What Are You Listening To?

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What Are You Listening To?

Three New Yorkers take off their headphones and chat.

Emily, 27

What were you listening to when we just stopped you?
I was on the train yesterday and I was listening to NPR, and they told me I should download Tammar.

Listen: Tammar, "The Last Line"


Were they right?
Yeah, I like it. It's kind of like Arcade Fire — epic, searching music. 

What are some other things that they've recommended?
A couple years ago, one of their recommendations I absolutely fell in love with was Wale. He's a rapper from D.C. And I lived in D.C. for like four years, so I was pretty psyched. That was probably my favorite NPR recommendation.

What are some of your favorite bands?
Well, I'm pretty psyched about the new Tom Waits album. I haven't made it all the way through, but it sounds like a combination of some of his previous albums. It's not totally new, but I still like it.

What's you guilty-pleasure band? You don't have to answer.
No, no, it's fine. When you guys said you were doing this article I was excited, because I always thought it would be fun to ask people what they were listening to, and then make them take out their iPod and prove that they were telling the truth.

Make sure they're not just naming a cool band?
Right. Make sure they're not actually just listening to Katy Perry. Which maybe sometimes I listen to.

Do you have Katy Perry on your iPod?
Yeah… but not any full albums!

"Teenage Dream?"
Yeah. Except, you know why she's a double guilty pleasure? Not only is she super-poppy, but I feel like she's a really bad role model for young women. Her songs have such horrible messages. I feel even worse listening to — supporting something that I don't think is good.

So who do you think is a better musical female role model?
Hm. Good female role model. Oh, I just started listening to Kimbra. She's pretty cool. I feel like she's got some good messages for the young ladies. She's kind of poppy, but a little more interesting.

So if you were to start a band, what kind of band would you start? 
I'm trying to teach myself how to play the harmonica. It's way harder than I thought it was going to be, which is disappointing. But something that involves the harmonica. And I've been listening to a lot of early Rolling Stones lately, so something like that, maybe.

So would you choose Beatles or Stones?
Early Stones, definitely. But the later stuff… I don't know. Maybe some of it has just been ruined for me because of pop culture. Which is fine.

Who would you have rather been a groupie for, the Stones or the Beatles?
I've always thought that I would have been an awesome groupie. I never did it, sadly. I'd say the Stones. But I would change my entire personality to be friends with Tom Waits. I'd be whatever he wanted me to be.

Why do you say you'd be an awesome groupie? What are the qualities one needs to have?
Well, you know, I still get emails for jobs from That's how like, committed I was to this. But I don't have any upper-body strength, so no one would hire me. I'm not talking about my sexual prowess when I say I would have been a good groupie. I just think I have a romantic vision of what being on the road would be like. I'm sure it's not accurate, but it sounds fun.

Listen: Kimbra, "Settle Down"


Mario, 21

What were you just listening to?
Ramshackle Glory. The song has a long name: "Vampires Are For Poseurs (Song For The Living)."

Who's Ramshackle Glory?
It's this guitarist-singer guy named Pat the Bunny — I'm not sure what his real name is — but he was in Wingnut Dishwashers Union and Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. And he got into some shit, and now he started some weird folk band.

Listen: Ramshackle Glory,"Vampires Are For Poseurs (Song For The Living)"


Do you usually listen to folk music?
Yeah, generally. I'm not really into the old, folky kind of stuff — I'm more into folk-punk, like Andrew Jackson Jihad.

If you were ever making a mixtape for a woman, what would you put on it?
Who makes mixtapes anymore?

People do!
I don't know. I'd probably put Tom Waits on it, I guess. There are so many Tom Waits songs.

But he sounds drunk in all of them — I don't know if I would get really aroused listening to Tom Waits.
Well, then, you're not someone I'd want to give a mixtape to!

If you were to start a band, what kind of band would you start?
Well, I would probably want to start a band that sounds exactly like Isis, and be Isis, but they're already a band so that can't happen. The only thing I would do differently is not break up. And I probably would have gotten rid of that last album — I didn't like it very much.

What was the last song that made you cry?
Cry? I don't know. That's a good question.

Wow. You don't want to give girls mixtapes, you don't cry…
I'm just a machine.

You have a heart of stone. Who's an artist you would recommend to others?
Six Organs of Admittance. It's one guy — Ben Chasney — and it's just this weird kind of spacey, drone-y folk music. On his newest album, Asleep On The Floodplain, there's one song called "S/word And Leviathan" and it goes on for like fourteen minutes of just guitar and talking in the background. 

Listen: Six Organs of Admittance, "Light of Light"


So are you into that post-rock, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and stuff like that?
I mean, I don't really like Godspeed, but yeah.

Would that be an exciting concert?
I saw Isis, which is post-metal I guess, but a lot of people were like, "This was such a music-snob crowd." Everyone was just standing there like this [folds arms] and going like this [bobs head]. But I enjoy it. It's fun. And there are usually like, intense variations on the regular songs, so it's not as though they're regurgitating what's on the album. So it might not be a physically enjoyable show — they're not jumping up and down and stuff like that — but they're just doing new things you haven't heard before.

Do you have any dancey music on your iTunes?
Yeah, there's this Swedish band called Movits! that are really fun to dance to.

They have that song "Sammy Davis, Jr.," right?
Yeah. And the album's called "Ut ur min skalle," which means "Out of My Head." It's kind of like Black Eyed Peas if they didn't suck and they were Swedish. 

A Swedish Will. I. Am. is what I'm looking for.
Yeah, and they all look really Swedish too. They all look like they could be scientists.

Vanessa, 21

What were you just listening to?
I was listening to Jay-Z, "Venus vs. Mars."

Listen: Jay-Z, "Venus vs. Mars"


Do you like Watch the Throne?

Let it out.
To an extent, to an extent. Honestly, I don't like Jay-Z too much. That just came on shuffle. I only bought that album because of Kanye. I adore Kanye. I sort of wish Jay-Z weren't on the album at all. If I could skip through all his parts, I would.

Any particular Kanye you like?
I actually like earlier Kanye, like College Dropout Kanye. He's still cool now, but he doesn't have the oomph that he used to. He's trying to calm it down a little bit so he doesn't get as much hate. But I liked Kanye back when he was talking about how Bush didn't care about everybody. He was just real. Real, real, real. And now he's just Kanye.

When do you think he started changing? Was it the Taylor Swift debacle?
I think it was definitely the Taylor Swift debacle, because everybody wanted to murder him. I think he could have gone about it a different way, but I feel like that was when he got all the backlash. I feel kind of bad for him.

Do you think "Single Ladies" should have won?
Honestly, I do. I adore Taylor Swift, don't get me wrong, but "Single Ladies" was the ultimate song for that year and the year after. Then again, Beyonce does sort of win everything, so I guess Taylor Swift deserved a chance, but I don't think she should have won it.

What band would you be a groupie for?
The Weeknd. I adore The Weeknd. It's like this crazy ear climax every time I hear [breathily] The Weeknd. I want to go to Canada so bad just to see The Weeknd. Amazing. Ah-mazing.

Listen: The Weeknd, "Loft Music"


If you had to pick a favorite Weeknd song … ?
"High for This." 

Hands down?
Hands down. It actually makes me think about getting high just to hear the song, but we won't go there. [laughs] I guess because that was one of the first songs I heard from him, it's always been my favorite.