Phillip Jones makes up one half of one of the most interesting shows on WECB, Emerson’s online radio station. The show is Music Odyssey, which Jones hosts alongside Tina Stafford. What’s so special about it, you ask?
It’s kind of hard to explain.
They begin by choosing a single musician or band, and write their own narrative around the songs of that artist. The songs that get played stretch across that artist or group’s discography and are all linked together by excerpts of a story, written by Jones and Stafford. The finished product is always interesting and –most importantly– fun. Discovering Musical Odyssey is like discovering that your favorite bands had been making weird, scattershot concepts records this whole time, a trait which makes Musical Odyssey definitely worth listening to. Most of their shows are available– for FREE, mind you, on their Facebook page.
So, without further ado, an interview with Phillip Jones of Musical Odyssey:
What would you say has changed about the show-making process in the year or so since you’ve started making Musical Odyssey?
PJ: We’ve started using sound effects! We’re a little limited by the number of channels we have to use right now, so we can’t get crazy into atmospheric effects. But throwing in the sounds of doors opening, footsteps, space ship launches…it adds a lot.
What do you enjoy most about the show itself?
PJ: Being in the room and being live is really exciting. It doesn’t matter how many people are listening: performing pieces you’ve written is always fun. During the assembly process, the big moment is when your main character shows up. When we did Arcade Fire I listened to their big albums over and over again, and there was nothing! So me and Tina went digging through some of their B-sides and found this great song called I’m Sleeping In A Submarine. And we had it! A submarine captain named Barry in outer space.
How much work/time goes into crafting episodes and what’s the process like?
PJ: We pick our next artist usually during the previous episode. When it’s my turn to write, I first make sure if the music I already own by them is enough to work off, or do I need to buy more? Then I’ll make a playlist or two or three and start listening to songs in random orders. The story is usually stumbled upon, and can usually be summed up in one or two songs with more plot in their lyrics than others. After core songs are picked, I’ll write out the whole script, and then find places to insert other songs, which isn’t difficult. I try to keep the plot contained in the narration. The songs build setting and expand on characters. Then I’ll send it to Tina, and we’ll start divvying up narration, and who will voice which characters (if there are any). All in all, minus time spent listening to the artist in the first place. I’ll work on a show for three or four hours over a few days.
Do some bands have easier catalogues to work with than others? Is there anything you look for when choosing your guides?
PJ: They have to have enough material. If we can’t fill an hour, we’re shot, though we did do one show in two half hour segments with bands with small catalogues. We like using more popular artists (Coldplay, Billy Joel); we started it with the idea of making people hear really familiar songs in a new way. Songs that have recurring characters mentioned by name are helpful, but ones that are too plot oriented are challenging to make fit an original story.
Have there been any particularly memorable moments from making the show?
PJ: Definitely writing the pilot. We used Radiohead and the amount of material to work with opened a million doors. It wound up being about a pair of snails who swap bodies with businessmen and seek vengeance.
You work a lot with ERS as well– how do you compare your experiences at both stations?
PJ: ERS is much closer to the model for radio stations. WECB is really more of a place to do podcasts live, you have complete creative control, which is not necessarily always the best thing. WERS gives you very strict parameters, and you then have to make the best show you can with what little input you have as the host. I feel very liberated at WECB, after being at WERS so much. You’ve picked the music and dug up the hidden characters, and if you string them together right, you can work some magic not possible in a super structured format. The weird thing is, WECB isn’t even on the air anymore, it’s an internet only service, removing any sort of fears of FCC regulations. It’s a wild and strange creature.