In this interview, valis and I chat about his history with KDHX, his passion for psychedelic sounds and the obsessions of being a DJ.
Dani Kinnison: How did you get started DJing at KDHX?
valis: I didn't volunteer. I was strictly a listener, a longtime listener. We moved back to St. Louis in 2005 I think, and in July 2008 I went to the orientation at the urging of a good friend and my wife. So I went and had a great time at the orientation, and emailed Andy [Coco, Production Manager] the next day and said, "Here's the track I want," the DJ track, and I think I went in a few days later and got through that portion of it.
My trepidation has always been the technology fear. There's too many buttons and stuff, and I was afraid I would either hyperventilate or just freeze around all that machinery. Jeff Hess [host of "Afternoon Delight"] allowed me to come on to his show, sit there for two hours watching him do the stuff. He confirmed what Andy told me: that we'll only use four buttons tops during the two-hour period. A lot of it is just superfluous. That eased my mind and about two and half months later I was offered a show and have been there since.
Do you have any background in music?
I got a guitar in 1991 and bought a guitar book and learned some of the basic chords. At the end of about a month I knew close to 200 songs, but they all rhymed with "Mary Had a Little Lamb." That's about the extent of my musical career.
Why psychedelic music?
Well, in the late '80s when I was in my mid-20s, all my reading was on that kind of stuff. I was very interested in the exploration of it and where it came from, what things push it further, etc., alternate realities, things like that. I was not listening to psychedelic music at all. I had no idea that there was a whole, massive genre dedicated to all those things I was reading about. When we were living in the Grand Canyon in 1991, it's a musical vacuum there, community wise.
So I probably read a review of Primal Scream's "Screamadelica" and bought it and put it on rotate the whole night. I don't think I slept the first night I got that album. It was just an extreme revelation to me that that was music that was matching what I was reading about.
So that's really the genesis of that. I found music that matched what I was reading about. You could almost say I was a latecomer to it. I'm a latecomer to a lot of things.
How do you put together the format of your show?
I'm obsessive about being on time. I'm obsessive about time, period, so making the format that was 15-minute breaks on the 15. I time my show to the second and usually I give myself about 30 or 40 seconds on air during the break to talk about what they just heard and into whatever those PSAs are. And then I can look in my book and say, "Okay this thing's gonna be done at 15:17 and I have it at 15:19 so I'm pressed for two seconds." I like to nail it to the second.
As far as content, most of it's driven by what I've been listening to for the past week. I'll keep two or three notebooks beside me: One is gotta play this sometime, the other one is gotta play this this week because you promised a band that forwarded an album to you or they forwarded a new single or something. I'll usually keep a running list of who I need for the pick of the week, and from there it's just whatever else fits. I can usually tell after that first song what song's gonna lead off, and pretty much that's how that first hour is gonna go.
What are some other ways you find music? Do you listen for the show and also for yourself?
I have a number of friends who have similar tastes, I've met them through my blog or something, and I get probably five or six recommendations a week from friends. I read a helluva lot of blogs, 15-16 a week. Bandcamp is a great resource. I'll give songs about 15 or 20 seconds to give it a shot, and then just click on the Bandcamp tab for "psychedelic" and it brings up pages and pages and pages. Magazines, [like] The Big Takeover, I read cover to cover, Shindig, there's a new magazine called Flashback, a hell of a lot of books, especially on the older stuff like "The Acid Archives" book, those kinds of things. I read way too much. I probably listen to 40 hours of music a week. It usually takes about five or six hours to put together a show.
What's your favorite part about your show?
I think hands down my favorite part is some station would allow me to do that writing essays [have a show]. That's amazing to me. That seems to me to be where public radio whips commercial radio. Public radio gives me two hours a week. I could do it for eight hours and not run of out supply for years and years and years. That's amazing.
And even though there are genres on KDHX that I don't like, I sure do respect that they're able to air that, and just knowing some of the DJs like I do, they're just as obsessed about their genre as I am. They crave information about their genre.
During the fund drives, we talk about DJs being curators of the music. I honestly believe that. They're passionate about their music. I don't know that there's anybody in this city that has deeper knowledge of any genre than KDHX DJs, regardless of genre.