With I LIKE IT ANYWAY, James Austin Johnson interviews a fellow comedian to discuss an activity or artifact that they love—so long as it’s uncool, unbecoming, or otherwise unacceptable.
There’s no way in hell there were other boys at my Baptist high school listening to as much Feist as I was between classes. And if there were, they definitely were not digging it as hard as I was digging it. I was, as the Kennedys were known to say, “all-about-it.” As good as I thought Let It Die was, I lived with the constant fear that an earbud would loosen or that the CD player would suddenly pop open revealing to all my Discman’s delicate vagina. Taste tells you one thing, society tells you another, and if you’re doing right by yourself, you ignore them both, hit play, and see if anything sticks.
I don’t know if I’ve met anyone as open with their music shame as Dave Ross was with me. Shame’s not even the right word. We talked about our favorite music for a long while, and anything he mentioned as important to him would sit more comfortably in the iTunes library of a woman of fifteen. Not a fully-grown man with the voice of teenage Balrog. Rasp aside, Dave’s got a lot going on: acting as part of the sketch group WOMEN; hosting his podcast Terrified on the Nerdist network; putting on his monthly story-telling show Two-Headed Beast with fellow “WOMAN” Jake Weisman. That’s so much more than any Blink-182 fan should ever be expected to accomplish.
You wanted to talk about bad music?
Any song that’s epic and made for the purpose of bringing people together at all, I’m on board. Like “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan, which was the theme song of the World Cup in 2010.
It’s a really happy song. So you like all that arena stuff or do you gravitate toward things that have a swooning quality too?
It’s the swooning quality, like Coldplay. And I would lump in there the earnest pop punk of the 90s. I’m a huge Blink-182 fan. Honestly, I think it’s the same music as Coldplay, just with a different tempo.
So you like the Blink-182 ballads, like “Adam’s Song?”
Anything anthemic. If your chorus has like, a choir of children singing, that’s the best.
Why do you think that’s so appealing specifically to you? My specific music embarrassment was how much I listened to that first Keane record. I remember having a huge Keane phase.
Keane is a British band fronted by a skinny young man with a fat baby’s face who has a really high-pitched voice. So it’s that guy, a piano and drums.
Very minimal and pretty?
More sort of taking what’s good about Radiohead…
…and removing the art from it?
Exactly. Do you like Mumford and Sons?
I did love Mumford and Sons when they started. I don’t know really. It’s just, there are a few big bands that everyone hates that I love, and Blink-182 and Coldplay are the big ones. This is a huge one: I hate a lot of their music, but there’s this one Linkin Park album that I love. It took them like 15 years to make it. There’s this one song called “Bleed It Out.” I’m sorry, man, but it’s epic as fuck.
How old were you when you liked that song?
Oh man. Like 25. I hate them, hate what they stand for. But that one album…
Can you pinpoint a moment of discovery when you knew pop punk wasn’t cool to like, but you kept with it? Did you ever have that crossroads moment?
There were ten years when I would never admit to my music taste. The way that I got into any other music was being in college and only having friends that hated Coldplay. For years this went on, and I did not come to terms with myself. Just sat in that group and felt inferior.
Let me ask you this: I was listening to a live Springsteen album on the way to interview you. And for some reason, my pretentious, awful brain views listening to a Springsteen live record from ’75 as a better use of my time than, say, listening to Keane. But I’m listening to Springsteen for the hooks and the anthems. Why is it better?
Everyone likes hooks. Why is one thing more valid or more respectable? I think it’s the image put forth. Blink-182 so obviously sold out. They didn’t even try to hold on to their credibility. People seem to really hate pop punk for that reason. NOFX gets no love, Bad Religion either. I think it’s just that all of it sounds so similar and sounds easy to write. But Springsteen isn’t that complex, either! So I think it comes down to grittiness. People who like indie rock want the writer to have some pain, or at least some insight about the world. But the way that pop punk, K’naan, and Coldplay sound is so enjoyable on a juvenile level and so hyper-produced that it doesn’t feel real. Tom Waits will always have tons of fans, because they perceive his experience as authentic. There’s a rawness that people latch onto—the feeling of being a real human being. Even though I think he makes shitty records now.
Well if you don’t like Tom Waits but do like Blink-182, where’s the grittiness there? Why do you like Blink-182 despite that?
Because I’m a full-on sap. I love love. I love friendship. I cry every time I watch The West Wing.
Sorkin sap. That’s a specific kind of sap.
I’m a Sorkin sap. I love when people are good to each other. That’s why I like them, and that’s why I don’t like that other arena shit, like Muse and Kings of Leon. This is interesting to me: I used to regard Death Cab For Cutie as one of those real bands, one I should’ve liked more than Coldplay but I didn’t. Now people hate Death Cab, but what’s funny to me is those same people really like The Postal Service, which is super produced. People will complain about something being over-produced and then say they love Four Tet.
So you think things can be filtered through the system and still sound good?
Absolutely. You can’t beat a hook. Our generation seems to like things that sound stripped-down and minimal, because we grew up with 80s and 90s pop, which felt so manufactured. But even the raw stuff like Nirvana and that new Kanye album sound rough, but it’s still hooks. They’re still pop songs.
I have trouble letting myself like things some of the time. Do you ever get so caught up in trying to be your ideal self, you forget about the things you actually enjoy?
Dude, I’m being honest in this interview, but I’m terrified of people finding this out about me. With comedy, there are so many things that I’m angry about that I want to be working into my act–things I actually feel. But the truth is, I have better sets when I temper that with broad silliness. No matter what amount of relatability, truth, grit, or authenticity you bring, it has to be digestible. The other thing that I find valuable with Blink-182 is how they would sing about having fun and drinking and stuff, but they would never talk down to women. They always talked about women with such adulation, “I wonder if she likes me.” That’s more real than some crust punk screaming about girls that won’t fuck them.
That’s Dave Ross, bra-burning Blink-182 fan.
That’s me. Can I use that? “Bra-burner?”
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