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2016 Artist Survey: EZTV

Shane O'Connell, Michael Stasiak, and Ezra Tenenbaum on 2016's Best Albums, Trump and the Election, Stranger Things, and Memorable Fan Encounters

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For Under the Radar‘s 14th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2016. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2016 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Shane O’Connell, Michael Stasiak, and Ezra Tenenbaum of New York band EZTV. The band’s latest album, High in Place, came out in 2016 via Captured Tracks. The album features Jenny Lewis.

For our annual Artist Surveys we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about Trump and the election, 2016’s deaths, self-driving cars, Stranger Things, first kisses, scary movies they shouldn’t have seen as a child, which Friends character they are most like, and much more.

Pick up or download Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue for Artist Survey interviews with Amber Arcades, Austra, Faris Badwan of Cat’s Eyes and The Horrors, Boxed In, Caveman, The Charlatans, Cursive, Lucy Dacus, The Dears, C Duncan, Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 and Speedy Ortiz, Dutch Uncles, Ezra Furman, Robyn Hitchcock, The Invisible, Justin Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, Lost Under Heaven (LUH), Lush, Midlake, Phantogram, The Range, Springtime Carnivore, Sunflower Bean, Surfer Blood, TEEN, The Thermals, Nick Valensi of CRX and The Strokes, Jenn Wasner of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak, and Yuck.

A shorter version of EZTV’s survey appeared in the digital version of Under the Radar’s Best of 2016 / 15th Anniversary Issue, this is the full, unedited version.

Top 11 Albums of 2016

1. Drugdealer: The End of Comedy

2. Angel Olsen: MY WOMAN

3. Ultimate Painting: Dusk

4. Omni: Deluxe

5. Psychic Ills: Inner Journey Out

6. Nice As Fuck: Nice As Fuck

7. Chris Cohen: As If Apart

8. Karl Blau: Introducing Karl Blau

9. Eerie Wanda: Hum

10. Cate Le Bon: Crab Day

11. Quilt: Plaza

2016 was regarded by many as a fairly tough and negative year. Was it also a hard year for you personally? If so, how? And also what were the high points for you?

Shane O’Connell: “Fuck 2016” as a cultural meme has really taken hold lately for obvious reasons. But let’s not be naïve2017 is going to be far, far worse.

Michael Stasiak: I fully agree with Shane. As for high points thoughwe really threw ourselves into making and releasing and touring behind a new album this yearinstead of looking back in anger, I feel so grateful for all of the people we have met and befriended while doing those things, and all the generosity and care that people have for our band.

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. presidential election played out?

Shane: Disgusted and very disturbed.

Ezra Tenenbaum: It’s been said that Kennedy was elected partly due to his “mastery” of new communication, the first televised debates etc. Trump used Twitter and social media to exploit our new online driven news systems, in a way that was hard to grasp in the moment. Presuming the moral high ground, presenting researched facts and policy just didn’t compete in this environment and that’s very depressing.

Let’s discuss Donald Trump. What does the rise of Trump tell you about America in 2016? What concerns you most about a Trump presidency? How do you think his presidency might personally change your life? What message do you have for those who voted for Trump? What actions will you take over the course of the next four years to either protest a Trump presidency or support it?

Shane: We’ve proven ourselves to be a profoundly sexist people. This of course is not news, but Trump’s unfathomable win shows just how deeply and violently misogynistic we are. A day or two after the election I unwisely engaged with a Trump supporter on Facebook. He responded to me by saying, “Look at this faggot’s profile, no wonder this pussy voted to Hillary.” Only a fraction of Trump supporters would express these bigotries in these terms, but the underlying sentiment is common to the majority. Women are weak and unworthy of respect/leadership roles. Men who would vote for a woman are weak and should be emasculated. A profoundly unqualified racist sexual-predator is preferable to a woman, because she is a woman no matter how experienced and qualified she may be. What concerns me most is the further eroding of our democracy’s integrity. I can’t imagine that the president’s narcissistic personality disorder will allow him to gracefully turn over the reigns of power should he lose in 2020. His only focus while in office will be obsessing over his approval-ratings and making sure he will win another term. Beyond the despot-level attacks on the press and political adversaries, we’re going to see a ramping up of the tactics the GOP used to win this election. More discriminatory and restrictive voter laws, more corporate money funneled into campaigns, more gerrymandering, more disturbing foreign meddling. I’m truly worried that now that these white nationalists have made it into The White House, they are going to stack the deck to make sure they’ll never leave. I don’t have a message for Trump supporters and in fact don’t believe they should be engaged with at all. An individual who was able to cast their vote for these absolute monsters makes them unworthy of the basic respect required for meaningful dialogue. They are too far-gone. We should instead focus on the 50% of the electorate who did not vote, and find ways to motivate them to participate.

Michael: Even at the best of times it can feel so selfish to even try to be a band. After the results came in, while our friends and family cried themselves dry and poured their hearts out on Facebook, we still had shows to play in Europe and had to get the word out. In the face of so much hand wringing and anxiety, the questions kept popping onto my head: “Are we doing enough? Are writing and recording and releasing music helpful at all? Are we rocking against Trump or is this all just a distraction?” But playing our songs is all we have. It felt so good to play to a basement full of people in a record store in London, and to say into a microphone that despite how scary the world had become, this felt like the right thing to do.

What reality TV star would you have rather been elected president?

Michael: is it too early to start talking about a Tim Gunn/Heidi Klum 2020, Project Presidency?

Shane: I mean, pretty much any other. Even the dude that lives in a bus on Married at First Sight.

Ezra: Frankly, we’d be better off with a meme account as president.

If you were president, what would you try to accomplish in your first 100 days in office?

Michael: Day 1New laws that make it easier for bands from the U.K. to tour the states. Day 2Making Shane’s dog, Robbie, the official First Dog of the United States (FDOTUS). Commission portrait of Robbie. Days 3100-While checking on the progress of the painting of FDOTUS, oversee extensive overhauls of the U.S. postal service, the country’s railroad system, infrastructure overhauls, and permanent protection for Planned Parenthood… I could go on.

Shane: Immediately start taking in Syrian refugees. Put forward a plan to reform our campaign finance system. Our democracy has been totally corrupted by corporate influence. In my mind, this is the problem from which most of our troubles stem. We need to get money out of politics if nothing else.

What are your thoughts on Brexit and the future of the European Union? To what extent do you think the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump were motivated by the same factors?

Michael: We were actually in London the night of the election, and the whole day it seemed like our fellow Brits were looking for America to prove that their referendum was a fluke, that love and empathy are greater forces than fear and anger. There was a feeling of disbelief and shock the next day, almost like they were reliving Brexit all over again. The manager of the cafe we had been frequenting poured some Baileys into my cup and just said, “We know how you feel, sorry guys.”

Shane: Xenophobia is on the rise, and it was a huge contributor to both catastrophes. It infuriates me to no end to witness the brazen bait and switch at work. Deregulation of the banking industry, and the challenges inherent in moving towards a globalized economy threw the world into economic turmoil in the late 2000s. The corporate class and their mouthpieces convinced the gullible among us that job-stealing immigrants and eroding national identity are the root cause of the working-class’ stagnation. We’ve elevated the people who created the problem to our highest offices and expect them to fix the system that benefits them the most.

We lost three highly influential music icons in 2016. What are your thoughts on the passing of David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen? And what are your favorite albums by each artist?

Michael: It’s always jarring to hear that news, though the one this year that hit me really hard, though I didn’t know him personally, was Billy Miller, the founder of Norton Records. I’d be hard pressed to name a label that had a bigger hand in how I think about, listen to, or purchase records. Though I will always love Station to Station, it’s the only Bowie record my dad owned and I stole it from his shelf when I was packing for college.

What do you think Prince and Bowie’s afterlife project sounds like?

Michael: I hope Merle is teaching them a thing or two.

Which Friends character are you most like?

Shane: Elaine.

Michael: Well we are obviously The Rembrandts, playing the theme song.

What scary movie did you see way too young as a child, how’d you end up seeing it, and does it still scare you now?

Shane: I found All Dogs Go to Heaven very disturbing and would feel terrible dread whenever it came on. The fact that the dogs died at the end and everybody acted like that was okay made me deeply uncomfortable.

Michael: I remember my dad coming home from the video rental store with the movie Toys, starring Robin Williams. The cold feeling of dread and unease that I got watching that movie has never really left me.

Ezra: The Dark Crystalmy mom made some puppets that are in it, so I saw it at very young age. There are these horrible bird dinosaur creatures in it that still haunt my dreams.

Are you ready for self-driving cars and a more automated future?

Michael: If anything, our present day is far too automatic already. The self-driving car thing doesn’t make sense to meif people want to be moved without doing it themselves, why not invest all that money and energy into self-driving trains and light rail? I’ve talked about this with Shane before and he disagrees.

Shane: I am very ready for self-driving cars. Thousands of driving-related deaths will be averted every year. Self-driving taxis will mean more ride sharing meaning less environmental impact and less traffic. As a touring musician, the idea of playing a show, then loading out to a self-driving cargo mover/apartment on wheels that will drive us to the next city while we sleep sounds amazing.

Ezra: Uber and Spotify are already managing and aggregating our future enough for my tastes.

Tell us about the most memorable fan encounter you had this year.

Michael: Anytime that somebody says they drove from a neighboring city, or an hour, or a hundred miles to see us, those are my favorite people and they stick in my mind. Alternately, an old man from Croatia who emails us every month, asking for free records and an autographed photo of us.

Tell us about your first kiss.

Shane: Awkward, and proved to be the last with that particular person.

Ezra: It was in a motor home.

Under the Radar has been around for 15 years now, since December 2001. How do you feel the music industry has most changed in that time, both for the better and the worst?

Michael: I really detest the over-reliance on social media and “likes” to promote shows, or gauge the public’s interest in a band. On the flip side, I really appreciate how easy it is for people to reach out via Instagram or Facebook to just say hello and that they like the album.

Which Stranger Things character do you most relate with? Why?

Michael: Dustin. I think in an extreme situation I would still find time to scarf some food.

Ezra: Will, the one with the monster living inside him at the end of the show. And has to live with that anxiety the rest of his life.

What’s usually the biggest stumbling block to your happiness?

Michael: My great expectations.


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