By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“This is the stupidest story ever — I can’t believe I’ve even started telling you this!” Launching into an obscure tale involving his first guitar, a towel and a light switch, singer-songwriter Jeff Caudill has just become the latest guest to be gently disarmed by DJ Jon Hershfield on his Internet radio show, . . . Is Good.
Between Caudill’s heartfelt acoustic renditions of his Americana-tinged songs, Hershfield almost subliminally gets him to open up about his previous band, the revered O.C. emo precursors Gameface: “Honestly, truth be told, we weren’t that good . . . we really weren’t that talented of a band,” says Caudill.
Hershfield has been hosting . . . Is Good on the Internet radio station Kill Radio from 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays since August 2005 (recently adding a second show on Wednesday mornings). From the station’s sticker- and flier-covered two-room office-cum-studio in a musty building on the northern edge of Koreatown (sharing a second floor with businesses offering “Potencia Sexual” and “Productos Religiosos y Esotericos”), he starts his show with an hourlong DJ set of acid jazz, trip-hop, electronica, indie rock, obscure remixes, and covers (on this particular morning including Utah Saints, David Gray and Orbital), with a backbone of local artists (Brutus Gets the Girl, the Sweet Hurt).
But it’s the second hour of . . . Is Good, consisting of an interview and acoustic set from an emerging area act that showcases Hershfield’s ability to engage his guests in an actual conversation (transcending the usual “When’s the album coming out?”), and which defines the show.
“I tuned in to killradio.org and, honestly, I was so impressed at how poorly the show was done that it kinda made me think, ‘Well, if I had a radio show, what would it be like?’ ” says Hershfield, a boyish 30, of his first encounter with the station, a couple of years back. “Kill Radio seemed user-friendly enough that someone from the outside could come in and just try it.”
Kill Radio (“short for Kill Corporate Radio, or Kill Monopoly Radio, or K-ILL Radio,” according to its Web site) was born from an Internet-audio interface created by the Independent Media Center in Los Angeles to provide coverage of the protests during the 2000 Democratic National Convention. When that event was over, the audio stream remained and morphed into Kill Radio, hosting a motley collection of political and music shows. Funded entirely by $10 monthly dues from around 40 members and occasional benefit shows and donations, the defiantly democratic station boasts alumni including the popular Get the Fuck Up show (now on the Little Radio Internet station) and Buddyhead Web zine–record label impresario Travis Keller. (I used to love Buddyhead.)
Raised on a Maryland farm, Hershfield began obsessively assembling a “personally huge and hugely personal” collection of music as a teenager, working in mall music stores, where he’d immediately exchange each paycheck for CDs. Deejaying was a logical next step (he’s manned the decks at What Bar? in Glendale, Hollywood’s M Bar and the roaming Unlit house parties), but he hadn’t considered radio until word of mouth led him to the critically lauded, yet still ultra-DIY, Kill Radio.
“I get so much more freedom here than I do deejaying at a club or a bar,” says Hershfield, a just-married NYU theater graduate who makes his living as an actor (as well as by creating his own electronic music, which has appeared in indie movies and on TV). “This is truly what got me interested in deejaying in the first place, because here I can play a song that nobody’s ever heard of without feeling apologetic about it. You could join Kill Radio without being very specific. I just said, ‘Well, I’ll probably play some music, and in between songs I’ll probably bitch about the president or something.’ ”
In fact, his show is warmly focused on music, the people who make it and why they make it. Hershfield’s criteria for selecting guests (who’ve included Ozomatli, AM and Wired All Wrong) are both visceral and tangible.
“Most of it is ‘Do I like the music?’ ” says Hershfield. “It doesn’t matter what the genre is, but there has to be something about it that I respond to, that makes me feel a certain way. Separate from the music, I look at things like ‘Does it appear to me . . . that they’re working hard, that they really want to do it?’ And then, ‘Are they doing something a little bit different?’ I’ve had a lot of indie-rock bands here, but I’ve also had hip-hop, jazz, and I had a string quartet [the Sonus Quartet, who’ve since toured with Gnarls Barkley].”
He defines the sensation he seeks from music in actor’s terms: “I think if you look at your life like a movie, music is the soundtrack to your life. So when you hear a song that makes you think you’re in a scene, I think that’s probably what I respond to the most.”
Hershfield’s unscripted interviews include questions that we’d all want answered but might be wary of tackling, his empathic manner allowing him to touch potentially raw nerves without even a waft of snideness. He earns his guests’ respect by genuinely absorbing their answers and delving deep into their person to find where their songs come from and why they feel compelled to share them.