What Are You Listening To?
Three New Yorkers take off their headphones and chat.
What were you listening to when I came up to you just now?
I was actually listening to NPR's iPhone apps — the audio portions of their articles. But walking up here, I was listening to my traditional-ska Pandora station.
Who are your go-to ska bands?
I would say Alton Ellis, and early Bob Marley and the Wailers.
Listen: Bob Marley – "Mr. Brown"
Do your tastes lean more towards reggae-sounding ska, or do you also like ska that has a punk feeling to it?
You know, I was in a traditional-ska band in South Florida in the '90s, and we always tried to get that real Jamaican essence. We tried to preserve ska as a Caribbean version of American soul music. I mean, it's impossible not to be influenced by bands like Operation Ivy and other punk/ska mixtures. For the most part, we leaned towards stuff like The Skatalites and The Slackers. The Skatalites are the quintessential '60s ska band, but The Slackers also tried to keep it as jazzy and traditional as they could.
What did you do in the band?
I was the trombone player.
What is an album that came out this year that you were particularly excited about?
Giving it a first listen to, Bon Iver's new self-titled album is pretty incredible. And I would say Plastic Beach by The Gorillaz has to be one of the best albums put out in recent memory. That's a pretty consistent opinion among the people I talk to.
What's your favorite song on that album?
I think one of the best songs of the decade has to be "Empire Ants" with Little Dragon. It's just incredible. It's such a catchy song.
Listen: Gorillaz – "Empire Ants"
I love "Superfast Jellyfish," but people tell me it sounds like something that would have been on SpongeBob SquarePants.
Totally, but when you get past that initial part, it really is an awesome song.
Do you have any guilty-pleasure artists?
I don't even know if it's guilty, but I absolutely love Coldplay. I just think they're a really good band. I just think they're incredibly talented musicians, who took all this stuff from Brit-pop — and you could even say Radiohead — and made it much more accessible. That's my guilty pleasure.
Who's an artist you'd consider being a roadie for?
I'd honestly say Gorillaz. I'm obsessed with them. Anything that Damon Albarn touches I think is brilliant. They are the one act that I can say I've actively pursued to find their b-sides and unreleased stuff.
Have you really liked everything he's put out? What did you think of The Good, The Bad and The Queen?
I thought it was a little spacey and soft. Maybe "soft" isn't the right word. But it didn't have the bite he usually has in Blur songs or Gorillaz songs. It kind of seemed like it was a weird derivation of Blur's album 13. But I definitely like where he's going now.
Listen: Blur – "Tender"
Taking all of Albarn's material into consideration, everything from Blur to where he's at now, what would you consider the pinnacle of his work?
Blur's 13. That's such an incredible album, and it expresses all this depression and angst, but does it through brilliant songs.
What are you doing in New York?
I'm actually visiting a friend for a couple weeks. I normally live on tour — I'm with a theatre company.
Oh yeah? What show?
Barney the Dinosaur. I'm Barney's assistant manager. I'm not a performer.
Ah. So what are you listening to?
I'm listening to "Hey Soul Sister" by Train. Sort of a guilty pleasure.
That is a guilty pleasure. Who are your favorite artists right now?
I'm listening to a lot of The Beatles. And I'm into My Chemical Romance right now…
Listen: My Chemical Romance – "Na Na Na"
What Beatles albums are you listening to? What are the good Beatles songs for summer?
I like the more acoustic-y ones, like "Yesterday." And some of the earlier stuff for summer. If it's at night and I'm writing, I prefer the White Album.
So what artists right now do you hate?
I don't listen to the radio a whole lot. I don't like a lot of the big songs.
But you like "Hey Soul Sister."
That is one of my few guilty pleasures, like I said, but I'm not a huge fan of Ke$ha, or Taylor Swift.
I wish I could show readers the face you just made when you said "Taylor Swift." Is it just country music in general or specifically Taylor Swift?
I don't like country music, but I can't even respect Taylor Swift as a country-music artist, because her lyrics are just so mindnumbingly dumb.
I've never met someone with such a strong reaction to Taylor Swift.
Probably because I've been forced to listen to her so many times in the car.
On the road with Barney? What's the guy who plays Barney like?
We're all crazy people after living on the road together. We hit about three cities a week. We're on a break now before we hit the West Coast, so we're on the road about three days a week going in between cities.
Can you give us some good road-trip songs?
I like big songs when I'm on the road. Stuff for when you're driving real fast. Gotta listen to some Bon Jovi.
The big hair-metal songs?
Yeah, I really like "It's My Life" and "Livin' on a Prayer." The standards.
Who's a musician who you find really sexy? Whose tour van would you want to go back to?
I really like Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance right now. I wasn't a huge fan, but they put out their new album and he has that awesome red hair right now. I'm really jealous of it actually, I wish my hair was that red. The promo pictures are sexy to me.
So you like the goth look?
Sort of. It's a concept album, so they've got this sort of future-dystopia-space-cowboy look. They rock a lot of dusty leather jackets and thigh holsters for their laser guns and stuff like that.
And that's sexy?
Yeah I'm a big Firefly fan, so I like stuff like that.
What were you listening to when I came up to you?
I have a friend who's a Reiki healer. She studied ancient Chinese medicine, Buddhism, the Kabbalah. She's done it for years. She's fifty-years old, a mother of two. And she makes healing music of different frequencies. It's not music to sound pretty, but it's more… I think it's called "symbiotic?" It's supposed to adjust frequencies in your brain.
What else are you listening to?
Lately, the kind of music I've been reaching out for has been very diverse. There's an album called Zion Roots by Abyssinia Infinite that I really like. They've got a song called "Gela" that's really good.
Listen: Abyssinia Infinite – "Gela"
What's an album that came out in the last year that you were really excited about?
You know what band is really great? They're called Two Door Cinema Club. It's funny that you're asking me this, because like I said, I'm trying to branch out and listen to a lot of different kinds of music. For awhile I just listened to whatever came on the radio, but as I've become more conscious of the food I eat and the words that come out of my mouth, I've made different choices.
Listen: Two Door Cinema Club – "Something Good Can Work"
So if you were on a date, is there any particular kind of music that would be a dealbreaker for you?
No particular artist, but I'd say anything really negative. If they're using their music to describe a particular life circumstance, that's fine; bad things happen and people need to know about them. But if they're not using their music to elevate people — if it's just negative and encouraging of destructive behavior and a belief style — I'm not into that.
Do you think there's too much negativity in music today?
I think it's a relationship between the people and the music. I think they bounce off each other. I would like to hear the message that things are as they are, and it's difficult, but it can change. That we can change anything. I'd like to hear more music that connects people and brings out appreciation in everyone.