KWVA Station Interior, 2013
1. How did you get into it?
The short answer is that a friend of mine in Portland is a DJ. I sat in with him for a few shows and it seemed fun, so I joined the college station here in Eugene. The longer answer is that I've always enjoyed music. My father is a musician and there was often music in the background during my childhood. And going back a few generations, my great-grandparents owned a music shop in Harrisburg, PA.
So maybe it's in my blood, although I never learned to play any instrument seriously. Instead I focused on collecting. I began hoarding cassettes around age 10, then switched to CDs, and now it's MP3s. At this point it's been almost 40 years of exploration, enjoyment, and acquisition. And now with my radio show I'm able to share a small slice of that each week.
2. Do you remember any songs from your childhood? I grew up with The Inkspots playing permanently on our stereo.
My dad played his old acoustic guitar in the house many evenings, so I unconsciously consumed those songs before I even knew what they were. I later pieced together the sources, folks like Erik Satie and John Fahey, and various fakebook standards. The first band I clearly remember identifying with is the Beatles sometime in the mid-70s, led there by my sister. A little bit after that was the Disco / Roller Skating craze, and I have fond memories skating to that stuff after school at the local rink. Hot Summer, Xanadu, Celebration, Don't Stop Til You Get Enough...that was some of the first music I liked enough to buy. The Ink Spots were a little before my time.
Blake's Dad with his bass, 2007
3. How do you find your music? Do you go digging? Or is it online? Or a mix?
At this point my entire music/sound library is in iTunes, about 70,000 tracks. This is a great help when planning shows because I can search and organize material easily. My DJ friend in Portland (mentioned above) does a record-based show, which I think would be more difficult.
I add to iTunes regularly in a few ways. My local libraries have decent music archives. KWVA gets a steady stream of college-radio promo CDs, so I'm able to keep up on the indie scene. But my main interest is older music —particularly the 1970s— and my main source is online. I have a variety of sites I browse regularly, and occasionally I buy stuff directly from iTunes. I'm always exploring, and the Internet is tailor made for improvised searching. You click one artist, it leads you to another, then another, before you know it you've found an unexplored corner of the musical universe. It's inexhaustible.
Physical searching is fun too. Sometimes I'll spend an hour or so just digging through CDs at the library. But that method is more hit and miss. Online searching is generally more productive for targeting the good stuff.
4. Do you play parties as well as on the radio?
No. I play radio only. I would probably be a big flop at a party because my material is all over the place, and not always with a strong beat or uplifting feeling. A lot of it isn't even music, and decent portion would be outright party killers.
Instead I think the ideal place to listen to my radio show is in a car on a long drive. In that environment you don't have to worry about socializing or partying or getting anything done. It's just about listening. If not in a car, certain drugs would go well with my show.
5. What’s the best crowd to play to?
Patient, openminded, and musically experienced enough to understand certain reference points.
6. Which radio shows do you tune into religiously?
I'm not religious about anything but I tune into any of several local shows when I can. DJ Sleeve, Kranky Kowboy, Vintage Funk Show, DJ Zilf, Ruckus Radio, etc. Those names probably won't mean anything to folks outside Eugene and that's fine. That localized flavor is part of radio's charm, and part of what distinguishes it from mass homogenized culture. Whenever I'm in my car I've got the radio on.
7. In a recent interview with Gilles Peterson, David Rodigan lamented the smaller influence of radio these days, and the lack of people making an “appointment to listen” to a weekly show. Do you agree with that?
I didn't see that interview but I've heard similar comments elsewhere. It's probably true that local radio has lost some general influence in the world of Satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, etc. With those tools most people are able to very carefully cater their musical choices and discoveries according to existing taste. I think that's pretty much the worst way to discover new music. Musical taste is so fickle and so subject to particular experience that I don't think any algorithm can get very far below the surface. And even if it could, why would you want to listen to something you already think you'll like? Personal discovery from scratch is so much more exciting!
When someone tells me to listen to a certain band I tend to relate to the music through the lens of my relationship with that person. But when I find stuff on my own, it's all mine. I especially love to find music I initially hate and then grow to love. I haven't yet found a computer program that can serve me that stuff as consistently as local radio. As for "appointment listening", I don't really do that. I just turn my radio on whenever it's convenient, mostly in the car. Thinking of other media, almost none of them —TV, Film, Books— need follow a schedule any more. Maybe radio is different, but I don't treat it differently.
8. Do you feel you have to compromise between your tastes and what an audience wants to hear?
No. I just play what I want. I attempt to ignore the audience but I admit that achieving complete disregard is difficult. I guess the listener is always in the back of my head somewhere, but hopefully not having a large effect. In this way it's a bit like curating photography.
9. What's the most common misconception you get when you tell people you play records?
I don't play records, and I don't often tell folks I have a radio show. When the subject comes up, I suppose the greatest misconception is that my show is similar to other things they might have heard on the radio. I can almost guarantee it's not.
10. Is there a link between your musical tastes and your photography? We keep our interests largely separate from our work, but other photographers claim a large amount of cross-pollination.
In both music and photography, I find my taste drawn more and more toward accidents and away from perfection.
There's also context, which plays a large role in affecting one's appreciation of content, both in music and photography. I can show you a photo one day in a book and you might like it. But the exact same photo seen in a gallery, or in a different sequence, or when you're just in a different mood, might hit you differently.
I think a similar effect occurs in musical listening. A song's impact at any particular time depends on context. You might hear a song one day and hate it. The next week you love it, or you confuse it with another song, or whatever.
I can't control most of the factors around how my show is heard. But one thing I can control —and pay a lot of attention to— is sequencing. A radio show has a beginning and an end, and a definite progression which is set. So I like to play within that parameter. For example if I play two country songs back to back they sound like country songs. The listener's ears can settle in. But if I play a country song after a death-metal poem, it might come across differently. And if I play those two songs on top of each other it's another thing still. It might be more like WTF is happening? Through careful sequencing and track blending I try to inspire that WTF feeling through out the entire two hour show. I rarely want listeners to settle in, or know exactly what they're hearing. I think the most effective radio show is the one which keeps you reaching for Shazam but always returns "Didn't Quite Catch That". That said, just when they feel most unsettled I might pop in a long song or familiar favorite to allow them to settle. It's all about playing the opposite of what I should play, which sometimes becomes its own opposite. Radio jujitsu.
I think many photographers do this successfully in books — Christian Patterson, Roe Ethridge, Torbjørn Rødland, etc. It can be very effective. But my favorite photography is generally single image based. I suppose if I translated my favorite photo taste directly to musical taste it would be more like The Ink Spots.
11. What's a song that always makes you want to dance?
John Cage's 4'33". But I need to hear it in the right setting.