Episode 480: Azure Ray

17Sep

The success of Azure Ray’s self-titled debut seemingly took everyone by surprise — not least the band itself. Following the breakup of their group Little Red Rocket, longtime friends Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink reconvened to pen a set of songs aimed at coping with the recent death of Taylor’s boyfriend. Heartfelt and emotional, the sad, dreamy songs would form the foundation for a duo now celebrating its 20th year. There have been hiatuses over the years, finding the musicians focusing on solo and side projects. After releasing three albums in three years, seven would pass between their third and fourth LP. It would be another 11 until Azure Ray released album number five, Remedy, in 2021. But the pair have remained close friends throughout and another album has almost always seemed like an inevitability — even if it takes a move across the country and a pandemic. 

Episode 479:Mary Roach

10Sep

Every time I speak to Mary Roach, I invariably get hung up on some minor detail — some story or person she’s teased out to unlock a fascinating new world. This time out, it’s the dried tiger penis lady, and really, how could it be anything else? The writer has a world class knack for finding fascinating tales in edges of the scientific world, from the dead bodies of Stiff to the space travel of Packing for Mars. With Fuzz, Roach finds herself exploring the intersection between the natural world and human law, from burglarizing bears to killer trees — and, naturally, dried tiger penis.  Roach joins us once again to discuss the methods of her pop-science madness. 

Episode 478: Ben Snakepit

7Sep

For 20 years, Ben Snakepit has been building a magnum opus. Day in, day out, the musician-turned-cartoonist draws another daily strip recounting a scene from his life. It’s rare bit of constancy in a chaotic world. Of course, as with everything else, SnakePit does the strip his way. Bucking the ubiquitous world of webcomics, the artist releases the strips as a collection every three years, allowing for a kind of binging of three years of his life in a single sitting. For the past 17 years, Snakepit has also drawn a comic for the Razorcake fanzine, soon to be collected as the straightforwardly-name, One Hundred Columns for Razorcake. Though, while he finally plugged the plug on that work, he plans to continue drawing Snake Pit until the bitter end. 

Episode 477: Shirley Manson (of Garbage)

3Sep

It’s been a big couple of years for Shirley Manson — not something every artist can say, as a global pandemic stretches into its second year. Nor, is it something many bands can say staring down their third decade of existence. Our call is scheduled early — another rarity in this world. When we connect, the musician explains that’s she set to go exploring on a rare off day for Garbage’s tour with fellow alternative icon, Alanis Morissette. In June, the band released its well-received seventh LP, No Gods No Masters, which found Manson’s lyrics taking no prisoners in a world that too often appears to be coming apart at the seams. Late last month, the singer also kicked off a new season of her critically acclaimed interview podcast, Jump, which features frank conversations with artists like Patti Smith and David Byrne. 

 

Episode 476: Shary Flenniken

27Aug

More than 30 years after Trots and Bonnie ended its decades-long run in National Lampoon, the strip finally gets a worthy collection. Shary Flenniken has moved on from the work in more ways that one, but the story of a teenage girl and her talking dog still feels as vibrant as ever. While she might be the last to admit it, Flenniken’s life has been every bit as fascinating as the work she’s created, as a member of the Air Pirates comics collective in the early 70s, editor at Lampoon at the end of the decade and a long-time illustrator and cartoonist across a wide range of titles. Flenniken speaks fondly about her time working at a hardware store and frankly about the time she worked in end-of-life care. 

Episode 475: Ben Chasny (of Six Organs Of Admittance)

20Aug

When the interview suggested he might be a spiritual person, Ben Chasny blanched, explaining, “I'm actually a total nihilist.”Sixteen years later, he confesses that the answer was contrarian to a fault. It’s easy to arrive at the conclusion, listening to a lengthy back catalogue that finds him releasing the 20th album under the Six Organs of Admittance moniker. But he’s also very much someone who refuses to be pigeon-holed, as the industry was clearly attempting to do at the time, amid the burgeoning freak folk scene. But Chasny and Six Organs continue to break new ground, drawing on a wide range of influences, from the industrial bands of his youth to the hexadic card system he developed for composing music. 

Episode 474: Keiler Roberts

13Aug

My Begging Chart finds Keiler Roberts exploring the in between moments. She’s content to mind the little things that would not only find their way on the cutting room floor of most memoir, but might otherwise be forgotten by the end of the day. It’s not for lack of material. Conditions like bipolar disorder and multiple sclerosis can loom large in her life, as they would anyones, but the cartoonist possesses a laser focus for finding hilarity in the mundane. It’s a gift that makes so much of her work wildly relatable. Kicking off her virtual book tour, Roberts joins us to discuss untangling life from internal conflict, letting go of old work and the downside of nostalgia. 

Episode 473: Laura Stevenson

10Aug

When it comes time to record, Laura Stevenson is honest to a fault. 2019’s The Big Freeze may well have been her most personal record to date, but the album has nothing on her recently released self-titled followup. Plenty had happened in the intervening years — some things she’s happier to speak about than others. Stevenson is clearly protective of the people around her, but when it comes to her own life, she’s much more of an open book. Born just as the pandemic was beginning to shut down businesses in the States, her daughter wakes up from an afternoon nap about halfway into our conversation. The difficult timing was, perhaps, fortuitous, stuck at home with a young child at a time when touring was an impossibility. With a new album in the world, touring is a possibility once again, but Stevenson is more than happy to take things one day at a time. 

Episode 472: Danny Elfman

6Aug

Like many of us, Danny Elfman had big plans for 2020. For the first time in forever, the musician paused many of his perennial obligations, clearing all film scoring jobs from his calendar. The new year would be all about touring. And then the once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic hit. Relocating his family away from their longtime home of Los Angeles, Elfman buckled down and got to work on something new. Big Mess is, at once, something familiar and entirely new. His second record and first studio album since the waning days of Oingo Boingo, the LP finds him returning to guitar-based composition. There are notes of his beloved band, including a reworking of the song “Insects,” but unique time signatures and dives into the avant-garde find the musician exploring new sonic realms.

Episode 471: Mike Doughty

30Jul

The way Mike Doughty tells it, it’s a bit of a minor miracle Soul Coughing lasted for eight years. It was long enough, however, to generate three LPs, a handful of alternative rock radio hits and enough stories to fill a few memoirs. Attempts to reunite have, predictably, fallen short, but Doughty has carved a path as an extremely prolific singer songwriter, culminating in last year’s Ghost of Vroom 2 EP. A collaboration with Andrew "Scrap" Livingston produced by Beastie Boy mainstay Mario Caldato Jr., the project finds the duo excited exploring new shades of the "deep slacker jazz” pioneered by his long bygone band. Doughty returns to the show to discuss the new project, his most recent memoir and the pandemic year. 

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