On May 18, South Philadelphia host and musician Dan Drago will celebrate the 200th episode of his 25 O’Clock Podcast, the area’s longest-running episodic podcast that focuses on interviews with local musicians, music industry professionals and the music community at large.
The show highlights talent amid a growing music scene, and he has brought attention to lesser-known artists, as well as artists on their way up. Notable guests include Joe Reinhart (Hop Along), Kyle Pulley (Thin Lips, The Headroom), Marley McNamara (Johnny Brenda’s, artist management), Brian McTear (producer of Dr. Dog, War on Drugs, Kurt Vile), Susan Werner, Camp Candle, and many more.
Drago started the 25 O’Clock Podcast in 2014 at his kitchen table, using a couple of microphones and relying on his editing and production skills. After touring relentlessly and playing guitar and bass for different bands from 2004 to 2013, he decided to park the van and give back to his music community in a new way. He brought friends, acquaintances, talent buyers, publicists, radio personalities, photographers, record store owners and booking agents, among others, on the show to shine a light on the thriving independent music scene in his adopted hometown.
“I was so happy to have something to offer,” Drago said.
“When you’re in a band, you’re always asking for things: Play my song. Come to my show. Buy my record. I could reach out to people now with something they might need, and in turn, they would give me something I needed, which was a good conversation that I could share with everyone.”
When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Drago took the opportunity to put out even more shows than he had in previous years. Talking to artists via Zoom and putting together countless playlist episodes that highlighted all the new music that Philly artists were putting out over the years, he found he was able to pivot how he did the podcast in a way that made it even more relevant.
“Suddenly, there were no live shows. But, there were still people making amazing music and figuring out how to stay active. I wanted to make sure they got heard,” he said.
Born just off of City Line Avenue in Philadelphia, Drago was raised in Western New York, returned as an adult at the beginning of the millennium, and currently lives in South Philadelphia. He plays bass in the Philly band Lovecartel, performs his own solo work occasionally, and volunteers at Rock to the Future, teaching songwriting and production to students who don’t have easy access to music programs. His immediate plans for 2021 include continuing to put out episodes of 25 O’Clock Podcast and finally meeting several of his favorite podcast guests in person as soon as it is safe to do so.
PW recently caught up with Drago to talk about the podcast and the Philly music scene.
You had been touring with various bands for about 10 years prior to starting your 25 O’Clock Podcast in 2014. Why did you start a podcast about the local music scene?
I’ve been a part of the Philly music community since I moved here in the early 2000s. When I stopped being in touring bands, I still wanted to be part of this community, and still wanted to interact with all the amazing people who populate it. So, I started doing episodes where I talked to my friends, people I’d met and become close with over the years of playing and gigging. And it grew from there: They would tell me to check out some of their friends, and so on, and before I knew it, I was having people on the show I’d never met before. People I didn’t know were reaching out to me and asking to come on the show. Artist management and PR agents started hitting me up. It made me realize that I was doing things right, and that people liked the show and respected the music community.
How has the podcast changed over the years? Clearly, the format changed due to the pandemic, but do you do approach the show differently now than seven years ago?
I still write the same first question for every single guest I have on: “Where from/early experiences with music?”
The questions and topics all vary from there, but that’s my magnetic north. It’s usually the center of the guest’s story, too, and I love the variety of stories that come out of asking that same question every time. I’d say my goals are the same as they were when I started the show in 2014, but my practices have gotten better. I’ve gotten better at interviewing, I’ve gotten better at doing all the background stuff like sending emails, answering them, doing social media, updating the website – things I had a harder time with when I started. But the approach is still the same: To help tell the guest’s story, to put a spotlight on them, and to take the time to go into it with them. We live in a media world where we digest stories in smaller and smaller forms, like little handfuls of popcorn. I like having a long-form show, some of the best parts of the conversation are after we’ve been rolling at least half an hour.
At the end of every conversation since the pandemic, I ask, “What are you doing to stay even?” which means, what activities or rituals are you doing to help keep it together amidst all the stress and uncertainty. Just like the first question, I love all the different answers I get about what people have been doing to keep their minds at ease.
Are there any episodes that stand out to you? Maybe your favorite guest, or one that really sparked a lot of conversation? Is there anyone you’d love to get on the show but haven’t been able to connect with yet?
The last couple of episodes I’ve put out have stood out to me strongly, both in different ways. No. 197 was a musician named Bel, and she’s young – a lot younger than me. I sometimes worry about how deep I can go with a young musician who just hasn’t been around as long, and hasn’t built up all the experiences that you build up throughout your 20s and 30s. With Bel, nothing could have been further from the truth. She had a remarkable perspective on things like DIY recording, her experiences being part of School Of Rock programs as a teen, playing a ton of different instruments, and really unique songwriting. It was like talking to someone who’d been in it for decades.
The other one was No. 198, with Niyonu Spann. Niyonu is in her 60s, grew up in Newark during the Civil Rights Movement, runs diversity workshops, and is, in general, a remarkable human being. Going into this one, I felt like we might not have a ton of common ground, having grown up in different times and in very different circumstances. But, as it often turns out, when you both love music and prize your community, you’ve got a ton in common, We ended up talking about the churches we grew up in (which were fairly similar), and musicals, and mastering Zoom and other remote-work tools this year, amongst other things. It was amazing, and one of the more special interviews I’ve done in a while.
As for future guests, I wouldn’t mind chatting with any of the folk from Bardo Pond, they were a band I loved long before I moved here. Kurt Heasley from the Lilys would be a blast. I’ve loved his records since high school. Questlove would be an absolute dream come true, though I imagine he and I would get off topic very easily, just gabbing about records.
The pandemic hit everyone hard, but especially musicians. Can you talk a little about what the Philly music scene looks like in the spring of 2021? Where do you think it is headed in the coming months?
I think there are a lot of creative people trying to come up with the safest way to do shows and have people together. As more people get their vaccinations, and cases go way down, I think we’re going to start feeling like we did before. I think outdoor shows are still going to be a major thing, and I love seeing music outside. I just read this morning that Ardmore Music Hall has shows starting in early May with about one-sixth their capacity, so I feel like larger indoor venues are figuring out how to offer shows safely.
As more things open up, I know there’s a pent up demand to get out there and make up for lost time. I’m 100 percent in support of the enthusiasm, but we need to make sure we’re not doing it at the expense of anyone. So, when shows start becoming more regular, remember that the staff and the people working these shows want to be safe, too. Be respectful of the bands, as well. They’re up there doing their thing, but they may also be a bit off their game, and might even be a little nervous about getting back out there. It’s not a light switch for most people, so I think it’s important to respect other people’s boundaries and concerns. We’ll all get there.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a podcast?
Make sure you’re making something that you’d really dig, too. I once gave a talk at a college media conference, and a student told me he had started a podcast about these little die-cut Star Wars models and the people who’ve made them their hobby. And he was getting thousands of hits per episode because it was something that he cared about, and he cared about the small community of people who liked it, too. So do a podcast on something you really care about. It’ll mean a lot to the other people who care about it, too.
Don’t get hung up too much on numbers and downloads and all that in the beginning. Just focus on making your show the best you can, and get better with each one. Start with simple production, and a simple workflow. You’ll get more proficient and be able to do more advanced things as you go. And mostly, have fun. Do it with your friends. Do it for your friends. Life’s too short to be perfect, just start making it and you’ll figure things out as you go. Reach out for help to people you admire in the field, you’d be surprised how responsive a lot of them are.
What’s ahead for you once the pandemic clears?
I can’t wait to interview people in person again. I’m immensely grateful that I’ve had tools like Zoom at my disposal for the last year, and it’s made it so I was able to keep doing the show, but I really miss the in-person experience. I also really look forward to getting out there and meeting a lot of the people I’ve talked to over the past year but never met in person. I look forward to seeing some shows again, seeing people I know play, and meeting new people out in the world.
Give our readers all the details about how they can follow the podcast, find out what’s coming up, etc.
You can get 25 O’Clock pretty much anywhere you get podcasts (except Spotify, it’s a whole thing). I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @25oclockpod. If you go to my site, 25oclockpod.com, you can sign up on the mailing list, and I send out an email every time there’s a new episode. It’s coming up fast on my 200th episode, and you definitely don’t want to miss that.
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