When I call up Marc Maron, he’s doing an extremely on-brand Marc Maron thing: watching the Michael Cohen testimony. "I'm watching it on MSNBC. It's exciting sh*t," he says.
Fortunately, the comedian/actor/podcaster/opinion-haver is willing to break away from the televised testimony to chat about his forthcoming WTF compilation album, In The Garage: Live Music from WTF with Marc Maron - Vol.1, dropping on Record Store Day (April 13). Featuring a collection of live recordings from artists like college-radio great J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., pub-rock figurehead Nick Lowe, folk performer Aimee Mann, and plenty more, In The Garage is compiled by Boston vinyl outpost Newbury Comics and features Maron’s own first-ever recorded performance (he pops up with Dave Alvin of roots-rock outfit The Blasters).
Maron, who has been recording his WTF podcast since 2009 and hosted more people of note than you could imagine, including Thom Yorke, Iggy Pop, Fiona Apple, Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, John Cale, and even former President Barack Obama, spoke to the Recording Academy about his latest venture from his home in Los Angeles. Chatting over the phone, he detailed how his In The Garage project came to be, which record stores he loves to visit around the country, and why one of his most recent guests, singer/actress Mandy Moore, "really f*ckin’ shines."
Congrats on the upcoming compilation album. I do have a lot of questions about it, but first, I’m curious: As someone who’s perhaps best known for his interviews, how is it being on the other side of this?
It's an easier head space. Outside of knowing what I know, I don't have to wrap my brain around getting anything out of you. I can talk about whatever. Getting ready to talk to somebody for at least an hour about who knows what is gonna happen is different than me preparing to talk to you for fifteen minutes.
Makes sense. So, how did the decision to release a collection of songs recorded on WTF come about?
Over time my producer Brendan McDonald and myself, we knew we were amassing a pretty good catalog of live performances. Over the 1,000 episodes there's been over 20 live performances in the garage, and we actually wondered if there was anything we could do with it, would it be fun to release it streaming or as a podcast or maybe a special thing, or maybe as a record?
We never really did it, we never took the time because you have to be approved for things, and it just seemed like it wasn't that necessary. But we always kind of felt like it was something that would be a nice thing for the fans, and then through Midroll, which is the company that does our merchandising and worked with forever with advertisers, I had a conversation about what they could do for records because they represent other talent.
That sort of began the conversation, and when Newbury Comics stepped in, I like them, I like their catalog of reissues, I like their store, I spent a lot of time in Boston in the '80s. It's an important place. Also, as a label, they could do all that legwork that Brendan and I really weren't able to do with any ease or time. The charity seemed great, so it just seemed like a perfect way to do this.
Yeah, it’s nice that this release is timed with Record Store Day, and of course you mentioned Newbury Comics… What's your overall history like when it comes to hanging out in record stores? Do you have any other favorites around the country?
Record stores? Yeah, I go to record stores. There's a few that I really like in different cities. Sometimes when I'm on the road I don't go because it's hard, unless I mail my records back to me, I can't drag a stock of records on the plane, you know? It just becomes a hassle. I have done it, and I think I was a little more frenetic in my buying a couple years ago.
Here in L.A. I deal with Gimme Gimme Records, with Dan over there, and Permanent Records, I deal with Lance. Those are my primary places. Sometimes I'll go to Amoeba if I have to sell CDs and I can get a credit there, but it's not my first go-to place. There's a great place outside of Denver called Black and Red that I make a point to go to.
Where else do I go? When I'm in Bloomington I'll go over to Landlocked Records. Then there's another place, oh boy, what's that place down in Nashville? I'll have to go look at my T-shirts, I'll go over there, damn. My brain's no good.
Yeah, Landlocked in Bloomington is great. The thing is, all these records stores have the same kind of new releases or reissues, but it's really about the stacks, you know? And Landlocked out of Bloomington just has hundreds of $2 to $6 dollar records underneath the bins. So depending on what you're looking for…
[Remembering] Grimey's. Grimey's is Nashville.
The thing is, as I get older and I get more records, my patience for the bins starts to wear out.
I got to have a lot of time on my hands [to go dollar bin-digging]. And I got to be, sort of, surrendered to it. But the good thing about the bins is there's a certain level of collectors’ records and a few things that everyone's there looking for. Otherwise, in the bins you can find stuff that might have just been personally something from your life, or someone that you never heard before that no one gives a sh*t about. I find an AC/DC record and it's like $4, I'm like, how come someone doesn't want this? I'm the luckiest guy in the world to find a clean copy of Powerage, you know?
Yeah, it's like a treasure hunt. If you have the time and patience.
Yeah, I've got these record stores, they know me, so they'll get a bunch of sh*t that I might like. I'm constantly getting new types of things, I still try to get a lot of music I know nothing about, artists I know nothing about. I get turned on to these things by these dudes. Dan over at Gimme – he's got a certain way to curate the store, and Lance has a certain way he curates the store, so I get all kinds of stuff. In the last week I bought like a dozen records, and I didn't know anything about any of them, to be honest with you. They're new to me, but they're old records.
It's nice, in an age where recommendations have been boiled down to algorithms, to have an actual person personally recommend music.
Yeah, you're right. It tricks you, because when you grow up in America, you grow up listening to a certain type of radio, or you hang out with certain types of people. So just by virtue of that, your script is gonna be narrow, even if you're looking at something no one's ever heard before, it's still within the periphery of this file that you are living.
So, you get older and you realize that there's not only in America, where there are all these smaller presses, smaller releases, other artists working, there's thousands and thousands of vinyls being pressed multiple times. And then on top of that, you have an international market, like Lance over at Permanent is very into different types of psychedelia.
I just got a reissue of a record by a guy I've never heard of, and it's one of the most beautiful records. The reissue was called, it's a guy name Denny Lile, it's a reissue called Hear The Bang. And then Dan said he can find me an original copy, so I got the original copy of Hear The Bang on Bridges Records.
So, for this record, I saw that it's going to be the first time that you yourself are presented as a musician on a recording, am I getting that right?
It is, pretty much. This is really the first one where you can definitely hear me doing it on vinyl for sure. So when Newbury Comics stepped in it took a little of the [curation] job of it, which always held us back, which is getting songs released, remastering a little bit, because I'm no engineer. I record on a single track, I'm in Garage Band, I use an SM mic for the vocals, which is the same I use for talking. I put no effects on anything. I use another mic that I pick in front of the guitar, and then I just sit there across from these artists and ride the fare, and just kind of watch the levels. And that's how it goes with all of them, which does create a sort of continuity to it all and it's a very eclectic group of artists, the continuity is the garage, and my limited ability as an engineer.
Well, speaking of recording from your garage, I was just going over the list of people that you've had on the show over the years. Now, I know you just had a rather frank conversation with Mandy Moore about her relationship with Ryan Adams… And two years ago, you had Ryan on the show. I guess I’m curious, from an interviewer's perspective, how you navigate that space. When you've had this up-close-and-personal time with two opposing parties, how do you reconcile that in your mind? How do you think about the interview with Ryan now that you’ve had this conversation with Mandy?
I don't know, it's not that tricky for me. When I interviewed Ryan I didn't know a lot about him. I knew he was a very respected dude in his world and he had a big fan base and I like a couple of his records, but we didn't ... Very rarely, especially with somebody who's done a lot of work, I'll talk about people's lives. I didn't get into his relationship. [The interview] was really about his journey as a musician and then he talked about music.
Yeah, you don't necessarily ask about personal stuff.
I didn't know. How would I know anything? That was years ago. But he was a tormented guy, he had a lot of problems, and it's not necessarily surprising that there were more problems. But in retrospect, nothing came out in that interview two years ago, and I'm not even sure I was clear about his relationship with Mandy Moore or whether it was in the forefront of my head. Then when I talked to Mandy, that was a couple weeks before the New York Times thing came out, and I didn't know it was coming out. And having known, doing a little research at that time before any of this stuff was revealed, it was one of those things like, "Oh yeah, she had been married to that dude." I knew it must have been a troubled relationship because he's a troubled guy, so the framing of it, and I'm not trying to minimize or trivialize what happened.
Oh no, of course not. I get that it all kind of exists in its own context.
He's obviously beyond troubled, he did abusive stuff. So that said, in talking to Mandy a few weeks before all that stuff was revealed, there was a certain innocence to my approach to her, because I didn't know anything. So it came up, and we talked kind of thoroughly about mostly abuse and the dynamics and co-dependency. In the interview I was like, "Are you sure that you want, is it cool, or can you think of anything that you might have said that you don't want out there about him?" And she's like, "No, this is gonna be a big New York Times piece, so I think it's fine."
So I didn't know any of that until after, and I certainly didn't know anything when I talked to Ryan, but the fact that that Mandy Moore interview exists as a WTF interview, where it comes out after all this stuff's being revealed and she's sort of in the spotlight, about to be, in relation to him, is that that interview, because I didn't know anything about that happening, still functions as a cool, sort of, career personal interview where the pacing and depth of it had a natural thing, it wasn't all open in relation to this thing, which was good.
Oh yeah. News outlets are just going to pluck out the most viral quote. And she was obviously on your show to promote... not that.
Yes, of course, but the point is I didn't know anything about it. And the news dropped, and we had already set up that episode, and it just so happened my producer was on vacation, so there's no way for even me to get in and go, this came out before the New York Times thing. It dropped while he was away and it was already in the queue.
Yet, I'm happy about that because yeah, the Internet's gonna do what it's gonna do, but I offered Mandy the respect for that full interview there that contextualizes her career, that relationship, where she's at now.
Well, that's why I like your natural cadence as an interviewer. You're interested in the whole person.
I'll tell you honestly, Mandy Moore, I didn't know her music that well, it's not the albums I would hear when I was younger, but it wasn't my thing, and I've watched a bit of 'This Is Us', but she was a pretty, you know, she's a real star, in the way that there's certain people that I talk to that come walking down my driveway and I'm like, "Oh my god, this is a magic person." She's one of those people. I didn't even say nothing to her, but when I saw her get out of the car, I'm like, "Okay. Look at this special person."
She’s always seemed remarkably composed.
She shines, man. She fckin' shines. Some people are real fckin' stars, you know? A lot of times they're just people, but some people, you're like, oh man. You just got it coming out of you, I don't know what it is, but it's magic.