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The Department of Tangents Podcast

Years ago, playing a sort of improv game with friends in which we all picked super powers based on our personalities, I dubbed myself “Tangent Lad.” I was not a very strong superhero, and I could not defeat a super villain on my own, but I could distract them with Monty Python quotes and football trivia. I have many times since apologized to an interview subject in my capacity as a journalist by saying, “I am either very good or very bad at tangents, depending on how you feel about tangents.”

I had a rough time coming up with the concept and naming this blog/podcast. I knew I wanted to create a place where I could address things I’m passionate about – comedy, music, and horror. Finding a name that communicated all three of those things proved a bit impossible. I bugged my friends, and they all tried to help. To no avail. Then I thought, maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe my lack of focus should be the focus.

As a journalist, I have written for The Boston Globe since 2000, starting out writing CD reviews and then writing a regular column on comedy for seven and a half years. I still contribute there, and to Kirkus Reviews, and other publications. I’m also a musician, and released my debut full-length album, Blue Skies and Broken Arrows, in March of 2015. And I’ve been publishing short horror fiction for a couple of years.

I like to climb into things I love and see how they operate. That’s what the Department of Tangents is for. I’ll be writing regular features, essays, and news bits about the big three – comedy, music, and horror – and offering clips from people I’ve taped interviews with over the past nearly twenty years of writing. Some of the best parts of the interviews I’ve done have been completely off-point and inappropriate for print. I’ll get to explore more of that here. I’m also hoping to convince some friends to tell me about the things they love that I might not even know about, and pass that along to you.

The DoT podcast might be short or long, depending on where the conversation leads. You cant purposefully create an interesting tangent in conversation – it has to happen naturally. But I can confidently forecast that there will be moments in the individual podcasts where things veer off wonderfully.

The main thing here is love. To write about the things that make I’ve loved forever, and some new things that might stand the test and be around, at least for me, for decades to come. I’ve had to be critical in my writing at times, and it might not all be nonstop roses here, but in the end, what I really want to talk about is the good stuff. That’s why I will regularly write about things I think are “Perfect,” even if someone can demonstrate empirically that they are flawed. Still perfect to me.

Also, fish.

I hope you, dear anonymous surfer person, will come to expect only the highest-quality, free-range, grass-fed tangents. And I hope some of you love the same things I do and find it useful. Or at least a welcome distraction until the others get here.

Apr 27, 2018

Kenny Roby has been one of my favorite songwriters for the past twenty years, since I first interviewed him for a now defunct music magazine for the release of his excellent solo album, Mercury’s Blues. That led me to one of my all-time favorite albums, High Hat, by his then former band, 6 String Drag. There is so much soul and musical diversity in that album – Americana that wanders from New Orleans to Texas, a bit of punk, with a ton of swing and bounce. Roby continued that roving sound on his solo albums, and I have remained a fan ever since. I was happy when the band got back together a couple of years ago, and I’m even more happy now that it has stuck. Earlier this year, the band released a re-mastered version of High Hat plus a great new album called Top of the World. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up with Roby and talk about the new album and High Hat. When I catch up with Roby, he has just gotten off work, and we talk about the work-life balance of an independent artist. As you’ll hear later in the interview, Roby is working hard at tipping this much more toward the art, which isn’t easy, even for someone with as wonderful catalogue as he has. One of the more interesting parts of the conversation came when we talked about internalizing influences, sounds, and riffs, and how impressionable your creative brain can be. “You’ve got to be careful,” says Roby, “if you listen to bad music, you’ll write it.” We also talked about how some of the best music is meant more to be felt than understood. Explaining a song, as we talked about, can be like trying to figure out what the Mona Lisa is thinking.

Our featured track this week comes from a new album from Domenico Lancellotti. Lancellotti, son of composer Ivor Lancellotti, is a multi-instrumentalist who has played with the likes of Gil Gilberto and Caetano Veloso, will release his solo album The Good Is A Big God on May 11. Enjoy this preview of the lead track, “Asas.”