Initially programming a late night psychedelic show, Hess has spent more than 15 years as a KDHX DJ, with seemingly no region of his musical psyche left unexplored. Within the course of one "Afternoon Delight" episode, French chanson and '60s garage-rock obscurities can find equal representation alongside old-school punk and sunshine pop. Hess represents the truest form of musical obsession, never ceasing his search for the in sounds from way out.
I spoke to Hess about the methods behind his madness, being the "Beatles kid" in school and the underrated joys of irking listeners.
Alex Cunningham: Looking at "Afternoon Delight" playlists is probably the only time I've ever seen SPK paired with Nancy and Lee or Sham 69 and the Bee Gees back to back. How to you approach putting together an episode when there is such a variety that you draw from?
Jeff Hess: I try to draw a thread between decades and continents all within 20 minutes sometimes. Even if the thread is only in my own head and no one else understands it, I still try to have a thread between them.
So as long as it's cohesive to you...
Yeah, pretty much. Some people might think it's chaos or just thrown together but it's not really.
How would you describe your show to an unfamiliar listener?
I would just say it's rock -- the large umbrella of rock with some strings and subgenres. Occasional jazz depending on what I'm feeling that week.
What are the origins of your show? How did you first start?
I did a show on Sunday mornings at three in the morning. That was my first show. It was a psychedelic show. I did that for about a year and half and it almost destroyed me [laughs]. I don't know how the late night people can do it, like Joe [Hess] and Mabel [Suen of Wrong Division]. I don't know how they can keep that up. I lucked out and got the afternoon thing in 2000. Mondays, Wednesdays and then Fridays. I jumped around the schedule a little bit.
What made you switch genres, from doing a straight psychedelic show to the format you're in now?
I was running out of stuff to play back then. A spot opened up and I wanted to do more of a generalized rock show. The powers that be at the time made the decision to give me the show and I'm still here.
What were your first experiences with music?
The Monkees. Coming home from kindergarten and watching the Monkees every afternoon. That was the first band I ever liked.
What were the steps between the Monkees and where you're at now in your taste?
There was the Monkees and then the Beatles followed right after that. I was the Beatle kid in grade school.
Did you have the hair?
No, but I would always sing the songs and annoy everyone in class; the teachers, everybody. I was the Beatle kid. At the time, my dad had a lot of influence too. He had a large eight track collection and would play Queen and ELO and Supertramp. As I got older, I got Zeppelin and Floyd and all that and then in the late '80s -- I'm 44 years old so I was a teenager in the late '80s -- metal took over around '85 with Motley Crue and then it got more into Metallica and Slayer and stuff and then punk as well. It all came around at the same time. I was listening to Kate Bush, Slayer and Love all at the same time when I was a late teenager. And then this alternative thing started happening in the early '90s and I sorted of hated all that so I started to get more into '60s music. I got into playing in a band, more like a Stooges punk band called the Geargrinders. That lasted a few years and was fun. Put out a seven inch. After I got the radio show I got into music from everywhere.
What musical projects are you in right now?
I play guitar and sing in Kadu Flyer and I play drums in Tight Pants Syndrome. We're sort of taking a break now, but it's still a thing.
Do you write songs?
In Kadu, yeah.
How does the scope of what you listen to work its way into writing songs?
Well I'm not a very technical player so Hawkind is sort of an easy draw. It draws me to the style of chugging along with all the craziness going on around it.
What are some of your favorite shows on the station?
I like Uncontrollable Urge, Pop! The Beat Bubble Burst, Wrong Division and a few others I can't think of right now. Most of the rock ones. I discovered KDHX when I was still a teenager. When it first started in '88/'89 was when I started listening to it. I used to listen to John the Mailman and the Mad Russian. They had these crazy shows. These late night shows, I would stay up and listen to these guys all night long. Mailman was punk mostly. He ran that Jetlag magazine. It was an old local-based punk 'zine from the late '70s/early '80s. Mad Russian was a reggae show. I liked that. I was into reggae for a summer [laughs]. He was right in the wheelhouse there.
What is something that you would maybe want to incorporate more into your show?
Anything that I haven't heard before that just blows me away. I'm always looking for new stuff, old rediscoveries and new stuff.
How do you look for the old "lost gem" stuff or current music? How do you try to keep discovering new things?
I try to buy as much vinyl as I possibly can. I swap a lot of CDs. I still do that. Nowadays that's frowned upon, but back 15 years ago people swapped shit all the time. I don't really download a lot. I try to keep things hard copy.
Do you have a large record collection?
Yeah, about 3000 albums. I grew up in an area where there were three flea markets within five miles of my house, so every week I would come home with like 20, 30, 40 records a week. Those were some of the best times. I love flea markets. I love going to little towns and finding the little junk stores. I love doing stuff like that.
What would be the most "out there" stuff you've played on your show?
I remember playing Acid Mothers Temple one time, like a 20 minute long nerve-wracking mess that prompted a lot of hate calls [laughs].
That's probably short by their standards too.
Yeah [laughs]. I was playing just recently that song "Lesbian Seagull." It's an old kooky song that Engelbert Humperdinck covered on the "Beavis and Butthead" movie. It's originally this really outsider written song. I played "Lesbian Seagull" and I played the "Donkey Kong" 8-bit version of the Allman Brothers and I got a couple death threats. Well, one death threat. "You should be shot!" Now I hardly give out the number.
What's the favorite call you've gotten?
I don't get a whole lot of hate calls, but I do get some weird ones. "Are you gonna play Ted Nugent?" Well, sometimes I play the Amboy Dukes, but not really the loincloth variety. This guy said, "You need some more diversity. With Ted Nugent!" Really?
He's the poster child.
He's really diverse [laughs]. Strange calls like that from the night from like 50, 60 something guys with nothing to do.
What's the appeal for you behind weirder, more outsider, oddball stuff that you pepper in sometimes?
Yeah, like the "365 Days Project" stuff from WFMU. I love that stuff. I love it myself, but I get a thrill of annoying people with it as well.
So there's a juvenile drive behind it?
There is [laughs]. Some weeks when I'm feeling ornery, you're going to get crazier.