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The 15 best musical guests on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast

April 6, 2016

Marc Maron has interviewed a shirtless Iggy Pop, candid Kim Gordon, and humble Lemmy.

This month, WTF with Marc Maron will air its 700th episode. The success and longevity of the celebrated (and very popular) interview-based program is partly due to Maron’s unwieldy work ethic, as the New Jersey born comedian applies the same philosophy to his podcast that many of his comedy peers put into their act; log a lot of hours.

Maron has given listeners over a thousand hours of programming in just over six and a half years. It’s also given the 52-year-old host a reputation as one of the greatest interviewers of our time, and undoubtedly the king of podcasting (that title was cemented last year when President Barack Obama reached out to him to be a guest).

While there’s been some headline-stealing episodes over the past seven years – including Carlos Mencia and Dane Cook being called out for stealing jokes, Gallagher walking out after Maron accused him of having homophobic material, Todd Glass coming out as gay, and the celebrated Louis C.K. interview in which the two longtime friends worked out their collective beefs with each other – WTF has also hosted some excellent musical guests.

Aside from arena-fillers like Dave Grohl, Jack White, Maynard James Keenan, and Thom Yorke, Maron has conducted talks with artists who wouldn’t normally have a long-form outlet to speak, including Father John Misty, St. Vincent, Mikal Cronin, Ty Segall, and Stephen Malkmus. We took a look at some of WTF‘s most fascinating music-based conversations.

Nick Lowe (Episode 253, February 13, 2012)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaNWhq42qpA

It took Marc Maron 250-plus episodes to bring on his first real musical guest. While he previously sat down in his studio/garage with Henry Rollins, Henry Phillips, and Donald Glover, Nick Lowe was the first musician to appear on the podcast with no connection to the world of comedy.

Maron’s strength as a master interviewer lies in the genuine interest he invests in his subject, as he spent the 60 minutes pressing the normally-reserved Lowe for insight on his storied career, including his early days with Rockpile, relationship with Elvis Costello (who covered Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”) along with his unfiltered opinions on other famous rockers.

In later episodes, Maron would often refer back to the moment when Lowe – responding to Maron’s inquiry into the dark places he must have gone to write some of his songs – quips, “No, that’s not my life, they’re just songs”.

Fiona Apple (Episode 297, July 16, 2012)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90Vl1xv_yXM

Maron’s conversation with Fiona Apple represents what makes WTF so engrossing. Although Apple was pushing her latest album at the time (2012’s The Idler Wheel…), the hour-plus talk never feels like a plug. In fact, the two rarely talk about music.

Instead, Apple speaks candidly about her childhood and her career, including her recent bouts with mental illness and depression, her appreciation for colonics and a long and bizarre aside about witnessing baby hummingbirds shit.

But what makes this episode often rank up there with the best WTF‘s of all time is Maron’s willingness to join in on the conversation, sharing his own personal battles with neuroticism and childhood loneliness, subjects he’s often too eager to get off his chest. In the end, Maron helps the listener understand the complexities that make up an artist like Fiona Apple.

Mike Doughty (Episode 311, September 5, 2012)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZIqC2QnoTk

Maron’s conversation with former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty is one of those episodes that many casual WTF listeners may have originally skipped over. But the level of scorn contained within the 50-minute episode makes it a straight-up gem.

As many of WTF‘s most interesting episodes begin with stories of less-than-perfect childhoods, Doughty dishes about his army brat beginnings growing up in military neighbourhoods riddled with PTSD-afflicted soldiers and the effect it had on him and his (later) mentally ill and homeless brother.

Telling Maron that ‘depression is a gift’, Doughty talks about his uttermost contempt for his former band, Soul Coughing, and record label, describing it all as a ‘fucked up marriage’ and explaining how the entire experience lead to severe heroin and crack abuse. Explaining that his bandmates bullied and disrespected him the entire time he spent in Soul Coughing, Doughty’s commitment to his side of the story remains nothing less than fascinating.

J Mascis (Episode 338, November 26, 2012)

Maron claims to do very little research into his subjects before interviews, which may be why he was foolish enough to bring the notably difficult and famously slumberous Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis in for an hour conversation.

But Maron somehow got Mascis comfortable enough for him to reveal a ton about the early days of Dinosaur Jr. that many hardcore fans weren’t even aware of, including the fact that bassist Lou Barlow stole Kath (Barlow’s wife for over 25 years) away from him.

J’s dry sense of humour shines throughout the 60-minute conversation, which makes his sometimes harsh opinions on his band members amiable, and Maron has enough sense to let Mascis be Mascis. J’s acoustic renditions of “Listen to Me” from his 2012 solo LP, Several Shades of Why, and “Repulsion” from Dinosaur Jr.’s debut album capped off one of WTF‘s most memorable episodes.

Iggy Pop (Episode 400, June 24, 2013)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUJYJgxs5aE

Before he interviewed Barack Obama, Keith Richards, and Lorne Michaels, Maron’s interview with Iggy Pop was known as the Holy Grail of WTF guests. Of all his conversations, Maron references his visit with Pop more than any other guest, as he likes to point out just how lucid Iggy came off, how flawless his memory was, and the fact that he did the entire episode shirtless.

What makes this episode so appealing to the listener is Pop’s level of comfort, likeable disposition, and general-purpose joie de vivre while reminiscing over his 45-year career. It also helps that Maron is a major Iggy Pop superfan, willing to help walk him through those rare moments he had trouble recalling.

Some of the best WTF episodes show the guest in a more humanizing way, but Iggy’s appearance represented just how you want your aging heroes to come off; sinewy, confident, and willing to talk.

Nick Cave (Episode 403, July 4, 2013)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oG2z3Ufbng

Perhaps on a cocky high from his successful conversation with J Mascis, Maron invited Nick Cave into his garage for a full-length conversation. Known as one of the most prickly and moody interviews around, it took Maron a good chunk of the episode to get the Australian vocalist to warm up to him.

Besides his talk with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan (which Marc would later say that he was really unprepared for), it’s a rarity to hear Maron come off so nervous and thrown during an interview.

Once Cave clued in to the fact that Maron wasn’t asking typical interview questions, he started to open up, describing his work process (he sits in his office for eight hours a day and writes), experiences with troubled women (which Maron was more than able to relate to) and experiences with Russell Crowe (whom he wrote a batshit crazy script for with the never produced Gladiator 2). By the end of the 60-minute talk, Cave and Maron both seem to be equally relieved at how painless the whole experience ended up.

Josh Homme (Episode 431, October 10, 2013)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u8HqhiECw0

Maron’s conversation with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme was one of those rare WTF episodes that made headlines across the web moments after it was posted, as Homme disclosed for the first time publicly, that he had briefly died during a 2010 hospital stay.

After discussing his early days with stoner-rockers Kyuss, including throwing parties in the California desert, and commenting on how the band helped him get out of a dark place, Homme revealed that his recent touring, writing, and producing schedule led to him developing an “antibiotic resistant” staph infection. Homme would go on to say that during the ensuing surgery, he choked on a tube that doctors attempted to insert into his throat and passed away on the table before being revived by the medical staff.

Throughout this 75-minute talk, Homme seemed to demonstrate just what kind of workaholic he is in the most somber and harrowing way possible.

Lou Barlow (Episode 448, December 2, 2013)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5wDhV7G36E

Sebadoh leader and Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow has always been known as the quintessential sensitive indie-rocker, so it’s no surprise that his appearance on WTF comes off just as vulnerable and exposed as you would imagine.

During his 70-minute talk with Maron, Barlow doesn’t try to hide his erstwhile (and possibly current) contempt for Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis, while also calling out former Sebadoh drummer Eric Gaffney for his erratic behaviour, and freely discusses how his own meth addiction contributed to the dissolution of the original Folk Implosion.

But an offhand question about his family life leads Barlow to open up about his (at-the-time) recent divorce from his wife of 20 years, as he discusses how he went through a mid-life crisis and fell in love with another woman. The fact that the remainder of the conversation delves into issues of court-orders and alimony seemingly brings the mood of an otherwise great episode down. But with Barlow, you get the truth, warts and all.

Patrick Stickles (Episode 462, January 16, 2014)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b12C6Ul4Y8g

Although Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has been described as a difficult and often dour interview, Maron automatically bonds with him over their shared New Jersey upbringing. While speaking with Maron about his love for Led Zeppelin, his love/hate relationship with the work of William Shakespeare, and his gratitude for certain teachers and peers who helped shape his personality, Stickles comes off soft-spoken, intelligent, and thoughtful.

About an hour in to the conversation, Stickles begins to open up to Maron about his recent struggles with a depression so severe that it ended up destroying several relationships in his life. Describing a dread and hopelessness so intense that Maron – who can usually relate to guests who wrestle with a darkness – opts to sit back and let Stickles talk.

After professing that the steps he took to help treat his illness robbed him of his creativity and motivation, Stickles tells Maron that he’s abandoned his doctor prescribed treatment, leaving the listener speculating about the embattled musician’s current state.

Kim Gordon (Episode 588, March 26, 2015)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7puOd3Bhc8

By the time the ex-Sonic Youth bassist appeared on WTF, Kim Gordon was in the middle of the interview circuit for her recently-released memoir, Girl in a Band. And although she openly discussed the elephant in the room (her 2011 divorce from Thurston Moore) in her New York Times bestseller, there’s a disarming and almost voyeuristic effect to hearing Gordon and Maron speak about her breakup.

While she goes into great detail about her renewed involvement in the visual arts scene, her appearance with the surviving members of Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and her current dating life, the 60-minute conversation seems to always make its way back to Gordon’s heartbreak. But the fact that Kim never comes off sounding apologetic or meek when speaking of her personal life shows just why she’s always been (and continues to be) revered as a strong feminist rock icon.

Mike Watt (Episode 610, June 11, 2015)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtpt0W5T9dI

Mike Watt’s perpetual buoyancy and zest for life is infectious. In fact, even when he speaks of the dark times in his life (and there’s been plenty) he seems more humbled than beat down. Before he talks about his childhood, his fruitful life in music or the death of his best friend and Minutemen bandmate D. Boon, Watt kicks the conversation off with a detailed description of how an abscess on his perineum (look it up… or don’t) left his body septic.

After talking about undergoing an emergency surgery that saved his life, while putting him out of commission for a whopping nine weeks, Watt immediately directs the conversation to how he became part of The Stooges’ celebrated reunion in 2003. As Maron tries to steer the conversation back to the beginning, Watt spends the next hour freely going over his life, making Maron’s job as easy as it’s ever been while showing the listener why he’s so beloved and respected in rock circles.

Laura Jane Grace (Episode 617, July 6, 2015)

By the time Laura Jane Grace appeared on WTF, she had been discussing her transition into living as a woman in several interviews and released an album touching on the subject, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, with her band Against Me! But her 80-minute talk with Maron was the longest and most in-depth public conversation she’s been a part of since coming out in 2012.

As Maron tries to suggest that her transformation was akin to a spiritual awakening, Grace shuts him down, reframing her life in the last few years in the most emotionally relatable and relevant manner possible. It’s Laura Jane’s candour that keeps the conversation sharp and engrossing, as she speaks honestly of her recent divorce, strained relationship with her father, troubles with the law as a young punk and a parasitic infection that has since hampered her hormone therapy.

Although Maron didn’t get the spiritually insightful conversation he may have been looking for, he got (along with the rest of us) rightfully educated.

Lemmy Kilmister (Episode 634, September 3, 2015)

Recorded less than four months before his death at the age of 70, Maron’s conversation with Lemmy Kilmister has been referred to as his final great interview.

With the top half of the episode consisting of a conversation with folk-rock pioneer Richard Thompson, Maron’s talk with the Motörhead frontman and bassist was kept to a scant 45 minutes in length possibly due to Lemmy’s failing health at the time, (something Marc commented on in the episode’s preamble). Although mentally, Lemmy came off tremendously sharp and in good spirits, his voice simply sounded weak and tired while reminiscing about his days with the ’70s space rockers Hawkwind, being at the forefront of the metal/punk amalgamation with Motörhead and his ‘two and a half’ kids.

From what the listener could pull from his characteristic mumble, Lemmy seemed to have left this earth with a sense of self-pride, appreciation for his peers and above all, an upright humility.

Keith Richards (Episode 639, September 21, 2015)

In a recent episode of WTF, Maron listed his top moments from 2015, ranking his conversation with Keith Richards above a visit from the freakin’ President of the United States. But regular listeners of the podcast are keenly aware of his love for the Rolling Stones, and Richards in particular.

After having Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on the program for back-to-back 10-minute segments in early April of that year, Maron traveled from his home in Los Angeles to the NPR studio in New York City (piggybacking off of his appearance on Morning Edition) to record a 60-minute talk.

Although Richards walks Marc through his career, his stories aren’t as detailed and forthcoming as they are in his 2010 autobiography, Life. Sounding both perfectly healthy and near-death, Keith comes off beyond relaxed, charming, joyful, and most importantly, remembers Marc. He even got the clean-living Maron to smoke a cigarette with him right in the studio. What some people will do in the company of their heroes.

Peaches (Episode 643, October 5, 2015)

Maron’s conversation with Peaches marked the first time he’s had a Canadian musician in his garage. Suggested to him by Kim Gordon, Maron’s lack of knowledge on the electro musician’s life and career makes for one of his most easygoing and intriguing interviews.

Bonding on their shared Jewish upbringings, Peaches talks about her early love for music, dancing, and visual arts (which she went to school for). Peaches comes off just as authentic and frank as you’d expect her to be, as she dishes on her former musical and romantic relationships, including her brief marriage to a Toronto artist.

Near the end of the 70-minute episode, Peaches talks about almost getting arrested in Toronto for wearing a prosthetic penis while opening for Queens of the Stone Age. Impressively, Maron never attempts to steer the conversation towards gender politics, staying away from the generic questions most interviewers ask about women’s role in sexually explicit art, and opting to treat Peaches with the same respect he would any of her male peers.

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