Savages – Live on KEXP

Savages didn’t ask me what I wanted.

They weren’t concerned for my taste.

On Silence Yourselfe, the band channels Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Stooges.

It’s not so much what they are playing but how they are playing it. Those spaces between are coiled and taut.

I didn’t know I would fall in love with them. Their explosive aesthetic.

When I hear people, cloistered, terrified and bitter people make grand pronouncements stating that rock is a bloated corpse and  punk has been appropriated by genre fetishists, I take my fingers and plug my ears.

My alternative response: play this fucking record, Silence Yourself, loudly, in the foreground, till the ears begin to bleed a bit.

Savages don’t ask permission but I’ll grant them all they need.

Here, they liquify viewers with a performance on KEXP. 

Waxing Originality: An Interview with Morning Becomes Eclectic Host, Nic Harcourt

I was giddy with excitement to do this interview with Nic Harcourt. I first heard Morning Becomes Eclectic when I did a summer stint in LA in 98. I was blown away by the shows content, and coming from doing Capital Hill Pirate Radio in Denver as well as listening to Boulders Radio 1190, gave me hope that my choice in going for a broadcasting major at the time was a smart move. I even applied to go to school at Santa Monica City College. It was respectable. Of course after some deep thought and consideration I realized that college radio is great college radio because it is run by students and that Nic Harcourt is just one example of brilliance in all the murkiness of the FM dial. Plus, coming to the conclusion that my speaking voice is somnambulistic, which could jeopardize my delusions of becoming the next John Peel or Rodney Bingenheimer, turned me off that particular career path. As is the case with most things, most radio sucks, mostly. Just like most music sucks, mostly. That is until you find something that speaks to you and doesn’t suck. Those little gems do exist and what a wonderful world we live in where you just have to look a little deeper to find them.

nic harcourt

Everybody has an opinion about radio. Personally, I think that commercial radio sucks. It is predictable and boring, and with the ever present censorship from the FCC destroying anything funny or original, it’d be a safe bet to say that you could go from San Diego to Buffalo, NY and hear the exact same morning show or afternoon drive time brain bubbler.

Yeah, for some, the morning radio experience was bearable having Howard Stern to stir the pot and get you laughing, sighing with disgust and pity, or pounding your fist against the wheel screaming, “INDECENT, VILE, REPREHENSIBLE.” Now he’s going to satellite radio where listeners will have to pay for quality programming. Depending on what your perspective of ‘quality’ happens to be. Whatever the case, radio is poison, a giant viper-like marketing tool used by corporations to ‘buy people’ while being heavily monitored by the government.

Luckily, stations like Santa Monica’s non-profit KCRW (89.9 FM), and more specifically the Morning Becomes Eclectic radio series, provide exceptional programming and-gasp-good MUSIC! Music that you won’t hear repeated a million times in the span of an hour. The show’s host, Nic Harcourt, joined KCRW in the spring of 1998 after nearly a decade in Woodstock. NY, where he built a program similar to the one he successfully produces now.

KCRW is a not-for-profit radio station licensed through Santa Monica City College that has the luxury of being autonomous from advertisers whims and a CEO’s stock portfolio. We caught up with Nic Harcourt while on a commute with his two very vocal 2-year-old daughters.

Shane Roeschlein: How do you decide what to play? Do you get an obnoxious amount of submissions from bands?
Nic Harcourt: Morning Becomes Eclectic has evolved over time, and you know, it’s a bit of both. You find bands yourself and then bands send stuff in. We get about 400 CDs a week. We try and go through them as best we can. Obviously, we can’t go through every CD, but you try and listen to snippets from tracks.

Its purely subjective, I do a free-form radio show, and at the end of the day when you do a free form radio show, the host has to want to play it. If I like it and I feel like playing it, I’ll play it. It has to be unique and unlike regular radio.

SR: You’re on the third Morning Becomes Eclectic compilation and there are performances by bands like Radiohead, My Morning Jacket and Paul Weller, to name a few, but most interesting are all of the bands that blew up this year!
NH: Its worth me pointing out that when people look at these compilations and say most of these bands are already known, quite often the acts we’re putting on the CDs of our live sessions were recorded before they were known. The Sounds Eclectic 3 CD has a live cut from Interpol and a cut from Franz Ferdinand, and those bands are huge right now. Those cuts were from their very first radio station sessions.

We draw from the material we already have and some of it is from bands that have broken through already and some of it isn’t.

SR: What do you base your interview criteria on? It seems similar in concept to John Peel and the BBC sessions but in an interview type of setting?
NH: It depends on who they are, you know? If it’s somebody who is really huge, like Coldplay for instance, who I’ve had on the show three times, and the first time I had them on the show was their first live performance in America. It was the first radio appearance in America and their first gig. We had a record of theirs by then and had played it but the audience didn’t really know anything about them. Whenever I have a band on that people don’t know much about then I ask them questions about their background, where they’re from, who their influences are. I figure that my listeners want to know who they are. But if it’s a band that’s a little more popular-and we’ll use Coldplay as an example again-coming back on the show their third time as a multi-platinum artist-you tend to focus on things like what they’ve been up to and maybe how they’re handling fame and success.

Though the majority of the artists we have on the show are artists that don’t get a lot of opportunities to play live radio sessions, or at least they’re at a point in their career where that hasn’t happened for them yet.

SR: Where do you see radio in the next five years, and do you feel commercial radio can get any worse?
NH: Maybe, but I don’t see it getting any better. Commercial radio has finessed its approach to such a point where its sole purpose is to sell products and deliver goods to a specific demographic audience. It comes down to selling beer and donuts and burgers. I don’t see that changing. But the good news is that we now have the Internet.

Stations like the station I work at are finding a whole new audience outside for our cities who are looking on the Web for an alternative to commercial radio.

There is a lot of talk about satellite radio right now. My belief is that the real fun and games start when we can have a truly wireless Internet and you can listen to Internet on a hand-held device or in your car. I think that will democratize the process more.

SR: You obviously have a good barometer of judgment on strong, independent music. A lot of places are adopting your programming model, slapping a new coat of paint on it and calling it original, what’s up with that?
NH: I think that indie rock is hot right now and I think that you’re finding the commercial world is calling itself that now. They call themselves “Independent.” You’ve got stations calling themselves independent, and you have shows like the O.C. that serve a similar purpose, but I think they’re just lifting that from somewhere else, you know what I mean? Those guys aren’t discovering new music; they’re taking it from places like KCRW or Weblogs. It’s all well and good for the O.C. to decide to put the Shins on their programs, but the Shins were getting airplay on non-commercial and college radio five years ago. The O.C. isn’t cutting edge, but I suppose they seem cutting edge for the mainstream.


Morning Becomes Eclectic: Morning Becomes Eclectic is committed to a music experience that celebrates innovation, creativity and diversity by combining progressive pop, world beat, jazz, African, reggae, classical and new music. Recognized nationally as a forum for promoting a wide range of music ahead of the curve, the show has become a very attractive whistle stop for both established and emerging artists from around the world.

KCRW now offers podcasts of some of the live sessions performed by unsigned and independent artists on Morning Becomes Eclectic.

The show is hosted by Nic Harcourt.

For more information, please visit

We Can Control the Medium: Radio’s Dying Gasps

“We can control the medium/ We can control the context of presentation…” – T. Gabel

Radio has been dying a slow death for the past decade, losing ad revenue to companies who have increased their ad spending online. I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of radio but I knew enough in college that getting a degree in broadcasting was a poor choice and quickly switched my emphasis to something more scalable (at least that’s what I told myself at the time). I’ve always held contempt for the radio system. Pay to play payola was and has been rampant for decades even though its not really talked about much now. Besides, public airwaves sold to private companies to sell products to consumers seemed like a blatantly flawed system in any context. The sad part about radios decline is the only people that don’t seem to recognize the change in the minds of consumers is people that work for the radio stations, or at least the station owners—cigar smoking, baby-seal-cowboy-boots on a desk made out of elephant tusks grinning maniacally while sipping a tumbler of chilled baby’s blood with a ‘What? Me Worry’ approach to business. You get the point.

My years spent as a music consumer helped me understand how terrible radio is—or at least that time spent skimming channels for interesting content gave me some perspective once I had determined that I despised the ‘format’ before identifying what that ‘format’ was and is. I liked morning shows. They break up the monotony of song repetition. Program directors of local radio shows have made the single a commondity. They are the assholes known as tastemakers. They are the ones making or breaking artists. They’ve helped perpetuate the culture of mediocrity by playing a song so many times consumers are compelled to plug their ears while the stations mine the tune until the little flicker of brilliance in the song has dulled.

Everyone just tunes out. I didn’t discover half the music I listen to by waiting by the radio for a ‘new’ song from a ‘new’ band. Youth will find a way and now that youth has the internet, what is the point of listening to the radio?

That kind of artifice is evidenced in every contrived little between song BS sesh of the ‘disc jockey.’ These guys used to be inspired lovers of music. True aficionados of sound. The original ‘audiophile’ who, with just the right amount of knowledge and charisma could inspire a listener to expand his or her horizons. That was way before my time. Corporate greed has always help perpetuate this system of diminishing returns but until the FCC allowed companies to buy multiple stations in local markets there was a semblance of diversity. Even though that diversity has been suspect. As a result, music has become predictable, less dangerous and more disposable. Why would I buy a song I know they’re going to play 3 more times in the next hour sandwiched between some terrible Seether song and a lame Pearl Jam track from the fucking Ten record?

Then there is the question of relevancy. San Diego’s 94.9 touts itself as a truly independent station. They are probably the best commercial radio station I’ve heard, though I’d still prefer a dentists drill to the radio. They have beaten out Rock 105 AND 91X in San Diego. Most of the songs they play are surprising to hear on commercial radio. Ten years ago I never would have heard “Holiday in Cambodia” on a station other than one broadcast from a college campus. And they’ve won the holiday concert war with the best line-up. Their ‘Holiday Hootenanny’ has Queens of the Stone Age headlining and support from some local hero’s like Pinback and Louis XIV.

I was a witness to the train wreck that was 91X’s Nightmare Before Xmas concert. The station had to have given away hundreds of tickets just to fill SDSU’s Cox Arena ‘pit’ area. You know the ‘pit’ area where you have to pay extra money to STAND. What had initially been planned as a two day festival event with dozens of bands turned into a handful of mid-level bands playing to what I estimated to be a thousand or 1700 people (who knows what the actual count was, I bet 91X won’t tell) Bad Religion, Against Me!, and late 90’s nu-metal band, Seether were the ‘big’ bands of this little holiday party. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some AM! and some BR but can either of those bands pack an arena? Probably not. How about Angels and Airwaves? You would think they could in their own hometown but they didn’t. It was depressing. And of course, between bands and on the promenade fans are exposed to advertisers and you don’t even have the option of ‘changing the station.’

Another local band, The Transit War opened the show. They were great. Those boys have come a long way. But the music isn’t what is in question here. It’s the apparent lack of communication between the station and its constituents, i.e. the listener—not the companies that buy ads. How often do they actually play Bad Religion on the radio or when can you hear The Transit War short of staying up until 1am on Monday morning for the Loudspeaker show? Seeing the military there actively recruiting young male concert goers made me want to vomit and then I dry heaved when I saw some poor schmuck walking around taking pictures with kids in a Geico the Gecko costume.

Against Me’s Tom Gabel lambasted the event from the stage, telling people not to buy anything and had they known, as a band, that the Military was a sponsor of the event they would never have agreed to play. Its rough to issue a Mea Culpa from the stage as you are playing the event but at least he saw through the bullshit and shared his indignation with the audience [make a fist, put your foot down, pout from the well branded stage]. Of course all the overly sensitive people that are in the military or have family in the military will be sending angry letters to 91X bemoaning a point I’m sure they completely missed. But, whatever right? It’s the music business and like Radio’s corporate counterparts in the record industry, they’ll continue to stick their head in the sand and wait for someone to save them. Sort of like a frog in a pot of water set to boil.

AM! did an on-air interview with Kallao and Capone. It was as cringe-worthy in broadcast as I’m sure it was in person. I’ve done my share of interviews with bands and it was really fascinating to witness the interviewers stumble and squirm when the band basically got hold of the reigns and took them to task. Asking Gabel who he was going to vote for in 08 warranted an especially prickly response. He said he didn’t know cause he didn’t know who the nominees were yet. Dead air and back peddling ensued. Nothing better than watching two douche bags choke on their own lack of preparation.

AM! was significantly antagonistic, more so when asked idiotic questions about working with Butch Vig and the ‘White People for Peace’ video. Anyone could ask the band those questions by looking at a bio their publicist had sent. It was amateur hour and it was telling of how unconnected to music people in radio seem to be. Most of the folks that know the most about music are the interns doing work for free and staying late, just for that ‘one chance man. To make a difference and get some real music on the air…’ Ah, the ellipsis of youthful hope trails off into guaranteed disappointment.

As a caveat to Gabel’s quickness to bash the music industry through song and defiantly voice disgust with performing at a concert with active military recruitment, I question the bands willingness to do a performance appearance on MTV’s scripted soap opera, The Hills the night after playing the 91X concert. MTV and MTV2 have aired US Armed Forces ads for years and the show, The Hills is a perfect representation of disposable entertainment. What would have come across initially as some fist pumping ‘fuck the man’ style punk rock angst instead came across as some petulant jerk whining about a system he’s willingly embraced when he signed a contract with Sire. I enjoy the music of Against Me!, but the context of presentation has lost most of its credibility.

How will 91X look in 2008? We’ll lose Cantore who is getting replaced by Adam Corolla in the Mornings in 08’ so if you didn’t get enough irrelevant banter from Adam and Danny Bonadouchebag before they got scratched from what became Sophie, you’ll get a fair amount next year. What other necks are on the chopping block at 91X? They’ve taken a local friendly rock format from sort of mediocre to notably shitty in less than a year. Then they’ve tried to take on the Disturbed/System of Down/Creed style hard rock format of Rock 105 and to no avail. Rock 105 has taken some shots across the 91X deck by declaring some semblance of turf war-like ownership on the ‘rock’ format ‘Rock 105.3. San Diegos ORIGINAL Rock Station,’ says the whiskey voiced announcer.

Alas, like most institutionalized businesses the corporate management never asks the right questions of the right people because they are certain they can provide their own answers no matter how ill informed and misled they are.

We CAN control the medium. But when will the radio accede to a paradigm shift determined by the listeners?