Q&A: Marc Maron On Vinyl, Music For His IFC Show Maron, And DFA Records

Standup comedian Marc Maron has a tight grip on the podcast game with his endlessly engaging WTF. Twice a week, he shares conversations with an actor or comedian that usually dig pretty deep into their backstory. Increasingly, though, Maron’s guests have been musicians, including Fiona Apple, Jack White, and most recently, Tommy Stinson of the Replacements. His most recent endeavor is an IFC show Maron, a program that plays loosely on biography, highlighting the comedian’s work on his podcast and other ornery hijinks. Maron’s love of music is apparent to anyone who listens to WTF — he’s an avid listener and has a ton of music history knowledge under his belt, so it makes sense that he’d have a hand in the curating the tunes that appear on this show. Maron chatted with us about that creative process and creating the original soundtrack for the show, his appearance in music videos, learning about new music, and what it’s like to spend time with Nick Cave.

STEREOGUM: How are you feeling about the reception to the show?

MARON: I mean, it’s great. The people that are digging it are really digging it. And I guess gratefully, I’m not being slagged too much. It definitely has an appeal to a lot of people and not a lot of dicks are deciding to tell me I’m a dick so that’s good.

STEREOGUM: You don’t worry about that — people telling you that you’re a dick?

MARON: I don’t know if it would change my behavior, but it certainly always has an effect. I don’t worry about it, but when it happens, it’s not pleasant.

STEREOGUM: You have musicians on WTF quite often. You recently had Billy Bragg, he’s one of my favorites. How do you decide — I mean obviously from the podcast I know that you’re in to music collecting — who to have on the show’s soundtrack? Did you have a hand in that?

MARON: Jim Serpico over at [our production company] Apostle has a relationship with Black Iris, which is a music house that provides music for film and television, and they have a record label they’re connected with called White Iris. In terms of creating a tone for the show, we went through different options, but we landed on that theme [song], “Poison Well,” I think it’s called. It was really just getting something that was up my alley. I’m sort of a blues-oriented dude — I like grit, I like dirt, I like the Stones, I like the Black Keys — so it was really just a matter of getting these guys to do something and get the right sound. There’s a group of guys that are in the Black Iris world, but some of them are also in bands. They’re not a working band. They’re a group of musicians that work for a music company that does this work and now they had to call themselves something for the sake of the album. But in terms of processing the theme music, I was like, “It’s pretty good, but it definitely had some mix issues and I can’t really hear the vocals. If you’re going to make this the song for the show, we should definitely know what they’re saying and if we could sort of bruce that up in the mix.” And there were definitely conversations that happened like that in terms of cleaning some stuff up. But the sound was the sound. After a couple attempts at figuring out what we were going to do, I definitely locked into that sound. People seem to dig it and ask me about it and we’re going to put it out on a record.

STEREOGUM: Do you try to be that detail-oriented with everything you do? Because I don’t know how music for television works, I just know there are people who program it professionally or licenses get pitched…

MARON: Right, I didn’t manage that stuff. I was very busy. It was run by me. I don’t know what [Black Iris’s] relationship with Sub Pop or the other labels is, but there’s some Obits music on there and Sharon Jones, Hospitality. These are actually working musicians who have made their music available for a certain cost — obviously the cost was relatively something we can handle — but I believe that was all done through Black Iris. But now I’m talking to White Iris about the record because they live in the same neighborhood as me, so I kind of see them around. It’s kind of exciting — it’s limited pressing and it’s vinyl and I think it’s pretty groovy thing to happen. I’m a little sad I didn’t play on the soundtrack, I mean I think if I do another season, I’m gonna get involved a little with that.

STEREOGUM: You should.

MARON: They’re going to do a record release party, so I’m gonna play with those dudes who did the theme song.

STEREOGUM: In terms of releasing it on vinyl, was that really important to you because you’re into record-collecting? It’s a pretty rare for a TV show.

MARON: Yeah, I really think it was just a collaborative thing. I think it was somebody else’s big idea given that I’m very public about this shift to vinyl that I’ve made. I’m nervous to call myself record collector. I like listening to music, I like having music, [but] I’m not a full-on nerd. There’s definitely a limit to how much shit I can fit in my house. I’ve been really busy the last few months so I haven’t been buying a lot of vinyl. But like anything else, it gets to the point where I’m like, “All right, I’m all filled up. I’m not going to listen to all this. Looks good.” Then you start rotating stuff. I think my passion for buying all these sort of spurred the guys at White Iris to do the vinyl. I don’t really know what the cost is but they are a label and so I was like, “Yeah, absolutely that would be cool. Let’s definitely do that.”

STEREOGUM: So vinyl is a recent thing for you?

MARON: Yeah, in the last year or so. I had this vinyl laying around, a few hundred that I’d been carting around since high school and college that were there. I’d bought turntables at different points in my life and had them and I’d played vinyl a bit before, but it never seemed that different. I liked having them, I liked playing them. And then at a certain point when I interviewed Jack White down in Nashville and he had this wall of Macintosh amplifiers, you know my recollection there was a wall of them, and he’s a real analog freak. And I just kept thinking, “How much does it cost to get one of those?” And he’s got ten of them. And it turned out even one was more costly than I could afford. I ended up tracking down a tube amp that I could afford and some good speakers and a turntable and I got it right. High end, high fidelity stuff is very touchy and I’m at the low end of the high end. Once I got the equipment I just started leaning into buying vinyl. There’s a lot of vinyl around and it’s not really that expensive. You’re not really paying collector’s prices. You’re probably buying records that you’d bought before if you were my age, but you can pretty much get any record you want for 20 dollars or less. It’s not like a crack addiction or anything. Then when I started talking about it on the air, labels started sending me music and I was getting boxes of new music and also these reissues. There’s a big reissue world out there, a lot of the great records are being reissued by several different labels which is pretty great. Though, sometimes the reissue is weird. I had an old Blonde On Blonde in mono, but it was pretty beat up. Then I bought the reissue, but, for some reason, the beat up one sounds a little better to me.

STEREOGUM: It’s familiar.

MARON: I think the vinyl ages, something happens to these records. Even the reissue. Four Men With Beards is the name of the label that reissued Lust For Life on 180 gram it sounds great. But I might be crazy in my own nostalgia — and I don’t have an original one of those, but I’ve got an original Idiot by Iggy — and there’s something that happens to the sound on vinyl that’s been around for 20 or 30 years, and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but you’re more familiar with the one you grew up with.

STEREOGUM: It’s actually funny that you bring up Lust For Life because we were talking about how you’re incorporating music into the show, and that can also happen in the content of the writing, like that line about how you can’t be an Iggy fan if you only know Lust For Life. Are there any more music jokes incorporated into the show? How often are you actually thinking about music?

MARON: It depends on what day it is or what’s going on. Like today, because of my [John] Fogerty interview, they’ve asked me to introduce him tonight (5/28) at his record release-slash-birthday party at the El Rey [Theatre] in LA. I thought I was just going to be bringing the dude on but, turns out, there’s business. It’s his birthday, it’s also the 45th anniversary of the release of the first Creedence album, so I’m not just bringing the guy on stage — I got shit to do. So, I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about Fogerty in the last few days just because I put that episode up there. Even yesterday, when we were cooking some shit out back, I just had a big classic hit station on and they played, not “Back In Black.” “Have A Drink On Me”? Some AC/DC song, and I’m not huge AC/DC fan without Bon Scott, but I can listen to Back In Black. And someone just sent me Flick The Switch which is okay, too. But nonetheless, one of these AC/DC songs comes on, which is so definitive and so fucking hard and rocking and then within a few songs, “Traveling Band,” by Creedence comes on and it was just like the same amount of rawness. I’ve been kind of hung up on Creedence lately and just how raw and driving that dude was. It’s pretty aggressive rock n’ roll, that guy. So, he’s been on my mind as an old man who’s coming back out into the world with this new record. But if someone wanted to hear my system I’d put on that first Creedence record, it’s just so damn good. I’m not even really of that generation. I’m not really that late a Boomer. I’m 49, so they didn’t mean that much to me in the defining years of my life. But I guess we all grew up with that shit pounded into our heads.

STEREOGUM: That kind of stuff is completely transcendent. I’m 27 and when I was in high school they were really important to a lot of people.

MARON: [They’re] timeless.

STEREOGUM: Do you have to make a speech? You’re not going to just say, “Ladies and gentlemen, John Fogerty.” You’re gonna have to say some stuff.

MARON: That’s what I thought I was going to say, but then his wife, who now is his manager, was sort of taken with my excitement during the interview. So, I have to do some business — talk about what we’re celebrating and the praises of the longevity of the music and John. There [will be] some fan in the audience from Finland who met his current wife at a Fogerty concert and has seen over a 100 shows and is leading some campaign to get the new record to #1. I’ve got to bring him up and chat with him.

STEREOGUM: That’s a big hosting gig.

MARON: I know! It’s not, “Hey can you do us a favor for John?” This is a job here, man.

STEREOGUM: How often do you do music-related projects that aren’t interviewing somebody on your podcast, like narrating the DFA documentary?

MARON: That came out of nowhere. The filmmakers were fans and I’m like, “I don’t know anything about this shit.” I missed that whole LCD Soundsystem thing. I missed all of it. I knew nothing until I watched that documentary. I had to get in touch with [Jonathan] Galkin [to] just send me some shit, so he sent me a box of all that DFA stuff and I really dug some of it. I really had to sit down and take it in and get it. And I got it. Then I did that thing, but that opened me up to all that music. So I don’t do [a lot of music-related projects]. I play a lot here in my garage, I play my guitar, [but] I’m not that tied in. I did that Postal Service video as well. I did the Nick Lowe video. But those things came, I don’t really think because of my music love, but more because of Tommy. Tom Scharpling directed the Postal Service video and he wanted me in, and the dude who directed the Nick Lowe “Sensitive Man” video thought I would be a good candidate for the character, comedically. It was really by virtue of who I am, not so much the music thing.

STEREOGUM: What from the DFA catalog stuck out to you?

MARON: I got taken by that band YACHT for some reason.

STEREOGUM: We’re big fans of YACHT over here.

MARON: I’m not an electronic guy, not a dance guy necessarily. I don’t want to stereotype, because with YACHT and some of the other stuff, you realize that the integrity of DFA, in general, is that they do use drums… They’re very proud that they have a drum sound and that they’re from a real drum, which I think is important. I find myself digging a lot of it. I certainly like the LCD Soundsystem stuff, but for some reason YACHT really blew me away. But I have to go back to it now, I only listened to it a couple of times and it’s not really plowed into my brain. I’m not a snob in any way. I mean, I’ll listen to just about anything that hooks me, I’m not shutting anything out. I’ll spend an hour [speaking] with Thom Yorke [and] arguably the last three things he’s done have been almost guitarless. So, you can’t really condescend to electronic music after a certain point. And that Atoms For Peace record is really good. The music thing is really starting to happen because I had some success with a couple musicians and I guess, by-and-large, they’re not easy interviews. Musicians are generally difficult because they don’t really need to talk and I’m not sure many of them like it. I did the Jack White [interview] and because that went so well…I get offers from people because I think I do a pretty good job with that. I had John Cale in here — that was fucking crazy! I had John Cale sitting in my garage. What do you talk about with John Cale? [But] Nick Cave, that was tricky. That’s no easy game.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, I imagine that was a difficult one.

MARON: He’s tricky, he’s prickly in that ‘tude that he’s married to.

STEREOGUM: He played two sets at Coachella this year and during the Grinderman set he really freaked some sorority girls out.

MARON: Grinderman? Is that his old band?

STEREOGUM: No, that’s the Birthday Party. Grinderman did a couple records, but they didn’t stick around. It’s tougher, slightly less theatrical.

MARON: That was sort of the issue with some of these musicians. Nick Cave, come on! Since Tender Prey he’s been making roughly the same record, hasn’t he?

STEREOGUM: What about Push The Sky Away, the one that came out this year?

MARON: You know I like it, but you get him after a certain point. But I didn’t know a lot about his history so that was interesting. He sees himself as a writer now and I think that’s what he wants to transition into — just being a writer. It’s fine with me, and I love some of his records, but that Grinderman stuff and all that stuff that happened in Berlin and why he left England and the sort of influence that that scene in Germany — yeah, that was all really good stuff. Maybe it’s a better interview than I thought.

STEREOGUM: Sometimes you look back on it and it feels like a bad experience but then you realize you got a lot from it. You’re pretty good at pulling stuff out of people.

MARON: My needs are is not important. There’s a great story in the Nick Cave interview that I won’t even tell you because it’s so great. [But] whatever my needs are in the moment I just keep to myself because a lot of people love that guy. There’s a lot of people I’m talking to who love him so who cares how I feel about my own little personal problems? I just keep that to myself because a lot of people haven’t even heard him talk. There’s people that love him that haven’t heard him talk for an hour. So why dump my feelings into that? I had a hard time with him [and] doesn’t mean that a lot of people don’t, or that he just is that way. I’m not going to take it personally, but I thought the new album was really sweet, a sweet sounding record.

STEREOGUM: We talked about DFA being new for you, but are there other new artists that you’re into at all?

MARON: I missed the whole Spoon thing, too. I don’t know how the fuck that happened. Maybe I was busy or old. I don’t fucking know. The last real movement of music I remember really engaging in was the explosion in the late ’80s with Sub Pop and the shift of rock. From there forward it’s been sort of piecemeal, but I’ll lock in. When I get into a band, I’ll just buy everything. When I got into the Flaming Lips, I just got all their records, like the ones they did when they were 12 and stuff. And I did that too with — what’s that crazy band? Some little band that I got off on and I got all their shit. I don’t listen to all of it, but I have it.

STEREOGUM: Aww, I want to know who it is!

MARON: Oh shit. You do, huh?

STEREOGUM: Do you have any other defining characteristics? Maybe I can help you figure out.

MARON: Kind of punky. Let me see if I can find it in my iTunes, I think I have a some that involves the name “Stanley” so that’ll help us. But the Hold Steady I got into. I listened to a lot of Spoon, and I liked the Divine Fits a lot. I didn’t know what a genius “Spoon guy” [Britt Daniel] was so that happened. I’m a little late. Hold on let me see if I can find this…

STEREOGUM: Don’t worry about it.

MARON: No! It’s gonna bother me because I dug them… I went on a little Band Of Horses jag. If somebody’s hot, I’ll go check them out. Buffalo Tom, I love. I just got an email from [lead singer Bill] Janovitz about something. I don’t even know if he knows how much I fucking love them. I’ll try new things, I’ll try to get into stuff.

STEREOGUM: Do you see live music a lot?

MARON: No. I don’t because unless I can really — I don’t want special treatment, but I can’t do the festival thing anymore man. I’m just too fucking old for that shit, to wander around with a bunch of fucking drunk kids. But if I got a good seat at a good fucking show, I’d dig it.

STEREOGUM: When were you at South By Southwest? This past March?

MARON: I’ve gone the last couple years, but usually I’m there the week before. Oh! Fucking interviewing J Mascis, that was the high point of my life. That guy’s fucking great. Now I’m looking at all my CDs. Dream Syndicate, they were good. What happened to those guys? But yeah I enjoy going if I don’t have to be crammed in. I went to Bonaroo last year to do comedy and I went to see Radiohead, but just the whole process and getting situated on the field seemed almost life-threatening. I got a big Sub Pop box recently that was great.

STEREOGUM: Is there any new Sub Pop stuff that you like?

MARON: The [Jeff] Tweedy-produced Low record [The Invisible Way] was good. I like the Obits, I really dug them. I’m really into oddly, I’m not sure if it’s because of my age or what, but I really like Titus Andronicus a lot, seems like that guy means business… [This is] gonna bother me man, that fucking band. Oh, Johnny Thunder — he was good! Now I’m just like rolling by names to try and find it. Oh the Kills, I don’t know if I really got into them. Lucinda Williams, she’s good. Macklemore, someone sent me the Macklemore record. It’s not my thing.

STEREOGUM: Do you like rap at all? Are you interested in it?

MARON: I’m more out of the loop on it. I’ve got some of the bigger rap records. Certainly I wanted to wrap my brain around it. I don’t seek it out, but I did listen the shit out of a couple Kanye West records and a few Jay-Z records. I think there was a brief Cypress Hill period there. But I had [Open] Mike Eagle in [for an interview] and he’s part of this alt-rap crew [Project Blowed] and he sort of gave me a little of an education and I’ll be releasing that soon. Hold on, I feel like I’m getting close to this or else I’m just completely missing it. How are we going to figure out the name of the band?

STEREOGUM: What year did you see them at South By Southwest?

MARON: It was just a couple years ago and I have a lot of their records. That’s not going to help us.

STEREOGUM: Did they have a lot of records? Were they having a breakout moment in Austin?

MARON: No, and I think they’ve been around long time. I found it! It was the Thermals.

STEREOGUM: Oh! That makes perfect sense, total sense.

MARON: Why does it make sense?

STEREOGUM: Just based on your description, and that they had a lot of records. They just put one out.

MARON: I’m very sensitive to things and you can feel when somebody’s being earnest as hell, and they just seemed very earnest. It was during the day — I think it was before the Hold Steady — in a little tent at South By and I’m just like, “Who the fuck are these guys? They’re really putting it out there. I have to have all of their records!” I mean I didn’t stick with it. I didn’t get through all their records, but I got ‘em.

STEREOGUM: Sometimes it’s nice to be a completist, because you can go back when you feel like it.

MARON: You don’t want to miss something, but then you can be like, “Oh, maybe it is just that one record that’s good.” You don’t want to take anyone’s word for it. [And] sometimes with bands you feel like, “Yeah, they could use a couple bucks. I’m gonna buy all their records.”


Maron airs Friday nights at 10PM EST on IFC. The Maron OST is out now via White Iris.

Tags: Marc Maron