Saturday, December 10, 2011

a lowlight, or how not to interview your favorite band



last saturday night was my radio station's annual holiday concert. one of my favorite bands was headlining, and something really embarrassing happened to me while i was interviewing them.

it feels weird to type this, but i've been on the air in one form or another for almost 20 years. yikes. i started at age 19, hosting a noise/punk/metal show on kuci, my college radio station, and it's all i've ever done since (aside from a couple college internships at record labels and a short stint teaching rock climbing) (really). over the years, i've interviewed some bands who i loved to bits and some bands that i could care less about, and i've experienced the full range of situations. interviews like with will from arcade fire, or wayne coyne, ben harper or beck or gwen stefani where, when it's over, i love and admire the musician even more; i've done interviews that i've had to cut off abruptly thanks to interviewees dropping f-bombs (i'm looking at you, lars from rancid) and interviews where the person in question is someone whose music i have LOVED but i left the interview deflated, if not disgusted (ahem, anthony kiedis. such a bummer. made out with his girlfriend-du-jour the whole time, was rude, let any attempt at banter fall totally flat, and was plain unfriendly). i've prepared for days for interviews with people who intimidate me (omar rodriguez-lopez) yet have pulled them off fairly well, and i've done some off the cuff ones when they were thrown in the mix at the last second (a.c. newman, interpol) and made it through. but i have never, ever, ever done what i did last saturday night: have my mind go completely blank in the middle of an interview, so blank that i felt like i'd forgotten how to speak, so blank that it physically felt like my brain had hit a wall, hard. so blank, my brain hurt for a minute and i started sweating. and it was right in the middle of an interview with one of my favorite bands ever, my morning jacket. sheesh.

i knew a few days in advance that i'd be interviewing jim james from the band, so i'd been brainstorming questions, visualizing how it would flow, listening to older my morning jacket records that maybe i hadn't heard in a while. i jotted down ideas and a rough outline of a potential interview. i made notes in the margins. i read other interviews he had done. i cranked their new album as i drove to the venue on the day of the show. i was nervous, because, dude! it's my morning jacket!! they are so rad! but i almost always get nervous when i have a ton of interviews to do, so i just tried to squash the nerves and get excited for the broadcast.

i started the afternoon by interviewing two door cinema club, and they were great - easy going, talkative, polite, interesting - about the best you could hope for. then matt and kim came by, and i loved them; they are funny, open, friendly, silly, you name it. i was easing into the broadcast and aside from it being about 50 degrees where we were set up, everything was a-ok. it was awesome watching the bands soundcheck, and when my morning jacket soundchecked with "victory dance," i stood there with my mouth hanging open, blown away by how great they sounded and thanking my lucky stars that i was able to witness them soundchecking to an almost empty arena. wow. and now that i think about it, maybe that's what i did wrong: watching their soundcheck reminded me of how flipping AMAZING they are live. it gave me goosebumps! i think i set myself up for trouble. because when jim and carl sat down for the interview, and jim had this open, friendly smile and looked me right in the eyes - i just kinda lost all my sense. i remember starting with a question about their live show, and i remember jim answering it, and then: it was like i fell into a black hole of blankness. i was just looking into jim's eyes thinking, "oh my god, YOU ARE SO AWESOME, like, you are a musical GENIUS and you have such a GIFT and thank you for sharing your radness with us peons!" but on the outside, i said, "uh... and, um... uhhh..." - just stammered uncomfortably for about 20 seconds. and then: nothing, for about another 10 incredibly uncomfortable seconds as everyone waited to see if my head would in fact explode or i would be able to save the interview with another question. but i wasn't, and it totally flipping sucked. i was paralyzed! i looked over desperately at my boss garett and halle-friggin-lujah, he saved the day with a question about their recent grammy nomination. YES, I DID THAT ALL RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY BOSS. right next to him, actually. GAH.

i remember feeling horrified and embarrassed. my ears were ringing, my heart was racing, and sweat literally popped out of my pores - i'm surprised i didn't rain sweat on poor jim and carl. i was frozen and had trouble following their conversation. and i remember simultaneously thinking "THANK GOD GARETT IS HERE" and "WTF? this has got to be either a stroke or a flashback. SERIOUSLY, WTF??"

a few deep breaths later, i was able to somewhat regain my composure, and i even had a chance to make fun of myself mid-interview - jim james even fist-bumped me, bless his big kentucky heart - and i ended up asking about 50% of the questions i had prepared. but i never fully recovered, and in fact, i could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the night. i was able to apologize to jim and carl afterward and they were sweet and acted like it was no big deal, but DUDE. imagine one of your favorite, extremely talented celebrities, someone you respect and admire, someone whose work you have pored over and enjoyed immensely and whose performances you have paid good money for good seats at, someone who all of your good friends love and admire too. and now imagine totally blowing it with a giant stuttering brain fart when given a chance to talk to them. now throw in the fact that a few tens of thousands of people were listening as you did that. holy crap, right?

i think one of the biggest gifts of parenting is you don't even have time to really worry about your own petty bullshit much at all once there is a kid in the picture. so i did get over it pretty quick, about the time i got home and kissed my girl while she sawed logs in her little twin bed. i hardly even have time to look in the mirror most mornings before we leave the house, let alone worry about making a big radio ass out of myself in front of a band i love and respect and all the listeners too. ahhh well, you know? i'll be alright.

i just may never be able to listen to a my morning jacket record in the same way again, dagnabbit.

9 comments:

  1. I didn't hear the interview, but I bet it wasn't nearly as bad as you thought.

    You are a pro who's done hundreds and hundreds of flawless interviews. Give yourself a break and try to remember the 99.99% that were nearly perfect.

    I hope this blog helped you "process" your frustration. Now get back up on the horse.

    Todd

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  2. todd - thank you. you've always been so supportive and those are awesome words of encouragement! thank you so much. onward!

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  3. I love your job....you have my dream job like I said before...sigh

    Everyone freezes....even old pro's

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  4. Oh, I feel for you. We've all had embarrassing work moments, and they suck. But you'll be OK, and before you know it, this will be that self-deprecating funny story you tell the young punks coming up behind you, who are looking up to you in a bit of awe. Everyone needs one of those, right?

    And you are right- having kids makes the work stuff less "sticky".

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  5. punkymama and cloud, thank you for the encouragement!

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  6. I can totally relate to this, only mercifully it wasn't in front of a live audience. (Elliott Smith was perhaps the worst case.)
    I think it's sweet that you can still have star-struck moments after all these years.

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  7. nina! thanks for the love. and, elliott smith! omg.

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  8. Hil, I have been blessed to know u for many years and besides being one of the sweetest people I know, u r also an incredibly gifted interviewer. There's no one I'd rather hear interview my favorite band! Nobody!

    Miss ya!

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    1. thank you so much! that means a lot because i've always looked up to you, you are such a pro. thanks!!

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