Before He Celebrates 17 Years of Hosting The Adventure Club, Josh Venable Looks At Its Past
Halfway through our talk with KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge radio host Josh Venable, he excuses himself from the conversation.
"Hold on for one second, I've got to do a break real fast," he says, before pausing to clear his throat as the last notes of Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says" play in the background. "One of the greatest bands of all time right there, Jane's Addiction, going back to Nothing's Shocking. That is 'Jane Says.' Still to come: Mumford & Sons, by request, and, right now, we have a band whose brand new album doesn't come out until July; this is Brandon Boyd and Incubus with "Wish You Were Here."
He's in the middle of his regular, weekday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. shift out at KYSR-98.7 FM in Los Angeles, talking to us between brief on-air appearances. The gig is one he's had for over three years at this point, since he moved to Los Angeles. He remains a fixture locally, though, despite his new zip code; Venable can be still heard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday on The Edge, and, as has been the case since 1994, he still hosts The Edge's Sunday night anti-format favorite, The Adventure Club. On Sunday night, he'll celebrate his 17th anniversary of hosting (or co-hosting, as was the case in the early years), the popular show, which, for years now, has provided the alt-rock fans with a much-needed dose of something different.
In advance of this impressive milestone, we caught up with Venable and chatted him up about the show's history, its proudest moments, its evolution over the years and, of course, his favorite local acts. Check out our Q&A with the radio host -- and, let's not forget, tribute band frontman -- after the jump.
You're out in L.A. these days. How long have you been out there?
Three and a half years. It's sunny all the time out here, it's crazy.
So I hear.
Actually, it's kind of cold here today, if you can believe that. It's sunny 350 days a year, though.
Has being out in sunny Los Angeles changed your perspective at all on the music you play on the Adventure Club?
Oh, God, no. It's still sad bastard music 24 hours a day on the Adventure Club.
Why did you have to go out there in the first place? Was that a career move?
Well, yes, essentially. I was given the chance to do afternoons, and be the music director. So, yeah, that's why I'm here.
Why did you keep doing the Adventure Club when you moved out there? Does it air out there as well?
So it just stays here in Dallas?
Yeah, but I'm also on in Dallas doing mid-days every day from ten till two.
Why'd you decide to keep doing it, even after moving away?
Why did I keep doing it? Because it's something that makes me extremely happy and it's something that makes a lot of other people very happy.
How did you even get started with The Adventure Club?
The Adventure Club started, I think, in 1990 with Alex Luke, in those really early days of The Edge, and I was his intern starting in 1993, when I was still in high school. When he left in May of '94 to go and work at another radio station in St. Louis, they asked me, being his intern, obviously. How things have changed! How many have times have they just put an intern, who has never done anything before on the air? I'd never been on the air in my entire life, and they asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, "Of course!" I was far too terrified to do it on my own, so I went and found someone else who worked in the building, Keven McAlester, who used to work in at the Met, which was the Observer's rival in the early '90s, and he was a music editor later on in life, after having worked at The Adventure Club. I think that obviously would help him get that job. I went and asked him, and I said, "You have terrible taste, right?," and he said, "No, I have great taste! You have terrible taste." And I said, "Well, you like Stereolab and Yo La Tengo, and I like the Smiths, and Suede," and he said, "Exactly!" So I said, "All right, let's do this show together -- I think it'll be hilarious. It'll open the scope of things much more than if I were just playing what I was into or you were just playing what you were into."
When did it become a solo thing?
1997. He left after three years to move to L.A., and now he makes documentaries.
This was your first entry into radio, The Adventure Club. Was that what you were studying at the time? Were you trying to get into radio?
I did go to college for it. I went to UNT and studied radio there.
Were you studying radio while you were on the air?
It was kind of pointless. We were learning things in radio classes that were three and five years outdated. I was working there every single day after school, interning there. Then I moved up to weekend overnights, then normal overnights five days a week, then nights, and now mid-days, all the while doing The Adventure Club all those years.
How did you know about the internship in the first place?
I called George Gimarc, who was the initial music director for The Edge, every day for three months, and I begged, and I pleaded, and I used to go to the station when it was in Las Colinas -- I used to go to the station because I lived in Grapevine at the time -- all the time to meet bands as they were coming in. Which, in hindsight, was probably a fairly stupid thing that The Edge used to do. Gimarc would say, "They Might Be Giants are gonna be here in 45 minutes, and they'll be on the air with me!" So I would get in my car and drive up there, and wait in the parking lot, and then get to meet They Might Be Giants.
Would you be there by yourself, or were there other kids like you?
No. There are no other children like me. I met Erasure, I think, and the Sundays, and They Might Be Giants, all of which, I think, said, "Wow, you seem nice, and you're here, and dorky, with a stack of vinyl for us to sign. Why don't you come up and watch us play in the studio?" Gimarc kind of got to know me from that, and I called virtually every day for, I think it was like three months. From what I remember, and the story that Gimarc and I have told back and forth over the years, it's that I finally just begged and begged and begged, and finally one day, he said, "Josh, what is it that you want to do here?" And I said, "I will do anything! I don't care!"
It's kind of like one of those quintessential breaking-into-radio stories. It's almost so cliché it's perfect!
He'd say, "Show up sometime this week after school." Needless to say, I skipped school the next day and showed up at 8:30 in the morning. I did everything: I got coffee, I made copies, I put away CDs. I did whatever. Like I said, I was a senior in high school getting to meet all my favorite bands. I was still extremely wide-eyed and couldn't believe all this was happening to me. It was a kind of nice, Almost Famous existence for a while.
The obvious thing about the Adventure Club and its appeal is that it's a little bit different from regular Clear Channel-formatted radio...
All formatted radio.
When did it take the shape that it's still on today?
When you guys took over and you were trading back and forth?
Yeah. And I think Alex before that. The show has definitely gone through phases where Alex was more Brit-pop-heavy than the solo years that I was on in the mid-'90s during the big explosion of Brit-pop, and people couldn't believe that. He was into Lush, into the Cocteau Twins, into the Sundays. Alex had a big thing for old British bands. Then, when Keven and I took it over, there was a lot more American indie rock, a lot more local music included, and I think that's kind of the trajectory that the show has been on ever since. When you look at the bands that the Adventure Club has helped to break over the years, they're definitely not exclusively British indie rock bands the way that I think lots of people immediately associate The Adventure Club with that style of music.
Who are the bands you're most proud to have played early on?
Coldplay, Mumford, Oasis, Weezer, the Old 97s were first played on the show, the Polyphonic Spree. I remember that the Polyphonic was the weekend after Wes died. Tim brought the Polyphonic Spree up to play for the first time on the show, and it was his first interview after Wes passed away, and it was this long discussion about that. We played Eisley, too. Tons of local bands. Tons and tons of local bands.
Was that always the plan, the local bands, or did that just come to be?
What do you mean, the plan?
You mentioned playing a lot of local bands. Obviously the 97s, Eisley, etc. I know Smile Smile gives you a lot of credit for getting their band off the ground too. Did you want to play local bands?
I said this in something in the Observer quite a while ago -- it makes no difference to me where somebody is from. If it's good, it's really good, I'll play it. There are very few bands that are quintessentially Texas, you know what I mean? The Dooms UK could have been from anywhere when we started playing them, and Funland could have been from anywhere when we started playing them. As long as it's good, it will get played on the show. I always hated the "I don't play enough local music" argument, and that criticism has always seemed absolutely asinine to me because I play what I think is really really good at the time. If there is not a flood of great music coming in from the 76-whatever zip code, then it's not gonna get played. It's not my fault! It's other people's fault for not making better records.
If that's the asinine criticism, what is the accurate criticism of the Adventure Club?
Let's see. That I'm not humble enough. [Laughs.] Once again, I think that the show is great, so why should I sit back and say, "Oh, well, the show is really not that good"? Eff that noise. The show is that good! What don't people like about me? Lots of people have said that I'm not a nice person in person, which I've never really understood. I think I'm nice to everybody!
You're nice on the air, but not in person? Is what they're saying?
I guess. I've had bomb threats called against me for, quote, "Not being nice on the air." Which I think is awesome. But it made my mother cry, by the way -- both times that she found out about, at least. One time, they had to come out and do a sweep of our cars in the parking lot...
No way! Because of a bomb threat? What's the story there?
That I was making fun of the Toadies on the air. [Laughs.] And an overzealous Toadies fan called in a bomb threat.
Were you actually making fun of the Toadies?
Of course I was! [Laughs.] The story would be not nearly as fun had I not actually made fun of of them.
Maybe the worst criticism is that I'm an elitist, which I always found really stupid.
Well, I just don't like terrible music. There's a huge difference in being an elitist and being somebody that refuses to suffer from stupid music that's made for five-year-olds.
As someone who does the daytime shifts at Clear Channel, you don't always get the choice to pick what you play . Don't you have to put up with that during your day shifts?
Well, I can definitely say that the Edge now is better than it ever has been.
I'd agree with that. I was shocked the other week when I checked out the playlist and saw some of the stuff you guys are playing recently. What's changed?
I think the world is finally catching up to what we have been doing on The Adventure Club for a long time. I'm sure that sounds super humble! [Laughs.] I do think that everything goes in circles, and there, for a while, it was really, really heavy rap-influenced rock, and before that it was the really bad Lilith Fair stuff, and before that, it was... whatever. There's always going to be something. But these days, everything is leaning towards the Muse, Mumford, Florence, Coldplay. These are all bands that you've been hearing on The Adventure Club for a long time, and these are all bands that are still putting out really good records. I couldn't be any happier about the state of alternative music right now. The Internet has made a critic out of everybody. I'm sure you have realized this. [Laughs.]
On a daily basis.
Now that the Internet is out there, everybody thinks they can do your job. Everybody can do my job as well -- because everybody has an iTunes, and everybody realizes, "Oh, this song would sound great going into this." Well, not really -- not any more so than everybody can do your job because there's an Internet out there and they read an article on Pitchfork, and they decided that they were a great music critic. Umm, not really.
What's changed over the course of the 17 years that you've been involved with the show? How have things evolved? What makes you still want to do The Adventure Club?
This is all I know how to do. I still like hearing new bands. I'm an avid record collector. I still enjoy the idea of hearing something for the first time and turning other people on to it, as much as humanly possible. What all has changed? I mean, jeez Louise! In 1994, the only cell phones out there were Zack Morris bricks! The Internet had not taken off yet. Now you can listen to The Adventure Club or any radio station, really -- on iheartradio, too. You can listen to it on your phone. You can listen all over the world on the Internet. I remember -- it seems like a hundred years ago now, but I remember it -- a dad coming to pick up something at the station one time and I was walking by the front office, and he came out, and he goes, "Hey, you're Josh, right?" "Yeah, yeah!" And he goes, "I just want to thank you," all sarcastic-like, "I want to thank you for ruining my summer." And I said, "What did I do? What did I do to you?" And he said, "My daughter has threatened to run away from home if we make her go to the Grand Canyon with us over a weekend because she doesn't want to miss your show." [Laughs.]
That's gotta be a proud moment.
Of course it was! I thought it was the best thing that ever happened to me up to that point! And, now, she could've gone to The Grand Canyon and just listened through her phone, or on her laptop, or whatever. The world is totally different. I remember, in 1994, my friends and I would go and stand outside of Trees and pass out Adventure Club fliers to try and make more people listen. Now, all you have to do is get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get on your blog, get on whatever, and you're reaching a hundred times as many people as I would've reached with a bunch of handmade fliers that said, "Do you like the Charlatans? Well, listen to The Adventure Club!" Or whatever they said. We made all our own shirts. That's the sort of self-promotion that we've always kind of done. And, now, all you have to do is literally get on the Internet. That's the way it will probably always be.
What's the plan for Sunday? Do you have special things in mind, or is it just another show?
Eisley are coming by to play three songs, and then there's tons of pontificating, and me being not humble.
Will there be some retrospective type of stuff, do you think?
Maybe. When we did the 15-year anniversary, I did an entire month's worth of shows that were all the biggest songs of The Adventure Club condensed into, I think, four or five shows. I think there were five Sundays that year in the month of May. So I kind of don't want to do too much of that, 'cause there's way too much new music that I wouldn't be able to play, if that makes sense.
Sure it does. What else has changed?
Well, it's amazing to me how many people have zero idea that I have left Dallas.
Does that surprise you?
Well, if you're not actively Google searching it, then you'd never know.
You still get invitations to local shows and everything?
Oh, sure. Every time I go home, there's a box of mail waiting for me at my building. I mean, I was there for Edgefest, and I'm home enough to know what still goes on all week, and everything that goes on in Dallas. I still have friends that turn me on to the bands I need to be turned on to in Dallas.
So who are you liking right now? Who's your new favorite Dallas band?
I do like the new Calhoun record. It's not brand new, but that Spooky Folk record -- I thought it was really, really good. The new Fishboy, too. The way that he wormed his way into my heart years and years and years ago is that, I was doing a show, and a security guard called from downstairs and said, "There's a boy" -- which I love, not "man" -- "there's a boy here, and he has a big box of stuff for you, and he would like to bring it up to you." And I thought, well, what's in the box? And he said, "This looks like a vinyl record -- it looks like a vinyl record by a band called the Smiths..." I cut him off: "Send him up!" [Laughs] So he came up, and he came up with some Dr Pepper, and a bunch of records that his friend didn't want, or - I don't remember what it was - but he just brought me a bunch of junk. And it was everything from coloring books to stickers, and whatever, and he said, "Oh, here's my CD." I put it on, and I absolutely loved it. That was God knows how long ago. But, yeah, the new Fishboy, I think, is really good. And I think the new Eisley is probably the best thing they have ever done.
I like it a lot.
I think a lot of people do. And I told them that when they were here the other day: This is the record that I think a lot of people have been waiting for that band to make.
They've gotten a good reaction. We've given them a lot of press. I know Spin and Alternative Press have, too.
I think that second record was not the record that I wanted. I don't think the second record was the record they wanted either.
I think, for a long time, they didn't know what they wanted.
That could be true. Another great story: Their parents started sending me stuff when Stacy was -- jeez, I mean, 11? 12? Somewhere in there?
Boyd [DuPree] was sending you stuff?
Yeah. Boyd and his wife were sending me CDRs and listening online from Tyler, and they told me they would gather people in Tyler to listen whenever I was gonna play it.
Yeah. I still love doing the show. Of course I do. I wouldn't do it otherwise. I love working at The Edge. The Edge has been my second home. I told somebody this the other day: I have been either on the Edge or at the Edge, six days a week, for I don't know how long. Since I was in high school.
No signs of slowing down for The Adventure Club?
No, no, no! They will bury me in the field behind the station.
Behind the Clear Channel building?
[Laughs.] Yeah! Right there behind the tollway. You'll be able to stop by and spit on my grave, dance on my grave, and leave flowers or Smiths records. Hopefully they will also pour concrete over me so irate Toadies fans cannot dig me up and desecrate my corpse.
Last question: When are you back in town next?
That will be Halloween. Nightmare on E Street will be doing a show, and it will be the Saturday before Halloween at a venue to be determined. Don't stand too close to the stage --- you will get pregnant if you are ovulating and a woman. Or maybe not. Who knows. Maybe if you're not ovulating! We can make that happen any which way.
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