Episode 358: Joe Biel

24Aug

Shortly after appearing on the podcast way back in 2015, Joe Biel sent me an email. Since the interview, he’d been diagnosed with autism (or “Asperger’s” at the time), a revelation that had already begun to have a profound effect on his life. Biel returned 30-odd episodes later to discuss the insight and impact. On a recent visit to New York City, the Portland-based publisher returned my apartment to discuss the intervening four years his life, which included the 2016 publication of Good Trouble. The book was published to mark Microcosm’s 20th anniversary, exploring the publisher’s history and Biel’s own life, up to and including his diagnosis.

Episode 357: Yuna

18Aug

In 2006, a 19-year-old Yuna auditioned for Malaysian reality singing show, One in a Million, ultimately making it into the top 40 prior to elimination. After finishing up law school, the she threw herself into her songwriting at a time when Myspace was still a musical gatekeeper.Discovering her music online, agents flew to Malaysia to meet the singer, eventually signing her to Fader. The label released her debut EP in 2011. A year later, the Pharrell-produced single “Live Your Life” appeared, but it was “Crush,” the 2016 single featuring Usher that made her an international star. Last month, her fourth record, Rouge, dropped on Verge Forecast/UMG, featuring a number of high profile collaborators, including rapper Tyler the Creator. Ahead of the album’s release, Yuna sat down with us to discuss her journey from bedroom recordings to pop stardom.

Episode 356: Peter Frampton

10Aug

In February, “Peter Frampton Finale—The Farewell Tour” was announced. Running through October, the tour would find the musician going on the road one final time. Of course, in the world of older rock musicians, the “farewell tour” has become a kind of running joke. For Frampton, however, an artist whose work has been inexorably linked to the live setting since Comes Alive made him a household name more than 40 years ago, the promise is very real. Four years ago, he was diagnosed with inclusion body myositis (IBM), a rare progressive muscle disorder that would eventually render him unable to play guitar. Since then, he has happily become a kind of unofficial spokesperson for the condition, using the tour to raise both money and awareness. Frampton joined us via phone to discuss living with the condition, struggles with fame and substances and how his former schoolmate the late-David Bowie helped rescue his musical career and self-worth.

Episode 355: Bonus - Michael Mwenso (of Mwenso and the Shakes)

7Aug

At 15, Michael Mwenso was on stage with James Brown. It took the Sierra Leonean teenager four years to convince the godfather of soul to let him up there, through a combination of raw talent and persistence. But once he did, he wowed the crowds and Brown alike. It was then that Mwenso got a taste for the stage and learned the dos and don’ts of management from one of the late-20th century’s great band leaders. Those lessons were applied first to his Wynton Marsalis-appointed role as a curator for Jazz at Lincoln Center and more recently as the frontman for Mwenso and the Shakes, whose debut album, Emergence, drops this month. Carrying three large shopping bags filled with stage costumes, Mwenso sat down to discuss his journey.

Episode 354: Mark Oliver Everett “E” (of Eels)

3Aug

Prior to The Deconstruction, Mark Oliver Everett took a break. Four years passed between albums. Honestly, it’s not too long for most musical acts pushing a quarter century, but The Eels have released records like clockwork, with a dozen studio albums currently under their belt. For Everett (that’s “E,” to you), the last few years have marked a new chapter. He got did some acting married, got divorced and at age 54 had a son. It was a lot, even for someone who’s lived through plenty. It’s clear seeing The Eels’ current iteration on-stage, however, that the musician has found new appreciation for the music on his return. Now 56, he’s very intent on putting on a show, as the group powers through its lengthy catalog, all while sporting matching pants. Ahead of a performance at New York’s Irving Plaza, he sat down to discuss his break, return and the highs and lows of the past 23 years.

Episode 353: Eli Valley

28Jul

In March, a comic by Eli Valley landed him on the radar of Meghan McCain. There was nothing extraordinaire about the piece from a cartoonist who has long wading into the divisive world of U.S.-Israeli relations, but the commentary about the American right’s relationship with the country caused The View cohost to lash out on Twitter. That, in term, put a relatively unknown cartoonist in the national spotlight. But in spite of the conversations it provoked, Valley explains that publicity doesn’t always equate to income. He’s quick to plug his recently opened Patreon account in hopes of making a living at his art. Valley’s work is part commentary, part personal catharsis, exorcising the demons of the most politically charged era of most of our lifetimes. In deals in politics and identity through a lens of grotesqueries inspired by humor cartoonists like Basil Wolverton. It doesn’t avert its gauze from the subject matter — a fact that makes for better work, but not always financial gain.

Episode 352: Neyla Pekarek

21Jul

On a day in late October 195, Kate Slaugherback singlehandedly killed 140 rattlesnakes to protect herself and her young son. When she ran out of ammunition, she grabbed a nearby sign to bludgeon the venomous reptiles. Legend has it, the sign read “No Hunting.” It’s clear why Neyla Pekarek found the ideal subject matter in Rattlesnake Kate. She also found something of a kindred spirit. Playing cello in one of the world’s biggest rock groups isn’t quite like exterminating rattlesnakes en masse, but her time with the Lumineers could be harrowing nonetheless. News of her exit from the Denver  in late 2-18 group was enough to warrant a press release noting that the parties had amicably parted ways, and Pekarek hit the ground running. Rattlesnake was released early this year, along with a theatrical live show betraying her broader musical intentions with the songs.

Episode 351: Keith Knight

12Jul

The K Chronicles has been an alternative weekly staple since the 90s. The strip, which mixes the personal with the political, has weathered the bumbling of George W. Bush, the hopefulness of Obama and the existential dread of Trump. All through it, cartoonist Keith Knight has balanced family with a multimedia career including comics, music (most notably the five-piece hip-hop group, the Marginal Prophets) and a push to adapt his work for television.The last bit, it seems, has become far closer to reality, courtesy of a deal with Hulu. Knight won’t discuss the project in depth at this early stage, beyond the admittedly catchy elevator pitch of “African-American Splendor.” During a break from tabling at MoCCA — and a protected wait for a $25 hamburger — Knight sat down to discuss the state of the newspaper strip, his move to North Carolina and the pitfalls of trying to find a public restroom in San Francisco.

Episode 350: (Bonus) Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball

7Jul

A veteran of the New Oreans slam poetry scene, Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s career only really caught  fire when she embraced her musical impulses. She became a member of collective stylized on the success of The Roots, backed by a handful of local musicians. But as members fell away to embrace family and other life obligations, Tank and a core group of Bangas held on. In 2017, the band won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, garnering the band national attention and putting them on the radar of instant fans like Chance the Rapper. Shortly after the release of the group’s sophomore album, Tank joined us to discuss her journey from IHOP waitressing to NPR, the creative process and what the future holds for the group.

Episode 349: Ben Lindbergh

6Jul

In 2017’s The Only Rule Is It Has to Work, Ben Lindbergh and co-author Sam Miller detailed the season they spent running an independent baseball team with strict adherence to sabermetrics, analytic-based analysis that has come to define the past decade of management. This year, Lindbergh and fellow baseball writer Travis Sawchik take on the majors with The MVP Machine. The recently released book details baseball management after Moneyball, as the war for statistical advantages has been replaced by teams working behind the scenes to improve players through new technologies and analysis. Fresh off the book’s release, Lindbergh (and his adorable dachshund Grumkin) joined us to discuss how the process differs from his day job(s) writing for The Ringer and cohosting the podcasts The Ringer MLB Show and the popular and Effectively Wild, a popular and long running show currently produced by Fangraphs.

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