Osiris Podcast Profile: Burning Ambulance
You may not know this yet, but there is a direct line connecting the worlds of jazz and metal, and that line has been drawn for over 20 years by Phil Freeman. Burning Ambulance is Freeman’s podcast on Osiris Media, which continues and expands upon his freelance writing with interviews of artists as far reaching as jazz greats Matthew Shipp and Regina Carter, while venturing out to profile prominent figures in the classical world like recent guest Isabelle Faust. This is balanced with his extensive writing for publications like Stereogum, where Phil writes a monthly jazz column called Ugly Beauty (named for a Thelonious Monk composition); The Wire, where he has been writing since 2002; Bandcamp Daily; and his website Burning Ambulance, to name a few. Freeman’s articles often profile artists and releases in the rock and metal spectrum, from Frank Zappa to Slipknot and Live Skull.
Conversations with artists on the Burning Ambulance podcast are geared not only for fans of the artist, but also offer many open doorways for casual listeners as well. This stems from Freeman’s skill and dexterity as an interviewer, and the depth and authority of his guests. As someone who has interviewed a great many musicians and music professionals myself, I know all too well how difficult at times it can be to bring out worthwhile conversations from essentially complete strangers. There is an art to it, and artful interviews are on constant display in Phil’s podcasts.
Here is my written exchange with Phil Freeman about his work:
Joe Kendrick: First, I cannot find a reference to the name Burning Ambulance other than, perhaps, an Agoraphobic Nosebleed song “Ambulance Burning.” What is the origin of that name?
Phil Freeman: When I launched Burning Ambulance as a print-on-demand zine in 2010, I wanted a name that didn’t have anything to do with music, but would stick in your head once you read/heard it. I don’t know exactly how/why the phrase “burning ambulance” popped into my brain, but I knew it was right the instant it did. After seven print issues over a couple of years, the website became the primary thing, and now the podcast is a huge part of that – I was doing two episodes a month for the first couple of years, and am currently doing one a month just ’cause life is chaos.
Joe Kendrick: You have a great number of artist interviews in your articles and podcasts, many of whom are high profile, hard to get types. How do you go about getting access to artists? Have you been turned down many times? I know of some famously reclusive artists that simply refuse practically all interviews, but if you have any secrets to share, please do!
Phil Freeman: It basically comes down to having been a professional journalist for over 20 years – all the major jazz publicists know my name and my work, so when I ask for an interview, I usually get it. The only time I’ve been turned down recently was when I asked to speak to Chick Corea (who I’d interviewed once before), and I think it was a scheduling issue, not that they didn’t want to do it.
Joe Kendrick: What is the thread that ties the music you write about and put on your podcasts together? What is the commonality between jazz and metal music especially?
Phil Freeman: Honestly, it’s all personal preference. I started the podcast because I love talking to artists, but I hate transcribing interviews. And I started Burning Ambulance as a whole because I wanted to write more about the music I love – jazz, and metal, with some electronic stuff and classical thrown in here and there. There are no really strong links between jazz and metal, although of course there are artists who go back and forth – the guitarist from Six Feet Under has a jazz album coming out later this year that’s really good.
Joe Kendrick: I liked in your most recent podcast episode on Isabelle Faust how you dug up so many relevant and hard to find details about her work, and how surprised and impressed she was with this. How much time do you spend on your writing and making podcasts? It seems like you must be spending a great deal of time and energy.
Phil Freeman: I do my research, the same as I would if I was writing an article for a magazine. But one thing I’m trying to learn not to do is turn the interview into a stroll down the artist’s Wikipedia page, going album by album. It’s not that interesting for them, I don’t think, and it doesn’t make for as interesting a conversation as if I can ask about issues related to their particular musical world, like when I talked to Isabelle Faust about why there are so many recordings of the same classical pieces. As far as time spent on writing and podcasting, I try to publish two articles on Burning Ambulance every week, and one podcast a month, and I send out a weekly email newsletter to a few hundred subscribers. I also create a monthly Spotify playlist for people who read the newsletter and/or subscribe to http://patreon.com/burningambulance. It’s a nights-and-weekends thing, basically.
Joe Kendrick: Can you comment on anything outside of your podcasts and writing? What might people like to know about you?
Phil Freeman: I’m currently writing a book – Ugly Beauty: Jazz In The 21st Century – that will be published by Zero Books in 2021, if civilization doesn’t collapse around us. Other than that, there’s not much to tell. When I’m not writing, I read a lot of SF and crime fiction and watch stuff on Netflix and HBO (Ozark, My Brilliant Friend).
Joe Kendrick: Your twitter is acerbic, witty and often hilarious in my opinion. (For example) Is it your favorite social media platform? Any comments about these adjunct platforms that we all have to keep up with?
Phil Freeman: Twitter is definitely my favorite platform. I make a lot of fun of bands’ crappy promo photos, publicists’ lame emails, and the music business in general, but it’s always from a place of love. Occasionally I post photos of new music purchases on Instagram, and I get on Facebook from time to time, but FB hasn’t been a pleasurable experience for years – it’s mostly a habit I can’t break.
Phil Freeman is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in/on Bandcamp Daily, Down Beat, Stereogum, the Village Voice, The Wire and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. He runs the arts and culture site Burning Ambulance and hosts the Burning Ambulance podcast, featuring interviews with jazz musicians. Acerbic wit often on display in Phil’s twitter feed.