The Story Of
CASSETTES & CHOCOLATE MILK
(and other stories of love, broadcasting & defamation) by ELEANOR GRAY
The Story Of
CASSETTES & CHOCOLATE MILK (and other stories of love, broadcasting & defamation) by ELEANOR GRAY
ÂŠ C&CM Productions. All Rights Reserved.
i. Prologue A few years ago, I was watching the Beatles Anthology with my brother Tomy. We were up to the part of The Ballad of John and Yoko, shortly after Lennon and Ono embarked upon their famous bed-in at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969. I remember thinking that it wouldn’t have been the most ideal honeymoon ever but then again, people do all kinds of heroic deeds in the name of bed/hair/world peace. Days later at a press conference in Vienna, John concealed himself and his new wife with a bedsheet and revealed a new philosophy called Bagism. Its application in society was rather redundant but it struck a chord with me. According to John and Yoko, if you had something to say, Bagism allowed you to communicate your message without risk of unfair judgement. The theory was that prejudice could be eliminated by covering your physical features and attributes, whether it be the colour of your skin, the clothes you wore, your age or even the length of your hair. That idea (and the prospect of staying in bed for a week) has always appealed to me as it has become a fundamental basis of my love for radio. In March 2003, I started the radio programme that would later become “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk” on La Trobe University’s SUB FM. I was thrilled at the prospect of broadcasting my thoughts about the music I love. I was equally startled at the irony that I could only suppress such views at school. I was always haunted by the memory of bullying and judgement of my peers. I knew I was strange and different. I knew they would never accept me, so I hardly ever spoke in their presence. Radio allowed me to be protected by my proverbial bedsheets and in truth, my insecurities could be washed away by the fact that I could communicate without any physical prejudice. I could develop an on-air persona who was far more articulate, knowledgeable and beautiful than I really was. However, like any ideal, Bagism didn't work out the way it was intended. Despite my creative freedom, I was still haunted by the judgement of my peers. Future radio efforts “Music for the Masses”, “Music is My Radar” and “Counterfeit” were also haunted by an inability to describe the significance of “my” music. I still cannot describe it properly, simply because words are far too patronising to describe love. It is six and a half years and thirteen radio shows since those early beginnings of “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk”. This is my book of everything that happened in that time, It features themes of variable production values, performance anxiety, relentless perfectionism, startling interview opportunities and impossible romance. The Story of “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk” is about my love of radio and how it has managed to consume me for so long. It is about how I will never shy away from the challenge of this medium. I will never hide in my proverbial bedsheets... that is, unless, of course, I am having a bed-in.
II. SUB FM
I want to be what I was, when I wanted to be what I am now. It’s the night before my uni life begins. It’s what I would have wanted six months ago, but on this very dramatic eve, I feel nothing. I’ve quit my job. I’m gonna DJ at the radio station. (March 2nd 2003)
“I will show you how to cue something.” Simon reached over the mixing desk. He was the Station Manager of SUB FM. To my recollection, he was the entire staff of SUB FM. He reminded me somewhat of Jarvis Cocker from Pulp. Maybe even a little bit of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. He pressed play on the CD player; it was Fade to Grey by Visage. “Basically, you press play on the CD player and you press this little button on top of the fader marked CD 2. This will let you preview the CD track before it goes to air.” In a former life, the mixing desk lived in a music studio. You could tell too, there were lines upon lines of unmarked grey little knobs. Each knob must distort the sound in some indistinguishable way. Damn, it would be cool to know what all those little knobs did. He pointed at a little black screen at the top of the desk. Segmented orange lines where jumping up and down, synchronised to the new romantic beats. “If it goes into the red on the VU meter that means it’s distorting. You’ll have to bring down the levels a bit.” Sure, it was all technical jargon, but I thought I would soon get the hang of it. It seemed pretty straightforward, really. After all, it’s not as if I was meant to know what any of the grey little knobs on the mixing desk did1. I was to only use the faders that were similar to volume knobs and the buttons at the top of the faders, you use those to preview the tracks. Of course, you had to use that deft switch and button combination to control the microphone. “To use the microphone, you need to flick this switch. This switches off the speakers in the studio. See, if you leave the speakers on, there will be feedback…” Ah ha! Screechy unpleasant noise! Must avoid! Gotcha. He positioned the chunky microphone in front of his face. The microphone was fitted with a yellow foam protector. It was attached to the carpeted table by something which resembled a retractable light stand. Maybe the microphone used to be a light stand in a former life? Maybe the carpeted table used to be a floor covering in a former life? 1
In fact, in all my years of broadcasting, I never found out what any of those little grey knobs did. Actually, I lie. One of them was for volume in the studio.
“Position the microphone approximately about four fingers from your face. Don’t speak to the side of the microphone and don’t touch or move the microphone when you’re on air. If you do, the mic stand will make a screeching sound and your listeners will hear it.” That was the mysterious thing about SUB: listeners. More to the point, were there any? After all, SUB only had a very limited broadcasting license which covered the university campus. The aerial situated on top of the Union Building was rather weak, too. So, to my understanding, if you wanted to tune into SUB, you basically had to sit outside the station with a transistor radio. But however quaint that idea was, I never saw anyone doing that sort of thing. Listeners were more inclined to go to the website and stream the show online. Simon left me with a few encouraging words and a two hour spot, all of my own. However, my first shows were to be with some veteran radio mentors. For some reason, it never really eventuated. I never met them. Instead, I was left by myself to figure it out. Much of the time, I was too flustered to even speak between songs. Yet when I did manage to speak, I didn’t even wear headphones. That is probably the most retrospectively devastating aspects of my first year at SUB: no headphones. I would later learn that this is something of a cardinal sin of radio. After all, if you didn’t wear headphones when you were announcing, you would have absolutely no clue as to how you sounded. Too loud? Distorted? Too soft? Indistinguishable? Who knows. I was just talking to myself in a room.
Quite distinct from any romantic incentive, I began to look forward to presenting my little show on SUB each week. I would consciously and subconsciously think of all the songs I wanted to play. I would even construct little stories that would annotate the songs. It was a place where I became very comfortable. I could experiment with my announcing style and delivery. In those few months, my presentation style a little bit tighter, a little more succinct. As much as I feared that my (occasionally dubious) musical choices would be hacked to pieces, nothing ever happened. Simon never charged into the studio with any sort of objection. The show became a totally ephemeral thing, a few moments in time which would escape into a void. I actually loved it because of that. I could formulate my ideas on music without fear of reproach.
It was on the Hoist where I first started to become obsessed with my on-air delivery. At this stage, it didn’t take the form of evaluating my own style, it manifested itself in the critical analysis of one of my co-hosts. He had a very commercial, terribly affable on-air persona 2. He had an infectious confidence that I could never convincingly emulate. In spite of my newfound lack of confidence, I discovered a number of things about myself. I wasn’t a commercial presenter, I didn’t go in for tokenistic endorsement and I didn't want to present music that I didn’t care about. I had a better of idea of my convictions and work ethic. Perhaps most importantly, I knew that I wanted to control my own air space. I wanted to express my own musical views confidently. Sure, I didn’t want to talk about chicken or public transport, but I knew there must be a place for me somewhere.
He has come to represent all the whims, desires and needs of Australian commercial radio. Even though he doesn't work on commercial radio.
V. “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk” When I returned to SUB FM in March 2004, I decided to re-brand the show. I called it “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk”, in reference to the Rufus Wainwright song Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk. I launched a corresponding website for the radio show, cassettesandchocolate.cjb.net. It was a modest website, featuring playlists, musical rants, show history and a message board. I focused on making a cohesive identity for the show. It makes sense when you look at it now. At that time, I was playing a lot of Franz Ferdinand, Pet Shop Boys, The Clash and Oasis b-sides. Simon described the show as “Britpop” in the Programming Grid and I guess it was. Before that time, I had hardly ever revelled in the tag of “Britpop”, I never considered that I was in with the movement. It was then that I realised that it was true, I was absolutely devoted to British pop. I believe a lot of it has to do with the fact that I spent my entire childhood and adolescence yearning to go back to the UK. I was only five years old when we went there as a family and even though I could scarcely remember the time in the first place, it had a profound impact upon me. So much that all my stories would inevitably involve a bunch of girlfriends who would go to London together. They would have a geeky fascination with the Tower of London, an encyclopedic knowledge of gemstones as well as a penchant for secretly speaking French to each other3. My obsessive love for the UK eventually infiltrated my taste in music. Everything from my fascination with Blur’s album The Great Escape (1995) to my obsessive love for the Beatles (1996-Present) to my love of the Libertines’ idyllic vision of Albion in the album Up The Bracket (2003). My music encompassed an attitude and an unyielding desire to be in the UK with people who loved all this as much as I did. All of this ultimately became the underlying premise of “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk”. It was a show that had the utmost love and respect for the musical past and present. It was a show that was imbued with such warmth and happiness. I will always consider it to be the complete embodiment of how I feel about British pop. Regardless of whatever other project I had going, I always considered it to be the most open, honest and creatively enriching thing I could possibly do. I always knew that I never wanted to let it go. Even when I produce podcasts under the “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk” banner, I can so easily recall my musical enthusiasm in that dinky little studio above Union Hall. It was the place where I became the person I wanted to be.
There might have been a mystery involved in there somehow, but that’s hardly relevant at that point in time.
Page 32 - 37_____________________________________________________________________ VI. “Music is My Radar” It was November 2004. Summer was approaching and I knew I was to lose my radio show once again. I had grown even more attached to “Cassettes & Chocolate Milk”. It was a romantic sort of attachment, I was grateful to have that outlet. Can you really call talking to yourself in a room an outlet? I don’t know. Regardless, I had to figure something out for that summer. I knew, armed with that Bloc Party interview that I had to approach SYN and propose an idea for a new show: “Music is My Radar”. I intended “Music is My Radar” to be a heavily stylised show, in the vein of Radio One. The thirty minute demo indicated that the show would be introduced by its theme song, Blur’s experimental track Music is My Radar. The volume would decrease and there would be a very slick announcement as to what was going to be on the show that night. Maybe it’d be an interview or a documentary or a group of segments, whatever. When it went live to air, it was never as slick as I had hoped for it to be. It was difficult to coordinate playing the theme off CD, removing the prior show’s CD, putting in the next song, all while announcing and keeping cool at the same time. Simply because it wasn’t as slick as the rest of the show, Andrew would mockingly imitate those introductions at length. The show was distinguished by its strategic planning and organisation. There were segments like the “Radar Vaults”, “Nice Video, Shame about the Song”, “Songs from the Front Row”, “Fallen Figures”, “Electronic Ecstasy” and “Mash-Ups”. The show was organised so that “Songs from the Front Row” was early in the show and “Mash-Ups” was nearer the end4. I reveled in the absolute autonomy of the program. I loved that I had complete control over its structure and programming and there would be absolutely no way that anyone could undermine or belittle me. I even celebrated such a fact by airing the documentary, “This is for the Fans”.
"This is for the Fans" is an aural collage of intimate stories from rock music’s most devoted and passionate. The feature particularly concentrates on fans that express their passion through different creative methods. Characters range from the writer, who composes poetry based on the music of his favourite band, to the fashion designer who has designed clothing inspired by that shown in a video clip. These stories are contrasted by a grim narration, which indirectly associates love of music with society’s negative perception of fandom. The piece contains the underlying conclusion that love or hate can occur with the associations fans have with music, not with the music itself. (December 13th 2004)
It was the documentary that was “about Queen”. I made it in my Radio Sound Production class in order to come to terms with what had happened at school. It was difficult to produce the documentary, namely because I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound like. I spent 35 hours in the editing suites trying to attain this level of perfection. In this instance, perfection was 4
“Mash-Ups” was a particularly popular segment. I suppose the show coincided with a time when they were relatively unique concept. The Strokes vs Christina Aguilera! Who woulda thunk it?
equivocal to acceptance. I wouldn’t wish to convey the story of my passion for Queen and have that be anything less than perfect. I had ultimately hoped to hand over the documentary to Brian May. I sent it to him in an email once, but I doubt he ever listened to it. “Radar” gradually built up a loyal group of listeners who would eagerly anticipate particular segments on the show. Occasionally listeners would send in the most kind, lovely, supportive text messages to the studio computer. The warmest summation of “Radar” was expressed by James on Always New Depths some time during the last show5: “It’s like she’s taken you by the hand to her room, sat you down on the rug and shared the most moving, meaningful records of her whole collection.” The description charmed me in its resemblance to Norwegian Wood. It was very wholesome and true, I liked it very much. I garnered the confidence to email all bands I wished to interview6. It was in a time long before MySpace, Wiki, Facebook or even well-established music blogs. If those things did exist it would have made my task so much easier. The first interview was with lead singer Adam from the then three-piece band from Leicester, Elle Milano7. By his own admission, it was his first interview too. I wasn’t surprised as the band had only been together for about three months. In that time, they had managed to produce and record an incredible number of songs in their kitchen, upload them to ellemilano.co.uk and develop an everfaithful fanbase. It was punk with a wry sense of humour and a real pop sensibility. They had a potent, thought provoking kind of lyricism. No words were ever wasted: “Would you love me if I were black, would you love me if I were gay or stick a knife in my back?” The interview went just fine. We talked about hype, image, aspirations, pop music, lyricism, demos and plans for the future. There were a few awkward moments where I showed myself up to be a little naïve and stupid, but they were quickly eliminated with the editing process. I became so reliant on the editing process that I would only do pre-recorded phone interviews. In person, live interviews were very much an exception to the rule. I hated when these musicians saw me. I hated when they would see me and judge my age, class or sex. In the instances where a musician would be rude or dismissive, I scrapped the interview altogether. At that time, I had developed a healthy attitude. I never saw it as a personal attack - I saw it as their lost opportunity. Perhaps the most memorable interview was one that didn’t even appear on “Radar”. I managed to organise an interview with Freddie Mercury’s personal assistant, Peter Freestone. It was a completely selfish interview in the sense that I used it to refine my theories and ideas about someone who meant so much to me. I knew the interview could not be edited and aired on any radio show, not “Radar” or even “C&CM” at least. It was simply a record, that I once got that little bit closer and that bit more knowledgeable about my greatest inspiration. It wasn’t until I collaborated with other people that I realised how pedantic I was about 5
During the last show, there was a running commentary from a huge and largely international listenership from the website. The “running commentary” consisted of a thread that extended 12 pages, 166 posts and 740 views in a space of two hours. I was too nervous to attempt contacting well-established bands. Later interviews included The Polyphonic Spree, The Dears, Cause & Effect, Prosaics and Moving Units.
interview technique. In retrospect, it was a really great thing to be so aware of the importance of personal perception. I mean, how do you come across as someone who is knowledgeable, friendly and personable without sounding like a prat? How do you disarm a difficult person? How do you convince someone that youâ€™re not yet another mindless, witless, presumptuous journalist? It meant much more to me than simply making a good impression; it was the ability to connect with a person and somehow induce something that is interesting, funny and sincere. When it worked, it made me feel so capable and fulfilled. I wasnâ€™t a hack journalist, I was a creative peer.
Page 39_________________________________________________________________________ “Radar” finished in May 20058. I still have a few recordings of the show. It’s a bit difficult to listen to it now. “Radar” was my empire and listening to it reminds me of how it is all gone. When I was preparing for it, I took great satisfaction that it was a show with a totally unique focus and style for its time. No one else was playing music like it at the time, not even Triple J. It was a complete embodiment of my aspirations, of everything I wanted to be and everything I wanted to achieve. I suppose it was only appropriate that it would end in being reacquainted with London.
Straight after “Radar”, I co-hosted “Indie Night Kick-Off” with Krystal for 4 weeks before I went to London.
Page 52_________________________________________________________________________ We quickly developed a production campaign for “Counterfeit”. It was a six month plan, in which we would pre-record at least twelve interviews with internationally renowned artists. This was done, quite simply, by compiling a list of as many desirable artists as we could think of and writing to them. The list compiled in my radio book included approximately thirty nine different artists. Some of the artists appeared to be reasonably attainable from the outset, bands like Battle, The Cribs and Art Brut. Others seemed more difficult, like Hot Hot Heat, Kasabian and the Libertines. What we were doing was, in reality, unacceptable in the community radio sector. There are supposed to be “channels” in which interviews are obtained by the Talks Producer and distributed among the on-air presenters. You could request an interview, sure, but the likelihood of obtaining that interview was minimal. While all this was going on, Amanda and I had been making some decent progress on “Counterfeit”. The program development somehow became the project for my second semester Advanced Radio Sound Production Class. The truth of the matter is that I would have preferred to be making a series of short radio documentaries about musical culture, but it just didn't work out that way. Instead, I reported our “progress” back to class every Tuesday afternoon. To me, it seemed like a whole lot of nothing. I was reporting upon interviews and incidents that would have occurred, irrespective of what was going down in radio class.
The project involves developing material for a new radio show on 90.7 SYN FM. The intended radio show, called “Counterfeit,” will be a two-hour music-based radio show on Indie Night during the summer grid. Hosted with friend, Amanda, “Counterfeit” will be a practical amalgamation of our previous on-air efforts at SYN FM. Our approach to “Counterfeit” is largely inspired by an unyielding love for international indie music and culture. Drawing from a range of influences, from the electronic indie-pop of the 80s to the rhythmically angular postpunk revivalists of today, “Counterfeit” will draw on a fresh and unique approach to indie music journalism. As well as developing a dynamic on air presence, we plan to include insightful interviews from internationally renowned musicians and figureheads within the community. Ultimately, this program will appeal to a range of intellectual local and international music listeners, aged 15-25 who share an indulgent passion for music. (November 2005)
“Counterfeit” was an ambitious effort, but I don't like to recall that time. Even though we notionally shared the same vision, Amanda struggled with me too. She struggled with my arguably pedantic interviewing techniques. The most vivid memory was preparing for our interview with Carl Barât of the Libertines9. I was thrilled, as we were going to interview a very personal hero and one of the most revered icons in British music. We were advised to concentrate our discussion on Barât's Under the Influence compilation. In some respects, I was so sure of what I had to say. Yet I somehow succumbed to this sublime state of panic. At some point in the preparation process, I became a complete mess, I just didn't know what to say. I so desperately wanted to talk to him about Pete Doherty, but how do you discuss the ramifications 9
Ally, the Talks Producer of SYN kindly organised a ten minute phone interview with the man.
of a best friend's drug addiction? It seemed awkward and unrelated to the music, somehow. I tried to control the situation by considering my questions and phrasing very carefully. I remember Amanda's erratic exclamations that the questions didn't need to be that perfect, that I should just let it go. I was comfortable with the interview methodology I had developed on “Radar”. But things were made so much more complicated by virtue of the fact that there were two of us doing the interviewing. Consequently, the chances of alienating the artist had doubled. I was anxious not to anger my hero or otherwise alienate him with blatantly wrong information. It was a creative minefield and all I wanted to do was get it right. The interview itself wasn't as incredible as you would expect. The ten minutes went quickly. Carl was distracted for a large portion of the time, he and his mates were attempting to get into an off-licence liquor store after hours. It was still light-hearted and humourous conversation though. He discussed showing up at venues to DJ, only to be met with dry remarks like “Where's your guitar?” to which he would reply, “Oh, it's at home.” Carl explained that he finally decided to give it up, as his hang-over from the night would ruin a good half of his working week. He also mentioned that he included Erasure on his first mixtape for a girl. It was a charming state of affairs, true, but I didn't discuss any of the things I intended. We interviewed other artists during that time. Chris Urbanowicz from Editors; James Gerard Bairian from Dirty Little Secret; Ailidh Lennon from Sons and Daughters; David Jones from the Departure; Marcus Congleton from Ambulance LTD; Nathan Followill from Kings of Leon10. There were a few great conversations. However, the great conversations were dramatically counteracted with a good few awkward moments and confrontations11. Along with our interviews, we spent a lot of time writing articles for our blog, counterfeitfm.blogspot.com. We had invited our friends to write critical pieces about musical culture. Saeley wrote an hilarious piece about emos. Mike from Take Your Medicine wrote about twee culture. Amanda wrote about the snobbery of mixtapes. I went about examining why I fell for radio as I did. I couldn't believe I was finally among my creative peers. I was among people who understood the significance of all this.
In January 2006, we ended up trekking to the Hyatt to interview a very out-of-it Nathan for SYN TV. I didn't say much. These were promptly edited out.
Vignettes from "The Story of Cassettes & Chocolate Milk". Includes other stories of love, broadcasting and defamation.