Taylor Gonda and Kevin O'Brien celebrate two years of the These Things Matter podcast
Two years ago, friends Taylor Gonda and Kevin O'Brien realized that they didn't just enjoy discussing popular culture, but that they also reveled in the High Fidelity spirit of connecting it to personal experiences. Thus the These Things Matter podcast was born, and Gonda and O'Brien began bringing special guests into their home studio to talk about "pop culture, autobiographically," covering topics like Caddyshack, Weezer, zombies, R. Crumb and more.
Kevin O'Brien and Taylor Gonda are the voices behind These Things Matter.
Tomorrow night, Westword's Best Podcast in 2014 celebrates two years and one hundred episodes with a live broadcast at the Sidewinder Tavern, inviting past guests back to talk about songs that, for them, represent singular moments in time. In advance of the big live show, Westword spoke with Gonda and O'Brien about what works and doesn't work for a podcast with as wide a scope as These Things Matter.
Westword: Is there anything you feel like you've learned over the last two years? Like, what works or doesn't work for a podcast?
Kevin O'Brien: If I talk less. That's the number-one thing. When I shut up, the shows are usually way better. It has been this way my entire life; If I get excited about something -- and I'm sure other people are like this too, I'm just more shameless about it -- then it's like, I have an opinion that nobody else has had, and I have to let it out or I go crazy.
Taylor Gonda: It's such a geek thing. Like, my opinion is amazing!
Kevin: The longer we've done the show, the more I realize I'm not saying anything original. I should probably just shut up.
Taylor: But the things that are original are our personal connections and the guests' personal connections to subjects -- that's where the good stuff is. I think what I've learned from Kevin and from the show is that it is better to let go of control a little bit. Coming from theater, my understanding of how you put together anything is get all prepared and make it perfect, and then it's all the same way every single time.
But the thing is, good actors do all that -- and then they let it all go. That's the part I didn't get for a while. The best shows are when we're just sitting here, having a conversation and not even remembering that we're recording. I have to trust that Kevin and I know what we're doing and the guest is great.
You have guests on from a variety of backgrounds talking about everything from literature to comedy. Do you have prompts or things you lead these conversations with?
Kevin: We used to do it more than we do now, where we would kind of plan before the show and put an outline together of things we wanted to talk about. But the more and more we do it, the less we've been doing that. You kind of get a shorthand after a while of how to do it, regardless of the topic. We used to prep with the guest a little bit, too -- but now Taylor and I know what we're going to do, and we let the guest join into the rhythm of the show.
Taylor: We don't really talk about it at all beforehand. We'll find the guest, we'll find the topic. That's about all we do.
Kevin: The first year, it was like find a topic, find a guest for the topic, and then spend a day talking about it. After maybe the first dozen or so episodes, we started letting the guest pick what they wanted to do. We had some topics that we've blown just because we had a guest that wasn't the best fit for it.
What I always tell guests is, if they're struggling to find one thing to talk about, don't overthink it. This seems to happen more with musicians than anybody else, but they overthink it -- I think they think this is a big deal, and it's really not. It's a podcast. [Laughs.] But comics will come in and be like, I want to talk about Caddyshack. I want to talk about Nicktoons or whatever. They are ready to go.