonist was more than happy to talk about his lifelong love of professional wrestling with a podcast host who’s only just beginning to familiarize himself with the subject.


Episode 046: Ben Lindbergh


My knowledge of sabermetrics is elementary, at best. I know that it’s utterly transformed baseball analysis and helped get a lot of plush clubhouse jobs for an army of number crunching math geeks. I know that it involves a close examination of traditionally undervalued statistics like on-base percentage and foul balls. I know it’s caused writers and managers to rethink the amount of emphasis put on traditionally overvalued indicators like batting averages and strikeouts. Ben Lindbergh, editor in chief of leading sabermetrics site Baseball Prospectus sits down with me the week prior to opening day in a Manhattan cafe blaring the hits of the 90s to discuss how a group of statistic geeks have transformed our national pastime.


Episode 045: Molly Crabapple


Molly jokingly noted recent online accusations that this so-called “Crabapple” person was actually a collective of people posing as a single person, and it’s easy to see why. She’s been plenty busy as of late, between art exhibitions, murals, illustrations and an increasing interest in social justice, which recently led Rolling Stone to call her “Occupy [Wall Street]’s greatest artist.” It’s a fascination that has taken her around the world, to unexpected locations like the courtrooms of Guantanamo Bay.


Episode 044: Shlomo Lipetz


I met Shlomo last week at New York's City Winery, just before settling into another RiYL interview. The 6'4 mustachioed Israeli was making sure everything was all right with the the Old 97s' Rhett Miller, ahead of his show that night. Fascinated by meeting my first real life Shlomo (surprising, perhaps, given my own ethnic makeup), I Googled the venue's booker the following day, stumbling upon a Wall Street Journal story from 2012 about Israeli baseball -- a subject which I, admittedly, know nothing about. At the top was an image of the booker, full-beard, in a pre-pitch lineup. Down below, the paper described Lipetz as, "Israel's biggest baseball star." A day later, we sat down during a Bob Mould soundcheck to discuss how one earns such a title. Lipetz is characteristically modest, pointing out that he's the best at something in a country that seemingly barely knows it exists. According to the Journal story, some 1,000 of Israel's population of eight million play the sport. Still, how many of us can say we're the best at anything?


Episode 043: Doug Gillard


From Guided By Voices to Nada Surf, if you can think of a seminal indie rock band from the past 20 years, there's a pretty decent chance Doug Gillard's put in time among their ranks at some point or other. The journeyman guitar player also has a accomplished solo career, with his latest, Parade On, due out in a few weeks. Fittingly, the song's every bit as diverse as one would expect from an artist with a seemingly endless parade of projects. Gillard joins us over some green tea and bourbon to discuss the Beatles, Ohio and playing with some of the best rock and roll bands going.


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