10 Questions with ... Roxy Myzal & Lou Brutus
July 5, 2016
1) Congrats on the 20th anniversary of hardDrive. Let's start at the beginning. What were the origins of this show?
Roxy: When I was hired at SW Networks in 1994, I was given two shows to produce. Pure Concrete and Street Heat. Pure Concrete, hosted by PD of Q104.3 Bob Elliot, who coincidently once worked at Burkhart-Abrams where my BF Dwight Douglas worked. Pure Concrete was a heavy metal show we did in conjunction with Concrete Marketing, the place where most metal bands went to promote their stuff. Street Heat was a hip-hop show that was associated with Russell Simmons, owner of Def Jam. So I lived in two different worlds. But oddly enough, there was a six degrees of separation. Don Kaye, who was my associate producer from Concrete, did the heavy lifting on Pure Concrete while I was an older white chick in the young hip-hop world. I got to interview Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg and arranged interviews for Russell to talk to celebs like Robert DeNiro, Jesse Jackson and Tyra Banks.
By 1996, heavy metal music was on a down swing, and Street Heat was cancelled, sadly, because I loved working in that genre. Anyhow, with stations like KXTE/Las Vegas (PD Mike Stern, now at Jacobs Media) coming on board with an Extreme Rock format, we saw that bands like Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, Korn, Alice In Chains and Foo Fighters were more popular over Van Halen, Corrosion of Conformity, Aerosmith and others. Since SW Networks mission was to provide more "niche" programming, we stayed in that lane. We needed a new host. At the time, Jacobs Media was consulting and wanted us to be more about Van Halen and Aerosmith, but I wasn't seeing that in the new direction of rock music, so we split off and they let me do my thing. It had always been a mission of mine to turn people on to new music. So, we needed a new host. That's when I heard Lou Brutus' demo tape and knew he was the guy.
Lou: I was doing afternoons at WRCX/Chicago, newly arrived from WMMR/Philadelphia. Through my years at those stations, as well as my earlier work at WHJY/Providence, I had acquired an artist-friendly reputation, particularly when it came to interviews. Personally, I don't think there was any trick to it. It's just that if you put in the preparation to understand a subject and then are respectful to each person you meet, you're usually bound to get solid results. I believe that coupled with my general on-air style, which I always owed to Dan Ingram of WABC in NYC, were two strengths that would be useful in a program like this. Short and to the point. Dave Richards, my PD at the time, called me in one day and told me that SW Networks wanted to talk to me about hosting a new show and I had my initial conversation with Corrine Baldassano from SW Networks. Roxy later flew to Chicago so she and I could chat about philosophies in person. I remember Dave cautioning me that shows like this normally don't have a shelf life past a year or so, but I was still willing to give it a go.
2) How did you come up with the name of the show and is there any special meaning to it?
Roxy: I didn't. Corinne Baldassano, my boss at SW Networks, offered a bunch of names. I have too much Libra in me, so I could never decide. HARDDRIVE was one of the names she offered and we agreed on it.
Lou: It's funny but I was never crazy about the name of the show though in hindsight one thing has been especially good about it. There's nothing in the name that ties the show to one particular branch of the music tree. If you're putting something in the title of anything, particularly a radio show, it's very easy to paint yourself into a corner. I think by not being tied down via the name to a particular part of the rock world, we've been able to naturally progress and evolve with the listeners. We can play any kind of rock, hard rock or metal and make it work together. The naming of things in life is very important.
3) When and how did you guys meet and begin working together?
Roxy: Jacobs Media sent me a box of airchecks. Lou's was in there. I loved what I heard. He was into Frank Zappa and did an amazing interview with Maynard and Adam from TOOL! I picked him, and the rest, well, you know.
Lou: The TOOL interview actually got a lot of pick-up. At that point they had sworn off interviews as they had had a couple of bad experiences. However, someone in their team told them I wasn't so bad of a guy and they'd enjoy the conversation. I had known that Maynard was a huge DEVO fan and I had done some cool stuff with Mark Mothersbaugh including having him do a solo performance of "Girl You Want" on a homemade accordion in Indian raga style. No, really. When TOOL arrived Maynard was stoked to hear it and insisted I make him a dub on the spot. The conversation went smashingly and then I basically just left them in the studio to play Led Zeppelin vinyl on the air on their own.
4) I understand the two of you have survived three different radio networks. Who were they and when did your current network United Stations come into play?
Roxy: I was living in LA and was producing music videos and my friend Corinne Baldassano was hiring people at SW Networks, a Sony/Warner company that was originally formed to be competition as a video channel against MTV in 1994. But the FCC had rules about labels doing programming, and MTV went ballistic, so it became a radio network. She hired me as a producer. We were very pioneering with our own website before the internet was even a thing. It was a state-of-the-art company. Technologically, we were light years ahead of what anyone was doing then.
Sadly, by 1997, the company folded and hardDrive and our smooth jazz show Personal Notes were acquired by MediaAmerica. At that time, I also inherited Personal Notes, and was doing both hardDrive and Personal Notes. It was a weird dichotomy, but it worked for me. Then in 2001, when MediaAmerica was bought by Jones Radio, Personal Notes went away, and they were going to cancel us. I called Andy Denemark at United Stations and the rest is history.
Lou: I just get up early every morning, drink black coffee, stay organized and work hard. I figure if I keep doing that and set a high standard for myself, there should usually be places to go!
5) Let's talk about the specifics of the show. What are some of the basic features of hardDrive and what makes the show work?
Roxy: The fact that we have always wanted to help people discover new music. "Think like a fan" has always been my adage.
Lou: Pretty much anything that happens on the show is music and artist-driven. Everything stays focused on the rock world that we live in. We don't veer off into politics, there's not any "what did the Kardashians do" BS; we are here to live and breathe the world of rock music. I believe that's the main reason why the show works. During the XL version of the program where I have more time to talk, I still stay mainly focused on topics that will resonate with music fans. While I do cover some other ground there, I prefer to keep things real, approaching any topic like it's stand-up comedy, which is at its best when it's relatable. Not that everything has to be funny, just that it should be clever and relatable. If you're going to say something, say it with a twist of some kind to make it more memorable. Verbal craftsmanship is what to strive for in that respect. However, it all comes back to music. When people ask me what I do, I often tell them I'm a "Professional Music Fan."
6) I know you both have different roles in the production of hardDrive but describe a typical production week. What is the process? What are some of the key production and writing elements of the show?
Roxy: Mondays, I edit interviews for our night show, hardDrive XL. And I start plotting out what will be on the weekend show. I also prepare for music selection for HDXL in meetings I have with Randy Hawke, who consults the night show. Tuesdays, I start writing hardDrive, have music meeting for the night show and then prep for interviews I may have or other tasks like writing promos, talking to labels, coming up with contests, etc. Fridays are log days for HDXL that I couldn't do without my amazing assistant, Paul Spagna, who also gives Lou all his show prep for the night show and handles all our promotions and our social media, weekly affiliate updates and more. Zak Tranese is the hardDrive studio engineer/associate producer, while Bill Powell handles the same for hardDrive XL. I also handle the hardDriveRadio.com website, with help from Paul, and I write the daily music news blog DIRT for both the site and the night show, which I voicetrack for Tuesday and Thursday. I also do in-person and on the phone interviews during the day when Lou may not be available, and we book in-studio performances and podcasts. We also have the hardDriveRadio YouTube Channel. Shane Snider (yes, Dee's son) is our head of video production and he does an amazing job with not only our interviews, but our performances. Check out our performance videos for Ghost and Holy White Hounds. They are awesome! Anyhow, it's a very full week!
Lou: The main work for the programs on my end actually begins at around 6a on Sunday mornings. This is when I take my first look at the music logs and guest lineups for the week. I'll look at the main topics in the world and what's happening in music so I can get an idea of what my main conversational building blocks are going to be. Then I begin writing by first checking notes I've written for myself on the run in the previous days with starter ideas. Usually something starts with just a word or phrase that acts as a catalyst to remind me of the path to go down so I can then fully flesh something out later. Of course, things are constantly updated through the course of the week based on events, but at least I have a foundation to work off of. I do the show in the evenings on weekdays. However, the show is at its best when the writing and the ideas are continually worked on. The interviews happen when they happen. I have a studio at home and am constantly in motion in the outside world. Much of my year is built around my trips to shows and traveling with bands on tour to bring back content. What makes it easier is having a great team working on the show including the mighty Randy Hawke for XL.
7) Let's talk about the bands that you're interviewed the past 20 years. I know there are many, but what are some of the best interview moments in hardDrive's 20-year history?
Roxy: Dave Grohl and Maynard Keenan are some of my favorites. There isn't a band we haven't interviewed over the years I can think of except for Axl Rose.
Lou: The best part of my job is getting to talk to interesting people. And I don't just mean the artists, I mean the managers, TMs, merch people, roadies, tech crew and fans. This industry is filled with interesting people! That being said, some of my favorite people to speak to are Corey Taylor, Rob Zombie, Maynard Keenan, Brent Smith, Jacoby Shaddix, Zoltan Bathory. Damn, I know I'm missing so many others. The people who make for the best interviews are those who can explain what they do. Sometimes a great artist is rotten at explaining themselves. You know what I mean? They're phenomenal in front of 10,000 people but awkward with one-on-ones. I can't say what the "best" interview moment has been but I think I can name two of my favorites. The first was an early conversation with Corey Taylor who told me how he listened every Sunday night on Lazer 103.3 in Des Moines while working the counter at a porn shop and knowing one day he'd get to be a guest on the show. The other was backstage with Rob Zombie at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia. We were wrapping up and I thanked him for his time and he said, "Lou, I'm always glad to see you. I hate doing this shit but when I see your name on the day sheet, I know I'm actually going to enjoy that portion of my day."
8) You guys are active with social media like Facebook and Twitter. How has that benefitted hardDrive thru the years?
Roxy: I am still very old school and this is still new territory for me. Paul handles all of that, and I contribute occasionally. Lou is awesome at that. But we have our website, http:www.harddriveradio.com and hardDriveRadio on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We also launched our new hardDriveRadio APP, a free download on iTunes or Google Play. And we've just done our first Live Facebook event with comedian Jim Breuer in studio (June 28th). Check it out if you haven't seen it. It was hilarious. We got nearly 200,000 views! We also launched the hardDrive DL podcast which hardDrive engineer Zak Tranese and Paul Spagna oversee. We use many of the interviews that come into our studios. Find it on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.
Lou: I've been a firm believer in social media and online from the get-go. Along with contributing to the hardDrive radio online world, I'm extremely active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with expansion on the way with more activity on Snapchat and Vine. The Facebook reach for my LouBrutusRocks page is normally in the millions, often spiking into the tens of millions when I have a bit of extra time to generate extra content.
My love of photography has been a great help in this area in a couple of ways. First, the actual photos themselves are great to share. My onstage images of artists have been used by Cheap Trick, Halestorm, Gibson Guitars and a ton of others. Second, my understanding of photo editing programs like Photoshop and Light Room is extremely helpful. For example, I prefer every image I post to look as professional as possible because, whether it's fair or not, listeners will have their thoughts of you partially judged by appearance. Every pic I take with an artist backstage is cropped and processed. The background is something good; we're not standing next to a garbage can or getting photo-bombed. Also, the image-editing knowledge allows me to create original memes and other content that goes viral and drives views. I believe everyone who works in our industry should have some basic knowledge of image work. It's imperative in this day and age. You can do incredible things with the apps on your iPhone or Galaxy if you take the time to learn. It's the difference between a lackluster image and something that makes my people take notice. I'm also now in the middle of rebuild of LouBrutus.com with Josh Lippman Designs. My secret weapon thru the years has been artist Alan MacBain who does most of the graphic illustrations you see in my projects. We've done books, comic books, album covers, and countless other projects together. The online maw must be constantly fed.
9) hardDrive has also won numerous industry awards over the 20 years. Here's your chance to gloat. What are some of the shows award accomplishments?
Roxy: I am very humbled we've been nominated for Billboard Awards, and have won RadioContraband's Awards. Personally, I've been a four-time winner for Non-Traditional Programmer of the Year, and won the Impact and Format MVP Awards. Aw, gosh!
Lou: Well, most recently I've won the first three Radio Contraband Awards as Best Nationally Syndicated DJ in America. I've also received honors and/or awards from FMQB, The Air Awards, YouTube, Twitter, NY Daily News and also have the dubious distinction for receiving the most nominations in the Billboard Airplay Awards without a win. I'm always honored and humbled to receive stuff, but mostly it just makes me paranoid. I then have to work harder to prove I'm worthy of anyone's further notice. I wish I could just enjoy things like a normal person, but I find it difficult. It just makes me work more.
10) Finally, surviving and even thriving over a 20-year period is quite an accomplishment. What would you ultimately attribute hardDrive's successful 20 year run to?
Roxy: The bands and the listeners. My entire career has been devoted to helping people discover music. I will do that 'til I die. And I am a flag-waver for Active Rock. Long may we reign!
Lou: Work hard. Be respectful of everyone you meet. Do your best to learn things every day. If you do that, you'll be fine. Also, go straight at the buggers and give them a taste of the chrome.