Reddit co-founder and tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian’s screen name was inspired by a Metallica song, so music is definitely an important part of his life. He also gives a shout to his fellow Armenians in System of a Down and tells us he turns to fellow Brooklyn native Jay Z for motivation to “stay hungry.” Alexis recently released a book on internet entrepreneurship called Without Their Permission.
For More: http://alexisohanian.com/
1. Metallica - King Nothing
2. Jay Z - My 1st Song
3. System of a Down - Chop Suey!
4. Metallica - For Whom The Bell Tolls
5. Nine Inch Nails - Survivalism
Anthony Valadez: Hi, I’m Anthony Valadez from KCRW and I’m here with tech entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, who is best known for co-founding the popular website Reddit. Today, we will be playing excerpts of songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Alexis, I’m excited. What’s the first song?
Alexis Ohanian: Alright, first song — and this one, oh geez, I’m going to get a lot of flak because this is of course post-haircut for Metallica. And I have my own grievances with a lot of their decisions on pursuing Napster file sharing. They really screwed that up and Lars, if you’re listening, I’m an open book, let’s talk about this. But “King Nothing” is on that list because for a number of years that was — God, that was my favorite. That song was like MY song in high school. So much so, that my screen name for all the video games I would play was a shortened version of that — “KN0thing” with a zero, you see, for the “O.” I was very, very clever.
AV: Oh man.
AO: I play everything — Quake II, Half Life, all this online gaming — using that handle and I continued it through college.
And, when Steve and I started Reddit, because it’s a pseudonymous kind of site where you create a user name, I went with that for my user name. So now there’s this whole legion of people who know me as the Reddit co-founder.
They don’t know me necessarily as Alexis, they know me as KN0thing—K-N-0 Thing. And they always ask ‘why did you choose that?’ and it’s because of the Metallica song I loved while going through puberty.
Song: Metallica – “King Nothing”
AV: That was Metallica with “King Nothing.” Alexis, what’s next?
AO: Next, oh man, alright, so you know I started getting into hip hop basically once I felt rock stopped being angry. And obviously I can’t — you know, the only thing Jay Z and I have in common is we were both born in Brooklyn. So obviously our lives are very, very different. I can only hope to have a fraction of the success he’s had.
But, I just absolutely — I’m a super fan. Not gonna lie. That’s actually one of the Reddit AMAs I’m still trying to lockdown.
And the thing about “My 1st Song” that I particularly like too is that it samples a bit from Biggie, another Brooklyn native.
The thing that drives me, that I love about this, is that so much of it is about staying hungry and staying on top of your game. And one of the things that I always remind myself of is you know, treating every day like I’m an intern and it’s my first day.
I look at the success Jay has, that Biggie had, which obviously ended way too soon, and I think about, you know, the success that I’ve been fortunate enough to have, which again is still on a much smaller scale, but I don’t ever want to be complacent. And if I want to look to people to be inspired and motivated by, I’m gonna look to the best. And this is a good way to remind myself about how much more I got to go and how I’m gonna get there.
Song: Jay Z - “My 1st Song”
AV: That was “My 1st Song” by Jay Z, selected by Alexis Ohanian. What else do you have for us?
AO: Alright, now I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to my fellow Armenians: System of a Down. And I’ve chosen “Chop Suey!” for you because that just is the — I mean all of the craziness, all of the everything that is System of a Down is in that. And you can see, you know, that band, all four of them being Armenian, they drew influences from the culture into the music. I mean, they were doing metal, but you can tell it’s just one of a kind.
Between Serj’s voice, between all the extra vocals and sounds, I mean they are… they rock. And they also did a tremendous amount of good in terms of spreading awareness about things like the genocide and other genocides that even happen to this day.
Song: System of a Down - “Chop Suey!”
AV: When might you break this song on the iPod or record player?
AO: Oh man. If you can imagine high school Alexis and his beat up Mazda 626, like this is what I would hit, either after just a rough day at school, or a long day at work, this is what I hit. And I’m a terrible singer. I’m terrible! But, I’m going at the top of my lungs and it has the peaks and the valleys, but it’s that — it’s just that emotion, that feeling, that comes right through in the music and yeah, it definitely — definitely hits the spot and it’s a nice way to end the day.
AV: That was System of a Down with one of my favorites, “Chop Suey!” Man this is fun. What’s next, Alexis?
AO: Alright, so I really would get in trouble if I only had a short haircut Metallica song on here. So, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is amazing. And it’s amazing for a few reasons — one, because it inspired me to read Hemingway.
This song is based on the book with the same name by Ernest Hemingway and I had no idea the guys behind Metallica were so interested in literature. But, I mean, it’s supposed to be taking place — the book takes place during the Spanish Civil War — and you’ve got this dire situation where it’s a bunch of dudes on a hill, they know they’re going to die, they know it’s game over, but they’re giving everything they have left. And I am too much of a softie to ever be in any kind of combat, so again, that’s where my ability to relate stops, but there is something just so visceral and just so exciting about it and it hits at a couple of really big points in the song. Now, I’ve chosen the S&M version because I loved this collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony. I loved it. I wish I could have gone to it. And it just — oh man. It’s just so powerful.
Song: Metallica - “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
AO: And what I really like, is that it also always reminds me of a stunt that I did freshman year at college. And this is the same hall where I met Steve Huffman, my Reddit co-founder. And I convinced all the guys in our hall to play this song simultaneously at full volume. Now my R.A. got a little pissed, in fact, I think most of the R.A.s at our dorm heard, obviously, and were pissed. But to hear this thing, at full volume at maybe a dozen dorms at UVA was just music to my ears — literally and figuratively. And so every time I play it I always think back to this and just smile.
Song: Metallica - “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
AV: That was Metallica with “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” So now we’re down to the final song. I can’t wait to hear this one. What’s next?
AO: Next up is “Survivalism” by Nine Inch Nails. I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen this as my favorite Nails song, However, it was part of a tour where I got the chance to meet Trent Reznor. Now, I got the opportunity — this was the first time I ever got to meet a famous person. Certainly someone who I adored. And thanks to a friend of mine we got to go backstage and it was like a meet-and-greet kind of thing and we got a few minutes with him.
This was about, I’d say, three years into Reddit. So you know, Reddit had been growing pretty well and I was curious because I knew Trent was really into technology and I had a hunch, you know, he might have heard of it, which would have been even better.
So here I am, I get my chance to talk to this guy who like got me through adolescence, and I was like, ‘Hey Trent, my name’s Alexis. And I was just wondering are you a fan of Digg or Reddit?’ because at the time Digg was a competitor and it was sort of a contentious question.
He looks at me and he’s like, “you know man actually, I’m a Digg guy.”
(Laughs) And I can’t describe — this why you never meet your idols. And I just kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘oh, I’m the Reddit co-founder,’ and he looked at me with this sort of apologetic like, “I’m really sorry man, I’m sorry.” I still love — I bear no grudge. But anyway, I still love Nine Inch Nails, I still love Trent Reznor — no hard feelings. And that’s a lesson all of you youngsters out there; don’t ever look forward to meeting your idols.
Song: Nine Inch Nails -- “Survivalism”
AV: So that was the Nine Inch Nails with “Survivalism” as selected by Alexis Ohanian, part of KCRW’s “Guest DJ Project.” Alexis, thank you so much for making us laugh here at KCRW.com.
Alexis Ohanian: Oh, thank you for having me.