“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.
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.
When I arrive backstage at Le Poisson Rouge green room, Charles Watson is digging into a pre-set dinner, with Rebecca Taylor seated in the back on the phone with another interview. He’s asking her about Brexit — seeking advice, really, a mere day or so after our own shattering electoral upset. The duo flew in on election day, the whole thing feels like an unwelcome bit of deja vu — but they’re happy to help us through it nonetheless.Taylor, for one, has never shied away from the intimate in her own work, even as Watson’s contributions to Slow Club tend toward the fantastic.Their opposite approaches to music and life have ultimately proved one of the group’s greatest strengths, with two strong and divergent approaches coupling nicely on record, including last year’s fittingly bluntly titled, One Day All of This Won't Matter Anymore, that finds their sound stretching out and mellowing slightly (in tone, if not content) from the pop sensibilities that have defined previous efforts.
Their distinct but complimentary personalities are on full display during a deep but light hearted backstage conversation that finds Taylor experiencing the wonders of American cold medicine for the first time.
It was important to me that we have a special guest for episode 100. They Might Be Giants fitted the job perfectly, a band that played an incredibly important role in the early development of my musical tastes, as strange and idiosyncratic as they might ultimately become. With episode 200, the camera gets pulled make even further, to a man and a magazine that, for better or worse, let an indelible mark on my impressionable young mind, as they have for generations before and since. Weeks before I sat down to record this interview in Al Jaffee’s amazing Manhattan studio, upcoming guest Kid Congo Powers made reference to a club “looking like a scene out of Mad Magazine.” I knew what he meant immediately. The strange cross section of the human experience filtered through the lens of the Usual Gang of Idiots. And at their center is Jaffee. The cartoonist is now 95 (“closer to 96,” as he handily points out during the interview), with his signature fold-in having appeared in virtual every issue between 1964 and 2008, along with his other mainstays like "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” The longest working cartoonist in history kindly agreed to sit down for wide ranging interview about life, death, cartooning and the importance of a steady gig. It’s one my absolute highlights of doing the show and great way to spend episode 200.
Mari Naomi sat down for an interview a matter of days follow the election, a fact that unavoidably colored the conversation. It’s pretty clear listening back almost two months later that we were only beginning to process our thoughts at the time — not that most of us have made all that much progress in the meantime. For a cartoonist whose work deals so often with issues of cultural and sexuality identity, there were a number a of topics we likely would have broached over the course of our 50 minute long conversation even if the election had gone a different route entirely. But all of the recent goings on do have a way of bringing such concerns into sharp relief. As such, it’s a sometimes depressing, sometimes funny and always enlightening conversation with the cartoonist, who says with a laugh, “The worst part was that I couldn’t even draw a comic about it,” when referring to a recent accident that resulted in her breaking both of her hands. Hopefully it’s the sort of combination of darkness and light we can all use as we cast aside the darkness of a recently ended year and look toward the potential for hope in the months to come.
Dame Darcy’s got a great comics show gimmick. While cartoonists look on sad-eyed as show goers flip through their work and move on, the artist offers up tarot readings through her own custom deck, giving curious parties insight into their future and perhaps selling some books in the process. She’s engaged and curious, and even if she didn’t manage to move any books at Comics Arts Brooklyn, she clearly would have enjoyed the experience nonetheless — a unfortunately uncommon trait in the often introverted world of comics artists. But this work is only one aspect of her multi-faceted career. Darcy has lived many lives, both figuratively and, to hear her tell it, literally. This time around, she’s been an activist, a model, a designer, a screenwriter and a sailor, all the while producing her underground indie comics series Meat Cake for more than 20 years. These days, she makes her home in Savannah, George, the aesthetic embodiment of her work and the cultural opposite of New York City and Los Angeles, where she made her home for some time. In this wide ranging interview, we discuss witchcraft, mermaids, 9/11 and the importance of finding fellow weirdos.
There’s no real podcasting precedent for Welcome to Night Vale. In the decade or so since I started podcasting, I’ve never seen a phenomenon like it. The show seemingly came out of nowhere and shot to the top of the iTunes chart with loyal fanbase built up around Tumblr communities, creating fan art and fiction and dressing up as their favorite characters whenever the show rolls through town. The brainchild of writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, the show centers on the goings on of a small desert town somewhere in the southwest, an impossible place where occult creatures are commonplace and conspiracies are the law of the land. Baldwin, a Neo-Futurist actor based in New York, portrays Cecil Palmer, the host, main character and moral center of the program, imbuing the character and show with a hypnotic voice and elements of his real life personality that have become a rallying point for so much of the show’s communal nature. In honor of Night Vale’s 100th episode, we sat down with Baldwin to discuss the show’s origin, his acting history and the recent announcement that he is HIV positive.
We struggle to find a decent spot to set up shop on the New York Comic Con show floor — finally opting to do the whole thing standing, leaned up against the reception desk at the Dark Horse booth. Baker is fresh off a signing with Fifth Beatle collaborator (and past guest) Vivek Tiwary. The conversation quickly turns to the business — the hustle of comics, something that’s seemingly always at the front of the cartoonist’s mind. After all, Baker has managed to remain staunchly independent after decades in the business, even after countless industry awards and successful stints on books like Plastic Man and Deadpool. And fittingly, it’s Baker’s own creations that have been his most lauded, from his 1990 breakthrough, Why I Hate Saturn to his family strip The Bakers and 2005’s Nat Turner, a retelling of the 1831 slave rebellion produced at time when big publishers wouldn’t touch the story with a ten foot pole. In the midst of the busiest day of one of the county’s biggest comic shows, Baker explains how he’s managed to maintain his independence for two and a half decades.
Neutral Milk Hotel two albums surely cast a long shadow on all involved. Multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster has never shied away from his role in the band — both reuniting with the group and supporting frontman Jeff Mangum in recent years — but all the while the musician has been building a singular body of work all his own, both as a solo artist and through his on-going project, the Music Tapes.For anyone who’s seen the latter in a live setting, it’s clear that Koster is, above all, a storyteller. The band act features a seven-foot-tall metronome and a talking tube television. It’s a living circus built around strange tales and Koster’s songs — very much a product of the Elephant 6 Collective from which it sprung, while remaining uniquely his own. When it was first announced that Koster was working on a podcast with the team behind Welcome to Nightvale, it was clearly serendipity. Three episodes in, podcasting has proven the perfect medium for the musician’s world building, manifesting itself as a sort of classic radio drama beamed from the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s idiosyncratic and fascinating, a perfect encapsulation of what Koster does best. And yes, he wore the hat.
Bobby Rush is a storyteller. At 83, he’s no doubt told many of his best ones hundreds if not thousands of times, but as the consummate perform, he spins each one as it were the first time – even something as old and simple as the tale of how the son of a pastor became one of the foremost bluesmen of his generation. And while the musician has never taken himself too seriously, from his 1971 gold record, “Chicken Heads" (“I love that gal / I love them chicken heads too”) to this year’s Porcupine Meat (“Too fat to eat / Too lean to throw away.”) – but these past few years have given the musician opportunity to reflect on the importance of the blues and his role in the genre. Last year, his friend B.B. King passed on, and passed the torch in the process, playing some of his final shows with Rush and bestowing upon the musician the ‘B.B. King Entertainer of the Year’ award. And Rush is keenly aware of his place as the one of the last of a breed, still playing performing out with the energy of a man a third his age. On a stop over in New York, Rush sat down to discuss his six decade long career, the importance of the blues and, of course, how he got a song called “Chicken Heads” on the radio in 1971.