Episode 059: Scott Aukerman (Again)

25Jun

Where does one go after the fake Zach Galifianakis talk show they produce books the leader of the free world? If you’re Scott Aukerman, you sit down on a gold-painted couch in the lobby of a swanky New York hotel to discuss such things with a Boing Boing podcast.

From Between Two Ferns, we move on to the other fake talk show in Aukerman’s life, Comedy Bang! Bang!, which recently kicked off an excellent third season on IFC. We discuss how the ubiquitous format manages to offer the perfect springboard for cutting-edge comedy. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an RiYL Scott Aukerman interview if we didn’t discussing at least one of the projects that never made it.

This time out, it’s Privates, an NBC pilot about a family of detectives co-written with fellow Mr. Show alum B.J. Porter. As always, Aukerman imparts some life lessons — namely what to do when something you’ve poured your heart and soul into fails to break through, including some sage wisdom passed down to him by Louis CK.

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Episode 058: Erik Friedlander

18Jun

I’ve encountered plenty of musicians who’ve made me come around on certain songs and even musical genres, but off the top of my head, I can only think of one who’s caused me to rethink an instrument I’d largely written off. It’s not that I’ve ever been averse to the cello, it’s just that, in all my years of music listening, I’d rarely given the instrument a second thought. Erik Friedlander first came onto my radar by way of the Mountain Goats, opening and playing alongside Johns Darnielle and Vanderslice at the old Knitting Factory in Manhattan, plucking and bowing on the band’s then-recent LP, The Sunset Tree. Over the years, his work has continued to surprise me, jumping around from modern classical to avant-garde jazz and playing alongside music pioneers like John Zorn and Laurie Anderson. It’s Friedlander’s solo work I’ve been most taken with, however, most notably Block Ice & Propane, a jaunty sort of tribute to the RV trips he’d taken across the country with his parents as a youth and last year’s Claws & Wings, which plumbed the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, as the artist coped with the recent death of his wife of 22 years, dancer and poet Lynn Shapiro. I met up with Friedlander in his Manhattan apartment to life, loss and the cello over a couple of cups of tea.


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Episode 057: Ray Wylie Hubbard

11Jun

After our interview, Ray Wylie Hubbard and I grab some coffee across the street. He asks me what new bands I’m listening to, and I rattle off a couple — for whatever reason, it’s always a tough question to answer on the spot. Hubbard’s already got his answer locked and loaded, of course: The Bright Light Social Hour. He tells me to go on YouTube and check out the song “Detroit,” the same instructions he’ll give the audience at City Winery when he takes the stage in 90 minutes. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when first walked backstage to meet Hubbard, the 67-year-old outlaw country survivor. An elder statesman of the same scene that produced the likes of Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt — one of the few who’d lived to tell the tales. What I found was a man who was more than willing to relate some of those gems, many still fresh in his mind as he puts the finishing touches on an autobiography due out next year. The man who, most famously, penned “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” has always been a storyteller, a trait he’s been putting to good use as of late, creating some of the best music of his long career over the past two decades. And thankfully, the way he tells it, he won’t be slowing down any time in the near future.

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Episode 056: Paul Hornschemeier

4Jun

I tried to interview Paul Hornschemeier back in February, on getting a bit of last minute news from his on-again, off-again publisher Fantagraphics that he would be in the city for an event at the Strand bookstore. We missed one another, like podcasting ships in the night, but the cartoonist promised that he would be back soon enough, visiting to work on some project or another.  He delivered on that promise a couple months later, at the MoCCA independent comics festival, where he tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself. I’d had no idea he was going to be at the event — then again, neither did he. After all, he didn’t have a book to promote, but opted to show up on a bit of a whim. That’s not to say, of course, that Hornschemeier hasn’t been keeping plenty busy — in fact, given the number of irons he has in the fire, it’s something of a minor miracle he’s managed to carve out a weekend at all. In addition to a handful of graphic novels, the Hornschemeier makes music, animates and has recently tried his hand at writing and directing films. Just last week, his latest project hit Kickstarter with a splash. The short "animated crisis" Giant Sloth is well on its way to its $25,000 goal, with around $19k pledged as of the writing of this — a fact no doubt helped along by a voice cast that includes Paul Giamatti and comedians Jason Mantzoukas and Kate McKinnon.

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Episode 055: Ultragrrrl

28May

There’s something slightly surreal in reading a book, knowing the final chapters will dovetail with your own life, if only slightly. By the end of Marc Spitz’s new memoir Poseur, the rock writer found his way into the masthead at SPIN Magazine, and for a few months during his reign as senior writer, I found myself there as well, albeit as lowly intern who’d moved across the country with dreams of one leveraging his love of the written word into New York City rent money. Sarah “Ultragrrrl” Lewitinn plays a major role in those final chapters, first as a coworker and then as a partner in crime. When I arrived at the magazine, hers was a rare friendly face in amongst grizzled rock journalism veterans navigating an anemic industry, inviting us plucky little interns to rock shows and club nights, once sneaking me into a Jarvis Cocker DJ set at her weekly brit-pop night. By the time I got to New York, Ultragrrrl was everywhere, breaking bands like The Killers, managing groups like My Chemical Romance and appearing on the cover of The Village Voice in full ironic martyr mode, a Photoshopped shot of Lewitinn chained to stake as flames lapped  at her designer dress.  Finishing Spitz’s book, I shot her an email, proposing an opportunity to catch up on mic after a decade or so, and Ultragrrrl jumped at the chance, inviting me over to the East Village apartment building where she’s resided for the majority of her time in the city.

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Episode 054: Keith Morris

21May

“I’m sorry if I can’t look you in the eyes during the interview,” Keith Morris apologizes, taking the microphone from me. I’m slightly baffled by the statement until he lays down on the couch, feet facing me, mic resting on his chest. It takes a few minutes to shake the feeling that this is some sort of on-the-record counseling session. Morris isn’t feeling 100-percent. Not too surprising, really, for a 58-year-old hardcore singer grappling with diabetes and emphysema, but the mere fact that he’s made it this far is an accomplishment in and of itself — and then there’s the fact that, in a couple of hours, he’s set to take the stage with his new band, OFF. For the time being, however, the former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman is attempting to exert as little energy as possible, as we sit in the Bowery Ballroom’s backstage, in amongst assorted foodstuff that looks to have been plucked from the shelves of a nearby health food store. But while Morris will barely move a muscle during the hour-plus conversation, his mind and mouth hardly ever stop. There’s plenty of ground to cover, of course, from the early Southern California hardcore days of the late-70s/early-80s to his recent rebirth, creating arguably his best and most immediate music since Golden Shower of Hits. And then there’s the health concerns and the lawsuits and the time spent on the Black Flag Facebook page defending his old pal, Henry Rollins. As for their old bandmate, guitarist Greg Ginn, however, Morris isn’t likely to be rushing to defend him on social media any time soon.

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Episode 053: Marc Maron (Again)

14May

With this episode, Marc Maron becomes RiYL’s first-ever repeat guest (forgetting for a moment, the last-minute double-header from Dave Hill), and it’s appropriate, really. Last time felt rushed. Granted, there’s no shortage of places to catch the comedian these days, but a 15 minute time limit just doesn’t feel sufficient.

IFC gave us a bit more time to spread out, this go-round, though I had a few reservations off the bat. For starters, I was warned this was the last of a day full of interviews.  It was a day or two before the premier of the second season of Maron, his self-titled sitcom about a self-obsessed comedian hosting a podcast out of his cat-filled Los Angeles garage.

Maron's 24 hours in New York began by stepping off a redeye from Los Angeles early this morning, into the gauntlet of media interviews, culminating with our 6PM chat in the lobby of his hotel. Turns out jetlag can do wonders for a free-flowing conversation, and things actually went along pretty well.

By way of background, Maron and I first met years back when I appeared on his Air America video podcast, turning him on to the strange world of electronic cigarettes, back when the things were little more than glowing blue novelties imported from Europe. It didn’t really stick.

From there, it’s a conversation about drug addiction, Las Vegas, writing loosely veiled autobiography and, you know, podcastin'.

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Episode 052: Ben and Ellen Harper

7May

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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.

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Episode 051: Chris Hayes

29Apr

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.

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Episode 050: Rhett Miller

22Apr

“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.

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