Friday, August 29, 2008

Interview: ISGOOD's Jon Hershfield

Few people in town, if any, seem to keep up with the local music scene better than Jon Hershfield, host of Kill Radio's "...Is Good" show.

In it, Hershfield spotlights independent LA acts who he thinks, well, are good -- including site favorites like Le Switch, The Monolators, The Happy Hollows, Radars to the Sky and many more.

Hundreds more, in fact...

We spoke with Hershfield earlier this week about his origins, his upcoming projects and shows, the art of pulling off a good interview, and the current state of musical affairs here in lah.

isgoodjon (8:25:27 PM): hey, all good, u there?
RFSL (8:25:33 PM): Hey! How are you doing tonight?
isgoodjon (8:25:55 PM): fine, exhausted
RFSL (8:25:59 PM): Yeah?
isgoodjon (8:26:13 PM): yeah tuesdays are clinical training days for me
isgoodjon (8:26:23 PM): working on a psych masters, doing counseling with inner city kids
RFSL (8:26:39 PM): Ahhh.
isgoodjon (8:27:10 PM): thankfully the wife and an unlimited supply of tivo'd law and orders waiting for me at home
RFSL (8:28:13 PM): Ah, excellent. My girlfriend and I have been decompressing by watching Madmen lately.
RFSL (8:29:12 PM): She works in speech therapy and is working at three different hospitals? I make video games, which equals long hours but isn’t nearly as emotionally exhausting.
isgoodjon (8:29:41 PM): wow busy people, just like me!
isgoodjon (8:30:39 PM): grad school, clinical training, the isgood radio show, the isgoodmusic website, live events, dj-ing, running online mental health support groups, an acting career, and electronic music production!
RFSL (8:30:01 PM): Ha. So isgoodmusic a labor of love then?
isgoodjon (8:30:47 PM): yes, well, a labor of love for the last 3 years
RFSL (8:30:58 PM): How did you start it up?
isgoodjon (8:31:55 PM): i started dj-ing at this loft hangout called the What Club and then these traveling house parties called Unlit where I met a lot of indie musicians...
isgoodjon (8:32:17 PM): then i came across and thought it would be an easy way to practice playing music i liked
isgoodjon (8:32:44 PM): i started interviewing friends, then friends of friends, then before i knew it i was hosting some sort of morning becomes eclectic without a budget
RFSL (8:32:48 PM): For people who don't know killradio, how would you describe it?
isgoodjon (8:33:23 PM): it's a nonprofit collective of people who come in and out, occasioanlly throw rent money at a studio space, and do a variety of no-budget programming
RFSL (8:33:56 PM): And the show has grown over time.
isgoodjon (8:34:24 PM): yeah i've had around 200 guests so far, all invite-only, all hand-picked
isgoodjon (8:35:08 PM): some have become real indie stars like AM, Buddy, Henry Clay People, Happy Hollows, Pedestrian...
isgoodjon (8:35:20 PM): and a lot are just bands i like for one reason or another, all genres
isgoodjon (8:35:43 PM): i used to meet a lot from dj-ing but now i mostly come across them online
RFSL (8:36:10 PM): It's nice when you can just cover things that you enjoy, eh?
isgoodjon (8:36:36 PM): well the serious benefit to running the show the way i do is that i never have to spend an hour with a band whose music i don't care about
isgoodjon (8:36:57 PM): i never script the interviews because i never ask questions i don't actually want the answers to
isgoodjon (8:37:46 PM): i mean of 200 bands, almost none have ever blindsided me by making good music but not actually being interesting people, lol
RFSL (8:39:04 PM): It's funny, isn't it? I've been pleasantly surprised that very, very few people that I've run into in the music scene out here have been what you might normally expect from the perceived "LA Musician" type.
RFSL (8:39:22 PM): There are a lot of great people, very creative, and super interesting.
isgoodjon (8:39:44 PM): yeah i like to think i'm pretty selective about the directions i run in for that very reason
isgoodjon (8:40:29 PM): i was able to develop the idea for because i was able to establish a personal connection with each of these artists and felt like i could vouch for them as if it meant something about me
isgoodjon (8:41:29 PM): fortunately the vast majority of bands who approach me have found out about me from bands who have been on the show -I remember The Hectors sent me a hilarious email demanding to be interviewed...
isgoodjon (8:41:40 PM): but this pool of musicians is already a great network and doesn’t know it
RFSL (8:42:17 PM): (Corinne from The Hectors just sent me an email berrating me for not taking advice from Thailand on what Thai food to order last Friday night. "Smooth...")
isgoodjon (8:42:33 PM): haha Thailand another great isgood band
isgoodjon (8:43:44 PM): when i launch it's going to have a feature so all bands can use some of its resources but only isgood bands will have full features and i can still control musical integrity
isgoodjon (8:44:04 PM): i mean i'm not trying to be a snob about it all, but if i bring everyone into the isgood network, then it has no meaning
RFSL (9:17:02 PM): So, tell me more about the web-site. What are your plans for it?
isgoodjon (9:18:13 PM): what we're going to do is take all the isgood bands (bands i've interviewed), hook them up with really utilitarian web profiles, and then network them together - sort of myspace but just for the best of the indie la music scene
isgoodjon (9:18:24 PM): fans add themselves to bands instead of the other way around
isgoodjon (9:18:37 PM): gig promotion becomes automated
isgoodjon (9:18:59 PM): and most importantly band get to glean from each other's fans just by being in the same network
isgoodjon (9:19:17 PM): if you like radars to the sky, you should be listening to death to anders and so on...
RFSL (9:19:17 PM): Excellent.
isgoodjon (9:20:05 PM): this is also going to include, which will be its own radio station largely devoted to the isgoodmusic network and promoting quality music in la
RFSL (9:20:56 PM): When is that going live?
isgoodjon (9:21:46 PM): well we're currently in what my techie friends call beta testing, which means you can go to the site and about half the features are fully operational, but the new layout, with the radio station and all the goodies will be up this fall, hopefully by the end of october
isgoodjon (9:22:16 PM): when i started this project, it was meant to just be an easy way for me to know when my friends were gigging so i could better promote them on the show
isgoodjon (9:22:54 PM): now tens of thousands of dollars later, i have a legal team, an llc, and a team of geniuses working around the clock turning this into a movement of sorts!
isgoodjon (9:23:39 PM): although admittedly about 30 hrs/week is still just me interviewing, editing, podcasting, uploading, promoting etc
RFSL (9:24:02 PM): What's new with the show? Who are some upcoming guests?
isgoodjon (9:25:02 PM): Meredith Meyer, The New Room, Marvelous Toy, Liz Pappademas, Leviathan Brothers to name a few
isgoodjon (9:25:17 PM): i'm trying to resist booking band in octber because i want to get isgoodradio set up
RFSL (9:26:00 PM): You get a lot of compliments for being an excellent interviewer. What do you think makes a good interview?
isgoodjon (9:26:09 PM): thanks
isgoodjon (9:26:36 PM): i'm always really happy when a band writes me a testimonial and it articulates exactly what i wanted to achieve
isgoodjon (9:26:59 PM): i think a good interview is one in which the audience feels they were sitting in
isgoodjon (9:27:22 PM): i want them to get a sense of what it's like to hang out with these people, otherwise they can just listen to the cd
RFSL (9:27:45 PM): When it turns more into a conversation.
isgoodjon (9:28:21 PM): it helps that i don’t have to cut to a commercial every few minutes or feel pressured to do a give-away or something
isgoodjon (9:29:03 PM): i mean i'm aware that i'm doing a show and trying to structure something dynamic that includes talk, recorded music, and live performance, but i'm also just getting to know people i think are interesting
RFSL (9:29:25 PM): What have been some of your favorite interviews?
isgoodjon (9:30:09 PM): that's a tough question because like a good live show there are so many factors that go into it
isgoodjon (9:30:31 PM): some of the best shows are just one person with a guitar and it takes on a real philosophical tone
isgoodjon (9:30:54 PM): and others have me cramming 7 people into a tiny studio and witnessing something incredible happening
isgoodjon (9:31:32 PM): it's hard to describe what it's like to be alone in a room with something like Sonus Quartet or The Dust Bowl Cavaliers or Klum
isgoodjon (9:33:19 PM): i love it when the live sound comes out well, but honestly i'm always more moved by an act that informs me of the direction an interview will take and leave me feeling like a was able to influence the way they think about their art
isgoodjon (9:33:46 PM): ha, that looks more pretentious in text than i mean it
RFSL (9:34:24 PM): Heh. I know what you mean. I think you're covering a lot of acts who may not have received coverage before…
RFSL (9:34:38 PM): So may not have had that appreciation and outside perspective?
isgoodjon (9:35:00 PM): yeah many of my guests have never been interviewed before
isgoodjon (9:35:14 PM): they often come in pretty nervous and leave really amped
isgoodjon (9:36:02 PM): and many of those who have been interviewed have been hit with interviewers who are not genuinely interested in their music
RFSL (9:36:21 PM): Who have gotten an interview as an assignment rather than out of interest perhaps.
isgoodjon (9:36:28 PM): so they end just talking about ticket sales or talking about random irrelevant things
isgoodjon (9:36:30 PM): yeah
isgoodjon (9:37:20 PM): one advantage i think i have always had is that a lot of my friends are musicians and i really love music, so i have an instinctual feeling about what musicians do and don’t feel like talking about on the air
isgoodjon (9:37:52 PM): i don't envy the pro radio guys who just have bands dropped in front of them on a daily basis
isgoodjon (9:38:06 PM): u can almost hear the glass wall between the interviewer and the band
RFSL (9:38:37 PM): Yeah, the "this is what I'm supposed to ask so you can tell me the same thing you told the last guy" tone.
isgoodjon (9:38:57 PM): like actors at a press junket
RFSL (9:39:07 PM): “Always be on message...”
isgoodjon (9:39:44 PM): the only time i've ever scripted questions for an interview was when i had to do it over the phone and was afraid i'd draw a blank
isgoodjon (9:40:32 PM): that was with wildog of ozomatli and jeff turzo of wired all wrong and frankly i think of them as my most tepid interviews (no fault of the music)
isgoodjon (9:40:42 PM): oh and dj numark of jurassic 5
RFSL (9:40:51 PM): It's often fun driving w/o a map.
isgoodjon (9:41:21 PM): i'm much more comfortable in person and like any live performer i feed off my guests' energy
isgoodjon (9:41:28 PM): i don’t do phone interviews anymore
RFSL (9:42:06 PM): This must be a change of pace for you.
RFSL (9:42:21 PM): Being on this side of the fence and over AIM.
isgoodjon (9:42:49 PM): ha, yes
isgoodjon (9:43:40 PM): but i think this is working, again it’s a conversation with content - not a q&a
RFSL (9:44:45 PM): So I don't mean to keep you too much longer.
RFSL (9:44:55 PM): Let me ask you two more things...
isgoodjon (9:45:02 PM): sure no prob
RFSL (9:45:36 PM): Obviously you have a deep and abiding love for the Los Angeles music scene.
RFSL (9:46:32 PM): What do you think is exactly going on here right now?
isgoodjon (9:46:59 PM): ha
isgoodjon (9:47:13 PM): well, a few things...
RFSL (9:47:57 PM): You seem in a better place to answer that than a lof of people in town.
isgoodjon (9:48:35 PM): on the downside we're seeing the act of keeping a band going to continue to get expensive (especially with touring and gas prices), and a general trend around the country to treat music like some sort of contest (thanks to American Idol)...
isgoodjon (9:49:21 PM): and a lot of bands are actually leaving LA for places like Portland and Austin where they feel audiences still go out to see music and not just to promote one act at a time
isgoodjon (9:50:04 PM): on the upside, some really clever and talented LA artists are forming collectives and networks to support each other's work and this making for some great shows and some homemade buzz
isgoodjon (9:50:39 PM): and digital distribution and things like creative commons licensing are allowing bands to get their music out there
isgoodjon (9:51:29 PM): i think corporate radio is dead, but that's ok
isgoodjon (9:52:03 PM): people who are listening to cool music are listening to it intently
isgoodjon (9:52:30 PM): and no matter what your genre is, there's some amazing things going on in the LA indie scene
RFSL (9:53:06 PM): Yeah, running through the acts you've interviewed, there's a lot of variety.
isgoodjon (9:54:07 PM): also, not to pat ourselves on the back, but rogue promoters and bloggers have found a way to give back to the music they love and this is creating some positive movement too
RFSL (9:54:31 PM): Speaking of that, you've been putting on shows...
RFSL (9:54:59 PM): For quite some time, correct?
isgoodjon (9:55:09 PM): yes, it's gotten just a bit out of hand lately too, lol, hard for me to manage my time commitments
isgoodjon (9:55:38 PM): i started doing presents events in oct 06, about a year after the isgood radio show started
isgoodjon (9:55:57 PM): generally it would be me pitching an idea to a venue and then booking a bill from bands i'd interviewed
isgoodjon (9:56:32 PM): nowadays i do more shows where bills have spontaneously developed with a majority having been on the radio show and then i get asked to step in and co-sponsor
isgoodjon (9:56:55 PM): i'm going to start helping Seasons book their monthly at Mr. T's soon for example
RFSL (9:57:07 PM): Cool. I was going to ask what was next.
isgoodjon (9:57:35 PM): it;s funny, there are a few shows that happen where everyone on the bill is an "isgood" band but by the time i find out about it indie 103 or kcrw has sponsored it!
isgoodjon (9:57:51 PM): sunset junction had four isgood bands this year
isgoodjon (9:58:26 PM): anyway, i hate getting the evil eye from some venue promoter because a band i gave a shot only brought 5 people
isgoodjon (9:58:55 PM): so i'm trying to sponsor isgood events these days where they don't necessarily begin and end with me bit still focus primarily on isgood artists
isgoodjon (10:00:52 PM): truth is if i went out every night of the week i could probably see 5 of my favorite bands play, but i can't do that, so i try to go to shows i know i'll be able to give maximum support to maximum artists, such as an presents event!
RFSL (10:01:27 PM): Heh.
RFSL (10:02:43 PM): So last question for you: What are you listening to right now?
isgoodjon (10:03:07 PM): the bleeping sound of the instant messenger, lol
RFSL (10:03:25 PM): Oh, dude. You can turn that off…
isgoodjon (10:04:00 PM): but the last thing i was listening to was a jazz act called Leviathan Brothers which will be on the show at the end of september
isgoodjon (10:05:04 PM): and before that Willoughby
isgoodjon (10:05:23 PM): it’s funny, i used to spend hundreds of dollars at amoeba every other week digging for new music to spin
isgoodjon (10:05:49 PM): now 90% of what i listen to comes to me and ends up performed for me in a tiny room
RFSL (10:05:59 PM): Nice.
isgoodjon (10:07:00 PM): yeah i do think of myself lucky - i've been a music junkie as long as I can remember, but never imagined i'd be thanking artists so directly
isgoodjon (10:08:16 PM): a good song does a lot more for me than the 99 cent download does for the artist, so building isgoodmusic has been really fulfilling
isgoodjon (10:08:44 PM): lol, jesus, do i sound like this in person or just in text?
RFSL (10:08:55 PM): Ha, ha.
RFSL (10:09:17 PM): So, that's all I've got for you, Jon.
RFSL (10:09:23 PM): Thanks very much for all your time.
isgoodjon (10:09:28 PM): alright man, thanks to u

Photo by Avik Sogoyan.


Blogger L. Hunter said...

Cool fucking interview.

9:03 PM  

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