The Man Behind the Punk:
Interview with George Stroumboulopoulos...
The Beginnings & Booker
George: "Pop music is uninspiring for sure, but it's honest about that. It's rock music, it's these guys who pretend like they're doing something great when they're just doing the same rendition of what they do."
Me: What were you doing before Much Music?
I was working here, at New Rock Edge 102 in Toronto. And previous to that I worked at the Fan [590 AM], that's a sports talk radio station. I did that from 1993 to 1997. I worked on "21 Jump Street."
Me: Did you really?
No. I just say that. I actually worked on "Booker," the ghetto version. [Laughs] No, I worked in Kelowna, at a rock station out there, in 1993 for the spring. I worked at rock radio in Kelowna, B.C. for a few months before I got a job offer to come down to Toronto to work at the Fan, and I worked at talk radio for about four years before I got an offered a position here. I did swing announcing for while before I was offered "Live in Toronto." I took that show for about a year or so, then Much Music sort of stepped in and asked me if would like to come over and host "The New Music" and I said okay, and there we go.
Radio vs. Television
Me: Do you prefer radio or television?
I like them both for different reasons, and I know that sounds like a bullshit answer but it's true. I like the idea that in radio you get to just play a song and talk to people one-on-one directly and I like that and I respect that. I also grew up really into radio. I like television because of its access and the things you can do and it's just taking art to another level because you're adding pictures to the ideas and pictures to the thoughts, and I like that idea because you're building a bigger story. So they both tell stories, just in different ways, and I like to keep my hands in both while I'm doing them.
Me: I got this from "The New Music" website. This is your quote: "I wasn't all that interested in doing straight up music television, it seemed like one giant commercial for an industry that pushed for some of the most uninspiring music ever and radio had reached a similar low point." When I was reading that I was thinking of pop music…
Not just pop. Pop music is uninspiring for sure, but it's honest about that. It's rock music, it's these guys who pretend like they're doing something great when they're just doing the same rendition of what they do. I take no offence to these rock guys trying to pretend that they're artists. Pop, they are what they are and they admit it. They're McDonald's, and that works for them. They're not dishonest about it. When they are, that's when they fit into that category.
Me: Do you still think that music is in that phase?
Hell yeah. There's lots of great music being made, there's just not a lot of great music being heard because radio stations, for the most part, are uninspired and they're terrible. I'm not going to lie to you, so is television, it's uninspiring and it is what it is. Keep in mind that 75% of "it" out there is [something] we don't like, but you know what, 75% of the population does. They buy all these records, they made Britney [Spears] famous. We didn't make Britney famous. We're just a small group of people who like what we like and we feel that one day this sort of thing is going to be popular again, it happens every now and then, but for the most part from here on end it'll always be that way. When you have fewer companies owning more of the radio stations and more of the television stations, competition and creativity will die.
Canadian Music & Rock'n'Roll
Me: What do you think of Canadian music?
I think there's lots of really good Canadian music. I think that sadly, CanCom regulations have put programmers in a position where they're just going to play the same five Canadian bands over and over and over again, and like always ignore the rest of them.
Me: Do you think it's changed much in the past five years?
I think everyone needs heroes, and everyone needs somebody to do it first. So in the 80's, all we had was Glass Tiger and Platinum Blonde and stuff like that. What ended up happening in the 80's later on was that we had Skinny Puppy, and Skinny Puppy helped influence artists like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. So [what] we noticed in the early 90's was [that] Canadian rock artists, you have a band like the Tragically Hip, Gandharvas, and ultimately Our Lady Peace, who gained success and so they have now set the standard for what the other bands are going to be able to follow, when previous to that we didn't have them. We have a hip now. What we had before was Celine Dion, but let's be honest, no one cares. I'm talking [about] rock'n'roll, we're talking about music here, right? Hip hop is finally building in this country. Maestro forever was the only guy. And now there are more artists. Now you have BaKardi, K-OS has written one of the best records I've heard in a long time, from any country. Canadian artist, right? He's from Whitby, Ontario, with some small time in Trinidad. You've got Choclair, you've got Saukrates, you've got Checkmate, you've got incredible artists, because you have a leader. You have one guy who does it first, one woman who does it first, and then we all follow. So I think it is getting better for sure. That doesn't mean radio is going to play it, but it is out there.
Me: There's a forum on the "New Music" website called "Is rock dead?" Do you think it's dead?
No, I don't think it's dead. I think rock will always be around, I just think it's the attention paid to it. Some days it will be on top of your mind, and some days it won't. I think it's funny that every punk band you hear now for some reason sounds like they listen to Iron Maiden. Eventually rock comes back. And it's never been dead. There's been times when I feel it's been in critical condition, for sure, but it's never been dead.
Me: In another interview you said, "I'm ashamed at the media in this world."
It's disgusting, come on, it's awful. They don't do the news. They just print their stories, their corporate goals. There used to be a balance between making money and creative expression, and it's swayed drastically in the direction in only making money and the idea of making important broadcasting doesn't count anymore to the people in charge.
Change Is Good...?
Me: In the past year Much Music has gone through a lot of change - with the on-air people, new shows, new sets. I read an article that insinuated that it was [meant] to draw a younger audience. Do you think that's true?
I think the changes happened because on-air people left. It was Sook-Yin's decision to leave, Master T's decision to leave, although that one is probably a little messier, and it was Rachel's decision to leave. So change is more out of necessity sometimes, and I think that's what happened.
Me: You've interviewed a lot of people, obviously. Do you still get nervous?
I've never gotten nervous. Sometimes you get anxious before you do something, but I'm not the kind of guy that gets nervous about things. But I do get anxious sometimes.
Me: So what do you do?
I walk around. A lot. I go for a ride on the motorcycle or something, and I just think and work things through in my brain. But I usually take things casually and let them sort of develop on their own.
Me: How do prepare for an important interview?
I try to know something about the artist. I research the hell out of the artist, I research just everything about them. But I'm also just interested in people, so people, you can have a conversation with somebody and have it develop naturally, and that's what I do with them. I treat them like everybody else, I treat them like a [person] on the bus, it's like, 'we're all the same.' But I don't want to be a fool, so I like to make sure I do my due diligence and learn about them, learn about where they came from. You know and you love your friends because when your friends do things, you know where they're from and you understand their context for the things they say and the reason they act the way they do. It's important when you're interviewing a musician as well, or an author, or a painter, or a politician, know where they came from, know what they're about so you can get the proper context as well.
Me: Any interviews you'd kill for?
[Joking] I ain't gonna kill nobody, and I sure as hell ain't gonna say it on tape. [Serious] But I would love to interview Bob Dylan. I mean, the guy's been through everything. He's helped changed music, and I'd want to be a part of that.
Me: What would you ask him if you had the chance to interview him?
I'd ask him the name of the girl he wrote the song "Positively 4th Street" [about].
Me: Best and worst interviews, and why.
U2, because of the whole night. Everybody did their job, everybody came through. It was the biggest band in the world doing a big show. It was filled with energy, it was filled with excitement, filled with everything you could possibly imagine. Worst? Supergrass was pretty sleepy on TV. The Sebastian Bach thing didn't go so well. Interviews are bad when they're boring. Sometimes you just get an interview and it doesn't click, and it's boring. And that happens sometimes.
Me: Most embarrassing moment?
I was changing in a sauna in Brooklyn, New York. I went to interview an artist named Princess Superstar. We had taken a sauna together outside at this art installation. I didn't know the cameraman was filming me change. And so they put it on tv, and there was me and my bits hanging out right there. It wasn't really embarrassing, but I guess that would count. I don't really care about that sort of thing, but I was like, "Ah, that's funny, take it off!"
[ George gets personal. ]