Issue April 22, 2014

Completely Obsessed

My Tony Robbins speech

If you had asked me about being an interviewer more than a few years ago, I would have told you I wasn’t one. I’ve always loved being a music director, have always loved being a radio host, but never thought much of myself as a Q&A guy. My earliest ones were pretty forgettable or embarrassing. The first interview, at 20, I decided it would be hilarious to ask Rob Zombie about “The Simpsons” and what he thinks about while on the toilet. Yeah, I was one of those guys.

I was out of radio for a few years, and when I started getting the itch to try something again, it was interviewing that looked like the easiest entry. I knew enough record label folks who would throw me a bone every now and then for this blog I had just started, called Brain Science (tagline: It’s not rocket surgery!) (again, yes, I understand who I was). Even as it turned into what would eventually become The Weekly Feed, the interview portion was the part I looked forward to least. It was the anchor, but only because it separated my show from every other new music specialty show.

My lack of confidence was mostly related to who I wanted to be versus who I was. I wanted to be one of those interviewers who could talk to any artist about the most off-subject things, or the kind who could get them to divulge stories of late-night studio lore. I worshipped Austin Skaggs’ Smoking Section in Rolling Stone, where he would go out with the band for a few weeks, “Almost Famous”-style. I not only marveled at but also studied the way Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” could turn everything into a joke, rarely ever getting into whatever the person was actually pitching.

But I wasn’t either of those people. I was the guy who sat through the night pouring over liner notes with not just a song on repeat, but a certain point of that song, just so I could try to grasp the otherworldly sound they had constructed. (To this day, I still can’t understand how “Gimme Shelter” was ever made by anything human. It’s just … I still can’t find the words to describe how not-of-this-earth that recording is.)

I was the geek who spent the late ’90s on the Ultimate Band List, finding the intersections of LPs, backing artists and their performances on LiveConcerts.com. I wasn’t a natural conversationalist, and I wasn’t someone who sought the kind of attention that would come with hosting a show. I was in love with the song, amazed by the artist and infinitely curious about how it all happened.

So when it came time to do interviews, that was the stuff I would find myself asking. It didn’t take long to realize these weren’t topics most people cared about. The masses, as it goes, don’t really worry too much about studio stories unless they involve sex, drugs or sex with drugs. They want the magazine interviews, in and out in less than two minutes. It’s not so much about what’s said as how they look.

So I floundered for a bit — the confidence thing. How do I do these interviews, get people to care, but also keep myself interested? (All right, if you’ve seen any “After School Special” or Tween Disney, you know where this is going. Ladies and Gents, my Tony Robbins speech!)

The trick was I didn’t need to do another magazine interview. When I started diving into topics I wanted to hear about, when I knew I was taking the jump, that these were conversations that would only appeal to the hardcore fans, the fanatics, these were inside baseball — that’s when I decided I wanted to be a good interviewer; to make it more than just a feature.

I want to make something that’s not just filler, and I don’t want to waste the artist’s time. And what’s best? I get to find out all of those answers to the questions I had when I was a kid. Maybe only a few hundred people will see them, but hopefully they’ll be as important to them as the ones I poured over all those years ago.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.