Questlove Supreme | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
The Key’s Year-End Mania: Emily Herbein’s top five podcasts hosted by musicians
Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2019 incredible. In this edition, Key writer Emily Herbein dives into the podcast world and discovers that some of her favorite musicians are hosts.
This might be a completely personal take, but I feel like 2019 was the year everyone really got into podcasts. I cringed a little bit whenever I had a conversation with someone and they’d ask if I’d “heard of this one niche pod, I’ve been really into it.” No! But then like both a coward and a listener who will devour pretty much anything, I caved.
I started off with a very basic queue of Armchair Expert and Song Exploder and How It’s Made. Yawn. But then I realized some of my favorite musicians are also virtuoso conversationalists, and I fell down a hole of Time Crisis eps thanks to Ezra Koenig’s hypnotic voice and rollercoaster anecdotes. I love listening to musicians talk about their craft and their process and also about things totally unrelated to the industry. These are a handful of podcasts that I’ve been hooked on this year, and I think they’re worth a listen if you’re keeping up with this series.
Time Crisis: Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend
An episode of Time Crisis is hardly linear. Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig is quite the raconteur, and each week he brings on a musical guest to talk about current events in both of their careers and how they overlap. He finds common ground in the most unlikely places, usually through humor. I discovered this pod recently, and some of the more notable episodes (if you’re a VW head) are the ones where Ezra dissects the band’s recent release, Father of the Bride.
But he’s also hilarious. Typically, each episode begins with Ezra and co-host Jake Longstreth dive into some sort of ramble, and memorable moments have been the times they unpack the meaning of the phrase “Starbucking” and reveal the truth behind Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger. (Ezra’s advice when visiting the Pacific Northwest is to “grab a ‘Stranger,’ do what it says, and spend a day as a local.” Don’t get it twisted, do not ask a random person what you should do all day. He’s talking about the mag.)
Some of his most high-profile guests have been Huey Lewis of Huey Lewis and the News, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, and Florence Welch. He researches his guests heavily and he’s a great interviewer as well as a great listener.
The show does have some key – and hilarious – repeating segments. Jake’s Takes, which Longstreth curates a playlist and recommends it to Ezra and listeners. He typically leans towards jam bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead. Sweet Chili Heat World Premiere is the portion of the show where Jake and Ezra premiere fan-created music, both out of the kindness of their hearts as well as for a laugh. The show always ends with a Top 5 segment, which includes the top 5 songs of a specific year, a specific chart, or a wildcard topic like the top 5 songs of two specific bands.
Episodes are released every two weeks and stream on Apple Music via Beats1.
Questlove’s “Questlove Supreme”
Questlove is so cool. The dynamic he has with his guests is like investigative journalism-meets-bar-talk. He’s said, “Usually when I do a project, it’s to satisfy the curious fan in me,” he says. “I may come off as a forty-something music know-it-all, but I’m still the same nine-year-old trying to prompt an investigation over the ‘Love Rollercoaster’ murders.” He wants to know the weird stories behind some of the greatest music hits of all time, or the weird quirks that powerhouse musicians most definitely had. (Like allegedly, Stevie Wonder could drive). Questlove also handpicks a ton of songs and for the listener, and he himself listens to around 200 songs before the show to prepare for each topic. He’s had some incredible guests, from Maya Rudolph to Solange to Ray Parker Jr.
Episodes are released weekly and stream on iHeartMedia.
The Road Taken with CT and Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend
Another pod from one of the coolest bands ever, CT and Baio of VW are focusing their energy on discussing touring life with fellow high-profile musicians. They’ve gotten to chat with Mumford & Sons, Michelle Branch, The Black Keys, and The Strokes about life on the road and the ups and downs of finding a home while constantly being away from your roots. When they were brainstorming content, Baio thought touring was “too boring” to talk about, but it’s such a universal topic for nearly all musicians. It’s grounding in the way that it spans decades and genres, and the constant movement is “responsible for changing how artists make music.” A lot of the guests agree that it’s both punishing and rewarding, and this podcast is a super unique view on a topic that affects every band. I’m surprised something like this hasn’t been done before, but it’s a super charming and informative listen. It turns big-name guests into people who miss home.
This 10-episode season streams on the Ringer Podcast Network
Serious Rap Sh*t with John Morrison and Josh Leidy
This one’s so cool because it features a fellow Key Contributor, John Morrison, who is also a DJ and producer. I also like that he and co-host Josh discuss music that’s outside of my typical range. They talk about all things surrounding hip hop culture, peppered with quick humor which makes the heavier topics, like religion and sexuality and politics palatable to a casual listener who might be tuning in while on a drive or multitasking at work. The hosts have a noticeably close relationship which makes the listening experience easy and enjoyable, and they manage to link past hip hop legends with today’s current events. Their music taste is also nothing shy of excellent.
Episodes stream via I Heart Media
NPR Tiny Desk Concerts
This one is an obvious favorite. Tiny Desk is a masterpiece and usually at work I’ll throw on a YouTube link of the show behind whatever project I’m looking at. But having all of the episodes neatly organized in one place and you can listen without the visual aspect, in case you find that distracting. It’s also nice to hear a little bit of extra banter. Tiny Desk is timeless and I’ll plug that to anyone who needs a classic podcast recommendation.