Every year on Record Store Day hundreds of thousands of record fans flock to independent record stores to gorge themselves on limited edition vinyl. While reissues take up most of the shelf space, the true treasures of Record Store Day are the exclusive releases, albums you can only get that day. Usually, these releases are strictly from bands and labels, but this year podcasts are getting in the game. Newbury Comics and Record Store Day have teamed with Marc Maron and his WTF podcast to release In the Garage, a complication of musical performances from across WTF’s history.
Featuring performances from an eclectic array of artists ranging from J Mascis and Jason Isbell to Melissa Ethridge and Dave Alvin of the Blasters, In the Garage is more than just a podcast artifact. It’s a damn fine record. We spoke to the podcast icon nerd out about vinyl habits, how In the Garage came to be, and the hidden gem of Marc Maron’s record collection.
Paste: How did the In the Garage compilation come together? Were you approached by Record Store Day or was it something you’d already been thinking about?
Marc Maron: It came together because Midroll, the company that does our podcast advertising, was talking to Newberry Comics about doing vinyl projects. [Midroll] works with a lot of comedians. That conversation evolved into this. We saw it as an opportunity to do something we’d kind of always talked about but didn’t know what to do with. We knew we had these rare and special recordings with these artists. But we never knew if we could do something with them or if we would release them as a compilation on the podcast or what. But it’s something I’d talked about with Brendan Mcdonald, my producer.
Newbury and Midroll saw it as an opportunity to pull it all together and do it for charity. It seemed like a good idea. Also having the support of a label to do the release, who could do the leg work that we just don’t have time to do, helped it come together.
Paste: This is the first release on the Record Store Day label through Newbury Comics. Was Newbury important to your musical development growing up in Boston?
Maron: Oh yeah. I used to work in Harvard Square, and they had a store there. And I used to go to the original store on Newbury for t-shirts and records. I was in college in Boston so it was definitely something I had history with. They just sent me a t-shirt. I’m very excited about it.
Paste: What was the fan response like when you started having musical guests on WTF after years of comedians? I know Henry Rollins was the first one, so you sort of eased into it.
Maron: The show at the time had sort of evolved. Because it got popular it went from people that I liked to artists I wanted to talk to or have on. When we started recording them I didn’t know what I was doing, and I still don’t. I still record them the same way. But the music matched the interview, it was sort of a candid singular experience with that person. It seemed like the right thing to do with people who could, and would, play acoustic. So I’d ask them if they would.
The audience response was… people were usually blown away. By nature of my lack of experience and the fact that it’s so raw and basic, you don’t really get to hear these artists like that. You might on NPR and that sort of stuff, but I’m not even using equipment that’s that good.
I’m not even doing two tracks. I still use Garage Band and an analog mixer. They’re recording into an SM-7 vocal mic, which is great to talk into, but it’s a very honest mic. Then a few years ago Blue sent me some free mics, the Blue Encore 200 series, so I’d stick that into the guitar and have people sing into the same mic they used for the interview. Then I’d just sit there and ride the levels on this dumb six channel Samson DMR mixer that they don’t even make anymore and record the whole thing to one track in Garage Band. There was no change in what was going on, man. Nothing I can do to fix it after the fact. It is what it is.
Paste: That’s one of the qualities I like about the musical performances on the show. The first ones I heard were J Mascis’ Dinosaur Jr. songs, and his voice is already beautiful, but it was special to hear him so raw.
Maron: That’s the thing with the whole record, dude. When you look at the diversity of artists on there, you wonder “how’s that all going to work together.” And I think if you were to put their produced music up next to each other on a record it wouldn’t make sense. It’d be an odd record. But because of the consistency of my lack of ability to record properly and because the only way to do it is as stripped down as it is, the record has thematic cohesion. [Laughter]
They’re all recorded exactly the same way, so you just assess them for the people they are and what they do with the guitar in their hand. It’s kind of a great listen.
Paste: How did you pick the songs?
Maron: It was a matter of assessing what we had and finding which ones moved me the most and sounded the best. You never know. Sometimes weird things happen when you record. It was also a matter of what we could get, what the artists would let us have. Brendan and I picked everything, and Newbury did the rest.
Paste: What’s your favorite track that ended up on the record?
Maron: It’s weird, man. They’re all great. Like that Jason Isbell piece is one that wasn’t recorded In the Garage. It was recorded at like one in the morning in a hotel in Minnesota, and I was sitting in front of him holding a mic to his face and another one to his guitar while he sang “Elephant” to me.
Paste: Holy shit.
Maron: Yeah dude! It was heavy! That has depth to it for me because of that experience. Then out of nowhere sometimes I get opportunities to talk to people and I take them because they were culturally important somehow and they surprise me. Like Melissa Etheridge, that song (“Take My Number”) you listen to her version on this record and you can just feel the song. It was one of the most amazing performances we’ve had In the Garage because she’s just so all in. I loved having Charlie Musselwhite on there with Ben Harper. Charlie Musselwhite is one of the great blues harp players. And he’s old. When else am I going to get a chance to see that, let alone record it. I played guitar with Dave Alvin on the last cut of the record.
Oh, and J opens the record. Just sitting there, watching J Mascis with his big book of lyrics, going through and trying to figure out what song he’s going to do and needing to have the lyrics in front of him was kind of great. [Laugher]
Paste: As a massive Dinosaur Jr. fan I get that.
Maron: It was cool man because he did the interview and then came back. Like years later he was like “you want me to come back over and play some more songs?” And I was like “Yeah!” He’s a sweet guy.
Paste: While you’ve had your comedy put on vinyl before this is the first time you’ve had any music you played pressed. Have you ever thought about releasing any of your own music?
Maron: No, but I play a lot of the guitar stuff at the end of the show. It’s just stuff I improvise in that moment, playing with pedals. Actually, a lot of those will be used in a new film I’m in that I made with Lynn Shelton [GLOW] that’s premiering at SXSW in a couple of weeks. It’s called The Sword of Trust, and she used all my music. I even recorded a song, a new musical piece with Tal Lokenfald, Doyle Bramhall and a bunch of other people. We actually did the final song in the movie, the credits song is an original composition I did with Tal that we recorded in a studio. All the other music in the film is bits and pieces taken from things I recorded at the end of the podcast.
Paste: Maybe this is the door for you to become an ambient film scorer.
Maron: Haha yeah. Just me and the free pedals I get from Earthquake or Devices. I do think I have a good feel and my own tone and vibe on guitar. I don’t know if I want to get into film scoring, but I’d like to get out and play with people more.
Paste: Is there a musical guest you had on the show that didn’t play a song that haunts you? Who’s the one who got away?
Maron: There are definitely people who don’t play when I want them to. LIke I don’t think Elvis Costello played. That would have been good. Usually, when they come if they don’t play I’m a little sad, but some people just don’t do stuff like that.
Paste: On Thinky Pain you described your mid-life crisis as taking the form of a vinyl record collector. Has your collecting cooled down since then or are you still going with gusto?
Maron: If it’s cooled down it’s only because I’ve got like 40 records I haven’t listened to. But I don’t think it has cooled down. I thought it had, but then I talked to a dude before you and he was like “have you bought any records recently?” And, like I get a lot of free records too. So he was like “have you ever done the Record Store Day thing and waited in line?” And to be honest, I don’t really. I usually go a few days later. And then he said “well, what have you got lately” and I looked and realized just yesterday I got Neil Young’s Reactor, I got Neil and the Shocking Pinks without realizing I already had it. I bought this Denny Lile record, do you know Denny Lile?
Maron: Oh dude it’s such a great record. It’s called Hear the Bang, they just reissued it. It’s a small label release, sort of a singer-songwriter country thing. It’s really great. I just bought Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet. The last Oh Sees record. A Max Roach record. This weird Krautrock record called Musik von Harmonia, with two guys from Cluster and two guys from Neu. So yeah, I’m still in it, dude.
Paste: What is the prize piece of your personal record collection?
Maron: Oh man. I’ve got some pretty old records, but I’ve got this one, it’s sort of a fascinating thing I got from Dan at Gimmie Gimmie Records. It’s this 10” self-release Lenny Bruce record. And it’s just him on the cover wearing a cop uniform and it’s the recordings submitted as evidence in the San Francicso obscenity trial in March of 1962. Lenny self-released this little 10” to pay legal bills. That’s pretty special. At the bottom, it says “Lenny Bruce, 8825 Hollywood Blvd.” It’s really something.
Paste: Did you know it existed when you found it?
Maron: No, I didn’t know anything about it. Richard Lewis got one, he has a copy, but he got it from Kitty, Lenny’s daughter. So it must have been in a box somewhere. I don’t know how many are out there or how available it is.
Paste: You’ve literally had some of the biggest names in music, and in one case history, on your podcast. Who’s the one living dream guest you haven’t been able to have on WTF?
Maron: I always have a hard time with these kinds of questions. It’s so weird at this point because the parameters of my desires and memory have already been surpassed. You could mention someone and I’d say “yeah that’d be good.” But I don’t necessarily sit around thinking about it. I wish I’d gotten Petty on. That would have been good.
John-Michael Bond is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. He’s on Twitter @BondJohnBond.