NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
I met Dan in the spring of 2011. An innocent time! . . . but what IS innocence? Dan Pasternack, the creator of Never Forget Radio, would never submit to such simplified understandings as innocence or experience, good or evil. NFR is “a feminist podcast that approaches our post-9/11 era as history, cultural quarry, and ongoing catastrophe”
For four years Dan has participated in the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, talking about World War I, Bono at the Superbowl and the Civil War.
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Today we have an interview with Teagan Kuruna, one of the creators of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, which is happening this year from July 14th to the 23rd. Since this is a celebration of podcasts, the interview is presented both as audio and as an edited transcription. Audio version of this discussion is here. We recorded in the Kurunas’ home studio.
Dan Pasternack: How does it feel to be using your own equipment, to be interviewed on it?
Teagan Kuruna: Well it’s weird to be sitting in my own studio with my computer turned around facing you, to not have headphones on or be able to see what’s going on, but it’s kind of liberating.
DP: You record your podcast here?
TK: I do.
DP: So this is the fifth year? So how did this podcast festival start?
TK: So, it started . . . Nathan, who at that point was my boyfriend of a year, maybe even less, had this crazy idea that he—so this is a quote unquote podcast studio but it’s really the first floor of our house, we get all of the street noise. And it’s also a photography studio obviously, there’s props, there’s also a throne. Yeah, there’s this weird mirror cube that he made. There’s a lot of weird stuff in here. But that’s actually a pretty good insight into the kind of person that Nathan is, immensely creative and always coming up with these new ideas. And he really loves podcasts, and has loved podcasts for a really long time, and he saw that other major cities were creating these podcast festivals and showcasing their local talent but also national talent. At this point, five years ago, it was mostly LA and New York that had festivals, so a lot of popular podcasts were coming out of these cities and the cities were putting on festivals. And so he said, well, Philly has such a huge wealth of talent, there’s got to be people who are making podcasts. The first year we had twelve live recorded shows. From there, as podcasting has grown, the festival has grown. And so now this year we’re up to almost sixty podcasts.
DP: When I talk about this festival people are often surprised that it’s a live event because podcasting is this intemporal medium. So how did it become a live festival rather than, like, a network of podcasts or a shared recording studio?
TK: So that was actually one of the things that we were most excited about doing, was taking podcasts out of people’s ears and putting them in front of people’s eyes. We as listeners build these really strong relationships with the podcasters who we listen to, but we never see their faces. Most of us don’t know what the podcasters look like, and when we see them we’re like, oh, wow you look completely different than what I thought you were. And that’s one of the reasons why live recordings is what we were drawn to: understanding that especially when you’re focusing on local podcasts, that these are the people in your community, who you probably pass by on the street. They’re real people, and so you can actually get a chance to meet them, and that could be really cool. And for the podcaster to look out and see, wow, there are people who actually listen to my show, and actually took the time to come out and see me. For some podcasters that’s three people, and for some that’s thirty, but that doesn’t matter. It brings more of a human element. And to your question about networks, and shared recording space, we just weren’t interested in building a network. Nathan and I are really trying to understand where the value in being in a podcast network is, unless you’re in one of the big podcast networks. And so that was just not one of the options. And shared recording space? When we started this we lived in a one bedroom apartment. We didn’t have a recording studio, we were recording in our living room, so there wasn’t that option.
DP: You do have the podcasting society, which I believe exists just as business cards. Or do you have meet-ups?
TK: Well there’s also a facebook group.
DP: And a logo.
TK: And a logo. We have a facebook group and a logo, and business cards that are really just membership cards that at the very least should get you a 5% discount at Bridgeset Sound. It’s also not our jobs, so we couldn’t create something huge, so we thought, most people use social media, so let’s make a facebook group.
DP: So there’s a cat as well.
TK: Yes, my very energetic cat Cleo is running around destroying things.
DP: Over the four years of the festival, what are some cool ways that performers have used the live aspect of it?
TK: So one of the things in the last few years we’ve seen more of is live music, which has been really nice not just for the people who are at the live recording, like who are there to see the show, but also adds a really nice aspect to the recordings. Another interesting thing I’ve seen people do is live burlesque. There was somebody commentating over the burlesque, so it was like: “she’s very slowly putting her finger into her left glove . . . oh no she’s not pulling it off yet.” It was just this weird hilarious way to turn what is entirely visual into something that’s audio. So that was pretty interesting.
Our first year we had a podcast decide to take a bunch of mushrooms a couple hours before they recorded. So they were well into their trip when they started. I hadn’t heard their podcast before then, so I don’t know what they were normally like, but it certainly added an element of, I would say . . . suspense for those of us who knew what was going on.
DP: Suspense, like, what’s going to happen, or what’s going to go right or wrong?
TK: For Nathan and me it was like, how is this going to play out? What are these guys going to do? But if I remember correctly, nothing went horribly awry. That’s maybe the most out there of ways that people have used the live show.
DP: How prepared are you guys for something to go wrong during a live performance? And what kind of responsibility do you feel?
TK: Well, what kind of things? I mean there’s a whole gamut of things that could go wrong.
DP: What I would think of first would be a heckler or belligerent audience member. Then I would think a belligerent creator or podcast performer. Or fighting words. Do you have plans for something like that?
TK: So it’s interesting that you bring this up because one of the things that we did put as a caveat on this year’s festival, which we hadn’t done before, is that we reserve the right to decide whether we think a podcast is topically appropriate. So if somebody was engaging in something that we thought was hate speech, that we didn’t have to let them in, and that was the only reason that we needed. And luckily we didn’t have anything that we were concerned about this year. We’re not interested in providing a platform for anybody who has awful, hateful things to say. Now that’s not to say that we really look deeply into the back episodes of people’s shows to see if we agree with them politically, that’s not where we go with it. So I think that’s the first step in our process.
You know, I don’t know what we would do if a podcaster all of a sudden started saying things that we thought were really awful. A heckler, or an audience member who was being more difficult, that I think is an easier fix: “Hey, we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” But I think it’s a good question and something that me and Nathan should probably talk more about, especially this year when we know that tensions are a lot higher. There’s a fine line to walk, but we’re not in the business of censoring anybody…
DP: No, I didn’t ask this as a trap question for that, that would be gross.
TK: No, I kind of haven’t thought about it, just kind of thinking it through out loud. We don’t want to do that. It’s not like somebody with “I love Donald ***** Podcast” applied to be in the festival this year, so we didn’t have to think about it. But if they did, we would probably listen to that show and try to evaluate: is this person trying to contribute to political discourse, or is this person using so-called political discourse to promote ideas that we think are harmful? So I guess we’ll find out. Hopefully we won’t have to find out.
DP: How do you have a festival that’s joined by something that’s so broad? It’s like a book festival, not a genre of book festival. How do you try to build a setlist, build a structure for something that can be so broad?
TK: So this is one of the things that can be so much fun about putting together this festival. We ask all the shows for a short and long description of their podcast and links to all of their online presence. And we spend a lot of time looking at what the shows’ content is. We try to group similar podcasts together. We kind of have an idea of what fits at each venue. So for example, your show . . . when we brought Kitchen Table Gallery in as a venue, we thought you would be a great fit there. Your content, the pace of your show . . .
DP: It’s a historical project . . . it’s calm, or something. It works in a gallery, I agree.
TK: And it’s hard for me to totally put my finger on how that happens, but the other podcasts that are happening at the gallery are similar in tone and feel, because part of what we’re trying to do is create some bleed-over in listeners. So you might come for one show, and you stick around because you’re finishing your beer, and you hear part of another show, and you’re like “wow, this one’s kind of interesting too,” and you stick around. Another example of that: this is our second year with Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse as a venue. So we kind of group together all the comics and role-playing game type podcasts and put them at Amalgam. It’s a community center based around those topics, so it makes a lot of sense to put those podcasts there. Of course there’s scheduling needs so sometimes you get one of those comics podcast between two sports podcasts at Tattooed Mom, because that’s how it’s got to go.
A lot of it is thinking about themes that emerge from the applicants, and hoping that the medium itself gives people something to talk about. But it’s a good question, it’s not as if we have a comedy podcast festival, or an arts podcast festival. It’s just the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, which I guess is what makes it interesting. It’s not homogenous. It’s things that Philadelphians are interested in, which is everything from sports, to history, to books, to art, to comics . . . there’s just a huge range. Which is just a good indication of what people in Philadelphia are interested in. We’re not any one thing here.
DP: Do you feel like you’re doing a civic good?
TK: I think that we . . . want to be doing a civic good. I think that we want to be providing a platform for other people to showcase, in some cases their art, in some cases their work. In some cases their . . . hanging around with their friends and drinking beers and talking about garbage. We want to do two things. We want to build a community here in Philly as much as we can. And we want to show that Philadelphia is producing really great podcasts. We’re not New York, we’re not LA, we’re not these entertainment centers. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a huge amount of creativity here, and a huge amount of really great stuff being created. The podcast festival is just one of the ways that Nathan and I have been able to try to elevate that.
DP: And not all of the performers are polished. Some of the podcasts are very rudimentary. That’s a nice thing about the festival.
TK: Yeah, and within there’s also topical differences and structural differences. There are interview podcasts, there are roundtable podcasts, which often end up with . . . the podcasters get to Tattooed Mom like two hours early, and they have four drinks each, and they sit around, and they shoot the shit for an hour. That’s their podcast, and it’s weighted just as much in the festival as something that’s more academically minded, or polished, to use your word. Because we see that those are both valuable in terms of entertainment . . . you’re making this face.
DP: Well I was going to say that your podcast festival was the first time that my podcast used a microphone. I didn’t just mean polished in terms of content, I meant also in terms of presentation or recording.
TK: That’s true. We do have a wide range of ways that people make their podcasts. One of the things that Nathan and I do throughout the year, in addition to the festival, is we get requests from people who are interested in starting podcasts. And so we have people come to our studio and we show them the gear that we have, everything from phones to the setup we’re using now, with mixing board and mics and all that stuff. We just kind of walk through the ways that you can record a podcast. Recording it on your phone is just as legitimate as having a dedicated setup with equipment. You don’t need to invest a ton of money to start a podcast. So we love having podcasters who haven’t used mics who’ve just recorded into their phones or are just getting off the ground. It not only gives them a chance to perform live, something most of us have never done (myself included until my show was in the festival), but it also gives us an opportunity to talk to them about what they want to do in the future. So that’s really fun. And then on the other hand we have podcasts who had contracts with WHYY and recorded in their studio booths, and are on the radio.
DP: This year you have well-known guests? Tell me about that.
TK: This is the first year that we’re expanding to podcasts created outside the Philadelphia area. In the past, we’ve been really focused on local podcasts and we still are. The vast majority of podcasts that are recording live are based in the greater Philadelphia area. And then we have a handful of shows that we’re calling our “national shows” that are shows that are on big networks, that potentially have tens if not hundreds of thousands of listeners, subscribers. A lot of big cities have podcasts coming in to them regularly, so people who really love these popular shows have the opportunity to see them. And Philly just hasn’t been getting those, for whatever reason hasn’t been seen as much of a market for live podcasts, for these national shows.
Part of what we’re hoping is that with these higher profile podcasts being part of the festival, that that then brings more attention to some of the local shows. Because Nathan and I both feel really strongly that we have such good content coming out of Philadelphia. Bringing the cachet of these other shows into the festival is going to drive a lot people to look at the website and to look at the rest of the lineup, and to maybe find podcasts that they’re interested in that they’ve never heard of.
It was a hard decision to make, to bring them in. Because we weren’t certain that we wanted to, because we’re so focused on Philly shows, and we don’t want to lose that. It is going to bring us more press, and that press is not for the two of us, but it’s for the festival, and really for trying to bring more attention to the stuff that’s being built here in Philly. It was . . . it was a long decision. We thought about it a long time before we did it.
DP: Was it easy to recruit them?
TK: We’re working with a booking company who’s been really great to work with. They booked four of the five national shows. They’re called New Media Touring and they’re based in Boston.
DP: What is the future of the podcast?
TK: I think there will likely be a handful of podcasts that make it out of this podcast bubble, boom, that we’re in now. Nathan and I have talked about this quite a bit. He thinks they’re a long term thing and I think that we might see podcasts go the way of xanga, livejournal . . .
DP: Zines, blogs
TK: Zines kind of became blogs.
DP: And blogs became podcasts? That question came to mind partially because it’s almost like having the festival as a live experience foregrounds the intemporality of the medium. It’s not something that we know will last . . . In 1950, like, nobody making pop music knew that it was a permanent artifact, but in 1970, they did. So we know that now, that even if you make an album in your basement, it still has this permanence. But I don’t know if this medium does. So I like that live aspect of your festival.
TK: Basically, I have no idea what’s going to happen to podcasts. They certainly are having a cultural impact. I think that independent media has always been important, but it’s not always been long-lasting, and I don’t know that that matters that much.
DP: Will nerd/geek culture superheroes, space operas, sword and sorcery, be replaced on top of the corporate mountain, and by what? And when?
TK: I don’t know because I don’t live in that world. I don’t know anything about that stuff, but a lot of people are into it! It’s a big chunk of the podcast festival, certainly. I don’t think… I think they’re probably all related to fantasy and fantasy’s been around for a long time as a literary genre.. but yeah in terms of people making money off it, of course it’s going to get replaced. It’ll get replaced with whatever they decide is popular next.
DP: Some people who are unfamiliar with this festival might think that it is only that kind of content.
TK: That’s a very good point. It’s not. I would say it’s a big chunk but it’s certainly less than half. And what we have a lot more of than in years past are arts podcasts. Music, books, history, things like that. That genre seems to be growing at least in terms of who’s applying to be in the festival. There’s a completely different type of podcast to listen to, and you can like and listen to both of them at the same time, consecutively. But yeah, it’s not all comic books and swords and dragons and stuff like that. It’s a really wide breadth. I recommend going to our website so you can see the full list of shows. Let’s see. Just the national shows . . . we have a medical history comedy podcast, which sounds weird but was actually my gateway into listening to podcasts, it’s called Sawbones. I was not listening to podcasts and started listening to that one and was like, “oh this is a thing I could get into.” We have kind of . . . two female friends talking about politics and pop culture and intersectionality, Call Your Girlfriend. And then we have a bad movies podcast, The Flop House. That kind of shows, you in those three, the breadth of content in the festival. There are nearly sixty shows, so you could pick out any three of them and it would show you breadth.
DP: Do you want to talk about your own podcast, Teagan Goes Vegan?
TK: My podcast is currently on hiatus, but it will come back, someday. I have a podcast where I interview vegans around the world about what that means to them. And anyone who’s familiar with the vegan community or frankly any kind of social justice type of community understands that every person you talk to is going to have a different perspective on why they do what they do, what matters to them, what they think other people should be doing (there’s a lot of that). And then there’s the added bonus that when talking to vegans, you can talk about food a lot. Everybody wants to talk about food stuff. It’s really fun. It’s been great to talk to people all over the world. People who I would otherwise have no reason to talk to. I send them an email or they send me an email and we set up a time and we get on skype and talk. It’s an amazing thing we can do in 2017.
DP: Do you record those interviews here as well?
TK: I record almost everything here. If the person is local then they’ll come to the studio, if not we’ll skype. So I sit at this table with this very setup. I actually had some bad technical issues in the fall, and then I got pregnant and got sick from that, so I didn’t have the physical capability to do any more podcasts. So now we’re here and it’s festival time and the podcast will continue to be on hiatus until after this human emerges from me.
DP: You could probably do an episode about people telling you to change your eating habits during this time, right?
TK: Luckily nobody has yet.
DP: Oh wow.
TK: I know. I don’t know if I’m just kind of a bitch and people don’t tell me what to do. But luckily my doctors have been more than fine with it. “Oh this is great you don’t have to worry about cutting down on anything.” Like there’s all these things that you can’t eat because of safety reasons but when you’re vegan you’re not eating cheese or deli meat anyway, so who cares?
DP: Well it sounds like there’s an episode in there somewhere. People are going to bother you about it.
TK: I mean there’s certainly a lot to say and I think there will be more to say, like with parenting, also. Just how you navigate teaching vegan values to a kid who lives in a non-vegan world. It’s not that easy. But I’m going to have to learn.
DP: Yeah, you have episodes about a lot of broad topics, about privilege, about sex work, about masculinity, so yeah, to do first-hand episodes about yourself as a pregnant person, as a parent, sounds like a lot to take on.
TK: One of the things that is really interesting is that these are all really personal experiences, but when you talk about personal things in a public way, particularly when your audience is a community of people with a lot of strong opinions, you have to navigate that, and be willing to be vulnerable in different ways. And I think that that will be a challenge for me, should I choose to talk about that kind of stuff on my podcast. It’s very vulnerable.
DP: You seem to cover, you and your guests, a lot of pushback from non-vegans, and so that might get even more serious as a parent.
TK: It’s actually not the non-vegans I’m worried about, it’s the vegans! They have a lot of opinions about things too . . . and I say “they” as if I’m not one of them but I am. There are factions, and people who are certain they’re right about this thing and certain they’re right about that thing, and it’s tough. Veganism isn’t generally seen, at least to non-vegans, as a social justice issue, but I think a lot of us who are vegans do see it as a social justice issue, fitting in with being feminist, being anti-racist, being generally progressive, anti-capitalist, and environmentalist. And for me being a public health professional, there’s huge implications, not just in diet but in antimicrobial resistance, in water use and land use, and all of this stuff . . . there’s so many reasons why people who care about any of those issues should consider a vegan lifestyle
One of the good things about having the podcast is that it gives me a place where I can talk about those things with people. One of the ways that I’ve been able to create the show that I wanted to make is by framing everything as “I’m trying to learn from as many people as I can.” I am not coming into this with a ton of preconceived ideas about this thing or that thing. The only way to really know what you think is expose yourself to a lot of different ideas, and find yourself reacting to them.
DP: You have a really everyperson host voice on it. It’s like a survey of different subcultures within what outsiders would think would be a monochrome subculture.
TK: The one thing that I don’t give a lot of space to are non-scientific health and science claims. So that’s the only line I draw. Other than that, every person I interview has their own story, has their own perspective on things, and I think that being able to share those stories is not only good for the person who is sharing them but also for the people who are listening and hearing these ideas for maybe the first time themselves.
DP: I know you’re not performing this year but this is maybe not the first thing someone would expect from a live podcast festival, this kind of project.
TK: I have only done this podcast live once. We actually did a vegan food taste-test, we did four different chocolate ice creams, and four different cheeses, and then we ran out of time because there was too much food to eat. Oh, and we tried Tattooed Mom’s vegan options. And it was really fun. I had enough to share with the audience, and we rated them and did a blind taste test and decided which was the best. And that’s an example of what people do that’s different with a live festival. Because normally it would be like this where you’re sitting down and I’m asking questions. You’re already more prepared than I ever am for my interviews, you have questions! I just research the person and I’m like, tell me your story.
DP: Well I did that too, that’s how I found Nathan’s Christmas music. I was going to ambush him with one of my prepared questions about it.
TK: Nathan has released a Christmas album every year, except for last year, last year was the lost album. I will tell his story for him, because that’s what I do I guess. So, let’s see, this will be the twelfth year of this. So Nathan is very good at consistency. That’s why we’ve had five years of the podcast festival and twelve years of Yulenog. The story that he tells me is that one year he thought it would be a really great idea to create a Christmas card that looked like a CD cover. I don’t know where this idea came from. It was a long time ago. And so I think he created the album art first, and then talked to his friend Moppa Elliot, who is a fairly well known jazz musician, and he was like “wouldn’t it be kinda cool to make a Christmas album” and Moppa was like “sure,” and so they made a Christmas album. I think the first year was all covers of traditional Christmas songs. Maybe there were some originals in there.
DP: Are you serious? Most Christmas albums are covers. Are you saying there’s originals?
TK: This is one of the things that Nathan does that I just absolutely love about him. He over the years has collected all of these musician friends, all these fantastic, mostly jazz musicians, who get together every year. This year it’s in July. And everybody knows that it’s Yulenog season so everybody is writing original music, now, as we speak, original music for Yulenog. They will write the songs and we will record them all, live, in Moppa’s house. We will practice twice, and then we will record, and that is it. And one of the things that I love the most about it, is that it’s all these beautifully trained musicians who are touring Europe, and are having their albums written about. You have somebody who’s a renowned drummer, and you hand him a recorder, play this on this song, and he just does it. It sounds way better than if I did it, because I’m not a musician, but he still doesn’t know how to play a recorder. They’re just having fun, and this just allows for this crazy creativity. And some insanely offensive songs. So the albums are generally not for the faint of heart.
DP: No Christmas album is.
TK: No, these are really something. The best one so far was the tenth anniversary, a greatest hits album. The cover was a nativity scene where the guys played Joseph and Mary and the wise men and the shepherds, and Nathan built a nativity scene in his friend’s backyard. Nathan was the baby Jesus, and he created some sort of apparatus that allowed a doll’s body to stick out of his chin. So his face was Jesus’s face but there was a doll body. It was upsetting and disturbing. But I highly recommend that you look at the image, because the art direction is really beautiful.
DP: I will attach it to this article. I have to, now.
DP: I guess I just have two more questions. So he’s done this Christmas performance for twelve years running. This is only the fifth podcast festival. Can you talk about the first festival, and what you think the twelfth one will look like?
TK: So the first festival looked a lot like the current one, it was just a much smaller scale. Twelve podcasts participated over three nights, at Philamoca. We really didn’t know what to expect, so we were just excited that everyone showed up for their live recording and we had some audience members and that was that. The audience numbers really vary, and that’s something that we embrace. We don’t choose podcasts for the festival based on how many listeners or how many subscribers they have.
DP: I appreciate that.
TK: The twelfth one . . . so seven years from now. Well hopefully people will still be listening to podcasts at that point, so hopefully there will still be a festival. I assume that that’s the case. So I think that at some point we will have to cap the number of podcasts in the festival. This year we were able to accommodate so many podcasts, and at some point we won’t be able to accommodate everybody.
We have a lot of volunteers this year, too. In the past Nathan and I have been able to run every show, one of us has been able to be at one of the venues at all times. This year we can’t do that. At some point we can only do so much. But I think that seven years from now we will continue to focus mostly on Philadelphia based podcasts. That’s where our heart is, that’s what we want the festival to be about. I think in order to be able to do that we’ll continue to bring in some of these national shows, in part to make sure people are coming to Philly, and in part because it will help to continue to build up Philadelphia’s cachet as a podcasting center. At the same time, who knows. Five years ago I wouldn’t have said that we would ever bring in national podcasts. So seven years from now, could be completely different. But I don’t ever see us really deviating from a heavy focus on the locally produced shows.
DP: That kind of sounds like a good ending, but I was going to ask, do you want to tell a couple stories. Like a logistic . . . a horror story of something that went very wrong, and a story of something that went very right.
TK: You know I’m having trouble of thinking of something that’s gone horribly wrong. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I don’t have any horror stories. I think something that’s gone well, I think we left last year’s festival feeling so good about how things went. That was the first year that we had shows simultaneously at two different venues, and that was a big challenge for us. It was the first time that we turned over some of the audio responsibility. Bridgeset sound and Steel Empire did all the recording, and they’re helping us out again this year and we’re so grateful to them. And last year we had more than forty podcasts, and that was really when we started to think that we were getting more of a community going. That there were more people sitting talking to each other, and it wasn’t just podcasters coming in, doing their thing and leaving. So that was just a really good feeling, and I think it inspired us to build up even more this year, which is how we ended up with almost sixty shows and nine venues and more days of programming.
DP: Is there anything else you want to say?
TK: Go to the website, phillypodfest.com, we also are on facebook and twitter. We have almost fifty free podcast events happening, so I hope that everyone is able to come out and at least see one of them. And if you’re interested in any of the ticketed shows, all the links for those are on our website. And you can always reach out to me with questions. And I hope that I see you at one of the shows that I’m at, which is only a fraction of the places where there will be events. So yeah, thank you.
DP: And thanks for having this interview at your own recording studio.
TK: Anytime. It’s just one of the many services we provide.
Philadelphia Podcast Festival runs July 14-23, 2017, many venues.