Liner Notes With Matt Sloan and Craig Johnson, of Welcome to The Basement

(Original image by Tona Williams)

So far on Liner Notes, we’ve hosted record store owners, musicians and visual artists, but in this edition, we’re doing something a little different. This time, we are proud and honored to feature Matt Sloan and Craig Johnson, hosts of the comedic film review show, Welcome to The Basement, on the Blame Society YouTube channel.

Every other Friday, Sloan (an actor, director and writer whom you may also know from his other YouTube shows, such as Beer and Board Games and Chad Vader) and Johnson (also a writer, stage actor and comedian) riff and critique a film, perfectly melding witty humor with in-depth analysis, from—you guessed it—the comfort of a cosy basement. They cover everything from timeless classics to cult favorites and even some of the worst stinkers to have ever graced the silver screen. Think Siskel & Ebert meets Mystery Science Theater 3000.

While cinematically focused, the show is also home to many references and side discussions about Sloan and Johnson’s other passions, like theater, literature and especially music. Sloan’s record collection even plays a small role in each episode, with a single LP appearing in the background, serving as a thematic hint to the movie they will soon be watching (which is always a surprise to Johnson).

So it seemed natural to invite Sloan and Johnson to take part in our Liner Notes series to dig deeper into their relationship with music, their record collections and their personal listening habits. Check it out below!

RCU: What was the last song that you listened to?       

Matt Sloan: “Sleepwalk” by Joe Strummer

Craig Johnson: “Chuck E’s In Love” by Rickie Lee Jones. It’s one of those songs that was so over-played when I was a kid that I never took it seriously, never really heard it all those times it played. But last night I read Chuck E. Weiss’s obituary in the Times. Of course, the song named after him was mentioned, so I gave it a listen. What a charmer that one is. I only ever noticed the chorus, not the chatty, gossipy meat of the song. It’s got a lot of fun geographical detail work, lyrically, that establishes the scuzzy 70’s downtown setting.

RCU: What was the last album you were obsessed with?      

MS: The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.  

CJ: It’s been a long time since I have sunk deep into one album. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been living with my wife and become less self-centered about my at-home listening habits, or if I’ve just gotten older and want more variety. Whatever today’s excuse, the answer is Hold on Now, Youngster by Los Campesinos! Their exclamation point, not mine, although, if you prefer to read the sentence all excited, that’s fine. They warrant the excess punctuation.

RCU: Which artist do you most want to listen to on a Friday night?

MS: The Talking Heads, specifically Remain in Light or Speaking in Tongues.

CJ: We usually film on Fridays, so something that will get me in the mood, in the right head space for an episode, get me happy so I feel boyish, get my brain going so I can be quick, smart and funny. Something I can dance to so I’m physically there. Something I can sing with so I am vocally there. So, I guess “Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow or “That Thing” by Lauren Hill. 

Although…once—this was in our first season—we had recently watched Paint Your Wagon for the show, and Matt had located the soundtrack album and was blasting it when I got to his house. I know every word of that thing from when I was a kid, and it just got me in the proper smart/goofy mentality, and then we went and filmed the Top Gun episode which is where I think we really hit our stride.

RCU: Which artist do you most want to listen to on a Sunday morning?        

MS: Hank Williams.

CJ: Let’s see…coffee, making breakfast for family, scratching away at the newspaper, sneaking into the front room while family is distracted, putting on album, I pick… not that one, not that one…no, no, nope…ah! Here she is. Françoise Hardy. Tous les garçons et les filles.

RCU: What record do you wish more people knew about?

MS: Chris Bell’s I Am the Cosmos. He was the other vocalist in Big Star, and this is his only solo record, released posthumously.

CJ: Richard Buckner’s Devotion + Doubt. It rips your heart out and shows it to you.

RCU: What’s your favorite album to drive to?  

MS: “Ca Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand (not an album, just a song). I imagine the To Live and Die in LA soundtrack would be good music for driving through a city at midnight. 

CJ: Matters where I’m driving. Country roads, REM’s Reckoning. Cities or highways or when I’m worried I’m going to nod off, Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team. Again, their exclamation point, not mine.     

RCU: If you could pull a Groundhog Day and relive one concert that you’ve previously attended over and over again, what would it be?

MS: I don’t really go to concerts. I went to see The Carolina Chocolate Drops a few years ago, and that was a good show. I don’t know that I’d want to see it “over and over again”. 

CJ: If I could do a memory sweep after each time I watched it, it would be Th’Legendary Shack Shakers, back in maybe 2001. I don’t want to black them out of my brain because the shows are disturbing (tho’ to some people they would be), but because I’d want it to be a surprise every time. I just happened into the show one night in Minneapolis and didn’t know what to expect. Didn’t know it was rockabilly punk, and I certainly didn’t know that any singer was capable of doing what JD Wilkes could do. Without dying, at least. You know how Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart were cousins? Wilkes gives us an idea of what grandpa must have been like. If I couldn’t do the brain sweep, then I’d choose the Pixies in Milwaukee during their 2004 reunion tour. I could watch that thing on repeat forever

RCU: Which artist, living or dead, do you wish you could have a conversation with at a bar over drinks?       

MS: Louis Armstrong. I want to hear stories about Buddy Bolden. 

CJ: Tom Waits. I have known a couple of people who have had the pleasure of sitting opposite him, and they claim he lives up to the hype. I know it is foolish to say this when looking at the stars- because how can you know- but he seems like a nice guy. And funny and smart and interesting. If he is in character that would be OK, but I’d rather just talk to him about our kids or old movies or recent dental work we’ve had. And I do think I could talk to him. I would be struck stupid if I met Dylan or Billie Holiday or even, I don’t know, that girl who sang “Fridays,” feeling like I was wasting their time, but I think I could find an in with Waits. And now I’m sad that I probably will never talk to the man.

RCU: What’s the music doc/concert film that you’ve probably seen the most?      

MS: Stop Making Sense. That’s the only one I can think of that I’ve seen multiple times. Oh, I also watched the documentary about Arthur “Killer” Kane, New York Doll a couple of times. 

CJ: The Last Waltz. Not just my favorite concert film, but my favorite Scorsese film. There is a drama and tension to the film that most concert films lack because everyone on stage knows the carnival is leaving town so they have to give it their all. Lesser bands would have buckled under that pressure, but they were only elevated. There was nowhere to go after that. And Joni stops by to sing “Coyote.” What more can someone ask for?  

RCU: If we shot a follow up album to the Voyager 2 gold record into space, and you could choose just one song to put on it, what would it be?       

MS: “Psalm” by John Coltrane.

CJ: “O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps. You have to choose something that will musically translate well for whatever life form finds it, something that can be enjoyed and emotionally understood despite the greatest of language barriers, and this one is right up there with Beethoven’s 9th as far that goes. Also, the song is inherently peaceful. It is all the best things about humanity, so let it be our calling card. Maybe put something more desolate on the B Side so they don’t get their hopes too high…All I can think of is Nick Cave’s “Stagger Lee,” which is all good fun, but really, you need to know someone pretty well before you suggest that song to them (frankly, I don’t know if I know anyone well enough to recommend that song), and I don’t want to start an interstellar war. Maybe “John Finn’s Wife” instead. 

A massive thank you once again to Matt and Craig for taking time out of their busy schedules to write us these thoughtful answers. You can catch the next episode of Welcome to The Basement this Friday. Click here to follow them on Facebook, and be sure to like and subscribe to them on YouTube.

-KH

(graphic by Wayne Dorrington)

If you like what you’re reading, please help keep RCU thriving. You can show your support by becoming a Patron at our Patreon account or you can make a donation to our PayPal account below.

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Published by Record Crates United

Keith Hadad, the creator and manager of RCU, has been a contributing writer to Elmore Magazine and Thewaster.com and maintains a regular column, “Keith Hadad’s Choice,” in Blicker magazine. His writing has also appeared in the Smithsonian Folkways' Guest Blog and the Optical Sounds Fanzine. Also, please check out the blog's super-active Instagram account, @recordcratesunited for daily blurb-styled music reviews.

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