Cole Cuchna Dissects Kanye West

Cole Cuchna | In episode 91 of Light Culture Podcast, Paper Magazine founder David Hershkovits talks with Cole Cuchna, the host of Spotify’s Dissect Podcast 

On the popular serialized music podcast Dissect, Cole Cuchna geeks out on iconic hip-hop albums, focusing on one song per episode. This time it’s a deep dive into Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus, looking at the life, times, and music of this iconoclastic shape-shifter.  We talk about Kanye in terms of Dylan, Stravinsky, Wagner, Nipsey Hussle, and Kendrick Lamar.  We also learn the fascinating backstory that birthed the Dissect podcast.

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Cole Cuchna Dissects Kanye West

 

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On the popular serialized music podcast Dissect, Cole Cuchna geeks out on iconic hip-hop albums, focusing on one song per episode. This time it’s a deep dive into Kanye West’s 2013 album Yeezus, looking at the life, times and music of this iconoclastic shape-shifter.  We talk about Kanye in terms of Dylan, Stravinsky, Wagner, Nipsey Hussle and Kendrick Lamar.  We also learn the fascinating backstory that birthed the Dissect podcast. 

 

David Hershkovits (00:00):

Cole Cuchna is the host of Dissect, a serialized music podcast that geeks out on iconic hip-hop albums, focusing on one song per episode. This unlikely format turned out to be a hit of the podcast world, winning press accolades and attracting devoted listeners. What started out as a passion project for Cole has turned into a career at Spotify, who reached out and offered him the financial support he needed to continue his labor of love.

David Hershkovits (00:34):

A lifelong musician who played in bands and studied music in college, he worked as a creative director before falling in love with podcasts. And with the possibility of combining his classical music training with his love of hip-hop.

David Hershkovits (00:50):

Now in its eighth season, previous episodes have zoomed in on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Beyonce’s Black and King, and the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, among others. His most recent series focuses on Kanye West’s Yeezus. So welcome Cole Cuchna.

Cole Cuchna (01:11):

Oh, thanks for having me. You did-

David Hershkovits (01:12):

Yeah.

Cole Cuchna (01:12):

…your research.

David Hershkovits (01:13):

I did a little bit of it.

Cole Cuchna (01:14):

(Laugh)

David Hershkovits (01:15):

But I like to be prepared. Not as much as you, though. My God. Looks like there’s a ton of research that goes into what you do.

Cole Cuchna (01:23):

Yeah, that and writing the scripts is majority of the podcast.

David Hershkovits (01:29):

So let’s talk about Kanye since that’s, that’s where you’re obsessed about not just now but also other albums. You’ve done ’em several times already. Right?

Cole Cuchna (01:39):

Yeah. Do, this is a second season on him. season two was on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And then the, uh, the newest one on Yeezus, which is the follow-up to Twisted Fantasy.

David Hershkovits (01:51):

So you opened your latest episode talking about Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, which generated riots when it was first performed. What the comparison, that as opposed to s-, excuse me. Let me, just, rephrase that. Why the comparison to that as opposed to say something more contemporary or pop? Like say Dylan going electric?

Cole Cuchna (02:15):

Uh, or, we do, a, so it’s Travinsky and then Dylan. Dylan is actually-

David Hershkovits (02:22):

Didn’t you mention that, oh, how dp I miss it?

Cole Cuchna (02:24):

Yeah, it’s uh, it goes-

David Hershkovits (02:25):

Okay.

Cole Cuchna (02:26):

Travinsky.

David Hershkovits (02:26):

Uh.

Cole Cuchna (02:27):

Rite of Spring and then it goes Dylan going electric and then it goes Kanye. Yeezus.

David Hershkovits (02:31):

Okay. So that’s probably where I got the idea from.

Cole Cuchna (02:34):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (02:34):

(Laugh) In your podcast is, as the world turns, it’s hard to, um, sometimes remember where things come from. So, uh, you know, do you feel like you were reaching there with the Stravinsky example? Or Dylan, because I don’t recall any kind of riots or explosions, upon the release of, of Kanye’s records.

Cole Cuchna (02:56):

The world’s different now. We react differently at the way I set it up on, on the show is, the reactions came on the internet, which is primarily where people react now in the moment, it’s rarely, you hear a new album or a new piece of music live anymore, whereas during the Rite of Spring, that was the early 1900s. You can only hear it live. So, um, of course, you’re gonna react, and it’s gonna be more physical and, and stuff then, but now, we go to YouTube, we go to Twitter, we go wherever. Anyone that remembers the Yeezus release and that follows hip-hop, follows Kanye or just generally, a music fan of pop culture.

Cole Cuchna (03:44):

It was a huge reaction, especially, at the time. And that was right when I feel like the internet was peaking. Where all the people were going to social media for the first time to react to these kind of things in the moment. So, I think it’s comparable, I mean, even the Rite of Spring thing is, a lot of it’s kind of folklore, legend, people don’t really know what happened, but there was some controversy whether or not it was a, a full blown riot. Kinda hard to tell these days, but-

Cole Cuchna (04:15):

The point I was trying to make was that, each of these artists were in their prime, uh, each of these artists took a huge artistic risk at the peak of their prime where they could have just rested on their laurels and just did what’s got them success to this point. But they chose to in their own way, you know, essentially flip the script of what people were expecting from them in order to put out something they thought was innovative or just express what they were feeling in the moment.

Cole Cuchna (04:46):

And I saw that parallel, um, between all three of these artists and it’s the parallel that you can see really with any artist that really makes an impact, and stands the test of time. Usually, they follow the same pattern. You can say the same thing about the Beatles, where they get in the front door with whatever’s popular at that time. Writing in the style that’s popular, Dylan was doing that with folk music. Stravinsky was doing that with more typically classical sounding pieces. And Kanye was doing that with, his early records were pretty traditional in terms of hip-hop.

Cole Cuchna (05:25):

And then they flipped the script, they challenged people that was the general point I was trying to make.

David Hershkovits (05:34):

That was also a critical time in Kanye’s own life. Because he was going off on his manic phase at that time, with many of those rants that you capture in the podcast. Actually claiming to be Yeezus. And, raising a lot of issues at that time, about art and politics and trying to suddenly be this other kind of person who seemed to be oppressed and attacked, on the defensive, whereas I’m sure there was tons of praise going on.

David Hershkovits (06:21):

So, you know, just basically, how do you measure, you know, this personal life and, and all the struggles that he’s going through with the music itself. Do you separate them, or do you feel like it’s all one thing?

Cole Cuchna (06:36):

On the show, it depends. With Kanye, because his albums are always about where he is in his life at that time. It usually feels like music. I feel like it’s appropriate to dive into that stuff. It’s just why we spent the first episode of the season kinda setting up where he was in life. Because it was a direct influence on the sound of Yeezus and the content of Yeezus and the story arc of Yeezus, which was, you know, he had just kind of won back the public after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you know, he fell from public praise after the Taylor Swift VMA incident, almost got kind of quote unquote “canceled,” wins the public back by this amazing record that everyone still to this day loves, and, many argue is the greatest hip-hop record of all time.

Cole Cuchna (07:27):

In Twisted Fantasy, and then, the interesting thing to me is that he, after winning back the public, having suicidal thoughts and, and really kind of having this identity crisis after that moment, decides to flip the script and purposely turn heel to use a, a wrestling term.

Cole Cuchna (07:47):

But, if you look at what he was doing in his life, it really makes sense, he was trying to break into the fashion world, and, in his mind, no one was giving him a chance. Everyone was brushing him aside. He felt like he was alienated from that fashion world. And also, him trying to become more of an entrepreneur, and get ownership in his brand and things like this, he kept hitting these walls, and he said several times that, I’ve hit the glass ceiling as a creative, and, I’m trying to, literally, I’m trying to break these walls down, which is why he was so aggressive in the interviews at that time.

Cole Cuchna (08:29):

He was taking thousands of meetings according to him, and getting no traction into his creative ideas, and specifically his fashion line. And so, those interviews I feel like, in retrospect were his last resort, where he was trying to do things quietly behind the scenes for years, like people don’t know he was taking unpaid internships at The Gap, unpaid internships at Fendi, trying to, legitimately learn fashion from the ground up.

Cole Cuchna (08:57):

And, and still couldn’t find backing for his creative ideas, and he went broke. We find out years later that he was, some 30 million dollars in debt, trying to fund his own ideas, which makes sense in retrospect, why he was trying to get backing, ’cause he was literally going broke, trying to do it himself.

Cole Cuchna (09:15):

That frustration fueled Yeezus. But then at the same time, it’s when he met Kim Kardashian, and fell in love and started a family. So you have this dichotomy on one hand, it’s this frustration of trying to break these walls down and, and get your creative ideas out there, to get people to take you seriously beyond music. But then he has this epiphany with Kim Kardashian. And that, essentially those two elements is what, if you recognize the story of Yeezus, it’s essentially that. It’s frustration, self-examination, and then finding love at the end. So, his life always fuels his music.

David Hershkovits (10:00):

But, flash forward today, he’s a successful businessman, just declared a billionaire I believe. Going wherever he wants, designing, he has his own complex. Where is it, in Oklahoma or Wyoming? 

 

Cole Cuchna (10:17):

Yeah, Wyoming.

David Hershkovits (10:18):

Wyoming, it sounds amazing. I love his ideas, I think he’s brilliant as an artist. In all dimensions, you’re focusing on music, but, I’ve seen him talk in different situations and, always, walked away totally impressed. However, there’s the second conversation about art and politics. We know from history there have been great artists who have not really been on the right political side in terms of the way we look at it today, for example, Leni Riefenstahl. Wagner, Louis-Ferdinand Céline,  these are people

David Hershkovits (11:00):

… Who are highly respected for the work they’ve done, but shunned politically. And I’m wondering if that’s what’s in store for Kanye as well given, becoming a Trumpist and moving in that direction.

Cole Cuchna (11:16):

Yeah. The Trump thing is interesting. I’ll tell you my personal opinion on it. Because I think, yeah, I mean, you call them a Trumpist, but really all he did was, he wore the red hat, and he took a meeting with Trump, which people had a big issue with. I think he met him once before, I think it was like right after the presidency and then he went to the white house and kind of had this fam- infamous rant there. But if you look beyond the headlines and what he was trying to do with the Trump thing, it was one, just because I’m black doesn’t mean I have to be a Democrat. If you know Kanye, he’s always going against the grain and he’s always gonna challenge the status quo. This is all based on things that he said.

Cole Cuchna (12:11):

So my understanding of the Trump thing was, you can’t tell me who to vote for. By the way, he’s never voted in his life until he voted for himself in 2020. Like Kanye is not political. He did not know anything about Trump’s policies, admittedly did not know anything about Trump’s policy. He saw Trump as a symbol that was anti government, that was an outsider the same way that people that voted for Trump like saw in Trump, which was this outsider that was gonna like “drain the swamp.” He’s gone on record kind of disavowing his support of Trump since then. There’s a kind of famous picture of him taking a picture with a fan who had a Trump shirt on and he like he’s blocking Trump from the shirt.

Cole Cuchna (13:01):

I don’t think his support for Trump was anything politically, it was symbolic. fi you understand that angle a little bit, you can kinda see why he did it, at least in my own mind, not that I am saying I agree or support it. It’s just that’s, I think the perception of him being a Trumpist or like actually supporting Trump and his policies is, is not the case. That’s just not what he was trying to do. He’s not very successful at, um, expressing these kinds of ideas though, he’s really clumsy. Even the TMZ thing where he said slavery was a choice, you know, is a classic example of him trying to express an idea and just saying it completely wrong, And then trying to backtrack later and just like explain himself, but it’s too late. You know, you already put the red hat on, you already said slavery is a choice, that’s what people are gonna see and understand and, and rightly so.

Cole Cuchna (14:07):

He has this record of, saying things bluntly and not always the most articulate way, um, and it gets him in trouble sometimes. So I would not compare him to Wagner. Like Wagner was, very adamant anti-Semite. I would not, that’s a totally different category to me. You know, 50% of America voted for Trump, so it’s not just Kanye, you know? It’s a complicated issue. We can probably spend the whole podcast-

David Hershkovits (14:47):

Oh yeah.

Cole Cuchna (14:48):

… talking about it.

David Hershkovits (14:48):

Totally. And I have-

Cole Cuchna (14:48):

(laughs)

David Hershkovits (14:51):

… were talking about it to other people, because it was such a thing for so many people because they did admire his work and they do admire his work and respect what he’s accomplished there. However, those were particularly divisive times and the timing, you know-

Cole Cuchna (15:09):

The time was awful.

David Hershkovits (15:09):

… it wasn’t so much what he was saying.

Cole Cuchna (15:11):

Just awful, you know?

David Hershkovits (15:11):

Yeah.

Cole Cuchna (15:11):

It was so awful. I mean, 2020 it was a mess already and, I mean, that happened a little earlier. But even his presidential campaign was a mess, um, and it was bad timing, it was, um, bad timing for sure. And yeah, just the animosity everyone felt already. You know, we were looking for people to put it on, for the last couple of years. So anyone that fell out of line definitely got the lion’s share of our animosity. So, but then you have like the turn towards religion after that. The saga continues with Kanye always, you know? Um, so that was an interesting kind of flip when he canceled the tour and went to the hospital and from the outside seem to have a mental breakdown, um, then coming out as bipolar, and then the Trump stuff. It’s been such a mess for, for years.

Cole Cuchna (16:14):

I always come back to like, I just hope he figures it out, I hope he’s okay in the end. Um, because speaking of historical figures, it’s not like the path that Kanye is on historically speaking is the greatest one. All signs would point to early death, tragic death, doesn’t seem out of the question for Kanye. If you look at Prince, Michael Jackson, all these larger than life figures their life seems a little bit in chaos, like it never seems to end with old age. So I just hope he’s always okay in the end, ’cause he’s given so much.

David Hershkovits (16:57):

And what about musically going forward for him? Because, he has become a businessman, a creative businessman at that, but his music has not held up over the years. After Yeezus to the same extent. He doesn’t seem to be interested in music anymore.

Cole Cuchna (17:22):

Um, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. He’s been working on an album called Donda that was supposed to release last year that got delayed. There’s been reports that he’s back at work on that album. He scrapped a few albums that were “finished” that leaked onto the internet, So I know he’s working on music, I know he’s juggling a lot now though. He released Jesus as King and was that 20, late 2019? So I mean, it hasn’t really been all too long, especially considering artists like Kendrick Lamar, I mean, ’cause you know, we’re going on four years without a new record from him. So, I wouldn’t say he’s not working on music, especially because he produced like seven albums, in essentially one summer just ago.

Cole Cuchna (18:12):

He does have a lot, alot going on. And you can feel it in the music a little bit where it’s not as polished as it used to be, it’s a little bit shorter than it used to be. But on the other end, he’s grown this multi- billion dollar company and Jeezy he’s recently named as the richest black man in US history, valued at $6 billion. So I understand that he’s, you know, (laughs) not totally focused on music when he’s got all these other ambitions. And if, you know, Kanye, those other ambitions are really important to him. He doesn’t see himself as a musician, you know, he sees himself as an artist, as a creative. So music is just one outlet. And everything else is, I feel just as important to him.

David Hershkovits (19:01):

Right. But to our loss perhaps in the long run.

Cole Cuchna (19:05):

Or, I got a great shoe collection ’cause of him. (laughs)

David Hershkovits (19:08):

(laughs) Cool. We had Steve Smith, his designer, on my show. And we talked a little bit about how that works for him with Kanye, uh, in I, one of my earlier podcasts. You mentioned Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly, which was your first project in this series. So what attracted you to that story? And did you have any personal issues, tackling something that was part of, of this other culture, right? The black culture that is not something you grew up with?

Cole Cuchna (19:44):

No, yeah, definitely. It’s honestly one of the reasons why I chose those works is because I didn’t know. Music for me has always been the way that I’ve learned about life, history, the world. It’s always been my portal to all that. One, because I’m passionate and I think you always ingest the most when you’re passionate about whatever you’re doing. This goes back to me studying classical music in college where you had to write a paper about Beethoven in his life or, or how his life fueled a piece of music. You’re forced to go back in time and research a life that you knew nothing of, is different age, different country, different era, everything different, you know, political systems, all this stuff.

Cole Cuchna (20:38):

So you just get these windows into these people’s worlds through the music. And the same things with, you know, Kendrick Lamar, especially To Pimp a Butterfly where, yeah, I mean, it’s not the world, definitely not the world I grew up in, but it’s also took place in my backyard. I’m from California, Los Angeles is, you know, less than an hour plane ride from here. So it was striking to me how someone’s experience is so different yet you’re physically so close. And I learned so much through To Pimp a Butterfly and Damn,, about experiences that are not mine.

Cole Cuchna (21:17):

That to me is what gives you empathy, it gives you understanding. It gives you context, history, everything that you need to know, or at least gets you on the path to what you need to know to understand some really big issues in our country. And the history not only the issues we’re facing today, but what exactly led us to these dynamics. They didn’t just come out of nowhere, right? And so once you understand the context and the history is when you can really get to the root of things. And for me, Kendrick Lamar and his story really helped me put that in focus.

David Hershkovits (21:57):

And it was a personal, time for you as I understand, uh, just had a child, you were, working very hard doing a variety of things and listening to podcasts as a kind of a side thing, right, while you were carrying a baby around (laughs) trying to make it go to sleep or whatever the situation was. That particularly busy time in your life, opened you up to something new and different.

Cole Cuchna (22:29):

Yeah. That was, I mean, that was definitely personally a really special time just having your… I don’t know even if you have kids but, you know, the first one’s really special.

David Hershkovits (22:37):

I do. (laughs)

Cole Cuchna (22:38):

Yeah, so you know, I mean, it’s a magical time, a really influential time in my life just because having the kid, To Pimp a Butterfly coming out literally the day after my first daughter was born. I mean, the genesis of the show is literally me, the first day I got home with my daughter, listening to To Pimp a Butterfly on headphones while she was in my arms sleeping. And I knew that has something to do with why I chose that record, why I was interested, just that moment was such a big moment for me personally.

Cole Cuchna (23:09):

And like you said, I was listening to a lot of podcasts during that time because. You know, you sit around with the baby and just kinda want something going on in the background. Everything in that experience culminated into what the show is, um, you know, a podcast that the first season was about Kendrick Lamar. And essentially, I just was doing what I was doing in college was essentially- writing papers, uh, a paper turned podcast essentially, and yeah. That was the genesis of the show.

David Hershkovits (23:43):

It’s funny ’cause I wonder if, if you had been listening to something else, you may have wound up doing something totally different and uh… (laughs)

Cole Cuchna (23:50):

(laughs) Yeah, yeah.

David Hershkovits (23:50):

What if you had been listening to Stravinsky?

Cole Cuchna (23:53):

(laughs) Yeah, not much commercial appeal.

David Hershkovits (23:58):

Oh, okay.

Cole Cuchna (23:58):

I don’t know if I could- (laughs)

David Hershkovits (23:59):

So, you had that in mind as well?

Cole Cuchna (24:00):

Oh, not, not back then but I know the success of the show is because I’m talking about big current artists that people are interested. The bigger the artist’s audience, the bigger are the pool of interested people that wants to listen to a 13-hour analysis of that person. I don’t know how many Stravinsky diehards are out there right now. (laughs)

David Hershkovits (24:23):

Yeah. You might be surprised.

Cole Cuchna (24:26):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (24:26):

You think that’s a funny place. The thing is you could actually find however a number of things there are out there. Have there been projects that you started and then gave up on?

Cole Cuchna (24:40):

Uh, no actually, but there’s a lot of kinda preliminary research and if I’m interested in the album, I will kinda dig into it for a while before I really start to, to work on it, the concern is, if there’s enough to carry a 13… 15-hour analysis essentially 100,000-word paper on an album. Not a lot of albums can, in my mind, hold up a season and, and stay interesting. So, yeah, I’m very sure before I start the real work that there’s enough there, um, so cross my fingers that it doesn’t happen ’cause it would really suck if I got far into it and had to stop.

David Hershkovits (25:30):

It does happen, you know, among writers, for example, novels get abandoned, restarted, taking entirely new directions, there are books that people read in different stages of their life that they reread and it has a totally different meaning for them they see things that they haven’t seen before, they respond to it differently.

David Hershkovits (26:11):

And that’s one of the marks of great literature is that you can keep going back and finding new things. So d’you ever go back and listen to some of these, uh, records that you’ve already spent so much time listening to dissecting and finding out things that you said, ” Oh, shit, I should’ve… I wish I’d, I’d put this in the show”?

Cole Cuchna (26:34):

Yeah, definitely, I mean I think that’s probably only natural. There’s gonna be things that I miss even though I’m spending so much time and often working with other people with these records. But they’re so dense that you can miss a certain interpretation. The thing that I tend to notice after the fact sometimes is like, “Oh, there’s a connection between song 8 and song 4, you know. There’s this parallel or some theme that I could’ve harped on a little bit more.

Cole Cuchna (27:08):

But usually, I’m pretty happy with the framework of the show. Whether I get every single detail, that’s gonna be impossible, especially ’cause it’s subjective interpretation. As much as I try to be objective about it, I know that it’s still me at the end of the day just listening and interpreting. Social media is great for that even, like, today on a recent episode, there’s a couple interpretations that people had that I thought were valid so, um… It’s cool to hear other people’s perspective, and I definitely like that aspect about social media where people are able to share, like, “Oh, did you think about this?” And that yeah, like you said, great art what makes it great is that, there’s enough there for a lifetime, right?

Cole Cuchna (27:59):

One of my favorite things to do is reread books at certain periods of my life and see how the interpretation of my understanding of them changes. And I think that same thing goes with music for sure, art can offer you so much. You just have to give it time.

David Hershkovits (28:21):

Right. And things that sound revolutionary in your time, going back to Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring today doesn’t sound that-

Cole Cuchna (28:28):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (28:29):

… wild at all.

Cole Cuchna (28:30):

It’s funny I was just talking to someone yesterday as I was listening to the Beatles, he’s older than me and grew up with the Beatles and he was just telling me about his dad saying, you know, “I wouldn’t cross the street to shake their hand.” people thought they’re controversial and how weird that sounds now, uh, listening to the Beatles. And it’s just very uppity, (laughs) very harmonized, polished sound.

Cole Cuchna (29:02):

If they’re getting controversy because they’re kind of new or whatever, it’s interesting how time changes things and, uh, what would they (laughs) no idea. They thought the Beatles were contr- controversial, they had no idea of what was coming next (laughs) ’cause-

David Hershkovits (29:21):

Well, they were hugely controversial. One of the things people talk about, it’s difference between then and now, is that the audience was very focused on a few things. There weren’t so many things going on.

Cole Cuchna (29:37):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (29:37):

When the Beatles went on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, and I remember watching that at home with my parents ’cause we only had one TV and you would sit in the living room and we’d always watch The Ed Sullivan Show, and that was a major event of our time. And, yeah, people were fighting over it, families (laughs) breaking up over it. But, you know, in retrospect, I think what was really the issue was the long hair, you know-

Cole Cuchna (30:07):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (30:07):

… very often it comes down to the cultural part of, of what, uh, is being presented as opposed to the music. The music, as you said, was very easygoing, mainstreamed in fact today, there was hardly a curse word, you know, (laughs) there was never-

Cole Cuchna (30:22):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (30:23):

… nobody ever said anything offensive, but yet it had somehow just galvanized-

Cole Cuchna (30:30):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (30:30):

… the youth of America or the world, so it became part of the Youth Revolution-

Cole Cuchna (30:35):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Hershkovits (30:35):

… that was basically put Frank Sinatra and those people then in the rear-view mirror-

Cole Cuchna (30:41):

Yup.

David Hershkovits (30:42):

… and, and changed the world and, and plus all of the, the bands that followed from the British Invasion and suddenly-

Cole Cuchna (30:50):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Hershkovits (30:50):

… that’s all there was-

Cole Cuchna (30:51):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (30:52):

… out there. So how do you start, do you have a list right now of albums that you’re thinking about 

 

Cole Cuchna (31:04):

There’s definitely a short list, albums that I, I personally like to do albums, requested from listeners a lot, I try to see where those two align, ’cause I can’t really do an album if I don’t love it and, I also shouldn’t probably do an album that no one wants to listen to. So, I usually try to find something that aligns both of those and then, from there, it’s just a lot of research, a lot of listening. Everything’s scripted but before I even get to that point, you know, there’s couple of weeks of just browsing the Internet, listening to interviews, basically collecting all the data I can about the record, about the artist and just really understanding who they are, where they were at their life, everything that went into the album.

Cole Cuchna (31:58):

And once I have that, I actually get into the process, which is just listening to whatever song I’m talking about a lot. I try to figure out how to play it, so I can talk about any theory stuff that might be interesting. And then we wanna get to the first lyric on the page, discuss it, write the second lyric, discuss it and it’s-

David Hershkovits (32:24):

(laughs)

Cole Cuchna (32:24):

… a very linear process. Of course, you’re looking for connections to lay things out, usually the albums that I pick have an overarching narrative, so I’m trying to walk people through that part ’cause a lot of people don’t listen to music as if they’re stories. And usually, the albums that I pick are pretty clearly narrative albums, so I’m trying to kinda set the audience out for that, it’s a lot of work. I would say every script is about 5,000 to 6,000 words,

Cole Cuchna (33:00):

And there’s usually about 15 episodes per season, so you can do that math on that in terms of-

David Hershkovits (33:06):

You mean 5-6,000 per episode?

Cole Cuchna (33:09):

Yeah, yeah. So a lot of writing involved, a lot of research, the production part’s the easy part. Most of the work is in the scripts and the thinking and the writing. It’s literally what I used to do in college, it’s what I loved to do in college. I was the kid in class that got the essay assignment and started the first day rather than putting it off till the very end. I always loved writing about music and thinking and researching about music. It’s a dream job for me now.

David Hershkovits (33:47):

Is Nipsey Hussle somebody that interests you?

Cole Cuchna (33:51):

Generally speaking for sure. Tragic, tragic story, but also inspirational and what he did when he was here, I haven’t really thought too much about doing him as a season, but, um, there is another podcast, I don’t know if they’ve revealed so I probably shouldn’t say what the podcast is, but there is a podcast coming about Nipsey. And I know that’s gonna be really good, so I’m, I’m looking forward to that, cause his story is definitely really inspirational.

David Hershkovits (34:22):

Yeah, Rob Kenner who wrote the biography is, uh, gonna be a guest for the upcoming show and it’s a great book, and it really helped me understand, uh, the work of Nipsey Hussle in terms of just, rap and just, a community and, and vision and writing.

Cole Cuchna (34:43):

Yeah.

David Hershkovits (34:43):

You know, I think it’s, it’s one of those that stands out. I would be interested in something like that. Do you find it harder to find albums that fit all your needs, all your categories? Check off your boxes?

Cole Cuchna (35:01):

I definitely have done the ones that are most obvious to me, not to say that I ran out or anything. But, the other thought is, do I stay with hip hop the whole time? Or do I start to branch out in other genres? That’s still a kind of question I’m wondering about. But, um, I still think there’s plenty, but the majority of albums in my mind couldn’t, withstand a season and, and be interesting. So, there is a limited supply, when that runs out I’m not sure, but the good thing is, I can only really do two albums a season. It’s not like I’m doing one a week, or something like that. So, I think I’ll be good for the near future.

David Hershkovits (35:49):

And the options to do more with each story, cause once you’ve accumulated all this material, you have interviews, you have totally researched and absorbed it, to turn it into some other form, like Song Exploder, which is a show about a particular song each episode was one song they talk of the whole story about that. Is that something that, appeals to you?

Cole Cuchna (36:18):

Yeah, I think, format innovation definitely could be on the horizon. I’m working on another show that will be out in the summer. That’s in the same vein as Dissect but not about hip hop. I’ve started to do some video content that we’ve been putting on YouTube. Um, cause I would love to explore the visual meeting medium someday, Song Exploder got a Netflix series. I think something could be done with the Dissect approach in a visual format, so I’m kind of practicing right now and that’s been really fun. There seems to be an audience for people that are interested about the stories behind music, you know, there’s just great stories waiting to be told that you don’t always have, access to a format to, to hear them. But I think people are interested in them, and the success of Song Exploder is a great example of people being hungry to learn about those things. So hopefully with podcasting growing and more podcasts being turned into TV series, um, you know, I would love to do that one day for sure.

David Hershkovits (37:33):

And at Spotify, so, do you do other things besides work on your, on your show?

Cole Cuchna (37:40):

It’s primarily Dissect, and now this other show, but yeah, I’ve done some, pilots of other shows behind the scenes, that didn’t end up going to series. There’s a UK version of Dissect called Decode that’s gonna be, the first spin off of Dissect and, and they’re gonna be focusing on UK artists, which is really cool, new hosts, new, new team, everything. They took the premise Dissect and made it their own. More stuff like that, expanding the brand I try to think about Dissect as it’s own little franchise, and how can we expand upon this idea that had some success and, take it to the next level.

David Hershkovits (38:50):

I understand that you went to music school but you didn’t really know anything about music, that you would play in bands-

Cole Cuchna (38:56):

(laughs) Yeah.

David Hershkovits (38:57):

… you knew how to play some instruments, but you didn’t really know anything about theory or even reading music or writing music, that’s brave.

Cole Cuchna (39:07):

(laughs) Well, naïve, actually. is wha-

David Hershkovits (39:09):

(laughs)

Cole Cuchna (39:11):

It really, really was at the time.

David Hershkovits (39:12):

often goes together, those two words.

Cole Cuchna (39:13):

Yeah, exactly, exa- (laughs) all my quote unquote bravest moments have in retrospect been out of, just, I didn’t know any better. (laughs) I just thought I could do it when, I probably shouldn’t have thought that. The college thing’s kind of funny. When I went to college for music, I went late. I think I started when I was 24. But up until that point, I was playing in bands, um, it was self-taught musicians and touring and doing all that kind of stuff. But I kind of hit a wall with my creativity where I felt like I needed help in furthering my own creative abilities. So going to college seemed like the right next step. But yeah, to go from no lessons to college level training, I totally underestimated what that would entail. I kind of snuck into the program, which is a good program. I auditioned with my own composition, and so it hid the fact that I didn’t know how to read music all that well. 

 

David Hershkovits (40:23):

(laughs)

Cole Cuchna (40:23):

You can practice your own piece and you wrote it, so you know it, and you can, you can play it pretty well. But once I got in, it was a total nightmare, um, trying to figure out the most elementary, rudimentary aspects of music theory and, and even just reading music properly. At the same time, keeping up with college level theory courses, I almost dropped out the first semester, it was probably the most stressful time of my entire life. But it’s funny, cause it ties into Dissect, it’s the way that I, kind of, fast forwarded my education and caught up was, I don’t know if you know the Great Courses?

David Hershkovits (41:02):

Yes, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cole Cuchna (41:02):

Um, so there’s these fa-

David Hershkovits (41:04):

Online, yeah.

Cole Cuchna (41:04):

… yeah, fantastic, before podcasting took off it was kind of podcasting before podcasting. But essentially what they are is college level courses you can download, not for credit, but just take on your own time. And there’s a great series of courses about music taught by Dr. Robert Greenburg. And I essentially downloaded every single one and just binged them for months. I was using those to give myself some foundation in theory, but also music history and everything. I really feel like without those, I would have dropped out. I would have failed for sure. Um, but made it through, ended up really loving it, falling in love with classical music. And really, those Great Courses is what I modeled Dissect after, because it would be one course about Beethoven and every lecture would be its own episode about a piece or sometimes one lecture would just be about one movement of one piece. And so, it was this long forum education broken up into these little lectures, which is exactly what I do on Dissect. So, it was literally the genesis of the show, the format of the show comes from those Great Courses.

David Hershkovits (42:20):

Well, we’re fortunate that you have watched the Great Courses and (laughs)

Cole Cuchna (42:24):

(laughs)

David Hershkovits (42:24):

… courses are existent, and today we can listen to your version of that with Dissect and really appreciate it, that it’s a great show. Thank you, Cole Cuchna, for being on the Light Culture podcast.

Cole Cuchna (42:37):

Yeah, thank you. It was fun.

 

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