Episode 068: Sean Nelson

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Harvey Danger was one of the last of the Buzz Bin bands, in those waning when major labels were still forces to be reckoned with and MTV rotation was all it took to cement a song’s status as a generation-defining hit. Fresh out of college, the band scored its one major hit with “Flagpole Sitta,” the second track on the band’s debut record, which, all told cost around $3,000 to record.

Through some combination of unpopular choices, one major flub on the part of some crew member for 120 minutes and poor choices from above, the band would never manage to recapture such success, in spite of, quite arguably, releasing two far stronger records before disbanding for good in 2009.

In the days since, Nelson’s seemingly tried his hands at everything, playing keyboards for indie darlings The Long Winters, taking on backup vocal duties for the likes of Nada Surf and Death Cab for Cutie, taking roles in a number of films and writing for Seattle’s alt-weekly, The Stranger.  Last summer, Nelson even returned to songwriting, releasing his first solo record, Make Good Choices for the tiny Seattle label Really Records.

Nelson and I met up while he was in New York to help a friend work on a musical, also using the opportunity to play an intimate show downstairs at Brooklyn’s Union Hall, along with his new wife Shenandoah Davis, who accompanied him on piano as he worked through solo songs and the occasional Harvey Danger number.

We spoke about gauging one’s own accomplishments in the wake of massive success, occupational diversification and how to take a backseat to someone else’s creative force.

@6 days ago with 2 notes

Episode 066 (Mini): Peter Diamandis

A short one this week because, well, Peter Diamandis is a busy guy. Recorded at a financial tech conference in Manhattan, we managed to get 15 minutes alone with the X Prize and Singularity University to discuss what he refers to as “the most extraordinaire time in human history” and the role he’s played in pushing rapidly advancing scientific and technological breakthroughs even further.

@2 weeks ago

Episode 064: Dan Kennedy

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Over its 17 year existence, The Moth has shaped the age-old art of storytelling into something uniquely its own, a style as instantly recognizable as any music style or movie genre. And like a great song or movie, there’s something in a perfectly executed Moth story that leaves the listener feeling as though they could never imitate such a perfect feat.

Of course, if the organization’s show runners are to be believed, just about anyone with a story and the willingness to be coached by a few professionals can do precisely that. And that, really, is one of The Moth’s greatest attributes: the ability to balance populism with transcendence. In some sense, the podcast’s host Dan Kennedy embodies exactly that, at least the way he tells the story: jobless, furnitureless, recently dumped and newly sober, stumbling into a storytelling night so many years ago.

Until I heard perform the story of a magazine-assigned trip to Indonesia to search for an elusive nine-foot reticulated python on the Moth’s weekly podcast a couple of months back, I knew little about the guy beyond what he sounds like attempt to convince a large internet audience to redeem an Audible coupon code. Turns out, just as one would hope from the host of The Moth’s weekly podcast, Kennedy is a man brimming with stories — and over the years, he’s gotten pretty good at telling them.

In fact, he’s got a few books to his name. There’s Rock On, which revisits the 18 months he spent working marketing for Atlantic Records and Loser Goes First, a memoir of Kennedy’s uncanny knack for stumbling into interesting situations — not unlike the one that brought him to the Moth in the first place.

But first, a conversation about Roger Daltrey’s mic technique.

@1 month ago

Episode 062: Lizz Winstead

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“It’s not usually this crazy,” Lizz Winstead apologizes, greeting me at the door of her Brooklyn apartment alongside two overstimulated dogs. Inside, a small staff helping prepare Lady Parts Justice for its upcoming launch. The site is the latest in a long line of projects that straddle the sometimes treacherous line between comedy and politics.

Winstead’s impressive CV includes co-founding both The Daily Show and the since-departed left-wing radio station Air America, on which she co-hosted a program with Chuck D. and then relatively unknown politics wonk named Rachel Maddow.

In the wake of a series of standup shows throughout the midwest, the comedian opted to focus her political efforts on a primary political cause — on that has been at the forefront of a number of recent news cycles due primarily to unfortunate turns of events.

Built with the help of a recent Indiegogo campaign, Lady Parts Justice aims to sign light on the struggles of reproductive rights through a series of well-produced, star-studded comedy videos and some cold, hard facts. It’s an issue that’s been at the front of Winstead’s activism since the product of a conservative midwestern upbringing found herself at an abortion clinic at age 17, an experience she writes about at length in her 2012 essay collection, Lizz Free for Die.

We grabbed a couple of chairs coated in dog fur to discuss the cross section of politics and comedy and how some funny YouTube videos might some day effect change.

@1 month ago

Episode 060: James Kochalka

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It’s catch up time with cartoonist/musician/general purpose raconteur James Kochalka. It’s been a few years since the both of us we’re in the same room at the same time — even one the size of New York City’s 69th Regiment Armory — so there’s plenty to discuss with the Johnny Boo author.

In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the last time I saw the guy was immortalized in this American Elf strip.

Seated on a pair of folding chairs just outside the army recruiting office during the weekend of the MoCCA alternative comics, start things off by discussing why Kochalka really doesn’t leave the house all that much these days.

Things immediately take an unexpected turn to a conversation about his childrens’ shared love of Archie’s Sonic the Hedgehog comic, which is not only still a going concern in 2014, which the cartoonist contends is “one of the most complicated works of literature ever created,” so take that Leo Tolstoy.

Also on the list of topics: the star-studded Superf*ckers animated web series, the ups and downs of working on kids comics and we get a peek into the epic masterpiece that is his unrealized film script. Seriously, let’s make a Kickstarter and get that thing made.

@2 months ago with 1 note

Episode 067: Dave Wakeling

There’s always been some degree of confusion over what, precisely, constitutes The Beat. Here in the States, the group has long added the word “English” to its name, so as to avoid confusion with the contemporary Paul Collins’ power pop project. In recent decades, things have only gotten trickier as the band’s two frontmen have pieced together their own versions of the group.

If you go see The Beat in its native UK, it will likely be the project led by toaster Ranking Roger and his similarly named progeny. Here in the US, lead singer Dave Wakeling retains the name, heading up a revue of the band’s greatest hits, with a few choice cuts from his followup band General Public mixed in for good measure.

It’s a strange thing, of course, to hit the road playing decades old songs without the aid of any original members, but Wakeling, to his credit, puts on a tremendous show each night for packed houses, middle aged women inviting themselves on-stage as the opening notes of “Tenderness” ring out during the encore.

Of course, that he’s still able to tour on songs like “Save it For Later” and “Mirror in the Bathroom” is a testament to some quality in their DNA that has made the music outlive subsequent generations of ska bands, who have come and gone like so many porkpie hats.

Wakeling and I sat down in the back of the band’s tour bus to discuss longevity, life, Margaret Thatcher and what keeps bringing him back to the songs that made him famous.

@1 week ago

Episode 065: Julie Klausner

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It’s a hot one out there today. Come, have a seat on the couch in Julie Klausner’s fancy Manhattan apartment, while we discuss podcasting and writing for television series — and I spend way too much time explaining how I’ve just never been into musical theater. Oh, don’t mind the cat hair. You took your Claritin today, right?

I’d attempted to sit down with the comedian for some time — at least two podcasts ago. Not podcast episodes, mind you, entire podcast series. Every time I’d asked, she was either living on the opposite coast in a TV show writer’s room or otherwise knee-deep in some other project. On the upside, however, there’s plenty to talk about.

When we sat down, Klausner had just finished filming a TV pilot with Billy Eichner, the Amy Poehler-produced Difficult People about two struggling New York comedians. It’s not autobiography, of course — Klausner seems to be doing just fine. And besides, when she’s searching for a more direct method of venting, she’s always got her weekly podcast How Was Your Week to turn to.

Other topics discussed herein include: David Rakoff, my unexpected turn as a Mike Love apologist, the downside of bearing your soul and whether or not Ben Folds is this generation’s Billy Joel.

@3 weeks ago with 1 note

Episode 063: Peter Kuper

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Every time I speak to Peter Kuper, the conversation invariably turns to New York — or, as is often the case, begins there. It’s my own fault. I’ve got this insatiable need to ask fellow residents, artists in particular, what keeps them in the city’s orbit. Kuper is a particularly interesting case study, having left the city — and country — in 2006, for a life in Mexico.

It was, as one might, expect, a multifaceted decision to move his entire family down to Oaxaca, in part an attempt to expose his daughter to another language and culture — and certainly leaving the country at the height of George W. Bush’s second term was seen as a net positive for the oft political cartoonist. A few years later, the Kupers found themselves back in New York, but the experience generated, amongst other things, the lovely Diario De Oaxaca, a sketchbook diary chronicling Kuper’s time in Mexico, immersed himself in the area’s stunning counter-cultural murals.

More recently, Kuper returned to the book’s publisher, PM Press, in hopes of helping to anthologize World War 3 Illustrated, the progressive comics anthology he co-founded with fellow New York cartoonist, Seth Tobocman. The process was a touch more complicated, and when we sat down to speak at the MoCCA Arts Festival back in April, the duo had recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Even outside the long-running anthology, Kuper’s career has long been both fascinating and diverse, from multiple Kafka adaptations and his 2007 semi-autobiographical Stop Forgetting To Remember to an on-going stint as Mad Magazine’s Spy Versus Spy artist. So, you know, plenty to talk about. 

@1 month ago

Episode 061: Richard Hell

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When we sat down in the East Village tenement apartment Hell has occupied since 1975, the conversation turned turned to writing. His aforementioned memoir pretty well covers the years beginning with his birth up through the end of his music career, and as Hell made pretty clear early on in our conversation, he’s not particularly found of being asked the same question twice.

Between last year’s I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp and all that goes on between the iconic red and white covers of Please Kill Me, there’s seemingly little about Richard Hell’s relatively short music making career that hasn’t been written.

Save for an outing with members of Sonic Youth under the banner Dim Stars, the man who played such an instrumental role in defining the aesthetics and voice of New York City punk had largely retired from the music game by the mid-80s.


It’s a tough proposition when speaking to an artist who’s been in and out of the public eye since the mid-70s, and it’s no doubt at least part of the reason Hell seemed to balk at my initial interview request. With his latest book having just been released in paperback, however, Hell agreed to sit down and discuss his career as a writer, from his early days in poetry to the novels Go Now and Godlike and his 2013 autobiography.

@1 month ago with 1 note

Episode 059: Scott Aukerman (Again)

Where does one go after the fake Zach Galifianakis talk show they produce books the leader of the free world? If you’re Scott Aukerman, you sit down on a gold-painted couch in the lobby of a swanky New York hotel to discuss such things with a Boing Boing podcast.

From Between Two Ferns, we move on to the other fake talk show in Aukerman’s life, Comedy Bang! Bang!, which recently kicked off an excellent third season on IFC. We discuss how the ubiquitous format manages to offer the perfect springboard for cutting-edge comedy. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an RiYL Scott Aukerman interview if we didn’t discussing at least one of the projects that never made it.

This time out, it’s Privates, an NBC pilot about a family of detectives co-written with fellow Mr. Show alum B.J. Porter. As always, Aukerman imparts some life lessons — namely what to do when something you’ve poured your heart and soul into fails to break through, including some sage wisdom passed down to him by Louis CK.

@2 months ago with 1 note