When I was young and someone asked me, “Hey, want to see something cool?” I was inevitably disappointed. “Something cool” typically involved something decidedly uncool. Eventually I learned to just say “No thanks.” Now, decades after I gave up on seeing “something cool,” actor and writer Sarah Thyre and writer and filmmaker Rachel Lichtman are beckoning listeners with a podcast-tweaked version of the old question: “Hey, want to hear Something Cool?” Something Cool is a new podcast created by Thyre and Lichtman that is due to be released October 26th on the new Howl Premium audio service. I had a chance to talk with Thyre and Lichtman about their project and listen to their first episode, and I have to say, I’m ready to say yes again to that old question.
Something Cool started with Thyre and Lichtman’s mutual love of Bobbie Gentry. Gentry is a singer-songwriter from Mississippi who reached the top of the Billboard charts in 1967 with her song “Ode to Billy Joe.” But her fame was short-lived, and by the end of the 1970s, Gentry was out of the music business completely. While her music career may be long over, Gentry’s influence as a business-savvy artist has continued to live on with a select group of fans. According to Lichtman, “Sarah and I got together because we both had a real love for Bobbie Gentry, and out of that we decided to do something because we wanted to elevate Bobbie. We thought Bobbie deserved to be more well known.”
Gatekeepers of Cool
From the spark of Bobbie Gentry, Thyre and Lichtman realized that together they’ve discovered innumerable unsung artists over their lives–Lichtman as a seasoned music journalist and filmmaker, Thyre as an actor and comedian–and decided to bring those artists to a broader audience through a podcast. Actually, Thyre and Lichtman might shy away from the “podcast” word. As they describe it, their project is really more of an audio documentary series, delivered as a podcast. Given Lichtman’s background as a documentary filmmaker (she wrote, directed and produced the music documentary The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em), this makes sense. What it means in terms of the final product is that each episode is heavily researched and intricately constructed, weaving together the story of an unsung artist, as told by a narrator, with interviews and sound clips that are meant to put the listener in the historical place and time of the artist. As Lichtman puts it, “If we can make you smell the incense, that’s what is important to us.”
To tell the stories of their hand-selected subjects, Thyre and Lichtman have made a point of searching for relevant narrators who have a connection to the artist being profiled. The narrator drives the story and is joined along the way by a number of people that Thyre and Lichtman interview for their perspectives on the artist’s career. For their first episode, which profiles Bobbie Gentry, Thyre and Lichtman enlisted actor Mary Steenburgen to narrate and interviewed singer-songwriters Rosanne Cash, Susanna Hoffs, Kelly Hogan, Evie Sands and Jill Sobule. Gentry’s story, as told through these voices, drips with the love, awe and respect you’d expect from a group of superfans, though in this instance, the superfans are well-established artists in their own right. The depth of the interviews and audio collected for the show makes it appealing to a broad audience, too. As Thyre noted in our interview, she and Lichtman want to introduce artists like Gentry to the casual listener while also including nuggets even the biggest fans may not have heard before.
In addition to the Gentry episode, Thyre and Lichtman plan on releasing episodes devoted to the 1960’s all-female band The GTOs and actor and comedian Carol Cleveland, best known for her work on Monty Python. The GTOs episode will feature narration by Michael Des Barres (actor, musician and ex-husband of GTO band member Pamela Des Barres) and interviews with Alice Cooper, Gail Zappa and members of The GTOs. The Carol Cleveland episode will be narrated by original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman and will include interviews with Cleveland herself, Python member Terry Gilliam, and Python collaborator Neil Innes.
There’s a Premium
Something Cool will be the newest in a slew of new podcasts released on Howl Premium. If you’re not familiar with Howl Premium, it is a fee-based audio service available through the Howl app and Howl.fm that features archives for shows like WTF and Comedy Bang! Bang! as well as original shows specifically created for the service, like Something Cool. If you want to hear Something Cool, you’ll need to subscribe to Howl Premium at $4.99 per month. For those who have not already started a subscription, Howl offers free 30 day trials of the premium service. Interested listeners can use the code “COOL” for 30 days of free access to Howl Premium on Howl.fm.
Howl plans to release the three completed episodes of Something Cool in three-week increments, starting with the release of the Bobbie Gentry episode on Monday. The episodes will be an easily digestible 30 minute length or, as Thyre puts it, the length of your cardio workout. Midroll Media, which owns Howl, is in talks to develop more episodes so Thyre and Lichtman can continue to check off their endless list of unheralded artists.
That Is Cool
Thyre and Lichtman aren’t content with just just spreading the word about their favorite lesser-known artists, though. They’re evangelists in the pure sense, meaning they’re spreading the word to get converts. As Lichtman said in our interview, she and Thyre will “both feel that this program is a success if, after you listen to it, you immediately go out and you want to either download or buy those records or you want to watch those episodes.” If Thyre and Lichtman offer their listeners something cool and make you a fellow fan in the process, they should absolutely consider themselves a success. That’s the type of success you’d only dream of as a kid on the playground offering anyone and everyone a glimpse at something cool.