Milwaukee, I love you

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I am a sentimental guy. A big feelings rambler. And you encouraged me to be on the air for eight years. Thank you, Milwaukee. 

This Friday will be my last day on air at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee before I move to Nashville and become the assistant program director (APD) and afternoon host at WNXP in Music City, USA, and before I go, I would like to give one more long-winded, heartfelt goodbye. 

I started at 88Nine in 2013 as an unpaid intern. Before that I’d gone to UW-Madison, where I got degrees in History, Political Science, Integrated Liberal Studies and Gratuitous Drinking. Basically the only practical thing I’d done was join the college radio station, WSUM, where I was Music Director and had a show called “Hi-Fidelity in Low Resolution” and a show called “Tom Waits and Tom Waits Play Tom Waits.” I’d aspired to be a Music Director in real life, even though the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association told me that iHeart Radio was going to reduce the position down to one position and I might as well go into sales. But with my fifth year coming to an end in Madison, I knew I had to apply for jobs.

Justin was Music Director at WSUM at UW-Madison.

I applied at NPR, WPR and, weirdly, I almost became the driver of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, because I thought it would be a funny story. After being roundly rejected at every end and with graduation approaching, I knew I would have to move back to Milwaukee and move back in with my parents. But I had one last shot. A radio station that launched while I was in college and played a lot of music that I played on my college radio station had an internship program. I’d never had an internship. I worked three jobs to pay for college and the idea of an unpaid internship seemed classist to me, which I still stand by. I applied even though they said they didn’t hire kids who had already graduated. It was my only shot. 

I remember getting the call when I was crossing the road on my way to a Latin American history class. I was listening to Tom Waits’ “On the Nickel.” Tom has just growled out the line, “The world keeps getting bigger when you get out on your own.” Bawling and broken, I walked into the classroom ten minutes early and my phone rang. It was Jordan Lee, saying he’d broken protocol and would take me on as an intern even though I’d graduated. 

Bad move. I was exactly what they feared in hiring a college graduate with no other opportunity. On the first day I told Jordan, “I want a job at 88Nine.” He gave me a red hot look and said, “Get in line.” So I did. I was hired to work on Thursdays and Fridays from 2-4PM. I started coming in every day at 8AM.

After about six months, I remember being at Romie’s bar way out in Franklin with a friend and saying, “I need to make something where 88Nine listeners will want to keep me around.” I had come into this job loving new music and loving telling stories so I wanted to tied all that together. I came up with a weekly web article called “5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To.” The idea was to have DJs contribute and to write a bit myself and publish every week. It became clear pretty quickly that the other DJs were busy and it would just be me. I was fine with that. I started publishing every week and loving it. The audience loved it, too. 

Then our Program Director left. After nearly an entire year as an unpaid intern, I had put myself in the right place at the right time. I wrote the job description for the job that I had been doing and, after interviewing several other candidates and almost not hiring me, 88Nine took me on full time. We also hired a new program director who took an interest in putting “5 Songs” on the air. 

June 1, 2014 was the first time that 5 Songs hit the air. I talked for one minute about Hamilton Leithauser’s “Alexandra.” 

“Hamilton Leithauser is a crooner” I said smokily, like I was in a Vegas night club with him. “Like Sinatra or Dean Martin and the Rat Pack serenaders of the 1940s. He bears a black tuxedo in the video for the song. The album’s cover is a black and white portrait of Hamilton smiling over his shoulder, presumably in front of a Vegas crowd. But the crooner persona really comes forward from the delivery. Like Dino, he is singing a lover’s lament, but it’s a bit tongue in cheek. He’s suffering, but not too much. He is still having a great time. In this lament, he is telling Alexandra, “Hey, I’m drinking, smoking and carrying on, but at the end of the night, I’m thinking about you, babe.” 

It was a lot for some people. I remember hearing someone on staff saying “Why is that intern on the air” and someone else say, “Well, it’s a polarizing segment.” Radio is not built for a DJ to express their feelings. But why not? That’s what they do in songs. Music is about eliciting feelings that are larger than life. I felt that I should reflect that feeling. So I have. And, let me say this, I think that a song is one of the only places where men are encouraged to express their feelings, and I wanted people to know that I am a man with big feelings too. 

Occasionally, 88Nine would have artists come through and perform in our space. In the time between sound check and going on stage they would be sitting around. I had a song to write about, and I wanted to talk to them, so when the band Spanish Gold was here, sitting around, I asked one of the band members to come into the studio and tell me about a song he couldn’t stop listening to.  It was two birds with one stone, and it was great insight into a bands musical taste. That started a floodgate. 

Justin with Juiceboxxx.

I started to interview everyone who came to Milwaukee. I interviewed Tame Impala, Death Cab For Cutie, Glass Animals, and members of the Milwaukee Bucks. I’d built relationships in the music industry and I thought I’d try to interview people who weren’t coming through Milwaukee. I remember spending almost a whole day trying to make a complicated ISDN line connect with My Morning Jacket in their studio in Louisville. After about three hours I asked them one question. Both band members answered and when I said “Thanks! Have a great day!” They said, “That’s it?” 

Some bands loved doing a one question interview. I remember Portugal. The Man saying, “Thank you for not asking me about being from Alaska for the millionth time.” But I also felt like I should do more. The only thing was that I wasn’t great at talking to people. I’ve always had social anxiety and the idea of filling time with a complete stranger, especially a famous one, was even more terrifying. However, it was good for the job. A big driving factor in my life is wanting to be good at my job. So I said yes to every opportunity that came up. Every interview no matter what. When I was terrified I just prepared more. When I finally secured a 10-minute interview with David Byrne after four months of persistent asking, I prepared four pages of questions. I figured out what worked. I threw in jokes. I tried to meet them where they were. The key to any conversation is listening. 

Then I got a call to interview Thom Yorke. He’d just done the score for the movie “Susperia” and hadn’t done a radio interview in years. The record label, Beggars Group, wanted someone who would make him feel comfortable. So they asked Rita Houston, the radio legend from WFUV in New York. She wanted to do it but had a little health problem at the time and wasn’t sure if she could make it. So they wanted a backup, and they called me. Of all the people in all the world, they chose me, and it remains to be one of the big honors of my life.

They flew me to New York, to the famous Electric Lady Studio in downtown NYC. In the interview, since we were talking about movies, I asked him what would be a movie that people wouldn’t expect him to love and he said, “You know, I really love ‘The Hangover.’” And we both laughed so hard we blew the mics out for a second. Of course, I asked him about a song he couldn’t stop listening to and he said, “This Time Around” by Jessica Pratt. After the interview, I walked out of the room and took a deep breath. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Thom Yorke. He’d run out of the studio and he had his phone open. “I thought we could listen to the song together.” He said. So me and Thom Yorke stood together in between studios, his hand on my shoulder and we listened to Jessica Pratt’s “This Time Around” through his clogged up phone speakers. 

After that it was game on. I interviewed RZA, The National, Phoebe Bridgers and Moby. But I also wanted to do more. 

Justin and The National’s Matt Berninger

Over the years I had fallen in love with the stories that I’d heard from Milwaukee musicians about Milwaukee’s musical history, which is a subject no one talks about. People tell all kinds of stories about Nashville, LA and New York’s musical legacy, and it’s not like Milwaukee doesn’t have one. We are home of Violent Femmes, Liberace, hell, we invented emo. So “If not us, who?” I thought about telling Milwaukee’s musical history. 

One time, shortly after I’d got hired, I met up with Andy Nobel at Fuel Cafe in Riverwest. Andy is a surly record store owner who knows more about Milwaukee’s musical history than anyone. “So what’s your angle?” he asked me, suspiciously. Not thinking that I just wanted to know old stories and celebrate Milwaukee’s musical history. I told him I had no angle other than just that, which was true. Over a couple cups of coffee with some heaping spoonfuls of hostility, kind of as an offhand comment he said that this band had, “kind of, accidentally written Milwaukee’s first hip-hop song.” I wrote it down and put a star next to it. Over the next year in editorial meetings I brought up the story of Milwaukee’s first hip-hop song, but we had no where to put it. The story was too big. It felt like a podcast. An investigative journalism podcast about uncovering the story of a song.

Our Content Director, Nate Imig, suggested we bring in Tyrone Miller — who has been a part of the Milwaukee DJ community for decades — to co-host. We found out that there was a band who wrote Milwaukee’s first hip-hop song years before another hip-hop song was recorded in Milwaukee. It was the band The Majestics, who were still performing after 50 years, now as the incredibly named Chocolate Ice II. In the early 80s a record producer named Marvell Love started a record label in Milwaukee called New World Records. He wanted Milwaukee to be the next Motown. Marvell did his research and went to a music conference in the midwest where they talked about this new genre of music coming out of New York called “hip-hop.”

Marvell came back to Milwaukee and pulled some kids into a studio to record an R&B song and he said that they also had to put a song on the other side that was in this new style called “hip-hop.” So they sat in the kitchen, wrote the song, recorded it, and “Class A” by The Majestics became Milwaukee’s first hip-hop song. BUT that wasn’t how Tyrone or any of the Milwaukee DJs saw it. Hip-hop is a culture, and nobody listened to “Class A” when it came out. But everyone listened to “A-Tac on the Wax” by a young kid nicknamed Peachy, who would go on to change his name to Speech, and release “3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life Of…” a record that has gone four times platinum and contains the song “Tennessee” which is on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

We told the whole story. Leaving it up for the audience to decide which matters, time or influence. One day I was at my desk packing up and Tyrone texted me and said, “Did you see that email from The New York Times.” I thought he was joking or mistaken. But sure enough I got to my desk and the New York Times was asking for a jpeg of the logo that they could run in The New York Times print edition the next day. On my way home, I called my grandma, my mom, my dad, and just about everyone else in my phone book. I yelled so loud in joy that people sitting outside Cactus Club, a block from my apartment, turned to see what was going on.

In the pandemic, suddenly everyone wanted to talk. There wasn’t much else to do. And they would do it on camera, a tool that just wasn’t at our disposal before. The title 5 Songs We Couldn’t Stop Listening to was clunky and musicians kept thinking they had to pick five songs instead of one, so we looked to change the name. Since I started I’ve claimed to be “from the music desk” even when that was just my little corner as an intern. I used the phrase to feign legitimacy and I manifested that legitimacy into being. On June 1st, 2020 “5 Songs We Can’t Stop Listening To” became “From the Music Desk” and I began interviewing artists for 20 minutes at a time on camera. Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes did Werner Herzog impersonations with me. Caroline Polachek explained that she is no longer a horse girl, but loved being one. And Lucy Dacus belted “I Can Only Imagine” a fan favorite Christian rock classic from her vacation bible camp days.

Lucy Dacus on From the Music Desk.

The interviews have a collective hundred thousand views on YouTube, which I’m proud of. I talk to artists comfortably, instead of constantly fearing that I’m going to run out of things to say or that they will hate me. I am still nervous before every interview, but less sure that I’m going to screw it up. I feel that 88Nine has given me the skills to be a person. Oftentimes, From the Music Desk has been my confessional.

You’ve let me cry on air. You’ve let me sing my favorite songs. You’ve encouraged me to feel big feelings and to express those over the radio, to thousands of people at a time. You’ve let me be me. 

The other day, I went to Club Garibaldi, then to Cactus, then to Puddlers, my neighborhood round. At every stop, I was greeted by warm friendly faces who were enthusiastic to talk, share and love and I thought, “I’m leaving this??”

I won’t be far, Milwaukee, just a nine-hour drive away. And if you want to hear me, I’ll be on WNXP from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. every day. I’ll still be interviewing bands and pouring my guts out about songs, just not in the 414 area code. So, before I officially sign off here I want to say thank you. 

Thank you for supporting a local radio station. Even in the year of our lord 2022 when radio seems to be a relic from the past, it still is one of the only sources of local media who truly cares about this city. Thank you for supporting local music. Thank you for wanting to listen to something new. Thank you for giving your hard earned money to something you can get for free because you believe in what it stands for. I believe in what it stands for. 88Nine’s mission is to be the catalyst for creating a better, more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee. It accomplishes that mission every day because you give a shit. Thanks for giving a shit, Milwaukee. And thanks for caring about a kid with big feelings who talks for too long on the radio. I love you. 

MICHAEL A NOWOTNY
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Kurt Vile is a Poptimist

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Listening to Kurt Vile, you might peg him as a fan of Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, classic American based guitar rock which Kurt Vile seems to directly descend from. And you would be correct. He cites his love for both of them here.

But you may not have guessed that Kurt Vile listened to Charli XCX’s entire discography in the past week, or wrote a song from Ke$ha, two insights that we gain from this interview. Vile says he’s a music obsessive, and in this interview he proves it.

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Soccer Mommy on ‘Sometimes, Forever’ and Avril Lavigne

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Sophie Allison started going by Soccer Mommy in 2015, when she was about to leave for college at NYU. There, she started playing shows and started making music officially as Soccer Mommy. Since then Radio Milwaukee has played and enjoyed everything she’s made. Her new album, “Sometimes, Forever” will be out on June 24.

Since we were playing “Shotgun,” I would like to talk about “Shotgun.” What were the events in your life that were going on that led to writing that song?

I mean, honestly, I was writing a lot at that exact moment. Despite everything, I’ve been in a very happy relationship for six years now. So, I was really just thinking about that and thinking about the early on, meeting someone. Especially, I was 19 at the time, so meeting someone in a crazy summer and having all these little things that make you love them even more.

Recounting some of the original things that, I guess, made you fall for them a little bit. Yeah, I just wanted it to be fun and youthful and upbeat and just feel like, I guess, that time in my life.

Is your partner Julian?

Yes.

I saw in the liner notes, you have dedicated the track to Julian. I think that that is very sweet.

Yeah. I mean, fun to, I guess, make it ephemeral or whatever. Make it last. I don’t know, sometimes it’s nice to. I don’t usually put stuff in the liner notes really, but I don’t know, I think people should just more times, it doesn’t make it other people’s business still, but I think it’s a nice thing to be able to. For me, I was personally thinking of being able to look back on that and that being a sweet thing.

Totally. Also, I love that, because I love looking at the liner notes. I know that most people don’t and so it’s like a little secret that you kept there. It’s like, how many people will see that? Almost nobody.

Probably not a ton, yeah. Well, and for me, it was also, I remember years ago, before we’d even toured or anything, I had a seven inch that I think I also dedicated a track to Julian or something. I don’t know, I think it’s a nice little private thing to keep going.

It is, it is, yeah. I love that. It’s like I’m reading your little note, which is cute.

Yeah, totally.

We talked when you released “Color Theory” and we talked about a couple of artists, one of them being Joni Mitchell. We talked and we talked about Bruce Springsteen and Hilary Duff, which I thought were great. Joni is such an incredible songwriter. I was wondering, what’s a songwriter that writes in the style that you aspire to?

I think I’m inspired by a lot of different styles. That’s a hard one, because I think you could look at certain songs of mine specifically, where it’s very poetic and crafted. Then, other songs, it’s like very just train of thought. Then, other ones are very crafted, in a way that I would personally say is less poetic.

I think lots of them were upbeat songs I write, even if I am happy with the lyrics and everything, they’re not as detailed. They’re not as like something you could write out and be really amazed by. I think there’s lots of different stuff. I value a lot of different types of writing. I think I value stuff like Joni Mitchell or even someone, speaking of this, like Springsteen. We were listening to a lot of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” in the van. A couple of us were really vibing it. The lyrics from that are just insane and they’re just nostalgic, but also very picturesque. They tell this story, you could make a movie based off of racing in the street or something. You could take that and it’s a whole plot. I’m really interested in stuff like that and I’m interested in stuff where you’re just spilling out all these things you think. Then popping it up into the song and that’s it.

I’m interested in pop writing. I think lyrics can be a little different, but I think people misinterpret the idea that, with a lot of people will listen to a huge hit pop song. Even something like a Max Martin song or something. It’s like, “Oh, these lyrics are so dumb.” It’s like, “Yeah, but if you have these really deeply poetic, long-winded lyrics, it’s not going to work. That’s not what this is.”

There is an art, in my opinion, to writing solid, upbeat pop lyrics that are still good and still hit you where they need to. Have these little calls too, just extremely relatable hooks and stuff. Where, even a song like Complicated, which we play every night before going on stage, there’s an art to having these things that people are going to think about.

One of those, for me, is “Pieces of Me.” That song, it’s just, yeah, they’re dumb lyrics, but there are all these moments that just hook you in and that make it unforgettable and make it that earworm. A song like “Shotgun” is, I don’t think the lyrics to that are bad, per se. I still crafted them in a specific way, I still wanted to do something special with them. But, the chorus is just this repeating thing. Part of it is you want to have a cool, interesting idea there to hook people, but also, literally, the cadence has to be good.

Totally.

It has to be things like that. I think it just depends, there’s lots of different songwriting styles that I think speak to me personally. But, it just depends on the type of song you’re trying to make.

I mean, you know better than me, but I agree with you there.

Oh, thank you.

I love those thoughts. My favorite line in Shotgun is, “Cold beer and ice cream is all we keep, the only things we really need.” Let’s go one detail further on that. What’s your go-to beer and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Okay. So, this is a funny thing to talk about now in an interview, because I don’t drink beer very much any more. I do love it, it’s just trying to cut down on drinking a loaf of bread. But, so ice cream? I really love ice cream and there’s lots of flavors that I love there. I don’t like triple chocolate type of stuff.

Me either.

That’s a no go.

Same.

I’m big on, there’s this Jeni’s flavor. I worked at Jeni’s. There’s this one that’s brown butter almond brittle, that one is absolutely amazing. I love a good mint chocolate chip.

I like a lot of vanilla-based ones, I feel like, because then you can get chocolate and stuff in and it’s not too much.

Me too. I got ice cream yesterday and I was explaining to my friend that my most controversial food opinion is that I think chocolate ice cream is overrated.

It’s too much.

I think my most controversial thing is that I think that strawberry ice cream is disgusting.

Wow. That is a hot take.

I think fruit ice cream in general, it should just be a sorbet. I don’t know why there is milk in there with it.

Especially strawberry. That’s the same thing with, I didn’t like milk growing up. I would only have chocolate milk. People who’d have strawberry milk, I was like, “Oh my god, that’s horrible. That’s like just a chemical mixed in with your milk.” I just think that kind of stuff is gross. I didn’t even answer the beer question.

I think my favorite beer, I’ll make this one faster. We really like Coors, that’s a solid. But I like light ones, like Bud, Coors. If we’re going to like an actual place to buy it, we love Beerlao, which is a Lao beer, I guess it’s a lager. Just stuff like that. Lots of Japanese beer. Lagers are really good.

I would like to end with a music question, because we’re going to go into a song after this. I would love to know. I’d like to do what song is on pause on your phone right now?

Oh, this is going to be embarrassing.

That’s great. That’s even better.

Oh, my god, it’s embarrassing. It is, “How Does it Feel” by Avril Lavigne. Which is really funny, because I have not listened to that in-

Sure, sure.

years. I popped it on yesterday, going to the grocery store.

Why?

Honestly, because before we go on stage, we have a walkout song that’s just ambient stuff. But, we’ve been playing Complicated did before that. Todd, it was always just so fun, because people would start singing and I could hear it through my ears.

Todd would do a dropout and you’d hear everybody singing the chorus and he’d come back in. I was talking to someone about that and then I was driving and I didn’t know what to put on. I was like, “You know what? It’s been a really long time since I listened to one of these albums.” Popped it on.

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Steve Martin and Martin Short talk about the importance of Scrabble in their friendship

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Steve Martin and Martin Short are coming to Milwaukee on May 12 as part of their “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today!” tour. We talk about how Scrabble started their relationship, how it grew, what songs they are listening to and the new show.

Justin Barney talks with Steve Martin and Martin Short

Steve Martin and Martin Short met on the set of the movie “Three Amigos,” where their friendship started, partially, over a game of Scrabble.

Justin Barney: I was reading into a bit how you guys met on the set of the Three Amigos, and I had seen one thing where Martin, you said that one of the first things that you bonded over was Scrabble. Is that true?

Martin Short: We did. We played a lot of Scrabble during making Three Amigos with Chevy, Steve, and myself.

Steve Martin:

And what was great about it is Marty was never embarrassed by always losing.

Martin Short:

No. Well, I was just so aware that I was so much younger than you two and would live so much longer that it gave me that extra kind of sense of happiness.

Steve Martin:

Right. And also our words were in… The words we scored with were in Old English.

Martin Short:

That’s true.

Steve Martin:

Yeah.

How did you know that this was a connection point? Or how did it start?

Martin Short:

Oh, I think someone said, “Hey, do you want to play Scrabble?”

Steve Martin:

No, no. Well, we bonded through comedy, and we had the same… We appreciated, I don’t know, each other’s comedy. Or I had no comedy, he had comedy, and I just latched onto him. I sort of…

Martin Short:

Steve, you had no comedy? So all those filling up Madison Square Gardens were just lotto wins?

Steve Martin:

I’m talking about personal comedy.

Martin Short:

Oh yeah.

Steve Martin:

So I just latched onto his leg. I held onto his leg and sat on his foot as he walked around for about two weeks.

I think part of your charm is digging on each other during the show, which is very funny, and just the best part of an old friendship is always giving it to each other. But Steve, what is the nice thing about working with Martin Short? Why do you like working with Martin Short?

Steve Martin:

Well, we never fight. There’s not a moment of like, “Oh, I hate it when he does that,” although Marty might have it for me, but I…

Martin Short:

No, I am getting out my list.

Steve Martin:

Yeah, you have a list. He keeps a list, a two-page list.

Martin Short:

Santa Claus keeps smaller lists than I do.

Steve Martin:

We have the same goal, which is to do a good show, and we have the same interest in gossip. And Marty, I have some hot gossip when we’re done with these interviews that I want to talk to you about.

Martin Short:

Is that true?

Steve Martin:

Yes.

Love this.

Steve Martin:

But you know…

Martin Short:

No, I think it is not more complicated than most people who become close friends. It is humor, absolutely. But it’s also a respect for the other person’s human decency, and the way he treats people and the way he interacts in situations that could be go either way. And you like that person because they are fair and kind and wise, and therefore the friendship grows.

And I think that it’s aspirational for a friendship. I think that when we see it on stage, it reminds everybody of their oldest friend who you’ve run out of all the important things to say. So you’re onto just bits and digging at each other and gossip and fun.

Martin Short:

Right.

So this is the “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today” tour. How is it the same as old tours and how is it a bit different?

Steve Martin:

We are constantly working on our show, and so it’s always… I’d say after every show, there’s at least an incremental change. And then occasionally he will come up with a whole new five minute routine that we put in. So from, I don’t know, the last… At least we weren’t… We were there at… We were within… I can’t get this out. We haven’t been there probably for five or six years. And our show is probably 70 to 80% different than what we gauge is Netflix show…

Yeah.

Steve Martin:

Because that’s what people have seen. So we keep the structure the same because we like that. In fact, we played with the structure and decided we like the old structure. Of course, the only structural change was in our show now, I come out and then I introduce Marty. And we thought, let’s try it where we both come out. And then we both came out and we thought, “Eh. We like it the old way.” But we do have new lines and new things, and we’re always kind of tweaking it.

Steve Martin:

And I’m looking for a new partner, so there’s…

Martin Short:

Yeah, right.

Steve Martin:

Always in the mix, yeah.

Okay, great So, we’re a music station. We’re going to come out of this with a song. Martin Short, what’s the last song that you couldn’t stop listening to?

Martin Short:

The last song I couldn’t stop… Well, it had to be by Mungo Jerry, probably “In The Summertime.”

Steve Martin:

Really?

Martin Short:

No, I’m joking. I don’t know. The last song I couldn’t stop listening.

Steve Martin:

I’m surprised you even know Mungo Jerry.

Martin Short:

Well I have a references level, if that’s what you mean?

Steve Martin:

Yeah.

Martin Short:

I would say the last song that I couldn’t stop listening to was, I just heard James Taylor sing “Up on a Roof.”

Steve Martin:

Oh, that’s nice.

And why do you like that song? Or what did it speak to you?

Martin Short:

I just love that song. Great song, great singer.

Sometimes, it’s as easy as that.

Martin Short:

Yeah.

So Steve Martin…

Steve Martin:

You are going to hate the song that’s stuck in my head.

Great. Love that.

Steve Martin:

But I don’t know your format.

It doesn’t matter. That’s the beauty.

Steve Martin:

Okay, it doesn’t matter. The last song that got stuck in my head as of yesterday was “Baby Shark.” Because my daughter was singing it. By the way, she knows it drives us nuts, so she was singing it aggressively. And so now it’s in my head, Baby Shark.

Martin Short:

And when she sings those songs, Steve, don’t you like to pick her up and twirl her?

Steve Martin:

Oh yes. When Baby Shark comes on, she runs in, and I always pick her up by the arms and swing her around, yes.

Martin Short:

That is so cool. How old is your daughter now?

Steve Martin:

She’s 54.

Martin Short:

I see. That’s a limber girl.

All right, well that is perfect and fantastic. Steve Martin and Martin Short, they’re coming to Milwaukee on the “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today” tour at the Riverside Theater on May 12th. Event starts at 8:00.

Steve Martin:

May 12.

Doors are at 7:00.

Steve Martin:

The countdown begins.

The countdown begins. Steve Martin, Martin Short. Thank you so much for joining me and for talking to us, and setting aside some time.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

How public transportation in the Philippines became the centerpiece of Toro y Moi’s new album

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The Jeepney is key to understanding Toro y Moi’s new album, “Mahal.” But what is a Jeepney? “A Jeepney is a public transit vehicle from the Philippines. Specifically made out of WWII parts from American jeeps that were left in the Philippines after the war.”

Chaz Bear, who is Toro y Moi, explains. On his album “Mahal,” he wants to take you into the Jeepney. Actually, his Jeepney, he bought in the Bay and decorated himself, with a help from our mutual friend, and UW-Madison grad Gretchen Carvajal, who runs the company BRWNGRLZ.

Toro y Moi. Photo credit: Chris Maggio

While in the Jeepney, the album is also a tour of the America, with recurring themes of Mississippi and the South, the place Chaz is from and says needs the love and admiration that he gives it on the album.

We talk about this and so much more in the interview below.

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Khruangbin on how they came together and why they stay together

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Before they were a band, the component parts of Khruangbin met every Tuesday night for burgers and beer at Rudyard’s in Houston after the guys got done playing at St. John’s Methodist. And after three years Laura Lee asked DJ to officially join their band. He then waited five years to give her an answer. Now they are Khruangbin, one of our favorite bands.

Laura Lee and DJ talk about forming the band and what each one of them offers that makes the band work so well.

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Beach House’s Alex Scally on Brian Eno and why he doesn’t write lyrics

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I’ve interviewed Beach House’s Alex Scally three times about songs that he can’t stop listening to, and each time our discussions have ultimately centered around lyrics. Which is interesting, of course, since Scally doesn’t write lyrics for Beach House. During our latest conversation about the his most recent song obsession (the 1990 Brian Eno and John Cale track “Spinning Away”), we discussed what draws him to good lyrics, and why he’s shied away from writing them during his own career.

You can read our conversation below.

David Belisle Beach House | Courtesy photo

I always talk to musicians about a song that they can’t stop listening to, and we, me and you, have done this twice before. Both songs that you picked and the reasons that you picked them, I think of all of the time. The very first time that we did this at Eaux Claires years ago, you picked a song “End of the Night” from The Doors. You talked about thinking of The Doors as a revolutionary band when you were a teenager, then thinking they were dumb, then at Eaux Claires you were like, “no, I’m reclaiming them, they are revolutionary.

I think there might even be one more oscillation in my history with The Doors. One more, actually they suck. Wait, actually they’re the best. I think it’s been three full revolutions of that since the first time I heard them at age 11 or 12 or whatever.

Then the last time we talked, you picked “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell. I had listened to Joni Mitchell, but there is something in what you said about it, that really made me listen in a different way. It made me fall in love with Joni Mitchell for the first time.

That makes me so happy to hear, because I always felt Joni Mitchell was completely unapproachable, for whatever reason. I just knew who she was. I knew the hits and I just couldn’t find my way in. And that’s exactly what happened. I think it was that song or one song on that first side of that record that brought me into her artistry. That record is still as poignant to me as the first time I heard it when I was 19. That’s such a beautiful record.

So Alex, what have you been listening to recently?

I’m going to say, “Spinning Away” by Brian Eno and John Cale, from the album “Wrong Way Up,” released in 1990. By 1990, Eno had left being, maybe what you would call, a frontman or having his own band or music, being the center of his identity. He had moved to producing cool records and collaborating a lot with other people.

That’s probably an oversimplification of that point in his career, but it seems to me like what was going on.

And how did this song enter your sphere?

This is a weird one, actually. I think I was sliding around social media and I heard someone playing this song on acoustic guitar, and I thought it was their song. I was like, “Oh my God. This person can write some serious lyrics.” But then I saw the caption below something like “This is my favorite song of all time.”

So then I was like, oh, okay, I’m going to check this out.

This was maybe a couple years ago. So I became aware of the song then. For whatever reason recently, possibly because of leave, reentering the world, possibly because of the absurd, intense passage of time that we’ve all experienced the last few years. Which has both felt excruciatingly slow and like time just disappeared. Something about this song, the way it discusses time and moments and creation in life, is really hitting right now in 2022, too.

How does it accomplish that?

Well, okay. It’s a really simple chord progression, right. Any kind of, studious ear will immediately hear a chord progression, they’ve heard five million times. And it’s kind of an emo chord progression. So it’s kind of been beat to death, like it’s emotional power feels like it’s been overused.

So you’re like, okay, this song’s kind of cool. But then typically it has just really interesting, cool production going on. Really interesting drums, all the sounds fit really well together, the way Eno does.

Then the lyrics start. Which to me, is the absolute best part. It’s kind of just a little poem that he unfurls and it’s just really graceful and beautiful and the words are simple but really poignant.

But the feeling is really strong. It’s a really strong, clear feeling.

And what is the poem about?

Literally, he’s just sitting somewhere and watching the night descend. He’s talking about creativity. He’s drawing. He is observing. Then he’s looking back at his drawing and trying to figure out what he made.

And so it’s very poetic. The way he draws the lines together, the way one line flows to the next, actually reminds me of some of my favorite Bob Dylan lyrics, like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the way each line kind of just naturally leads to the next. And they’re all connected. It’s just beautiful poetry.

It’s simple, which is nice. It’s not pretentious in any way. It’s very simple.

But I love when a musician talks about creating something. When Stephen Sondheim died, I listened to “Finishing the Hat,” which is a song about making something. Hearing somebody make something about making something is a level of kind of navel-gazing, an introspection that I think is really interesting.

Right. I feel the exact same way about when that’s the lyrical content of something. But I also think that even if a listener might not consider themselves a creative person. I think that creativity, the making of something is a metaphor for just existence. It’s like you wake every day, what are you going to make of the day? Of your time?

So I think you could see it as completely inside of the art, or I also think it could get depending on the lyrics and how abstract they are, can get lifted out into just being about how, each footfall you take is some sort of weird writing of a story that you’re making.

Oh my god, I love that. Also, when we were talking about “Case of You,” you talked about the lyrics too. And here you’re talking about the lyrics. I think that’s interesting that is what you pick up on in so many songs are the lyrics.

I’m a huge fan of lyrics and I’m also very lucky that I’m not the main lyric writer of this band. I’ll add some here and do some helping, but I think Victoria’s a very interesting lyricist. So I get to just be in this wonderful position of just getting to hear her lyrics all the time.

Do you want to?

What?

Write lyrics.

No, I don’t. I don’t think it’s one of my skills. I enjoy them immensely, but I’m not good at it because the lyrics I tend to write are far too closed and rather than let the feeling be what it is and follow it. It’s like it cuts it down and closes it.

I feel very much like I’m happy, where I am musically. And that doesn’t include thinking about lyrics, that much.

That’s just so interesting to me that you’re drawn to it. It’s a thing that you do, but you don’t trust yourself to do it in your band.

I think it’s just honesty. You have to know what you’re good at in life and do that.

I believe that Victoria’s very good at naming feelings and following intuition in a really natural way.

Great. Well, that is it. Thank you.

I hope you dig this song. I don’t think it’s for every moment. It’s definitely an intense, emotional song. If you were at a casual, middle of the day, driving somewhere, it might not be the song you put on, because it’s just, so intense.

Those are my favorite songs.

Beach House are playing at the Riverside Theater this Sunday. Tickets are available here.

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Hippo Campus on “LP3,” the album that saved them

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Nathan Stocker and Whistler Allen called in the middle of rehearsal. Which begged the question, “How the hell are they going to perform this album?”

Their newest, “LP3,” is a tight 10 songs, but each one is different, unexpected, and seemingly impossible for a group of five. Once they found their way into a storage closet in the rehearsal space we were able to talk about how they wrote this album. They admit that the way they made the last two albums was so divisive that it almost broke up the band, but on “LP3” they finally worked together like they did at the beginning of the band.

We also talk about the influence of Bon Iver on this album and a couple songs the band can’t stop listening to.

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Animal Collective riffs on ‘Time Skiffs’

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“We tend to keep things a little vague,” Avey Tare, part of the collaborative group that is Animal Collective, tells me about their approach to lyrics. He says that interpretation is out of his hands as soon as the record is out and he doesn’t want to get in the way of anyone’s interpretation of his own lyrics. But that didn’t stop me from asking and getting some wonderful results.

Animal Collective’s new record “Time Skiffs” includes a songs about a benevolent king of Arthurian legend, avant-garde artist Scott Walker and the relativity of time. And that’s just what we get into in this interview.

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How Samm Henshaw understood the assignment

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Samm Henshaw started playing shows in his sophomore year of “uni” at Solent University in Southhampton, United Kingdom. His band’s name was Ill Phunk and they did covers of everything from ska to D’Angelo. Things were going well. And actually, they were going too well, because Henshaw started failing all his classes.

His mom and dad stepped in and shut down the shows until he got his grades up. So the next year he didn’t play any shows at all. But, his degree was in musical performance, and in his final year a final project for one of his classes was to play a show. His parents couldn’t argue with that. So he played the show, and what he didn’t know was that his friends had asked every person they knew in the music industry to attend.

By the time he got off the stage there were record labels waiting to sign him. Eventually he signed with Columbia, under the condition that he be able to finish his degree. He finished his degree. Mom and dad were happy. He signed to Columbia. And now he just released his first album, “Untidy Soul.”

Watch our interview below.

Nonprofit Radio Milwaukee is supported by you! Your gift today powers all our work — including the story you just read!

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