After joining the Navy, Comello explored progressive music from around the globe, filling his locker with newly acquired cassette tapes. This deep interest in music from across the globe is reflected in every "C-Sides" playlist. During a typical episode a listener can hear artists from more than 10 different countries. Comello fully embraces the potential of non-commercial radio as a means to new discoveries.
Rick and I met up at at the Magnolia Café on the ground floor of KDHX's home in Grand Center to discuss the origins of C-Sides, his history with progressive rock and the rush of collecting.
Alex Cunningham: How did you first become involved with KDHX?
Rick Comello: Being a music collector, I never really paid attention to radio. I pretty much gave up on radio in the mid '80s. It was probably around 2001 or 2002 that my friend and co-worker Mike Shelton introduced me to KDHX. I started listening to it and noticed that my style of music, what I collect, was not represented anywhere. A couple years later, him and his wife ended up dying in a car accident coming back from a Beatles convention in Chicago. That was perhaps the beginning of me starting to think about it and then friends and family have always said, "Rick, you belong on the radio." Finally, this May of 2013 was when I filled out the application and started the whole process. My whole introduction to KDHX was Mike Shelton.
How would you describe your style of music, the music you play on your show?
Progressive is the key. That would apply to progressive jazz, progressive metal, progressive rock. A fusion aspect as well is very important to me. Obscure hard-rock stuff as well, like the old KSHE Classics that a lot of folks are familiar with in this town. When I was a kid, I used to think of that as being obscure music. It wasn't until many years later with Goldmine Magazine and me collecting and the Internet taking the roof off everything all of a sudden. Now you can order a CD from a guy who lives in Argentina. It opened the world up.
The music I tend to get into is more musically oriented. Lyrically, it tends to be less of a focus. So because of that what language it's in is almost irrelevant to me. Sometimes listening to pop music in another language seems odd to me because if the focus is on the lyrics and I can't understand them, now I can't understand it. On the other hand, if it's largely instrumental it almost doesn't seem to matter. And the coolest thing about it is you hear the cultures of these different countries coming through in the music. Sometimes you can hear a band from Norway and it sounds like they might as well be from California. On the other hand, you might hear a band from Argentina and you can hear different roots where it definitely sounds like it's from Argentina.
When did you first get into progressive music?
I think I was into it from a very early age as a kid, I just didn't recognize it and it didn't have that term or tag on it. When I first saw the Internet was in 1991. My father had a computer and I went online and found a site called the Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock. At that point, I had been collecting music. I used to go scour Vintage Vinyl as a kid. Even when I was in the Navy, three-quarters of my locker was full of cassettes. I had no room for clothes. So I had been collecting and I thought I knew a lot about music. I got on this Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock and I recognized maybe one out of every ten bands. At that point I could either be discouraged or I could dive in. I dove in and haven't come up for air since.
How have your tastes evolved over the years?
I find things that are more commercially driven through time have turned into a thing that I don't like very much. Back in the day that was what we were all exposed to. That was the norm. Through collecting, I've become more into avant-garde stuff and things that are a little away from the norm and your typical structures.
When did you start collecting?
I started collecting as a child when I would go to Vintage Vinyl, so probably around 11 or 12. I did have a core group of records that one of my uncles gave me that I was weaned on. My mother was a big Beatles fan and she was the musical one in the house. My father wasn't very musical. I started collecting vinyl in my teens and then I joined the military, the Navy anyway. Of course you couldn't have records on the ship, and this is before CDs, so I bought cassettes. Every time I went to a new country, I'd find where the music stores were and I'd get my cassettes. And then I bought my first CD when I got out of the military in 1989 and it moved on from there. The first CD I ever bought was Steve Vai's "Flexible," his first solo album.
How large is your collection?
About 5000 CDs. When it comes to CD-Rs and mp3s and vinyl, you can probably add another 5000 to that. I've got about 1000 records left.
With collecting, there's the culture, especially with obscure and private press records, where the thrill of the hunt is almost more important than the music. How do you balance that?
To me, it's about the music. If I don't like the music, the rarity of the pressing almost doesn't make a difference. That seems to me the prerequisite of everything: you have to like the music first.
Collecting is something that's in my blood for sure. You know when you hear something, and anyone can relate to this, when you hear a song or a band you've never heard before and it somehow touches you? It's like somebody made this for me. You have that feeling of elation where it's so exciting and so wonderful. The thing is that after a while that wears off and you can't hit it again for that band, so to me it's that feeling of elation that I get from discovering a new band that I'm kind of addicted to. It's like it's my drug. Once I've got that, listened to it a few times, I'm like, "That's great, now what's next?" I keep moving on to the new thing, looking for a new thing that's going to somehow reach you. What's amazed me is the vastness of how much music is out there. Every Tuesday is new release day. Worldwide there are 1000 albums released every Tuesday. So let's say there are 1000 albums per week times 40 years. There are millions of things out there, yet these radio stations are playing 1000 songs over and over again. It just makes no sense. Obviously listening to KDHX it's very apparent that there is so much out there.
How do you continue to find new music or obscure things from the past?
There are a few websites that I particularly enjoy. Progressive Ears is one. It's a discussion site that I've always enjoyed. Prior to that, there was a thing called rec.music.progressive that I used to go to back in the '90s when the Internet was still young. Generally, a lot of times one thing leads to another. I used to search things by label or if you like a guitar player in a band you think, "What band did he used to play with?" or you follow him from the time they break up. Generally, you can always follow those changes and find new bands. I keep an eye on it through Progressive Ears and see what people are talking about, new releases and lists. So if someone's like, "What are your favorite bands from Norway?" I'll say, "Oh, I have those. Wait, there's something I don't recognize!" I'll check it out and if it's something I like, I have this weird condition where owning an mp3 of something is not good enough. If I hear it and I like it, I've got to own a hard copy.
A lot of this stuff I'm collecting, an original vinyl version of it can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, so a $30 CD I can handle. There was a period of time where I had essay writer 15 inbound CDs at any given moment. It was exciting to go to the mailbox every day and see what's come in from what country and so forth.
What are some ways you've thought about branching out your show?
I do have a basic format. Right now going through the collection, after 28 shows I've probably played about 450-500 artists. My collection is massive. I haven't even gotten 15% through it. There's so much more to go. I haven't played my favorite things first. I'm saving those, so there are lots of great things to get to.
I would like to turn a little bit towards metal and maybe some art pop. Throw things like that in there. The same thing goes for progressive funk and things like that. If anything I've been getting into some of the other shows. It's really opened my mind up a little bit. Honestly, I'd rather listen to '50s country than anything on commercial radio even though I don't like that style of music necessarily. It's just something new. It's something different.
I've never understood people that listen to the same thing over and over and over again. Most commercial radio stations don't have more than a 1500 song playlist and they play these songs over and over and over again. A lot of the people I grew up with are still satisfied with listening to KSHE. Really? After 1,984 times of listening to "American Woman" by the Guess Who, aren't you tired of it? It just doesn't make any sense to me. I have a friend who owns a CD manufacturing plant in Arizona who says that if I had an Indian name it would be "Uncoverer of Stones."
What are some of your favorite shows on the station?
"The Rhythm Section," "Trip Inside This House." Some of the "everything" shows I do like because you never know what they're going to play next, like "Afternoon Delight" and "Uncontrollable Urge." I do like Mark Hyken's show, "Time Warp Radio," which is kind of like a deeper version of KSHE Classics in its own way. "The Smoking Lounge," "The Lion's Den," the ones that tend to be more rock oriented. On the other hand, I love to listen to "Dangerous Curves" and pretty much any show that's on during the day when I'm working.
What is something you'd like to see more of from the station?
Metal. That would be really nice. At the same time I think it's an amazing station. There are so many different styles of music and everybody that has a show tends to be a master of what they know. It's really neat to be part of that group. I really respect all of the other DJs.