Create to Destroy! Phil Chokeword
Phil Chokeword and I crossed paths when he reached out to me after a column I wrote in a recent MRR. He struck me as an interesting punk who has put a lot of time and thought into his podcast endeavor. I am grateful for the wide array of readers that MRR attracts, and how that lead me to experience Phil’s podcast and listen to music that would not normally cross my path, all because he read my column. Aren’t we lucky to have MRR as a DIY international forum to connect us all? Anyway, here’s to some sweet tunes and a nice radio voice, accompanied by an interview…
Who is Phil Chokeword? Are you in a band?
I’m a 30-something punk from the UK. I play in a band currently called THE JERKY BEATS, which I guess I’ll talk about more later. We don’t do too much but it’s fun. I used to sing for a bunch of hardcore bands, most notably PILGER, and I’ve played bass in a few bits ‘n’ pieces here and there. I’m old and jaded and tired but also somehow idealistic and productive and hopeful. I’m nearly a year sober, which I’m really proud of, but I’m not interested in claiming the straight edge. I work as an organiser, which is pretty appropriate because I can’t sit still for more than ten minutes without wanting to organise some sort of project or other.
Do you think your British accent makes your podcast/radio shows cooler than mine?
Nope, not at all. Maximum Rocknroll Radio is a funny one for me, much like MRR itself, I guess. I don’t really feel like I fit with MRR musically/aesthetically and the radio show is kinda the same. But I like the overall politics and DIY stance, and it remains an incredible inspiration. I always find something in both the zine and radio show that I like, and the idea of a bunch of people getting together and creating their own institutions that have somehow lasted all this time blows my mind. So, in short, I think your radio show is way cooler than mine.
Your radio show is super upbeat/snotty punk/power-pop/pop-heavy — was it always this way? Do you disagree with this categorization?
Nah, that’s fair. I like to think that I stray into hardcore territory as well, but for the most part I play whatever punk/hardcore stuff I want to listen to and I don’t give a fuck if anyone else digs it or not. My tastes are fairly wide these days but can be usually described as anything that makes me want to raise my fist, sing along with a big pop hook, then break something. All three parts of that description are crucial. If any of that is missing, your band probably sucks. That said, I might play something local that doesn’t fall into that category to help promote something I think is cool and worthwhile. I have also gone from being mega-excited by to being pretty bored by generic pop punk/gruff punk/folk punk. It’s the new Epi-punk. Sometimes it’s still great, but broadly, let’s all move on please.
Do you plays records or MP3s?
MP3s. I do have a USB record player, though, that runs straight into my laptop.
What set up do you use to record your show?
When I first started the show I was pretty broke, so my set up is really minimal, and since I can make it work it’ll probably always stay that way. I got given a USB record player for Christmas one year so I can rip LPs/7 inches. I use a basic internet microphone with a spit guard, that also plugs into my laptop via USB. I basically put the show together cut-and-paste in Audacity, dropping in MP3 files of the tracks that I want to play whilst splicing in MP3s of me talking. The whole set up cost me about £20 for the microphone/spit guard. Audacity is free, you can probably get away without the record player if you can get the songs as MP3s other ways and, well, if you’re reading this online you probably have access to a PC — ta da. I feel pretty strongly that the show is a good example of that very DIY approach of having an idea and then working out how to make it happen instead of how you “should” make it happen. Yeah, I’m meant to use a condenser mike, and it’s probably better to do it live and all this sort of stuff, but if I’d had to do it that way, I probably wouldn’t have done it at all because the barriers of entry would have been too high in terms of getting all the gear together and working out how to use it. So I took what I had and made it work.
How did you figure out how to set up a web page and upload audio recordings?
I basically am a bit of a Luddite and instinctively kinda anti-technology. That is until I find a use for it, then I’m usually pretty good at making technology do what I want it to. MP3s are a really good example of this. I only gave a shit about MP3s because I was disappearing for a year and couldn’t work out how to take lots of music with me. Now I listen to my MP3 player all the time, more than any other format, because I’ve demonstrated to myself it’s really useful. I travel a lot for work and it’s not like I can take a record player on the train with me. In terms of the web page, it’s just a Blogger account. It’s kinda clunky but it does the job. Most people should be able to work that bit out because it’s really only filling in boxes with text and then playing around to get it how you want it to. The uploading side of things is a little more complex. I first used Blip.tv because that was what the podcasts at Garagepunk.com used. I thought, “Well, if it works for them then it’ll work for me.” And it did for ages, until they decided to stop hosting audio podcasts. I then jumped to Libsyn like they suggested, which is a paid service but is pretty cheap and looks to be one of the best hosts, so I’m OK with spending a few quid each month. Basically, this shit is pretty easy. The hard bit of doing a podcast is setting up RSS feeds. These are really important. An RSS feed means that each time to post a new show, anyone who subscribes to your feed downloads the MP3 automatically in to iTunes or whatever other podcast catcher they use. I read some books about podcasts and I couldn’t make sense of this shit. But it didn’t matter really because Blip.tv set all this up for me and then Libsyn redirected these feeds so all the techy stuff has been done by someone else all along. None of this stuff is that hard, really, and where it is a bit tricky your podcast host should make it simple for you.
Do you think anyone can do a podcast?
Definitely. If I can stick a bunch of songs together, so can you. I actually wrote an article for a zine about it and it’s up at the old Last Hours website but it’s out of date now because it was pre-Libsyn. It might still give you some pointers on how to make the actual file. But certainly, in the beginning, I figured that if it was that easy to make my own show, everyone should do it, the same way I felt when I first got excited about playing in bands and making zines — and I actively tried to help people do it. I am not the most connected or well-informed scenester anymore and there might be a whole network of punx making their own podcasts I don’t know about, but I definitely don’t see why every scene couldn’t have with their own show, you know? It’d be ace if every town had a regular podcast playing local bands and talking about shit that excites them. Like zines, I think podcasts are a real opportunity to bring things together and create community and I’ve always tried to do that with guest podcasters, live sessions of local bands and generally trying to play a lot of local DIY music.
What inspired you to start the Ten Songs podcast?
I was living out of a rucksack in Vancouver and was really sick of all the songs on my MP3 player. But I had zero money, no computer of my own, and no one to trade MP3s with anyhow. I worked a really shitty job at one of the universities with a guy who listened to film podcasts to pass the time when we weren’t bullshitting, so I took his lead and started to find podcasts that I was into and stream them on the work PCs and listen to them through my headphones whilst I worked at getting RSI. This was about 2007/2008, and I would stream stuff off Garagepunk.com, MRR Radio, as well as Canadian punk shows like Equalizing Distort and Flex Your Head. When I got back to the UK I thought, “Why the fuck not?” and had a crack at doing something similar. I guess I had the somewhat romantic conception that my audience would be kids like me, broke, hung over and trying to block out the world on public transport, and I liked that my awesome taste in music would help get them through the day’s data entry. It was equal parts trying to do something new, an extension of my zine Facial Disobedience, which has a Cometbus/Beatnik vibe, an attempt to build community/reintegrate myself into what was going on and the overwhelming need to demonstrate to the world that I make an amazing mix tape.
Have you ever done radio?
No, I’d kinda like to give it a go though.
Tell us a little bit about THE JERKY BEATS and the “Walking on My Grave” podcast.
JERKY BEATS is a garage punk band I play in with a couple of mates. We don’t have a guitar, just a distorted bass, the vocals are distorted, everything sounds lo-fi as fuck, I guess. As you can imagine, we don’t play very often. It’s actually pretty high concept for something Neanderthal. Firstly, like I said, I’m in my 30’s now and it’s hard because the days of being able to be in 4 bands at the same time are past. Even if I wanted to, there just aren’t the people around in my circle of friends who’d want to as well! But the original line up of the BEATS came about because we got fucked off with moaning about how hard it was to put a band together. In the end we just booked a show with two weeks notice, wrote the songs and played just to prove a point that we could do it. Secondly I really like pop music when it’s hidden in a way that disguises the pop. So we wanted to start a band where the songs are kinda melodic then bury it under a lot of lo fi mess. We had an acoustic practice a month or so ago and played the songs stripped down so not to piss off the neighbours and it was surprising even to us that actually, there was something catchy under the noise. I really like that.
Walking On My Grave came about because of Blip.tv deleting a lot of my old shows. So although there are hours of shows on the blog, not all of the files are actually there to download once you try to do it. This bummed me out and I keep meaning to get around to re-uploading them to my current host. The good side of this though is that I’ve gone back and listened to some of the early shows and there are some awesome tunes that I’d forgotten all about. It’s like finding mix tapes you made five years ago and getting stoked on the bands you used to be into all over again. So the Walking On My Grave podcasts are supposed to be the best bits from the early shows. I’ve only done one so far, which is a history of Southampton hardcore in the early/mid ’00s. It was a lot of fun to put together, but I don’t have the time to do these in the way I’d like. Maybe next time I get a few days off I’ll upload another show. Time is part of the reason why the show comes out so infrequently now.
How do you usually hear about bands that wind up getting played on your show?
Good question! I guess stuff friends put me on to, things I see on blogs and read about in zines. There are labels like Dirtnap that I keep an eye on to see what comes out because I tend to like that sound. I still go to shows and see bands that floor me. I just keep my ears open and usually find stuff I like.
How can we best stay up to date on you?
I’m trying to pull a lot of my projects together in one place. So you can find out about the podcasts and THE JERKY BEATS at tensongspodcast.blogspot.com. There’s an archive of shows there, and you can subscribe using the RSS feeds to keep track of when I put out a new one. In terms of the zine, I guess I’m probably going to find a way to archive some of my writing, possibly as an e-book. I don’t think anyone cares enough to put out a book for me and I’m a shit capitalist and give most of them away anyhow, so paying to print it myself is probably a stupid idea. I do like the idea of a PDF book though, since it wouldn’t cost anything to do except time. If it happens, it’ll be linked from the Ten Songs blog.
Any last words?
Thanks for the interview, it’s really appreciated. Please check out the show and send me links to your own cool projects. Dress sharp, think sharp and try to keep your shit together. Up the punx.