Kari Byron was a fan favorite on the long-running Discovery Channel series MythBusters and continues to host programs on the Science Channel. In her Guest DJ set, we learn that she finds strength in Nina Simone, is a French pop aficionado, and turns to the Pixies for comfort when she’s lonely. On Saturday November 29, she hosts the Punkin Chunkin competition to determine the “Lord of the Gourd”.
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Banner Image Credit: Cameron Yee
1. Nina Simone - "Feeling Good"
2. Pixies - "Where Is My Mind?"
3. Danzig - "Mother"
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Art Star"
5. Eileen - "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"
Anthony Valadez: Hey I’m Anthony Valadez and I’m here with Kari Byron best known as host on Discovery Channel’s flagship show Myth Busters and the Science Channel’s Head Rush. Today, we’re going to talk about songs that she has selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Kari, how are you?
Kari Byron: I’m great, how are you?
AV: I’m excited to have you, I’m great! What’s your first record?
KB: I started with Nina Simone, because I decided that I was going to pick soundtracks to my life as an adult. So, Nina Simone, “Feeling Good”, was what I listed to in my headphones every day, when I had to get up for that post-college crappy, temp job. That I just, I needed something to get me through and that strong, beautiful, voice that… misfit voice… just really, really pushed me through my day, when I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to it.
Song: Nina Simone – “Feeling Good”
AV: So the first time you heard Nina’s voice, do you recall where you were at and how you felt?
KB: You know, a friend of mine was playing it and I just left the room and found it for myself to listen to.
I had the privilege of hearing one of her last concerts when she came to play in Saratoga, the Mountain Winery. And she still had that crackily, powerful, activist voice that just, it hit my heart. And so I feel very lucky to have actually heard one of the last times she got to sing.
AV: Ok, so what’s next?
KB: Ok, so next on my list, in my song list of growing up is, The Pixies, “Where Is My Mind?.” I traveled around the world for about a year after college and, at one point, I had all of my things stolen, including all my music and my passport. So I came across a Walkman and a couple of tapes that an old traveler had given to me and Surfer Rosa was one of them and I played the Pixies over and over and over and so every time I hear this song, I think of Prague and walking the streets alone and just it’s my walking music. It’s my friend.
AV: Why did you pick this one?
KB: You know, it just has that orchestra feeling. It’s more than a song, it really feels like a soundtrack. Music for me became less of a background thing and more of a soundtrack to my life when, I think in the 80’s, when all of the Mommies went to work because a one-income family became a fantasy and we all became latchkey kids and we were too young to be on our own. So we filled our house with radio, we filled our house with TV, so that we could hear the noise of company. And this song for me is one of those, I’m feeling lonely, I need a soundtrack, songs.
Song: The Pixies -- “Where Is My Mind?”
AV: That was the Pixies, with “Where Is My Mind?,” selected by Kari Byron as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. So what’s the next song on your list?
KB: Now for something completely different. This is Danzig, “Mother.” I know this is going to be an odd choice when I tell you why but, for me, a very pivotal moment of growing up was having my daughter.
The first time I heard her kick, I had some headphones on my stomach and she only would kick to The Misfits or Clash or, really, kind of driving punk rock. I don’t know if this is what led her to it, but this child, when she was just in her crazy infancy and could not stop crying, we put on Danzig and the child would lull herself to sleep.
So for me, this was an inspirational song, as most new mothers will tell you: if there kid will sleep to Swedish black metal, we’ll play it. So for me, Danzig is like my baby’s music.
AV: Is there a coincidence that the track is called, “Mother”?
KB: You know what, I don’t know and I feel the irony here… it’s like Reagan co-opting Springsteen. Like it doesn’t really make sense, but hey, it’s (laughs) really just about her taste, not mine.
AV: Well, let’s take a listen; this is Danzig, with “Mother.”
Song: Danzig -- “Mother”
AV: So what else do you have for us today?
KB: Ok, so, next on my list is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I picked “Art Star.”
Now I’ve been an artist for a long time and it’s been both a wonderful experience and vey enriching and I’ve been surrounded by artists, but it’s also felt sometimes like a crazy albatross, because being an artist is a tough gig.
Starving is just the beginning of it. You put your heart and soul into a sculpture and then you watch somebody try to haggle it down, like they are buying something at Pottery Barn and it will just break your heart.
So it’s this wonderful mix, where Karen O, walks the line between performance and performance-art at all times and I just really appreciate her as a musician and her as an artist and I really felt a connection to this song.
AV: That’s interesting because I noted that duality of the “do..do..do” part and then it, she just rages. Is there any kind of duality like that that exists in you, that you can relate to in this song?
KB: I think it exists in everyone. Life is just ups and downs and I think that she is really speaking to the journey as an artist. It can be very frustrating sometimes, but also so wonderful and I feel that duality is best represented in this music.
Song: Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- “Art Star”
AV: I can’t believe we are down to the final song. What do you have for us?
KB: Ok, so I’m going to finish up with something that I am just really obsessed with right now and that is 60’s French Pop.
I’m going to throw out a nice familiar song and this is “My Boots Were Made for Walkin',” by Eileen. We all heard the Nancy Sinatra version, but somehow this is a bridge song for me. This is how I get other people interested in 60’s French Pop. As I play them this song and then they will listen to anything that I want to play them.
AV: Hmm, strategic. You’re like a DJ.
AV: In a sense I almost feel like you are, because you have this curious nature, when you do MythBusters, about how things work. And I feel like, the same thing with music, the way you discover music. You seem like a very curious person, when you look for music, am I correct?
KB: Absolutely! I have a lot of friends who are really, really into music and I love finding out the reasons why they pick certain songs. So, for me, I think it’s the same sort of anthropological study.
It’s less something you put on in the background and more of a… kind of a nuts and bolts why.
AV: Well, let’s take a listen. This is Eileen with “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'.”
Song: Eileen -- “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”
AV: Well thanks so much for joining us, Kari. We appreciate you swinging though to KCRW.com.
KB: Thank you so much, I really enjoyed this.
AV: The pleasure was all ours. It’s been a lot of fun.