Jonathan Coulton, Singer-Songwriter, on The Sound of Young America

Jonathan Coulton
Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton stops by MaxFun World HQ to talk about (and play) his charming, heartfelt and hilarious songs. Coulton recently released a live CD/DVD set, called "Best. Concert. Ever."

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Heads Will Roll


Directed by IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade

Best. Concert. Ever.


Our friend Jonathan Coulton is coming back to The Sound of Young America in a few weeks, to celebrate the release of his live CD/DVD, "Best. Concert. Ever."

Here's a special treat from JoCo's upcoming set on The Sound: Shop Vac (Live on The Sound of Young America)

Blitzen Trapper Live Video on The Sound of Young America


Blitzen Trapper on The Sound of Young America from Jesse Thorn on Vimeo.

Another segment from our live videos from the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. This will be podcast in audio form in a couple of weeks.

Fresh Air Rock Historian Ed Ward: National Treasure (for Germany, I guess)

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If Fresh Air's rock historian, Ed Ward, didn't live in Berlin, I'd say he was a national treasure.

His pieces are consistently insightful and full of great music. If NPR's treatment of baby boomer stuff was always this good, I'd be on board 1000%. I think the greatest sign of the quality of his pieces is how much I enjoy the ones on kinds of music I don't care for at all. And the ones on music I *do* like are double awesome.

Check out this recent piece on Westbound Records, the Detroit label that spawned Funkadelic, among others.

And of course, anyone who dedicates eight minutes of national radio to the great Swamp Dogg is a national treasure in my book!

PS: Dear NPR web gurus, I presume based on reviews that your API is super cool and all, but can we get an embeddable audio players? Love, Jesse

Mirah on The Sound of Young America in Portland


Mirah on The Sound of Young America from Jesse Thorn on Vimeo.

All this week, we'll be showcasing video from our live taping at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland. Brian Brewer was kind enough to shoot the show for us, and I'm so happy with how it looks. We'll be podcasting the show in about two weeks, but since it's pledge drive time, I thought we'd share one of these awesome videos with you each day this week.

Above, Mirah performs two songs from her newest release, (a)spera.

Prince on Tavis Smiley


Prince on Tavis

Eleni Mandell Interview & Performance on The Sound of Young America

Eleni Mandell

Eleni Mandell is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, whose new album is Artificial Fire. She talks with us about growing up in Southern California, and the moment she discovered that "all music doesn't sound like Barry Manilow." She went from idolizing the LA alt-rock band X to working with members of the band.

If you enjoyed this show, try these:
Marianna Palka
Mark Oliver Everett of Eels
Nellie McKay

Interview: Charles Spearin of The Happiness Project


Charles Spearin is a member of Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene, whose first solo project was released in February under the moniker The Happiness Project. To construct the album, Spearin interviewed his Toronto neighbors on the subject of happiness, then built melodies around fragments of their speech. Spearin recently spoke with Chris Bowman about community, life, and the likelihood that your neighbors are as amazing as his.

You could say this project was inspired by silence. Can you explain how The Happiness Project began?

Well there are a few different origins to the project that kind of came together nicely into one neat package. My father’s a Buddhist, and I was raised with Buddhism in my house and in my early twenties I started doing meditation retreats. In the practice of meditation there’s a lot of emphasis on reflection and awareness of your breath and that kind of thing. And in coming back home you really start to notice a lot of things you wouldn’t normally notice. And one of the things, in this case, would be the melody of speech. When people talk they’re so concerned with getting the meaning across that they don’t pay attention to the sound of their voice, unless they’re a radio announcer or something.

The main theme of the record is happiness, but you’re also making a statement about community. What made you turn to your neighbors?

Well, my neighbors are right there. That was one of the convenient things about the neighborhood. You know, I have two little kids now, and when you have kids the neighborhood becomes very significant. You live in it, it’s your home, it’s their world and I started to appreciate just how fortunate we are to have this community. It’s very mixed, it’s very healthy, and everybody looks out for each other. It’s downtown but it’s still safe. In a way I wanted to do a musical sketch of the community. So combining the thoughts of doing music on speech with the idea of doing a musical sketch of the neighborhood was putting two and two together and bringing my neighbors over to talk about happiness and life and listen to their voice for musical cadence.

Were you aware of how inspiring they were ahead of time?

Well, no. They’re just ordinary people. I think when you bring people into your home and give them a comfortable place and give them a chance to open up and be even a little bit philosophical a lot of people have a lot of wise things to say. It’s amazing, you never know what your neighbors are going to say, you never know who they are unless you encourage this kind of communication. Which really kind of amazed me. At first I was just using them to some degree as guinea pigs to just get the melody of their voice. But they kept saying the most wonderful things. So I shifted the focus a little bit.

It’s a shame you had to use such small snippets. I’m sure the rest of the interviews were peppered with other wise words.

Yeah, there were some great moments. Mrs. Morris had a great talk about her grandmother living to be 126 years old in Jamaica. She’s got lots of great stories.

At a recent live performance you mentioned (jokingly) that you had decided to become an expert on happiness and that you were reading Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Do you think at some base level there is a universal formula for happiness?

Certainly in Buddhism there’s a universal formula for suffering. That’s, basically, thinking about yourself. Become self absorbed and you’ll become miserable. So the natural opposite of that is to think about others and you’ll be happy. Or let go of your idea of self then you’re more likely to find happiness. That’s part of The Happiness Project as well. If you’re listening to the world, you’re less likely to be self-absorbed.

You admitted to being unfair to one of your subjects, Marissa, by asking this question. So I’m going to play the role of you and ask, what quality do you think is the most important quality in life?

That’s a hard question. That’s a bastard question actually. I can’t believe she got through it. (After a long deliberating pause) I can’t believe she answered it so quickly! It doesn’t take much to feel lucky, you know? Maybe that’s the important quality I’m looking for. Appreciation. Being able to appreciate the life that you have without struggling to find something else.

The Happiness Project is available now on Arts & Crafts. You can hear the beautiful music Spearin created here.

Jello Biafra Interview Live at SF Sketchfest: The Sound of Young America Podcast

Jello Biafra (L) with Jesse Thorn, photo by Tommy Lau

This week, we're joined by punk rock and free speach legend Jello Biafra. As the former frontman of the seminal punk group Dead Kennedys, Biafra fused political agitprop with humor, changing the face of punk rock. He also ran for mayor of San Francisco, gaining thousands of votes with a platform that included a requirement that businessmen downtown wear clown suits and that policemen be elected. Since his time with the DKs, he's become a free speach leader, travelling the country giving spoken word performances. He's also the founder of Alternative Tentacles Records.

We spoke with Biafra during our live show at SF Sketchfest in San Francisco.

If you enjoyed this show, try these:
The Dirtbombs
Dan Savage
Janeane Garofalo

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