While I was in Cleveland, I was invited to do an interview with Dee Perry on The Sound of Applause (90.3 WCPN) to talk about my upcoming solo show, Exhaust, at SPACES. I was thrilled at the prospect of being on National Public Radio, but I was pretty nervous too.
In the past, I've mostly done interviews for print (or web) articles. There's a lot less pressure in those situations, because basically all you need to do is get your overall point across, studded with a couple of reasonably memorable stories or interesting facts. I was interviewed a year ago for NPR Boston's Radio Open Source about Please Enable Cookies, but all they needed was an excerpt to fuel the conversation that other people would be having live on the radio. I just needed to describe my project over the phone to a producer who recorded it, then edited it down for clarity. I pretty much knew exactly what I was going to say ahead of time, and they were able to cut out any stumbles.
This time was different. This time, I would actually be at the radio station, going back and forth with Dee Perry herself. I had no idea what she would be asking me, and I would have to answer on the fly. The interview would be recorded without interruption and broadcast in its entirety less than an hour later. No edits. Every little thing I said would end up on air.
That morning, in anticipation of talking about Exhaust, I spent a few hours bringing myself up to speed on the very latest updates in gas/oil/energy news. This was my most overtly political artwork to date, and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to answer any questions that she threw my way.
I walked into the sound booth with clammy hands, running over talking points in my head and willing myself not to say too many "um"s or "like"s. However, Dee's gracious demeanor and warm, honey-like voice immediately put me at ease. As I sat down in front of the hanging microphone, I found myself looking forward to the conversation.
After she introduced me and my upcoming exhibition, the first question she fired off was, "I want to start with what some of your favorite smells are. What excites your senses?" . . . Wait. What? That wasn't a question about Brent crude or fracking or OPEC or labor shortages!?! Crap. As I stared blankly back at Dee, I could feel the world screech to a halt as I tried to get my mind to redirect in slow-motion through the sludge of confusion and surprise. According to the recording, all of this panic happened within a span of 2 seconds, but I swear I was a deer in the headlights for at least ten minutes. When I snapped back to reality, I didn't have time to craft something perfect or witty. So I just told the truth. And now Dee Perry (and anyone tuned in to Northeast Ohio’s NPR news station) knows that I am a total nerd.
Once I recovered from that initial hurdle, I settled down and stopped worrying about saying something embarrassing. (Too late for that!) Dee was really easy to talk to, and she asked insightful questions that were truly fun to answer. It is always a pleasure to talk to people who show genuine enthusiasm and who seem to really "get" what I'm trying to do. We talked about my body of work as a whole and common themes throughout, as well as delving into some of the reasons why I make what I make.
The funny thing is that, after all my nervousness about staying up to date with current events, we never actually talked about energy politics. In fact, I never said the words "gasoline" or "oil." At first I was disappointed because I had been doing so much research about energy. However, I think the conversation unfolded in a more interesting way. After all, anyone can Google "the price of oil" and follow the Internet rabbit hole to more information than I could hope to collect in a lifetime. What Dee brought out of me was much more personal. I walked listeners through what it is like to experience Exhaust firsthand, and she got me to reveal some of the logistical challenges that I encountered when working with something as elusive as scent. Problem solving is such an important part of my artmaking process, and this was especially apropos because "explore and experiment" is at the core of the SPACES mission statement.