Marc Maron:
The TVD Interview

A garage, two microphones, and a laptop might not seem like a recipe for media dominance, but then comedian Marc Maron doesn’t do things in a normal way.

The former Air America host and journeyman stand-up started podcasting from his garage in 2009 at a time when he felt his career was at a dead-end. That dead-end quickly turned into an expressway for Maron’s multi-tiered intellect with the podcast giving him, for the first time in his career, an unencumbered, uncensored media outlet. His frank, in-depth interviews with his comedic peers quickly gained a loyal following which keeps WTF with Marc Maron in the Top Ten iTunes chart week after week.

WTF’s success led to the current IFC Television series Maron, based on his life and starring Marc in the title role. He also recently published his second book, Attempting Normal, and did an exhaustive media blitz to promote it, including inaugural visits to The Howard Stern Show and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. As second acts go, it’s a doozy.

Okay, that’s cool and all, but why is Marc talking to The Vinyl District? As he has noted many times on WTF, Marc is an enthusiastic vinyl fan which he illustrates with accounts of his listening sessions that brim with an almost evangelical zeal. Growing up in New Mexico, Marc’s first exposure to music came courtesy of his parent’s record and tape collection.

About two years ago, after noticing new record stores opening in and around his Highland Park neighborhood, he dipped his toe back into the vinyl stream and is now thoroughly immersed. Of course, being Marc Maron, his neurotic side frets over becoming an obsessive collector and possible future episode subject of Hoarders. But for now, the joy of listening to music on a quality turntable and music system is keeping those fears at bay.

What was the first album that really grabbed you when you were a kid?

(Without hesitation) The Beatles Second Album. It sounded so great! I remember playing “Roll Over Beethoven” over and over. I was obsessed with that song. I even went out and bought a Mountain album (Twin Peaks) because it had that song on it. It took me a while before I found the Chuck Berry original. My parents had a lot of cassettes: Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and stuff like that. I also had an aunt who gave me some some records. My musical education really started with a store called Budget Records and Tapes in Albuquerque. There was a guy named Jim there who turned me on to so many wild things.

While you were getting this musical education, did you share it with you friends at school?

Not really. At that time, Van Halen, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin were really popular. One of my buddies was a huge Journey fan. A lot of it was influenced by the concerts that came through. I listened to all that. What I was getting from the record store guys was probably far beyond the comprehension of my high school crowd. Later, I got into jazz and new music by artists like Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello.

The ‘70s were a golden age for comedy albums. Were you into comedy at that point?

Yes, I remember that being earlier, like the early ’70s. My brother and I listened to George Carlin, Richard Prior, Cheech and Chong, and Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small. I listened to that one heavily on an all-in-one record player with built-in speakers. Later, I had a Yamaha system that I got when I was working part-time at a stereo store.

What type of system do you have now?

A pretty high-end Pro-Ject turntable, a Cronus Magnum tube amp and a good set of speakers.  When I interviewed Jack White at Third Man, I noticed he had several Macintosh tube amps. When I went to price them, though, they were way more than I wanted to spend. Instead, I went over to Brooks Berdan and they helped me put together a nice system.

How did you move away from vinyl?

Practicality, I guess. I was still dragging the vinyl around but at some point, they convinced us that CDs were better. I wound up buying some albums on three different formats! I was listening to music through a kinda crappy system with Klipsch bookshelf speakers. But as record stores stared opening in my neighborhood I came back to it pretty naturally. I don’t have a large collection, just about 300 LPs,

For me, I can listen to the radio in the car but having the experience to sit down with vinyl, look at it, put it on the turntable and sit a certain distance from the speakers in the middle of the couch while it’s playing…that entire activity is a specific experience. Is it a great experience? Sure, if you can appreciate it. Is someone going to get the same experience listening in the car? It’s not necessarily the same, but it can still be moving.

Do you think the move to digital lessens the experience?

Well, it depends on what you want to get out of it. I recently interviewed John Fogerty and I asked him about his approach to production, “How did you get that sound on those records?,” because those Fantasy label records were fantastic! They were pressed on the heaviest vinyl and they just sound timeless. The music is straightforward and everything is up front in the mix.

Fogerty told me, “I just wanted to make sure you could hear everything through an AM car speaker.” You can get caught up in thinking, “I want to hear it just the way they laid it down,” and start chasing the perfect sound. They once asked Tom Waits in an interview what his favorite sound system was and he said, “An am radio across the street.” (laughter)

Speaking of AM radio, in the 50s and 60s, most records were mixed in mono to achieve maximum punch and clarity when broadcast. Often, the mono mix was done with much more care while the stereo mix was an afterthought. Consequently, those mono LPs are now in high demand. Have you delved into it to the point that you seek out mono LPs?

No, I have a few but I’m not caught up with that. I have a scratched up mono copy of Blonde on Blonde that sounds great, it has great depth. I get nervous whenever I collect things. I’m having a good experience with vinyl now but I am wary of falling down a rabbit hole.

I’m actually getting some new records on vinyl and people are giving me records. I’ve gotten bunches of comedy records.  I listened to Van Halen’s debut the other day and 1969: Velvet Underground Live With Lou Reed which is a great, dirty record. Hearing Van Halen on the turntable through the big speakers is a great experience. It’s like you’re hearing it for the first time. I don’t really know how to explain it but there’s a distinction of sound on vinyl that you don’t get from listening to the digital track. That depth of sound is missing from digital. You can really hear the dynamics of the music on vinyl.

Well, humans are built to hear in analog. The current trend toward keeping everything in the track at the maximum level, dubbed the “loudness war,” has taken the away the dynamics. People claim that they get ear fatigue after listening to these compressed tracks for an extended period.

I believe that, totally.

Are we going to see a turntable in a future episode of Maron?

I hope so. If we get to do another season, I want to include some scenes in a record store.

Awesome! What are your most-frequented local shops?

I go to Gimme Gimme down on York and I go over to Permanent Records.

[At this point, the conversation sidetracked into the best way to clean records. Marc wants to get a nice, vacuum-enabled cleaner like the Nitty Gritty machines. I shared my preferred method, which was taught to me by Bob Irwin, owner of Sundazed Music: 1) take a soft-bristled, two-inch paint brush, 2) place a small of amount of dishwashing liquid on the brush and wet it, 3) paint the suds into the grooves in a circular motion and 4) rinse thoroughly and dry with a soft cloth. Trust me, it works wonders!]

Do you have any plans to release a record yourself?

No, not right now. There will a soundtrack release for Maron but I don’t play on it. I have to get a band together.

And with that, I let Marc return to his hectic schedule. Over the past year, he has begun including interviews with musicians on WTF!, exploring the passions that drive them to create.

Listening to them, he almost always asks the questions that I would have asked, crafting a highly satisfactory surrogate Q&A. That down-to-earth, everyman approach is perhaps the central component of his appeal. We’re all curious, we all want questions answered and we all get cranky sometimes. Fortunately, Marc does all that for us, twice weekly.

As long as he can keep doing that, we’re good.

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