Episode 227: Annalee Newitz

6Aug

Every so often, my work obsessions bleed into my extracurriculars, and Annalee Newitz was more than happy to help me geek out about robotics. We sat down a few months back in New York, while she was visiting for Book Expo America, in advance of her first novel, Autonomous. The book tackles questions of civil rights in a world where people own machines that are virtually human, exploring the cross section of her longstanding interests in technology and social justice. Newitz has been writing professionally about technology since the 90s, with a lengthy resume that includes top names like Popular Science and Wired, along with a stint as an analyst for the Electronic Frontier foundation. In 2008, she was tapped to launch and run iO9, a Gawker (now Gizmodo)-owned blog steeped in her love for science fiction. In this conversation, Newitz discusses the state of artificial intelligence and robotics and addresses of the tough questions society will have to answer as our creations become more and more like us.

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Episode 226: Manchester Orchestra

29Jul

In 2014, Manchester Orchestra released Hope, a new album with an identical track listening as its predecessor, Cope, released the same year. The two albums represented dramatically different musical takes on the same songs — the first was the band’s hardest edge record to date, and the second wholly stripped down. The pair of albums was the work of a band looking to shake things up a decade into its existence. The following year, the band was given the opportunity to think entirely out of the box, scoring the soundtrack to Swiss Army Man. The tale of a young man and his farting corpse of a best friend required an equally off-beat set of songs, so Andy Hull and Robert McDowell performed the whole thing a capella, layering as many as 150 tracks to accomplish the task. I met the duo on the eve of a record listening party, for their latest work, A Black Mile to the Surface. The album finds the band newly refreshed and introspective. We sat down in a soundproof booth and recorded a wide ranging conversation with the aid of the event’s whiskey sponsor, which helped ensure a free flowing conversation about musical work ethic, movie passes and starting a family.

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Episode 225 (Bonus): Mike Diana

25Jul

Here’s a conversation recorded a while back and initially intended for publication. While the story never actually appeared in print, the subject matter was just too interesting to let it languish, so I’m presenting it to you as a bonus episode. Cartoonist Mike Diana is known less for his work itself as the fallout it caused, when he became the first artist in the US to receive a criminal conviction for artistic obscenity. Diana’s self-published work raised red flags due to its extreme violence when it was found discussed during a traffic stop at the height of a serial killing spree in nearby Gainesville, Florida. Diana was cleared of any suspicion in the then unsolved murders, but his book, Boiled Angel, soon became the subject of an obscenity trial. The cartoonist was found guilty and the repercussions follow him to this day, nearly a quarter of a century later. In this episode, recording in a Manhattan tea shop, Diana takes us through the trial and the sentencing, which barred him from drawing for three years and has made it impossible to return home to Florida, all these years later.

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Episode 224: Liz Baillie

23Jul

Comics are hard — doubly so when you live in a place like New York, where holding down a day job is a necessity. By their early- to mid-30s, most opt to pack it in. It’s not a personal failure or flaw, so much as an admission that the world just isn’t equipped to support its artists, particularly in a field as marginalized as indie comics. A few years back, Liz Baillie found herself at a crossroads, ultimately leaving comics for a newfound passion of coding. It was sad to see her go. My Brain Hurts was always a personal favorite among the comics that emerged from the 00s New York comics scene, a heartfelt and funny look at life among queer punks in the big city. But Baillie seemed to find success in record time in her new field. She moved to Portland to be among the startup community and found herself presenting at conferences in no time. Turns out life after comics does exist. In this we discuss moving to the Pacific Northwest after a lifetime in NYC and the emotional tolls of making a major career change in your 30s.

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Episode 223: Kate Stables (This is the Kit)

19Jul

Kate Stables’ Earl of Lemongrab wallet is on the table when I sit down for our interview at Baby’s All Right — so naturally, we spend the first several minutes of the conversation discussing Adventure Time. It was some she discovered independently, but it’s since become a nice source of bonding for Staples and her daughter.

Stables happily discusses the ways in which having a child have impacted the music of This is the Kit, from decisions to take her on tour in her younger days, to a hand clapping pattern she and a school mate brought home that inspired “Moonshine Freeze” the lead off single and title track from the band’s new album.

Then there’s the utter lack of alone time, something the musician says she requires in order to thrive as a songwriter — though she’s found enough of it to put together her fourth and strongest record to date. And, thankfully, we were able to grab a few relatively quiet moments ahead of her most recent New York appears to discuss the songwriting process and what it means to be in a band.

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Episode 222 (Bonus): Francoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman (Resist)

11Jul

On the heels of the second issue of Resist, we hopped on the line with publishers Francoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman to discuss the free comics protest newspaper. The first issue arrived alongside the Presidential inauguration in January, as a broadsheet process and sequential catharsis. Eight months later, issue two finds the paper exploring similar themes in a world where the reality of Trump has truly settled in. The list of primarily female contributors includes some of comics’ top names, including Roz Chast, Alison Bechdel, Lynda Barry, Daniel Clowes and Art Spiegelman. Mouly and Spiegelman joined the show via Skype to discuss online political discourse, the importance of print and discovering one’s own patriotism when things seem the darkest.

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Episode 221: Tim Kasher (of Cursive, The Good Life)

7Jul

No Resolution is an album about heartbreak. It’s raw and real, delving into break ups and fears of settling down, topics that Tim Kasher is set to explore even more deeply in his upcoming film of the same name. His directorial debut (soundtracked by the accompanying album) tells the story of an engaged couple breaking up over the course of a New Year’s Eve. For his part, however, the sometime Cursive/The Good Life frontman seems pretty content — at least over the course of our hour-long conversation. He’s newly married, living in Los Angeles and generally drinking less than he did in his indie rock glory days (though we are speaking over a couple of beers — he’s not made of stone). But as he is on record, Kasher is open and honest about the ups and downs of his existence as a professional indie rocker in his early 40s. Over the course of our talk (next to the highway in the backyard of a Williamsburg bar), Kasher discusses creative roadblocks, drinking in Omaha and the looming terror of children.

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Episode 220: Catherine Burns

2Jul

Of course Catherine Burns has a good story about getting her current gig. It involves MTV and 9/11 and parents in Alabama who were slightly befuddled that their daughter had moved from a planned career as a documentary filmmaker to something called “storytelling” (“like for children?). The Moth’s long-serving Artistic Director helped shepherd the storytelling event from New York City curiosity to cultural phenomenon. These days the organization runs events in cities across the globe and produces one an intensely popular NPR show and podcast. The name has also become synonymous with the show’s unique storytelling style. Fresh off a book tour in support of the organization’s second book, The Moth Presents All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown, Burns sat down to discuss story crafting, driving a car off a (small) cliff and how storytelling is like dancing with fire (literally).

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Episode 219: Frank Santoro

19Jun

When I hit up cartoonist Jim Rugg before a quick three day trip to Pittsburgh, he sent his apologies. He was leaving town the same night I arrived, but helpfully sent along a list of fellow cartoonists in the city. The city’s comics community is a diverse but tight knit one, and the artists will champion their fellow Pittsburghers any chance they get. I’d totally forgotten that Frank Santoro lived there. He’d moved away from the city for a while, publishing his first works in the mid-90s, as part of the San Francisco comics community. But unlike the Bay, his hometown is actually livable for an artist. In fact, he own two houses on the same street.  The second, a mirror image of his own residence, is the headquarters of the Rowhouse Residency, an off-shoot of his long standing comics correspondence course that he likens to “a dojo for students much like a martial arts academy.” It’s an immersive school from which Santoro broadcasts lessons and publishes the work of the artist in residence, fueled by home cooked meals prepared by his mother who lives up the street. Santoro and I met up at his row house to discuss Pittsburgh comics, self-publishing and the shadow of Andy Warhol.

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Episode 218: Ashley Bez

10Jun

Before it helped elect a president who teetered on the bring of nuclear war with every subsequent tweet, Twitter was an important testing ground for young comedians, honing their one-liners 140 characters at a time. Ashley Bez will be the first to admit that she owes much of her career to the social medium platform.Through Twitter, she’s found steady work and writing gigs for online magazines and TV shows, along with her most recent gig, an online radio dating advice show through Anchor.fm. And really, it’s a pretty good microcosm of a career that she’s put together piece meal through a variety of different online mediums, from a daily clothing blog to a surprise viral video hit that found her microwaving string cheese through a faux-drunk emotional roller coaster. In our first face to face meeting after several years of following one another on social media, Bez comes in from the pouring rain to discuss comedy, New York City, day jobs and the power of Twitter.

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