Monthly Archives: August 2010

Take Five Goes to Rock Shop: Local Music Radio Shows

Something you may not know: for three years in college, I was a DJ at WTBU. I graduated from the crappy Sunday 10AM-12PM slot to the Thursday night 10PM-12AM slot over six semesters, spinning new and favorite rock on my show “High Fidelity” (named for the Elvis Costello song and not the book/movie, thank you very much).

After I graduated, the radio bug never quite went away. So in 2006, some friends and I got a radio show on WMFO (since they are open to community DJs) and had a 6AM-8AM show (that’s devotion) called “Makin’ Bacon.” After a few months of that, I branched off and got my own show, “Pop Music’s Hard Work” (named for a fateful utterance by Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons). I eventually had to move on from WMFO– other obligations called — but I am very glad I got to reprise my college radio experience. It made me responsible for staying on top of new music, which was a pleasant responsibility to uphold.

So that’s why I was particularly interested in the most recent Rock Shop, which brought together hosts past and present from local music shows on area stations for an audience of musicians and other interested parties. The participants were:

  • Tim Kelly, WMBR, Hidden Capital
  • Dave Duncan, WFNX, Boston Accents
  • Anngelle Wood, WZLX, Boston Emissions
  • Carmelita, WAAF, Bay State Rock
  • Mark Hamilton, formerly of WZBC and WBCN and host of past iterations of New England Product and Boston Emissions, now in LA
  • Angie C, a ten-year veteran of WFNX, now in LA

Steve Theo of Pirate!, organizer of the Rock Shop series, moderated the discussion, which ranged over the following topics.

  • Sending out your music: The popular opinion was that aspiring musicians should send their music out to everyone at once, college and commercial stations alike. “Go for it all,” said Anngelle, adding that the best thing to include is a simple one-pager of pertinent info rather than a fancy press kit. “It can look really pretty and sound like shit,” she said. And even if one DJ doesn’t like a set of songs, said Mark, they might know someone who would and will pass them along. It’s also preferable to direct a mailing to a specific DJ rather than the music director, since the efficiency with which a MD gets new music on the shelves can vary by station.
  • Format: Bands shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out and asking the DJ what format they prefer to receive music in. Many of them even specify their preferences on their websites. (“If you’re in a band, all the research should be done,” said Carmelita.) Dave says CD is still preferable, but if burning a disc, check to make sure it burned properly before sending it off (he’s received blank discs before). Relatedly: don’t write the song names on the CD (where they can’t be read while it’s inside the CD player), but do write them (and number them) on a case.  And that case should have a spine, for ease of filing, with the artist and album name written legibly along it.
  • Swears: If a song has curse words, you’d best do the following: 1) edit them out 2) flag the tracks with curses or 3) just don’t send along those songs at all, if you’re sending a sampler. The FCC is strict about vulgarity, commercial and college alike. When editing, dropping out the curse is better than beeping. “If you want to meow,” meows work,” said Anngelle. (Note: meowing also came up at the last Rock Shop, courtesy of Ryan Spaulding’s cellphone ring. Eerie coincidence, or hidden Rock Shop theme?)
  • Length of song: As much as we all love a good seven-minute epic, these guys are trying to produce a two-hour show. “We’re hoping to play as much quality music as possible,” says Anngelle. A two-and-a-half minute song stands a better chance of getting played than a five minute song; it’s just the way it is.
  • Follow-ups: Reach out, but don’t be a pest. If a band has a show coming up, giving a week’s notice is cool, even if the songs haven’t been played on the show yet. But a weekly e-mail — especially if you have no news — may be overkill. Dave says news will always be more relevant if a band has been played on the show before. “Be gracious, don’t be an asshole,” says Angie C. “Don’t kiss ass, but don’t throw attitude.” “Reach out and rock someone,” said Mark. If you’ve sent your songs to a DJ, Dave says it’s best to wait until it’s been played at least once before asking your legions of fans to call in with a request. To that point, Anngelle recommends being patient — they receive a ton of music and don’t have time to review everything. “But,” she adds, “if you have a big gig coming up, let us know to look for it.” Anngelle and Carmelita also host the monthly Rock and Roll Social at the Model Cafe in Allston, which is a good opportunity to socialize with DJs and other musicians and learn even more about getting heard.
  • How do certain songs get played? By virtue of time, a band has got to make a quick impact, since the DJs will play what they like. “You’ve got 20 seconds to get my attention,” said Angie C. Bands can try things like flagging recommended cuts (but not ones with swears) or only sending along a three-disc sampler from a full album. Also, Carmelita recommends having a friend who works in some aspect of the music industry give songs a listen and recommend which ones to highlight, since programmers have different ears than musicians and even listeners and may know what will appeal to a DJ. Anngelle added that listenability remains key — if a recording has poor audio quality, no matter how good the track is, it likely won’t make it on the air. Off-key vocals, out-of-time drumming or shoddy mastering can all spell the downfall of what might otherwise be a promising track. “DIY goes so far, but sometimes you need help in the mastering process,” said Anngelle. Plus, if you send along a song in MP3 format, the compression may compromise the quality of the audio. As for live tracks, a band stands a better chance of getting a live version of a song played if they are already an established act, though the DJs seemed to take it on a case-by-case basis.
  • Do the work: The DJs have high expectations for bands seeking to get played on their show. “Just have heart,” said Anngelle. “We’re gonna see that. We’ll give you a chance if it is not totally a mess… Just existing as a band is not enough. You’ve got to do some of the work. To run a band is like running a business.” She urges bands to go see other bands and learn how they do it. Beyond friends and family, other musicians are going to be a band’s first orbit of fans, so geting out there and making connections is key.
  • Being online: It seems like there are a thousand and one digital outposts for musicians nowadays, but Anngelle says bands should do “as much as you know how to manage.” The key, they all emphasized, is making sure your information is up to date. If information is outdated or hard to find, to the DJ’s eyes, “it’s like they don’t care,” said Anngelle. Angie C, who is now a social media consultant, recommended having a hub that ties it all together.
  • Promoting gigs: A weekly playlist is heavily influenced by which bands are playing in town over the next week, so knowing about upcoming gigs is important for these DJs. While the emphasis naturally falls on bands playing the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville circuit, Carmelita says she often highlights bands from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, while Dave says he’s happy to highlight bands playing “Joe’s Clam Shack in Gloucester.”
  • Funneling up: These DJs’ shows are speciality shows at commercial stations, and while the regular programming at stations like WZLX (classic rock) and WAAF (hard rock) may not be appropriate for the latest local indie rock track, there are opportunities. At WFNX, Dave says the music director will sometimes ask him for his three best bands on the show at a given time, and one might get asked to participate in a gig. The Rock and Roll Rumble, once the domain of the now-defunct WBCN (where Boston Emissions used to live) will be back, and that is another great outlet for local bands.
  • How to get your own local show: College radio stations like WZBC (Boston College), WMBR (MIT) and of course WMFO have community memberships. While it’s not a guaranteed walk-on role, you can work your way in and up.
  • How can the music industry become profitable again: “If I knew the answer, I wouldn’t tell you,” joked Mark. Angie made the point that labels are no longer a profitable destination for a band and that if a band is very smart, it can be profitable on its own. “You’d be out of your mind to sign with a major label right now,” said Anngelle. “There is freedom,” said Dave. “You can do it your own way.” “With every door closed, a window opens, and this window is doing what you want with honesty,” said Carmelita. “Music is about sincerity. It’s about doing what you feel. Someone will notice when you do the work on your end and never compromise for the money.”

And these DJs operate in much the same way. Hours upon hours of preparation go into producing their two-hour slices of local music programming, and you can tell it is a labor of love. They are committed to the local music scene and highlighting great Boston music. While the guidelines outlined above may make it easier to sift through the sheer volume of music they receive in order to program a show, they are not cavalier in the decisions they make. They understand that local bands are looking to their shows as a platform to possibly leapfrog them to the next level, and they will often go out of their way to make that can happen. It was heartwarming to be around people who not only love local music so much, but want to see these bands thrive.

There’ s some good stuff on deck for upcoming Rock Shops. The next one Sept. 13 will feature music writers from local papers, while the Oct. 6 Rock Shop is  part of the Future M marketing conference. A college radio-centric Rock Shop is also in the works. Stay tuned.

Take Five with the Yellow Bird Project

My friend Vanessa Rhinesmith, who is much more in tune with all things fashion than I am, recently dropped a reference to the Yellow Bird Project, an initiative focused on awesome t-shirts and great music. As a fan of both, I was intrigued.

The Montreal-based organization, which launched in 2006, partners with indie rock musicians who design t-shirts, the sales of which benefit charities of their choosing. Devendra Banhart was their first recruit to the cause, and everything built up from there. Participating artists now include The Shins, Of Montreal, the National, Elvis Perkins, New Pornographers and many more. Coming soon is a design by Andrew Bird.

Charities benefiting from the Project include Free Arts for Abused Children, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Whale Museum and the Teenage Cancer Trust. To date, the YBP has raised $80,000 for these and other charities.

Yellow Bird Project has also published the The Indie Rock Coloring Book, blending the combination of art and music with a healthy helping of childhood whimsy. Proceeds from the sale of the coloring book benefit YBP directly. And recently, The Tallest Man of Earth composed a theme song for the project:

I corresponded with YBP co-founder Casey Cohen about the initiative:

How did you get Devendra Banhart on board to kick off the effort? What tactics did you use to reach out to musicians?

A lot of ruthless emailing, hoping to get lucky. And we did, with Devendra… Knowing that he himself is an illustrator who studied art and designs his own album covers, we really wanted him to be involved. We contacted one of his label reps, and then eventually heard back from him directly. He was really enthusiatic about contributing, which is remarkable, seeing as how we didn’t even have a website or anything like that set up. At that point it was just an idea, and I guess he had faith in our idea.

The shirts are personal in that proceeds from each shirt benefit a charity of the musician’s choice, often one local or personally meaningful to them. What communications do you have with the charities, and what are their responses to this initiative?

The charities which we have spoken to directly are, for the most, part very appreciative. Last year [co-founder] Matt [Stotland] visited the Interval House women’s shelter in Toronto [the recipient of a donation from the sale of a t-shirt designed by Bon Iver], and they gave him a tour of the premises. We had just given them an $8000 donation, and so they were really thankful that we were able to help make a difference. They told us that our initiative will help them reach a new demographic, letting young women know that there is somewhere to go if they are experiencing abuse. So that was truly satisfying; knowing that we would be helping to raise awareness for their organization.

Art and fashion — especially when it comes to the hipster t-shirt aesthetic — are big aspects of the indie music scene. Why are they so intertwined?

I suppose it’s because musicians, just like any other artists, are very expressive. Fashion can be a way for you to express who you are and how you feel, just like music, or painting. If you look at the way Devendra, or Of Montreal dresses, all wild crazy and shirtless, you can see that it really suits their act. For indie music fans, wearing band t-shirts are a way for them to make a statement which expresses their love of music and for certain bands.

How did the coloring book come about and how has that been received?

We’re always eager to collaborate with artists that we admire, and so when illustrator Andy J. Miller reached out to us, we decided to put him to work at doing what he does best. We asked him to create one colouring book page for every band that has been involved with YBP. We thought it would be a great way to spread the word about our bands and about the work that we are doing. Fortunately, Chronicle Books agreed, and they gave us a publishing deal.

It has been very well received… We’ve sold over 20,000 copies worldwide, and Time Magazine named it as one of their best holiday gift ideas of last year.

We supported the book with an interactive group drawing game, called Color Me Indie. That was a lot of fun. And now we’re working with Andy and Chronicle on a follow up book. Something bigger, with lots more colour!

What was the most interesting response you got from a band that become a part of the project?

When we approached The Dears to do a design, they asked if they could mail it to us through the post, which is unconventional as normally people send it via email. When we received it, we saw that it was a drawn by their four year old daughter, Neptune, on a tattered piece of brown paper. We later got to meet Neptune, the artist herself, at our Montreal book launch, where Murray Lightburn performed a few songs.

Some of the t-shirts promote the name of the band, but it seems that most of them are simply artistic statements. Why do you think this is?

That’s because we don’t want these t-shirts to be “band t-shirts”. We want them to stand out on their own. If all of our t-shirts had band names written on them, then it would sort of detract the attention away from the project and the charities which are involved. It also seems a lot less contrived, when the musicians are free to design whatever they want, whatever comes to mind.

Which t-shirt is your favorite and why?

Our newest t-shirt is always my favourite t-shirt, just because I’m always excited about welcoming new bands to the project. Our newest t-shirt now, by a band called Whispertown 2000, has a diagram of a halibut, which to me is very cool.

Introducing Your Winter Hill

I love Somerville, but I especially love my underappreciated corner of it, Winter Hill. We have little in the way of economic development, sandwiched here between burgeoning East Somerville and gateway-to-hipsterdom Magoun Square, but I think it’s a swell place to live.

So, blending my love of Winter Hill and the web, I decided to play with Tumblr and create http://winterhill.tumblr.com/, what I hope will become a community blog for people to share media, links, thoughts and other content about our neighborhood.

This is an experiment in many ways, but aren’t the best things? If you live in, visit or appreciate my neighborhood, I invite you to read and contribute!

Autumn Approaches

This is the time of year when the trees begin to look tired. They grow weary of holding their brave, green face. What was bright and lush in the spring is faded and washed by the end of August. They are simply done. They are ready to let go.

The leaves may yellow, but they are not fearful — not of the impending chill or their imminent descent to the earth. Soon, they turn red, a parting gift to us, flaming out as they detach and drift slowly to the ground.

They abandon the branches to face winter alone, to cope with their sudden exposure and bear the weight of snow. The leaves will nestle into the earth, becoming untethered from the backbone of xylem and phloem and liberated from the guise of cuticle, seeking safe harbor in the roots that once nourished them to life. They will come to return the favor.

In the spring, the leaves will be back, speckling the branches with a spry, verdant charm we will have almost forgotten over the ardor of winter. All will be awakened, and all will be new.

Photo by clearlyambiguous / Flickr Creative Commons

Take Five – The Birthday Edition

What’s my favorite song this week? If I was corny, I’d say “Happy Birthday,” because that’s what tomorrow is. But actually, my favorite song this week is Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp.”

Without further ado…

RIYL…

Sunday nights are the big night for local music on the radio. WFNX’s former New England Product show has relaunched as Boston Accents, airing 8-10PM, and WZLX’s Boston Emissions is still going strong from 10PM-12AM (which sadly falls in the “Mad Men” time slot).

As a former college and community radio DJ, I love keeping tabs on this stuff. That’s why I’m jazzed about the next Rock Shop, which features Boston Accents’ Dave Duncan, Boston Emissions’ Anngelle Wood, WAAF’s Carmelita of Bay State Rock and WMBR’s Tim Kelly of The Hidden Capital. The event is at 7PM on Aug. 23 at the Middle East.

NEW RELEASES

  • I arrived back at the office after a four-day weekend and was greeted by Christmas in my mailbox: The new Mike Viola/Kelly Jones EP and the new Cloud Cult album, “Light Chasers,” had arrived! The Viola/Jones effort is sublime, as per usual, and I am beyond pleased to have a recording of their haunting duet of Viola’s classic “A Way to Say Goodbye” (now the third version of the song in my possession). “Light Chasers” is no “Feel Good Ghosts,” but what could be? It’s still a powerful, unabashedly honest rock record.
  • One of my favorite bands, Girlyman, has finally released an album consisting solely of tuning songs — the spontaneous nuggets of genius they always come up with during their live shows, usually while someone is tuning a guitar. The live compilation is $15, which may be a bit steep, but consider part of the payment as going toward this awesome promotional video:
  • Jens Lekman has a new song out, “The End of the World is Bigger than Love.” It’s typically epic, heartbroken and charming. Lekman also releases a mixtape, “A Summer in 3/4 Time” [.mp3]. Some more background on Chromewaves.
  • After much urging and promotion from the likes of Brad and The DP, I snagged the new Versus album. And it is as fun and awesome as those Merge fanboys say it is 🙂
  • Speaking of Merge, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the new Arcade Fire album. I’m not an Arcade Fire fangirl (true confession: “Neon Bible” is still in the shrinkwrap, though I listen to “Intervention” on iTunes a lot), but I snagged it from Amazon MP3 for $3.99 and was pleasantly surprised. Probably their most accessible (is that a dirty word?) record yet, and very well crafted.
  • I finally acquired the best of The Alarm. I recommend you did the same. They are much more than “The Stand.”
  • Josh Rouse has releases a new live EP, “El Turista en la Radio,” for free download.

AROUND THE WEB

IN THE NEWS

  • An awesome Facebook post by Hallelujah the Hills the other day: “Dear bands & musicians, do you have recordings of songs without any vocals on them? I’ll make up melody, lyrics, and record vocals on them if you send them to me. If I get enough tracks we’ll put out an album for free online. Send to band AT hallelujahthehills dot com.”
  • Fast Company provides some interesting data on “The State of Internet Music on YouTube, Pandora and Facebook.” Thoughts: 1) Fans/followers/friends are important, sure, but what are theydoing for the musicians they are fanning/following/friending? 2) I totally buy YouTube > Apple when it comes to music, because iTunes isn’t a social or a learning platform; it’s purely a purchasing platform. 3) I’ve never gotten into Pandora — I have other recommendation engines that are more human that work for me. I’m sure it’s great for some, but just not me.
  • Cassettes are back! Obvs. So glad I still have my 5 disc CD changer with dual cassette deck that I bought in 1999 — the thing is practically a hipster recording studio, nowadays.
  • Hello Music is a service that connects musicians with “real industry opportunities.” Not sure how useful it is, since most of the entries read “[Song] by [band] is now in rotation on the Unsigned & DIY station on Yahoo! Radio,” but in this Bandcamp era, it’s nice to see one more option for artists trying to make it on their own steam.
  • Rdio, the music streaming service by the creators of Skype, is out of invite-only mode and live to the world. For just $5 a month on your computer ($10 on your smartphone), you can have access to a streaming equivalent of your music collection.  Seems like a good option if you want to listen to your own music at work or on the go. However, I own an iPod and listen to KEXP, so, I have no need for Rdio (yet).
  • It’s no replacement for the mix CD (and it’s more expensive), but file this under nice-to-know: you can purchase and send an iTunes playlist to a friend, so long as all of the songs are available in the iTunes store.

SECOND THOUGHTS

The Boston Phoenix’s On the Download blog linked to this video from Lollapalooza of Lady Gaga crowdsurfing during some crappy band’s side stage set.

The video itself is pretty uninteresting, as such things go, but one thing caught my attention. Of everyone in the crowd who had their arms outstretched, the majority of them were clutching cellphones and cameras. It depressed me.

Of the crowd shots I’ve seen from stadium and festival concerts over the years — Woodstock ’94 and ’99, other Lollapaloozas, Glastonbury, you name it — what has always impressed me is the sea of people, arms raised in exultation, reaching out to grab the moment. No matter how far they are from the stage, they are always reaching up, reaching out, trying to hold on to ecstasy one note longer.

But here, at Lollapalooza, with Lady Gaga’s barely attired flesh passing just above their heads, so many of those hands clenched devices to record the moment, and so many eyes were trained on the LCD screens of those devices, making sure the moment was in frame, clicking the shutter or hitting record.

But there she is! Lady Gaga! The experience is happening right next to you, right above you. Reach out and touch it — it’s right there.

But your hands and eyes are removed from the experience. You’ll have amazing media later, but is that a memory? Is that sweat on your palm, or a bruise to the temple you’ll be bragging about for days? What are you really holding on to?

Take Five with the Radio Free Song Club

My affection for Freedy Johnston is no secret. Back in March, through his Facebook or e-mail list or some other modern convenience, I learned that he was a contributor to a new podcast project, the Radio Free Song Club. I tend to follow Freedy wherever he goes, so off I went.

What I discovered was a special creative project, the brainchild of musician Kate Jacobs, enlisting veteran songwriters to submit one song per month for an audio podcast. Contributors include Peter Holsapple, Laura Cantrell and Victoria Williams, with special guests such as Beth Orton and Syd Straw. The final product is a mix of submitted songs and live performances, hosted by Nicholas Hill, whose 15-year background in radio includes stints at WFMU and Sirius.

Six shows in, it’s obvious that there are only two priorities at hand: songwriting and friendship. It’s a refreshing and inspiring sense of focus. Sure, they could easily start video recording performances to put on YouTube, put on a concert or release a compilation of songs. But they’re not worried about that. There’s a deadline to hit, after all, and music to share with friends. That’s all that matters.

For the listener, this is a sneak peek into a musicians’ dinner party. And it functions as a great and entertaining gateway to musicians with whom you may be less familiar.

The seventh podcast, which came out toward the end of last month, featured the addition of a personal longtime fave, Amy Rigby (along with her husband, Wreckless Eric) to the cast. Just one more reason to stay tuned.

I recently spoke with Hill and Jacobs about the project:

How did you begin assembling the talent behind Radio Free Song Club? Was there a rubric you had in mind when assembling the cast of characters?

Kate: You know, there was. I started it and put it together mostly with some help from Nicholas. I wanted to find a way to use the Internet that would be fun, that would be collegial and involve friends of mine and also be creative but not be so hype-y and self-promoting like individual websites are or like some of the social networks are. I wanted it to be small and clubby so it would be fun. The people we ended up asking were people I’ve known over the past 20 years I’ve been doing this. There wasn’t any real plan to it. Dave Schram is someone I’ve worked with for years, he’s worked a lot with Pete [Holsapple] and Peter [Blegvad]. They’re such amazing songwriters. Freedy, I’ve known for many years, I’ve been a big fan of his writing. Nicholas is a big fan of Victoria [Williams].

A lot of us are at home with children, with less touring and band activity. You get so tied up in other aspects of life. It’s a particular generation of writers, people who’ve been doing it for a while and are in different phases of their careers but have a lot of skill. We wanted it to stay very small, people with a certain attitude, sort of brainy and smart without being super mainstream. We wanted it to be a little loose.

Nicholas:  We were looking specifically for people who were not necessarily at the peak of their career but sort of had careers of varying strengths and characteristics and were apt to have a new outlook as songwriters. The audience has gotten extremely dissipated with the advent of the internet and record labels turning into non functioning entities. It becomes necessary for artists to seek out new outlets for their work. People are getting creative about it. Touring and selling CDs on your own has become more successful as a way to reach an audience than putting a record out.

Everyone is looking for a way to put their songs into the world. Songs are like children, you write them and some are nurtured and cared for and go to the best schools. Songs are unique entities that really have a life of their own and come back to haunt you many years later. Not that I’m a songwriter but I’m aware of that and I’m familiar with a  lot of writers

Part of the structure of Radio Free Song Club is a monthly deadline for this array of songwriters. How has deadline-driven songwriting shaped the character of this project?

Nicholas: Completely. As a DJ I’m used to playing whatever I feel like. But oddly, in this particular guise, I can’t do that. I play only the songs that I’m given that night. The show is really unique in that it’s put together, it’s produced by everyone involved. It has a character of the moment as opposed to reflecting my tastes or reflecting the tastes of any one artist. It’s more like it’s a flavor of the moment. It was really remarkable when Vic Chesnutt died after we did our first show, and all the sudden, everyone was inspired to write something about him (“Four Songs for Vic Chesnutt” [MP3]). It wasn’t planned, it was just that a number of the people were moved by his death and were friends of his and it was disturbing. Death was ever present that season, a lot of people we knew died.

That’s really a unique thing, doing radio that is not programmed. I’m really proud to be a part of it. It’s been inspirational to me. I’ve never done much singing, and all of the sudden I find myself inspired to do songs with these people. That’s been interesting, too.

Kate: It’s been very inspirational for everyone involved. Having a deadline has meant that they‘ve really been forced to finish songs they may not otherwise or come up with a song. I talked to Victoria Williams today and told her about the people who will be in studio next week. She’s never been in the studio with us and we were discussing the people in the studios available to back her up to overdub over her recording, whatever she sent us, some really wonderful people, many of her close friends, people who’ve been in her band. I think Calexico may be our guests next session, so that will be fun. And they’ve both played with Victoria in their bands over the years. That right there is an inspiration to her to go finish her song so she has something for those folks to play on.

People have been surprised that it’s been very motivating. Initially, people thought, “I can’t do that, it’ll be too much pressure.” It’s had a motivating effect. People like the deadline. We have a lot of things coming in under the wire, people e-mailing things during the show. It gives it a certain energy. And it’s only one song so it’s not like you’re trying to complete a record. It’s very doable. To write and record one song is not that big of a deal. It’s also inspired people. Peter Blegvad is a really interesting writer and artist, but he hadn’t been writing songs for years, and this has pulled him out of retirement. He’s the first one in every month. He’s been writing a lot of interesting things. It’s been a motivator. and I think for Holsapple, too. He talked about being in a writer’s block. It’s been a good kick in the pants. I wanted a place to bring finished material so it didn’t sit around.

What is your favorite song to come out of the Radio Free Song Club?

Kate: One of my favorites is “A Little Bit of Something Wrong,” [MP3] a Freedy song, which is a stunning song, just beautiful. The melody and the words. Classic Freedy Johnston. There’s one in the last show, the seventh show, by Peter Blegvad, “Golden Helmet,” which is really beautiful. I love Victoria, she’s the one who shares the most raw material and really lets you into her rough drafts. That’s really wonderful. She’s very willing to work it out on the air.

Nicholas: In a selfish way, I’m really excited about the ones I’ve sung on, but in terms of the other ones, I’d say the first show, Peter [Holsapple]’s song that opens the first show (“Oh My I Gotta Write a New Song” [MP3]) really blew my mind. It took what the show was about and put it in this emotional true story and out came a song about breaking through writer’s block to write a song. That was pretty great. Also, Victoria’s song for the first show (“Fall Experience” [MP3] was really fabulous for me. Blegvad’s songs every time blow my mind. I love Kate’s song (“Tell It To the Marines” [MP3]), the third show, written in the style of an old pop tune, about the financial crash. A metaphor for a breakup with a bank.

I feel like Radio Free Song Club is as much about friendship and camaraderie as it is about music, could you talk about that?

Kate: That kind of camaraderie is a real gift for musicians. It’s such a collaborative form. You have a band you have other people. It has a very social aspect to it I was missing because I was at home and writing and recording and occasionally playing a gig but I was not really seeing people that much. I wanted to have a more active engagement with my friends who play music and see what they’re doing and share what I’m doing.

Nicholas: I don’t necessarily wonder why someone writes a song about a certain subject. Songs speak for themselves one way or another and don’t need a lot of extra digging. It’s more about casual conversation and getting the artists comfortable with how their songs are being presented and getting the artist comfortable enough to perform live in the studio. … I am just hoping to have that experience be fun and pleasant for people, as opposed to tearing into the songwriter about what their story is. That’s usually not the best time to ask somebody. They’ve already bared their soul, they don’t want to bare it any more.

What is special, in this video-centric era, about an audio-centric experience?

Kate: We don’t want to have any video on the show. Nicholas was a DJ for many years and has produced a lot of radio in his day. It’s a completely different space when you’re listening to the radio and you don’t have the images. I really prefer it. I don’t have the patience to watch video, music video. It doesn’t appeal to me. I like to listen to things. It takes too much time and attention to watch a little video. We wanted it to be a radio-like experience, something you could listen to in the car, while taking a walk, that wouldn’t be tethered to the screen.

Nicholas: I think that video takes away from experience. When we first started the show, someone said “We’ve got to videotape this,” and I said “Absolutely not.” This is a radio experience. If you’re videotaping it, one, who’s gonna watch it, and two, they’re watching something be produced for audio. It takes away from the power of the event. This allows the listener to imagine what’s happening and it allows us to pretend a little bit if we want to and bring more imaginative ideas to the fore.

I find the act of sitting and watching music in video format really uncomfortable, where if you’re listening to a song, it’s not taking energy; it’s giving you energy. If you’re watching a song on video, your time is completely taken over by the image whether it’s good or not. You’ll sit there and watch an image even if it’s bad just because it’s a song. … You’re not collaborating with the material. You’re purely a victim of it, in a way. If you’re listening to music, you’re collaborating. You’re sharing in the experience. Your experience of listening is adding to the experience, whereas with video it’s all given to you in a way that makes it not as satisfying.

Who would be your dream contributor to Radio Free Song Club, alive or since passed?

Kate: The other day, I thought, “We need someone like Tom Lehrer on this show. I’m gonna write him a letter. We need someone consistently funny.” Every show we’ve had at least a few strong songs. Not a lot of them are really funny. I thought it’d be good to have someone who always sent something topical, funny, upbeat, smart. Maybe Tom Lehrer would be my answer. Apparently when you ask him if he’s going to write any new songs, he asks, “Oh, has hell frozen over?” so I don’t think he’s going to respond. But I think it would be great. He doesn’t take it too seriously and he’s always funny.

Nicholas: I’d love to have Ron Sexsmith. I interviewed him once and it was really beautiful. He was such a gracious guest and a real intelligent writer. His songs are spectacular. Another Matthew Caws. I think his writing is so brilliant. His songs are really personal but also sort of universal. Those are two people we’ve asked but haven’t been available. Both I think would be really great contributors. Moreso than Bob Dylan, who probably wouldn’t be interested. Maybe they’re both too successful or something like that to get pinned down to something of this nature. It takes a unique person to want to do it.

My East Boston and Revere Bike Adventure

Last Friday was absolutely gorgeous, and I had the day off and tentative plans to ride the Minuteman Bikeway out to Lexington. I’ve taken my bike out to Bedford or Lexington a few times already this summer, and it’s a perfectly delightful, bucolic, peaceful ride. But this particular morning, I wasn’t jazzed. I couldn’t get myself motivated for it.

Thinking with my stomach (as I am wont to do), I idly consulted my list of “restaurants to try someday” to see where I might grab dinner that evening. There, I saw it: Belle Isle Seafood, in East Boston. They’ve received amazing reviews, and they have a crab roll on their menu.

Just like that, the plan began to take shape in my mind: I could ride my bike from Somerville to East Boston and get lunch at Belle Isle! Then maybe head up to Revere Beach afterward!

Sure, why not?

I had seeds of inspiration planted in me by the Wicked Local Bike Blog and my friend Seanna, who can bike to the beach from her house in Quincy. When I Google mapped it and saw it was less than 10 miles to both Belle isle AND Revere Beach, I practically flew out of the house without further consideration. “An adventure!” I called out as I ran around grabbing my things.

So, how did this spontaneous adventure turn out?

  • I learned that riding my bike down Route 16 is perhaps the worst thing in the world to try to do. It is a mistake I will not soon repeat.
  • I got to see a lot of the industrial underbelly of Everett, Chelsea and Boston. It sure as hell ain’t no Lexington, and it’s not the best for biking, but it’s good every once in a while to challenge yourself and see new things.
  • In Chelsea, I accidentally stumbled across a stunning view of the Boston skyline and the Tobin Bridge.
  • I also accidentally stumbled across the Condor Street Urban Wild in East Boston. It’s tiny, but significant; it’s a reclaimed brownfield along the Chelsea River.
  • I ate a delicious crab roll at Belle Isle Seafood, but was disappointed to learn that my belief that there was an outdoor patio where I could relax, eat and watch the planes take off was mistaken. I did, however, get rattled by a jet flying about five feet over the restaurant. Pretty awesome.
  • I rode my bike around part of the Belle Isle Reservation, Boston’s last remaining salt marsh.
  • I discovered the Beachmont VFW in Revere, which has karaoke on Sunday nights!
  • I made it to Revere Beach, and some sand sculptures were still on display from the festival a couple weeks ago.
  • I consumed delicious chocolate soft serve at the Twist and Shake.
  • I took my bike on the T for the first time ever, shockingly.

For a potentially foolhardy expedition, I think it turned out pretty well. Screw you, Lexington!

Check out all of the photos I took along the way on Flickr.