interviews 2016

The Mekons

The Mekons

To put it simply, The Mekons are a bit of an enigma. The 40-year-old band hails from the English punk scene, with contemporaries including The Sex Pistols and The Clash. However since 1977, The Mekons have been writing their own unique narrative. The group worshipped American roots music from artists like Hank Williams, and blended their raucous live performance style with sounds of punk, country, folk and more. The Mekons have always had a revolving line-up, and three members joined Jim and Greg for a chat and live performance: Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Lu Edmonds. They talk about their long career, a short stint on a major label and the unusual methods used to record their latest album, Existentalism.

Go to episode 578
Jon Brion

Jon Brion

Jim and Greg revisit one of their favorite interviews in the history of the show: a 2006 conversation with multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and film composer Jon Brion. Brion has produced for artists like Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Spoon, and Kanye West and worked as a session player for Macy Gray and others. He's collaborated with filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Michel Gondry, and Charlie Kaufman, providing the score for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Punch-Drunk Love, Synechdoche, New York, I ♥ Huckabees, and more.

But Jon Brion is also an accomplished solo artist with one solo album, Meaningless, to his name. Brion has grown a devoted following for his decades-long residency at the Los Angeles club Largo. At his shows, Brion improvises spectacular sets of originals and covers as he shows off his virtuosity on every instrument. He demonstrates his skills through performances of some of his compositions in front of a small audience. He also demonstrates to Jim and Greg the difference between the art of songwriting (as exemplified by Gershwin and Kurt Cobain) and what he calls "performance pieces."

Go to episode 574
The Handsome Family

The Handsome Family

This week, Jim and Greg talk with southwestern music duo The Handsome Family. The band is the husband-wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks, and they are perhaps best known for providing the theme song for the first season of HBO's critically acclaimed drama True Detective. However, the duo had been a staple of the Chicago music scene, crafting artfully made albums that blend alternative country sounds with clever lyrics. Over 15 years ago, the Sparks left Chicago for a quieter life in New Mexico, which influenced their music by giving it a rich southwestern flavor. Brett and Rennie join Jim and Greg in the studio to talk about their latest album, Unseen, success with True Detective, and what it's like to be married to your music partner. They also perform three songs live in studio.

Go to episode 570
Beach Slang

Beach Slang

Beach Slang's music is at home in a loud, crowded, sweaty club with an energetic crowd singing along to every word. But at their core the songs are sincere, emotional and from the heart. So it makes sense that the writing process starts with just singer and guitarist James Alex and an acoustic guitar. If the songs can hold up in that form, he says, then he“makes it loud and they become Beach Slang.”James treated Jim and Greg, and a crowd of fans at the Goose Island Tap Room in Chicago to a special acoustic performance featuring songs from Beach Slang's new album A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings. James talks about starting a band while raising a family, his songwriting process and his on-going pursuit of happiness in a world full of muck.

Go to episode 568

Jack Wood

A few weeks ago, Greg selected a song for the Desert Island Jukebox called Born to Wander from a songwriter named Jack Wood. Recorded in 1966 in small town Michigan, the song was pressed on just 100 records and largely forgotten. That is until the song appeared in a worldwide TV ad campaign and was repressed by Jack White's Third Man Records. While Greg was able to research the song, less was know about Jack Wood. But Jack himself heard Greg's pick on the show, and he called our Hot Line. Jim and Greg talk with Jack Wood about writing a song that reached the height of popularity 50 years after it was recorded!

Go to episode 568
Trouble Boys

Bob Mehr on The Replacements

The mythology of The Replacements can overshadow the actual music – from their infamously volatile live shows, to their wild drinking, to Paul Westerberg's legendary songwriting genius, and to their commerial ailures. But author Bob Mehr reveals a more complicated story of the Minneapolis band in his new book Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements. As he explains to Jim and Greg, Bob traces much of The Mats' personality to their troubled upbringings, particularly that of guitarist Bob Stinson. Though the band's records from the early '80s were influenced by hardcore punk, Westerberg always had a latent sensitive side that fully emerged on the 1984 masterpiece (and Classic Album Dissection recipient) Let It Be. The Replacements signed to a major label for the 1985 album Tim, but Bob describes a combination of self-destruction and bad timing that ultimately kept the band off the charts. The Replacements broke up in 1991, but its influence was soon heard all over the alternative rock explosion. The enormous crowds at the band's recent reunion shows are testament to the enormous impact the music has had on generations of fans, even if that big hit song always eluded them.

Go to episode 567
Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Herb Alpert

Jim and Greg are delighted to be joined this week by legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass scored a string of instrumental hits in the '60s, from "The Lonely Bull" to "Casino Royale" to "A Taste of Honey." His 1965 album Whipped Cream & Other Delights became a staple of record collections all over, which was helped by its iconic, risqué cover. He even scored a surprise #1 hit as a vocalist with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition "This Guy's In Love With You." But Alpert's remarkable career goes well beyond his own recordings. Along with his partner Jerry Moss, he cofounded the venerable label A&M Records, signing a diverse roster including the Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, The Police, and Janet Jackson. Through his philanthropic foundation, he's donated millions toward music education. And if that's not enough, he's also an exhibiting sculptor. At age 81, he's still going strong, with a brand new album called Human Nature. Herb Alpert discusses the genesis of his signature double-trumpet sound, being mentored by Sam Cooke, and his ethical approach to owning a label.

Go to episode 565
Music as Violence

Alex Ross

Jim and Greg spend most of their time on Sound Opinions talking about music they love. Music they connect with, music that tells a relatable story, music that stirs an emotional reaction. But Alex Ross from the New Yorker magazine came on the show to talk about a different reaction to music, music as a weapon. His recent article When Music is Violence explores the use of music to sinister ends. Alex talks with Jim and Greg about the history of music as a weapon, from the use by the Nazis, to attempts to overthrow Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega with Led Zeppelin, to how classical music keeps kids from loitering in 7-11 parking lots. Alex says that ultimately music is not a sacred space, and the“music we love the most…can be deployed in some horrifying way.”

Go to episode 564
Mudhoney

Mudhoney

For almost 30 years, rock band Mudhoney has been a staple in the Seattle music scene. While contemporaries like Nirvana and Soundgarden earned more commercial success, Mudhoney always stayed true to themselves and Jim notes they're one of the few bands that“never sucked.”The group first garnered attention for the EP Superfuzz Bigmuff that pioneered the distorted sound big labels would later market as "grunge." Jim and Greg talked with the members of the Mudhoney: vocalist Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, drummer Dan Peters and bassist Guy Maddison, at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle in front of a live audience. The hosts chatted with Mudhoney about their signature sound, musical collaborations and they also performed several songs from the span of their critically-loved career.

Go to episode 563
Ryan Tedder

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil

This week, Sound Opinions explores the art of songwriting. Jim and Greg talk to some of the biggest pop hitmakers of the past and present. First, a conversation with the legendary songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The husband and wife team were part of the Brill Building era of 1960s New York, and worked alongside writing powerhouses like Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and collaborated with producer Phil Spector. Mann and Weil wrote some of the biggest hits of all time, from "You‘ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'" to "On Broadway" and even "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." In 2011, Mann and Weil received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and since 2013, have been depicted in the Tony Award-winning musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical about the early life and career of their friend and coworker. In this interview, the duo tell Jim and Greg the origins of their famous hits, tell stories and reflect on what could have been had Barry released “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” before The Animals.

Go to episode 561
Mann & Weil

Ryan Tedder

Next, Jim and Greg chat with performer and songwriter Ryan Tedder. While Tedder is best known as the frontman of the pop rock band OneRepublic, he's also had an extremely successful career writing songs for other artists like Beyoncé, Adele and Taylor Swift. Tedder began a struggling songwriter in Nashville, but eventually producer Timbaland helped OneRepublic rise to popularity by remixing their song "Apologize" in 2007. Jim and Greg ask Tedder about how to write a great pop song and what it's like to work with Queen Bey. They also discuss the longevity of music today and whether the humanity in songwriting is lost.

Go to episode 561
Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett takes small moments of the every day and turns them into musical masterpieces. Barnett's writing style is conversational and chuck-full of words. She uses sarcastic, witty and genuine lyrics to set herself apart from the alternative rock pack (she even ended up on President Obama's Summer 2016 playlist!) Aside from being a unique songwriting talent, Courtney Barnett's music is punctuated by her explosive guitar playing and powerful stage presence. While performing live, Barnett frequently plays both the lead and rhythm guitar parts, and her energy is electrifying. Jim and Greg spoke to Courtney about her 2015 debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, which both hosts had in their top 10 albums list of 2015. They'll also chat about her songwriting process and musical influences, plus Courtney performs an exclusive solo set live from the Goose Island Tap Room.

Go to episode 559
Tortoise

Tortoise

By the late '90s, Tortoise became the leading band of not only the Chicago scene, but the global post-rock movement. The all-instrumental band was founded by Doug McCombs and John Herndon as a bass and drums duo in the late '80s, inspired by Jamaican rhythm-section-for-hire Sly and Robbie. Eventually the band came to include John McEntire, Dan Bitney, and jazz guitarist Jeff Parker. Tortoise received massive critical acclaim for the 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die and 1998's TNT. On the latest record The Catastrophist, the band experiments with the strangest innovation of all: vocals. Tortoise joins Jim and Greg for a conversation and live performance.

Go to episode 557
Moby

Moby

Moby – who first appeared on the show in 2006 – arrived in New York City in the late '80s as a sober Christian vegan making his way through the nascent underground club scene. A decade later, he was the public face of techno, selling 10 million copies of his album Play and living a life of excess. He's written all about his early career in a new memoir Porcelain, a book Jim compares to Charles Mingus's Beneath the Underdog as one of the great musical autobiographies.

This week Moby speaks with Jim and Greg about the gritty but exuberant heyday of rave culture and house music – and how quickly it all ended. After a string of club hits, Moby confused some critics with the eclectic 1995 album Everything is Wrong, and alienated just about everybody with the hardcore punk-inspired Animal Rights in 1996. But 1999's Play was an unprecedented smash, which led, as Moby explains, to the traditional rise-and-fall story arc of fame and decadence.

Go to episode 556
Don Gonyea

NPR's Don Gonyea

For more than 20 years, NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea has covered presidential campaigns. And in that time Don has had to suffer through horrendous sound tracks used to the introduce the candidates. Don tells Jim and Greg that covering a campaign across the country means you hear the same songs over and over and over. Sometimes you find a new appreciation for the music (Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours") and sometimes it leaves you scratching your head (Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend"?). Don shares his memories of campaign songs and offers a better choice of his own. Photo Credit: © NPR 2004 Photo by Steve Barrett

Go to episode 555
Savages

Savages

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more emotionally and sonically intense album out right now than Savages' sophomore effort, Adore Life. In fact, that record ranks high in both Jim and Greg's Best Albums of 2016…So Far lists. The London-based quartet's first record, Silence Yourself, perfectly channeled their anger and frustration at the world via good old-fashioned art punk. On Adore Life, they tackle the frequent topic of love in a fresh, fearless, and powerful way. The band was a guest on Sound Opinions back in 2013, so it was a pleasure to welcome then again for an interview and live performance.

View our exclusive photos from the taping here.

Go to episode 554
Bob Mould

Bob Mould

Throughout his storied career, songwriter and guitarist Bob Mould seems to be driven by the mystical power of the number 3. He's best known for his work with a couple of power trios: the pioneering Minneapolis punk band Hüsker Dü and the successful alternative era band Sugar. He's now formed trio #3 along with bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats, Scharpling & Wurster). Together they've recorded three (of course) albums, most recently the double-Buy It earning Patch the Sky. This week, Bob Mould joins Jim and Greg for the third time in the show's history, this time with Narducy and Wurster in tow. They give a blistering live performance and discusses the vitality of guitar music, finding salvation through rock, and Bob's polarizing turn toward electronica.

Go to episode 552
Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor Friedberger

Singer-songwriter Eleanor Friedberger last joined us in 2008 as one half of the duo The Fiery Furnaces, along with her older brother Matthew. Famous for their fragmented and experimental sound, they made an impressive nine albums in six years together. However since 2011, Eleanor has been pursuing a solo career that is sonically quite different from the work she was doing in The Fiery Furnaces. She's put out three albums, Last Summer (2011), Personal Record (2013) and most recently, New View. While Eleanor Friedberger is an Oak Park, Illinois native currently living in New York state, she recently joined Jim and Greg during the SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas for a conversation and live performance in front of an audience at the Gibson Showroom. She speaks about growing up, going solo, Seth Meyers, and Andy Warhol.

Go to episode 550
Seinabo Sey

Seinabo Sey

Swedish artist Seinabo Sey may be a bit of an old soul, but her music is breaking new ground. This week, Greg and Jim chat with pop/neo soul singer Seinabo Sey, who just released her debut album Pretend. Sey was raised in Sweden, born to a Swedish mother and a Gambian father (musician Maudo Sey), but growing up, she idolized American pop & R&B stars like Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Alicia Keys, which is evident in her sound.

A few years ago, she teamed up with Magnus Lidehäll, an accomplished producer who has worked with Katy Perry, David Guetta, Avicii and more. The result really lets Sey's authetic voice shine through.

Go to episode 545
lareidcoachella

L.A. Reid

TLC, Mariah Carey, Pink, Justin Bieber, Outkast, Usher, Whitney Houston, Jay-Z, Kanye West…you name the pop star, and chances are he or she has worked with this week's guest, Antonio“L.A.”Reid. While he began as a drummer in the R&B group The Deele, it's really behind-the-scenes that L.A. has made the most awesome noise—first, as a songwriter/producer with Babyface in the 1980s and 1990s, then as a record exec at LaFace, Arista, Island Def Jam and now Epic Records.

L.A. shares his insights into what makes a great pop song, great (melody, hooks, emotion and the ability to sound good, even with a pillow over it) and some of his biggest professional triumphs (signing“the Beast”Rihanna, coaching Kanye West) and failures (Lady Gaga…the one that got away). He's also not afraid to get candid about music industry sacred cows, whether it's Michael Jackson or major labels themselves.

Go to episode 542
Eleventh Dream Day

Eleventh Dream Day

Jim and Greg harken back to the alternative era this week as they sit down with Eleventh Dream Day. The band formed in 1983 and got its start as part of the Chicago underground scene alongside peers Hüsker Dü in St. Paul and Nirvana in Seattle. Greg remembers watching Eleventh Dream Day perform at that time, and knew they were destined for big things. But, while albums like Prairie School Freakout garnered high critical praise and caught the attention of Atlantic Records, they were never able to achieve major commercial success. As Jim notes, however, they are having the last laugh with their impressive longevity, especially considering founding members Rick Rizzo and Janet Beveridge Bean got married, had a child and got divorced, all while maintaining the group. In January Eleventh Dream Day released its eleventh studio album Works for Tomorrow, and they show no signs of slowing, as is clear in this ferocious live performance in the Sound Opinions studio.

Go to episode 540
rush

Rush

Jim gets to unleash his inner thirteen-year-old this week as he and Greg sit down with Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of the Canadian prog-rock legends Rush. All three members of Rush are known for their ridiculous virtuosity on their instruments – drum god Neil Peart, Lifeson on guitar, and Geddy Lee, who manages to play bass and synths and sing simultaneously. Lee and Lifeson met in junior high in Ontario and released a couple hard rock albums with drummer John Rutsey in the early '70s. But the band really hit its stride when Rutsey was replaced by Neil Peart, who also became the primary lyricist. They began crafting epic progressive rock concept albums like 2112 and Hemispheres featuring side-length sci-fi suites. The albums Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures brought Rush radio hits in the early '80s, and the band moved into a synth-driven phase. Over the ensuing decades, Rush has continued to evolve its sound and adapt to new styles, while growing a cult fanbase that is intense to say the least. The band just celebrated its 40th anniversary with a tour and live album called R40 Live. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson discuss the band's evolving styles, the existence of female Rush fans, and whether the band will continue.

Go to episode 535
Los Lobos

Los Lobos

Recently, Jim and Greg were joined by an audience of Sound Opinions and Los Lobos fans for a special recording at City Winery Chicago. Louie Perez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin showed everyone what it means to have 4 decades of chops and unity under their belts. Since forming in high school in East L.A., Los Lobos has always pushed the boundaries of whatever genre they explored: rock, punk, Mexican folk, R&B, jazz, psychedelia. Most of that is a far cry from their huge 1987 hit "La Bamba." But, perhaps that cover got fans like Elmo in the door. Now the group has a new album called Gates of Gold, its first release in 5 years.

Go to episode 533
Shamir

Shamir

Shamir has been on Jim and Greg's radar since they caught him at last year's SXSW Music Conference. Born Shamir Bailey, the 21-year-old Las Vegas native has been stylistically restless his whole life. He formed an indie pop duo in high school, explored a love of country music, and incorporates the sounds of vintage Chicago house and disco on his electronic pop recordings. After being blown away by a demo tape, producer and music writer Nick Sylvester took an interest in Shamir. Sylvester's GODMODE label released the North Town EP in 2014, followed by a debut full-length called Ratchet in 2015. Ratchet earned widespread critical acclaim, including high spots in both Jim and Greg's best of the year lists. Shamir stopped by the Sound Opinions studios a few months back and, after greeting the entire staff with hugs, sat down with Jim and Greg for a stripped-down performance on acoustic guitar and piano and a conversation.

Go to episode 530
soundman

Glyn Johns

One day in February 1969, engineer and producer Glyn Johns disembarked a flight from Los Angeles to London. He went straight to a studio to work with the Beatles on what would eventually become Let It Be. That was followed by an all-night session with the Rolling Stones for Let It Bleed. And after that, he rejoined the Beatles and jutted on over to Royal Albert Hall to record Jimi Hendrix live. Just“a day in the life,”eh? Those legendary recordings are just beginning of Johns tremendous list of credits which includes Led Zeppelin, the Faces, the Kinks, The Who, the Eagles and more recently Band of Horses and Ryan Adams. He relays this life spent recording in a new book called Sound Man. And he is as candid in his conversation with Jim and Greg, as he is in print. The aforementioned Let It Be? Johns remarks that Phil Spector“puked”all over it. Of Eric Clapton, Johns admits he initially refused to bring him into a session with Pete Townshend due to his drug-addled personality. And he talks about parting ways with the Eagles after they wanted to go in a more rock ‘n’ roll direction—something Johns says the band wouldn't know if they fell over it.

For more behind-the-booth conversations, check out Jim and Greg's interviews in the Footnotes section with Stephen Street, Butch Vig, Bob Ezrin, Tony Visconti, Mark Howard, Giorgio Moroder, Joe Boyd and of course, Brian Eno.

Go to episode 528