Memoire Radio

My Interview with the Late Daniel Johnston

Featured image via 20Watts

My radio interview with the legendary Daniel Johnston for KBOO in 2009.

Looking back, I am still amazed that I landed this interview. It is simple however, I was the first producer at KBOO to reach out to Daniel Johnston’s manager. That is really how you find opportunities in life: Timing. His manager was his brother, Dick.

Something I don’t mention in the script here, when I got him in the interview chair he had a momentary freak out, running out of the studio. I hope to this day it wasn’t me. Because it was like he felt threatened by me. He was famous for living with schizophrenia.

Imagine my panic standing in Studio 2, all prepared for the interview, and for a moment I thought it was over before it had even started. His brother ran after him, calmed him down, and we got a good fifteen minutes in, including an in-studio performance. Somehow, the guitar came in too quietly on the board and its signal was lost. With tape, you really have to push the gain.

It is silly that I ended up using cassette tape as my medium. Listening to it now, I feel like it wasn’t worth it, but then again, I did something unique with this radio piece and I had the freedom to do it at KBOO. For what I contributed to the station besides 11 minutes and 26 seconds of noisy airtime, listen until the end for the call sign.

Johnston has been recorded plenty of times in super high definition since he was made famous in the 1980’s. To come to him a scrappy young man myself with a cassette system for an interview seems like exactly what I should have done, granted we were in a studio with professional standards.

There is more to the reason I used cassette than that. I believe the session files were intentionally disappeared. All KBOO producers had space on a network drive, and my Adobe Audition files with Daniel Johnston went missing from my folder. I still had the cassette. So I passed it off like it was a creative decision.

My personal legend is that ultimately I had no choice, because the original media was both digital and cassette, but the digital disappeared. A likely story, akin to my dog ate my homework, you might say. Let’s just say it was the ghost in the machine.

If memory serves me right, I was stuck, and I tried to make it work with digital noise filtering and other things, including some reverb. It is sonically one of my worst pieces of radio or any audio that I’ve produced. But you get used to it.

It is a simple piece, I read an intro script to lead in the interview. After the short talk, we go to his concert that night with a field recorder. It was at Berbati’s Pan, I talk to some fans and a musician that I knew and yet whose name I didn’t get down because I was an amateur journalist. I think his name is Ryan. After the concert, the out segment is the performance that I captured in the studio.

Nobody arranged to get a picture with myself and Johnston, in front of the studio, or anything. This is a real oversight by myself and the whole organization. But we got the audio. Here it is, in my archive.

It could have been more awkward. I think I approached him very rationally, but I was thrown by the fact that his mind was elsewhere. He may literally be fighting off the flight response the whole time. There is a sense also that he is still trying to make it. He doesn’t seem self-conscious to the fact that everything wrong about what he did is what made him famous. One can only have compassion for the mindset of a man you cannot understand.

Rest in Peace, Daniel Johnston. You really were a prolific songwriter, and a gift to musicians for generations to come.

See the original post at KBOO right here.

See the photo spread from which I obtained the featured image.

See what else was happening that week via Portland Mercury.

2 replies on “My Interview with the Late Daniel Johnston”

Wow. That interview was like Daniel Johnston’s music, short, simple, and sweet. I love your choice in recording media, which I thought was very thoughtful, and thank you for sharing it. And no doubt, what would undoubtedly be my biggest regret, is that lost opportunity for a picture. The same thing happened to me, with Harry Max, who (unless you’re a musician) may not even compare to the pop-iconic Johnston. Still, I feel your pain. On a positive note, … you got the cassette. #veryrare. (insert two thumbs up here)

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