And Why Howard Stern Is The Greatest Interviewer Of All Time
Because he cares and prepares like no one else. And at 62 years old, the ink still drying on his newly signed five year deal with SiriusXM, he’s better than ever before. Listen to a Howard Stern interview intently and you will notice two things – you don’t want the interview to end and the guest doesn’t want the interview to end. Noine out of ten times, you hear Baba Booey come running in with a – “He/she’s gotta go. They have to get to their next thing.”
When Stern started at Sirius in 2006, he had 400k subscribers. He now has 30 million. His show has become the go-to spot for those on the promo circuit. Forget about anything raunchy or the prank calls or the whack pack for a second. Yes, the show is a brilliant variety, but narrow it down and you will see – the King of all Media is also the King of all Interviews.
Here’s why. He creates an environment where he and his guest have a conversation. They don’t answer monotonous questions. They have a casual, sit on the back porch late at night with a drink conversation. Stern gets them to tell stories as opposed to giving answers. Granted there is more time allowed during a Stern interview vs. almost anywhere else, Stern still chooses to bypass the cookie cutter line of questioning and get right to compelling subject matters that most don’t ever ask or even think of. He doesn’t want to provide a subjective album review, he wants people to feel something. He doesn’t do what’s expected, he does what he feels. Perhaps the most respectable trait is the fact that Stern shows sincere interest, fascination and admiration for the guest’s work of art. He wants to hear how that great song came about, what movie role was turned down that ended up being huge, where their inspiration comes from, what their upbringing was like. And he thinks. He listens. He really listens. And processes what the guest explains, often comparing it to his own experiences.
If you look at the past two years alone the lineup of guests of been epic. The big names are stockpiled with people like Neil Young (who Howard mentioned would be his dream interview) and Adam Sandler making their Stern Show debut.
Then there’s the live music component. It’s rare to have a show that contains a full length interview and a live performance by the same artist. Though there have been some classic performances (all that occur in the ungodly hours of the morning), there have also been some impromptu songs that occur unexpectedly and completely on a whim (See Grohl/Foo Fighters and Chris Martin below).
Given our platform here, let’s further dissect this by taking a look at few epic musician appearance on the Stern Show
Foo Fighters/Dave Grohl – March 18, 1998
Dave Grohl and company have been on the show numerous times since Grohl’s debut on the in March 18, 1998 – where a certain three minutes would change the Foo’s forever. Grohl has often acknowledged how the impromptu, acoustic “Everlong” performance catapulted his career in ways he never imagined. Stern casually asked Grohl off-the-cuff to play “Everlong” to which Grohl obliged, though he had never played it that way before. Grohl reflected on the experience year’s later saying on air, “That song blew up all over again because of that version and it was purely because of Howard. It sounds crazy, but I don’t know where we’d be right now if it hadn’t been for that morning in his studio. Or what we would’ve done if we hadn’t open up that door to doing acoustic stuff. So you know, we owe that guy a drink for sure.”
Grohl would return the favor performing the song on Stern’s mega birthday show in 2014.
Chris Cornell – June 12, 2007
Chris Cornell’s first appearance on the Stern Show in 2007 is a great example of my entire point. Cornell plays a beautiful rendition of “Black Hole Sun,” after discussing various things about his childhood and personal experience coming from Seattle. Stern’s immediate reaction after the performance was “Beautiful. Now that was moving. I had a whole bunch of thoughts during that song. I started thinking – is the Black Hole Sun a hole in your heart?” Cornell then explains that he wrote that song at 4am while driving home one night. He then whistled the melody into a tape recorder when he got home, but never ended up listening to what he recorded. It all came back via memory. Also in the Cornell – Stern interview were chats about the dynamic between the big bands that came out of the 90’s Seattle scene, where Cornell explains that Eddie Vedder is one of his best friends in the world, describing him as one of most genuine human beings he knows. Stern side-kick at the time, Artie Lange, chimes in and tells Cornell how much Soundgarden’s “Blow Up The Outside World” impacted him. He too tells a story on how he was in jail for 10 days and was allowed to have one thing. He chose to listen to Soundgarden on a Walkman. He played “Blow Up The Outside World” on repeat as it completely matched what he was feeling at the time.
Cornell would appear on the Stern show again in 2011, performing covers “Imagine,” by John Lennon and “Thank You,” by Led Zeppelin.
Metallica – September 23, 2013
The iconic metal group performs full-band, plugged in, classics “One,” “Nothing Else Matters” and “Enter Sandman” live in-studio. Stern, marvels at James Hetfield’s guitars and asks him questions about his unique axes – truly from a guitar fans standpoint. Hetfield also tells some fascinating stories about how he initially sounded like a Robert Plant wannabe when singing. He walks the audience through his process of finding his now signature, growly voice after realizing the Plant thing was not it. We also learn of Hetfield’s crazy stage freight. In the early days, former Metallica guitarist, Dave Mustaine had to be the guy on stage who spoke to the crowd due to Hetfield’s discomfort. Did anyone else know that before this interview? Didn’t think so. I certainly did not.
Gavin Rossdale – September 9, 2014
Rossdale has appeared on the show a handful of times, both solo and with his band. It’s his 2014 appearance where we get questions like “What was the changing moment when you started to finally feel like you were good?” We learn here that it was the Bush frontman’s voice (or lack of) that held him and the band back during the early days in London. Rossdale mentions that he still takes lessons and it was Nigel Pulsford (Bush original guitarist) who helped him gain his confidence. Ultimately, after years of persistence, Rossdale would end up being a guest coach on a show called – “The Voice.” Stern wanting to know the stories behind Rossdale’s biggest hits gets him to talk within the first five minutes about things like how “Come Down” was the first song Rossdale wrote on his own. In regards to “Glycerine,” which is arguably Bush’s biggest song, Rossdale reveals the song was ignored by management at first and that it was written in his bedroom which was located in the basement of a London apartment at the time. Dave Grohl’s name comes up a few times and Rossdale mentions that Bush was in fact the last band to record a number one record, Sea of Memories, on the infamous Sound City Neve console, that spurred Grohl’s Sound City film. It’s something left out of the Sound City documentary film. Bush would then go on to record their next record, Man on the Run, on that same Neve console at Grohl’s Studio 606 after Grohl acquired it. There are a lot of “What a great story,” “I’m so glad you bring that up,” one-liners sprinkled in there by Stern during this interview. Rossdale also world premiered his new record Man on the Run during this appearance.
Neil Young – October 14, 2014
Stern often mentioned over the years that Neil Young would be the ultimate guest. It’s common knowledge how much of fan Stern is of Young. Yet, it’s Young who explains how anxious he was to appear on the show. He mentions he woke up at 4:30am wondering what it would be like. How do you prepare and conduct the interview you always dreamed about? Whatever Stern did led to an amazing 90 minutes where Young told stories about being roommates with Rick James in Toronto and gave some behind the scenes insight into his record Greendale – opening up about how Bono advised him the songs needed more hooks so more people would hear them and be drawn to them.
Chris Martin – March 16, 2016
The most recent example – Chris Martin stopped by last month to promote Coldplay’s new record, A Head Full of Dreams. Knowing the environment, this is the most relaxed Martin we’ve seen on the show. He willingly takes Stern and the audience into his personal routines such as his songwriting process. Martin explains that the first thing he does each day is write in his journal for 12 minutes. It’s a practice he learned from Einstein as it’s intended to get all the negative energy out of your system. Stern and Martin spend a decent amount of time discussing Martin’s present place in life as it’s been a wild few years for the frontman who went through a divorce with Gwyneth Paltrow and recently played the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. Howard with some sensitivity, asks Martin what it’s like to be the center of attention on stage, where everyone wants a piece of you, and then you go home it’s gone. You’re not that special. It’s a deep thought to which Martin responds by saying, “that’s a marvelous question,” and explains how it is difficult to come to terms with. We learn Martin spoke with Bruce Springsteen before the Super Bowl to get some advice on playing the biggest stage and biggest show of his life. Martin also rips a page out of the Stern playbook as he discusses one of his favorite artist, the late, great, David Bowie. Martin tells a story how Bowie in his early days wrote music to a French set of lyrics he received back when he was younger and working for a publishing company. Bowie sent them off upon completing and it was not well received. The song project would end up turning into “My Way,” performed by Frank Sinatra. This lit a fire for Bowie and led to him writing “Life on Mars,” which is Martin’s favorite Bowie song. Stern agrees it’s a great song and asks Martin if he can play it. Oddly enough, Martin had learned it the day before and then plays a stunning unscripted version, solo on the piano. Finally, we get to hear what exactly is going on in Martin’s head musically at that moment as Stern asks him to translate it onto the piano. Again… where else does that happen?
Who else asks questions that lead to such mind-blowing stories like these? No one. Where else do you get those types of answers (stories) as a response? Nowhere.
Back in June of last year, I had the interview with Royal Blood right after Howard Stern. The duo appeared on the show – Tuesday June 9th after months of Stern discussing how much he dug them. My interview was on Thursday June 11th and drummer Ben Thatcher explained to me how they saw a major spike in iTunes sales and social media followers since their appearance on Stern where they also performed a killer version of “Figure it Out.” That’s what can happen. It’s a direct result of a great host making great guests.
Similarly, Stern has been raving about the Rochester, NY band, Kopps. This past Friday Howard 101 aired an exclusive concert by Kopps as they made a special tour stop just to play in Stern’s studio. Their set featured a unique cover of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” by the Smashing Pumpkins. Let’s keep an eye on Kopps numbers this week.
This article can go on and on (see – Paul McCartney, Steven Tyler, Billy Corgan, Lady Gaga, Scott Weiland, Madonna). Stern and his team make it look effortless to extract these compelling conversations, one after the next, because they’re pros who do a ton of research and know how to prepare. When you’re prepared, you deliver. When you prepare more than everyone else, you deliver better quality than everyone else. That’s very attractive for the interviewee who much rather open up to a host who has done their homework and knows what they are talking about. It’s refreshing to speak with someone who’s not just going through the motions and doing what they’re supposed to do to get the “news” answers. When you add in showing a genuine appreciation and admiration for that artists work, you put yourself on another level of sincere entertainment. It allows for a real human connection. You simultaneously learn about the human side and not so human side of your favorite artists, in addition to getting turned on to new talent. It’s like a mini autobiography that comes with a live intimate performance in your living room or car.
As a music fan, you long for your favorite artist to be on the Stern Show. You know you are going to get something great. You’re going to learn something you didn’t know and hear something you’ve never heard.
Here’s to five more years.
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