Of Miracle Soap, Dairy Gangsters and podcasts
Interview by by Domenic Maltempi
The Wasted Years podcast is, simply, bands and musicians telling stories about touring. This is real life viewed through the lens of the touring musician. Touring seems to be an endless mine of amazing tales, and I believe that many artists and musicians are excellent story tellers by nature. Thus, my creation of The Wasted Years. - Aaron A. Semer, struggling musician, songwriter, and engineer for over 20 years.
PSF: What is it about the life of an itinerant musician, or a band, that causes the most interest in the average listener? Have you gotten some direct feedback pointing towards anything in particular?
AS: Well, I think that your average musician, especially if they're someone who is going to go out on tour, is the kind of person who has probably stepped outside of the normal bounds of society a little bit. These are interesting people, and often times people who don't have a lot of concern for how 'normal society' sees them. I know there are some real dip-shit musicians out there in the world, but the people I know making music - and the kind of people I seek out to talk to - are generally very intelligent, thoughtful, creative individuals who have different perspectives on life than your average Joe, which often puts them into odd situations. Sometimes, it makes them difficult to be around, but sometimes it makes them more beloved to the people they encounter. I think the most interesting people in life are going to take the road less traveled, and ultimately, I hope the Wasted Years is about that - the road less traveled.
PSF: Do you think 19th Century peddlers of miracle soap and spiritual laxatives, moonlighting as a busking fiddle-jack ever got full-frontal-mooned by some rabid prairie-babe, or robbed by a dairy-gangster on their way to open for some Whig event? Put differently, what sort of antecedents for the experiences related to you on 'The Wasted Years' might there be in the world of entertainment in these here states or elsewhere?
AS: I can almost guarantee you that anything people experience on the road today pales in comparison to what your average snake-oil salesman, traveling minstrel, or vaudeville thespian would have seen. I've read a little bit about those bygone eras of entertainment, but would definitely like to know more. Perhaps there is some early equivalent of The Wasted Years written out on parchment somewhere.
PSF: I know that you generally interview bands that you yourself would listen to, or have respect for. Have you considered setting up a session with some band that doesn't resonate with you at all, but you think might make for some odd stories, like a popular Asian touring Alice Cooper cover band or the like?
AS: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think good stories have to come first. I do prefer that I like the band, and a lot of times that would also mean that we have more in common to talk about and might make the conversation livelier. But a good yarn is a good yarn. If I didn't like the band, then I would hope at the very least they were bizarre in some way, like a Mongolian throat singing tribute to Lady Gaga, or something. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't want to talk to Jason Mraz. Not that he's beating down my door...
PSF: Has there ever been something so fucked-up revealed to you that you felt uncomfortable keeping it for podcast, or not including it?
AS: You know, not yet. But I'm sure the day will come. I'm only on episode 11 right now. I did record a story with a guy who had sex with a woman who claimed to be a vampire in New Orleans, and she says she took his blood while he slept. I think that's the most outrageous story so far. It will be a while before I post that one, because I need to get some more stories from that guy. He's on a world tour right now.
PSF: You have titled your show 'The Wasted Years.' A fantastic name that evokes a few immediate ideas in my mind. Perhaps a common idea that comes up is this sense that one is exchanging something to be gained or experienced in their personal life, and laying it at the feet of 'the road,' or to a wobbly creature in the center of some galaxy of physical/emotional attrition caused from touring. It's easy to understand how the notion of 'wasted years' applies to many artists. Conversely, I imagine that the more stories you hear, the more you sense these days on the road have that blurring-into -big-void-as-an-aggregate quality, but are also filled with many punctuated moments that are life defining, anchoring a sense of self as an artist or person. I'm in mind of your podcast with the girls now in Chaos Chaos, touring with big acts before their teens. What was a particular episode or story that jumps out at you, that takes on that far-from-wasted quality?
AS: Well, I think you just defined it pretty thoroughly, and I agree with those assessments. That, and it's the title of an Iron Maiden song, which is pretty much about the same things that you just said. I've heard a number of life-defining moments on the podcast. Stuart Dahlquist losing a million dollar record deal because the label that signed them got bought by Sony. I mean, that'll teach you about impermanence, and trusting in others, and humility, and all kinds of things, right there. The guitarist in Russian Circles discovering that he was epileptic in the middle of a tour. They thought he was going nuts. Ben Verellen, straight out of high school, going on tour as a roadie with his brother's band Botch, and realizing that this is what he must do with the rest of his life- and then quickly realizing that it is a very hard life. Even Chaos Chaos learning, very young, that you gotta be careful where you sleep! It's all experience, and it's all learning, and it's all a little more intense than regular life, because you really are putting yourself out there.
PSF: I had a touring friend that use to do psychic readings to make a few extra greenbacks while gigging. Have you considered an episode where you invite a psychic to sit in with a band, and try to predict some of the highlights of an upcoming show, or the success of it? I admit I was really high when I thought up this question, but I think it would make for a really excellent episode even if one discredits psychics as charlatans.
AS: Ha ha. Well, no, I definitely hadn't thought of that. One time I played on a radio show called Radio Eight Ball, though. It was a pretty cool concept- a radio oracle. The performer, me in this case, would choose six of their songs and write them down numbered one to six. Then, someone would call into the show, ask a question, and I would role a dice. Whatever number it landed on, I'd play that song and that would be the answer to the caller's question. We would then discuss what it meant. I felt kind of bad though, because most of my songs are pretty dark. I think people got some bummer answers.
PSF: I'm glad my brother Carlo turned me on to 'The Wasted Years,' and I look forward to seeing the show continue to burn brighter.
AS: Keep live music alive and well.
Please visit The Wasted Years here: http://www.wastedyearspodcast.com/
Subscribe, it's a great way to spend a drive, cross state lines, or within your own little state lines taunting you like a molting jackrabbit. Try it over ice. Try it in a flying bucket. But please subscribe for free.
Domenic Maltempi is a writer and musician living next door to a collector of match books, who calls them 'strikers,' and doesn't understand why no one else will adopt this name. He has a new record out with the band Whispering Olympians
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