First up: Phil Elverum. He's a recording artist and songwriter. Elverum's career dates back over 20 years, first as the Microphones and later Mt. Eerie. He's produced ambitious, beautiful records that mix genres like folk, noise, death metal, shoegaze and more. It sounds a little like we're listing off different bins in a record store, but it's really compelling stuff.
His albums have all gotten a lot of acclaim, not just because of the studio experimentation but because of the beautiful, kind of ephemeral lyrics he used to tackle big, existential questions.
On his latest record, A Crow Looked At Me, he abandons pretty much all of that. His wife, Geneviève, died of pancreatic cancer last summer.
Phil wrote and recorded the album in the room where she died, using instruments she owned. As an album it's raw, plainly spoken and kind of therapeutic. He talks about really specific moments - trips to the hospital, getting rid of old clothes, getting her mail still.
He talks to Jesse about death and dying, and how he processed thatloss through music. Plus, for a little levity, he talks about his high stakes gambling game: Wad Lord
Phil's new album A Crow Looked At Me is out now.
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From eating a shoe onstage to hauling a steamboat over a huge hill in the Amazon, German film director Werner Herzog is one of those public figures that has a kind of mythology to him him. But in Werner's case, a lot of it's true. He has had a career that spans more than 5 decades and dozens of awards, working both in documentaries and narrative films. He's known for Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Fitzcarraldo and Little Dieter Needs To Fly. He says that although he doesn't consider himself a workaholic, he has directed a film almost every year from the beginning of his career, with 3 being released in the last year alone.
Jesse and Werner talk about his new film starring Michael Shannon and Veronica Ferres and what it was like when he was shot during a routine interview with the BBC.
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Jesse tells us about his why the 1987 classic dramedy Broadcast News is his favorite James L. Brooks film.
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What does the career trajectory of a lifelong political junkie look like? There are the obvious choices, like a major in Political Science, law school...maybe even a career in politics. But Armando Iannucci took a different path – one that led him to Oxford, an incomplete PhD, and work writing and producing comedy, like his acclaimed political satire The Thick of It and the feature film In the Loop.
Iannucci created a new take on American politics in the HBO comedy Veep. Now in its second season, the show follows a fictional Vice President (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) with lofty ambitions but little actual power. Veep showcases the comedy inherent in the struggle for the political upper hand, the constant panic and exhaustion. Seemingly small gaffes quickly escalate into ridiculous catastrophes. The show's dialogue is marked by careful attention to absurd politi-speak and some especially creative cursing.
Iannucci joins us to talk about the difference between UK and US politics, why he sympathizes with our elected officials, and conducting swearing research in Washington, D.C.
Ianucci's new film The Death of Stalin comes out later this year.
Billy Bragg performs politically-minded folk music with a punk rock edge, songs with a tone and attitude somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Sex Pistols. But what led to him developing his voice as an artist?
As Bragg explains, one of the most pivotal moments in his life happened during his lunch break at a record store. He put on a record that changed his life: Bob Dylan's folk anthem "The Times They Are A-Changin'".
Most of us first knew Julia Louis-Dreyfus from her Emmy-winning role as Elaine on Seinfeld. Elaine flailed, fought, and danced her way into our hearts as the friend to "losers" Jerry, George and Kramer. But Louis-Dreyfus first arrived in entertainment fresh off her college comedy sketch group, as a repertory player in the Dick Ebersol-helmed cast of Saturday Night Live.
After Seinfeld, she went on to anchor several sitcoms, including The New Adventures of Old Christine, with delightful guest appearances on shows like Arrested Development and 30 Rock. Her career has now taken her to a different cast of skewed characters on HBO's Veep.
On Veep, Louis-Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer, Vice President of the United States. Though the vice-presidency is a prestigious position, Meyer's day-to-day work is less than impressive. Her staff members claw at each other for power and prestige. She suffers awkward encounters with the media and consistent snubs from the President (a running gag on the show is Selina's off-hand question, "Did the President call?" The answer is usually no).
Julia Louis-Dreyfus joins us to talk about the similarities she's discovered between show business and politics, the boys' club that was SNL in the 80s, and a certain terrible dance that still haunts her to this day.
Veep airs on HBO on Sundays at 10:30/9:30 PM central.
This week Jesse talks to Oakland Athletics' reliever Sean Doolittle, who's been called one of the most interesting players in baseball.
Sean had an improbable journey to the majors. He was originally drafted as a hitter in 2007 before being sidelined by knee injuries. He didn't play for two years as a result. Sean talks to Jesse about the physical and mental obstacles he faced during recovery. At one point, he thought about giving up and going back to college to earn his degree.
Eventually, Sean was encouraged to try his hand at pitching instead. As it turns out, he had an excellent arm and could throw in the mid-to-high-90s. He's been on the A's since 2012, and was selected as an All-Star in 2014.
Sean's known as one of the nicest guys in the majors. He's used his platform as a baseball player to raise awareness about a number of causes, including veteran homelessness and the Syrian refugee crisis. Jesse talks to Sean about his outspoken support for LGBT rights, somewhat of a rarity among his fellow players.
You can find out what Sean's up to on Twitter.
For fourteen years, Josh Kantor has been the organist for Boston Red Sox games at Fenway Park. He's known for playing creative renditions of popular songs, and six years ago he started taking fan requests via Twitter.
In this Song that Changed My Life segment, Josh recalls one of first Twitter requests he ever got: "Halo" by Beyonce.
When he's not delighting Red Sox fans, Josh plays keys for a rock band called The Baseball Project, a baseball-themed supergroup that includes members of R.E.M. You can find him on Twitter,
where he's now taking song requests for the new season.
This week Jesse talks to the artist Tabitha Soren. You might remember Soren from her previous life as a newscaster if you watched MTV in the early 1990s. During the era of "Rock the Vote" and Bill Clinton, she was one of the most recognizable young faces on television.
Now Soren is an accomplished artist and photographer, whose work has appeared in galleries around the country. She has a new photography book called Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream, which follows the 2002 Oakland Athletics draft class.
Soren admits she didn't know much about baseball before starting this project. She started shooting the Oakland A's draft class in 2003, while helping her husband with a book he was writing. That book was Moneyball, which became a New York Times bestseller and a movie by the same name. Fantasy Life is an update of sorts to Moneyball. Taken over the last fifteen years, the collection of photographs chronicles the lives of 21 players, most of whom are no longer playing baseball.
Soren talks about the incredible odds that these players faced, and how their struggle is a parable for a uniquely American obsession. She also explains why not knowing much about the game helped her tell a different story than most baseball photographers.
Fantasy Life is now available on Amazon.
Jesse shares about a book that he believes may be the greatest sports book ever written. Curiously enough, it was written by an economics professor, and it's called The Glory of Their Times.
The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It is available on Amazon.
This week guest host Linda Holmes talks with Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy, the hilarious three brothers behind the comedy advice podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me. Recently, the brothers became the creators and stars of their very own TV series by the same name on the Seeso streaming network.
The McElroys tell Linda why it was important to them to film their new show in Huntington, West Virginia, where they grew up. They dish on the common misconceptions of their hometown, and what it was like to rope fellow Huntingtonians, including the mayor, into their antics.
The McElroys’ irreverent yet humane sense of humor has won them a following of very passionate fans, especially online. There’s even a McElroy wiki that catalogues the many callbacks and gags that have appeared in their comedy over the years, not to mention the brothers’ other shows with spouses, family members, and friends.
The McElroys tell Linda about how growing up in the same household shaped their comic sensibilities -- and how even after all these years, they’re still trying to make each other laugh.
Gina Prince-Bythewood is a producer and writer who is probably best known for her 2000 movie Love and Basketball. Raised in Pacific Grove, California Gina moved down to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, graduating from the film school with honors. Gina has directed many movies since her 2000 breakthrough, films such as The Secret Life of Bee's and Beyond The Lights.
Her new project called Shots Fired, created with her husband Reggie Rock Bythewood, was a film idea turned mini series dealing with issues of race inequality and police corruption and violence against the black community. The murders of unarmed black men and women at the hands of white police officers and in particular the acquittal of George Zimmerman from the murder of Trayvon Martin were the catalyst for this project.
Gina tells Linda how rejection has influenced her work ethic, why she thinks it's important to represent diverse experiences and casts, and why she think Love and Basketball is cherished by so many people.
You can watch Shots Fired on Fox every Wednesday at 8/7c.
Linda tells us about a musician who can turn literally anybody into a great singer, doesn't matter who you are.
This week we have a bonus Pop Rocket episode for all of you Rocketeers!
Jesse Thorn, our boss and creator of Pop Rocket, interviewed Guy for Pop Rocket's sister show Bullseye with Jesse Thorn about his new truTV show Talk Show the Game Show. Although the Bullseye interview won't air for a couple of weeks, Jesse wanted to release this episode to you, our beloved listeners, as a thank you for your continued support.
As I'm sure you know by now, it is the MaxFun Drive, the 2 weeks out of the year where we ask you, our listeners, to give back in whatever way possible. You can go to the MaxFun website to donate at whatever level you can. You can also pick up some awesome thank you gifts, among which is the INCREDIBLE Pop Rocket enamel pin designed by Megan Lynn Kott. We really can't make this show without you and we so appreciate anything that you can give. Make sure to make some noise about your contribution to Maximum Fun by using the astag #MaxFunDrive.
Paul Shaffer is best known for his work as the band leader and music director on David Letterman’s late night TV shows, from the late 80’s until 2015. Though he was in charge of choosing and playing the music that would appear on the show, Shaffer was kind of a sidekick to Letterman, pulling things out of hats and setting up joke punchlines for him. Before Shaffer was on The Late Show, he was a band member on Saturday Night Live. He would appear in sketches with Bill Murray and would play piano during the Blues Brothers sketches. Letterman took notice and decided he wanted that rapport to be a part of his show.
Shaffer is not just known for working with Letterman. He has written a couple of really great disco tunes, including the 1983 jam It's Raining Men, and plays with The Late Show's The World's Most Dangerous Band.
He and Jesse talk about his expansive career, what it was like working on a show everyday for half of his life then not, and his impressive eyewear.
Javaka Steptoe is a children's book author and illustrator who has made a career of biographizing his heroes and creating books that reflect the diversity of his neighborhood. He makes an effort to illustrate books that have people of all races, all kinds of families, from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds present.
Growing up in New York and being the son of children's book author/illustrator John Steptoe, Javaka knew he was going to be an artist from the time he was a child. His first book In Daddy's Arms I am Tall, received the Coretta Scott King award for Illustrators in 1997, and many of his subsequent books recieved awards and recognition. His newest book, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has won the 2017 Caldecott award, which is basically the Pulitzer Prize for children's books.
Javaka joins Jesse to talk about what it was like to grow up with a well known father, where his passion and interest in Jean-Michel Basquiat came from, and why he finds it important to create diversity in the books that children read.
Javaka's book Radiant Child:The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is out now.
Louis Theroux is a British documentarian whose career has found himself interacting with some of the most depraved and despised people in our society. He reported on the family who runs the Westboro Baptist Church and spent time with the the leader of the White Aryan Resistance and his family. Louis, whose main interest is finding out why members of niche political parties and subcultures do what they do, also spends time with less harmful people, such as UFO hunters and Swingers on his BBC program Weird Weekends. As a part of this series, he reported on the pro-wrestling community in the United States, and took on the challenge of training with the new recruits. Louis recalls that experience for us as the craziest day of his career. Lets just say, things did not end well.
Louis has a new documentary out now called My Scientology Movie.
What makes a perfect action film? No dialogue.
This week, Wyatt Cenac sits in for Jesse Thorn.
Sam Richardson is an actor, writer, and comic. He was born in Detroit, but he has a Ghanaian mother. His childhood was split between the two places. After college, Sam moved to Chicago to pursue comedy through The Second City improv theater. He then moved to LA where he landed a couple of small roles in TV comedies like The Office and Arrested Development, eventually getting his breakout SAG nominated role as Richard Splett on HBO's Veep. Now, Sam's co-created and starred in the new Comedy Central show Detroiters produced by Lorne Michaels and Jason Sudeikis. It's about two young men (Sam and co-creator Tim Robinson) who acquire an advertising company in Detroit.
Sam talks to Wyatt about creating his new show, what it was like growing up between the United States and Ghana, and what people get wrong about Detroit.
Syd was born and raised in Los Angeles, and has been making music for most of her life. She began her career producing and singing on tracks in the music collective Odd Future when she was still in high school. In 2011, she and producer Matt Martians started an R&B band called The Internet. Six years later, they are signed to Columbia Records, have three albums under their belt, and one Grammy nomination. This year, Syd decided to venture out on her own and released her first solo album Fin to great reviews
Syd sits down with Wyatt to talk about about how she wrote and produced her new album, the influence of her parents on her music, and why she is not in a rush to meet her idols.
This week, Wyatt tells us about the 1972 Blaxploitation film The Thing with Two Heads.
This week Jesse talks with standup comic Pete Holmes. He's the creator and star of Crashing, a brand new show on HBO that's based in part on his life.
Compared with many of his standup peers, Pete had somewhat of an atypical upbringing. He was raised as an evangelical Christian and attended a Christian college, where he studied to be a youth pastor. He began performing standup in his early 20s, getting his start in New York City's club scene before playing to crowds around the country.
At the age of 28, Pete's marriage fell apart, which forced him to reevaluate his life and beliefs. Pete talks to Jesse about how setbacks such as his divorce and the cancellation of his late night show on TBS, The Pete Holmes Show, ended up paving the way for his current success. His divorce also supplied autobiographical material for his new HBO series Crashing. In the show, he plays a young comedian who finds himself dazed and newly single after his wife leaves him for a boxer.
Crashing premieres on HBO on February 19th.
Jesse also talks with Mike Mills, director of 20th Century Women, which is up for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Before his career in feature films, Mills made his name directing short films and music videos, working with bands like Air, Blonde Redhead, and Pulp.
In 2010, Mills directed Beginners, a comedy/drama that told the story of a fictionalized version of his father, who came out of the closet in his late 70s. Christopher Plummer, who played his dad, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Mills' latest film, 20th Century Women, is about his mom. It tells the story of Dorothea (Annette Benning), a single mom living in a big house in Santa Barbara with two boarders and her teenage son, Jamie. The movie is also an exploration of the 1970s cultural landscape, including 2nd wave feminism and punk rock.
Mike talks with Jesse about his relationship with his parents, who grew up in the Depression era, as well as his philosophy on character development. He also tell Jesse about one of his first loves: skateboarding.
Learn more about 20th Century Women and where you can watch it.
You might laugh if you hear about a movie with CGI-rendered talking animals, but that just means you haven't seen Babe: Pig in the City. In this week's Outshot, Jesse explains why a movie about a brave little pig wandering through a bustling metropolis makes him cry every time he watches it.
Cristela Alonzo is a veteran standup comedian, actress, writer, and producer. She's also something of a pioneer. You might remember her from the ABC sitcom Cristela, where she was the first Latina to create, write, produce, and star in her own show.
In this week's episode, she talks to Jesse about her formative years growing up in South Texas with an undocumented parent. Hiding from police and immigration raids were daily realities in her small border town. Her family was also desperately poor--she recalls squatting in an abandoned diner.
Down the road, Cristela discovered she had a talent for weaving those tough experiences into comedy gold. That gift is on full display in her new Netflix standup special, Lower Classy, as she takes on difficult topics including racial stereotypes, immigration, poverty, and parenting, all with her trademark smile and laugh. Cristela recalls the long journey that led to the special, and how being a comedian is, for her, about more than simply making people laugh.
Cristela Alonzo's new standup special, Lower Classy, is available to stream on Netflix now.
Stretch Armstrong is a renowned DJ, record collector, and writer. It's impossible to tell the story of New York rap in the 1990s--what some people consider the Golden Era of Hip-Hop--without at least mentioning The Stretch and Bobbito Show, the influential college radio program that he and Robert "Bobbito" Garcia co-hosted from 1990 to 1998.
In their time, Stretch and Bobbito were among the only FM radio outlets for a generation of New York rappers. MCs like Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, Notorious BIG, and Nas. The behind-the-scenes stories from those days are the stuff of hip-hop folklore, and the subject of documentary that came out a little over a year ago, called Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives. It's available to stream on Netflix now.
Stretch, whose real name is Adrian Bartos, also recently co-authored a book. He and Evan Auerbach teamed up to make a visual history of New York City's club scene, called No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999.
In this week's Outshot, Jesse shares a Saturday Night Live sketch that spoke to him in a particularly magical way. Behold, Wells for Boys:
Gloria Calderon Kellett has been in show business as a writer, producer, and actor for almost two decades. She began her career writing on Andy Richter’s show Quintuplets. She also worked on How I Met Your Mother and Rules of Engagement. When Norman Lear, the legendary TV producer approached her about doing a reboot of One Day at a Time - his 1970s hit sitcom - she jumped at the chance.
She was joined by Mike Royce, a veteran TV producer of shows like Everybody Love Raymond and Men of a Certain Age, and Gloria. The two tell Jesse about how they began to conceptualize the new show, how Gloria avoided being being labeled as the "latina writer" during her career, and how they approached writing about marginalized communities in a sitcom format.
You can watch the reboot of the Norman Lear classic One Day At A Time by streaming it on Netflix.
New York based rapper SAINt JHN spent his youth travelling between Guyana and New York. He realized early on, following his older brother’s lead, that he wanted to be a rapper. He began his career as a songwriter, with credits that include Usher’s 2016 hit Crash. He's now writing songs for himself and creating work for GØDD COMPLEXx, his music and art collective.
He knows the record that got him started - it's a 1999 album: Jay Z's Vol 3. He even remember the song that changed his life: Jay's classic Dopeman.
You might think that growing up the son of one of history’s most beloved R&B and Soul singers would be the greatest gift. But Todd Mayfield and his siblings didn’t always see it that way. Curtis Mayfield, who defined a whole generation of politically conscious music, left behind an incredible legacy of stories, music, and touched lives. Todd, despite his propensity to separate himself from his father in his younger years, felt it necessary to biographize his father’s life through anecdotes, interviews with friends and family.
This week, Todd and Jesse talk about what it was like growing up with Curtis Mayfield as a father, his musical transition from the 1960s to the more politically involved records of the 1970s, and the incredible music that he was able to create when he was paralyzed from the neck down during the late 80s to his final days in 1999.
Todd’s biography of his father, Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield is out now.
This week, Jesse talks about LA rapper YG’s particular sound and philosophy.