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Interview: Paul & Storm by Aaron Matthews

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Paul & Storm with Jonathan Coulton (center) Photo by Aaron Haley

Together Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo are professional singing persons Paul & Storm, who comprised ½ of comedic a capella group Da Vinci’s Notebook. Da Vinci’s Notebook has been on hiatus since 2004 but still occasionally reunite for corporate events. Paul & Storm are currently touring with noted troubadour and TSOYA guest Jonathan Coulton. Their latest album, Gumbo Pants, was released online on August 26. I corresponded with Paul and Greg via email and asked them some questions about making a career of music & comedy.

Aaron: What made you want to get into the lucrative genre of musical comedy?

PAUL: The short answer: it was the only thing we were really good at.
The somewhat longer answer: we started out in 1994 in an a cappella group called Da Vinci's Notebook, which started as a little hobby group that only did covers. The songs that seemed to be the most fun and get the best audience response were songs by another a cappella group called the Bobs, who did a lot of funny originals. So we drifted towards that, and Storm and I fell into a writing partnership, as we have similar backgrounds (children of the '80s and lovers of all pop culture) and compatible senses of humor; so we started writing songs in a similar vein. Before we knew it, we were the main writers for what had evolved into a full-time comedy a cappella group.

When that group stopped performing in 2004, Storm and I desperately wanted to avoid getting real jobs, so we tried performing as a duo, and with a good degree of adjustment (like getting comfortable with playing an instrument and singing at the same time), it worked pretty well.

What's your writing process like?

STORM: We don't have a single set process. Sometimes an idea will strike one of us out of the blue and the other will have just a few tweaks, or add what Lennon and McCartney called "the middle eight". But more often it's comparable to two people working a potter's wheel together.
Generally one of us will drop the initial lump of clay (usually a comic hook, song style, and/or a few lines), the brain wheels spin, and we shape it until it's just right, adding more clay as necessary. Sometimes both of our hands are on the clay, sometimes we alternate, and a lot of the time the pot doesn't make it to glazing (chord structure/melody) or the kiln (recording phase) at all.

P: Sometimes it's demand-side-based ("We gotta write a song this week"); and sometimes it's supply-side ("Wow, we should totally write a song about this awesome topic/idea/thing I just thought of/had/saw"). And sometimes they can feed off each other. For example, we were going to be on the [nationally syndicated morning radio program] "The Bob and Tom Show" a couple months back, and wanted to come up with one more new song the night before. While noodling, Storm started doing his awesome James Taylor impression; so we tried to find a way to make a relatively lame thing (impressions in general) somewhat more interesting, so we thought, "well, what if he were...I dunno, on fire?" Which led to our song "If James Taylor Were on Fire", which in turn led to a bunch of other "If" songs ("If Bob Dylan Were Hiding at the Bottom of a Well", "If They Might Be Giants Were the Ice Cream Man", etc.).

So the demand side ("We need a new song for radio tomorrow") dovetailed nicely with the supply side ("We do some impressions; how can we use them in a not-crappy way?").

What would you say are the benefits of distributing your music independently through online stores? Have either of you been approached by labels since DVN or considered signing to one?

S: We haven't been approached by any labels (yet) as Paul and Storm, but in DVN we were, and it just didn't make much sense for us.

The upside [of signing with a label] is that more people will know who you are so that you can draw large numbers of people to your shows, be on the cover of magazines, and otherwise live the rock 'n' roll dream.

That's all fine, but you give up making money on your actual music, and it means that to really make a living you have to be on the road all the time. And while we're by no means geezers, we like being home and not waking up every morning in a hotel room wondering what city we're in.

P: Labels have been historically good at three things: advancing you cash to get a recording done, putting your record in stores, and coordinating PR. But a) recording technology, home studios and such have made getting a quality recording far more affordable than in decades past; b) retail may not have been made completely obsolete by the Internet, but it's getting damn close; and c) you can hire a PR person independently (since you'd be paying for the PR at a label anyway). So it's far less necessary to be "signed" to achieve a reasonable degree of success. We don't have an unquenchable ambition to be ridiculously famous, so for us, the trade-off is worth it.

Special thanks to Ian Brill for help editing the interview.

You can learn more about Paul & Storm and purchase their music here.
To read an unedited version of this interview, visit Aaron's blog here.

Ayo Technology: TSOYA in PC Mag

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Hey! Getta loada this!

The good folks at PC Magazine have named The Sound of Young America one of their five favorite podcasts for 2007!

Here's what our old pal Brian Heater wrote:

I've been following The Sound of Young America (TSOYA) since its days as a plucky little public radio show in Santa Cruz, California. Since then, the show has harnessed the power of podcasting to garner the kind of following that can only be found via the Internet, not to mention coverage in publications like Time and Salon. Each week the show's host, Jesse Thorn, presents interviews with some of the most fascinating, insightful, and hilarious names across the pop-culture spectrum.

Since Merlin keeps bringing us up on MacBreak weekly, we're looking pretty cross-platform right now. Anybody out there writing for Amiga Enthusiast? NEXT User? Osborne 1 Monthly? I'm feeling completist.

You, me & Stephen Colbert.

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I'm headed to NYC next week to interview Stephen Colbert at the Apple Store in Soho. The event is Tuesday night at 8:30, it's free, and you should come. That said, if you have a job or something, maybe you shouldn't come, because you can't reserve tickets, and I'm guessing a lot of people will want to come :).

Luke Burbank's descent into the final level of interview hell.

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Sigur Ros: "Suck it, Burbank."

NPR's new "hip, edgy" morning show launched recently, and they pledged to do things differently. You have to worry about any media endeavor that's created by demographic demands, but I met some of the folks behind it when I was in New York recently, and they seemed sharp, interesting and (relatively, for public radio) cool. Particularly sharp and interesting in my book is co-host Luke Burbank, who's vivacious and funny and pleasant on air, and probably actually likes rock music produced after 1974. They were probably counting on the lattermost quality when they booked Sigur Ros on the show.

Sigur Ros, for those who don't know, are an Icelandic band who have achieved worldwide success recording beautiful, ethereal orchestral rock with lyrics in a made-up language. It becomes quickly clear in this interview that they did not achieve worldwide success by being nice to interviewers.

Perhaps Luke wasn't terrified as each question he asked was met by a five-second silence and a one-sentence answer. If he was, he hid it well. I know that I would have been flipping the fuck out. At one point, Luke asks the band (paraphrasing from memory), "So, what's your process to create the songs." A bandmember replies, "We get together and create the songs."

As the interview decends into madness, Luke makes a few mistakes -- yes or no questions, that kind of thing. But I can say from experience that given the pressure to come up with a new approach every ten seconds to try to crack a completely standoffish, uncommunicative subject -- and an arts one to whom you don't want to be combatative -- he did an amazing job. I know that when you do this kind of interview, it makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. As an interviewer, you rely upon the good will of your subject. If they don't care about your audience, there's little you can do. That's what happened here.

I was surprised by some of the blog responses on the NPR site, and some of the comments on MetaFilter, where I first saw the story. Is my empathy for interviewers getting in the way of having a clear view of this situation? What do you think? Is this band justified in striking back at the media for being inane? Is it insulting to ask a band who sings in a made up language why they sing in a made up language?

My kudos to Bryant Park for posting the video of the interview, at the very minimum. I'm interested to hear what you think.

Video

Jay-Z f. Pharrell - Blue Magic (Video)

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It's serious.

Omar comin'! Omar! Omar comin'!

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The Wire is the greatest television program ever made.

Podcast: Ask the Optimist by George Saunders

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Show: 
Bullseye

Our most ambitious production ever -- an adaptation of George Saunders' hilarious story "Ask the Optimist," from his most recent collection, The Braindead Megaphone. Produced by me (Jesse Thorn) with video & puppetry by Brian Hogg for Hoggworks.

You can view piece in video form above, or in listen to the radio/podcast version below. We convinced George's publisher to let us run this piece by arguing that it might "go viral," so please share! And for some perspective on George's work, don't miss this interview I conducted with George and ran a few days ago, or this show, which features an older interview with George.

Featuring an all-star cast:
The Optimist - Andy Daly
Mad - Jen Kirkman
Hurt But - Jonathan Coulton
W - James Adomian
Small Penis - John Hodgman
Not Altogether Hopeful - Maria Bamford
Turkey - Jonathan Katz
Ralph, the New Optimist - Dan Klein
Judy - Xeni Jardin

Please share your thoughts on this program on our forum!
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Our intersititial music is provided by Dan Wally

You might also enjoy these past interview programs:
Moustaches, Etc with Andy Daly and Richard Montoya of Culture Clash
On the Road with John Hodgman & Henry Rollins (MP3)
Analog & Digital with John Vanderslice and Xeni Jardin & Mark Frauenfelder

Podthoughts by Ian Brill: "Bionicast"

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Remember when Jordan said that Comic-Con, where studios try to get passionate fans to become even more passionate about movies and TV they haven’t seen yet, was all about the privilege to be advertised to? Aaron and Marc the hosts of Bionicast are the types of fans that Comic-Con is made for. I started this “fandom trilogy” (which was not planed out but whatever) with a Doctor Who podcast and its four decades of sci-fi entertainment to draw from. Then I profiled a Firefly podcast that kept the alive the spirit of a franchise you can polish off in a week. I end it with a podcast that had six episodes in before the show even aired. As soon as this on iTunes I wondered how could there be a podcast dedicated to NBC’s Bionic Woman, a show that (at the time) most of the world hasn’t seen. What if the hosts ended up not liking the show? My questions have been answered. Sort of.

The show is a great example of the modern fan culture. Two hallmarks of today’s fandom provided the impetuous for the show. One is the competitive nature of fandom. Aaron and Marc declared themselves the first Bionic Woman podcast (true) as well as the best (I don’t want to listen to any others so we’ll say that’s also true). The second is the abundance of Bionic Woman that was already out there. There was enough hype and rumors to get any good fan salivating. It starts by having one of the executive producers of Battlestar Galactica, with Katee “Starbuck” Sackoff in tow, “reimagining” (which Hollywood holds at a higher value than “imagining”) another ‘70s sci-fi property. Then they throw some previews up on-line and do a panel at the hallowed grounds of Comic-Con. From there all fans have to do is come up with speculations to what the show will be about as well make some connections using the casts’ IMDb pages to other sci-fi shows (Robocop’s Miguel Ferrer has a meaty role on the show).

That’s what the hosts of Bionicast do for most of the 90+ minute episodes of their podcast. They get to indulge their own geekery. NBC apparently cooperated with the show at first, they got to see the unaired pilot, but that cooperation dried up pretty soon. In lieu of content like interviews with cast and crew the two guys talked about what they knew of the character from NBC’s promotional materials and then ended each show with half-hour discussions of other sci-fi shows they like (the original Bionic Woman show did not fall under this category). It seemed the concept of a new Bionic Woman show, as opposed to the actual show itself, was a way for these two guys to digest the vast amount of TV, film and comics sci-fi and fantasy fans have been soaking up lately. Battlestar Galactica plays a major part of these discussions. Later on when the actual show is reviewed Marc says that he wishes most of the creators of Battlestar Galactica end up working on Bionic Woman. At the point I just had to wonder why these guys just didn’t start a Battlestar Galactica podcast, since that’s where their true passions lay. Then I realized there are enough of those and in the world of fandom it’s not as cool to be the 82nd Battlestar Galactica podcast than it is to be the 1st Bionic Woman podcast.

The podcasts produced after Bionic Woman starts enlightened me about an important facet of today’s fan. It explained why these networks create so much material about a show months, maybe even a year before the show actually airs. For this review I watched the first episode of Bionic Woman. It’s a perfectly mediocre sci-fi show, with only the performances by Sackoff and Ferrer being reasons to tune in. The hosts of Bionicast weren’t ecstatic about the show but I could tell they were being charitable to the show. After all, they had already put this amount of effort into discussing the show, what does it matter if the show is any good? It’s when Aaron and Marc discussed the ratings of the show on the episode dedicated to the second episode of Bionic Woman did I see why that network hype was so important. Producers and studios can engineer a situation where they not only get viewers, not only fans but agents of a show. The hosts sounded like young studio execs when the split hairs over the show’s TiVO ratings and how the show captured the treasured 18-34 male demographic. These guys are already willing to fight for a show that only excites them because of the pedigree and concept, not for the actual execution. I can already see the strongly worded on-line petition that springs up if the show gets in trouble. The podcast itself is free advertising for the pilot. Its reasons like that why found Bionicast a perfect snapshot of today’s sci-fi fandom.

Back-to-Back Home Runs

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Yesterday the Sklar Brothers came by for an interview (to be heard later on TSOYA), and we fell into talking about sports, and specifically, the intersections between sports nerddom and comedy nerddom. I was inspired by their passion, so here's A Baseball Post.

First of all, congratulations to Jacob Mustafa, owner of the Nothing Can Mustafas Now in the Maximum Fun Fantasy Baseball League. You may know Jacob as the editor of TSOYA The College Years. After Rick Paulas' Paulas Poundstones and Paul Reiser's Mojo Reisers spent the season locked in a tight 1-2 battle, the Mustafas triumphed after a shocking last-week ascension. Jacob earns the right to hold the Saint Mary's Park 1992 Trophy (pictured above) for one calendar year, until next year's champion is crowned. He will also, in accordance with Rotisserie Baseball tradition, be doused with Yoo-Hoo brand chocolate drink.

And in further baseball nerd news... if you're looking towards a long fantasy-baseballess winter, here's some good news. Baseball Mogul, the nerdiest and best baseball simulation game available, is now free. Well... last year's version is free. I try not to have the game installed on my computer, because I am inclined to spend ten and twelve hours at a time managing my team, adjusting ticket prices, signing free agents and drafting high schoolers. The good folks at Sports Mogul stop giving away the game at the end of the World Series, so act now.

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