WNYC, New York Public Radio, brings you Soundcheck, the arts and culture program hosted by John Schaefer, who engages guests and listeners in lively, inquisitive conversations with established and rising figures in New York City's creative arts scene. Guests come from all disciplines, including pop, indie rock, jazz, urban, world and classical music, technology, cultural affairs, TV and film. Recent episodes have included features on Michael Jackson,Crosby Stills & Nash, the Assad Brothers, Rackett, The Replacements, and James Brown.
BRONCHO: Indie Pop Hooks You Can't Stop Singing (Archives)
Some songs you love because they communicate deep thoughts or powerful emotions. And sometimes you just want a ridiculously catchy hook. BRONCHO is certainly capable of the former, but in the case of its song "Class Historian," it wouldn’t matter if the band was singing about filing taxes, you might still be bouncing in our seats with that infectious melody stuck in your head all day.
While the Oklahoma band has been banging out classic fuzzed-out sounds for awhile, the band got a spike of attention when the HBO series Girls used the song "It's On." That song, along with "Class Historian," ended up on BRONCHO's 2014 album, Just Enough Hip To Be Woman, which draws on garage pop and glam rock in exciting ways. BRONCHO plays some these songs in-studio. Apologies in advance if you've still got that tune in your brain the rest of the week. (From the Archives, 2015.)
Amythyst Kiah's Roots Music Deals With Loss, Grief, and Pain
Tennessee-based songwriter Amythyst Kiah loves both roots and alternative music; and her songs often clothe dark subjects - suicide of a loved one, a descent into alcoholism - in bluesy stomps and ecstatic rock. The singer, guitarist, banjo player, and scholar (she holds a degree in Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music Studies), has made records on her own and is a member of the formidable quartet called Our Native Daughters. On her 2021 solo album Wary + Strange, Amythyst Kiah sings of loss, grief, death, and hangovers and dealing with them all; she and her band play some of these tunes remotely. - Caryn Havlik
Set list: "Black Myself," "Firewater," "Hangover Blues"
Watch "Black Myself":
Watch "Hangover Blues":
In 2020, she also contributed a tribute to the Reverend Gary Davis for the online New York Guitar Festival:
Golden Suits Let the Joy In (Archives)
The Brooklyn band Golden Suits is led by singer and guitarist Fred Nicolaus. You may know him from his earlier band Department of Eagles, or perhaps his duo with Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen. Fred released the first Golden Suits album in 2013 and has just put out the band’s followup effort, called Kubla Khan. It’s full of catchy, often literate, occasionally eccentric songs, which the band plays in-studio. (From the Archives, 2015.)
Here's the dancey "Gold Feeling," where Nicolaus is out to prove that he has all of the right moves to his imaginary middle school dream girl.
Becca Stevens Band: Powerful Voice, 'Perfect Animal' (Archives)
Guitarist and singer Becca Steven's resume includes stints with the adventurous jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, electrifying trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and hip-hop inflected jazz vocalist José James. She’s part of New York’s new music scene, and has contributed to a compilation of Laura Nyro covers. So you might guess that The Becca Stevens Band would not be your typical indie rock group. And you’d be right.
The band’s 2015 debut record is called Perfect Animal, and it’s full of shimmering, strangely augmented chords; angular melodic swoops and dives; and rhythms that catch the ear but don’t settle where you expect. There are also breathtaking forays into pop and even R&B, including covers of songs by Frank Ocean and Usher. The result is a pulsing, personal experience, guided by Stevens' singular voice and vision, that is the most exciting entry on her resume yet. Becca Stevens and her band perform in-studio. (From the Archives, 2015.)
Jazz Pianist And Innovator Randy Weston Renews a Connection With His African Past (Archives)
The late American pianist, composer, and “Legend of Jazz,” Randy Weston, stretched across history to forge connections to an African past, as he had done for decades.
On his 2017 recording, The African Nubian Suite, Weston took as his subject matter the very origins of humanity – the fossilized skeletal remains of “Ardi,” a hominid who lived around 4.5 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia. This "planetary music," as Weston called it stretches across millennia, looking to the Nubian empire (now northern Sudan/southern Egypt), African folk traditions, Sufi music, blues, and jazz. Randy Weston joined us in-studio in 2017. (From the Archives.)
Indian Tabla Master Zakir Hussain's Percussive Wizardry (Archives)
Genius Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, is one of the world’s exceptional percussionists. The son of Ustad Alla Rahka, Zakir is also a composer, improviser, and a great communicator in Persian, Gujarati, German, English, as well as in jazz, Afro-Cuban rhythms, Nigerian talking drums, or Indonesian gamelan. One of the most exciting ways that Zakir Hussain shares this deep and vast knowledge in performance is by way of the Masters of Percussion Tour – which is exactly as stunning as a music fan (especially a drum nerd) might ever imagine.
For the 2019 tour (in the before times), the ensemble included the sitar virtuoso and instrument inventor Niladri Kumar, and the extraordinary jazzer Eric Harland (Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland's Prism) on Western drums.
Zakir Hussain, Niladri Kumar, and Eric Harland join us in-studio for a sample of this astounding musical magic. - (NSAPA and drum nerd Caryn Havlik)
Watch the session here:
Insightful & great
John the host actually listens to music, & asks thoughtful questions. He doesn't just read the publicity sheet.
The in-studio live sessions interest me less than the conversations. I miss the conversations with critics, biographers, & comedians about music history, especially the "THAT was a HIT?" recurring segment.
If you’re looking for new music...
... this is a perfect place to find it. Guests are often musicians or groups that are just under the popular radar but deserve more love and attention.
Just read e-mail from WNYC’s new CEO, reversing the decision to cancel the show! Good things are still possible - Schafer is a wizard we’d be poorer without.