Exclusive: Getting To Know Jason Bentley, Your New KCRW Music Director

Nic’s out, Jason’s in. Oh, and Garth’s back! The next KCRW saga officially begins December 1, 2008. So does Jason have an agenda yet? A grand scheme? Devious plans to turn the station into a gigantic conglomeration sponsored by Ableton Live? Time to head down to Venice, grab a coffee and squeeze in a few words. Meet Your New KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley!

First off, congratulations.

Thank you.

Now I’ll go ahead and ask the question that’s on everybody’s mind. What’s the first record you’re going to play on Morning Becomes Eclectic? There’s an over/under of sorts on whether or not it’s going to be something electronic.

I’ve been thinking about playing a song off the Crash soundtrack by Mark Isham. Such a great soundtrack. I’ve also been thinking about playing a track by Johan Johannson’s latest album Fordlandia. I really want to kind of flip the switch.

Do you have a general idea as to what the shift in your audience looks like? I’m guessing considerably larger post-NPR crowd in the mornings. (note self, might have been prudent to actually procure applicable segment and reach #s prior to venturing down to Venice for coffee this morning)

That’s actually a great question.

I mean, it feels like we’re constantly advised that “Hollywood is listening” and that music directors across the city are paying mad attention to Nic’s morning slot.

Some of that sort of goes along with the music director title at the station, as well. Kind of setting the tone for the station. Speaking of, what did you think of the announcement appointing Garth back to weeknights?

I was going to ask you about that. Is this something he’s been wanted to do for a while? Of course, you also had the evening hole to fill. Just good timing?

It worked out well. He was ready to get back to a more regular schedule. As to what he wants I really can’t say, but it worked out well.

I for one will be quite glad to have him back on air five nights a week.

Me too. (smiles)

Ok. You’re at the top of the pyramid now, you’ve got first glance at all the stuff coming in.

Top of the pyramid, there’s definitely that feeling. I’m already getting an idea of the scope. I haven’t even started the gig, but it was announced a week ago and already my email inbox, and my inbox at the station, are being pummelled. The volume is something else.

So before all that begins, broadly speaking, what will your legacy as Music Director of KCRW be marked by, and what will ensure the success of that legacy?

My legacy? I suppose I’d just like to build on everybody’s strengths, while continuing to stir in my own. I’ve also worked in commercial radio for 13 years, and I think that will help me in this role. But I’ll be hanging up my hat over at KROQ. No more Afterhours on Saturday nights.

Ah! That’s right. I didn’t even think of that.

Right. I do think that the commercial experience will really help me. I mean, you’re not going to be hearing me play, you know, Rihanna all of a sudden, but…

Just employing some of the best practices from the commercial world?

Best practices. I think we can get better at telling people when they need to be listening, especially for giveaways. I think there are some things we can do. And maybe even introducing some more pre-produced material. The perception is that what you’re hearing on the radio is live all the time, but there’s no reason we can’t do a lot of work in advance.

Right now the one “come back and listen later” prompt we consistently hear on KCRW (and particularly MBE) is obviously the famed “eleven o’clock hour,” that window of time when an artist or artists are coming into the studio (or you’re broadcasting a pre-recorded session of some sort). Are you going to keep this format intact, and if so, are you looking forward to mixing it up with all the artists in the studio?

I’m really looking forward to mixing it up with everybody. Definitely want to keep things all about the music, especially during the transition, but yeah, I’m looking forward to mixing it up.

Overall goals?

In terms of the shows themselves, I guess I’d like see things less rigid. Just build on people’s strengths and stir my own into the mix. Good example: We had a Femi Kuti project come in for a remix treatment, and we were actually able to turn around and make this project a sort of KCRW-stamped EP (bear with us – still digging around for release info – ed) where we had five different DJs mixing tunes. So we had Liza, the first time Liza has ventured into remixing, Garth, myself, Jeremy Sole, and Raul.

Team work.

Team work.

Before coming down here for coffee, I passed around the digital clipboard and solicited some questions from the editorial pool. I need to get a few of these off the list, if you don’t mind.

Oh no. Blogger wrath…

(1) Are you considering Eric J. Lawrence for your morning Zoo crew? (source: Ron)

(Laughs) Absolutely. Love what Eric’s doing, and want to see more of it. Whether it’s showing up and just playing whatever happens to be going on at the time…(goes on to further mention reference to video podcasts, freedom of choice and loose show structure) … I’m looking forward to it. I really am.

So he’s in. You guys will be, like, doing telephone shenanigans or something during drive time.

He’ll have the bell.

(2) Will you still take requests? If so, my friend Jeannette is dying to hear “I Can Never Be Your Woman” by White Town…
(!? what in the…) (source: Jeannette)

By who?

(Passively racking brain. What did Jeannette say? “What is Brentwood? White Town!”)
(Quizzically) White Town?

I think I remember that (laughs). Email your requests. Email is open.

I think that is a perfect answer for Jeannette in this situation. But (3) consider now, if you will, the California DJ. What makes a DJ from California different from anyplace else – if anything? Say if there were to be a California DJ Competency Exam, what might the criteria be? Run with it. (source: DeMarco)

I think, generally speaking, you get a real sense of west coast open-mindedness out here. Often DJs tend to be very specialized, playing in or to a certain niche. Obviously that’s not a bad thing. But I’d use words like open-mindedness and eclecticism to describe the California DJ.

(4) I was at the Hyatt for the official Obama victory party on election night. From the point when the 150 dancers took it upon themselves to storm the stage at the beginning of your set, to the moment the set was stopped and the people were all chastized by the Fire Marshall, at any time did you actually consider the possibility that what began as a celebratory, magical night, might end in tragedy or disaster? (source: Victor/Ryan)

Ha. No. I actually didn’t want them to get shut down, I don’t think they were going to do anything crazy. I mean, I came on the stage after Z Trip, who’s basically giving them every possible greatest hit, one after another after another. Then I come on. Talk about an anti-climactic set! I would have let them keep dancing on stage if that’s what they felt at the time. I don’t think they were going to go mob crazy.

Restrained mayhem. Sort of like a Girl Talk show.

Exactly! I wouldn’t have minded keeping that energy level.

The energy in the room was great.

It definitely was.

So now we’ll all be scrutinizing the first 100 days of the Obama presidency. And then locally, we’ll be looking and listening to the first 100 days of Jason’s Music Director tenure at KCRW.

Exactly. It’s fun. I actually have friends that were saying, “First the election, now this!” Just in time for 90-degree November days and ash-choked skies…

You do get to enjoy a sort of unique synergy, though. Like you’re on a 10-speed team with Obama and you’re drafting, Obama’s blocking air for you. I mean, it’s not like you just got this title, say, right after Bush managed to steal an election. People are all about “Change.” It’s exciting!

It’s true.

I think we’re through with the digital clipboard questions, so let’s talk about coffee for five seconds and wrap this up. You chose Groundworks. Do you live nearby?

About a mile away.

This is such a great neighborhood, I used to live down here.

There’s a shirt they sell down on the boardwalk that reads,

Where Art And Crime Meet

Especially Oakwood, right here. You gotta love it, though. So what is it that brings you in to Groundworks compared to all the other offerings?

It’s a potent brew. (Once more in perfect Jason Bentley Metropolis Voice) …A Potent Brew…perhaps the KCRW of coffee houses.

Oh, they’re going to like you for that.

I should probably also mention they are a Fringe Benefits Provider.

Ten, fifteen years down the road. You have five kids and you’re going to branch out into two online ventures. It is time to pass the torch. Your legacy as Music Director has come to an end. What do you play as your last song? It has come down to this, finally, following song upon song, the years having flown by seemingly at a rate of 160bpm, song over song, seasons changing, your hair goes salt-and-pepper, beat laid upon neverending matched beat, songs stacked on top of songs and then at the end of it all, your final song is:

(Thinks long and hard)

It’s a Daft Punk white label that nobody has ever heard before, anywhere…

Final song. I’ll go with “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno. You’ve probably heard it in various movie credits.

(Resisting serious urge to slap Bentley on back triumphantly) I have no choice but to commend that choice. I’ll shake hands on that one. Any guesses as to what Nic’s going to be doing in his Sunday night slot?

What Nic’s going to be doing? I honestly don’t know yet. The man can put together a great radio show. I’ll look forward to tuning in and seeing what he’s up to.

Thanks Jason. Good luck! We’ll be listening.

Jason Bentley is KCRW’s music director and host of Morning Becomes Eclectic. Jason began as a phone volunteer in the main office of KCRW in July of 1988 before heading off to college on the East Coast for a few years and then returning to attend Loyola Marymount University and DJ at the college station KXLU. He was recruited by former KCRW Music Director Chris Douridas after a softball game between the two stations in 1991 and he took to the airwaves starting in the summer of 1992. (KCRW bio)