Brave New Waves
Late Night Radio and Other Acts Of Defiance. 20 Years of Brave New Waves.
Patti Schmidt – for so many of us, her voice heralded deliverance. As the host of CBC Radio 2’s Brave New Waves, Schmidt is a rare bright spot of culture and creativity in the dim commercialized mire of modern radio. Over the years, she has exposed countless late–night listeners to hours of little–known and experimental music, purely for the love of the art form. Now in its 20th year, her vehicle is rearing a second generation of kids addicted to sound. Throughout the years, Schmidt’s combination of wide–ranging and little–known knowledge, obvious passion for music, and trademark husky voice has endeared her to music fans across the country and around the world.
DiSCORDER: What is your motivation?
Patti Schmidt: An obsessive curiosity. A need to know what other people are doing, what’s on their minds, how people are combining all of the crazy elements of life into song, and probably an unhealthy evangelical element towards playing [music] for other people. I’m kind of batty within my house. I’ve said this to my friends several times, that if they don’t tell me to stop I will narrate every single concert we ever go to. I really have to consciously stop myself from talking. But I just want people to hear it. When people come over to my house I’m usually like, “Aah – hear this song! Have you heard this song? Do you want to hear this song?” and I try to make them their own personal playlist of what I think they will like. I don’t want to scare them – “I know who you are. I think I’ve got some music that would fit into your life.”
I just recently moved in with new roommates, and I can’t handle silence, and they are sometimes surprised that I listen to music as continuously as I do.
Do you listen to one thing over and over, or do you move it around?
I go through phases where I latch on to certain things. Most recently I latched on to the Young People. Holy shit.
I too have been experiencing Young People problems. It’s the first song on that record [War Prayers] I just love ... Did you know that one of the guys in that band [Jeff Rosenburg] … See, here I go … is in this horrible noise band that I love called Pink and Brown. Also, I’ve heard reports from people that it is difficult for [Katie Eastburn] to get it live – that nice, pure, clean kind of tone that she gets, that sort of austerity of the song. Apparently, but I don’t believe it.
Do you feel that it is your duty to spread the word of good music?
Well ... since I get to ... My sister was my first victim actually. Only now does she listen to my recommendations.
Do you ever meet people who have three CDs and it is their entire music collection?
Yeah. My sister used to be like that. I think it’s just ... different for people. They might find it in literature, or sometimes they don’t find it anywhere. Maybe they find it on TV shows. But, you know, when you get the world reflected back to you in a way that is beautiful or enriching...
That’s what it’s all about ... What do you love about music?
Well that! That it is a reflection of real life and ideas and human emotion. It can convey emotion in such a compact and effective way. It’s a perfect vehicle for a whole new kind of commentary.
Even though it has happened to me 1700 times, every time that there is something inside of me that I cannot get out and then suddenly I find it in the music – I’m floored. Somebody else gets it, and they have got it to the point where they can make it make sense.
The last couple of years for me have not been particularly pleasant, and I’ve discovered again that thing about music that I knew when I was a teenager: it makes you feel better. I had a lot of years of being really more empirical in some my choices. But, when you really need it, a kind of a mirror or something to soak in, it’s like, it’s awesome. I totally forgot.
Do you think that it is legitimate to evaluate music emotionally?
Of course. I don’t think of music in strictly an emotional way because I like lots of technical displays of music – I like clever compositional ideas, structural ideas ... but yeah.
What was the first band that ever made you lose your shit? That you freaked out over?
I can never get this one quite accurate. Probably, honestly, it started with The Bay City Rollers. Then I started to realize that there was this whole “fandom” aspect to music. It probably went something like Men Without Hats, Duran Duran, Minor Threat, The Birthday Party. The show is really almost a reflection of how chaotic my own record collection is. It makes no sense to most people who come over. And I know lots of people who are like serious, serious record collectors. I tried for a while. I got robbed. But, it’s too obsessive. I can’t. So, it’s kind of this splatter of things that I have with no real focus or continuity to it. But I like it that way because that is how I am. That is how life is.
I think for me it started with New Kids on the Block, and then I went to Moist. Then I discovered the Pixies. The Pixies changed my life.
My sister is now into the Pixies – 15 or 20 years after. I remember hearing “Caribou” for the first time. I was going through a big DC hardcore phase and had pretty much sworn off pop music and figured that, you know, in my angsty 16 or 17 year old way that fucking melody sucked ass. Sentimentalism is crap blah, blah, blah. And “Caribou” came along and I was like, “Oh my god. This is pop music that is totally rocking my world.”
I have this theory that if Frank Black was just a little bit more handsome the Pixies would have been THE FUCKING SHIT in their day.
Slow burner... They really are huge now. My sister is a Cranberries fan and the Pixies are part of her repertoire now.
It’s interesting having them come back. I don’t know. I never thought that this would ever happen.
The older I get the way less skeptical I am of people doing those things.
I have my fingers secretly crossed that it is going to be some sort of brilliant, brilliant thing. Like, they’re gonna come back and everybody is going to be like...
Yeah, yeah. I saw Frank Black at The Commodore in Vancouver for that Exclaim! tour recently where they did some Pixies material, and I don’t know who the bass player was but it was really missing that sloppy, lazy groovy thing that Kim Deal does. It was really evident. The parts aren’t super hard that she plays, but it’s the feel of them that always made those songs so groovy, and while it was correct musically it just didn’t have that kind of note to it.
What is in your record/CD player right now? If you were going to go press play, what would we hear?
I have, and I haven’t actually listened to it, it’s just getting ready to go in, is an advance copy of the new Destroyer record, Your Blues. And lets just see what is in the CD player in here. ... It’s the Egg CD, Don’t Postpone Joy. They are a duo from Montreal who do this kind of clink–house–dub–orchestral–samply–groovy thing.
Do you ever feel that your senses are dulled from the sheer enormity of the music you take in?
Sometimes that happens but it is usually because other things are going on that make me feel overwhelmed. I suppose I’ve had a few periods where I’ve felt a little bit burned out, but I find it really not hard to break out of.
If I was going to imagine myself being you and actively engaging in a job where it did fuck with my emotions, and going in there every day willing to have my heart broken or explode w/ joy. Every day. That’s a pretty brave thing, I think, to do.
Its not always so stormy seas as that.
But to some extent you have no control over it.
I don’t get overwhelmed or burnt out about it, but I think I get really fed up with certain genres or ideas and I just ignore them. I’m like, “Oh my god. Not more of that. I can’t deal with any more of that for the next little few months until somebody does something interesting.”
Do you find that that response you had to The Bay City Rollers, do you feel that in yourself still with the music that you are listening to now?
Things definitely change and you never get that again. I also don’t do that thing where I get a record and listen to it 30 times. In three days. I don’t do that anymore, mostly because I don’t have time. I’m not searching through music or trying to understand music that way anymore. I feel that I have listened to so much over the years that I have ... I kind of understand what is going on in a way that I didn’t when I was listening to things so thoroughly. But I still listen thoroughly.
Can music save the world?
Of all the media, it probably has the greatest chance just because it is so portable and really can get in. I am always shocked sometimes at what kinds of songs make people all over the world go crazy – how that stuff travels. Music is still a revolutionary force. It’s how people express things.
What does it mean to you that something like Brave New Waves exists? Do you feel Brave New Waves to be an act of defiance?
I think at some points its still like an act of defiance on the CBC, and a little bit of that is a relation to the culture at large. I think Brave New Waves is crucial. In fact I argue for the existence of this sort of thing on the public broadcaster as totally important to reflect the world back to emerging artists and underground artists, some of whom are going to have particularity popular ideas. I think that in Canada lately there has been a whole crop of really innovative people who are making a real flash internationally but at that sort of low hum level. Really innovative people are here, and I think the public broadcaster especially has a major responsibility to support that, and to encourage it, and to propagate it. And so I am happy to be a part of that.
Do you think it was inevitable that something like Brave New Waves came to exist?
No. I think it was the sheer will of the people who started the program and subsequently who worked out afterwards, of which I was one. I recognized, when I started working there, just how crucial an outlet and vehicle the program could be, and even though it’s late at night it doesn’t matter. I love that it’s late at night.
How did you come to be a part of Brave New Waves?
A fascination with radio at a young age. It was probably at 16 when I started listening to campus radio in Ottawa and dreamed of being a DJ without actually understanding what it all meant. I went down there when I was in the last year of high school because I heard that they had a closed circuit sort of training thing that they would do. And people were really mean and I was really upset and horrified. When I came to McGill in 1987, this is also the year that the cable station was applying for their FM license, the second thing I did after I registered for courses was, I went to CKUT and I started volunteering there. I started writing for the magazine, and I think I might have been deep into a Skinny Puppy phase at this point. Then I got overnights and my musical taste started to evolve in all kinds of new ways because of the access to the big, giant library they had there. And of course, being in a city like Montreal – there were all kinds of things going on.
I got a call in January of ‘91, which is the year I graduated, to come audition to be a potential fill–in host. There was like six or seven of us who went down to the CBC building, horrified. Totally the scariest, most nightmarish radio experience of my life. You had to sit in this giant big room by yourself, and you didn’t have – you didn’t work the board or anything. You couldn’t touch any buttons. You’re “on,” “off,” and you get this totally stiff script. It was terrible. I stopped and rewrote everything.
I got a call a few months later ... No, actually, I did four days in June of that year, which was very, very scary and difficult. I would come and hang out, and just be fascinated by the whole thing. It’s that work behind the scenes which one doesn’t see that I’ve always been a big fan of. I got short–term contracts to be a writer/programmer which I did until ‘95, when I took over hosting.
Okay, this is a quote from you, from the 15th anniversary round of concerts where you said, “We just kind of have to believe in an almost ideological way that it is important and keep going.” Why is that “ideological way” important?
You have to protect art that has no commercial, or potentially has no commercial validation. It is ideological to support that. It is art without any of the standard visions of success as culture at large would measure it to have a place, and I need to argue for it.
How has Brave New Waves unexpectedly changed your life?
I’ve met several of my heroes over the years. And the best change: that it actually brought them down to earth.
Smaller people than you might expect. When you realize that they have real lives, that they have the same neurosis as most people, it becomes really interesting ... the whole process of how music gets made. It’s been such a long time that I have worked here that “unexpected” is kind of a hard word to fit in. It’s been a 13 year evolution. Although when I went on air I was very freaked out about the responsibility.
It’s interesting how you’re sitting in a room by yourself, and I don’t know if you ever got nervous, but I used to get so nervous and I’d have sweating palms...
Me too! Me too!
I didn’t even know if I had an audience and my heart is beating a thousand times a minute.
Yeah. When I did college radio I used to have to do this little mantra before I turned the lights on. I did that for a while at Brave New Waves. I’d have to do it too or I’d get all red, I’d have a headache...
Do you think that a quest for entertainment erodes art? The immediate gratification of pleasure vs. integrity?
Sometimes. I think that it depends how corporate or commercial that quest for entertainment is. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with fun, or music to entertain, or anything to entertain. I don’t think that it is a bad idea at all.
Do you think that creation and art are equivalent, that anything you create, be it written words or spoken words or painting is Art?
Yeah, of course. I think it took me a long time to wrap my head around how broad that definition is.
The first song played on Brave New Waves was Simple Minds’ “Promised You a Miracle.” If you were going to end it today, what would be your final installation, and what would be your intention?
There has actually been a few over the years that I have made note of, and I wish that the band was just a little bit better, but the band is called The Karl Hendricks Trio and they have a song called “Requiem For a Canceled Program”. •
Wanna Catch Some Brave New Waves? If you’re curious about music or art that slips under the corporate radar, check out Patti’s eclectic mix of music, artist profiles and interviews Monday to Friday, 12:05am–04:00am on CBC Radio 2 (that’s 105.7 fm in Vancouver).
Or visit www.bravenewwaves.com for a taste of things to come.