Jon Solomon has been a DJ on WPRB for so long that it kind of hurts to think about. As that station’s stalwart and the CEO of My Pal God Records, he’s kind of the closest thing the Philly indie rock scene has to a John Peel. And true enough, tomorrow, he celebrates his 100th live in-studio guest performance with the band Kinski. Since 2000, Solomon’s been peppering his radio shows with performances he records in the humble WPRB studios in Princeton, NJ. (You can check out his extensive archives at KeepingScoreAtHome.com.) Tomorrow, Jon will be showing off those archives from 1pm to 10pm at 103.3 (with Kinski, his 100th guests, airing at 8pm). Today, we IM’ed Jon to see what’s up with all of that.
Jon Solomon talks the talk after the jump.
So Jon: As many people know, you have been Mr. WPRB since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Your Xmas show, for instance, is a holiday tradition. What was the initial impetus for you to actually start recording the bands you play on WPRB?
In college at Northwestern in the early 1990s, I did the “Local Music Show” for a few years. Each Saturday afternoon, a different Chicago-area band would come to the studios and perform live over the radio. I really enjoyed this experience (though I wasn’t crazy about having to get a band sound-checked and live on the air in a chaotic attempt to hit a hard air-time) and when I moved back to this area in 2000 I thought that a similar series would be a nice addition to my radio show. WPRB had a “performance space” that was not being used so I taught myself via trial/error and made use of what we had.It was a big improvement from the four-track mixer WNUR had!
Much like living in Chicago, the variety and quality of area bands inside WPRB’s broadcast radius has made my job pretty easy. I still haven’t come close to having all the local bands I want to perform stop by the station.
What’s the gear situation like? Since it’s college radio, that stuff must be pretty battered. Have you ever gotten a band who’s walked in and been like, “Oh heavens, no! We couldn’t possibly sound good on this?”
We record straight to a two track mix on a computer, coming off a sixteen channel board. Headphones act as montiors, usually just for vocals. Most people end up pretty happy with the final product. I usually try and spend a decent amount of time “sound checking” until we get the mix that gets recorded. Bands play as if it were live, but if a song gets botched or a string breaks, we can always do a song again and nobody will be any the wiser (until now, I suppose).
Of all the sessions you’ve done, describe the most “magical.”
Hmmm… The drummer for 1929 having a stick slip out of his hand, only to see it caught by another band member who threw it back to him. The stick was caught IN BEAT and the song was saved. That was pretty unreal.
Ha! What else?
Misplacing a member of The Constantines while trying to sound check because he needed to go take a quick nap (the band showed up to record at 9:55 am after being up nearly all night after playing the North Star). It took a good ten minutes to figure out where he had gone.
The Perfectionists needing to play with their full array of lights and props, even though this was ON THE RADIO.
Being mentioned in a Yah Mos Def song, replacing John Golden’s name.
Dalek looking up their own lyrics on Google.
Parts & Labor being so loud campus security stopped by to make sure everything was ok.
OK. Now for the hard part: Who was so bad that you were like, gosh, these guys are AWFUL?
There’s one shall-go-nameless, since-broken-up band who came to record at WPRB very early in this series’ history, but I couldn’t get the playback mix to work (my fault, I completely admit) and they left without recording a note.
There’s also another shall-go-nameless band who had their bassist quit in WPRB’s lobby right before we were going to start recording.
They played without a bass player and took her to the airport as soon as they were loaded out. It was really uncomfortable.
Yeah. I’d never seen anything like it before.
Have you ever made friends for life out of any of these things?
A few bands I recorded early in this series (Quick Fix Kills, S Prcss) are bands I later put out records for, and I’ve certainly been happy to share a meal/root beer/BBQ with a number of people who have stopped by. Most of the good friends who have recorded were good friends going in, though.
I would like to take this forum to apologize to the good people of Philadelphia for being incredibly awful at remembering people’s names, what bands they are in and how I know them on the rare occasions when I go out in public.If bands could just start wearing name tags or their own band’s merch when they went out it would really help me out a lot.
[Photo credit: B. Awesome]