The art of the interview

The art of the interview

Before I formally studied journalism I hacked my own DIY journalism course by seeking out mentors, reading through online forums and cobbling together a library from the reading lists of journalism courses across the world.

I’d then purchase the books on Amazon, read them from cover to cover and then try to apply what I’d just learned.

Lawrence Grobel
Lawrence Grobel’s The Art of the Interview

One of those books was Lawrence Grobel’s The art of the interview.

Billed as ‘the ultimate insider’s look at the fine art of interviewing’, Grobel forensically picks apart his interviews with mammoth names like Truman Capote, Marlon Brando, Allen Ginsberg, Barbra Streisand, James Michener and many more.

Grobel’s interviews were not quick Q&A style pieces. He’d spend months working on his long-form pieces, meeting the talent on multiple occasions, before sending his work in to Playboy for publication.

A lot of the lessons offered in his book have stayed with me. He gave me permission to ask dumb questions. He urged me to take no risks when using technology to record interviews. He wrote about editing manuscripts. It’s essential reading for journalists and little wonder that the book features on book lists at journalism schools around the world.

Around the same time that I embarked on my DIY journalism course I also discovered podcasts.

I was living in Osaka and spent a lot of time walking between my home, train stations and workplaces.

Photo: DDS
My Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen digital audio player.

I had a chunky 20GB digital audio player that would come everywhere with me. Most of my podcasts were from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. My two favourites were Sunday Night Safran and Australia Talks.

There was no podcast application on my device. I had to manually download the podcasts and then transfer them onto my brushed aluminium Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen. And I devoured these podcasts quickly as I walked through the streets of greater Osaka.

Marc Maron was a stand-up comedian struggling with drug addiction who, in 2009, started the WTF podcast from his garage that he shares with his adopted stray cats in California.

Marc Maron in his garage. Photo: Contributed
Marc Maron in his garage. Photo: Contributed

Somewhere between then and now, 565 episodes later, I started listening to this podcast. The conversations are fascinating and anything but rushed and contrived. Interviewer and interviewee alike are vulnerable and offer information that many would consider better under lock and key.

Maron says he’s been called “neurotic, a story teller, heady, cerebral, angry, brilliant, bad, a problem, a cultural critic, a satirist, fucking funny, an important voice, etc”.

Last week I was scrolling through some podcasts and saw a familiar name in the WTF feed: Larry Grobel. Download!

The conversation is broken into two parts. Maron claims this is to pay homage to Grobel’s technique, but, I have my doubts.

Without giving away too much of the conversation, it was interesting to note that Grobel, once a huge advocate of freelancing, was encouraging budding writers to get a job. Times have changed.