Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Mirah

Mirah and I chatted on the phone, then a tiny bit in person after her show at Trinosophes this week. Listen to the phone interview (plus my whole radio show, even):

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The audio includes my two-hour radio show, plus a smidgen of the next DJ’s. Mirah stars for the first 1.5 hours, and the interview begins about 30 minutes in.

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

Artist = “Song title”, Album title. [Notes.]

1. Mirah = “Take me out riding”, The old days feeling
2. Mirah = “Gone are all the days”, (A)Spera
3. Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra = “The light”, To all we stretch the open arm
4. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Pure”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
5. Thao & Mirah = “How dare you”, Thao & Mirah
6. Mirah YomTov Zeitlyn/Ginger Brooks Takahashi & Friends = “Oh! September”, Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
7. Mirah feat. Tender Forever = “Low self control”. [video]
[The interview]
8. Mirah = “1982 (atari)” Storageland
9. Mirah = “La familia”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
10. Mirah and Spectratone International = “Community”, Share this place
11. Thao & Mirah = “Rubies and rocks”, Thao & Mirah
12. Mirah = “No direction home”, Changing light [video]
13. Mirah = “I am the garden”, Changing light
14. Mirah = “Pollen”, You think it’s like this but really it’s like this
15. Mirah = “Cold cold water”, Cold cold water EP
16. Thao & Mirah = “Sugar and plastic”, Thao & Mirah
17. Santigold + Diplo = “Icarus”, [Some sorta exclusive album]
18. Tune-Yards = “Little tiger”, Bird-brains
19. Kate Bush = “Army dreamers”, The whole story
20. Suzanne Vega = “Pilgrimage”, Days of open hand
21. Gaze = “Static”, Shake the pounce
22. Enon = “Daughter in the house of fools”, Hocus-pocus
23. Belly = “It’s not unusual (the usual mix)”, Moon
24. Envelopes = “I don’t even know”, Demon [which is Swedish for “demos”]

25. FKA Twigs = “Two weeks”, LP1
26. Xeno & Oaklander = “Jasmine nights”, Par avion
27. Actress = “Towers”, Ghettoville
28. Santigold = “Disparate youth”, Master of my make-believe
29. Dr. Science [the science of shampoo]

Click to READ the interview with Mirah

hugabug 14: Learning To See

Robert Oelman

Bugs + Movies =

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Music in this show:
1. DMK, “Enjoy the silence”
2. Little Cow, “What will be”
3. Henry Mancini, “Baby elephant walk”
4. Thomas Newman, title track from Brothers
5. Yma Sumac, “Tree of life”
6. Spanglish Fly, “Let my people bugalú” (Clay Holley and Jeff Dynamite remix)

— — — — —

Jake Oelman is quick to point out that, yes, his dad lives in Colombia, South America; but no, his dad is not a drug dealer.

Jake’s father, Robert Oelman, was a psychologist working in Boston until he left his career, moved to South America, and began photographing insects. Jake is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Right now, father and son are collaborating on a documentary film. Jake describes it as an exploration of “how a person goes and changes their life path from being in one profession to taking up something completely different, in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.” The film highlights Robert’s photography and his fascination with the insects that model for him.

To date, Robert has survived his interactions with diverse, mysterious bugs in the jungles of South America. But Jake shared a story about a close call for his dad. “He was watching a television program back at his house in Colombia. A program about this deadly spider–one of the most deadly spiders in the world. He was like, ‘Wow, that thing looks really familiar; I’ve seen that before.’ So he went back and he actually had this photograph of the spider.” Robert figured at the time that the spider was potentially dangerous. Jake said, “If somebody doesn’t want you to take their photograph, they’ll let you know that they don’t want their photograph taken. And the same is true with the insects.”

How Robert Oelman survived a photo shoot with this creature is anyone’s guess.

Robert actually built a house in Colombia and began by photographing hummingbirds in flight. He keeps dozens of hummingbird feeders at his house, “and they come in droves. It’s a pretty magical experience when you’re there for the first time, because you’re in the house, and you just hear this sound…” Jake describes it as “just energy swarming around you constantly.” Taking pictures of the hummingbirds seems to have strengthened Robert’s “photographic eye”, and he eventually transitioned to insect macro photography.

“He saw an insect one day, he photographed it, and then when he looked at the photograph, he was like, ‘Whoa! I can see more in the photograph than I can with my naked eye!’ And the lightbulb went off, and he’s been photographing them ever since. He just feels as if he could never stop finding new things to photograph in the insect world.”

“Since his eyes are open to it, then my eyes become open to it.” Jake’s sentiment permeates the film and is underscored by the film’s title: Learning To See.

Robert Oelman

It was Jake’s idea to make the movie. His dad was reluctant, initially, to be the focus of a documentary. But Jake was persuasive. He told Robert, “You want your work to be seen. You’re photographing things that some people have never been able to photograph before. You’re photographing things that may or may not exist 5 or 10 years from now. You’re photographing things that little kids have never seen.”

Robert’s process involves capturing insects and bringing them to a makeshift tent studio in the Amazonian rainforest. “They’re jumping all over the place. The first time you have a really big katydid crawling on your arm…I have a respect for it,” says Jake. “Because all of a sudden, now I’m in his world, so I can’t be squeamish. I have to have a respect. … There’s something surreal happening in those types of experiences.”

Jake wasn’t always comfortable with bugs, and he and his dad weren’t always close. “My parents divorced when I was really young. I think once my dad became a photographer, we became closer. I had already been working in film for quite a while before that, so when he started to take photographs, … I think that we started to relate to one another’s professional aspirations. So that kind of brought us in a little bit closer, which is funny to think that he moved so far away, and then we got closer as a result of that.”

But just like Robert occasionally finds a spider of death hitchhiking in a pile of collected leaves, Jake laughs when he says that “… we can still bump heads, too, which will be interesting. When it’s two artists coming together in a remote part of the world … Who knows; that could even make the story, as well.”

Robert Oelman

Jake and Robert are filming one more trip outside of Colombia to finish the project. “Now, the place that we go to in Peru–it’s a pretty long trip to get there. So, my understanding is that you fly into Cuzco. And then from Cuzco, you take a bus … down into the jungle, and then you get on a canoe. It takes two days to get from Cuzco to where we’re going … an outpost in the Manu territory of Peru. And we’ll just be going on expedition every day.”

So Jake and Robert have a few more bugs to hug for their film, Learning To See. And with their Kickstarter campaign, they have a chance of actually completing the project. With the kickstarter, they’re asking for some support to fund the last leg of their project. If you want the documentary to exist (and maybe get a digital download, DVD, or even photographic art as part of the deal), you are expressly invited to do that thang. They’re passing the hat for just 7 more days.

Update: Success!! Jake and Robert’s kickstarter has been funded! Good work, everyone. Looking forward to seeing the film.

Robert Oelman does not restrict himself to photographing insects.

(Click on those thumbnails to view larger photos)

A to B episode 13: Rick

In early December, a 20-degree cold snap chased me through the southern states. We all know that the desert gets cold at night, but THAT cold? Well below freezing?? Surprise to me. Unfortunately, the turtle’s water pipes are liable to burst if they’re exposed to freezing temperatures. Consequently, we sped the 1,000 miles from Amarillo, Texas to Southern California. On the way, I met a gun-totin, elk- and quail-huntin, RV-park-ownin, extroverted man named Rick. You can hear him talk about how playing baseball in the minor league was a thrill off the field, why he left baseball to become a plant manager for a Fortune 500 company, and the biggest selling point for the RV campground that he and his family came to own in New Mexico–

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Music in this show:
1. Novos Baianos, “Globo Da Morte”
2. Rilo Kiley, “My Slumbering Heart”
3. Breathe Owl Breathe, “Lions Jaw”
4. Rilo Kiley, “Capturing Moods”
5. Little Cow, “What Will Be”
6. Dosh, “Country Road X”
7. Eels, “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues”

The RV park is walking distance to a historic town called Mesilla, where Billy the Kid was tried and hanged, and where the oldest brick building in New Mexico still stands. In those days, the bricks were fired in the oven of a man who was later killed by robbers in the very house he’d built. I got my fill of colorful contemporary stories from Rick, his employee Michael, and a retired man from out east named Jack.

Although I didn’t get to see them, Rick told me that roadrunners live at the RV park alongside the motor homers; the birds most often roost in heaps of leaves on the ground. The morning I left, my passage out of the park was blocked by–I counted them–208 bicyclists pedaling en masse toward Las Cruces. It being early December, some bikers wore Santa hats or reindeer antlers on their helmets; some rode recumbents; some shared tandems. A good omen, I thought, as I drove off toward a border checkpoint. No matter where you’re headed from Las Cruces, you’ll run into a checkpoint.

Hey, checkpoint it out–bonus tracks!

BONUS: Ode to Youth
Rick is a farm boy originally from Indiana. Here, he relates some stories from back in the day, when he was up to no good.

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Music in the Ode to Youth:
1. Hot Chip, “The warning”
2. West Side Story soundtrack, “Prologue”
3. Thao & Mirah, “How dare you”

Bonus bonus: Homage to Jane
Rick’s wife passed away 8 months ago. Jane and Rick were high school sweethearts, together for over 20 years before she died. Here, Rick tells a story about what happened one time when they took out a canoe.

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Music in the Homage to Jane:
1. Laura Veirs, “Ocean night song”
2. M83, “Train to Pluton”
3. Breathe Owl Breathe, “Across the loch”
4. Jonathan Richman, “When she kisses me”

A to B episode 12: John Wayne

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Music in this show:
1. Arnold McCuller, “All good”
2. Bela Karoli, “Metal body”
3. Blair, “Chrysler”
4. Chancha Via Circuito, “Prima”
5. ??? (John Wayne’s cell phone ring tone)
6. Django Reinhardt, “Minor swing” (played by klemjc)

You may recall that the turtle hit a serious snag in the road, early on in our trip. The motor home and I ended up at the front door of John Wayne’s Auto Clinic, on the recommendation of Reggie the wrecker driver (a hero among men in his own right). When I walked into the shop, a John Wayne film was playing in the waiting room, a John Wayne clock hung on the wall, and John Wayne figurines and memorabilia decorated the entire space.

The phones in John Wayne’s shop ring off the hook. People are always in and out of the place–wrecker drivers (towing is an arm of the business, along with the auto shop), unfortunate owners of broken cars, kids selling peanut brittle–many of them wearing snakeskin cowboy boots. Through it all, John Wayne keeps a surprisingly cheerful countenance, which he claims is due to the Choctaw in his blood. His wife takes care of the books at the shop, and everyone made me feel right at home, offering to pick me up food for dinner and driving me where I needed to be.

It would have been difficult for me to choose a more interesting place for the turtle to break down than McAlester, Oklahoma. A Mason himself, John Wayne took me on a tour of the biggest Masonic temple in Oklahoma, which also happens to be the most beautiful building in McAlester. The temple houses a theater with a custom-built organ, priceless backdrops, and wigs and costumes to match (you can find Charlton Heston’s garb from The Ten Commandments on display there). Lining the walls of the temple are framed pictures of past Masons, all of which are askew, due to the regular bomb tests that go on at the nearby army ammunition plant. On our tour of the city, John Wayne and I drove past the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison that executes death-row inmates, holds about 900 prisoners (who are known for their riots), was referenced in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, and hosts an annual rodeo competition for inmates throughout the state. In addition, Reba McEntire happens to be from McAlester, and John Wayne has fixed her car a number of times.

Little did I know that John Wayne Clagg was less than thrilled about taking on the job of fixing the turtle’s broken engine. That fact is just one of the things I learned by having a chat with the best auto mechanic in Oklahoma after all was said and done, along with other lessons about what starting a business is really like. If you want to get to know the man a little better yourself, all you have to do is listen to this show.

— — — — —

An extra little tangent, if I may: One day, John Wayne and other folks at the shop were perplexed by a particular car that had come in–they were having some trouble starting the engine. Thing was, the car was connected to a breathalizer. The driver had gotten a DUI, and the attached breathalizer was mandated by the court. The car couldn’t be started unless a sober driver breathed into the device. According to one of the mechanics, every once in a while, when the car is in motion, the device beeps, indicating that you’d better reach over quick and blow into it, otherwise the car will stop dead in its tracks.

A to B episode 11: Sam

I stepped into Sam’s vintage shop, searching for a backgammon board. Lo and behold! …He had just sold his last one. The search continues.

Anyhow, B4 is Sam’s thrift store, which is nestled in a neighborhood of Dallas called Deep Ellum. Luckily, although Sam reluctantly said he had only 5 minutes to talk, we ended up spending 30 minutes exploring the hodgepodge of post-consumer objects, with Sam narrating. His occupation (well, his preoccupation) with discarded objects is his way of investigating changes in society over time. Sam’s shop, with all its curated odds and ends, chronicles disappeared years. He’s got an insider’s view of how we as a species–as human beings–get from the Point A of making flutes out of clay to the Point B of building the electric quadrichord.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “What in Sam Hill is an electric quadrichord?”
Youse gots to listen to the show to figure that out!

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Music in this show:
1. Optiganally Yours, “Stop touching me”
2. Mott the Hoople, “All the young dudes”
3. Dawes, “When my time comes”
4. Mumford & Sons, “Lover of the light”
5. T. Rex, “Bang on a gong (Get it on)”
6. The Fray, “How to save a life”

Thanks to Sam, who was game for this out-of-the-blue interview and for enduring my questions longer than we planned.

Also, I can’t take credit for selecting the music in this episode (except for the Optiginally Yours track [Rob Crow is a genius]). Given that this was an impromptu interview, I was not about to ask Sam to turn off his radio, which was tuned to the venerable KXT 91.7, the sounds of which bled into our recorded conversation.

I am fully aware that radio is magic. Nonetheless, I marveled at the uncanny thematic synchrony between that KXT DJ‘s playlist and Sam’s thoughts.

Magic never gets old. Nor does music. Nor does radio.

A to B episode 10: Roy

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Music in this show:
1. Ken Nordine, “My Baby”
2. Evelyn Evelyn, “Elephant Elephant”
3. Bang On A Can All Stars feat. Kyaw Kyaw Naing, “Hsaing Kyaik De Maung”

I’d been riding Becky’s blue cruiser around a seemingly up-and-coming arts district of Dallas, Texas, called Deep Ellum, looking for a place to get a beer. First, I tried the Deep Ellum Brewing Company, but they apparently don’t sell to the public except on Thursdays. I rode down Commerce–the bars on the sunny side of the road blasted banal music, and a promising Cajun bar looked sad and chilly in the shadows across the street. I biked down Elm–a bunch of people sat outside in the sunshine, smoking and drinking. Obviously, that was the place I wanted to be.

I came across Roy, who was tending bar at this place called July Alley. Actually, I could never really find him…when I first came in, someone had to point out the bartender–Roy and his long white beard were hidden behind the screen of a video game. When I returned for a second beer, Roy was concealed within a group of people who were talking in a booth–a “staff meeting”, he said.

The bar smelled like vomit, but the women’s restroom was magnificently clean. A little skirted figure without a head was affixed to the restroom door, and a double-headed figure indicated the men’s room. Art lined the brick walls.

The first thing Roy told me was a story. We later made a deal that I’d buy a third round if he’d let me interview him. When we hunkered down, Roy recommended a book about Eastern philosophy. He also told me about meeting “Cat Man”, who buried aircraft fuel in front of his trailer home and kept wild cats caged on his property. Roy’s rough outline of his own Point A to Point B demonstrated that any effort to demarcate the intermediate steps in advance actually may be a waste of time.

Roy mentioned his wife a few times during the course of our conversation. For 14 years, she’s suffered from dementia; for 6 years, she’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Here’s just the trace of a description of Roy’s marriage–

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Music in the BONUS:
1. Jana Hunter, “Palms”
2. Davina and The Vagabonds, “Sugar Moon”

As it turns out, by the way, Roy joins my growing list of people whose first marriage did not work out. He happens to be describing his second marriage, which is great news for those of you who have been discouraged by romance, right?

A to B episode 9: Mick

We’re going close to home with this one. WCBN DJ, musician, artist, family man, water polo enthusiast–Mick does it all. This week’s Point A to Point B includes the story of how Mick became a veteran DJ and elder statesman at WCBN-FM Ann Arbor. Hear it from the man himself, right here–

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Music in this show:
1. Ponytail, “Music tunes”
2. Azimuth, “Periscopio”
3. Bill Evans Trio, “Nardis”
4. Cecil Taylor, “African violets”
5. Drums & Tuba, “Dr. Small”
6. Electric Birds, “Pitch patterns”
7. Black Mountain, “Druganaut”

(g’ahead, click a pic.)

Mick produced all the paintings above; you can view more at his web site.

I recommend checking out Mick’s artist statement about his Music Series, a group of oil paintings he created in 2005.

aaand putcher headphones in for this mini BONUS feature with DJ Papa Skullz:
Mick placed our little recorder on a spinning turntable, resulting in the above clip. Literally made me dizzy on first listen.

This episode of Point A to Point B was a very special collaboration between St. James and me (not to mention Mick). As a fellow DJ, St. James serves your musical Prescription on Friday nights at 10 to midnight when you visit the WCBN-FM pharmacy. He used to be a Music Director at WCBN. Does it surprise you that St. James steered the ship when it came to music selections in this episode?

Long ago, we had big plans of interviewing all the old-schoolers at WCBN and featuring their stories. For one reason or another (mostly due to time/schedules/etc) Mick became our one and only star. Star he is, and star he does! James and I worked together via cellular telephone and the internet (he in Ann Arbor, me traveling through Oklahoma) to bring you this here show. We hope you like it.

Incidentally, lovely listener, you can sample the inane ramblings of St. James by following his twitter.

A to B episode 8: Harry

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As you may know, I’ve been waylaid by the turtle’s need for engine surgery at John Wayne’s auto clinic in Oklahoma. Meantime, I’ve been staying with magnanimous hosts Drs. Dan and Becky in Dallas. Becky suggested that I go eat some custard, and, by the way, the guy who owns the place has this incredibly nontraditional life story.

Meet Harry Coley. Harry founded Wild About Harry’s at 56 years old. Despite knowing nothing about the restaurant business when he started, Harry has successfully served custard and hot dogs in his shop for 16 years. At 72, he still comes in nearly every day to run the business and greet customers.

I dropped in for some custard and was lucky enough to run into the man himself! Harry was happy to sit down in the shop with me for a minute before running over to Fort Worth for a meeting. We talked about his childhood in Oklahoma and how he went from the Point A of selling women’s clothing to the Point B of bankruptcy, on to the Point C (for custard) of serving award-winning comestibles to Rudy Giuliani, the Aikman and Perot and Boone Pickens families, and thousands of other customers. I can tell you from personal experience that the custard is, indeed, so good.

Until you make it down to Dallas to see for yourself what’s so Wild About Harry’s, here’s a taste–

(g’ahead, click a pic.)

Music in this show:
1. Sara Tavares, “Sumanai”
2. Battles feat. Matias Aguayo, “Ice cream”
3. Raymond Scott, “K2r”

A to B episode 6: Zach

I spent my birthday weekend in Wisconsin with friends. While there, I ate at the steakhouse lake house (I just invented that term; it refers to a restaurant that serves red meat and has a lakeside locale; more specifically, in this case, Dylon’s Steakhouse) where my best bud works as a hostess. The bartender there served tasty shots and delicious adult ice-cream drinks. He was a very nice guy. You, too, can meet him by listening to this here installment of Point A to Point B–

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Music in this show:
1. Balkan Beat Box feat. Victoria Hanna, “Adir Adirim”
2. Bigga Bush feat. Koçani Orkestar, “L’Orient Est Roots”

A to B episode 5: Kristin and Dennis

For a while there, the turtle and I were prepping for our journey with the ole motor home parked in Wisconsin. Nearby, a town called Princeton hosts a popular outdoor flea market every Saturday during the summer (fromage-o-philes will know this flea market as a place to get the best string cheese in the world).

While exploring downtown Princeton, I poked around in a store called Twister and found a bunch of new varieties from one of my favorite Wisconsin breweries. At the cash register, Kristin and I started talking about how to keep a business afloat in a small town and how she still uses her law degree in the office behind the store. She invited me back for a longer chat, which included her business partner and husband, Dennis. Both of them left the security of their careers to renovate an old, brick building into a store + law office + living space and start their own business in a rural area. Here’s the upshot–

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Music in this show:
1. Regina Spektor, “Folding chair”
2. Monster Rally, “Chaska Beach”