Locally Produced Podcast Studies the Art of Sampling in Popular Music


  • Courtesy of Riffs on Riffs
When Joe Watson heard the folks at the local media design company Evergreen Podcasts were interested in launching a music-related podcast, he realized it was the perfect time to pitch an idea that had been percolating in his head.

“I said it would be fun to trace the origins of the tunes from where they were originally sampled,” says Watson one recent afternoon from the Lakewood studio where he and co-host Toby Brazwell record Riffs on Riffs, a new podcast that studies the use of sampling in popular music.

Watson recruited Brazwell, a local musician whom he had met at a networking event, to host the program with him.

Brazwell says that when he originally met Watson, the two of them immediately started talking about music.

“We’re right around the same age, so we share many of the same memories from our childhood about music,” says Brazwell. “But it’s from two different perspectives. And yet, we can still have a conversation about it. We might not necessarily agree. But that’s how musicians are.”

Originally, Watson and Brazwell had multiple preproduction meetings to create a format. At that point, they decided which songs would become the focus of the eight-episode first season. They'll dissect popular songs by Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan and Stevie Nicks.

“We threw a bunch of stuff at the wall,” says Watson. “We wanted well-known popular songs but ones that have a backstory that’s unknown. We want people’s minds to be blown a little bit.”

Brazwell says the show’s template makes the duo stay focused on the music and keeps them from rambling on about other matters.

“I’m a stream-of-consciousness thinker, and I could go forever,” he says. “[Producer] Julie Fink puts boundaries and margins on it. She has made it more impactful.”

The first episode, which went live today on iTunes, focuses on Tupac’s “California Love,” which features a Joe Cocker sample and includes interpolations of Zapp’s “Dance Floor” and Ronnie Hudson & the Street People’s “West Coast Poplock” that come courtesy of Zapp’s Roger Troutman.

“You can see how 2Pac and [producer] Dr. Dre got [the song’s hook] from the ‘80s hip-hop sound,” says Watson. “For Dre to reach out to Roger Troutman and get him to play on the track is a cool full-circle thing.”

Much of a song's history could be uncovered with a simple Google search, but Watson and Brazwell maintain their show offers something unique.

“If you wanted to, you could read from Wikipedia, but we don’t really want that,” says Brazwell. “We want to make it interesting. Some of the facts are there but to connect them to other things is what we do. In the Wu-Tang episode, we take the sample they use in and show how [producer] RZA was on something special. Joe will sometimes slow a sample down or put two samples on top of them. We always walk away thinking that learned a lot from each episode and have stuck the dismount at the end.”

To help promote the podcast, the duo will host a live trivia night at Sibling Revelry tomorrow night from 7 to 9. A new episode of Riffs on Riffs will come out each week between now and Nov. 21.

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