88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Josh Weinstein of All Soul, No Borders
“All Soul, No Borders” is weekly proof of why Josh Weinstein is sometimes described as a musical holy man and shaman.
Every Sunday, 10 p.m.-midnight Central, Josh plays what I would describe as a record, historical or otherwise, of what great musicians were saying from many places, at many times, and from many perspectives. This results in what could be described as very much like getting a soul recharge for the low, low price of paying attention. Josh has honed the skill of finding the commonalities between what musicians are saying; as a result, there isn’t a single genre, era or time that could be associated with what is played on his show.
If you listen, Josh will play it — where “it” is something you needed to hear.
In this email exchange he and I discussed the finer points of programming music on KDHX and why music makes life worth living.
Jared Corgan: Would you say that you first approach your show’s music analytically then aesthetically or some other method? How does that work?
Josh Weinstein: No, I do not analyze the music first. Just as I don’t initially approach a beautiful sunset analytically. I take it in as it is. I let it affect me how it will. I try not to bring any expectations to it. That’s a good way for me to experience what it is and what it does to me on different levels. Of course, there’s an intellectual level, too. That’s a different state of listening for me.
How long have you been a volunteer with KDHX and how much of that time have you been a DJ?
I have been a volunteer at KDHX since the spring or summer of 2000. I became a DJ in the fall of that year.
How would you describe yourself as a person outside of the role of DJ?
Here’s someone else’s description of myself on and off air: “Hey you know that I truly meant the things I said about you on the show — I think you are a musical holy man and I feel I learn just being around you and picking up on what spills off — as a human being you are just as flawed as the rest of us but as a musical shaman I really believe you might even be able to heal.” (recent email from KDHX DJ Bob Reuter.)
So, let’s just go with “flawed.”
What do you want your audience to take away or get from your shows?
Firstly, I’m grateful that there is an audience. This reinforces my belief that there is a need here for The Music. What I want is for this need to be satisfied. I hope that it does for you what it does for me. Has your ear ever been so thirsty that you cupped and aimed it at a source to get as much in as possible? That happens to me sometimes. I’ll try to really get inside the sound of a ride cymbal, for example. I just noticed it again yesterday at an outdoor concert at Laumeier Sculpture Park. I was listening to Thollem McDonas, Arrington de Dionyso, and Eric Hall and I realized I had my hand around my outer ear and my head cocked to the side. Then I visualized/experienced my ear as a deep void being filled with the sound waves. This felt so good. It was like a metaphysical itch being scratched. Or my brain being massaged. I want to rub your brain.
Is your show title “All Soul, No borders” an axiom, a play on words? How does it tie into the show?
“All Soul, No Borders” is not an axiom. It kind of feels that way now that you say it. How does something become an axiom? I also wonder how everyone knows things like what a “wife-beater” is. Were those shirts marketed that way? Are you tired of sleeves getting in the way of you smacking your bitch around?
ASNB means many things to me. The “all soul” part came to me while working at a record store. That’s when genres started to disappear for me. I came up with the “no borders” part after getting fired from a bookstore. Just a few months ago I read a Duke Ellington quote about Sidney Bechet. Duke heard him play and called the experience “the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” He later said, “I consider Bechet the foundation. His things were all soul, all from the inside.” That’s one sense of it. I loved reading that. It gave the title a little more sense of validity in my mind. It’s also a license to play whatever I want. I don’t give a shit about genres anyway. There’s more to it, but that’s enough.
How did you come up with the format for your show?
The format is reborn every Sunday night. It comes from the way music has always affected me. It comes from the week I’ve had. It comes from the people I’ve been involved with. It comes from the weather. Something familiar or seemingly familiar can help me hear something far out. Conversely, something that’s seemingly fucked up can help me to really hear something that I thought I dug before. I discover ways to make an amazing piece sound even better by placing it in different contexts. I’m sharing my experiences. I feel like it’s an extension of hanging out at my home and listening to music with friends and family. When I started the show I lived in my parents’ basement. I thought it would be cool to do my show remotely from there (“Live From My Parents’ Basement”). I would have my entire library in front of me. But there ain’t nothing cool about living in your parents’ basement and being too lazy to drive your ass to a radio station.
Do you have a background in music?
Everyone has a background in music. You just have to see how children respond to it to know that.
I did my first “radio shows” when I was three or four years old. Technically it was over the phone line, but it felt the same as doing what I do now. I was completely attached to some music; I felt it so strongly. I had the urge to share it with someone so they could feel it too. I called up my grandmother, put on a 45, and held the phone up to the Fischer Price setup. After the song was over, I put the phone back up to my ear…ERR ERR ERR ERR…that sound you get on a land line when it’s been of the hook for a while…she hung up on me. So yeah, it’s pretty much the same thing.
Which brings me to a point I have had to make with angry callers. You can change the station if you don’t like something. Shit, my nana was my biggest fan and she hung up on my first show. I also made a mixtape for a friend in kindergarten. I remember being in the back of my mom’s Volvo. I was five or six and totally overcome with feeling in hearing what I think was Aretha. I said, “Mom, what is this?” She said, “This is Soul Music.”
I’ve always had a piano in my home. I didn’t take lessons and I love to play it. My grandparents used to travel around the world and bring back gifts. Sometimes those were little instruments like a bamboo flute or a little percussion thing. I have always loved making sounds. I started the saxophone in fifth grade. Playing sax in high school led me to listening to Black Classical Music. Wow! You can get high off of music. This was huge and changed the course of my life. I played sax in college and have done a little since. I started playing double bass sometime in the 2000s. I just returned from a gig in Europe.
I am probably most familiar with Ornette Coleman-style jazz as far as what I hear on your show, and I was surprised to find old blues or other folkloric music, however, back to back. It was much easier to link that same organized chaos feel between them. How does this sort of theme work on your show? Does that happen show by show or was it just coincidence?
I’m glad you got that out of the program. Sometimes you have to actually put the things together to hear them on that larger scale. Try listening to old Chinese double-reed music and Albert Ayler. Well, Ornette is playing Blues and he hates the word “style.” I don’t say this to be a smart ass, but to illustrate this way of listening. I internalize the music, the effect it has on me. So the “theme” usually comes from riding the waves of those sounds and experiences. These can be physiological, physical, emotional, visual, timbral, on and on, many dimensions. So if these things make sense (not necessarily, logical–logic is the lowest form of magic) to me, I have learned that they can work for other people too. It is largely spontaneous when I’m doing it on air.
I have heard some coincidences when listening back to a show. Often I think these are not really coincidences but just unconscious choices. I love that feeling of being surprised as I would if I were the listener in radio land. Sometimes I have two, three, or four things cued up during a cut. I am sure I’m going to play one of them. Then I’m really listening to what’s on (I didn’t used to be able to do that when I started the show) and getting moved in a new or deeper way. There may be 10 seconds left and I already have all these things on deck, but I’m drawn to take a record off the turntable, scurry for another, and drop the needle just in time.
How do you find the music you play?
There isn’t really a hype-machine for much of the great stuff. So I use my own ear. I find it all over: from the artists, Internet, radio, books, magazines, friends, listeners, etc. There’s a network of people who I know around the world who share thoughts and things like that.
Why do all of the work and make the effort to be a DJ?
I want the real deal, no bullshit, serious, frightening, terribly lovely, transcendent music on the radio and available in the city and world I live in. There are the musicians, producers, publishers, promoters, enthusiasts and we’re all doing our part to that end. Musicians give their lives to make/transmit The Music. I want to share a little bit of the hope, enlightenment, wisdom, and Truth that The Music can impart. To have a time and space each week to hear these vital sounds and ideas is truly amazing for me and our city. This kind of realness, rawness, ecstatic energy, soul power over the airwaves doesn’t happen everywhere.
What sort of musical experiences leave the most lasting impressions on you?
I’m interested in timelessness. I think what lasts comes down to sincerity of intent. That quality across everything I’ve heard is what has made the deepest impression. Improvisation is THE thing. The immediacy of this is the real music. This is how people live. These are the rhythms of life — shifting, changing. So, one must be true while creating in the moment.
John Coltrane said, “You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.” William Parker said, “The only thing we own is sincerity.” You only need to spend a couple of minutes with Ornette Coleman to know what sincerity is. It really is about the music and the state that a musician must be in in order to play on an extremely high level. One person can be an angel on the bandstand and a devil on the street. So you must differentiate between the created product and its creator. I will say that William and Ornette are wonderful human beings even when they’re not playing. I’ve heard the same said of Trane. I used Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders to open the show for years for a reason. Dylan is also a hero of mine.
Remember that scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where Isaac gives a list of things that makes life worth living? For Isaac life is worth living because of Groucho Marx, Willie Mays, the second movement of the “Jupiter Symphony,” Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Potato Head Blues,” Swedish movies, “Sentimental Education” by Flaubert, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne, the crabs at Sam Wo’s, and, of course, Tracy’s face.
Well, at the top of my list would be the sound of Hamid Drake’s ride cymbal. Hamid has pulled tears out of my eyes with an ocean of sound, OCEAN, from that one instrument. I’ve had some true and totally transcendent moments with art in my life. Incredible. Hamid told me he’s going to be in St. Louis June 27 at the Missouri Botanical Garden with Hamiet Bluiett, William Parker and D. D. Jackson. So everyone should go and hear for themselves what I’m talking about. I’m not kidding.
What do you do or have done for a living?
I mentioned a record store and a bookstore before. I was 19, 20, 21 at Tower Records in Greenwich Village. This was a music school in and of itself. I learned so much and met so many amazing people there. Some who had lived the jazz life. I worked with a septuagenarian from Harlem named Garl Jefferson. He knew everyone and had a unique take on everything. Matthew Shipp used to come in everyday and check stock in his bin. He did this weekly throughout NYC. That is DIY! Garl and Matt would talk a lot about boxing. Carlos Santana spent an hour browsing the jazz section. Jim Jarmusch and Marc Ribot leaned up against the “R” section and spoke all during my lunch break. I sold a Coltrane CD to Chris Rock. I asked him for a $100 to put his CD in the “now playing” rack. He didn’t laugh.
The point isn’t to name drop though. The point is that through talking to so many people I came to see how The Music is a vital force in the creative life of so many. It wasn’t just me alone in my parents’ basement spinning records for my own edification. So when I returned to St. Louis, not only did I perceive the city in a new light, I saw the need for more of what wasn’t available. That’s why I wanted to present music on KDHX.
I’ve done scientific research in a lab. Under a microscope, I would watch adult male fruit flies try to rape juvenile males for hours on end. Oftentimes I would have KDHX on as my soundtrack. I would also bring CDs to work. I think the most fitting music came with Doug Morgan’s “The Underworld” (now “The Record Sto”). The flies have their own songs they play with their wings. The male comes from behind the female and reaches his wing around her ear and plays a courting song (he does the same thing to the young male.) If he plays it just right she will let him do the nasty. Some of these flies were given nicotine, ethanol, or cocaine. Sorry if this is too titillating. I believe those sounds have been recorded, amplified, and slowed down so humans can hear it. Maybe I should do an episode of ASNB on mating songs across the animal kingdom. I’ve never had a reason to play Barry White on ASNB. I have played field recordings I’ve made of birds.
Incidentally, after the Laumeier show I mentioned, the bass clarinet player started playing a blade of grass. A bird, no one saw it, kept responding line for line to what Arrington was playing. That was amazing. I’ve played Thai elephants playing large instruments constructed for them. I have also played whales jamming with clarinet (or clarinet with whales.) The recording setup had a microphone and speaker in the ocean for the whales and the horn player had headphones on. I also have an idea for an episode all about underwater. The show starts with a huge splash, then we sink, float and swim around observing what’s around us.
Are you a St Louis native?
Yes, I grew up in the county. I followed The Music to New York. I moved to St. Louis City five years later.
How much listening do you do?
I listen to a lot of music. I always have so much to listen to — piles and piles. But it’s nice because it’s not like I’m getting paid to do it. So I don’t have to go overboard. I don’t have to write criticism. It is still, as it always has been, listening for pleasure. I think ASNB is better because I listen to so much, but even if I didn’t I could do the show every week for quite a long time and it would still be fresh — mostly because I just can’t fit it all on. Not even close. I have carried brilliant records back and forth to KDHX for months before they get their spin. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there isn’t time. Sometimes I don’t know how to fit it in.
There is music that I love, that I listen to at home all the time that I haven’t been able to find a place for. There have been times where I’ve played two things at the same time on air — and actually, one of those occasions was one of my favorite moments on the show in the last year. But for me it’s just like food, even great food. I need the right amount. If I have too much I’m going to spoil the experience. I have to know when to stop eating. Just like food takes a little time to digest before you know you’ve had your fill, music takes time to be absorbed. It is not about getting through the piles.
What’s your take on audio artifacts making old albums “special”? I’ve always thought that if you were listening to albums for audio artifacts, you’re missing the music.
Recordings are snapshots of what musicians were doing on a particular day. They are not the entire story. Recordings just don’t capture everything going on. Think of a concert you loved and a recording of it. But often a recording is all we have. That is the only way to get a glimpse of Coltrane’s music for us. That’s how powerful someone like he was — when you can get some of that intensity and beauty even through an LP. I prefer to hear them as much live as I can, and sometimes to get to know the person, to get a sense of what they’re doing or trying to do. Sometimes I can’t understand what an artist does until I see/hear them in person — then it comes together for me.
I am actually amazed how devoted I can be to some music that I never actually heard (live). You only get a part of their sound. You know it must have been overwhelming in person if it’s coming through so strong in a recording. I have known people that were around for the bebop revolution and they say Bird had a huge sound that the recordings barely transmit. So yeah, I agree. If you think that what you’re holding in your hand is the music, you could be missing the music.
In this way old albums are audio artifacts and that is part of what makes them special. They are a piece of the picture that helps to tell the larger story of what was going on. Of course, there are other pieces, such as firsthand accounts, like I brought up with Charlie Parker. There are albums in a musician’s catalog whose primary interest to me is as a historical document. This is what “X” was doing before she found her true voice, or fully matured, or whatever. I may only listen to that record once but still hold on to it as a piece of history.
In terms of programming my radio show I can use recordings, conduct interviews and relay information. That’s all I can do. I am fully aware that some things take many listenings to unfold. But should I not air “A Love Supreme” because it gets better with each listening? Should I play one song 10 times in a show? If a piece of music is captivating or intriguing enough to make me want to listen again, then that’s a good start. The listener can decide for herself if she wants to dig deeper.
Personally, I think that there is a lot to the “fresh first takes” in a recording session and getting it right the first time around contributes hugely to the soul in the music. I also think the emphasis on post processing and production dampens some “raw component” in the music. The music you play on your show seems to often capture that feel, is that part of what you are after?
All lot of the music I put on the show is only supposed to happen once. Music is for the moment. That is the purpose of improvisation. This music isn’t codified in a way where just anyone can look at some notation and be able to produce it. Improvisation is a high art. So in terms of recording, the note that the improviser is supposed to hit at 12:45 is not the same as the one he’s supposed to hit at 12:49. The world keeps turning and they have to take that into account. By the time 1:00 comes around, a different note is supposed to go there. They can’t wait to use a lick that’s meant for an earlier time. That wouldn’t be all soul. Maybe the second or third take is more true to the moment and they use that instead of the first. But if the first take is true, even with “mistakes,” they may use that on the record. I do know that drummer Paul Motian, at least in his later sessions, would only do one take, as a rule — even on other musicians’ dates!
I’ve been using a recording a lot this year to open the show. It is a snippet of an interview of drummer, professor, scientist, inventor Milford Graves. He talks about the role of the musician as receptor of vibrations of the planet. He says that they are supposed to constantly adjust to vibration, vibrate with that and come out with their music. They are not supposed to write down everything, get it just so, and then douse themselves with drugs and alcohol.
Coleman or Coltrane, neither, both, am I missing something?
I’m not sure I understand. Maybe I’m missing something. Is there a hypothetical gun to my head? Are you some kind of a sadistic 21st century community media volunteer writer Nazi? Food or water?! You may as well just pull the trigger, Jared. I’m glad I’ll never have to make a Sophie’s choice like that. Fuck. That’s heavy.