Over the years, Marc Maron’s WTF podcast has featured in-depth interviews with subjects ranging from fellow comedians to musicians — and in the latter instance, many have pulled double duty in performing live within the confines of Maron’s recording studio–cum-garage. For this year’s Record Store Day, Maron’s teamed up with Newbury Comics for In the Garage: Live Music From WTF From Marc Maron - Vol. 1, collecting some of those performances featuring artists ranging from J Mascis and Nick Lowe to Aimee Mann, Margo Price, and Jason Isbell.
With proceeds going toward Musicians On Call, In the Garage counts as the inaugural release on Record Store Day’s label, as well as what a press release calls “one of the first ever podcast oriented vinyl releases.” During a phone conversation last week, Maron cast the record’s genesis as showcasing one of his favorite elements of putting WTF together every week. “I’m always fucking amazed. I play guitar, I know people who play guitar — these people do it for their life, their soul, and creativity,” he marveled. “This is what they do. I am always just amazed at how they can lock into it. I’m always blown away. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, because all these songs on this record are me and them sitting across from each other, and I’m trying not to look at them while I look at the levels on my dumb little mixer to get the best recording I can, while not having any real experience recording people.”
Maron spoke about about difficult interviews, his earliest musical experiences, and revisiting recent WTF episodes featuring Mandy Moore and Ryan Adams after abuse allegations were made against him by a number of women, including Moore.
Were there any performances you wanted to include that you couldn’t?
There were some that people didn’t really want to [include]. John Darnielle, from the Mountain Goats, he played a song, but he said he only plays that song live — there’s no recorded version of it other than the one he played on the podcast. He didn’t want it to be on the record because it’s a special live performance song. Billy Gibbons did an interesting version of an old ballad-y type of song on a cigar box guitar, but we couldn’t get him to agree to release it. Lucinda Williams did a great song, but there was a problem with the sound that day we couldn’t quite identify, so that couldn’t be on there. There’s a process to it, and a lot of different reasons why we ended up with the songs we ended up with — but I love all the songs that are on there.
What was the first record that you ever purchased?
The records I had when I was under 10 years old … I don’t think I bought them. For some reason there was a Bobby Sherman record. I inherited this box of cassette tapes and a years-old detachable-speaker cassette player from my parents. In that box was Bobbie Gentry’s greatest hits, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Cosmo’s Factory, Johnny Cash’s Live in San Quentin, some other stuff. I remember Cosmo’s Factory — “Up Around the Bend,” that fuckin’ guitar riff. For some reason, I was obsessed with the song “Roll Over Beethoven.” Janis Joplin’s Pearl, the Beatles’ Let It Be, Chuck Berry’s London sessions. Those records were the backdrop of me growing up.
Record Store Day has become something of an event for people, with lines sometimes running outside the stores themselves. Are you the type to engage with the day like that?
I usually end up going the day after. One of the benefits of the show is that I get sent a lot of stuff, too. I don’t like waiting on line, so I don’t really go on the day.
What’s the most recent record you paid money for?
Yesterday I bought a copy of Neil Young’s Re-act-or. For some reason, I got [Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks’ Everybody’s Rockin’], which I already have. I just bought The Oh Sees’ last record, a Dion record, an Alice Coltrane record, a Max Roach record. I just got this one called Music Box Harmonia which has that guy from that German krautrock thing. I got this record Purple Image, and a copy of Fred Frith’s Speechless because I had it in high school. That was the last couple of weeks. [Laughs]
One of the artists featured on this box set is J Mascis, who you interviewed as well. He’s known to be a tough interview at times.
Did I have a hard time talking to J? Not for very long. He’s come back on the show to play music when he’s around. I like J. There are a lot of times where people come at people as unique as J — he’s fundamentally a shy, sensitive, spiritual guy. If you steer away from talking about music for as long as possible, you get a better conversation out of him. We ended up talking about how he grew up — his dad’s a dentist. I didn’t have any problems with him, but I don’t approach musicians as a music journalist. It’s a different type of conversation I get out of people that are difficult.
Neil Young’s another one. I didn’t really know, going in, that he doesn’t like doing interviews — but he was trying to sell his Pono machine. That started off pretty dicey, but once I got him laughing and engaged, it turned out to be a unique conversation. I’ve had luck with guys that are difficult for that reason, because if you stay away from the music, you can get a — Thom Yorke, I don’t think he’s fundamentally easy to talk to, but we started talking about politics and he eventually offered up more of his life. Roger Waters, he walked in and said “I don’t want to talk about Pink Floyd,” and that’s challenging — but, eventually, they do.
Have there been any performances on the show that have surprised or disappointed you?
I’m always fucking amazed. I play guitar, I know people who play guitar — these people do it for their life, their soul, and creativity. This is what they do. I am always just amazed at how they can lock into it. I’m always blown away. It’s a vulnerable position to be in, because all these songs on this record are me and them sitting across from each other, and I’m trying not to look at them while I look at the levels on my dumb little mixer to get the best recording I can, while not having any real experience recording people. Stops and starts happen sometimes, but then you get it right. The whole experience, for me, is great. I’m an audience of one to some of the greatest singer-songwriters we have going.
You had Ryan Adams on your show in 2017. Were you aware of any of the allegations that have recently been brought against him? Were there any warning signs?
I don’t even remember talking to him about relationships — I just remember talking to him almost exclusively about music, his life, and how he came up. I don’t think, in that interview, there was any discussion about his interactions with women, or even his marriage. There was no way to know other than what I could glean from that conversation, which is what everyone knows: He’s a troubled, tormented dude who’s struggled with a lot of things. But there was no indication to me through our conversation.
The episode with Mandy Moore was recorded before the New York Times story about Ryan Adams was published. Were you aware before doing that interview that that piece was on its way?
You should’ve told me to ask her. [Laughs] I just did what I do — a regular WTF interview, and I thought it was great. Afterward, I said, “Look, if you rethink anything or you’re not comfortable about what you said, let me know — about Ryan, or whatever.” She was like, “Well, there’s gonna be this New York Times piece. I don’t know when it’s coming out, but I talked to them for it, so it’s fine.” Then we were like, “All right, bye!” [Laughs] In light of it, I think that if I would’ve talked to her after it came out, or if I knew the nature of what was coming, it would’ve been quite a different interview — and I like the interview that I’d done. It dealt with that in a natural way and it also dealt with who she is as an artist.
As a music fan, have you found yourself facing an ideological struggle as you’ve revisited artists you’ve loved that have since been revealed to have done bad things?
To be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of Ryan Adams anyway, really, in my life. Things do become tainted, though, and I don’t think there’s any way they can’t. It does shift your perception of things — and that happens with or without [being aware of] horrible transgressions.