Three seasons in, Disgraceland is one of the finest podcasts around, and with millions of downloads since inception, among the most popular.
Expertly melding history and crime, Jake Brennan, the creator of the series, has the perfect supply of material: the music industry, its players, its scenesters; and a wellspring of badly behaved subjects.
Notorious episodes center on Sam Cooke’s death, the controversies surrounding Jerry Lee Lewis murdering his wife, the sagas of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, the mafia-laden tales behind Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, and dozens more.
Disgraceland will be performed live May 25 at The Gothic Theatre, and we caught up with Brennan to discuss the series.
If you’d like to see the live taping, The Colorado Sound has tickets to the immersive experience at the Gothic. Be sure to use the code Disgraceland if you’d like to go.
The Colorado Sound: Disgraceland is a podcast that tells us about the underworld of the music industry, and you’re already on your third season. What does it say about the music we all love that you have such a huge supply of material to draw from?
Jake Brennan: Artists, musicians, those compelled to create; it all comes from somewhere, usually a place of deep emotional turmoil. It’s a common trait that most musicians have and oftentimes leads to incredibly bad behavior and oftentimes, crime.
Disgraceland has to be one of the only podcasts that fuse music, history, and investigative journalism. So aside from being a podcaster, what’s the most important role you serve on Disgraceland?
I definitely wouldn’t call what I do “journalism.”
I’m a storyteller drawing on existing source material to piece together narratives through my own unique point of view – that is, basically, musicians are crazy and that thing that makes them crazy also helps them make insanely great music. My primary role in telling these stories is to entertain.
Have any of the episodes fueled fires from artists who may not want these stories out?
There has been one case but I can’t talk about it. Most times, when I hear from people close to the artists they’re encouraging. There is a myth-building part of this that I think they can appreciate.
You’ve been in several bands and lived the music life too. Could Disgraceland work without you having some fun and perhaps shady experiences on the road?
That’s a great question. Pass!
“Musicians are crazy and that thing that makes them crazy also helps them make insanely great music”
Your episodes tell the stories of rock and rollers, hip hop artists, jam bands, soul icons, and more. As a fan of music, does doing Disgraceland change the way you hear Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, and things like that?
If anything, researching these artists and spending so much time in their heads gives me more of an appreciation of their music.
As podcasting becomes more ubiquitous, it seems that we kind of expect them to drop in our playlists like this piece of magic, but listening to the production, it sure sounds like Disgraceland is way more than a full-time job from idea to episode. Typically, how long will it take you to produce a podcast?
Not including research, each episode takes about a week to write and a week to produce the audio. The voicing of the episodes is the hardest part. As pretentious as it sounds, it’s a performance.
Now Disgraceland is going on the road, and will be in Denver on May 25. What can people who go to the show expect to experience?
It’s the podcast, but live. In addition to storytelling and strong audio design, it’ll be enhanced with video and audio and yours truly on stage.
Bringing Disgraceland to the stage has always been the plan. I’m looking forward to bringing unreleased stories to fans in person before they hit their feeds. Listeners will get a first look at my Rolling Stones story in Boston and Denver, where the Stones were supposed to be performing right down the street!
What’s one of the big goals you have in taking the show on the road?
Mainly just to connect with listeners and not make an ass of myself.
You’re obviously a huge fan of music, and as a Music Discovery station, we play almost everything. What’s working for you these days?
Listening to a lot of Roxy Music. Such a rich, eclectic band. Bryan Ferry is a genius, I think.
Last night I listened to Pulp’s Disco 2000 and danced around my living room with my kids. This morning I’m going to listen to John Coltrane’s Ballads to start my day like I do every morning and I’ll probably listen to this record at the end of my day too. It’s that good and one of my favorite records of all time. Also, I see the Smiths on today’s playlist and quite possibly, Quicksand’s cover of “How Soon Is Now?”
I was listening to The Astral Week’s episode going to The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, where The Shining drew its inspiration, and with those mountains looming down below. It was kind of perfect. In this mobile age, do you envision where and how people are listening to your shows?
Jesus, that’s so cool. Kubrick was messing with those synthesizers for that opening scene when the Torrance’s are driving to the hotel. I can see how the creepiness of that “Astral Weeks” episode, the way it sounds, would track with that environment, particularly with the creepy madness in the story. But no, I’ve never thought of that. It’s a good question.
I just assume people listen on the subway or in their cars or wherever, like I do. A lot of people tell me they listen more than once to an episode. I think about that a lot. It’s crazy.
In fact, I bet given Colorado’s prominent place in music history that there’s a story or two here for you. Anything in mind for a story involving our wild, weird, and sometimes inebriated state?
Got any hot tips?
Last question: I didn’t understand the real Graceland when I went, and I think your podcast kind of nails how I felt that day wandering around a place like that. Something wasn’t right. In general, what does Disgraceland mean to you?
It’s the American Dream. All the good in that and the bad. It was Elvis’ dream come to life and his nightmare, all at the same time. It encapsulates the ying and the yang of American mobility. Be careful what you wish for. It might eat you, even while you’re trying to eat everything in site.
Disgraceland, live, takes place May 25 at the Gothic Theatre. Tickets are currently available.