I enjoy listening to cerebral podcasts; a dialogue of the cultivated. I refer, of course, to cultural capital here. It is reassuring to locate a consistent source of information amongst the fleeting world of media, music and the meme flooded internet. Seen Your Video is such a treat. Chris Ward has been a reliable source of opinion in the many years that I have known him. Whether you agree with them or not (and I don’t at all times – this can be verified upon hearing an appearance of mine on his radio show Left of the Dial) his thoughts are undoubtably his own, which is an honourable quality. Below is an exchange with Chris over Seen Your Video and its origins. I eagerly await its return.
Where and when did the initial idea for Seen Your Video arise?
I’d been doing Left Of The Dial, my show on Subcity, for three years and reached 100 episodes, which seemed like a nice round number to finish on. I was really proud of what we’d achieved in that time, but kind of felt like the show was getting a bit formulaic week in, week out – I’d developed a structure that I could essentially just slot bits into: song, talk, song, song, talk, song, etc. On top of that, I’d started working shifts, which made it really hard to stick to one timeslot in which I would definitely be able to put on a show weekly. So a podcast seemed like the easiest way to get around both problems: the change in format would shake me out of my rut, such as it was, and I’d be able to record it at any time during the week that suited me and stick it up whenever.
The name Seen Your Video is, like Left Of The Dial, borrowed from a Replacements song – I wanted to keep some kind of continuity between the two shows, but make sure people knew that this was very much its own thing. Plus, because I’m now covering film as well as music, it felt right to have a title that referenced the visuals as well as the sounds, in however derogatory a fashion.
Has your involvement with Left of The Dial and Scots Whay Hae influenced the direction of the project?
Mainly in trying to maintain the eclecticism of what gets covered. Left Of The Dial didn’t really fit in with a lot of Subcity programming when we started it, because whilst we weren’t a niche show like the kind Subcity has historically done really well – we weren’t just playing Northern Soul, or 90s American indie (even if that was originally going to be our pitch and we were considering calling it Chasing Pavement), or chiptune, or grime, or whatever – we also tried not to be as haphazard as other shows that didn’t have that one laser-focused area of expertise. We played a broad range of stuff, but that’s only because our record collections contained a broad range of stuff, and we loved it all. We still tried to give it the care and attention and thematic links of a niche show, only our niche was everything – one of my proudest moments was playing “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground in its entirety one Friday morning in October, but a week or so before I’d done a potted history of the Wu-Tang Clan, later mounted a spirited defence of “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart, and on a few occasions crammed local bands (Admiral Fallow, John Knox Sex Club, Johnny Reb – not all at once, sadly) into the studio for some shambolic knees-ups. With Seen Your Video, I wanted to keep that same attitude of everything being worthy of consideration: if something catches my interest, or I feel there’s something worth saying about it, or see or hear something that I think deserves wider attention from people, then it gets covered. That’s all there is to it, regardless of what genre it is or where it comes from.
As for Scots Whay Hae!, that’s how I cover my arse for not exclusively covering Scottish stuff, which seems to be de rigeur for a lot of Scottish blogs and podcasts. My mate Ali writes it all single-handedly, and he hosts all the podcasts too – I only chip in now and again as a guest – and he does a brilliant job of it. There’s a lot of great music being made across Scotland, and better films than we’ve made in years, but I think I – and everyone else, frankly – would be lying if I said that’s where my interests lay exclusively. There’s not really a Scottish equivalent of Pitchfork (thank fuck, says the readers), one site that covers stuff from all over the place with a very distinctive, recognisable voice. That was the kind of thing I was interested in doing – approaching global pop culture in a Scottish voice, and talking about it in terms that might make it more meaningful to a local crowd than an American blogger who’s been raised on a completely different indie tradition (like being able to compare The Weeknd to an R&B Arab Strap). Not that I want Seen Your Video to be completely free of Scottish content, but doing Scots Whay Hae! means I can feel free to talk about Yo La Tengo on Seen Your Video and rest easy knowing that I can continue to talk up The Twilight Sad next time I record with Ali.
How do you feel leaving the music content behind and moving to an almost exclusively dialogue based podcast?
An hour suddenly feels like it takes much longer to fill when you’re not stopping every five minutes for a song. Honestly though, this is a direction I’m happy to move in. As Left Of The Dial progressed, the episodes I was most pleased with were usually episodes like our year-end best-ofs, where we’d get a few guests in and just talk for most of the episode about what we’d been listening to and watching, in a bit more detail than we’d be able to get into when we were trying to cram it all into the links between songs. My only worry is that it turns into a monologue – I’ve only done one episode so far that didn’t have a guest on it, and while it was only about half the length of a usual episode, I was still very self-conscious about potentially rambling. And besides, who wants to hear another guy on the internet’s opinions about movies and music? At least with a guest there’s a hook for the conversation, whether they’ve got some kind of qualifying credential or you just know you’ll be able to get something of interest out of them.
The content so far has been quite diverse depending on who you are speaking to, despite some loose ideas of what you want to cover, are you pleased with how well it is developing organically?
Yeah, I am. The original plan – which seems to have been deviated from quite quickly, I have to say – was ‘inspired’ (ahem) by Julie Klausner’s podcast, How Was Your Week?, in which she literally sits her guests down, asks them what they’ve been doing lately, and then takes the conversation from there. I wanted to do something similar, but specifically ask what they’d been watching, reading, listening to, etc., and then let it spin off at any tangents that may arise. I think on some level I haven’t been confident enough to let that happen yet, just because I’ve been keen to avoid the above-mentioned just-another-guy-who-has-opinions label, so most of the guests have had some sort of hook to their interview related to their own areas of expertise. Ali came on to talk about what the STV series Scotland’s Greatest Album had got wrong. My friend Anthony, who writes horror movie reviews for eatmybrains.com, came on to talk about all-night horror movie marathons at Halloween, The Skinny’s film editor, Jamie Dunn, came on to talk about British film off the back of The Deep Blue Sea and We Need To Talk About Kevin. But yeah, I don’t go into any of the chats with any kind of structure in mind, so I suppose the principle is the same as the original plan: find a starting point and take it from there.
Are there any areas that you haven’t yet managed to cover that you would like to become a regular focus of the podcast?
Maybe other podcasts, actually, but that might be too meta. I listen to a lot of American alt-comedy stuff – Comedy Bang Bang, Who Charted?, The Pod F. Tompkast, all that kind of thing – so in any given week they’re comprising anywhere between five and ten hours of my cultural intake, depending on how much solo travelling I have to do (they’re my commute accompaniment). That’s a pretty big chunk of time to devote to a medium that I’ve barely mentioned on my own podcast, when I could fit roughly five movies or ten records into that same space of time. Even if I just spent one episode getting into some recommendations or something, I could see that working. Other than that, I’d mainly like to get back to the above-mentioned original idea, and let the guests dictate what gets covered. I’d quite like to find a co-host too, to stave off the fear of monologuing, and also because I feel like I’ve already worked my way through everyone in my immediate circle of friends who’d be comfortable talking about something on-mic for up to 45 minutes at a time. If I’m going to have to start bringing in repeat guests anyway, might as well make one of them a regular.
Are there any guests planned for the coming year?
I haven’t actually put out an episode in 2012 at all so far, and whilst that’s largely because I’m trying to figure out just what the hell I want to do with the damn thing, it’s also down to trying to arrange what I think has the potential to be a really cool segment. I used to write a webzine with my mates Steve and Gavin, who have both since moved to London
for work and subsequently found themselves out of the loop musically. So last summer, in a bid to get back in the game, they asked me to e-mail them one album recommendation a week, that, being as disconnected from the blogosphere and the hype machine as they are, they would come at with completely fresh ears and no idea what to expect. I sent them recommendations for both new titles (Real Estate, The Roots, Fucked Up) and classics that, knowing their tastes, I didn’t think they’d have heard (Guided By Voices, The Dismemberment Plan, The Feelies). What we’re hoping to do is find a time that suits all three of us to get on Skype and talk about what they thought about each of the recommendations, and stick it up on the pod. The only problem is we haven’t yet been able to find that particular time, and there’s no sign of it on the immediate horizon either. So other than that, guests-wise, I’m not sure. Any takers?
Looking ahead, is there anything that you already hope to feature?
Put it this way: if I make it along to a particular gig, or I see a film on which I have a strong opinion, or there’s some zeitgeist-capturing album doing the rounds, odds are it’ll get covered, at least in some fashion. When I finally get round to putting a new show up, I’ll have at least two months worth of stuff to cover. I’ll probably look at albums like the new Cloud Nothings record, which I love, and maybe Craig Finn’s solo album, because The Hold Steady are one of my favourite bands currently working. Gigs-wise, I’m heading down to London to see Jay-Z and Kanye West at the O2 in May, then rushing back home later that week to see Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet play his soundtrack to the Bela Lugosi Dracula live alongside the film. So that should be a particularly eclectic episode. If I get my shit together enough to be able to record interviews or sessions with touring bands that’d
be cool too, but I think I’ll have to do a bit more to build an audience before that happens.