18th March 2020 – after some minor tech challenges which may or may not have been due to half the planet trying to talk to one another on Skype at the same time, I had a chat with Marcus Parks (M) and Carolina Hidalgo (C), the duo behind the fabulous punk history podcasts, No Dogs in Space. This is what we talked about:
HJN: Where did the idea come from to do a music history podcast and why start with punk?
C: Well it’s because it’s the first thing that bonded us together when we first started going out, and we would make these playlists for each other, and send them to one another, it was just like a sweet thing. It was a good way to get to know each other.
M: Yeah, it was like music was one of the things that first bonded us together, like, 4 years ago. And punk was the first type of music that bonded us together. Like one of our early dates was going to the Queens Museum. They did this fantastic exhibit on the Ramones, with a lot of original flyers, some of the stuff from them going to high school, like yearbooks, things like that, a lot of original gig posters. And we’ve always loved going to concerts together, that’s always been one of our favourite things.
C: We’ve been to hundreds
M: Well I’ve wanted to do a music history podcast for a while, and kinda got pushed into it a little bit last summer, and I thought “well, who would I get as a co-host” and I thought “well, my wife!”. Well, at the time, my girlfriend, but she’s so funny, and we have such a great time, like just talking about music, and she also knows, like, a shitload about music. She knows just as much as I do.
C: But we complement each other
M: We do, we both know different things about different bands
C: And we don’t always agree, which is the best thing
M: But it’s just music at the end of the day. We’re not going to get into knock-down, drag-out fights. We never really get into arguments about music, mostly we get into arguments about how certain things happened.
HJN: Well you do work really well together as a double act, and I wondered if you practised or this was unscripted banter
C: Well we have all the research; we have everything set up. We even have a script that we kinda use as a reference, well at least I do. We already know what we’re going to talk about, so we already have an idea. A lot of times I have information that I don’t share with Marcus, so that way we have a good reaction to what I have to say, and that’s it.
M: To get the Stooges episodes out, we developed the show for 6 months.
C: At least, yeah. We recorded all 4 of them, and then we looked at it, and we were like “now we know how we wanna do this”, so we went back and we re-recorded all 4 episodes. Because when you’re starting a new podcast, you’re not sure how you want it to work, until you’re doing it, so you might have to start it, then do it again, until you get it right.
M: We got to episode 4, and went, right, now that’s how you do the show.
C: So let’s start over.
M: That is the thing about podcasts. And also, we had never worked together before
C: Not really, not in this capacity
M: Yeah, we’d never done a creative project with each other. But we did also plan our wedding in the middle of developing this show. And we got married.
M: Yeah, happily. Once we did figure it out, by episode 4, the first time, that’s when we were able to go back and do it all over again, because we both have extremely high standards for what goes out there. We don’t want to put anything out there that’s not our best foot forward, especially something like this, that we’ve put so much work into. It’s something that we’re so proud of. We always wanted it to be the best possible show that it can be.
HJN: There’s obviously a lot of work gone into these podcasts, but how do you go about researching? Who does what?
M: Well, she does the vast majority of it.
C: I just have more time. He’s so busy.
M: Yeah, cos I’m also still putting out, you now, Last Podcast on the Left every single week, but I have research assistants that help with out with both this show and Last Podcast on the left, so, I have a research assistant read the definitive book on the band, and send me outline, saying here’s all the high points, and then working off that, and with what further research I do, I write a script for myself, like I do with Last Podcast, that’s about 12 pages or so, and then put in all of the music, you know, where it is appropriate, using my own knowledge base of music.
C: And then I come in and I turn the 12 page script into, like, a 20 page script, because I add in all the details, all the colour. Because Marcus’s background is in writing and research, and mine is mostly in stand-up comedy, so like, I’m not the best writer, so I just tell the story. And we try to make it fun and interesting and engaging. Then we put that in front of us and we record and we kind of go off on that, have fun with it.
HJN: It’s been interesting listening – there’s some fairly obtuse music in the podcasts – so where do you get your insights from? Is that from your own knowledge, or are you asking people for different connections or different music or influences relating to punk?
M: It’s half and half
C: What I do is, not only do I read the book, I tend to look through the fans message boards – they might be on Reddit, or other online places, blogs or whatever. I go through what they have to say, what they think, and this will take me days, but they pull out the best obscure interviews. Sometimes a fan will post something like “I recorded this in 1979, and here’s a clip of it”. So I just go to the fans. They amass all this information, and then I take that, with the books, then kind of decide which is the most reliable source, as best we can.
M: I mean I don’t have it in my brain that Brian James loves Howlin’ Wolf, you know, but I can read that in a book and I know Howlin’ Wolf, or I can go choose a song that, you know, best represents Howlin’ Wolf, and other times, like with the first Stooges episode, going through and talking about some of the bands, like, you know, The Sonics, that was partly because I just wanted to play The Sonics. And I know I might sometimes just shoehorn in a band a little bit too much, you know that song Egyptian Shumba by The Tammys, I know that’s not like a set part of punk history, but that’s the sort of thing where you know, we can shine a spotlight on these bands that are a little more obscure and that people may not know, because, these are bands that we also love.
C: Yeah, it’s just really like having a knowledgeable conversation. And also framing it in a way that we can just talk to each other about it, so it’s not obscure in the way that (speaking in a judgemental way) “Oh so you don’t know THAT reference?”,
M: No, it’s all about being excited by the music, like “You GOT to hear this song by The Tammys”
C: And that’s how we do the podcast, like “Here, let me show you”.
HJN: And the joy in that really comes across.
M: Well we are so passionate about all this music that we play. We’ve been passionate about music our entire lives, and we want that passion to be contagious. We’re talking about these bands because we love these bands. There might be some punk bands, in some little corner, that we’re not going to get to cover, and that’s because we’re not going to spend a lot of time on a band, or a movement, that we’re not huge fans of. Because it’s not going to ring true. And it’s going to feel like homework. To us and for the audience. We do think we can tell a pretty solid story of punk. We’re not saying we’re telling the story of punk; we’re telling a story of punk. Because, you know, we’re not scholars, we’re fans. It’s not definitive, these are the bands that we love, these are the stories that we love.
HJN: As you’ve looked into the stories, have you discovered anything that’s really surprised you?
C: That’s a good question. I guess what’s surprised me the most was how interconnected the bands were, because I’ve never been in a band – he’s been in bands…
M: Yeah, I’ve been in bands since I was 16.
C: And I didn’t realise when I was going through the story of the scene, I’ve always been like “Oh yeah, Patti Smith played with Television, everyone knew each other”, but I didn’t realise, like, how much they were intertwined with each other’s lives, professionally AND personally. It’s all weird, tangled knots that we have to unpick, to get through, because there’s so many names and so many bands, and it can be convoluted, so we try to make it as simple as possible. But that, that surprised me the most. And how like The Clash got together, and The Damned, they all knew each other, from like, day 1.
M: The UK scene in particular, is very interconnected. It’s part of what we talked about in the Damned series, about how in America, punk was barely noticed. Like, the Ramones almost got big, and then the Sex Pistols fucked it up for them. Because the Ramones were on the verge, they were about to start getting pushed, and all the hysteria of the Sex Pistols, and how big of a deal that was, you know, punk was a true, cultural phenomenon in the UK, and hysteria started sweeping through the suits! And in America we were like “I don’t want to fuckin deal with that”. And that was kind of Rat Scabies fault too, because like they were like “I don’t want to deal with a bunch of guys spitting all over the place”. Sorry, not spitting, gobbing *laughs*.
HJN: I met Rat Scabies outside a café in Brixton. I’d gone to see them and the Ramones playing at the Academy, and there he was. I had coffee with Rat Scabies before a Ramones and Damned gig. Had to share that with you…
C & M: Really! Wow. How was he?
HJN: He was really lovely.
C: They were always really good to their fans.
M: Well that’s the funny thing about The Damned. It’s seems they were nice to everybody except each other *laughs*
HJN: So, you’ve covered the Stooges, Suicide, The Damned. What’s next?
C: Well, The Ramones. We already started working on that, I mean it’s a big, big thing for us. And also living in New York, and me being from Queens, it’s just really close to home.
M: And that’s the funny thing about living here in New York, it’s just you run into people who are like, well, we ran into this guy the other day who we work with, and his uncle went to high school with the Ramones. I’ve been doing this since I first moved to New York, like looking at people on the train, regular people, in their 50’s and 60’s, and just like wondering “Did you go to CBGB’s?” And we both lived in New York for, about 14, 15 years. We actually love living in New York city, even though it’s not even close to the same city we moved to 15 years ago, we still love living here.
C: And the history, the history of New York is amazing
M: And there are so many things that are tied in, with the story of the Ramones, we’re going to get to talk about, you know, the Garbage Wars, the bankruptcy of New York and fucking Son of Sam, like, all that stuff was happening. The history of the Ramones is intertwined with the history of New York. Because we’re also both history nerds.
HJN: Yes, there’s a real social history thread running through podcasts, and I think that’s what made it really interesting for me. Combining social history and music – well, music IS social history to some extent, but you’ve gone much broader than just talking about the bands. Do you think people are coming to you as much for the history as the music?
C: I think so, I mean like for me, personally, when I watch a documentary on anything historical, I like it when people give voices to the characters. That’s what we’re trying to do, to make it less abstract. Like, we give Iggy Pop a voice (HJN: a reminder for those in the UK who get to listen to him every week, this is the US). I think that’s what makes it the most interesting. Because these are people, you know.
M: There’s also a lot of people that are listening just for the story. Like I got an email from someone the other day, saying “I fucking HATE Suicide, but I love these episodes”.
C: Ok, they’re like your favourite band
M: Well, Suicide’s first record is my favourite album.
C: Well I like Suicide, but their story? All the recording, and putting it out, I’m like, wow. Now I really like Suicide. So just appreciating what goes into their art, their music, I don’t know, you just like it better, knowing the characters. That’s why we watch the British baking show
HJN: You mean the Great British Bake Off?
M: We really love the Great British Bake Off. When we did our UK tour, we were so excited to look on British Netflix and see the missing 1st 3 seasons that we didn’t get to see in America.
HJN: Soggy bottoms then.
M: Claggy *laughs*
HJN: My last question then. Podcasts were starting to get quite popular about 10, 15 years ago, then they started to fade away a bit. They’ve really picked up again. Why do you think that is?
C: I’m not sure, I mean, I just started listening to podcasts again recently, a lot of times its because it’s, well for me personally, and I don’t know if other people feel this way, but it is enjoyable to have someone’s voice, in your head, just to take a break from, maybe, your own voice.
M: I think that’s a big part of it. I think the way we’re living life now, especially in current times, people are pretty alone. You know, people are much more isolated than they’ve ever been before, and I think for a lot of people, podcasts just provide company. Which is a very human need. And I think people right now are big into stories, and podcasting is the perfect medium for telling stories. You know, like, that’s why people are getting into us, that’s why Last Podcast took off the way it did, because it’s all stories. Podcasting is just an extension of radio. I did radio for 5 years, before getting into podcasting. And radio started off, well a lot of the early radio shows were dramas, you know, they were stories. And we’re just turning to that old tradition, except it’s all real life and it’s just whoever has the means, motive and opportunity to do it, can do it now. It’s completely democratised.
C: We can do this from home. Anyone can do this from home. And I think that’s great, I love it. There’s no-one telling you no, or anything. Like for me, it was hard to do things in stand-up comedy, so what I learned is you just make it yourself. No-one’s going to tell you know if you make it yourself. And hopefully people listen, you know.
M: I’ll never forget something that, well I went from radio, to internet radio, to podcasting, and when I was in internet radio, I was trying to tell my boss – and this was 2007 I think – we have to put every single show that we have on iTunes, they all have to be podcasts, this is insane that we’re not doing this, and he said no. Because in his words, podcasts are amateurish because anybody can do them. And I couldn’t make him see that that’s the point. That’s why they are so popular. And I said “We really have the opportunity to do something special here”, again, on the ground floor, but he said no. So I quit that job, got a job washing dishes to pay the bills, and started what eventually became Last Podcast Network.
HJN: That’s just so punk
M: Yeah, yeah! Yeah, it really is. Well that’s it. I built the network throughout the years, there was no template for a podcast network, so I learned from music labels, looked at success stories, and especially the failures, looked at that, through the years, how they fucked up, and tried to not make the same mistakes, while trying to do something totally fucking new.
And then we said goodbye. I was grateful for 30 minutes of conversation with two fabulous people, clearly in love, clearly passionate about what they do and I think, as pleased as I was, not to be talking, even for a short while, about the global crisis going on outside.
No Dogs In Space podcasts and playlists