Interviews are one of the hardest parts of being a DJ.
It’s really a gamble. You do all of your preparation (reading other interviews and reviews, the band’s website, watching vids, listening to tracks and albums), but once you get in there anything could happen. Many times the band doesn’t want to talk (why did they agree to do an interview? you ask. Beats me). Other times they show up with a chip on their shoulder, ready to battle it out with the evil media person.
Most of the time you get a little information from them, but it doesn’t go deep enough for you (and the listener) to find out what they are really like.
Basically, to be a good interviewer, you have to be ready for anything.
So, up until now, I’ve always presented a short portrait (a few sentences) on the artist at the start of the interview, then tried to converse like real people during the rest. You’ve got to have good questions ready. Know your history on the artist (or I guarantee you will get caught out) and make sure you’re not asking them the same questions they’ve been asked by everyone else. Most importantly, you must listen. This will keep the interview real.
The worst interview can also be your best. Like with my Jamie Lidell experience, he decided to be very off the cuff, so I just let it fly and kept professional. It’s his air time, and whatever he wants to do with it is fine with me, so long as it is interesting. And it was. And the man sings like a soul angel.
Up until now my hero for interviews was Studs Terkel. Mostly because Studs says that you must take your real personality into the interview. He says the “newscaster” persona where you pretend your are neutral is bull****. No one is neutral. And this doesn’t mean you take over the interview, it just means you are truly present. With this guidance, I have pulled off some surprisingly real and intimate interviews with people like John Doe, Bettye Lavette, The Gourds and Sharon Jones. I embrace my inner dork and show it to them, this has worked well in getting people to open up.
My new hero for interviews is Annie Leibovitz, the photographer. I’m reading her book “Annie Leibovitz at Work”. And in it she says she usually books 2 days for a shoot. On the first day she rarely even takes pictures. She just hangs out with the person to get to know them. Also, she prefers to shoot people in their homes or their most natural surroundings.
Enter Alice Russell! She’s a soulful singer from Britain, with a gorgeously crashing soprano and a throaty low voice. Her latest record “Pot of Gold” came out in December 2008, and is the best new thing I’ve heard in 2009. Check it out:
Alice Russell and her band missed a plane. So I was called in at the last minute to interview the band. And even though I was going to her show the night before, and would be out late, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
So, inspired by Annie Leibovitz, I came in early to hang out with the band. Soon as I walked in TM Juke the guitar player (in the left on the video) came up and said he had a splinter. I handed him the tweezers and he looked at me and said, “will you do it”. I carefully extracted the foul splinter from the hand of the guitarist. He looked up and said “I love you.” Definitely a bonding moment. Then I sat in the lounge with the whole band and touched base on some facts. Also, I prepared Alice for the kind of interview I like to do. “I’ll be asking some philosophical points on why you do this music and what inspires you.” Which is really good to do. Lots of times when you try to go deep quickly, the artist will freeze up.
Sooo... when we went on air, I was already privy to a few private band jokes (they call the violinist Mike “Spiderchilds” for some reason). And I knew Alice was very playful and also exhausted from touring. By far the best interview I’ve ever done.
Join Michele Myers Fridays at 9pm for Nite Life on KEXP. Every Friday at midnight she does this album spotlight, telling a story and playing 3 songs from the record. Michele also produces KEXP Documentaries and hosts Wake Up Thursdays from 6-9am on Radio New York 91.5FM.