Episode 211: Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills


You’re bound to raise some fan suspicion when the first track off your new album A Band Is Something To Figure Out has a title like “What do the People Want,” particularly when the thing is released on the 10th anniversary of your band’s existence. Hallelujah the Hills frontman Ryan Walsh admits that the album’s name was intended to raise some questions about rock music in general. And for full effect, Walsh adds, he first suggested it in the middle of practice, when a writer from the UK was in Boston getting material for an upcoming book on the group. But then, Hallelujah the Hills has always put on a good show. The band has released a half-dozen records in their decade-long existence, coming out of the gate with 2007’s Collective Psychosis Begone, which made them something of a media darling right at the apex of the 00s blog band boom. But while the group has maintained a steady fanbase (who’ve helped fund the last couple of records), Walsh has held down a day job for nearly all of its existence. These days, he’s also jammed book writing into his already-packed schedule. Walsh is adapting a 2015 Boston Magazine piece in a full-length book for Penguin, documenting Van Morrison’s late-60s self-imposed New England exile that gave rise to Astral Weeks, one of rock and roll’s most beloved masterpieces.


Episode 210: Gareth David of Los Campesinos!


“[Depression] is something I’m comfortable with now,” Los Campesinos singer Gareth David explains during our conversation backstage at the Warsaw in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s remarkably open and funny about the subject, adding, “the best thing for my mental health has been Pokemon Go.” It’s clear that his time serving as the lyrics writer for the joyfully woeful seven-piece has gone a ways toward opening him up over the course of six albums. And indeed, titles like We Are Beautiful , We Are Doomed, Hello Sadness and Sick Scenes perfectly reflect the balance of musical excitement and melancholy subject matter that have long defined the group’s work. It’s also clear that the band’s longevity is the product of sheer love for the music. The group, formed in Cardiff, found early success among the blog band boom of the mid-00s, with an early single appearing in a Budweiser advert. These days, its members have gone on to support themselves with day jobs, reforming for the sheer love of playing. But the continued commitment to the group has resulted in a band that seems to get better with each subsequent release. The group on this year’s Sick Scenes is clearly the one found on 2007’s Sticking Fingers into Sockets, but the decade since its release have found the group operating with far more maturity and depth for the most fully-formed songwriting of its career.


Episode 209: Tim Kinsella of Joan of Arc


“We never make a decision because we want to alienate the audience,” Tim Kinsella explains. “But we also never make a decision according to what we think the audience wants.” That sums up the musician’s career as any review. Though it only accounts for a bit of the outright animosity found in pieces like Pitchfork’s take on Joan of Arc’s latest opus, He's Got the Whole This Land Is Your Land in His Hands, referred to by the site as a “troll manifesto.” But the way Kinsella tells it, he’s just doing his thing. Joan of Arc, and with the prolific Chicago musician’s numerous other outlets like Cap'n Jazz, The Owls and Make Believe — which found him playing a wrestling heel — have never shied away from experimenting as a method for shaking up the doldrums of music writing. This latest record is the result of hours of jamming, a loose confederation of friends playing freely and exchanging instruments — having fun making music. The result is challenging, confusing and sometimes sublime, as in the case of Kinsella’s stream of conscious, which seem to invoke Trump’s tiny-handed insecurities well before the subject became national news.  


Episode 208: Ahmed Gallab of Sinkane


After touring around with prominent outfits like Yeahsayer and Of Montreal, Sinkane’s Ahmed Gallab really come into his own on 2012’s Mars. The breakout record found the multi-instrumentalist embracing musical selections as diverse as his background, from the polyrhythms of Sudan to the punk, indie and funk of the midwest. Released in February, Life & Livin' It builds upon his myriad influences and finds the artist crafting one of this most personal records to date, released amidst a cultural upheaval in a United States now turning its back on the immigrant cultural that helped build it. Sitting down in a coffee shop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Green Point that he now calls home, Gallab discusses a childhood split evenly between Sudan and the States and how confusions over culture and identity helped shaped his unique musical voice.


Episode 207: Tommy Stinson and Chip Roberts


Tommy Stinson is exhausted. It’s the tail end of a long day of interviews, with appearances on high profile outlets like Fox News, and the Bash & Pop frontman isn’t not entirely sure he’s going to make it through one more. Things get off to a rough start, and for a while only get rougher from there, tethered only by the calming force of friend and Cowboys in the Campfire co-conspirator Chip Roberts. There’s talk of The Replacements and an off-handed mention of Chinese Democracy that doesn’t go over particularly well, for obvious reasons, but when the conversation turns his nine-year-old daughter, things calm down a touch. Her presence is clearly a grounding one, one that brings the musician back down to earth and puts everything into perspective. When he’s not touring or recording, he’s a full-time father, a sense of stability for musician whose lived most of his life on the road since joining up with the Replacements at the tender age of 12. It’s been a sometimes hard life, but a rewarding one, and when he reflects back on it, he laughs, “none of these mofos thought I’d live past 30.”


Episode 206: Reverend Jen


Reverend Jen Miller was a Lower East Side fixture when I moved to New York more than a decade ago, an elf-eared, chihuahua-toting being who seemed to show up everywhere in those first few years, from The Village Voice to cable access. She ran a Troll Doll museum and wrote books, served as the sec columnist for nerve.com, starred in low budget films with names like Elf Panties: The Movie and Lord of the Cockrings. These days, her vibrant and idiosyncratic output has taken a major hit courtesy of sky rocketing Manhattan rent prices. When we sat down for an interview, Miller was grappling with a recent trip to a psych ward, spurred on by the recent passing of her beloved dog, Reverend Jen Jr., a pocket-sized chihuahua that rarely left her side. In spite of everything, she lights up when time comes to discuss her varied career as a performance artist, author and one-time professional submissive at a Manhattan S&M dungeon. Miller discusses coping with the changing state of the city and the first time she ever put on a pair of fake elf ears.


Episode 205: Jon Ronson


Jon Ronson confesses with a laugh that he feels at least partially responsible for the rise of Alex Jones, the once-fringe Texas-based radio show host who since has become a central figure in Donald Trump’s political rise and the development of his subsequent White House policies. It’s a strange claim coming from the This America Life contributor behind The Men Who Stare at Goats. Ronson speaks in a soft Welsh accent, and in many ways seems the exact antithesis of the radio conspiracy theorist who growls loudly to millions of devoted listeners about Obama and Clinton smelling of sulfur. But it was Ronson who helped Jones grow from local radio personality to national phenomenon, as he recruited the right wing ideologue in his mission to infiltrate Bohemian Grove, a playground for the super rich, which helped launch both men’s careers, almost 20 years back. The pair’s link is at the center of Ronson’s latest work, The Elephant in the Room, a Kindle single exploring the rise of Trump and the alt-right, using his relationship with Jones as a springboard into the strange and scary world once simply dismissed as the fringes of the Republican Party. It’s perfect fodder, really, for a writer whose work has centered on themes like internet shaming, extremists and psychopaths.


Episode 204: Kid Congo Powers


Punk rock resumes don’t get much better than Kid Congo Powers’. The Southern California-born musician has been playing music professional for nearly 40 years, since the then-president of the Ramones fanclub was recruited by Jeffrey Lee Pierce for the band that would soon become the Gun Club.Soon after, Powers was recruited by fellow punk rock weirdos, The Cramps as rhythm guitarist, staying with the band for two of their most influential records, Psychedelic Jungle and Smell of Female. After another multi-album stint with The Gun Club, the musician joined up with Nick Cave, recording two records as a member of The Bad Seeds. For the past decade, Powers has served as the front man for The Pink Monkey Birds, an amalgamations of decades of music influence, including the Southern California Chicano rock sound that helped ignite his love of music.  To celebrate the release of the band’s latest, La Araña Es La Vida, Powers sat down for a far reaching interview about his long and storied career.


Episode 203: Adele Bertei


“I think about music as joy” sounds like one of those things that musicians just say. But then you go see Adele Bertei live, and there’s really no other way to describe. She ought to be rusty, out of shape and out of practice after a long hiatus, but when she took the stage at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan a few nights after out interview, she was a goddamned force of nature at 5’0 tall and dressed to the nines in a full suit and tie.A surviver of Cleveland art-rock, New York No-Wave and radio pop, Bertei’s solo may continue to be the thing she’s best known for, but the musician has seemingly leapt from one fascinating gig to the next, working as a personal assistant to Brian Eno, singing backup for Tears for Fears and Blondie and directing films for Playboy. Her next gig finds her embracing a number of past artistic passions, writing, directing and composing music for a web series about an all-female punk group and enamored with one member’s No-Wave surviving grandmother.


Episode 202: Ted Stearn


The latest Fuzz and Pluck (last year’s The Moolah Tree) begins with a rough visual — one I’m admittedly a bit hung up on during my conversation with Ted Stearn a few months ago. In it, Fuzz, the hapless teddy bear character, is unraveled until he’s little more than a long thread and a pair of eyeballs. I’d seen in before in an old issue of the Fantagraphics anthology Mome, and it had stuck with me ever since. Admittedly, it ultimately proves a dream sequence and one of the darker scene in what’s a fairly lighthearted fairy tale, but it’s a fairly good insight into Stearn’s sense of humor and visual sensibilities.
The Moolah Tree was seven years in the making, with the odd seen (like the aforementioned dream sequence) popping up here and there, while Stearn focused on his day job, working on big budget network animated shows like King of the Hill and Futurama. It’s a testament to seeing a project through and the power of the comics media to allow an artist to see every aspect of a creation through, from beginning to end.


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