Episode 232: Phoebe Bridgers

11Sep

“Right now, I’m in an unchecked creative zone,” Phoebe Bridgers says with a laugh. It’s a sort of cautious half joke, but one that describes her current songwriter state quite well. Our conversation was record a couple of months before the release of her debut LP Stranger in the Alps.  The buzz has already kicked off from high profile outlets like NPR and Paste, but it doesn’t yet belong the world. So the 22-year-old is taking full advantage of the time ahead of touring to work on record number two, knowing full well from seasoned mentors like Ryan Adams that things are about to get really real for a while. Bridgers takes it all in stride, from the surprise early excitement to opening shows for the likes of indie rock legends like Bright Eyes and War on Drugs to playing Willie Nelson's strange little ghost town in Luck, Texas. The musician is still in awe of it all and eager to take it all in, even as she pens songs like a veteran who’s been through this rodeo before.

 

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Episode 231: Ted Leo

4Sep

Ted Leo balks slightly at the notion that The Hanged Man is a more personal record than previous efforts. He chalks much of the idea up to the media surrounding the self-released record, and his particular candidness in recent interviews. But Leo’s done a lot of living in the seven years since the release of The Brutalist Bricks, and many of those stories manifest themselves in very real and raw ways on his new record. Since 2010, the musician has left New York City for more spacious digs in Rhode Island, found a new songwriting partner in Aimee Mann and grappled with some personal tragedy. The record is also the first in some time to bear only Leo's name, putting his long time band the Pharmacists on temporary hiatus and holing up in a newly built home studio. The new album also finds Leo without a label, opting instead to fund the record through a Kickstarter campaign. But while all of this sounds like the making of a four-track bedroom album, The Hanged Man is anything but. It’s one of his most luscious and fully realized records to date. Ahead of the album’s official release and his subsequent tour, we sat down in my Queens apartment to discuss the changes in Leo's life over the past several years and how a lifetime of adhering to a DIY ethos helped him prepare for his new album.

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Episode 230: Greg Kotis

27Aug

The building across the street was on fire the night we sat down to talk. The entire floor smelled of smoke and if you looked out the window, you might have thought the world was coming to an end. It's probably as good a backdrop as any for a interview that quickly shifts into an impending sense of gloom during this age of Trump. Honestly, I can’t remember what was in the news that week, but I’m sure it was plenty bad. Kotis has a knack for timing. His best known work, the dystopian satire Urinetown: The Musical opened on Broadway September 13th, 2001. Sure, everyone in New York has a 9/11 story, but his seemed strangely appropriate given the subject matter.  As Kotis tells it, that timing sometimes works to his advantage, as the musical was something of a Hail Mary pass for himself and Mark Hollmann, one final shot living the life of a playwright before the realities of adulthood really settled in. Kotis discusses his early days in New York, as a writer turned location scout, and the importance of satire even when it seems that all is lost.

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Episode 229: Katie Skelly

19Aug

For Katie Skelly, comics have always been something of side hustle — something she’s never expected or even wanted as a full-time career. During the days, she works at a beloved New York City film house, a gig that gives her front row access to some of cinema’s most impactful work. The influence has clearly bled into her comics work, perfectly exemplified in her new work,  My Pretty Vampire, which draws heavily upon the sexy/surrealist horror aesthetic of 70s films of Jean Rollin. Prior to this, Skelly sought a career in fine art, working as a docent at a gallery in the city. She ultimately abandoned that path when it became clear that, even after additional schooling, she’d be hard pressed to earn much more than a career cartoonist — which is saying a lot. Over the years, however, she’s found outlets for her art criticism, from her (now on hiatus) podcast Trash Twins, along with frequent reviews in places like The Comics Journal. All the while, she’s continued her own work in earnest, including the upcoming Patreon-supported work, Summer of Felines.

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Episode 228: Frankie Rose

12Aug

When Frankie Rose began work on Cage Tropical, she was living in Los Angeles, employed as a caterer — the struggling actor, Party Down kind. Not exactly the triumphant rock start victory lap of the artist who released one of of the best LPs of the best half-decade. But, then, these things rarely work out as planned. But the former Vivian Girls/Dum Dum Girls/Crystal Stilts managed to pull things together. Her new record ranks among her best, a testament to putting one’s head down and focusing on art in the face of uncertainty. It’s big and sprawling and personal, all at once, juxtaposing the her ups and downs, as exemplified on the second single, Red Museum, an existential sort of love song. Rose sat down in the lead up to Cage Tropical’s release to discuss the journey that led to the new LP and how she’s since resigned herself to the fate of being a musician for as long as she can sing into a microphone.

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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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