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New Podcast Gives Artists Their Own Voice

We chat to Joel Werner, the creator of ‘Your Own Voice’, a new non-narrated series featuring artists reflecting on their own creative work.

Your Own Voice is a brilliant new podcast created by journalist and former Sydney-resident, Joel Werner. The basic premise of the series is musicians/artists discussing their own work. Not an interview, or an audio-documentary of their work. Their words. Their perspective. How they view their own creative process, the story behind their work and how they create. The lack of narrative circling their explanations gives the entire thing it’s own free-form flow and also dictates how the episodes are presented – as re-constructed parables sliced and diced together from one side of a conversation.

We recently chatted to Joel about how the podcast came about and where he sees it heading in the future.

How did ‘Your Own Voice’ come about?

My wife got a job in Manhattan last September, and we relocated to New York for a few years. I’m a science journo/radio producer by trade – I’m currently on leave without pay from the ABC. I came over here with an idea to freelance and check out the North American Public Radio scene. All my favourite shows are produced over here, they just have a different approach to making creative audio. I’d been toying with the idea of doing something on my own – I didn’t know what, but I just figured it’s a good opportunity to experiment.

One thing I realised working for the ABC was that a lot of my mates (a lot) never listened to the radio I was making – which is kind of understandable. If you’re not a popular science nerd, there’s not much to keep an ear out for. So I figured I’d try to make radio for people who don’t usually listen to radio.

I want each episode to be as much a mixtape as a radio story – like switching on the director’s commentary DVD Extras option of your favourite mixtape. And I want it to be a bit ‘outsider’ editorially – I’m not gonna be hitting up Taxiride for an interview anytime soon. Then again..

Yeah, I find the approach fairly different to the majority of podcasts I listen to, which are structured as a more of a straight-forward narrative. I keep waiting for you to interject and explain something, but maybe it’s a credit to the editing that you don’t need to.

Yeah, totally. I guess that’s the “your own voice” bit of the show. I think setting rules, restrictions to what you do is a really neat trick to enhance your creativity. So I set the rule for this series that it would be entirely non-narrated – my voice will never feature in any of the episodes. Which, for a lot of people, is probably their favourite part of the show. But I also think there’s a certain power, an authenticity to hearing someone tell their own story.

Removing the narrator changes the way you do everything. The stories you choose to cover, the way you interview, edit, mix the audio – everything. And that’s both refreshing and challenging from a production point of view. And I’d like to think from an audience perspective, too. I think I’m investing more faith in the listener’s capacity to do some of the work piecing together the ideas, themes, motivations of the story themselves. I like to think it’s a bit less spoon fed than radio/creative audio can be. And I think there’s something attractive about that.

Are you still doing some narrative work elsewhere? I noticed you turned up on an episode of 99% Invisible not that long ago…

Yeah, I’m still working. YOV is a vanity project at the moment – and probably a while off being monetized. I figure you need to prove that there’s something worth funding before you go trying to hook in some cash. It’s entirely self-funded at the moment. I produce it on the cheap (for free) when I’m not making other (paid) work. I have a few ideas for how I could imagine it being distributed, but – like I said – my reasoning is that there needs to be a proof of concept before I take that step. It seems too soon to sell out, basically.

Your latest episode on the T.R.A.S.E Project is amazing. How did you hear about this guy?

Thank you. Yeah, Andy Pop is a star. I read an interview he did on The Quietus and thought his story would be perfect for what I’m trying to do. There’s always this moment when you’re making radio – the first phone call. It’s the dealbreaker moment for me. Usually you’ve heard about something interesting, tracked down the people involved, emailed them – and then you make the background call. I had no idea if Andy was this genius savant who would be useless in a non-narrated short doc – but as it turns out, he’s a star. Completely genuine, humble guy.

Yeh, his humbleness about the whole thing kinda makes it.

I know it gets discussed in the podcast that he’s landed a record deal. Is that just to re-release the original cassette?

There were a bunch of songs recorded for the T.R.A.S.E project – like 20, 30 tracks. He’s signed them all over to Finders Keepers, and this is album #1. Apparently there’s plans for a follow up, and Andy was talking up a bunch of cuts from the sophomore. So we’ll see. The label are keen for him to play some live shows, so at the moment he’s figuring out how he’d do that. The sound of the album is all about THAT synth, recorded at THAT time. So I think it’s a bit tricky figuring out how you’d represent it live – would you trigger everything, or try to get the homemade beast up and running again?

He mentions the actual machine he used for those initial recordings is a bit broken now, right?

Yeah, there was this brilliant section that didn’t make the cut where he described how the synth was incredibly difficult to keep in tune! Something about oscillators? He played it in a band comp at school – they played a cover of “Street Life” – and had to keep tuning it in real time during the song. I mean I didn’t even know a synth could go out of tune, right?

You really get a sense that assembling the gear, welding the circuits etc, had some kind of coming of age effect on the guy. He went on to train as an audio engineer at the BBC, then go on to a career as a service engineer. So the whole T.R.A.S.E experience seems to have been quite formative.

Yeah, and he talks about synths being much more of an ‘organic’ instrument than most people consider it nowadays. Reminded me a lot of Bruce Haack’s approach to electronic music.

Oh yeah, Haack! Totally. I think Oscar [Wuts, aka The Seaport and the Airport] played me his stuff.

Oscar actually mixed the music for a section of this episode – the bit where Andy talks about his influences. Oscar’s best DJing strikes around 4am on a school night during an impromptu party when he starts really throwing the crossfade around. I had this idea to have that kind of manic switching between songs as Andy talked about the music that inspired T.R.A.S.E. Like tuning through an old radio and getting snippets of songs. But I got no skills when it comes to DJing, so I hit up Wuts – and he delivered!

So what’s in the pipeline for the podcast?

I’m going to keep YOV as a monthly podcast until at least the end of the year – a month’s a good amount of time to chase an idea, and do it justice in production. And it also lets me make a living in between.

Then I’ll see where it’s at early 2015. At the moment, I don’t necessarily think of ‘Your Own Voice’ as a radio show – although it could be. I kind of think it might be better suited to some place people go where they’re not necessarily expecting to find creative audio. But, hopefully, it’s a pleasant surprise when they do.

Subscribe and listen to the existing episodes of ‘Your Own Voice’ via iTunes.