TB27 - John Roderick

In this episode, Todd and John talk about:

This episode was recorded in person in New York City

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John getting to the studio (TB27)

John is Todd's first musician guest on the show. John had a little trouble getting to the studio and he is Todd’s latest guest, being an hour and 5 minutes past schedule. In John’s defense, they had closed half the subways across the river because it is the weekend in New York and who goes out on the train during the weekend? The F-train was closed and John couldn’t get across the bridge. Then he went hubristically the wrong way on Broadway, which is almost impossible because you have this 180 story Freedom Tower as a landmark, but the Uniqlo Store had a magnetic draw. John didn’t go in, because he was conscious of being late and imagined Todd was sitting there watching the second hand move around the clock. He saw the MUJI store and walked past CB2. It was Saturday in New York and the streets were full of tourists. There were Germans and Japanese. John didn’t hear a single person speaking English. As he got down to Canal Street, he realized that he knew where he was and this was not where he needed to go. He realized that he had been walking downhill all the time in an actual slope. He was enamored with the city, the smell of poop and the stuff on the streets. The city does smell.

John lives in the Northwest and those cities smell like pine trees and ocean breezes. Here it is just vomit and smoke. Todd assumes that all those Grunge musicians would overpower whatever the natural aroma of the city would be, but most of the Grunge musicians moved into mansions out in the suburbs and all the people downtown in Seattle are Christian musicians with banjos and tambourines. That is the new scene! They are called the God Squad and they look like Hipster Christians. They exist in New York as well! Last night John played at the Bowery Ballroom with 7 bands, at least 3 of which had that Mumford & Sons-y stand-up kick drum sound, banjo players, Faux Hawk haircuts and very Christian-y 4-part harmonies. It was too cluttered a sound and too much rhythm without even a snare drum, or if there was a snare, then some big guy with a handlebar mustache and suspenders was probably walking around the room with a snare as part of the neo-Vaudeville. It is sort of an unlikely type of music to get suddenly popular. They talk about Mandolin, Harpsichord and the Clarinet.

Todd is a funky mowtown-y guy, but people don’t know that about him. He likes the Korg XQ, but now he is just making stuff up. Has John ever played a multi-rack Rick Wakeman type setup? In the studio, John would sit and play with analog synthesizers all day, trying to get that incredible sound. As you put it on a recording, you realized that the 1984 Yamaha DX7 already has a plug-in that sounds almost like it. You could run it through a phaser pedal and have the same thing. Today you can do most of it with plug-ins on your phone and you don’t need to have analogue synths anymore. John actually trucked a Moog synth in their checkin-bag for the show yesterday. There was absolutely no reason for it except that they are old and snobs. It is the one that was sold at RadioShack, so it says Realistic on it and not even Moog. It does get a fat tone. John never had a Theremin phase. There are 4 good Theremin players in the world, but there is not a single great one. Then there are 100.000 shitty Theremin players. Its intonation is so tenuous and if you don’t have intonation on it, you are just making garbage noise.

Paul Simon tribute show with Aimee Mann (TB27)

A couple of years ago John did a tribute to Paul Simon in Central Park with Aimee Mann and Todd came to the afterparty. Joan Osborne played that show as well, everybody did Paul Simon songs, and no one had said a word between songs the whole night. Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and the mayor were there, it was a big show, but Joan got up and said ”I just want to say before I play this song that I didn’t pick this song, it was one of the last ones left. I think of myself as a very positive person and I don’t agree with the sentiment of the song, but I will do it anyway in the spirit of the day although it is a pretty negative-minded song.” It was I’m a Rock and she had taken the surface level of the meaning and missed the underlying meaning of the song and it was the most unusual Rock Star moment, begrudgingly doing a tribute to a person who was also sitting 50 feet from her.

Different kinds of musicians (TB27)

There are two kinds of musicians, just like there are two kinds of Jesuit priests: There are the 3rd sons in a family of 6 sons. They are usually a jock and kind of dumb and they get sent into the priesthood because the first son takes over the family business and the second son goes into the army. Also, the other half of the Joshua priests are gay, they went into priesthood to stay in catholicism and celibacy was a way to live in a house with a bunch of men. Musicians are the same way: Half the musicians are basically jocks: They are the handsome, fit Rock star type, not very reflective, with lyrics like ”Baby, I want to squeeze your lemon”, while the other half of the musicians are people who were forced into music because they didn’t have another outlet and who didn’t know any other way to put their feelings out there. You can see it backstage at a big Rock concert: The jocks over there are into the Hot Red Chili peppers and over here are the Elliott Smiths. Think about Elliott Smith and Anthony Kiedis and what they have to say to each other! They could talk about their heroin experiences.

Perl Jam (TB27)

Perl Jam started in Seattle in 1991. Their original band-name was Mookie Blaylock, named after an NBA player. John went to some of their very early club shows when they were still trying to figure it out. They were real basketball shoe high-fiving white guys playing hard funk music. Eddie was always intense, and their shows were super ”Woooo! Come on!” It was a pretty jocky scene with a lot of backwards baseball cups, but non-ironically. Then the Grunge scene took over the nation and really identified as a dark scene from a dark time with dark people. Perl Jam’s whole public identity made a real shift during those six months and all of a sudden they were playing up the child abuse angle. On the cover of their breakout album Ten they were all standing in a basketball huddle giving themselves a group high five. One year later their music video is about a kid going on a shooting spree in his school. It was a pretty quick transition, they got the Zeitgeist and they understood that they had to get dark.

Perl Jam had a following already as Mookie Blaylock because they were already locally famous in Seattle. Two of the guys had been in Green River before they went on to be in Mother Love Bone with Andrew Wood. Their album was called Apple. They were proto-metal, proto-glam. Everybody knew that they were the anointed ones. At the same time they were filming the movie Singles. Matt Dillon was at one of their shows, buying drinks for all of the ladies.

The Long Winters reunion (TB27)

See setlist here

John is in town to do his Long Winters reunion shows (Instagram picture). It was fun yesterday! John and Sean did Cabinet of Wonders at City Winery. Joan Osborne was there. The first band started at 6pm. There was no Twitter when their last record came out and the Internet was mostly message boards then, meaning that most of their current fans have discovered the band after they had last toured and they had never seen them play. A lot of them knew John from the Internet, they are nerds and they have never been to a Rock concert before. As John sat at the merch table at the end of the night, he heard from a lot of people that they had arrived at 5:30pm because the doors were at 6pm. They didn’t want to miss the show, but didn't understand that the headlining band plays at the end of the night. There were kids sitting in front of the stage from 6pm until midnight when The Long Winters finally came on.

Heart (TB27)

John won a Heart album once in a mall. They are a great band, but the 1980s when they had a bunch of terrible number one hits have tarnished the legacy of what was an incredible 1970s Rock band. Todd even liked the power ballads, but John finds them too synthy. John is a massive fan of the sisters and what they do. He has met them, but they are a little bit of a bigger deal than seeing them in coffee shops. Cameron Crowe was married to the younger sister Nancy and he has a real connection to the city. John knows one of the women who used to co-write some of their songs back in the 1970s and he is pretty good friends with her, her name is Sue. She was like a high school buddy of theirs and co-wrote a bunch of the songs. She teaches songwriting at the community college, but she has some grammies and when the quarterly cheques come in, they are probably not insignificant.

Talking about money in show business (TB27)

One of the things John learned when he first started working in show business was that people who talked openly about money had fewer problems than the people who were reticent about it. Everybody wants to know what everybody else is making! People’s imaginations run away and they think that they probably got $80.000 at that show while they in reality made $18.000, but they are mad at them for having made $80.000 that they were just imagining. When Sean Nelson hired John to be in Harvey Danger, he told John how much he was going to make and what that represented. They were sitting in a car and Sean just told him the deal. Cool? Yes, cool! If you co-wrote a few songs for Heart and you get $5000-7000 a quarter, that helps you a lot. That is how you make a living.

Ken Stringfellow from the Posies once sat John down at his kitchen table and was like: I’m going to open my mail and I’m going to teach you something. He started at the top of this pile of envelopes, opening them and pulling out cheques. $75, that is from a track I have produced for a girl in Spain. $102, this is for the residuals of a record I made in 1984, $14, this is BMI payment from a TV show. There was no cheque over $100 really, but as he added them all up, it was $5600. That is how you make a living as a musician. You never say no, you get a bunch of little trickly cheques and you add them up. If somebody asks you to produce their album but they don’t have any money, you give them a backend deal and take 2%. It worked, Ken bought a house that way. He is only 2 days older than John, but the Posies started making records in the 1980s and John didn’t make his first record until 2001, so he was taking John to Rock school. John tells that story to young musicians all the time. They get to be 27/28 years old and think that they haven’t made it yet. They don’t want to keep living out of a duffel bag and are under a lot of pressure to quit playing around, quit being a musician, get serious, and go get a job. It is probably true in standup, too. You don’t realize that you are on the threshold of knowing something and a lot of people quit. The life as a musician requires that you go all in at a certain point and you can’t work a day job at the same time.

John in a fight with a limo driver

John got in a fight with a limo driver two days ago. They did not actually get out and had a physical confrontation, but it was one of those airport queue situations with professional drivers out West. In New York everybody understands that it is a combat situation and everybody understands to never look back. If the nose of your car is 2 inches ahead of the car next to you, you can do whatever you want. You can turn left or right or slam on your breaks and the guy behind you has to deal with whatever you are doing. If drivers in New York would be looking over their shoulders constantly, the system wouldn’t work. Everybody is looking down the tube of the street they are hauling ass down.

In Seattle people are cautious to the point of stupidity and they are more dangerous because they are cautious and considerate. Then you got professional drivers who are behind the wheel all day. John considers himself a professional driver, because he is a fighter pilot and he has driven around America 1000 million times. He was at the airport and some limo driver was jamming up the whole system. The Seattle Sounders football club was leaving through the airport and every single one of the players arrived in a separate Escalate, although they were all starting from the same place and coming to the same place, Couldn’t they spring a bus? There was this jam-up in the middle of SeaTac airport and John had to get a little East Coast with some gesticulation and a little bit of screaming. It was not a fight and John was just straightening this guy up through closed windows, but the guy understood that John had some information for him about how he was living his life. If they met under different circumstances, he would probably be a cool dude and John would forgive him. If he went to his home in Eritrea and his mother prepared John a delicious meal, they would be friends.

Learning a lot about history and connecting the dots (TB27)

Knowing a lot about history and world politics has nothing to do with smartness, but it is all about making connection between two pieces of information to understand both of them better. The reason most people don’t like history is the way it is taught is ”This happened on this date at this place. Remember that!” and you can’t! Most history stuff just exists in little bubbles and people have no reason to keep it. John likes to draw lines and make a web, because a web that can support learning other things. For example Haile Selassie used to be the king of Ethiopia and Todd knows that because he is a Rastafari. That is a thread from Jamaica to Ethiopia and it can support a lot of other information. You can hang a lot of stuff on it like Ska music and Eritrea. As you start hanging more and more things on it, you understand that Ethiopians look different than people from West Africa, because Ethiopia in East Africa had a lot of trade with Arabs and Indians back in the 1500s and so East Africans have a kind of Arab Middle Eastern look, but also African. You can tell Somalians, Ethiopians, and Eritreans apart from Egyptians. Then you know that this guy is not from Ethiopia, because the air freshener that is hanging from his rear view mirror is the Eritrean flag and John knows that because he knows what the Ethiopian flag looks like.

Todd suggests that John should be on Jeopardy. Ken Jennings lives in Seattle and he and John have started a little Kaffeklatsch where they get together. He is hilarious and he is a practicing Mormon. They were becoming friends on Twitter and then they were starting getting coffee together. Ken does this thing where he says that he is not smart, but he just learned this secret of retaining trivia, which he also describes as building a web, but he is really smart. He won Jeopardy 74 times and nobody could beat him. Now he has a column in Parade magazine, which has the largest circulation of any magazine in the world. It is a question and answer column, but it is clear that all the questions come from publicists. I hear Tom Hanks has a new movie? Can you tell us about it?

John and Todd on tour through Iowa (TB27)

John and Todd just got off a tour together through 4 cities, 2 of them in Iowa. It was the Cabinet of Wonders tours, put together by Wesley Stace, formerly John Wesley Harding. It was a bunch of people, poets and a lot of luminaries like Jon Langford from The Mekons. Two cities in Iowa is very unusual and nobody plays two cities in Iowa or has Iowa being 50% of their tour. The last show was at Grinnell College and they had big expectations, but it wasn’t amazing. Everyone who worked there was nice and most of the audience were nice people. There were 35 people in a 350 seat room, it had the vibe of a lecture hall where the professor was boring and people were just not showing up. Todd had a confrontation with a guy. During the show he saw a woman sitting face down. She was looking down scribbling, Todd called her out in a nice way, she replied that she was sketching him and Todd replied with something nice. Then she and the guy sitting next to her were both heads down scribbling, so Todd said ”You are sketching me as well?”, but he was like ”I’m waiting for you to tell a joke!”, but it was just the standard shit answer that a shitty person would say when they had been called out on their shittiness. Someone also brought 4 kids to a show including a true infant and a 3-year old. Why are you bringing 4 kids? How about one baby sitter to watch them while you are going to a show?

Then there was the sound-man who didn’t understand how sound reinforcement equipment works. John had watched half of the show from the audience and the sound-man had turned the monitors on, but not the main speakers, so the audience was hearing the monitors blasting against the back wall, echoing out into the crowd. John was watching them and they were monkeying with the board like a sound person does, but the sound just got worse through the night. He suspects that the mains were simply not on. There is no way to explain that. When John walked into the room, he noticed immediately that something was terrible, but the person who was paid to do it wasn’t noticing it. As Todd got to get his merch, the shitty guy was looking at him and was showing him the drawing he had done. Why wasn’t he just showing it to Todd before? It was a little late for this now and Todd kind of wanted to kill him or take a super-soaker up on stage full of garlic water, so that it would hurt when you got it in his eyes.

John did a couple of tours a few years ago where he was asking the audience for requests and he would just start playing songs in the order that people shouted them. It was really fun, they would play 24 song sets because every time there was a moment of silence, somebody would shout another song and John would continue playing.

Last night at the show people were shouting songs out, but they were just dingelings. The heckling that was coming from the crowd was charming in the sense that people were enthusiastic and wanted to be part of the show, but nobody had anything good or funny. At one point John felt the energy in the room that people wanted to make references to John’s podcasts and wanted to say things in a Twitter fashion, but out loud. He spent 3 minutes trying to feel these questions, but there weren’t any questions. Dave Bazan of Pedro the Lion pioneered it for John. He would always take questions, because he was kind of an important figure to a lot of kids during the 2000s and he would feel the tension in the room that people had stuff that they really wanted to talk to him about. He started out as a Christian artist and then morphed into a secular artist and there were all these fans who would ask like ”Why did you abandon God?” and other weird things and he would take the time to answer it in front of a sold-out crowd. It was pretty profound and John tried it last night, but it was just catch phrases and audience participation stuff. It might be because they went on until midnight and some of the kids had been there since 5pm.

Todd listening to John’s album Putting the days to bed (TB27)

Todd got one of John’s albums the other day, called Putting the days to bed. It is a 35 minute album, he likes that. It is short so it would fit on a single vinyl. Bands should either do a 30 minute album or an epic triple 95-minute album. Anything in between is not good. If John had to do it all over again, he would take two songs off When I pretend to fall, which is 59 minutes, because it doesn’t need to be 12 songs long and two of them were even more than 6 minutes. At 35 minutes you are done listening to a record and you want to do something else. The Cure record Disintegration is 1,5 hours long! When Todd wants to buy new music and all he can find is some re-released stuff with demos, B-sides and live cuts, he can’t deal with that. There is a reason they didn’t release the demos at the time. On John’s album one of the songs is called Dishonest which is about a singer and how everyone loves a singer. Todd suggests that the drummer should be singing this one.

The song is about a mother talking to her daughter who is a fan of a Rock star and the mother is very concerned because her teenage daughter is obsessed with this singer and the mother is telling the story when she was a teenager and was obsessed with maybe the same singer and that obsession produced a trist (?) which produced the daughter. It is based on a true story of one of John’s friends who’s father is a touring musician who they never knew. What if Liv Tyler, before she knew that Steven Tyler was her father, would have fallen in love with Steven Tyler? What if she was a huge Aerosmith fan and her mom had not revealed that her father was not Todd Rundgren as she always thought. That happened in Liv Tyler’s life! She grew up with Todd Rundgren as her dad and Steven Tyler was just a friend of the family, but there was this moment of "Oh actually, Steven Tyler is your father!" She doesn't look a lot like Todd Rundgren and uncle Steven was over an awful lot. Then Steven Tyler proceeded to use her as a sex object in his music videos for a while. What if she had grown to be 18 and nobody had revealed it to her and she would be on the front row of an Aerosmith concert and OMG and Stephen Tyler would be ”Who’s the fox?” This is a song about the mother wanting her daughter to know what happened to her. John’s song writing is a little bit more obtuse. A lot of people think it is a happy song about them and their boyfriend.

What John has grown to like is if people come up and tell him about his songs. It happens all the time that somebody tells him that this song was so helpful to them, because it was about how you need to appreciate the person they really love and how they need to really learn to communicate and talk to them. They really took this message to heart and it made their relationship better, which is interesting, because when John wrote this song, it was about the Red Brigade terrorist group in Italy in the 1970s and about a love affair between two people, one of whom ended up dead and one of whom abandoned their mate to the cops in order to survive. Over the years John watched people’s faces fall and he saw enough people get confused and disappointed, because they tell him that they had played that song as their wedding dance. Somebody played Elvis Costello’s ”I want you” at their wedding, but it is a song about adultery. Don’t tell people what the songs are about, but wait for them to tell you what they hear in your songs!

Would John go on tour as the bassist for Celine Dion? (TB27)

Has John ever been asked by a band to be a hired gun and was it a band he didn’t like? Would he do it? John has been asked to join bands he didn’t like early on when they were all just free floating musicians in Seattle and people were like ”Hey, you want to be the bass player in our band?” and John would go to a rehearsal, play the bass in the band, and they would be ”That was amazing, let’s do it!” That happened a few times. John was one of 200 26-year old dudes in Seattle who all see each other at shows and all the bands were coalescing. John would play with them and then say ”Yeah, I’m not into Britt-pop that much and you guys are doing a Britt-pop thing” That was pretty easy to do. But now, if Celine Dion came up to John, she is surely a nice person, but she does not stylistically match with him, offer him a six week tour for $10.000 a week in 4-star hotels. There is so much to learn in a situation like this that John would absolutely do it.

Todd will send it her way, because she is his aunt! If John played on tour with Celine Dion, he would learn so much. Every experience he has ever had with other musicians who were operating at a higher level has always made him walk away with a new sense of feel. So much about being a good musician is figuring out all these different feels. One of the great things about doing these shows with Wes (Wesley Stace?) is that his band is made up of these guys who have a great, distinctive feel. Playing with them and feeling out where their sense of swing is, John could play with them for a year and not have learned everything there is to learn. If John was on stage with Celine, he is sure he would be playing along with some computers, but the music would be coming from a place where people have really dialed it in. She doesn’t get on stage and jam it out. That stuff is to the second. It would be fascinating to John, because her music director would give him serious notes.

Matt Chamberlain playing drums on The Commander Thinks Aloud (TB27)

You hear people saying that this is the best drummer and this is the best guitarist, but the drummer for Barry Manilow is a really good drummer, but you will never hear about it and he will never get the appreciation. Maybe amongst drummers he will.

John had the great luck to have Matt Chamberlain come into the studio to record drums. He was Edie Brickell’s drummer, he is now the ultimate session dude, and he played on the last Morrissey record and the first Pearl Jam record. He is one of these drummers who is a monster in a good way. He came in when they were recording ”The Commander Thinks Aloud” which has become one of the signature Long Winters songs, but it wasn’t really a band song. Instead it is John on the piano and some synths and all it needed was a killer drum track. Everything else is synthesizers, there are no guitars on it and John just played the piano to the click.

Matt came in, sat down in the studio, listened into the track for a while, wanted to hear it with the click, but that didn’t help him either and he wanted the click to be taken back out, then he swiveled in his chair and said ”The next time you want me to do something like this, you have me come in first and play with me, because you playing along with this click, you are not in the sweet spot” John was playing on top of the beat, trying to keep the song moving. Still, Matt was like ”Let me give this a try” and he goes up, sets up his drum kit, he brought his own microphone, a mono Ribbon mic and he set it up himself right in the middle of his kit and said ”Run the track!” and he played along with it. It is a great drum part and you hear him compensating in his beat for John’s push and pull and he was putting his beats in a fashion that was making John’s piano sound groovier.

As they get to the end, he asked them to play the track again and he played along again and did another drum track. He ran it five times and John thought that he was giving them some options and they would be going to comp something together. By the fourth and fifth time, he was doing some kind of incomprehensible stuff and John thought it was getting arty which he wasn't really into, but it was cool, because they had a couple of good takes. Then he came downstairs and asked to bring up all five tracks at once and pan them across the spectrum. Not only did they line up, but he had done fills that started at track one and went across the stereo spectrum, because he had thought about it so that it sounded in stereo. He had understood what the song was about so instantly that he created this sonic distraction at the end that John didn’t even get until months later when they were mixing the track. It was almost like a vocal part. If you watch a guy work like that, recording five separate takes all into one microphone, he never deleted anything and he never made a mistake, if you work with a musician who is thinking and acting so far past what John will ever be as a player, you will walk away from that thinking that music is a language that John is proficient in, but there are levels of fluency that are heavy!

Seattle is a small town and everybody knows each other, so they got him by making a phone call. Peter Buck also played on a Long Winters record. They made a phone call and all of a sudden Peter Buck was there with his mandolin. Matt usually gets $7500 a day to do that kind of thing with a Morrissey record or with Tory Amos. After he had done his wizardry, he asked ”Are you guys paying me for this?” and John was feeling big wheel at this point and was offering him $500. He said ”Oh, so it is basically for free? Like a favor set?” and John was like ”Oh, harsh”. John gave him a $500 cheque, but he never cashed it, so either he was throwing it out the window of his car as he drove away or it in his stack. He was not angry, it was fun for him.

Plugs (TB27)

John’s podcast is called Roderick on the Line where his friend [Merlin Mann from San Francisco calls him once a week to talk about Hitler and the challenges of being a person, that kind of stuff. Merlin had some success in the computer world and John has this whole music life. They are both grown-ups that are trying to be better.

John is also thinking about running for Seattle City Council, so you should vote for John if you see his name. Todd would even establish residency. If John needs a political fundraiser, he would come out, he would just need airfare.

Everybody who is listening to this podcast should buy all the Long Winters records and do so on vinyl, because it is cooler and Todd’s fans are of a cooler cutting.

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