Studio 360's Best of 2015

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This year, Studio 360 brought joy to Mondays, took a trip across the multiverse, and designed a new symbol for the South. Nick Offerman challenged us to build things out of popsicle sticks; B.J. Novak found the funniest high school humor; and Jenny Slate helped us pick the most wonderful holiday short. It was a busy year, but a good one.

The staff assembled this list of our top moments from 2015  cultural highlights that will stay with us long after the new year.

Enjoy! 

Musicians play a tribute in front of Bataclan, a concert hall and site of last week’s terrorist attacks (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Kurt's Pick: Compounding the Paris Tragedy, a Blow to Culture

Looking back over the conversations I've had and stories I've done in 2015 remind me how insanely lucky I am to be able to do this week after week. After being knocked out by new work — such as Adam McKay's movie "The Big Short," Charlie Brooker's TV series "Black Mirror," Mary Jo Bang's poetry — I get to spend an hour with each of them, asking impertinent questions, playing around, getting inside their heads. I get to knock big ideas back and forth with big professorial brains about subjects that aren't  their professional specialities — Mary-Jane Rubinstein (religion and gender studies) about theoretical physics, John McWhorter (linguistics) about Shakespeare and political correctness. After free-range conversations with great musicians who aren't necessarily in my wheelhouse (Alice Cooper, Charlie Wilson, Mac DeMarco) I discover they're mensches, and after slightly bumpy, exhausting rides with others (Chrissie Hynde, Isaac Brock) we wind up at a revealing destination. I fall more deeply in love with big-hearted, mega-talented people who've been on the show before (Elizabeth Gilbert, Jenny Slate). Those are a dozen interviews that particularly pleased me.

But the thing we did in 2015 of which I'm proudest is one that is very much the work of the whole Studio 360 team: our piece after the terrorist attacks in Paris, about how civilized culture was the target and will be part of our defense.

Kurt Andersen, Host 

 

Claudia Rankine (John Lucas)

Claudia Rankine's "Citizen" Shows What Racism Really Feels Like

Claudia Rankine came on the show to talk about her book of poems “Citizen,” which considers race and racism in America today.  It was February and in his introduction to the segment, Kurt mentioned that it “couldn’t be more timely, given the recent killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.”  Listening back, it’s sad to think about how much violence was yet to come — more shooting deaths, including in June at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.  Rankine’s work explores the “micro-aggressions” and small prejudices that give rise to the injustices that make headlines – the insidious, lurking racism that many white people assume disappeared when Obama took office. “Poetry allows us into the realm of feeling, and it’s the one place where you can say ‘I feel bad,’” she said. In poetry, “feeling is as important as perception and description.”

— Jenny Lawton, Executive Producer

 

Shamir Bailey (Matthew Perri Thomas)

Don't Put Shamir in a Box

Shamir’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Despite being on a harrowing schedule of touring and appearances — and surviving the hurricane of incipient fame — Shamir gave it his all in a live studio performance for us. Although he now plays disco-influenced pop, he started out playing in honky-tonks in Nevada. “I didn’t care. I just wanted to play what I loved,” he told Kurt. Shamir talked about how hard it was to fit in as a Las Vegas high schooler  who didn’t identify with strict binaries of gender and sexuality. “That was my problem — I couldn’t find a crowd,” he said. He's found one now, and they'll dance with him anywhere he wants to go next.

Matt Frassica, Associate Producer

 

Isaac Brock performs with Modest Mouse (Jennifer Baniszewski)

Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock: A Conflicted Dude for a Conflicted Planet

When Isaac Brock came into the studio in March, he was full of surprises, including a story about seeing a UFO that inspired a song on the latest Modest Mouse album. But I was most impressed by the unpredictable blend of wit and vulnerability Brock displayed, willing to talk (and joke) about everything from his time as a member of a fundamentalist Christian church when he was a young child, where he remembers stealing some lines from Mary Poppins when he was expected him to speak in tongues, to the continued sense of angst and unease that keep him writing songs as subversive as when he formed Modest Mouse as a teenager. "Strangers to Ourselves," the band's first new record in eight years, was no easy feat, Brock said. "This record might have been the closest thing to anything killing me," he told Kurt, "up to, and including, people literally trying to kill me." 

— Julia Lowrie Henderson, Associate Producer

 

While on a field expedition to look for wasp nests, PhD student Julia Pilowsky stumbled upon feral horses. (Julia Pilowsky)

Aha Moment: "The Golden Compass"

An unusually concrete example of art making life just fundamentally more survivable. Wonderful interviewee and lovely sound design. 

Lynn Levy, Associate Producer

 

Shilpa Ray (Ebru Yildiz)

Shilpa Ray In Studio

Shilpa Ray’s music is dense and haunting, combining her traditional Indian harmonium with hypnotic vocals. The result sounds a bit like a dirge played on the accordion. Ray has incredible strength in her voice, and she sounds so soulful in this recording. It surprised me to hear that she ended up playing the harmonium by default; her parents made her take lessons when she was young and it was the only instrument she ever really learned. She managed to mash up her childhood hobby with her teenage love of punk to create music that’s lyrical and moody and definitely a highlight of the year. 

Khrista Rypl, Assistant Producer