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Aimee Mann

Interested in the full range of human faults, foibles, dysfunction, and self-delusion? You could spend your evening re-reading the DSM-IV Manual. Or you could opt to spend some time with an even more entertaining catalog of idiosyncracies: Charmer, the latest album from Aimee Mann, as fine a chronicler of the human comedy as popular music has produced. Names have been obscured to protect the guilty, but you will almost certainly recognize yourself in these short narratives, along with the fellow travelers who have conned, enabled, victimized, or (yes) charmed you.

Mann has the presence of mind to write songs about narcissists, which is a little different from the 90 percent of rock songs that are about being a narcissist. “The first song I wrote for the album was called ‘Charmer,' so that's kind of what started it,” she says. “And there are obviously songs that aren't really on that topic, but it was a thing that I kept coming back to, because I do think people who are super-charming are really interesting. And I see how charm is on a continuum that goes all the way from people who can talk you out of anything to people who are manipulative to people who are almost a little sinister. They're usually people who you really like being around in the beginning, because they're really good at creating an impression that perhaps is tailor-made for you, and that's very seductive.”

You might say it naturally follows that an album named Charmer would need to be musically seductive, as well. And this one certainly delivers its own charm offensive with a production style that sometimes harks back unabashedly to an earlier era, three decades or more ago, when electric guitars and synths walked the earth together in harmony. The full sound is in stark contrast to her much starker previous album, 2008's Smilers, which was not so big on the new wave. She might even have been inspired by some fellow former Bostonites.

“This time, we bring the guitars back in.” she says, “and the bands we kind of listened to for reference were the Cars and Blondie and Split Enz. And ‘Jackie Blue' by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, that awesome song—that was a big point of reference.” And she won't disagree if you suggest that this might be her fullest-sounding album since the I'm With Stupid era. “I think if you're emulating or inspired by that sort of era of radio pop, it's just by nature more ‘produced.' On the last record, our template was Area 51, because it was acoustic guitars and this kind of deserty, tumbleweed feel,” she laughs, “with synthesizers on top. This time, I wanted to use more analog synthesizers, because the music I was inspired by was that real ‘70s kind of thing. You know on Parallel Lines, when they were first putting synths in, but they were still being played almost like guitars? When I go back and listen to that stuff now, I go, ‘Oh, this is basically a rock band with just some bloopity bloopity keyboards on top.'” Make no mistake: “I love that,” she affirms. “I wanted to go back to: Remember when synthesizers were super-fun and brand new?”

Super-fun is not a term that everyone would expect to escape the lips of Mann, who well knows that she has an image—and possibly preternatural gift—for songs some would consider sad and downbeat. But there is a subtler kind of levity in her music that, followed to its natural end, leads to the kinship she feels with certain comedians and explains why she frequently does shows with the likes of Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins. And perhaps it explains why you'll hear some of the biggest laughs this side of a Bridesmaids screening at a Mann show, sometimes arguably morose subject matter notwithstanding.

“There's probably a little bit of relief of ‘Oh, I'm so glad that she's not super-sour and depressed'—so any small joke, I get the laughter of relief, if it's funny at all,” she says of the mood at her concerts. “Half the shows I still go, ‘Oh, I don't know what to say,' but I've definitely learned a lot from just being around comics. That's not to say that I'm funny, but I think just being around it and adopting a little bit of a cadence or vernacular is helpful.” And the wit is certainly there in her songwriting, if you look for it. “There's an irony that's implicit through a lot of stuff. There is always a fair amount of moments where I write something that I suddenly realize is a very apt description of a situation that's uncomfortable or horrible, but that the very accuracy of it makes me laugh, even though I can't really expect that other people will. It's a bit of a gallows humor, maybe.”

Articulation of these scenarios is the best medicine, whether or not laughter is part of the tonic, and that's been the case ever since Mann resisted an overbearing beau's admonitions to “keep it down now” and “shut up” in “Voices Carry,” the 1985 smash that put ‘Til Tuesday on the map. After three acclaimed albums fronting that band, Mann went solo with the Jon Brion-produced Whatever, and really went solo—label-wise—in 2000 with Bachelor No. 2 (Or, The Last Remains of the Dodo), which she snatched back from the clutches of an unconcerned major label and released on her own SuperEgo Records, beating the indie rush by several years.

This roughly coincided with Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, which featured a good number of Mann's tunes as a song score—including “Wise Up,” the tough-love anthem that might still be the best summation of Mann's entire unflinching catalog. Another song from the film, “Save Me,” was nominated for a Best Song Academy Award, which explains the “Oscar loser” self-description in the tagline on Mann's Twitter account.

Among the albums that followed were One More Drifter in the Snow, an unlikely Christmas album that inspired a yearly series of holiday-themed variety shows, and the semi-narrative The Forgotten Arm. Plans have long been brewing to adapt the latter piece into a stage musical, although that's on hold till she has a chance to do some serious work with the project's book writer David Henry Hwang.

Another planned but stalled stage musical led to the creation of one of the new album's songs, “Living a Lie,” in which Mann trades lead vocals with the Shins' James Mercer. “Because it's such a duet-y duet,” she says, “we wanted to get somebody who really had a great voice, and we were just lucky that he was game.” The tune has its “weird genesis” in Mann's acquaintance with Aaron Sorkin, whom she met through mutual friends (unrelated to her previous cameo on The West Wing). “He started telling me about an idea for a musical he had, and obviously he's got 50 million projects, so I don't know if it's something that'll ever happen. But he told me the basic plot of it, and just as an exercise, I thought, ‘Suppose this is the song these two characters sing where their relationship is really falling apart.' It makes me laugh, because two people singing a duet is usually a love song, and these are two people that are ripping each other to shreds. ‘You narcissist!' ‘Oh yeah? Well, you're this has-been who thinks he's so great‚’ I should write a whole record of vicious duets.”

The Forgotten Arm dealt with an area of psychology Mann is obsessed with: addiction. She's also dealing with that on Charmer, but not drugs. Rather, she's tackling some less obvious but possibly more insidious forms of pathology‚’ as seen on television.

“I was watching Hoarders,” she laughs, explaining the inspiration for the oddly titled “Gumby.” “The thing I was fascinated by is that you have people who are desperate to help their loved ones who are living in squalor and often in dangerous circumstances, but the hoarders themselves do nothing but resent the help. They just see that you're trying to take their shit from them, and they constantly position themselves to be the victim of these people who are coming in trying to help. It's really delusional.”

“Soon Enough,” meanwhile, is “about an intervention. Of course another show I watch religiously! Everybody's reading their letters and everybody's crying, while once again, the target of the intervention is like ‘Fuck all y'all.' It's so classic. So the narrator of the song is like, ‘Yeah, I know, we're all a bunch of assholes—we're all against you. Just sit and listen to the letters, and soon enough you can say what a bunch of jerks we are. We get it.'” Mann's co-writer on this one was comic Tim Heidecker, of Tim & Eric fame, who also signed on to direct a video for the tune.

Those are songs about some not-so-charming types. But Mann gets back to the album's central conceit with songs like “Disappeared,” about the type of popular fellow who “makes a big production out of cutting people off‚’ and in your relationship with them, you always think, ‘Well, they'll never do that to me.'”

Then there's the hooky “Crazy Town,” about “one of my favorite topics, the crazy girlfriend. I have a friend who does out with these girls who always wear short, tight dresses and high heels. They all refer to themselves as ‘spontaneous,' which to me is code for ‘I'm crazy, and if we're driving down the street, I might just hang out the window and yell at passers-by.' Or if someone describes themselves as ‘passionate.' I honestly think that's a code word for ‘I will make scenes and throw shit at you in public places.' The girl who seems to fun at the beginning of the night, whose hair you're holding while she throws up at the end. There's a certain type of guy who goes for that girl—the caretaker, who's very present and sober. And these people go together. The crazy girl can't flourish without the fixer.”

And of course there's the “Charmer” himself—a type Mann is intimately familiar with, having been around her share of entertainers and politicians. “They're usually people who you really like being around in the beginning, and then they're very exhausting after a while, because they require an audience. But that's very seductive. My husband has a line in a song which I always think about when I talk about this subject, which is: ‘When you think he likes you, you like the way he thinks.' To me, that really sums it up, because you yourself are complicit in the interaction of the charmer. As soon as you think somebody likes you, then you suddenly think, ‘What a great guy!'”

As should be perfectly clear by now, Mann is not mired in the traditional business of strictly writing love songs, but more prone toward diving into the vast majority of human interactions that almost never get a song written about them. “To me, the dynamics of a situation can be applied to anything,” she says. “In a love relationship, it just gets amplified, and then people get crazier about the results. But it's usually all the same kind of stuff, regardless of who you're dealing with. You think, where have I been in this situation before? ‘Crazy Town' is more sort of about a relationship, but it could also be about a friendship, or about a guy taking care of his alcoholic mother. You know, it is very sad to have friends who are crazy and can't take care of themselves. And you can't get too far into it, because then you'll be dwelling in the world of crazy, and there's no getting out. I can apply that to a lot of different circumstances, and the feelings behind that dynamic never change.”

Mann has been cast in a small role in an upcoming independent film, and she laughs about her thespian aspirations, or lack thereof. “There's not weeping or anything” required in the role, she points out. “I think I look annoyed sometimes, which I feel like I could probably handle.” Possibly aside from a cameo in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski, her best known part was playing herself in a celebrated episode of IFC's Portlandia, in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are shocked to have hired one of their favorite singer/songwriters as a maid—and proceed to alternately worship and upbraid their heroine/housekeeper. “That was a true story: Carrie had hired a cleaning service and the girl who showed up was a singer in a band they liked. People love that show. I love that show. And yeah, more people have recognized me from Portlandia than music in the last year.”

In the last year, Mann got invited not just to do a fictional Portland couple's housecleaning, but to join a Pennsylvania Avenue couple at the White House. She was part of a day the Obamas devoted to celebrating poetry (along with a more controversial musician, Common). It shook her up, in a good way.

The White House confab “had a really big impact, way bigger than I expected. Don't get me wrong, I knew it was a big gig. But I also didn't think it would have this big spiritual impact on me. Hearing the poets talk was really inspiring and honestly made me think totally differently about the purpose of art, which I think heretofore I thought was just a nice add-on if everything else is taken care of—like, a fun little frill for life. But I started to realize there's something more essential about art, and it's kind of the thing that makes the difference from being just a group, like a herd, to being a civilization.”

The characters Mann writes about tend not to think such noble thoughts, but if art is largely making something functional out of dysfunction, then Mann just might be our laureate, whether or not the president has called back with the official designation. She's the kind of artist who'd rather disarm than charm, though maybe you'd be forgiven for even applying the C-word to her bracing musical bewitchery.

2019 PERFORMERS & GUESTS

Alexandra Petri

facebook Instagram Twitter @JoCoCruise Alexandra Petri google-plusfacebooktwitterinstagramYoutube Alexandra Petri is a syndicated humor columnist for the Washington Post, playwright, periodic podcast guest, and author of “A Field Guide to Awkward Silences.” She’s also...

Annalee Newitz

Annalee Newitz writes science fiction and nonfiction. Her first novel, Autonomous, won the Lambda Literary Award and was a national bestseller. She’s also the author of Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction (Doubleday and Anchor). She’s an editor-at-large for Ars Technica, and a freelance science journalist for magazines and newspapers. She’s also the co-host, with Charlie Jane Anders, of the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct. She’s currently working on another novel for Tor, as well as a nonfiction book for W.W. Norton about ancient abandoned cities.

Previously, she founded io9, and was the editor-in-chief of Gizmodo. Her nonfiction has appeared in Slate, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, The Smithsonian Magazine, The Washington Post, 2600, New Scientist, Technology Review, Popular Science, Discover and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She’s the co-editor of the essay collection She’s Such A Geek (Seal Press), and author of Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture (Duke University Press). Earlier, she was a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a lecturer in American Studies at UC Berkeley. She was the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship at MIT, and has a Ph.D. in English and American Studies from UC Berkeley.

Charlie Jane Anders

facebook Instagram Twitter @JoCoCruise Charlie Jane Anders google-plusfacebooktwitterinstagramYoutube Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, which won the Nebula, Crawford and Locus awards. Also, a novella called Rock Manning Goes For Broke and...

Clint McElroy

CLINT McELROY…

  • Has fathered (an estimated) three children
  • Was senior class president for Ironton High School Class of ’73 (1973, wise-ass, not 1873)
  • Wrote Green Hornet comic books…for money.
  • Is the most popular teacher at Marshall University because he is an easy A and never takes roll
  • Made his motion picture debut in We Are Marshall
  • Kilt him a bar when he was only 3
  • Has sung and danced in a Tony Award-winning Broadway production
  • Worked for 42 years in the Radio industry (Ask your grandparents about it)
  • Played Ran’l Hatfield in a Hatfield and McCoy TV show on A&E Network
  • Loves doing The Adventure Zone because it enables him hang with his kids on a regular basis

ONLY ONE OF THESE STATEMENT IS FALSE! CAN YOU GUESS WHICH ONE?

Dannah Phirman

Actress and writer Dannah Phirman is the co-creator, executive producer, and star of Hulu’s The Hotwives series. She’s written on Marry Me (NBC), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX), I’m Sorry (TruTV) and Showtime’s new series, Black Monday in which she also has a recurring role. She voiced the title character on the long running PBS animated series, WordGirl, and can be seen on Jenji Kohan’s upcoming show, American Princess.

Dr. Sydnee McElroy

facebook Instagram Twitter @JoCoCruise Dr. Sydnee McElroy google-plusfacebooktwitterinstagramYoutube Dr. Sydnee McElroy is the co-host of Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine and Still Buffering: A Sisters' Guide to Teens Through the Ages. She's also a...

Emily Nussbaum

Emily Nussbaum is the television critic for The New Yorker. She won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Nerve, Lingua Franca and New York Magazine, where she created The Approval Matrix. She is currently working on an anthology of her criticism and a book about reality television.

Greg Benson

Commonly known as America’s Favorite Comedian, Greg Benson is also a recognized author of his own bios. As a professional actor since his college days, he’s played character roles in dozens of films and TV series, including “Melrose Place”, “Diagnosis Murder”, “Big Day”, “Caprica”, “Method & Red” and “Quintuplets”, and has also appeared in over 100 national commercials including memorable ads for McDonald’s, Hertz, Michelob, Lean Pockets and Honda. He will soon be seen playing a politically incorrect minister in the upcoming film “Deported” with Nick Swardson, Missi Pyle and Andy Dick.

Benson is also a popular YouTuber, with over Two Million subscribers and One Billion video views across his channels. He has scored dozens of viral video hits with his comedy sketches, music videos, kindhearted pranks and web series. As the host of the popular random acts of kindness series “Prank It Forward,” he’s been proud to award deserving guests everything from cash to cars to a newly renovated house. Greg has also directed the hit web series “The Guild” and “Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show”, produced new original series for DreamworksTV, Go90 and Official Comedy and has created viral commercial campaigns for Toyota, Intel, LEGO, MTV, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and many others.

You might catch Greg’s alter ego Yeshmin Blechin absentmindedly roaming the ship, or hosting his daily Mourning Show, which will be broadcast live on all the ship’s TVs.

Griffin McElroy

Griffin McElroy is a co-host of the wildly-popular podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me along with his brothers Justin and Travis McElroy. The three brothers also host The Adventure Zone podcast with their father Clint. He also co-hosts the podcast Wonderful! with his wife Rachel. Griffin was a founding editor of Polygon, Vox Media’s gaming brand. In 2017, Griffin was selected by Forbes for their “30 Under 30” list of media luminaries.

Jean Grae

Critically acclaimed lyricist, producer, writer, director, cinematographer and all around consummate entertainer Jean Grae has been challenging the boundaries of artistry since her debut in 1996. Whether creating music with imaginative narratives that immerse the listener in a dark world of Grae’s design, or spilling her most personal stories of love and life experiences, she always delivers an honest performance that strikes the most vulnerable parts of her audience and keeps them wondering, “what will she do next?”Well into an almost 20 year long career that maintains not only relevancy, but continues to push the envelope of perception, marketing and branding. Grae has worked alongside Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Pharoahe Monch, and a list that this very small bio cannot contain. Sorry, bio.Grae recently made her directorial debut and created her company, “KAGD.” With videos for The Hellpit Faeries, Talib Kweli and herself under her belt, she created “Life With Jeannie” a half hour sitcom, written, directed by and starring Grae. “Life With Jeannie” premiered on 12/25 on JeanGrae.com and Grae’s latest releases: Gotham Down cycles 1-3 is available on JeanGrae.bandcamp.com.

Jill Sobule

“Nostalgia can be wonderful and amazing. It’s OK to look back. But then you gotta get the fuck out of there.” So says singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, explaining the theme of her new album, Nostalgia Kills.

On Nostalgia Kills (out September 14 on Jill’s own Pinko Records), the woman hailed by The New York Times for making “grown-up music for an adolescent age” turns her warm wit and poet’s eye on herself more than ever before, revisiting moments from throughout her life that made her into the person she is today. It’s an especially poignant look back at childhood — “exorcising some junior high school demons,” as she puts it.

Looking back is a new experience for Jill Sobule. Ever since she first caught mainstream attention with her 1995 song “I Kissed a Girl” — the first song about same-sex romance ever to crack the Billboard Top 20 (and no relation to the later Katy Perry tune) — she’s always pushed forward, exploring new sounds and subject matter with each passing album and refusing to be pigeonholed by her early hits (which also include the ‘90s alt-rock anthem “Supermodel,” featured in an iconic scene in the film Clueless).

Along the way, Jill has shared stages with the likes of Billy Bragg, Cyndi Lauper and Warren Zevon, written music for TV and theater, and been a pioneer in the art of crowdfunding, raising so much money for her 2009 album California Years that a then-unknown startup called Kickstarter came to her for advice. She’s also been active in numerous social and political causes, performing at prisons as part of Wayne Kramer’s Jail Guitar Doors project, playing dates with Lady Parts Justice’s “Vagical Mystery Tour,” and curating Monster Protest Jams Vol. 1, featuring protest songs by Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, Boots Riley, Amanda Palmer, Jackson Browne and many other great artists — including Jill’s own “When They Say We Want Our America Back, What the F#@k Do They Mean?”, which traces the history of anti-immigrant sentiment in America.

For Nostalgia Kills, Jill worked with her good friend, Australian singer-songwriter Ben Lee, to cull the album’s 11 songs from a collection of over 100, representing nearly a decade’s worth of material accumulated since the release of California Years. In turning those songs into an album, she received a little extra motivation from an unlikely source.

“I was at an industry party,” she recalls. “And I heard this total douche saying, you know, once someone reaches the age of 40, they can’t write a good song. And I went up to him and I was like, ‘You don’t know me, but you’re an idiot.’”

Making it her mission to prove her new nemesis wrong, Jill took the songs into Lee’s home studio in Los Angeles with a supporting cast of players that included John Doe (X), Wayne Kramer (The MC5), Petra Haden (That Dog), Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish), and Richard Barone (The Bongos). “This was done with a lot of friends,” she says. “It was very organic.” Many of the final mixes even contain elements of the original demos, recorded with various apps on Jill’s iPad.

Right from the jump, Nostalgia Kills proves that this songwriter, despite being a few years north of 40, is still at the peak of her powers. How many artists of any age can write a song like “I Don’t Wanna Wake Up,” an Old Testament head trip inspired by a bad breakup, the death of a parent, and microdosing mushrooms? Let alone have the nerve to make it their album’s opening track?

From there, Nostalgia Kills explores its titular theme through a collection of songs that ponder the past without ever lapsing into easy sentimentality. “I Put My Headphones On,” as catchy as anything in Jill’s catalog, captures the cozy feeling of tuning out the outside world with a favorite record. “Almost Great” is a ukulele-laced ode to youthful brushes with success and adult battles with procrastination. “Forbidden Thoughts of Youth” is a beautifully rendered portrait of adolescent unrequited love, as Jill looks back at her first gay crush (“an incredible combination of Marcia Brady and future meth-smoking biker chick”).

“Headphones” and “Forbidden Thoughts” will be part of #Fuck7thGrade, a one-woman show about “the worst year of my life,” and just the latest of Jill’s many forays into theater. Nostalgia Kills features new versions of several of Jill’s best songs for the stage: “There’s Nothing I Can Do” is a defiant breakup anthem from the off-off-Broadway musical Prozak and the Platypus, sung from the perspective of a rebellious 17-year-old girl. “25 Cents” is from Times Square, a new musical based on the 1980 cult film of the same name — and Jill’s own memories of visiting New York City as a teenager, back when the city was still “scary and fascinating and full of junkies.” And the gorgeous ballad “Tomorrow Is Breaking My Heart” is one of several original songs Jill wrote for a new adaptation of Yentl, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of gender-bending romance later made famous by Barbra Streisand’s film adaptation.

There are two versions of “Tomorrow Is Breaking” on Nostalgia Kills — a mournful duet with John Doe, and a special bonus track version featuring an amateur musician named Nicholas Ford, who made a pledge to the Nostalgia Kills Kickstarter campaign in which the prize was to sing a duet with Jill. “I decided to do it in a different style with a piano and he kicked ass,” she says proudly of Nicholas’ crooning accompaniment.

Nostalgia Kills’ bonus tracks also include “The Donor Song,” on which Jill gives shout-outs to her Kickstarter backers (including Avengers director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, whom Jill calls “my personal lord and savior” because he donated at the highest level), as well as lovely covers of The Stairsteps’ soul classic “O-o-h Child” and “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” a heartbreakingly beautiful, late-career ballad by Jill’s friend and mentor, Warren Zevon, with whom she tour shortly before his death in 2003. “He used to come out during my set to sing ‘I Kissed a Girl’ with me,” Jill remembers. “He would always wink at me when we would sing ‘They can have their diamonds and we’ll have are pearls’ to let me know he got the clitoral reference.”

For all its graceful, funny and heartbreaking explorations of awkward youth and grown-up regrets, Nostalgia Kills is as of-the-moment as anything in Jill Sobule’s catalog. Through her own experiences, she explores issues our society still collectively struggles with (LGBTQ rights, teen mental health, our unhealthy obsession with staying forever young) and gently skewers our tendency to dwell on the past at the expense of addressing the present. As she sings on the title track: “We look at ourselves in a long row of mirrors/We get smaller and smaller with each passing year/We have to keep moving or die.”

Jim Boggia

For more than 20 years, Jim Boggia has been winning over fans, critics, contemporaries and luminaries alike with his uncompromising devotion to the sort of winsomely nostalgic, emotionally direct songcraft that’s impervious to age. His sonically intelligent retro-pop manifesto informs three studio albums—2001’s Fidelity Is the Enemy, 2005’s Safe in Sound and 2008’s Misadventures in Stereo—and he’s worked with a startling array of artists, including Aimee Mann, Juliana Hatfield, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Bernadette Peters, David Poe, NRBQ’s Big Al Anderson, famed Beach Boys lyricist Tony Asher, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, esteemed ’70s pop misfit Emitt Rhodes, and Canadian songstress Amanda Marshall. Also an accomplished singer and guitarist, Boggia performs with the well-known New York City-based Beatles tribute band, the Fab Faux, as well as Mad Dogs & Dominos, an 18-piece collective headed by a heavyweight roster that includes Blues Brothers alum Lou Marini and producer John Leventhal. Oh, and he plays a mean ukulele.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi is the New York Times bestselling and Hugo-winning author of science fiction, including the books Old Man’s War, Redshirts, and Lock In, all of which are currently under development for television. He’s also written several non-fiction books, including The Rough Guide to the Universe and Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded. He’s the writer of the video game Midnight Star, developed by Halo co-creator Alex Seropian. He was the Creative Consultant for the television show Stargate Universe. Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton have both written songs for his books. There was that one time he was covered in frosting by roller derby players on Neil Gaiman’s lawn. He also caused an Internet sensation by taping bacon to his cat. Seriously, what the hell is going on with this guy, anyway. Visit him online at whatever.scalzi.com.

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton is from the Internet. While a struggling music industry fell to pieces over file sharing and shifting business models, he quietly and independently amassed a small army of techies, nerds, and dedicated superfans. Featured in the New York Times, NPR and slashdot, his songs cover an eclectic range of subjects, from zombies and mad scientists to marriage and parenthood. In concert he moves fluidly between pathos and ridiculous fun. Seeing your first Coulton show is like walking into an insider club meeting, but one that gleefully welcomes and indoctrinates you in short order.

Justin McElroy

Justin McElroy is the host/co-host of numerous podcasts, including modern advicecast My Brother, My Brother and Me, medical history show Sawbones, RPG show The Adventure Zone, He also writes and makes videos for gaming site Polygon, and can be see in in YouTube series Monster Factory, Things I Bought at Sheetz and Quality Control. He’s also one of the great huggers.

Katie Mack

Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies a range of questions in cosmology, the study of the universe from beginning to end. She currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, where she is also a member of the Leadership in Public Science Cluster. Throughout her career she has studied dark matter, the early universe, galaxy formation, black holes, cosmic strings, and the ultimate fate of the cosmos. Alongside her academic research, she is an active science communicator and has been published in a number of popular publications such as Scientific American, Slate, Sky & Telescope, Time.com, and Cosmos Magazine, where she is a columnist. You can find her on Twitter as @AstroKatie.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, and the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel. Her work has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean.

Mary, a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She is a member of SAG/AFTRA and records fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit maryrobinettekowal.com.

Matt Chapman

Matt Chapman is the co-creator of, and primary voice-doer for, HomestarRunner.com, an ancient cartoon website once frequented by early, primitive internet users. He usually makes things with his brother Mike and once convinced Disney to pay them to make weird animated shorts (Two More Eggs). He has written and done voices for more legit stuff like Gravity Falls, Wander Over Yonder, Pickle and Peanut, and The Aquabats Super Show. He currently plays sloppy rhythm guitar for Robert Schneider’s band Air-Sea Dolphin.

Mike Phirman

To Whom It May Concern: I did not come from San Luis Obispo, CA, go to UCLA, work as a visual effects artist on CSI, tour colleges and comedy clubs as part of the comedy music duo Hard ‘n Phirm, nor did I record a solo album called “The Very Last Songs I Will Ever Record (Part 1)” that includes a song with “Weird Al” Yankovic, and I certainly did not jump into making kid-friendly comedy music that’s still intended to entertain adults and release an album of it in 2018 called “Songs to Sing at Children” all so that I can write some silly bio! Sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else to do it.

Molly Lewis

The following bio was crowdsourced one sentence at a time from Molly Lewis’s twitter followers (@Molly23). She cannot vouch for its accuracy:

Molly Lewis is at least one of two people in the continental US named “Molly.” Known for her quirky songs and insatiable desire to woo the internet, Molly has also been known to slam revolving doors.After realizing no one could see her behind a guitar, Molly picked up a ukulele, & single-handedly created an internet sensation. All of her ukelele strings are made from strands of her own hair, painstakingly treated in the fires of Mt. Doom.

Molly had a breakout year in 2009, in which she released “I Made You A CD, But I Eated It,” and made her first appearances at W00tstock and PAX Prime. Molly is known for playing covers of her own songs. After setting sales records with her pop band Molly Lewis & The News, Molly disappeared from the zeitgeist for years. When she returned as a solo artist, she was ready to write about what really interested her: Mr. T and female reproduction. Molly got permission to use Mr. T in a song after beating him two-out-of-three in a curling contest.

Molly is a fan favorite and has a huge following in Canada among other places! Molly may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards.

My Brother, My Brother and Me

My Brother, My Brother and Me is an advicecast for the modern era featuring three real-life brothers: Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy. For roughly five-sixths of an hour each week, with new episodes dropping every Monday, the brothers McElroy will answer any query sent our way, each fielding questions falling into our respective areas of expertise. We operate like a streamlined, advice-generating machine. It’s both terrifying and humbling to behold.

Nathan Sawaya

Former NYC corporate lawyer turned contemporary artist, Nathan Sawaya is the first artist ever to take the LEGO brick into the art world as a medium. Sawaya has earned a top position in the world of contemporary art and has created a new dimension by merging Pop Art and Surrealism in awe-inspiring and groundbreaking ways. Sawaya’s exhibition — THE ART OF THE BRICK — has entertained and inspired millions of art lovers and enthusiasts around the world. CNN heralded THE ART OF THE BRICK as one of the top ten “must-see exhibits in the world!” Sawaya is the author of the new ADVENTURES OF HUGMAN book series, a speaker and one of the most popular, award-winning contemporary artists of our time. For more information visit nathansawaya.com.

Ophira Eisenberg

Ophira Eisenberg is a staple of the New York standup comedy scene, a writer, and host of NPR’s trivia comedy show, Ask Me Another where she has interviewed and played silly games with Sir Patrick Stewart, Connie Britton, Roxanne Gay, Mozhan Marno, Josh Groban, George Takei, Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Big Freedia, Lewis Black, Uzo Aduba, Jason Mraz and more. She has appeared on HBO’s Girls, Gotham Live, The Late Late Show, The Today Show, The Nightly Show, Comedy Central, and VH-1. Selected as one of New York Magazine’s Top 10 Comics that Funny People Find Funny, and featured in the New York Times as a skilled comedian and storyteller with a “bleakly stylish” sense of humor, Ophira’s debut memoir, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy was optioned for a feature film with Zucker Productions. She is also a regular host and teller with The Moth, her stories are part of their award winning radio show, podcast, and New York Times best-selling books. Her comedy special Inside Joke was recently released by New Wave Entertainment and available on Amazon and iTunes.

Our Opinions Are Correct

Explore the meaning of science fiction, and how it’s relevant to real-life science and society. Your hosts are Annalee Newitz, a science journalist who writes science fiction, and Charlie Jane Anders, a science fiction writer who is obsessed with science. Every two weeks, we take deep dives into science fiction books, movies, television, and comics that will expand your mind—and maybe change your life.

Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss was born in Madison, Wisconsin to awesome parents who encouraged him to read and create through reading to him, gentle boosts of self-esteem, and deprivation of cable television. During his formative years, he read extensively and wrote terrible short stories and poetry to teach himself what not to do.

Patrick matriculated at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, initially studying chemical engineering which led to a revelation that chemical engineering is boring. He then spent the next nine years jumping from major to major, taking semesters off, enjoying semesters at part-time, and generally rocking the college student experience before being kindly asked to graduate already. Surprisingly enough, he had enough credits to graduate with an English major, and he did so grudgingly.

Patrick then went to grad school. He’d rather not talk about it.

All this time Patrick was working on “The Book,” as he and his friends lovingly titled it. When he returned to Stevens Point he began teaching half-time while trying to sell The Book to publishers. In the process, he disguised a chapter of The Book as a short story and won the Writers of the Future competition in 2002. This put him into contact with all the right people, and after deciding to split The Book into three installments, DAW agreed to publish it. In March 2007, The Name of the Wind was published to great acclaim, winning the Quill Award and making the New York Times Bestseller list.

All this success was wonderful. Patrick eventually had to stop teaching in order to focus on writing, though he screwed that up by having an adorable baby with his adorable girlfriend. He started a charity fundraiser called Worldbuilders and published a not-for-children children’s book called The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle in July of 2010 through Subterranean Press, which was adorable, and seriously isn’t for children.

After a great deal of work and a few cleared throats and raised eyebrows from his patient editor, Wise Man’s Fear came out in March 2011 to even more acclaim, making #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Life continues to rock for him, and he’s working hard on writing the final installment of the series.

Paul and Storm

Paul and Storm (Paul Sabourin and Greg “Storm” DiCostanzo) are known internationally and across the Internet for their original comedy music (often with a “nerd-ish” bent). In addition to their own live performances, they are co-founders of the geek-oriented variety show w00tstock, along with Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage, and co-produce JoCo Cruise. The duo’s original webseries musical, LearningTown, debuted on YouTube’s Geek & Sundry channel in January 2013. Also in 2013, their song “Another Irish Drinking Song” was featured in the hit movie Despicable Me 2, and in July had their guitar smashed on stage by George R. R. Martin (and deserved it). Their fifth full-length CD, Ball Pit, came out in 2014, and was the central item of the duo’s wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. They are staff writers for, and contributed numerous songs to, the rebooted season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Quelle Christopher

Having soaked up game all over the country, Quelle has a style with no obvious lineage and sounds like nobody else. Few other MC/producers can leap from humor to intense personal reflection, from hardcore rhyming to serious experimentation and make sense of it all. More succinctly, Quelle is the real deal. The triple threat MC/Producer/visual artist comes to the table with no gimmicks or trends. Quelle Chris is just being his unapologetically honest self.

Rachel McElroy

Rachel McElroy is a part-time podcaster, part-time community college grantwriter, and full-time McElroy wife (to Griffin) and mom (to Henry). She entered the family business in 2016 with the Maximum Fun podcast Rose Buddies, a show with Griffin about The Bachelor and reality dating shows. In 2017, this show turned into Wonderful!, a podcast she and Griffin do about the pieces of culture they love and think others could love too.

Riz Rollins

writer and dj riz rollins (just ‘riz’ to his friends) has been a presence in the seattle music landscape where he hosts a variety and electronica show on 90.3 fm for almost thirty years. a stalwart in both the club and event scene, he has played alongside a diverse roster of artists that includes nirvana and james brown, die antwoord and funkadelic, amon tobin and osunlade. proficient with a plethora of styles that include disco, hip hop, house, world, r&b,ambient, jazz and gospel he regrets that he won’t be slugging his vinyl on this trip, but maybe he’ll invite you over for tea and rekkid playing hopefully soon.

Sammus

SAMMUS (Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo) is an Ithaca-raised, Philadelphia-based rap artist, producer, and PhD student in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University. Known as much for her rousing stage presence as she is for her prowess as a beatmaker and lyricist, Sammus has spent the past several years cultivating a strong following of activists, hip hop heads, punks, and self-identified nerds and geeks, among others. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, Sammus “has a gift for getting a message across.” Having recently made her Don Giovanni debut (while remaining tied to NuBlack Music Group), she is poised to cement herself as an artist who consistently thinks outside boxes and dances across lines (and does other neat things with geometrical figures).

In addition to managing a full-time music career, Enongo has spent the past eight years as a public-school and college level educator. After graduating from Cornell University in 2008 with a double BA in Sociology and Science & Technology Studies, she was accepted into the national teaching program Teach for America and placed in Houston Texas, where she taught elementary math and science between 2008 to 2010. In the fall semester of 2011 she returned to Cornell as a PhD candidate to pursue an interest a wide array of sound studies topics, including sound and gaming as well as the identity politics of community studios. As an academic in training and very-vocal feminist, Enongo has produced articles for publications such as Bitch, For Harriet, Sounding Out!, and The Mary Sue related to issues of race, hip-hop, gaming, and feminism.

Sawbones

Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin welcome you to Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine. Every Friday, they dig through the annals of medical history to uncover all the odd, weird, wrong, dumb and just gross ways we’ve tried to fix people over the years. Educational? You bet! Fun? We hope!

Shmanners

Perplexed by thank you notes? Baffled by black tie? Dismayed by dinner parties? Worry no more, Shmanners is the podcast for you! Shmanners is a guide to etiquette both past and present. The lessons of the past, with a little adjustment, can still help today! So join husband-host and wife-host Travis and Teresa every week and let’s make the world a little nicer together!

Solomon Georgio

Solomon Georgio burst into comedy with his own brand of indignant irreverence. He flawlessly intertwines biting social commentary with stories of his life as an openly gay African immigrant.

Solomon had his television debut in February 2015 as the featured comedian on CONAN, and followed it up with appearances on Drunk History, The Meltdown with Jonah & Kumail, This is Not Happening, Viceland’s Flophouse and Last Call with Carson Daily.

On October 20, 2017, Solomon’s first half hour comedy special premiered on Comedy Central Stand Up Presents. His debut album with Comedy Central Records, Homon√©gro Superior, is also now available.

Teresa McElroy

Teresa McElroy is a lifeguard turned actress turned artist turned podcaster! When she’s not podcasting, she is keeping her daughter, the joy of her life, from terrorizing her dog and cat. Amidst all the changes, she has always loved writing thank-you notes and will never stop trying to get Travis to write them too. Currently she hosts Shmanners and The Kind Rewind with dear husband, Travis McElroy.

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants have always been a little obsessed with death.

Over the course of their 30-plus year career, renowned college-pop experimentalists John Flansburgh and John Linnell have never shied away from joining the lyrically macabre with bold and often unusual instrumentation—whether it’s talking about being reincarnated as a bag of groceries on 1990’s Flood or having their remains shot out into space (and coming back as a ghost) on 2016’s Phone Power.

The duo’s 20th studio album, I Like Fun (arriving on January 19, 2018), is similarly—if not more so—interested in personal oblivion.

“At some point we realized we could call any They Might Be Giants record ‘Deathtrip,’ and it would be appropriate,” jokes Flansburgh. “But it wouldn’t be very welcoming.

“I think the truth is, as a band, and as writers, the mixed bag of writing melodic songs with dystopian content is a winning combination for us. I think it speaks more to the persuasive power of melody than it does to the inevitability of dystopian themes. Because ultimately, I think people find a lot of optimism in what we’re singing about, even when it’s relentlessly pessimistic.”

“[Death is] a great topic,” concurs Linnell. “It never gets old, and there’s a million different ways to talk about it. It’s never lost its juice as far as I’m concerned. I love making up songs about death. It’s not the only thing we write about, obviously, but I think it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Take I Like Fun’s lead single: the harmonizing, mid-tempo “I Left My Body,” which contemplates what becomes of the mind after the body is finished living and likens death to a nondescript waiting room.

“There’s a receptionist, but the receptionist isn’t there,” says Linnell. “It has a slightly mysterious, we-don’t-know-what’s-happening quality that I liked, that’s sort of bureaucratic.”

Written over the last year and designed by TMBG’s longtime graphic collaborator Paul Sahre, I Like Fun is the result of Linnell and Flansburgh sending each other material from their respective residences in New York City and State. It also found the band in familiar territory: Reservoir Studios (formerly Skyline Studios) in New York City, where the duo once recorded their commercial breakout, Flood.

“[Skyline] has a lot of great memories for us,” says Flansburgh. “Last year our producer Pat Dillett and his partner Steve took over the space, brought it back, and in a bunch of ways made it even better. I know believing a studio has any kind of special power is believing in voodoo, but when the voodoo is working for you, that’s okay!”

“The idea that this album took about a year to make surprises me because I wouldn’t say we fussed over any particular track that much,” Flansburgh continues. “This album is kind of under-produced for us and certainly by 2017 standards. It’s more like a ‘60s psychedelic production with a featured sound or instrument, maybe a vocal double, but not a ton of overdubs or processing. For me, just being a little more confident to keep things simple keeps it all much fresher. We just made a lot of recordings and just took advantage of being able to pull the best set out of a much larger stack.”

So, why call an album with such worrying titles as “Let’s Get This Over With,” the aforementioned “I Left My Body,” “An Insult To The Fact Checkers,” and “Push Back The Hands” I Like Fun?

According to Linnell, the title (which is also the name of a song on the record) felt right on a gut level. “I think it connects up with another album title from the recent past, which was Join Us, which was a very positive vibe,” he says. “It’s kind of refreshing in a way—not everything has to be snarky.”

“It’s funny because it’s a tautology—it’s obvious,” continues Linnell. “Of course everybody likes fun. That’s the definition of fun—it’s something you like. And yet there’s a nice simplicity to it. And it contrasts with a lot of the material on the album, which is complicated and challenging.”

Flansburgh also points out that the song for which the album takes its name is nowhere near as one-sided as it sounds: “The song itself is basically about waiting for your painkillers to arrive.”

Then, there’s the twinkly “Push Back the Hands,” which sighs with longing for a foregone time. “‘Push Back the Hands’ is sort of maybe about this wistful nostalgia—a false nostalgia, like there was a better time than now, and how do we get back there,” acknowledges Linnell.

Additionally, the apocalyptic “By The Time You Get This” contrasts the optimistic way we once imagined the future with today’s more fatalistic vision. “The narrator of the song is projecting all this stuff that is not correct about the future,” Linnell says. “Apparently there was this belief at the end of the 19th century, so I’m told, that people had a kind of Utopian vision of the future, that they had this notion that, by the end of the 19th Century, that maybe war and disease and all these things were going to be eradicated. Of course, they had no anticipation of the two world wars or the Holocaust or the atom bomb or any of this stuff that then happened. Nowadays, we have this more Blade Runner-y notion of what the future is like.”

Meanwhile, “An Insult To The Fact Checkers” is just a good old-fashioned kiss-off anthem (despite its politically relevant-sounding title). “I guess in our post-factual media environment, you might assume that it’s political commentary,” says Flansburgh. “But it’s really just an ‘I Hate You’ song, in the proud tradition of ‘I Hate You’ songs. Everyone has had unreliable friends over the years, and it’s really just about a friendship going sideways.”

Even album closer “Last Wave” leaves you with a pit in your stomach by, as Linnell points out, “reminding you of your darkest fears.”

“On an album with a fair share of death imagery we went a little overboard with this one, but perhaps the music is kind of uplifting,” he says.

Though They Might Be Giants have built a lengthy, successful career around blanketing perturbed themes with springy, experimental melodies, the one thing Linnell and Flansburgh remain assured about is their band’s future.

“There’s not a lot of job security in music,” acknowledges Flansburgh. “You see how quickly the best acts you’ve ever seen explode or implode and you come to realize every turn is really a chance to crash the project. Somehow we beat the odds.

“A long time ago The Onion had a piece spoofing the Behind the Music of They Might Be Giants and how disappointing it was that there was no sex or drugs,” he continues. “But maybe that’s not the worst strategy—don’t take drugs in public.”

(Photo by Shervin Lainez)

Travis McElroy

Travis McElroy is a full-time Podcast Host/Producer who works on way more projects than he has time for. He started podcasting in 2010 with the comedy advice show My Brother, My Brother and Me. Since then, he has gone on to co-host The Adventure Zone, Shmanners, The Kind Rewind, Bunker Buddies, Trends Like These, Til Death Do Us Blart, Interrobang with Travis and Tybee, The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls 2, Can I Pet Your Dog, and Surprisingly Nice. He and his brothers also adapted MBMBaM into a similarly titled television show on Seeso.com.

Tune Yards

facebook Instagram Twitter @JoCoCruise Tune Yards google-plusfacebooktwitterinstagramYoutube "“What should I do?” That's the question Merrill Garbus asks herself halfway through “ABC 123,” the stunning centerpiece of the new Tune-Yards album, I can feel you creep into...

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