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Author: Brian Heater

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Get dropped in the middle of a long form conversation with musicians, cartoonists, writers and other creative types.
408 Episodes
Forty years after forming in New York’s late-70s punk scene, the Bush Tetras are still going strong. 2018 saw the release of the Take the Fall EP, the product of a band content to release music for the pure love of it. There were rocky times, of course. By 1983, the band saw some key membership turnover, ultimately dissolving that same year. There was a short-lived stint in the 90s, but it’s this latest reunion — spurred in 2005 by increased interest in the post-punk genre — that marks the band’s longest stretch. Vocalist Cynthia Sley joins us to discuss the band’s early years, its legacy and the drive to keep making music.
There’s a great video from early last year. Taken onstage at the End of the Road Festival, Ezra Furman is tasked with interviewing John Cale. You get pretty much what you’d expect from the Velvet Underground founder — soft spoken, deliberately thoughtful answers. Furman, clearly a massive fan, is far more excitable. Above all, they’re searching for a connection with the legendary musician on topics of creativity and songwriting. It’s a both endearing and insightful view of a musician like Furman, who appears to prefer to retain some mystery around their own process. And certainly there’s a strong argument to be made for letting the music speak for itself. Recent releases like Twelve Nudes and Transangelic Exodus have become of some of the most celebrated indie rock releases of the past decade. On a recent trip to Boston, Furman joined us for a thoughtful discussion about the personal, the professional, gender, religion and the ups and downs of the creative process.
The last time Ryan Walsh appeared on the show was during another trip I took to Boston. At the time, he spoke of his upcoming book about Van Morrison. What, admittedly, sounded like a fairly niche examination of the musician’s time recording a legendary album became one of the year’s most acclaimed music books. Astral Weeks finds Walsh playing detective, seeking to answer some longstanding questions, while exploring the largely unremarked upon Boston psychedelic scene of the time. Last year Walsh’s band Hallelujah the Hills released I’m You. The album finds the musician writing and singing his most straightforward — and arguably best — set of songs in its decade-plus existence.
Few can rival the indie rock pedigree of Tanya Donelly. At the age of 15, she cofounded 4AD stalwarts Throwing Muses with best-friend-turned-step-sister Kristin Hersh. Seven years later, she joined forces with Kim Deal on her then-side project, The Breeders. But it was the formation of Belly the following year that really allowed Donelly to shine as both a front woman and songwriter, scoring one of the era’s most memorable singles, “Feed the Tree” in 1993. After a less than amicable breakup in the mid-90s, the musician began a decades-spanning solo career, culminating in the five column “Swan Song Series” in 2013-2014. In recent years, Donelly has found a second career, working as a postpartum doula for new parents, even as the siren call of music has beckoned to her yet again through recent projects, including Belly’s 2016 reunion. 
Adapted from a podcast of the same name, Ways of Hearing explored the countless knock-on effects that play out in both production and listen when music shifts from analog to digital. The book explores similar notions as Damon Krukowski’s previous work, 2017’s The New Analog — subjects that are near and dear to him as a member of the iconic groups, Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi. In addition to the works he has published through the  New Press and MIT Press, Krukowski is also cofounder of independent publishing house Exact Change, along with partner, Naomi Yang. Krukowski joined us to discuss how technology has changed the way we play and consume music.
As a journeyman musician, Kyle Forester’s resume reads like a who’s who of indie bands from the past decade and a half. Most notably, the multi-instrumentalist has spent time as a member of Crystal Stilts, Woods and Elephant 6 mainstays, The Ladybug transistor. More recently, he played on the David Berman’s Purple Mountains LP. In 2016, Forester released his self-tiled debut solo record, following it up with Hearts In Gardens earlier this year. Forester joins us to discuss life as touring indie musician, scoring films and why he’s still hopeful about the future, in spite of it all.  
In 2018, Kat Edmonson declared herself an “Old Fashioned Gal,” with an LP and track of the same name. The Brooklyn based musician sings and writes songs steeped in pop-jazz stylings of another era. But her work aims deeper than simple nostalgia. This year brought followup album, Dreamers Do, a mix of Disney covers and originals. “Too Late to Dream” finds Edmonson pondering her approach to the world during a sleepless night, a notion that gave rise to what amounts to a loose concept album. The singer joins us to discuss jazz singing in 2020, going through the major label ringer and the major label wringer and the connection between insomnia and the creative process.
Episode 403: Jen Shyu

Episode 403: Jen Shyu


There’s a video shot in 1991 of a 13-year-old Jen Shyu playing the hell of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on grand piano backdropped by the Peoria Symphony Orchestra. A lifelong musician who studied theater and opera at Stanford and has performed at  Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Shyu’s current work veers into the experimental and avant-garde, all while paying homage to a wide range of musical traditions, including Taiwan an East Timor.Often highly theatrical, her work utilizes a wide range of languages (she speaks ten) and instruments, including piano, violin, the two-string Taiwanense moon lute and the Chinese er hu, among others. Shyu closed out last year with the performance of her show “Zero Grasses,” a part of John Zorn's on-going Commissioning series in New York.
A Change of Diet finds Elliott Moss living in the wake of a decade-long relationship. The singer writer grapples with the all of the major and unexpected knock-on effects of such a life change. It’s his most deeply personal record, intertwining such sentiments with a dense electronic soundtrack over the course of its 11 tracks, marrying the brutally honest with the willfully opaque. Like much of the rest of his work, the musician record the album largely solo, constructing its pieces with an arsenal of multi-instrumental prowess. On a recent visit to the city, Moss discussed the process of musical catharsis and transforming the personal into a public display.
Well before her debut album We Need to Talk arrived in April 2019, Tayla Parx had already established herself as a music force. As a songwriter, she’d penned tracks for some of the biggest names in the business,fFrom Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande, to K-Pop bands like BTS. A decade prior, Parx made her film debut, in the role of Little Inez in the adaptation of the stage music. At the ripe old of age of 26, the music is ready to take on the world, courtesy of a prolific writing career, tireless work ethic and a thoroughly choreographed stage show. We sat down with Parx in a Manhattan rehearsal space for broadway performers — a perfect temporary home for the Los Angeles musician.
It was shaping up to be a banner year for Wire. When we sat down in the Musical Hall of Williamsburg green room, the band was in the process of adding a west coast leg to their tour in support of the band’s terrific new record, Hive Mind. The band also used the opportunity to announce 10:20, a second new LP released in conjunction with Record Store Day. The album finds the band taking a very Wire-esque approach to revisiting old material, revamping sketches and long abandoned work from earlier decades. There are no half-measures with Wire — and there has very rarely been a misstep. It’s an absolutely remarkable track record for a 44 year old band that took nothing less than a global pandemic to monetarily slowdown. Frontman Colin Newman joins us to discuss how the band has managed to stay ahead of the curve so many decades into its career and describe the touring life of rockstars who are now pushing 70. Episode 400 also features an introduction from friend of the show, The Moth’s Dan Kennedy.  
At 19, Kelli Dunham was living in Haiti in the midst of a Civil War. From there, it was a fairly straightforward path to becoming a nun — albeit one that also required a conversion to Catholicism. These days, Dunham lives in New York City as a genderqueer nurse and standup comedian. It’s a natural combination for an artists who happily draws the line between comedy and tragedy, drawing on material from her own life for both. Experience as a hospice nurse and the death of two partners who died of cancer have left her uniquely positioned to grapple with the darkest subject matter in her comedy routines. What’s more, she manages it all with an unwavering sense of positivity, no better exemplified than in the track “Deep Biological Optimism” from her new standup album, Not the Gym Teacher.
When I first met Emily Panic, she was a touring musician. Her work as a bass player and backup singer brought tours with Foxygen, Run the Jewels, Sleigh Bells and Miike Snow. There was even a spot performing vocals on a Bryan Ferry album. In recent years she’s shifted into comedy — arguably an even harder racket than the life of a professional musician. But her sketch work has landed her a hosting gig for Pitchfork and appearances on Funny or Die and Netflix. She also cohosts the paranormal comedy podcast, Ghosts to Show You. Panic joined us to discuss transitioning career focuses, the ups and downs of comedy and a podcasting run-in with a pig ghost.
The grandson of an opera singer, Michael Blume took to music at an early age, first learning the piano and trumpet and ultimately touring with an a cappella group while attending Yale. Yes, the it was the Whiffenpoofs. But the singer found his true voice after moving away from academia. Supporting himself in New York first through SAT tutoring and later wedding gigs, Blume has since become and idiosyncratic front man, blending genres and peppering in performance art. To mark the release of his latest track, In Between, Blume joined us to discuss queer identity in music and simple acts of transgression in the age of Trump.
A fixture in the New York indie comics scene for some years, Colleen AF Venable has made a name for herself designing covers for publishers like First Second. An accomplished author in her own right, Venable has released a number of children’s and YA titles, including Mervin the Sloth and the Guinea Pig series. Most recently, her young adult comic, Kiss Number 8, earned her and artist Ellen T. Crenshaw a National Book Award nomination. Venable joins us to the discuss the genesis of the book, which deals with a range of deeply personal issues, from LGBTQ identities to Catholic school.
At 19, Jamie Drake was sure that she was too told to break into the music business. Nearly two decades later, she officially has, with the arrival of Everything’s Fine. There was music in the meantime, of course, but the singer-songwriter is confident that she finally found her voice of what’s been deemed her debut LP. And indeed, she’s in fine form, as both writer and musician. On a trip to New York, the Los Angeles-based musician sat down to discuss the road that brought her the debut, and how she learned to stop worry and love simply love the music.
In the music world, everyone sounds like someone — except Mary Halvorson. All musical touchstones feel like a stretch when attempting to describe the work of the New York-based musician. Avant-garde or free jazz works to the extent that either actually describe a musical style. There’s rock in there, certainly, and I’ve even seen the term “experimental flamenco” bandied about. But all belie the unpredictable nature of her time signatures and chord progressions. Among her best known works is a cover of “A Little Help From My Friends” that sounds like a familiar work stripped bare, run through the grinder and reassembled in ways that defy the laws of physics. It’s the sort of things that rewires the listener’s brain, while giving you hope for a continued way forward for jazz experimentation.
In 2019, Saves the Day’s debut LP, Through Being Cool, turned 20. Unsurprisingly, the New Jersey band marked the event on the road, with a tour that found them playing the album in its entirety. Two decades and nine full lengths in, a lot has changed for the band, including several lineup shifts that have left frontman Chris Conley as the sole founding member. Now 40, the musician has come a long way from the teenager who penned one of emo’s most iconic debuts. Conley is now the parent to a teenager himself. But through all the ups and downs, his music has remained a constant. Hitting a major milestone has given him ample opportunity to reflect on his work and where he and the band go from here.
For those exclusively familiar with Nels Cline’s work as the guitar player for Wilco, Spinning Creature may come as a kind of surprise. But well before the musician began playing with the indie rock juggernaut, he was never afraid to let his freak flag fly. A student of jazz and the New York rock and avant garde scenes that gave birth to legends like John Zorn and Sonic Youth, much of Cline’s work is a sort of musical 180 from the band. CUP, a duo that finds him collaborating with Cibo Matto alum (and his wife) Yuka Honda, mines deep veins of experimental pop. Following the release of the band’s debut last fall, Cline sat down to discuss his musical history, the ups and downs of the gig economy and finding his voice as a musician.
Formed in Southern, California by teenage brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, Redd Kross was never one to follow pop cultural trends. Torch bearers for a more classic rock sound, the band rose the through ranks with hardcore legends like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks (even sharing members in the process). But the group was never truly belonged to any scene — and somehow belong to them all, in the process. Redd Kross kicked off the 90s by signing to Atlantic Records, finding some mainstream success alongside the rise of grunge music. Following an end-of-decade hiatus, the brothers returned to the band in 2004, eventually releasing sixth album in 2012, after a 15-year gap. It was only five years this time, as Beyond the Door hit legendary indie label, Merge. The McDonalds crowded around a microphone ahead of a show with tour mates (and shared bandmates) The Melvins to talk punk, major labels and K-Pop.
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