Q&A: Weird Vibes Mastermind Shirley Braha On MTV, Recycling Centers, And What Went Down With NYC-TV
A nation (or, at least, a city) of music dorks called a day of mourning when the long-running indie-oriented video show New York Noise was unceremoniously cancelled by New York City's NYC-TV last year. But you can't keep a good fan down for long. Noise creator/curator/editor/producer Shirley Braha has returned with Weird Vibes, a similarly indie-skewing music show that mixed expert taste with whimsical between video interludes. The first two episodes of Weird Vibes are streaming on MTVHive currently, and the thirdfeaturing Holy Ghost!, their dads, and Nancy from LCD Soundsystem#&0151;will premiere October 25. Tonight Vibes teams up with Popgun Booking for an official CMJ showcase at Cameo Gallery. Sound Of The City recently met with Braha, 28, at her new fancy MTV workplace to talk about her grandparents, creative differences and starting over.
How did Weird Vibes come about?
After New York Noise ended, I knew I wanted to start another show at some point, and it was just a matter of figuring out when and where. There were some people who work here who were in charge of MTV Hive who were fans of New York Noise, and when they started Hive they asked if I was interested in doing some video stuff for them, and I said I was. I started doing some short video content for themnot Weird Vibesand we started talking about a long-form music video show, so I shot a pilot at South By Southwest. They liked it, and they gave it a shot.
What was the transition from working at NYC-TV to MTV like? In your mind, is there a significant difference between the two shows?
I did New York Noise myselfI did all the editing, I picked all the videos, I picked all the bands. Because that show was all me and this show is all me, I think they're very similar. In my mind [Weird Vibes is] almost a continuation of New York Noise. I'm really excited that I have so much creative freedom here. Sometimes you think it's such a big corporation, there's no way you'll be able to pick the videos you want and the bands you want.
Was that a fear you had before you started working at the network?
Yeah, definitely. I didn't want to get involved if I was going to create something where all these people were suddenly going to come in and start changing it, and having my name attached to that and having to play videos that I can't really stand behind is something that I definitely didn't want to happen, but they've pretty much guaranteed me from the start that no one is going to be fussing around with my videos. So that was a huge relief.
So no one has been like, "There's so much noise and these guys can't really sing. Are you sure you don't want to play Mumford & Sons?"
Yeah, no one's been like that all, which is awesome.
Do you mind talking about what happened with New York Noise?
Oh, not at all. I'm out of there.
What went down?
I guess the reality is that most shows, no matter how good they are, don't last that long, and I think I'm lucky that it lasted six years. Basically what happened was new management came in and took over the whole station because there was a little bit of a scandal, so they had to do a clean sweep, new management. And new management comes with their own agendas. I guess I just wasn't part of their new agenda... and we had creative differences. They wanted me to work on making two-minute pieces about changing your light bulbs to compact fluorescents and painting your roof white, government initiatives, and I just don't think that was what I wanted to do with my life.
I'm sure Animal Collective would have been happy to talk about fluorescent lightbulbs.
Totally. So, we parted ways.
Did they not realize it was one of the most popular shows on the network?
I think at first they didn't realize that the show had a following, so they had no intention to let me continue to do that. Then someone started a petition to bring it back, but by that point...
You were done?
I was done. And they were done with me. Because by that point I had been doing lightbulb pieces for six months.
What sort of stuff did they have you doing?
I did an episode about recycling for this show called The Green Apple, and we visited the sanitation department and we went to a paper mill. It was actually a fun learning experience, but it was definitely not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.
It must have been a heartbreaking experience after putting in all that time.
Yeah, but listen. Most people don't stay at whatever job they're in for seven years so I'm very, very grateful to have been there for seven years. That being said, it was the first time in my adult life where I suddenly didn't have a job and so much of my identity was tied in with New York Noise because that was what I had devoted seven years of my life to and was what I had built my life around, so not having that and not having a job at the same time was a little destabilizing, but I think we all have that when we transition to a different job.
New York Noise: "Senior Citizens React To The Knife"
Were you always certain you would stay in the music industry, or did you ever think it was time to go to law school or something?
Yeah, I think those few months after I left WNYC was a chance to step back and think about my priorities and what would be the best contribution of myself, and I thought about a lot of things, and I said "no, I want to do a music video show. That's a totally important thing that needs to exist that doesn't exist." So I'm 100% totally believing in what I want to do.
Was your guard up at all, coming in to MTV after your previous experience?
Yeah, I was really paranoid. Actually, I'll tell you this. At NYC-TV they were sort of implying that someone else could take over New York Noise. They did a post like that on their website: "We heard you want Noise, New York Noise! And we do too! That's why we're letting our viewers come up with ideas for a new New York Noise." They left it really vague, where they could potentially still use the name but have completely different people running the show. That was definitely something that made me a little bit nervous. So I think coming in here, I was nervous again about creating a project and letting other people take it over. But I've been given so much freedom to just associate myself with the show and have creative freedom over it. I feel like I really trust the people I work with, because I work with much cooler people here than I did back there. I feel like they really understand the vision of the show, while NYC-TV was "well, we have this music show, people watch it, let he do her thing."
Let's talk about happier memories. One of the things people loved about the show was the really fun vignettes between videos. A lot of people loved the retirement center residents reviewing indie rock.
That's my great-grandfather!
Were those reactions scripted or were they genuine?
They were totally genuine! You can't get 90 year old men to do scripted reactions of indie videos without it coming off as totally fake. Almost everything on the show is reality television, shall we say. Some of it, we will plan a funny little concept right before we shoot, just off the top of our heads or whatever, but it's always very obvious that it's acting. It's tongue in cheek.
What were your favorite moments of New York Noise?
The Eugene Mirman episode was really funny. We did a Beirut Making The Video parody at the Sweet & Low Factory. Most of the people I worked with were really funny and nice.
I love working with my family members. They make a ton of appearances in the show. I never had to pay anyone to be in the show, but sometimes the easiest people to work with are your family, because they're not expecting anything back. My grandmother, she's in a whole bunch of episodes. She was in my "My Super-Sweet Bar Mitzvah," she performed as "Patty Pitchfork," this grandmother who really loved reading Pitchfork reviews. We also did "The Real Housewives Of New York Noise" in the later episodes, and she and her bridge card playing friends would watch videos and talk about them. She made a lot of appearances in the show.
And then I did an episode with my dad and his brother and a couple of their friends. New York Noise's executive board takes over the show, and they watch indie videos and decide whether or not it would appeal to the indie demographic. We did an episode where people got post-punk haircuts with Simon Reynolds. Animal Collective eating cupcakes, that was the fourth episode I shot. I guess they ended up being a pretty big name, so that worked out well. I lied this episode "Top Forty Me" where Ben from The Leaf Label listens to Top 40 music for 30 days, though obviously we shot it one day, and seeing the harmful effects. Oh, I liked "Antique Rockshow," which was a parody of "Antiques Roadshow" that we shot at the WFMU record fair.
It looks like that's still going on with Weird Vibes. The first episode had Best Coast and Beach Fossils talking about the problems of being in indie rock bands.
Yeah. I don't if it's a documentary or a mockumentary or somewhere in-between. I definitely overdramatized it and edited in such a way that it seemed heavier than it actually is, but it's not all jokes. Being in an indie band is a great experience, but there are also some dark moments.
One thing I noticed is that you had Aziz Ansari as a host several years ago. Would you like to take this time to publicly take credit for his entire career?
Definitely not. I don't think any one person is ever responsible for somebody's success. I feel like with New York Noise that I was lucky to get a lot of people on the show who were just starting out who ended up having pretty successful careers.
How did your record label come about?
Well, I didn't really have friends in high school, but I had a lot of internet indie friends. I had an idea to put out a Hanukkah indie-pop compilation, because there are so many alternative Christmas compilations, but there were no Hanukkah ones. So I put it together and it did pretty well. I remember I was babysitting one night and I was reading a CMJ and in the back I saw my compilation had made the charts and I was like, "Holy shit!"
What made you decide to start a record label? That's a lot of motivation for a 16-year-old kid.
I didn't really have much else going on in my life. I grew up in this really traditional Jewish community, and I didn't really vibe with that many people I grew up with. We were really just raised to get married when you're 18 or 19, and that wasn't really for me. I didn't have much of an active social life when I was in school, but music really interested me and I enjoyed it. I was on all these mailing lists and people were putting out their own CDs and I just asked people for advice, and I saved up lifeguarding money and I put out the compilation.
You got named as one of the coolest girls under 21 by YM.
Yeah, and the Village Voice!
What was it like getting all that attention at an early age?
It was validating, because in school I didn't have any friends. I was such a bitter girl, I was surrounded by people who didn't understand me, and didn't vibe with me.
Bunch of plebeians.
I bet they didn't appreciate Pavement.
No, not at all. I had nothing going on in my real life, so it was nice to feel like I could do something, it was nice to feel validated.
What was the first band you ever fell in love with?
Belle & Sebastian, and also Pavement. These are pretty standard indie bands. I listened to The Violent Femmes a lot. I use to print out lyrics from the internet and read them along with the song, and my mom found the Violent Femmes lyrics and freaked out. "I don't like these songs! I don't like you listening to this music."
You've been programming the show for several years now. Does it ever become a grind to keep up with everything? Does it ever just get to you?
I think it's more enjoyable searching for new music and searching for new stuff when you know there's a point to it. "Oh, if I find something cool, I'll have an opportunity to share that with people," whereas if I'm just searching all day for MP3s just so I can download it and whatever, I don't know if I would have as much motivation to keep up with it. But there's good stuff out there and there's bad stuff, and when you find something good it totally makes it worth it. There's so much to keep up with now; I feel like five years ago, or ten years ago, it was much easier to keep up with music. Now you really have to be on the ball.
What is your relationship with places like Pitchfork and Stereogum? Friendly competitors? Or more "stay off of my turf"?
No, I love 'em! I'm friends with all of them. I'm actually friends with everyone that works there. Even if you're competitors, you can still be friendly competitors. In fact, you should be. You don't want to have too many enemies, that's never a good thing.
I'm not naming names, but there are a few blogs out there that are like "we broke this first, we discovered this band"very territorial, very much a pissing match.
I think that's what the internet is, a pissing match. But I don't want to play that game. I'm really more of a television-oriented person. I feel like the internet can be a really dark place, and everyone is vying for attention and everyone is always criticizing each other and tearing each other down. The internet is for haters.
Have you ever had a band be offended by not making it on the air?
Yeah, there are two or three bands that stick out. One in particular. But everyone has egos. Some people have really fragile ones, and I don't take that personally.
Is there a chance Weird Vibes could ever be on TV?
I think options are open. Obviously I just want to get the show in front of as many people as possible. We'll see what happens.
Do you have any grand statements about the state of the music video?
We're definitely at the point where there are a lot more indie music videos being made than there were ten years ago, which is really exciting. I think more people are watching music videos than they have in a long time, but I think there's a lot of different ways to approach it, and I [prefer] a long-form, sit back and watch type of show rather than [being] on the internet, scrolling and being like "30 seconds, cool. Let's see what the next blog post is." I kind of miss that experience of being able to sit back and watch something in its entirety.
The Weird Vibes/Popgun CMJ showcasewith Weekend, Headless Horseman, MillionYoung, Pat Jordache, and Keepaway as well as DJ sets from CFCF and Beat Connection (DJ Set)takes place tonight at Cameo Gallery.
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