You might think you know Carson Daly from his MTV TRL days or his late night talk show, but he’s a hard core music fan from way back. The Last Call host has a candid conversation with DJ Anne Litt about the torture of serving up Britney pop and the song that saved him. He also discusses the reggae track that satisfied his soul in high school, and his love for the underdog artist.
Find out more:
1.) Steel Pulse - Your House
2.) Ben Harper - Another Lonely Day
3.) Failure - The Nurse Who Loved Me
4.) Bush - Letting the Cables Sleep
5.) George Stanford - My Own Worst Enemy
Anne Litt: Hi this is Ann Litt from KCRW and I am here with late night host Carson Daly.
Carson Daly: Well, thank you for having me, Anne.
Anne Litt: We’re going to be talking about the music that has inspired him over the years. What songs do you want to share with us today?
Carson: I’ve got a few for you. I picked five, it was really hard. I try not to pick my five favorite songs because music has always been such an important part of my life, both personally and professionally. It’s difficult when people ask “what’s your favorite band?” you want to say the cool thing or the right thing. Music is fickle. It strikes a chord in people at different times in their life for different reasons.
Sometimes, as I’ll get through the songs, the first song I picked is a Steel Pulse song called “Your House,” which was very influential to me because it was a song that I heard probably in 1989 or 1990 when I was in high school here in Santa Monica. When I was in high school there were two profound things that happened with me. I had a huge faith, you know I went to church everyday when I went to high school like a lunatic. I wasn’t a Jesus freak or anything but I had this, crazy for me in high school, this overwhelming sense of how grateful I was to grow up in Southern California and have all the things that I have. And faith was a big part of that. And also music. I went from enjoying music like the average high schooler to really, really, really appreciating what music was. And when I hear Steel Pulse and this song “Your House,” it reminds me of the marriage between the two main themes for me in high school, which was spirituality and music. When I hear that song it takes me right back to that time.
Song: Your House by Steel Pulse
Anne Litt: Is the love of music what ultimately carried you into radio, initially?
Carson Daly: I just wanted to be around it.
Anne Litt: Gotcha.
Carson Daly: I just wanted to be, if I could’ve made a living in any way shape or form being around music – could have been a studio guy, could’ve been a DJ, anything to be around it. I thought if I could make a living being around music, because I was so moved by music, in many of the genres. Not just heavy metal, punk, or rock or rap, I was just moved by so much of it. And what you end up doing is basically taking an oath of poverty, because if you know anything about radio, I ended up living in 7 cities in two years, and out of my truck. And any radio DJ knows that. And that’s also a humbling experience.
Anne Litt: Try working in public radio.
Carson Daly: Well there’s also that too. You’re doing the lord’s work.
Anne Litt: Next song. Give me another song.
Carson Daly: My next song is a Ben Harper song “Another Lonely Day.”
Anne Litt: I love that song.
Carson Daly: It’s an incredible song.
Anne Litt: Tell me why this inspires you.
Carson Daly: Ben is somebody I’ve gotten to know over the years, we’re not the best of friends, but we have a great relationship. He’s been on my late night show a lot. When I got into radio, there was a time, and this is why I picked this song, when I lived in San Francisco. I moved up and worked at station called Live 105 and I was living with my sister. I was flat broke, I slept on her floor. And my shifts was 2Am-6AM and I used to steal her car -- I didn’t steal it she let me borrow it -- at about 1AM and I had no money and had no where to go before my shift, and I went to the Mission in San Francisco to a great place called the Elbo Room and that’s the first place I saw Ben Harper he was playing with the Charlie Hunter Trio. And when I hear this song it reminds me of my time in San Francisco. It was a very lonely time for me, because I was 22 or something and I was trying to figure out ‘am I really going to be a radio DJ? I’m flat broke, I’m living with my sister, is this going to be a permanent part of my life? Is this temporary?’
Anne Litt: Right.
Carson Daly: And I think some of the lyrics of “Another Lonely Day” also struck a chord with me, Yet because it was Ben and because of his music it was also very optimistic. So it was a negative theme, but leave it to Ben Harper to make it alright in the end.
Song: Ben Harper’s Another Lonely Day
Anne Litt: I’m here with Carson Daly, and we’re talking about music. Tell me what else you have.
Carson Daly: This next song represents the next chapter in my life which was after San Francisco and a few other cities in radio. I really thought I had made it when I got to move back Los Angeles and I got the night shift at the world famous KROQ which is a very popular, obviously, alternative station here in town.
Song: Failure’s The Nurse Who Loved Me
I picked up Failure “The Nurse Who Loved Me”, which was an LA band. And this is the first time where I really…I was obviously into music and I was working at KROQ, and the lyrics of the song I love because it’s a delusional love story about an addict – It always stuck with me after the millions of songs that I’ve heard since-- who has this false interpretation that the nurse is in love with him when this woman is just doing her job, and bringing him his pills. And he thinks that he wants to take her home. And that she’s a nurse with all the other guys, but she’s into him. This also represents a time in LA when I was around a lot of drugs, and I’ve never done drugs and I thank God that I missed that whole thing. This song represented a lot of LA and Sunset Strip and me working at KROQ and drinking and partying and hanging out with rockstars. This song has always stuck with me.
Anne Litt: What’s next on your list, Carson?
Carson Daly: This next song I picked is a great example of…it’s from Bush, and this is a song that I heard when I was sort of at the height at MTV. MTV…people think that I auditioned for them, I never did. I was a DJ at KROQ, again fueled by an organic love of music, and they asked me if I had wanted to move there. They had fired all their VJ’s and they were looking finally for VJ’s who were passionate about music. And I moved to New York and TRL takes off and all of a sudden I’m playing Britney Spears and I want to shoot myself.
But I’m also very grateful to have this gig because I was broke in radio. And now I’m on TV, but I don’t really care either. I said ‘this will all go away’ and it never did. This was at a point where I was so overwhelmed with work, my career, what was going on, I didn’t have a grip on it really. It was just too much. Then I heard this Bush song that Gavin wrote called “Letting the Cable Sleep.” And it was like musical Klonopin. And it reminded me – all the sudden I went, I forgot that music is my soul. Music is also healing. It doesn’t just make me work out, it also heals me. And it just quickly fixed me.
Song: Bush’s Letting the Cable Sleep
Anne Litt: So you’ve got another song here. This is an artist that I know nothing about, zero.
Carson Daly: It’s not even really about the artist why I picked this as my last song.
Anne Litt: Bring it on.
Carson Daly: It’s from a new artist on Mercury who I got to see at a showcase at SXSW. His name is George Stanford, a 22 year old kid, they say he’s a David Gray meets David Beckham, a good looking young dude. I sat there and I watched this kid, and I picked this song to play today because I wanted to end on the note of this song represents again why I love music. And that is about every emerging artist—it’s about the rise.
This kid was 22 and he worked for a Laundromat in Philadelphia and this song is called “My Own Worst Enemy.” He said he wrote it about the fact that his love of music and his pursuit of a musical career has really, in a lot of ways, been his own worst enemy because it’s such a longshot and it was derailing him from figuring out how to pay rent. And I just appreciate the process. We don’t really see it anymore with American Idol, we don’t really see it anymore with technology. God bless both of them, but this is an homage to everybody out there that stuck with it, that’s in a van, that doesn’t have access, that still believes. And to me, that’s really the power of music.
And also the structure of the song, it starts with the horn, it’s got piano. It could’ve been an Elton John song from the 70’s, With a Bernie Taupin sort of arrangement. Again, it’s not necessarily about George Stanford, it’s about the feeling of new music and the appreciation I have for it.
Song: George Stanford “My Own Worst Enemy”
Anne Litt: Carson, thanks so much for joining us today on KCRW.com.
Carson Daly: I’m not leaving, what do you mean, that’s it? I’m going to go play in your music library.
Anne Litt: Please don’t leave. Thank you for coming in. It’s nice to meet you.
Carson Daly: It’s great to be here. This is a fantastic radio station.
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]