Guy Clark with his wife Susanna, and Jerry Jeff Walker with his wife Susan.
Tamara Saviano has been living and breathing Guy Clark for about 20 years – as a friend, publicist, author and now filmmaker. Her 2016 Guy Clark biography Without Getting Killed Or Caught came out just weeks before the legendary songwriter’s passing – and had his blessing. Amongst Guy’s standards are “Desperadoes Waiting For A Train”…”Homegrown Tomatoes”…”Randall Knife”…”L.A. Freeway”…”She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and countless others, and he has been covered by the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Jimmy Buffett, Kathy Mattea, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
We’re a bit more than halfway through 2021, all laser-focused on a normalcy finish line. Slowly, the tour machine is grinding up, and all the artists who have released great pandemic recordings are getting ready to strut their stuff on the concert stage. The back half of 2021 is likely to look a lot different – lots more releases, shows, concerts, actual live music on KUTX – and we’re all really excited about that. But we shouldn’t overlook the great music that has already been made, even it was released more or less in a vacuum. Here are some of our favorite songs from the first half of the year. Maybe you’ll find some of yours.
– Jeff McCord, KUTX Music Editor
Art Levy -producer/host
Field Music – “Orion From The Street”
In their recent ‘My KUTX’ takeover, the Brewis brothers showed off a love for all things ’80s pop, which you can hear as a throughline across their varied work. But what sets Field Music apart from so many similarly-inspired bands is their attention to detail, and a restless creativity. They self-record in their Sunderland, England-based home studio, which allows for happy accidents and an off-kilter point of view. “Orion From The Street” is big and joyous, but homespun, the kind of music that’s daydreamed into existence.
Pino Palladino & Blake Mills – “Just Wrong”
The credits between Pino Palladino and Blake Mills are staggering: Pino’s played bass with D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and The Who; Blake produced Alabama Shakes’ smash Sound & Color before working with John Legend, Perfume Genius, and more, including his own recordings. This team-up was bound to bear some interesting fruit. “Just Wrong” is generously weird: not off-putting, just off-kilter. Pairing a mini-orchestra with a shape-shifting jazz ensemble, the song sounds as if Brian Wilson were a member of the Soulquarians, or J Dilla chopped up Pet Sounds. Add in Sam Gendel’s stuttering sax and you get a song that’s as strange as the past eighteen months, but ready to usher in a new future.
Shannon Lay – “Rare To Wake”
Shannon Lay makes the kind of folk music that sounds simple, but it’s deceptively complex. “Rare To Wake” leaps gracefully between time signatures, Nick Drake-like drones, and choral arrangements, all in a completely naturalistic way. If that weren’t enough, Shannon’s lyrics and singing are exceptional, tapping into the need for change in these hazy, in-limbo times. “I will miss my pain / But I have to make way for something better,” she sings. “Without change something / Sleeps inside us.” This is a song that comes from standing on the edge of a new door, and that uncertainty gives it extraordinary power.
Elizabeth McQueen – producer/host
Golden Dawn Arkestra – “Phenomenal”
I hear a lot of new music when I’m making the Pause/Play podcast. We used this track beneath our interview with Golden Dawn Arkestra band leader Topaz McGarrigle — but this song is much more than killer background music. I keep returning to it because of the way it captures the frustration so many of us felt this last year — having to accept digital interactions over actual physical interactions. Plus it’s a killer dance song and dancing may be one of the best ways that I know of to process the trauma of the last year.
Bo Burnham – “Welcome to the Internet”
Bo Burham’s Netflix special Inside is one the most interesting pieces of art to come out of the pandemic so far. It’s an insightful and devastating look at internet culture, pandemic panic and the creative process. “Welcome to the Internet,” a song from the special, sums up so much of the ambivalence I feel about the massive digital space that seems so incomprehensible and out of our collective control. “Could I interest you in everything, All of the time? A little bit of everything, All of the time. Apathy’s a tragedy and boredom is a crime. Anything and everything. All of the time.” Plus it’s catchy as hell and gets stuck in my head for days.
Magna Carda – “Better If”
I love a song that charts a good internal discussion and this song does that so well. On the track, Megz Kelli ponders whether it’s better to address an attraction head-on, or whether it’s better if “I kept it on the page.” Truly, who hasn’t been there? Dougie Do’s accompanying beat is the perfect compliment, both hopeful and melancholy at the same time.
Jacquie Fuller – assistant program director
Bachelor – “Stay In The Car”
There’s so much I love about this song: the fuzzy 90s vibe, Jay Som and Palehound’s Kim-Deal-esque cooing, the way the chorus swells. But what ultimately hooks me are the lyrics. The narrative they create seems mundane, but by zeroing in so acutely on a moment, this song defamiliarizes it into something downright Lynchian.
Ya Tseen – “Knives”
As a kid, I split my time between Texas and rural Alaska, so I bring a little bias to my love of this multi-disciplinary artist. Nevertheless, I fell for this track long before I knew anything about Ya Tseen’s indigenous/Alaskan background (which just made me love this song more.) All brooding minor key and wavering restraint, “Knives” is a sexy, clenched fist of a song.
Nuevo – “Querido”
Tex-Mex music – conjunto in particular – was a mainstay of my childhood in San Antonio. As I got older, discovering the connections this music had to my beloved rock-and-roll – from ? and the Mysterians to Doug Sahm – felt like a kind of cultural validation. Nuevo – the new project from Hacienda’s Dante Schwebel, keeps this torch brightly lit. “Querido” is a sweet number that refuses to let you forget that Elvis Costello’s trademark organ sound wouldn’t have existed without artists like Augie Meyers.
Jay Trachtenberg – host
Valerie June – “You And I”
I was fortunate enough to interview Valerie June in Studio 1A, and I was struck by what a spiritual-minded person she is. This spirituality shines through in her music via a soulful, ethereal voice and haunting, wistful lyrics to match. I couldn’t get enough of this song.
Twin Shadow – “Johnny & Jonnie”
This song stopped me right in my tracks the first time I heard it. Maybe it was the fidgety quality that reminded me of some of the UK Two Tone bands I so admire. Or perhaps I was hearing Twin Shadow’s Dominican/Caribbean roots at play. All I know was that I wanted to get up and dance.
Altin Gun – “Yuce Dag Basinda”
Looking for a new sound? Try this on for size. The music of Amsterdam-based Altin Gun has been described as “Anatolian rock” mixed with “psychedelic Turkish folk.” And when you throw in lyrics sung in the particularly impenetrable Turkish language it makes for a stunningly exotic mix. And the dub-wise touches of reggae are always a plus in my book.
Jeff McCord – music editor, host
Sons of Kemet – “Hustle”
Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings stands tall (literally) among London’s new jazz scene, fronting several disparate acts. The best of them, Sons of Kemet, is a four-piece deeply rooted in Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Not everything on their ambitious new album Black to the Future takes flight, but “Hustle”, featuring UK rapper Kojey Radical, burrows its disjointed, loose-limbed funk deep into your subconscious. On the surface, it’s a simple tale of rising up (“I go make nothing something”), but the chugging tuba and nimble percussion bring Radical’s fervor alive.
Faye Webster – “I Know I’m Funny haha”
She is funny. But there’s much more to this 24-year-old Atlanta songwriter – her wry observations, a certain who-gives-a-f**k youthful arrogance, witty songs about the commonplace told with grace and economy. On the title track from her latest album, a couple, about to vacate the neighborhood, drinks sake and gossips about their siblings and neighbors. Nothing much happens, Yet through three verses that don’t change much musically, adorned by a sleepy and pitchy slide guitar, Webster achieves a kind of hypnosis. You’re there with them on this summer night, tasting the humid air, watching the streets as the sky grows dark. “I wonder if they know we’re moving.”
Dawn Richard – “Bussifame”
In a long career that’s been all over the place, New Orleans artist/actor/animator/model/dancer Richard has been full of surprises. Her group Danity Kane found pop stardom, which led to a collaboration with Sean Combs and even more success. But that all ended almost a decade ago, and judging from her new recording Second Line: An Electro Revival, she is not nostalgic about those days. Describing “Bussifame”, she told an interviewer “I’m celebrating the death of old views in the industry.” If this sounds bitter, it’s anything but. “Bussifame” is n absolutely joyous romp, rolling the city’s heartbeat into slick house production. It’s all there – vintage soul, hip-hop, funk, second line; it’s a bracing fusion that brings all of Richard’s talents to the fore.
Jody Denberg – host
The Los Sundowns – “Se Cae El Sol”
This Austin outfit – featuring guitarist/producer Beto Martinez and drummer/DJ Daniel Villareal – recently premiered with their self-titled debut. This song, with a title that translates to “The Sun Goes Down”, captures the mystical hours of twilight time like some long-lost Ennio Morricone score. Along with current instrumentals by The Budos Band and The Menahan Street Band, The Los Sundowns give us a break from the linear world into a foggy notion. Do it again.
Femi Kuti – “Pa Pa Pa“
The son of Afrobeat pioneer and activist Fela Kuti follows in his father’s footsteps with this undeniable groove, fronted by lyrics that call for governments to act on behalf of citizens. From the album “Legacy +” – a double-disc that features Femi on one-half and on the other, Made Kuti (Femi’s son, Fela’s grandson) carrying on the family tradition.
The Lazy Eyes – “Where Is My Brain???”
Of all the great, trippy psychedelic-prog emerging from down under (Psychedelic Porn Crumpets anyone? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard?), this song is a favorite. The group formed when they were in high school (!), and though they wrote this song four years ago it is just now being heard. I first discovered it on journalist/DJ David Fricke’s “The Writer’s Block” satellite radio show and have been hooked on it ever since. Be sure to listen to the long version (6:39) when you can!
Matt Reilly – program director
Israel Nash – “Stay”
I love Israel’s voice and adding horns is a nice touch. This is like comfort food for me. It feels familiar and easy to get into.
Golden Dawn Arkestra – “Phenomenal”
Sometimes you want a cosmic dance tune. It’s impossible to sit still when this comes on. Can’t wait to see it live and embarrass myself by showing off my sweet old man dance moves.
Shungudzo – “It’s A Good Day To Fight The System”
A protest song wrapped in a candy coating. I’ve been curious as to why there haven’t been more loud, angry songs about fighting the system as these times are ripe. Turns out, this delivery method is more delightfully subversive.
Paul Carruba – host
Little Simz “Introvert”
I mean, that marching fanfare…do I have to say more? The word “epic” is way overused, but here, it’s pretty darn apt. “Introvert” is the aural equivalent of ultra-widescreen 4K. It’s also a reminder that Little Simz is one of the finest MCs around. Full stop. Her flow is as fast, fearless and her words bleed like an open-wound. She wrestles at once with the ills of the world and her own self-doubt about who she is as a person and an artist. “To you I’m smiling but really I’m hurting,” Simz declares in one particular gut-punch of a lyric. And she keeps them coming rapid-fire over swelling, symphonic bombast. A truly epic song from an epically talented artist.
This is not a flex or a brag, but I’ve been a champion of these British weirdos for a while. I’m just glad that their growing UK acclaim is finally starting to seep in over here in the colonies. “Paddling” has got everything that makes Squid such a pleasure (well, for me anyway) to listen to: spiky guitars, driving motorik beat, lead singer Ollie Judge’s delightfully manic, semi-sprechgesang. But if you’ve followed Squid, you’ll notice a subtly more sophisticated sound—incorporating electronic touches and a, for lack of a better word, “fuller” arrangement. I will be the first one to admit that the band ain’t for everybody, but if you’ve got a hankering for the strange and interesting, I suggest you dive down to the murky depths with Squid.
Dry Cleaning “Strong Feelings”
Dry Cleaning follows a proud lineage of British post-punk—bittersweet melodies and lyrics that make you want to smoke cigs in a cold, damp northern winter. Dry Cleaning, though, has something unique in vocalist Florence Shaw. More spoken-word artist than singer, she lets loose intriguing and oblique lyrics in a breathy deadpan that evokes Jarvis Cocker’s sardonic snarl and John Cooper Clarke’s cranky cool. “Strong Feelings” kicks off with a driving beat and a rumbling bassline, and then Shaw drops in with one of the best first-lines I’ve heard in a while: “Just an emo dead stuff collector.” If you’re just reading that non-sequitur of a lyric, you’re missing out on how perfect Shaw’s delivery is, and how well it complements the backing track. It’s doomy and hopeful at the same time—which is why Dry Cleaning fits snugly in the pocket of great post-punk.
Rick McNulty – music director/host
Tamar Aphek – “Crossbow”
The most propulsive song you’ll hear all year, like a stampede of wild mustangs avoiding capture. Tamar is my new favorite guitarist and her drummer, David Gorensteyn, my new favorite percussionist.
Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
It took two indie stars to channel the ghost of Roy Orbison. The vocals soar to heights we haven’t heard since 1989, which not coincidentally was the year Orbison released his last album–the one record Van Etten said she listened to on repeat during the pandemic.
Flock of Dimes – “Price of Blue”
Jenn Wasner is hitting her stride with songs to burn between Wye Oak and her solo project. This track shows off her guitar chops, but even more, it reveals her dramatic vision for epic compositions. Pro tip: the album version is a 6+ minute journey to the heart of darkness.
Soundfounder – host
quickly, quickly – “Feel”
Electronic producer quickly, quickly completely pivots away from his typical electronic sound for this funky, emotional journey with a live band. The drum track feels influenced by Afrobeat and creates a unique foundation for the dense layers of melody and vocals. The unexpected pairing of the rhythm and melody parts creates a juxtaposition of styles that feels distinct and memorable.
Madlib – “Hopprock”
Prolific multi-instrumentalist, rapper, and beat maker Madlib’s 2021 album Sound Ancestors is a collaboration between himself and acclaimed Electronic Producer Four Tet. In an interview with the BBC, Madlib claims to have sent around 2,000 beats to Four Tet from which he cherry picked 16 tracks to be manipulated, mixed, and mastered. The end result is arguably Madlib’s most well polished solo album: “Sound Ancestors”. With heavy drums and rhythmic plucked guitar samples, “Hopprock” stands out as a rock-solid single from the project. Simply undeniable craftsmanship from one of the greatest ever.
BoomBaptist – “Komfort Food”
Austin Beat producer BoomBaptist took advantage of his time during the Global Pandemic lockdown of 2020/2021 to produce and release multiple projects, and start a new record label – Cream Dream Records. The track Komfort Food is part of a self-released compilation paying tribute to the influential beat maker J Dilla, and it stands as one of Boombaptist’s most confident and high-quality tracks to date. A heavy drum break and keyboard samples take the listener on journey as Boom flexes his production chops all the way through. It’s a fun time.
photos and video courtesy of The Octopus Project
By Art Levy
Every living thing gives off electricity. It’s a fact that shouldn’t be buried in boring textbooks but displayed in gigantic, neon letters at the front of the classroom. When you learn that “every living thing gives off electricity,” it leaves you in awe, and your mind starts to make interesting connections, spreading like mycelium. Soon the next question arrives. “Cool. Then can mushrooms make music?”
That’s the thinking behind one of the more unique concerts you’re able to see from the comfort of your couch. On May 1, Austin electronic group the Octopus Project hosts a livestream and benefit for the Central Texas Mycological Society that features music and visuals essentially “played” by mushrooms, followed by a Q&A on this fascinating process. (And just to be clear: a mushroom is not a plant. It’s a fungus, a separate biological kingdom more closely related to humans than to plants).
Nature has inspired musicians for centuries, but recent history has proven to be a particularly fertile time. Experimental composer John Cage was a dedicated amateur mycologist, going so far as to publish a book of recipes, photos, and essays about the musicality of mushrooms in 1972. There’s also Mother Earth’s Plantasia, a 1976 album of childlike synthesizer music by Mort Garson that somewhat dubiously claimed to help your plants grow. And Stevie Wonder capped off the 1970s (and his chart-topping run of albums) with Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants, a documentary soundtrack featuring ninety minutes of bizarre, electro-funk plant worship, all from the man who brought you “Sir Duke.”
But in 2021, musicians aren’t content with merely playing for plants—they’re playing with plants. The Octopus Project is no stranger to taking wonderful, science-adjacent ideas like these and running with them. The band—Yvonne Lambert, Josh Lambert, Toto Miranda, and Mari Rubio—is known for its wildly-creative live shows, like those for the 2010 album Hexadecagon, which featured eight loudspeakers surrounding the members while eight projectors showed videos synced to the music.
Like a fungal network, the band’s interest in mushrooms doesn’t have a definitive starting point, but the project first started sprouting in Peru in 2019. There, Yvonne and Josh met a friend who had a MIDI biodata sonification device, which measures electrical fluctuations through sensors attached directly to any living thing—plant, fungus, or otherwise. That data is then translated into MIDI notes, which can be played by a synthesizer or computer software. They drove around the Sacred Valley, home to Machu Picchu, and started testing the device on various plants, amazed at the possibilities opening before their ears. Yvonne and Josh quickly bought a sonification device as soon as they got back to Austin, and the process of playing music with mushrooms has been inspiring. “The sky’s the limit with this,” says Josh. “There’s a ton of stuff that can be mined from this idea.”
KUTX: How did the idea of playing music with mushrooms first come about?
Yvonne: In Peru, we had been focusing on plants and we just happened upon this random kind of garden mushroom and decided to try to record that. [We] noticed a huge difference between the biodata that we picked up from the mushroom versus the plants. The mushroom gave off a much more dense signal of this constant information. [When turned into MIDI notes] it sounded like a mad scientist playing a pipe organ, compared to a eucalyptus tree we recorded that played one note and then five to 10 seconds of silence and then that same note again—this kind of minimal pulse of sound. This mushroom was like an explosion of sounds.
Being in quarantine [this past year], I joined the Central Texas Mycological Society just to go on some mushroom hikes and learn more about mushrooms and hopefully gain access to much more mushrooms to record. I think initially I was going to do a mushroom hike where we recorded mushrooms, live and in person. And with lockdown getting more serious last December, we decided to try something a little different and do a Zoom kind of performance.
KUTX: How does this MIDI biodata sonification device work?
Josh: Anything that’s alive is giving off internal electrical impulses. And [the device] is registering the different impulses that each [living] being has and then translating it into MIDI data, which we bring into the computer and then assign whatever kind of sound we want or key or whatever. We design what it sounds like.
Yvonne: For this performance, we’re actually using the MIDI data from the mushrooms to control [both] the music and the video.
Josh: One really cool thing is that, when the MIDI data changes, [the video] can change. We’ll set up the parameters, but [the mushroom] can make things bigger or smaller or change colors or shape or whatever. And it does do it over time, so it does change constantly. It’s pretty interesting.
Toto: We’re also providing it with live input, like Josh will be changing the sound, or Yvonne will be playing another instrument on top, or I’ll be adjusting the video live. So [the performance] has both input from the plant data source and our live input kind of as a feedback loop, I guess, if the plant is listening [laughs]. Both human and plant data [are] controlling what you see and hear.
KUTX: I take it different types of mushrooms are going to “sound” different, right?
Yvonne: Yeah, their data and variations will be different.
Josh: You can also kind of customize it. This mushroom physically looks like this, so maybe it sounds like this kind of thing to me. What does it feel like for that mushroom to be?
Yvonne: In the past we’ve had these big trumpet mushrooms and it seemed kind of funny to assign them these horn sounds. [laughs]
Josh: It sounds cool and sometimes [it sounds] stupid. [laughs]
KUTX: How does it feel as musicians to work with a non-human collaborator?
Toto: We’ve done ambient stuff kind of like this before, like trying to set up an atmosphere. And this just feels like there’s another hand in the process that is something to respond to.
Yvonne: I think plants make excellent ambient music. [laughs] It feels like a true collaboration in this way of just making ambient music.
Josh: It’s either ambient or like totally crazy sounding. [laughs]
KUTX: I can imagine that can be both frustrating but also really exciting as a musician, allowing the mushroom to dictate where the performance goes. What is that experience like?
Josh: We’re not necessarily in control, which feels cool. And ideas or sounds or rhythms that we wouldn’t necessarily have come up with on our own come out, and so it feels kind of exciting every time. But I don’t know what it’s going to sound like—I mean, within parameters—but I just literally have no idea what it’s going to be. It’s like free jazz or something, you know. It’s just like improvising.
KUTX: Right. So each performance is totally unique.
Toto: Yeah. The way we’ve been approaching this show is kind of having a different sort of sound and visual environment for each of five or six types of mushrooms. So Josh and Yvonne have been kind of developing a sound for it, and then I’ve been developing a visual. I’ll get something that I think is working pretty well visually, based on the kind of input I think we’re going to be getting from the mushroom. But then a lot of times we’ll set it up and the mushroom is just not doing what I expected at all. [laughs] So I have to go back to the drawing board like, “OK, well, do you like this one?” [laughs] It’s like having a client—you have to meet their demands.
KUTX: Or like a grumpy band member. [laughs]
Toto: Yeah. “I made this cool thing for you, why don’t you want to play with me?”
KUTX: Where did you get the mushrooms?
Josh: Well, right now, just for testing, we’ve just been buying them at the store.
Yvonne: Wheatsville, Central Market. Asian markets like H Mart and 99 Ranch have some pretty big mushrooms—big, unusual ones. So Asian markets are a really great resource and then the Central Texas Mycological Society have given us some. [And Smallhold], which is a company here in town, they’re going to be giving us some mushrooms for us to play for the performance as well.
KUTX: Has this experience changed your perception of the natural world?
Josh: I guess we’re always [aware] that everything is alive and then this is kind of like a visual and audio representation of it—this is proof. This thing is speaking to you in this way. You’re seeing and hearing it. It makes you feel a lot more connected to everything.
Yvonne: I’ve always loved plants, and going to Peru was another kind of step in learning about plants. And I’ve always talked to my plants and felt a closeness with my plants, but I do feel like this music box has kind of opened up a whole new world of connecting with the plants in general.
KUTX: I’m excited to see this in action. Anything else you want to say about the performance?
Toto: [During the show] I’ll be running the visual system, which inevitably involves continuing to tinker with the way the network is set up, and it already has this kind of like science lab look to it. It’s a visual programing system with nodes that connect with wires, which is super fun and looks really complicated. [laughs]
KUTX: And correct me if I’m wrong, that’s kind of similar to how a fungal network can work, right?
Toto: Yeah. The aesthetic works with that and is, you know, also about connections. It’s all about connections.
The viewer is lured in by the serene scene of a glorious sunset…perhaps piqued by the mysterious renegades looking toward the orange and purple horizon. Then BOOM – cue the surf/garage punk-rock-a-go-go. It’s got the dance and tumble psyched-out film stock vibe of your favorite ’60s exploitation film, the edge of civilization, only Russ Myer’s gotta sit this one out. Sorry, pal. No mercy from the unleashed beasts of the Bombay Beach brigade.
It’s a cool lo-fi badass video Sheverb released this month for “Rattle Can Thrash,” one of ten desert-fueled surf-psych instrumental treasures from Once Upon a Time in Bombay Beach, a conceptual piece literally inspired by tuning in and dropping out.
Cut to pre-pandemic February 2020: The band leaves behind the bustle of Austin, heads out to the “semi-abandoned” Southern Californian resort town the LP is named for, and completely immerse themselves in the songwriting process, including building a makeshift recording studio in a barn and crashing out in bunk beds in communal living spaces. Totally a family affair.
“We wanted to write an album that had elements of Southern California 1950’s/1960’s surf culture, psychedelics, real rock ‘n’ roll, Texas honky-tonk Western vibes, and of course, our kind of signature desert rock sound,” says Sheverb co-founder and guitarist Betty Benedeadly. “The Bombay Beach really embodied all of those elements, and we thought, what better place to go live for a month together?”
The experiment proved to be an eye-opening, magical time for the womxn-led collective, capped off with a finale performance at local dive Ski Inn, followed by their “Rattle Can Thrash” video shoot extravaganza in – where else? – a graffiti-covered abandoned house. True, most folks might skip a visit to Bombay Beach, but the remote, dystopian setting was perfect for Sheverb’s latest adventure. The entire journey was, in their own words, a dream come true.
– Laurie Gallardo
Spoon Gets The Fan Treatment In A New Podcast
by Jacquie Fuller
“We need to start a Spoon podcast,” I said to Art Levy sometime around 2017. At pre-pandemic KUTX, Art and I sat beside one another – only a cubicle half-wall and a potted plant between us. Every so often, we’d pop our heads over the half-wall like prairie dogs to make a Mr. Show reference or discuss our favorite band. We’d nerd out on the latter so often that we started thinking that our Spoon chats might make for a fun podcast. We went so far as to draft up a proposal for our boss, but our assigned jobs always got in the way.
For three years, a Slack or email (we really need to make that podcast!) would occasionally float between us. Then, one night while scrolling Instagram, I stumbled upon an about-to-launch Spoon podcast called I Turn My Podcast On. I forwarded it to Art: “Someone beat us to it.” Was I a little bummed? Of course! Until I heard it.
* * *
Though Spoon has been my favorite band since ’97-ish, it never occurred to me to connect online with other Spoon fans. Aside from going to shows and making mixed CDs for friends, my experience of music tended to be solitary. I knew the official Spoon message board existed, but I never participated. If I had, I would’ve encountered the podcast’s host and producer, Tyler Darling.
Darling didn’t learn about the band until 2005, via an interview in Guitar Player that moved him to buy their Gimmie Fiction release sound-unheard. But he didn’t join the message board until 2009, when he first saw the band live. It was then that, Darling told me by email, “I realized I needed to own every recording produced by the band, and seek out their message board to get tracks from fans.”
“I’ve never met up with anyone in real life from the site,” he said, “but there are several people over the years that I’ve traded tracks with.” The board still exists, but with the rise of social media, participation dwindled to only the die-hards. Darling calls the board “a cool time capsule with lots of dead MediaFire links and all kinds of opinions and conversations.” One of those die-hard conversations?: Darling proposing a podcast about his favorite band.
* * *
That’s where it began for Darling. He kicked around ideas with a few fellow members, but eventually the thread went quiet for a year and a half.
Then the pandemic hit, and the thread picked up again: “So this is still happening … stay tuned!”
The pandemic presented the perfect opportunity: Darling had a bit more time on his hands and his favorite band was, like so many others, grounded. Early on, Darling had emailed frontman Britt Daniel. There were polite back-and-forths and Daniel offered to retweet the podcast once it came to fruition. By the time of the pandemic, as Darling prepared to record the first episode, Daniel changed his tune, agreeing to be interviewed for the podcast. “It was supposed to be one interview,” Darling told me, “and I had all these questions I was trying to get through.” But once they started talking, Daniel proposed that they discuss each album, and so Darling split the interview up over several weeks. “Was I surprised? Absolutely.”
Had Art and I actually made our Spoon podcast, we would’ve arranged it through Spoon’s management, and recorded it in a high-tech studio by producers with years of broadcast experience. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been an authentic effort from two fans. A podcast like this is every music fan’s dream: the opportunity to directly ask your music hero all your burning questions. But with I Turn My Podcast On, Darling approaches his subject with a delightfully starry-eyed enthusiasm that the traditional path beats out of most of us.
Darling is not a broadcast professional. He’s a 31-year-old father of two elementary-aged kids. By day, he works for a housing non-profit. He lives in rural Wisconsin, and records the podcast in his garage, sometimes pausing to sneer at the nuclear dicks speeding down the road in their oversized pickups. As a host, he brings a certain Midwestern, aw-shucks vibe that makes you wish you were actually there with him, say, debating the track order of Girls Can Tell over a six pack of Leinies. Darling brings his experience as a musician to bear, too, but never alienates non-musicians – where he lacks the legal rights to isolate a part of a song, Song Exploder-style, he’ll unabashedly sing it for us instead.
Darling’s conversations with Britt Daniel are the heart of the podcast, but he doesn’t stop there. With bonus episodes, he interviews members of the Spoon cosmos, from Peek-A-Boo Records’ Travis Higdon to producer Mike McCarthy. With these bonus interviews, our understanding of the band expands, through a deeper understanding of how these players shaped their work. Darling augments the interviews with bonus tracks, like the original of “Me & The Bean” (Spoon’s version was a cover), as well as “When We Go FM,” Spoon’s contribution to a 1993 compilation from UT Austin’s KVRX (where Daniel was a staffer) that celebrated the station’s move to an FM frequency.
Darling is not an Austinite – his focus is on the band, not the city that birthed it. (In one episode, he refers to the video for Spoon’s “Jealousy” as having been filmed on a bathroom floor, but he isn’t privy to which bathroom floor. If he ever visits Austin, I’ll buy him a beer at Hole in the Wall.) But place is unavoidable in the story of Spoon. Even if it wasn’t Darling’s intention, what begins to emerge in the podcast is a sort of love letter to a particular moment in Austin’s music history – one less storied than Austin’s Armadillo years, but still deeply cherished by many (including me). From the conjuring of defunct Austin bands like Teen Titans and venues like The Electric Lounge to the story of a stellar prank Daniel pulled on an unnamed ska band (I have my suspicions, but won’t say who), these interviews are a fascinating glimpse of the Austin music scene in Spoon’s early years.
At the time of this writing, Darling has covered five total Spoon releases with eleven episodes, including fan responses for each album. In Spoon’s chronology, we’re now in the early aughts, when the band first began its ascent from near-failure (dropped by their first major label) into the totally unassuming rock stars we know today (my favorite-ever analogy: writer Steven Hyden comparing the band to the Spurs’ Tim Duncan). As Darling cranks out episodes – between parenthood and pairing Wisconsinites with affordable housing – there will be more goodies in store, especially with the release of Spoon’s 10th LP coming down the pike. I Turn My Podcast On might be a bit too dense for the Spoon uninitiated – it is, after all, a podcast for fans. But it’s all the more enjoyable because it’s made by one.
You can hear I Turn My Podcast On wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, check out some of ours, too.