That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto

That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto

Apr 09, 2018

That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto

As podcasts have exploded into the mainstream over the last few years, the breadth and depth of DIY podcasts has expanded. With topics ranging from true crime to self-help, it’s almost impossible to not discover something for every interest.

Alexander Edward, the creator of That Awful Sound and Minion Death Cult, has a knack for turning what was once the fodder of late nights and group text messages into accessible podcasts on bad music and worse politics. While That Awful Sound currently speaks best to a millennial demographic, the practice of examining nostalgia through the amused and refined perspective of today has the potential to be familiar to anyone.

I recently sat down with Alexander to talk about everything from loveable, bad music and Minions to the alt-right and the weird places all three intersect.

That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto
So for someone who has never heard of That Awful Sound, what’s your elevator pitch?

Alexander: It’s a show about the music we used to like back when we had terrible taste. Every episode revolves around a specific song, its lyrics, and its music video. I found this is similar for my guests and my friends: We try to pretend like it never happened. But then once you reach a certain age it becomes funny again. It’s acknowledging that we’re all just flawed human beings and laughing at ourselves. This venue of generally terrible music is a way to release some stress I feel.

Nicole: Where were you when you had the idea for the podcast?

Alexander: I got really into podcasts the year before I started doing That Awful Sound. I was working very long hours, so I started listening to podcasts and really fell in love with them. Bad music was kind of an obsession between me and the guy I started the podcast with, Macky. One night we were messaging back and forth sharing really bad music videos and realized we could start a podcast. I feel like the idea was really good and the rest of it has just been me trying to live up to that idea.

Nicole: Where do you think you fit in the greater community of podcasts?

Alexander: Bad movie podcasts were a really big inspiration for me. Also MST3K (Mystery Science Theater Three Thousand) and Beavis and Butthead. So, there’s an influence there and I feel like we do serve a similar demographic—people looking for that schadenfreude.

I also feel like we fit into the hardcore and metal community. A lot of us started off with mainstream alternative music like Korn and Blink-182 and graduated to something more serious. So there are other music podcasts out there we might fit with. 100 Words Or Less—that’s the guy from Taken—Turned Out A Punk is a nostalgia podcast for hardcore kids, and Washed Up Emo is probably very similar. I don’t have access to any celebrities or emo stars, so we just make fun of it from the sidelines

Cadillac by Mest -

Nicole: Have you had any hints of a response from someone you’ve covered on the show?

Alexander: Yeah! Anthony Lovato (of Mest)—we call him Tony Tomato—commented on one of the Instagram posts that I did promoting the episode about  “Cadillac,” which is a fucking terrible song and music video, with the crying laughing emoji. “This is hilarious.” Sometimes you just have to laugh if you want to keep the brand going, you can’t really start a flame war in the comments. It’s a good strategy if you’re trying to stay relevant.

Nicole: How do you choose the songs? Have you rejected any?

Alexander: Yeah I reject them. The episodes are ninety percent guest picks. I try to only cover songs that either my guests or I have a history with. There has to be something in the video that’s funny and something to the lyrics that’s funny or worth talking about. There are songs with a hilarious music video but the lyrics are nothing interesting. In the past, I’ve done dual episodes where we talked about the lyrics for one song and the music video for another to flesh out the episode, but it’s a little too complicated.

Nicole: Are there any songs that you want to do but you just can’t figure out how to make them work?

Alexander: Sometimes it’s just finding the right guest for a song. The show works the best when you do have an emotional connection or history with the song. You have some anecdotes about blasting this song in your bedroom and your parents laughing at you. Or you have a story about an estranged grandma trying to buy your love with a Ricky Martin single. There’ll be a song that I really want to do because it’s bad and entertaining, but I can’t find any of my friends who actually liked it. You have to find somebody who’s on board and stoked to do the episode. You don’t want to just go through the motions of it.

Nicole: So it sounds like that’s an important part—it’s not just bad music; it’s someone having had a nostalgic, positive attachment to it.

Alexander: Yeah, because that’s another part of the schadenfreude is being able to make fun of yourself. We don’t just want to shit on an artist, unless they’re a really terrible person... which a lot of them are. It’s a lot about being able to laugh at yourself. That’s part of that maturation process I think we all go through where you’re more easily able to look back at yourself and laugh.

Dressed to Kill by New Found Glory -

Nicole: You were saying you wouldn’t do the show just to shit on an artist unless they were a bad person. Given that, do you sense that this ever-present storm of [sexual abuse] allegations, which have affected the genres you cover, will impact the podcast in any way?

Alexander: Yeah, that’s a really fine line to tread—to be able to make fun of abusers without making the survivors the butt of the joke. That’s a sticky subject because sexual assault is obviously a very serious thing. People who commit those acts are obviously worthy of jail time, probably a severe beating, but they’re also worthy of ridicule. I wouldn’t feel automatic reluctance to cover that topic, but we just have to do it the right way and make sure it’s respectful to the survivors.

Nicole: Are there any episodes that you regret?

Alexander: I regret doing so much in the beginning of the show when we were first starting. We were doing three music videos per episode because we didn’t know how much content we needed. I’ve even thought about revisiting some of those and just putting out another episode. Like, a full episode about “She Hates Me.”

Nicole: Do you feel like the podcast has impacted your worldview?

Alexander: It has made me more tolerant of people’s tastes. You see so many assholes in these comments sections droning on about real music and what girls are “allowed” to listen to or listen to what boys are “allowed” to listen to or not listen to. Let people enjoy stuff! So that’s part of the not hating on these artists. I did hate on stuff when I was in high school because I had a stick up my fucking ass. I’ve come full circle on that and learned to let people enjoy things and let myself enjoy things for what they are.

Nicole: Something that I enjoy as a listener is that you almost do a dissertation on every song. It’s a deep dive: here’s the background, here are the song lyrics. I really appreciate that you use Song Meanings because Genius is great but I think Song Meanings adds to the nostalgia.

Alexander: Song Meanings is great. I had never heard of it until I started doing the podcast. I was part of this hardcore message board in high school and they had a lyrics portion so they had everything I needed there. Song Meanings is great because it predates almost every other resource—like YouTube and Wikipedia, all these other places where I do research—it’s one of those remaining vestiges of the old internet. There are comments that date back to 2002 and I don’t have to make up an example of what “emo speak” is and try to explain to people who don’t know, because it’s right there.

Nicole: It’s like archaeology, digging up internet artifacts. Do you feel like the podcast is infectious in any way?

Alexander: There are younger listeners. One is this girl, she worked at some sort of mall store and Powerman 5000 came into her store, but she only knew who they were because of my podcast.

Nicole: On that note do, you think there’s a chance that you are actually reviving bad music? Maybe someone listens to an episode and they’re like, “I’ve never heard of MSI but now I actually am kind of a fan. Thanks!”

Alexander: I don’t know if there’s causation or just a correlation here because—I recently turned thirty—we’re all at that age where we’re just really reevaluating music. I think it’s similar to the Stussy-S phenomenon that happens across all continents: people finding themselves drawing this same S symbol throughout childhood across continents but nobody knows where it came from.

The podcast has a Facebook group and I see people posting what’s in their suggestions from Spotify. It’s Limp Bizkit or any number of older bands and I don’t know if that’s just because they like it independently of the podcast and they came to the podcast because of that. It is nice to see the people who still genuinely like Limp Bizkit and Korn and can still enjoy the podcast. I like that a lot. I don’t want to ever tell people their taste is wrong. I don’t really want to be mean. I want to just be able to make fun of stuff that even I like.

AFI Spotlight -

Nicole: You’ve turned a recent episode into a new podcast, Minion Death Cult. Can you tell me about that?

Alexander: I’m obsessed with bad right wing internet content, again from a similar schadenfreude, voyeuristic, standpoint. Except, there’s a lot less empathy there. There’s a lot less humanity in that voyeurism. I’m part of Facebook groups and Twitter streams that share and analyze this ridiculous, reactionary content. Mountain Matt, who’s frequently on That Awful Sound, had mentioned wanting to do a political podcast—I’m very interested in politics but I needed to be grounded in something specific that hadn’t been done a million times. Doing the first episode, the Hosier and Adam Calhoun episode, I was like, “This can be the political podcast where we take stuff that is just utterly wrong, wrongheaded, and mean and just make fun of it.” Then we can stick to the arena where we’re covering your aunt and uncle’s Facebook feed.

I’m also fascinated with how people process information and how people build their own set of politics on the internet. It’s obviously a huge tool for that and it’s just impotent rage that makes some meme filled with obvious falsehoods and mistakes go viral. I mean you’ve got Donald Trump tweeting out black crime statistics that are not only a total lie but a retweet from a white supremacist account. That happened a year or two ago and the media debunked it where they could but it still lives on. Given all of that, you think about, “How do we get to these people?” “Is it possible to get to these people?” You realize it’s probably not, so let’s at least make fun of them. That was my overall thought process

Nicole: I’m really excited about this one and I love that you brought the Minions into it. It’s shocking how deeply embedded Minions are in problematic people’s lives, like that Grandma with the sunshine profile picture, Minion memes, and then in the middle is a bunch of racist bullshit.

That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto
Alexander: On election day, one of the customers I was delivering to was this elderly white woman who came out to meet me wearing a Deplorable Me T-shirt with a Minion wearing a Make America Great Again hat on it. I don’t know who started the whole thing with the Minions but they really hit on something sad and beautiful. Minions are the meme of the Boomer. They took their grandkids to see this movie and these jittering little creatures delight them. They co-opt it and so you get Minions memes about how you hate Mondays and Minions memes about daylight savings time but then you also get Minions memes about how undocumented people need to be forcibly removed from their homes. It’s an astounding phenomenon.

Nicole: So I know that you want to keep this podcast light, but do you sense that things might get tense sometimes depending on your guests?

Alexander: There hasn’t been any tension between the hosts and/or any of the guests. We’re all usually on the same page or can at least hash out our minor differences. The biggest point of tension is trying not to get too mad. We’re also trying not to self-importantly “school” listeners and just stick to mocking shitheads.  I’m not going to have any debates with the right wing on the show. I don’t care about that. I don’t want to give a platform to anyone’s shitty ideas, it’s not my job. There’s a really weird conversation going on about free speech, about giving a platform to certain people. I think the trend is debating your opponents and “crushing liberals,” or saying this conservative person “got owned.” That shit is boring and corny.

Cupid's Chokehold by Gym Class Heroes -

Nicole: What has the response been to Minion Death Cult so far? Has it affected any conversations in your personal life?

Alexander: The response has been good. I haven’t really promoted it yet, but I get nice messages from new listeners who found it in the wild somewhere. I feel like the show has honed my own sense of politics. I’ve discovered which political arguments are most compelling to me—and may be compelling to other people as well—and it’s given me insight into how the right wing argues and what animates them politically. It’s stuff that might be helpful to know when you’re doing actual politics. But I had angry aunts and cousins yelling at me on Facebook since before I started the podcast, so that hasn’t really changed.

Nicole: And you said a main goal of Minion Death Cult is to laugh at things that are just so terrible but you don’t want to cry about them. But do you hope to shift the needle at all?

Alexander: I have arguments that I think are valid and maybe somebody listening does have a relative, close friend, or a spouse who feels the same way as one of these terrible memes. Maybe we can help them talk things out. I don’t want to set myself up for that because I feel like that’s a failing effort in general. But I think about these things all day. It’s what I like to do and so I guess I do have arguments to be made.

At the end of the day, some of these people choose to like Trump because it’s the way they feel about the world, but a lot of it is just trolling liberals. Part of the reason that some young people voted for Trump was just reactionary. It’s, “I don’t like Democrats. I don’t like social justice warriors.” It’s not, “Oh we love Trump because Trump is good. We love Trump because he makes the people we don’t like mad.”

That Awful Sound interview by Nicole Verto
This is the first meme president. This is the first troll president. It was the first meme campaign and also intersects with the absence of logic because the memes that go viral aren’t the ones that give people the information they need. They’re the ones that give people the information that they want.

Nicole: Before we end, I want to go backwards and say that I really like the “music we like portion” of That Awful Sound. How do you find new music?

Alexander: Labels I like. I’ll check out other artists on their discography and I found some stuff even just through Spotify recommendations when you finish an album and it’ll autoplay. That’s a great resource. But it’s mostly friend recommendations from people who know my tastes and send me stuff. They’re like, “Hey you’ll like this.”

Nicole: What is the goal of the new the new music section? Is it just wanting to share stuff that you like or is there something intentional there with the nostalgia focus of the podcast?

Alexander: I like hearing about music and I like people recommending it to me. I figured others might like hearing your music and it’s also a way to cleanse your palate after talking about whatever Methods Of Mayhem song you’ve been making fun of for an hour. Just to give something positive and end on a positive note. It also helps to combat this idea that “REAL music DIED after Linkin Park’s first album.” There’s still plenty of good shit out there.

Nicole: Any final words?

Alexander: I think you covered it all. I’m really happy to do this. I would just say yeah, listen and subscribe to  That Awful Sound and Minion Death Cult.