interviews 2008

Radiohead

Radiohead

Looking back at the year in music for 2008, one could easily argue that the biggest newsmaker was Radiohead. The band's pick-your-own-price experiment with In Rainbows paid off big time, selling 3 million copies and earning them a Grammy nomination for Best Album of the Year. Radiohead's model may be the future of the music industry, but it only seems like yesterday that band members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood were musing about revolution in the Sound Opinions studio. Listen back to this re-broadcast of Jim and Greg's conversation with Thom and Jonny, and you can hear that the seeds of change had already been planted.

Hungry for more Radiohead? Listen to their entire interview and performance from 2006 here.

Go to episode 161
Amy Ray

Amy Ray

This week Jim and Greg welcome Amy Ray. Ray is best known as one half of the duo The Indigo Girls. But a few years ago she also launched a solo career to indulge her inner punk rocker. This year she released Didn't It Feel Kinder on her own independent label Daemon Records. Jim and Greg talk to Amy about her two-decades-long career and her experience on both the indie and major side of the recording industry. They also invite her and her touring band, two of whom are members of The Butchies, to perform some of their new songs.

Go to episode 158
Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo

Veteran roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo has dabbled in everything from punk to folk to country, and it shows on his new album Real Animal. He stops by the Sound Opinions studio to talk with Jim and Greg about his long solo career and how after 30 years he's finally getting more mainstream recognition. But, while he hasn't always been a household name, Escovedo has always had famous fans, including The Boss himself. You can hear "Always a Friend" the song he recently performed with Bruce Springsteen, as well as all his live tracks here.

Go to episode 156
Don Felder

Don Felder

Guitarist Don Felder joins Jim and Greg this week. Felder was a member of The Eagles from 1974-1980, and then again 1994-2001. He recently wrote a book about those years called Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles, and Jim and Greg were eager to get the inside scoop on the notoriously contentious band. Felder, who played with Stephen Stills, Tom Petty and The Allmans prior to the Eagles, also reveals what it was like to pen a classic tune like "Hotel California." While the Eagles weren‘t improvisational, Felder credits learning jazz guitar with giving him the techniques necessary to play onstage and in the studio. Unfortunately those musical skills don’t help one survive life in a band.

Go to episode 154
Nick Cave visits the Sound Opinion's studio

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Both Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new album Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, and Nick Cave's side project Grinderman are big favorites of our hosts. So when given the opportunity to have Cave and his Bad Seeds into the studio, Jim and Greg, of course, jumped at the chance. Cave has been making music, along with poetry, plays and novels, for three decades, and Jim and Greg are amazed that Cave has managed to be so strong for so long. And in fact, it's hard to tell that the man behind the dark, noisy and funny songs you hear on the show has passed the 50-year mark.

Go to episode 153
Calexico

Calexico

Jim and Greg are huge fans of Calexico, the show's guests this week, but they do present a challenge. The Tuscon-based group incorporates so many different musical influences that they are almost impossible to define. Singer and guitarist Joey Burns explains that he's a fan of “Desert Noir,”but even that doesn't fully describe their use of Latin, African and jazz rhythms and instrumentation. The best way to get your head around Calexico's sound is to hear it. They perform live versions of tracks from their new album Carried to Dust.

Go to episode 151
Oliver Sacks on Sound Opinions

Oliver Sacks

As critics Jim and Greg have always suspected that music affects your brain, but they needed an expert to confirm their hypothesis. This week they speak with Dr. Oliver Sacks, author of the book Awakenings, which later went on to become a film starring Robin Williams. His new book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain is a collection of anecdotes illustrating the powerful effects music can have on the brain. Sacks relays his clinical experiences working with a range of patients including individuals who struggle to connect with music's melody, Parkinsonian patients who depend on music's rhythm, and Alzheimer's patients who find comfort in music's emotion. These people use music as a lifeline and a way to connect to the world–something rock fans certainly understand.

Go to episode 150
Joan As Policewoman

Joan As Policewoman

Joan As Policewoman, otherwise known as Joan Wasser, stops in for a visit this week. The singer/songwriter has many fans, including Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, and of course Jim and Greg. It's easy to hear why after her live performance, which includes songs from her latest album, Real Life. Joan, who began as a classically trained violinist, describes her music as "American Soul."

Go to episode 148
Dann Goldberg with Kurt Cobain in 1992

Danny Goldberg

While the rock stars get all the fame, it's often interesting to hear from the people who got them there. This week's guest is Danny Goldberg, a longtime music industry insider who has done everything from doing PR for Led Zeppelin, serving as a label executive at Atlantic, Mercury and Warner Brothers Records, and managing such artists as Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon and Nirvana. He wrote about his experiences with these people in an aptly titled book, Bumping Into Geniuses: My Life Inside the Rock and Roll Business. As he relays to Jim and Greg, sometimes geniuses aren‘t easy to work with, but it’s always worth it.

Go to episode 146
Producer Tony Visconti on Sound Opinions

Tony Visconti

While the performer gets all the glory, sometimes it's the producer who shares the guts. This week Jim and Greg hear from anonther of rock's great behind-the-scenes men, Tony Visconti. Visconti has worked with everyone from The Moody Blues to Alejandro Escovedo, but is primarily known for the albums he did with glam rockers T. Rex and David Bowie. Visconti relays how he was lucky enough to meet both men shortly after moving from Brooklyn to the U.K.; both were relatively young and undiscovered. Marc Bolan of T. Rex was still performing hippy folk songs as a member of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Bowie was beginning song writing but had no direction. Visconti established long-term relationships with both Bowie and Bolan and helped them carve out their identities. You'll hear Visconti discuss the making of such landmark albums as Electric Warrior and Heroes.

Go to episode 143
She & Him on Sound Opinions

She & Him

This week's guests are She & Him, the“she”being Zooey Deschanel and the“him”being Matt Ward, known to fans as M. Ward. The two met during the making of the movie“The Go-Getter”and quickly learned they were successful collaborators. She & Him's first album Volume One, is a collection of songs written by Zooey, as well as a couple of covers. Zooey explains that she's most influenced by classic pop songwriting, much of which pre-dates rock and roll. You can hear the country, doo-wop and Brill-building influence on the duo's music as they perform their songs "Take It Back" and "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" as well as two bonus tracks.

Zooey and Matt's visit to the show prompted Jim and Greg to think about other Hollywood crossover attempts — both hits and misses. Here are some other musical actors:

And many more…

Go to episode 142
The Feelies

The Feelies

Sound Opinions doesn't take field trips very often, but when presented with the opportunity to talk to the recently reunited Feelies, AND see the band take the stage for the first time in 17 years, AND do it on their home turf at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ, we really couldn‘t pass it up. If you haven’t heard of the Feelies, you've certainly heard their influence. The Strokes, R.E.M. and Sonic Youth all count themselves as fans, as does director Jonathan Demme who featured the band in Something Wild. Jim, who also hails from Hoboken, points to The Feelies and Maxwell's as pivotal in shaping his love of music.

Greg and Jim spoke with the band about their decision to reunite just shortly before they performed in front of their friends, family and a group of listeners from WFUV. You can hear some live songs from that night here, including the title track from their debut album Crazy Rhythms and a cover of Wire's "Outdoor Miner."

Go to episode 138
Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig

Next up Jim and Greg play a bit of The Grey Album, a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album made by DJ Danger Mouse. This was an album that received a lot of critical praise and attention. It even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists. It is a completely modern work that could not have been made without recent digital technologies. The rub here is that it could not be purchased anywhere, and many people who heard it don't even own a hard copy. This is because, according to current copyright law, what DJ Danger Mouse did was completely illegal. To discuss how laws like this are stifling art and how music in the digital age has changed in other ways, Jim and Greg welcome the definitive expert on this issue: Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig, a faculty member of Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society, has authored three books on cyber law and free culture, tried cases before the Supreme Court and founded Creative Commons, an organization trying to expand the range of creative work legally available to share.

While copyright laws have existed for over 200 years, music was not protected for a long time. Early in the 20th century protections for musicians and songwriters were put in place; however these laws did not necessarily hinder creativity. Once a song was recorded, anyone had the right to record it. This encouraged artists and was fundamental to the growth of the music industry, so much so that even the RIAA defended this right. The 21st century version of this kind of conversation between artists is sampling, but under current law, Professor Lessig explains, sampling is considered piracy. Therefore, creative expression and evolution are not fostered the way they were in the last century.

To demonstrate this point, Jim and Greg discuss the evolution of one song in the 20th century. Whether it was called“To the Pines,”"In the Pines," or even“Where Did You Sleep Last Night,”musicians like Leadbelly and Nirvana would quote and reference each other, essentially engaging in a dialogue and helping to inspire one another. This kind of songwriting and recording is the definition of a musical community and has been around since music itself. The sad truth is that such a community can't legally exist today. Listen to the songs that may have been lost had this been the case before the digital age:

Other versions include:

Digital copyright laws affect the consumer as well. In fact, Professor Lessig suggests that“creator”might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, music fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows the listener to be a part of the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. Our guest does not condone illegal behavior, but strives to change existing laws rather than prosecute people who are hardly criminals.

In addition to changing laws, Professor Lessig recommends that record companies use the Web rather than fight it. If he ran a label he would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. He would also allow and encourage artists to release their music on the internet. A small number of bands including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wilco have been able to do this with really positive results. Finally, if he ran a label, he would not bite the hand that feeds him and back away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

Go to episode 134
Cursive

Cursive

Greg and Jim took a trip out to Omaha, Nebraska to hang out with post-hardcore indie rockers Cursive. Performing live from The Waiting Room, the band serves up some brand new songs that have yet to be put to record. Tim Kasher talks with Jim and Greg about how he has recently added screenplay writing to his resume, in addition to his side project, The Good Life. Kasher thinks out loud about being a 33-year-old rocker with a teenage fan base, and shares what it means to him to be a songwriter. Though typically remembered for The Ugly Organ, Cursive feels content amidst evolving styles and lineups, and look forward to creating their as-yet-unnamed sixth studio album for Saddle Creek.

Go to episode 133
Death Cab for Cutie

Death Cab for Cutie

Jim and Greg are always fascinated and impressed by bands that are able to emerge from out of the underground fairly unscathed. The major label system today isn't always such a friendly place for bands to navigate, particularly those that have a sense of integrity. So, when given the opportunity to have Death Cab for Cutie, a true indie rock success story, on the show, Jim and Greg were excited. Then add an audience of about 200 people and a beautiful theater space — the show really couldn't ask for anything more. Lead singer Ben Gibbard, who many listeners will know through his side project The Postal Service, explains that the band has been really lucky. They spent 10 years growing and growing, with their last album going platinum. And their latest Narrow Stairs debuted at #1.

Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, Nicholas Harmer and Jason McGerr treated Jim, Greg and the audience to a number of live songs. You can hear all their tracks on our website.

Go to episode 131
Saul Williams

Saul Williams

This week's guest has an incredible portfolio: poet, screenwriter, actor, activist, and, of course, musician. But, while we have many words to describe Saul Williams, it's hard to describe his music. Saul blends rock, funk, hip hop and electronica with political lyrics. This combo was most recently heard on an album Saul made with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. Last year they released The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust exclusively on the web. Now Saul is again getting attention through his involvement in a Nike ad campaign. The singer, and admitted activist, explains to Jim and Greg why he agreed to let the corporation use his song "List of Demands," in a recent commercial. He believes that the ad calls more attention to his song than it does the product, and therefore spreads the message of his music. You can hear that song performed live on the show, as well the Niggy Tardust tracks, "Banged and Blown Through" and "Convict Colony."

Go to episode 129
Laurie Anderson

Laurie Anderson

Another artist who is never afraid to try new things is Laurie Anderson, Jim and Greg's guest this episode. Anderson has been making music, along with other forms of art, for almost 30 years. But, as she explains, her career began by accident. Anderson's song "O Superman" became a surprise hit in the UK and got her a recording contract. That never stopped Anderson from experimenting though. As NASA's first and only artist-in-residence, it's always been important for her to explore lots and lots of areas, and never become“an expert.”This attitude contributed to Anderson's decision not to cancel her Chicago show on September 11, 2001. Greg remembers her performance that night as one of the most powerful he's ever witnessed.

Go to episode 127
Ray Davies

Ray Davies

One man who is certainly not a flash in the pan is Ray Davies. (Pronounced Daviz, not Daveez. We promise.) The former, and perhaps future, Kinks lead singer joins Jim and Greg to talk about his long history making music and his second solo album, Working Man's Café. Ray describes how different it is to make music as a solo artist. When he was writing songs for The Kinks he was able to assume different personas. But, the songs on this new album are much more personal. He has to take the credit… or the blame. Ray performs songs off Working Man's Café, which you can hear during the show.

Some of Ray Davies' songs have undoubtedly been affected by his experience being shot by a mugger in 2004, as well as the stroke of his brother Dave Davies. These subjects perhaps contradict the idea of the songwriter as a wit and social satirist. But, as Ray explains, even the lightest, most humorous Kinks tracks started from a serious place.

Go to episode 125
Tim Fite on Sound Opinions

Tim Fite

When Jim and Greg were in Austin, TX for SXSW they met with music artist Tim Fite. In 2007, Fite made Over the Counter Culture, one of Jim and Greg's favorite albums of the year and released it for free. Now he's back with a new record called Fair Ain't Fair that he's releasing the old-fashioned way. But, the artist explains that the subject matter of this album isn‘t as political and anti-consumerist, and therefore would be appropriate for sale. Plus he’s happy to support a great record label like Anti. Fite's music is hard to classify, but you can hear the folk, hip-hop, rock, blues mix in the songs performed on the show, as well as in a special bonus track.

Go to episode 124
Steve Earle

Steve Earle

Steve Earle is Jim and Greg's guest this week. The singer/songwriter who can also add actor, novelist, radio show host and playwright to his credits visited the show with his duet partner, muse and seventh wife Allison Moorer. That's right: seven. But Steve is obviously not a man who is afraid of risks. After years living and working in Nashville, he moved to New York. And after years making rock music, he decided to incorporate hip hop beats and electronic elements on to his most recent record Washington Street Serenade. You can hear stripped down versions of the tracks, "Tennessee Blues," "Days Aren't Long Enough," and "Sparkle and Shine" during the show.

Go to episode 122
Buch Vig

Butch Vig

This week Jim and Greg speak with Butch Vig. The Wisconsin-based producer has worked on some of the most notable records in the past two decades including Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, Dirty by Sonic Youth and Nevermind by Nirvana. In addition, he's a founding member and drummer for the band Garbage.

Go to episode 120
Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü

Bob Mould

One of the most influential figures in independent music, Bob Mould, joins Jim and Greg this year. For almost 30 years he has been making music with Hüsker Dü, Sugar and as a solo artist. Now he has a new album out called District Line. Jim and Greg wanted to talk to Bob about the progression of his music, which has evolved from electric guitar-based pop to a more electronic sound. But listeners who are wary of electronic flourishes can rest assured according to Bob — the signature guitars are still there. And, he admits that over the course of 20-something years it's hard to grow and still please loyal fans.

Bob Mould loyalists can also count on him for dark, introspective tunes. But, as the songwriter explains, as he's gotten older, and perhaps wiser, his songs are not only autobiographical, but also observational. Jim and Greg joke that he was inspired by his time as an advice columnist for the Washington City Paper. You can hear Bob's writing style — new and old — in the songs "Again and Again" from his new album, and "I Apologize," a Hüsker Dü classic. You should also check out this bonus web track.

Go to episode 119
Girl Talk

Girl Talk

This week's guest is Gregg Gillis, known to his fans as Girl Talk. The biomedical engineer by day/DJ by night took the underground music world by storm last year with his album Night Ripper. Gillis composes avant-pop collages of hundreds of different songs-everything from Aerosmith to the Ying Yang Twins to Neutral Milk Hotel. The result is a new piece of original art stamped with the Girl Talk name, and it's putting hipsters in a frenzy at clubs and festivals all over the world. None of the samples on Night Ripper have been approved by the original artists, but so far Gillis hasn't been hassled. He represents a new generation of free culture proponents that will hopefully be embraced by the music industry, if not copyright lawyers.

Go to episode 115
Powerhouse Sound

Powerhouse Sound

This week Jim and Greg welcomed Powerhouse Sound, a veritable who's who of avant garde jazz and rock musicians. Ken Vandermark, world-renowned reeds player and MacArthur Genius grant winner, assembled this bi-coastal motley crew to experiment with fusing jazz, rock, funk, blues and reggae. With him on the U.S. side of this project is bass player Nate McBride, as well as drummer John Herndon and guitarist Jeff Parker of the group Tortoise. The group has a new album out comprised of recordings done both here and in Norway entitled Oslo/Chicago Breaks.

Ken explains to Jim and Greg that the idea for Powerhouse Sound was inspired by Miles Davis' experiments with blending jazz and popular music. In the 1970s, Davis began working with a diverse group of musicians to create an improvisational sound that is as much funk as it is jazz. Greg notes that this was a heavily controversial period for Davis; jazz purists saw it as a commercial sell out. But, like Davis, the members of Powerhouse Sound are not interested in boundaries and musical dogma. The sound is the key. You can hear this freedom in their performance of "Shocklee/Broken Numbers." Check out the piece in its entirety here.

Go to episode 114
Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain

Many people know Anthony Bourdain from his many books, his TV show "No Reservations", and his successful restaurant Les Halles. But, you may not know that he's a die-hard rock and roll fan. Bourdain recently chronicled his punk past in the Spin essay“Eat to the Beat,”and when he was in town on a book tour, Jim and Greg invited him into the studio to talk turkey (and rock).

Anthony, or Tony as he likes to be called, explained to Jim and Greg that there are a lot of connections between members of the food world and the music world, the first of which is simply the hours. Both subcultures are nocturnal pleasure-seekers who often frequent the same greasy spoons and the same dive bars. But on a more cerebral level, music geeks and foodies are both obsessed, both opinionated, and both hate Billy Joel. Tony explains that when he's serving up grub to guests he prefers the tunes of Edith Piaf, Serge Gainsbourg, and even Connie Francis.

Go to episode 113
Glen Hansard

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova of The Swell Season

This week Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season and the film Once join Jim and Greg for a conversation and live performance. Glen and Markéta had come to town as part of a whirlwind tour they can attribute to Once's success. The modest film has become a surprise hit with audiences and critics — but no one was more surprised than Glen and Markéta. Glen, who is also the frontman of the Irish band The Frames, explains that he's extremely grateful for the success, but wishes he hadn‘t become so media savvy. Markéta, on the other hand, just doesn’t see the chemistry everyone else is impressed by. For her, the movie just captured the way she and Glen really make music.

One thing that hasn‘t changed with all the fame is Glen’s guitar; it's so beat up that its manufacturer is embarrassed. Lucky for us, the sound is nothing to be embarrassed about. You can hear all of The Swell Season's live songs here.

Go to episode 111
Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces

This week Jim and Greg also speak with Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces. The Oak Park, IL natives formed their duo in Brooklyn in 2002. Their latest album, Widow City, is a favorite of both Jim and Greg's. It was an opportunity for Eleanor and Matt to indulge themselves in their 1970s upbringing. They recorded the album in a more traditional way, and used artifacts of the era like a Ouiga Board and vintage House and Garden magazines as inspiration. You can hear the classic rock influence on the tracks "Widow City," "Ex-Guru," and "Japanese Slippers."

Go to episode 110