Podcasts are in tune with the democratized spirit of Internet media; anyone with a microphone and a computer can offer listeners unlimited hours of recordings, usually for free. Limited only by their imaginations, podcasters have a freedom of expression unrestricted by commerce, censorship or geography. Several great podcasts have blossomed in Denver's flourishing arts community; here to celebrate them is Podcast Profiles, a series documenting the efforts of local podcasters and spotlighting the peculiar personalities behind them.
A wide-reaching compendium of local musicians, comedians, storytellers, and other artsy types, the Denver Orbit podcast offers listeners a wide-ranging audio sampling of Denver's thriving arts community, carefully curated by producer Josh Mattison, who co-hosts the show with his friend Ryan Connell. Mattison, a multi-hyphenate local creative who also co-hosts and produces the nostalgia-challenging film podcast The Revisitors and runs design and layout at Birdy magazine, wanted to put a spotlight on the work of his talented peers, so he opened the doors to anyone interested in contributing their songs, stories, jokes, or any other audio segments to the show. Denver Orbit premiered on July 25, 2017, and is currently only seven episodes deep, so it'll be easy for uninitiated listeners to catch up. A devoted fan of podcasts and their public-radio predecessors, Mattison has big ambitions for the show and unshakeable faith in the skills of Denver-based artists. Westword caught up with Mattison to discuss the ideal entry points for new listeners, as well as his plans for live shows and dream collaborators for the future.
Westword: What drove you to create the show, and how did you foster it from an idea into bi-monthly productions?
Josh Mattison: I first heard This American Life in the late ’90s and saw it was possible to make interesting and challenging radio that was even a little cinematic. However, I didn't actually know how I would even begin do something like that, so I worked within the visual medium, with graphic design, instead. Years later, a friend of mine asked me to co-host a podcast with him called Bad or Not Bad, and I saw that entering into the audio field was not only possible, but something I could do. I began a podcast called The Revisitors with my good friend Patrick Brown — which I'm still doing — and realized I wanted to do something a little more produced, focusing less on two guys chatting and more on the creative community as a whole. Another friend, Ryan Connell, and I batted around the idea of doing a Radiolab-style documentary show about weird figures and events in history. After doing a proof-of-concept episode, we quickly understood that the amount of research and effort going into a show like Radiolab was enormous and that we were missing out on bringing others into the podcast. At the same time, I had been toying around with collecting stories and weird audio things from people I know. For some reason, it took a few months of that before I realized I could just start another podcast, and here we are.
You brought you co-host on board in the second episode. What do you think are the advantages of having a co-host in general, and what do you think Ryan Connell specifically brings to the show?
Ryan and I have known each other for years. He and I talked a lot about producing a podcast and eventually did, but when we saw the challenges of doing a long-form documentary series, we kind of stalled out. After doing the first episode of Denver Orbit, I sort of slapped myself on the forehead and just asked him to work on Denver Orbit with me instead. It's good to have someone else to play off of creatively so the format of the show doesn't get stale. But more than that, Ryan isn't just the co-host, he also is the better writer and researcher by far. My strengths are in production, editing and sound design. So having him work on the show frees me up to make it sound good.
So far you're only seven episodes deep — so it'll be fairly easy for uninitiated listeners to catch up — but what would you say is the best episode for anyone trying to get into the podcast?
One great aspect of the podcast is the wide variety of content in terms of types of stories, formats (poems, advice, oral storytelling) and music. I would check out episode 4 as a great entry point. There is a short story of a girl on a bus who imagines the life beyond that confined space for a fellow passenger, which I think we have all done at some point. The song by Rabbit Is a Sphere is excellent and done by some dear friends of mine, and I think the first part of our story, with Mike Flaherty, is a great exploration of identity and perspective.
How do the submissions break down, content-wise? Are you getting more of one kind than another? For instance, are you getting more songs or stories?
We've only begun to receive submissions, and I would say they are mostly songs and poems. We are looking for all types of content and would encourage people to submit finished work as well as ideas for interviews and short stories that could be read. We encourage people to submit anything they are passionate about, and we will meet them where they are, whether it is just playing what is submitted or working together to translate the piece into a format suitable for the podcast. I believe we have only begun to get work from all of the talented people in Denver, and are excited to have this platform as a showcase for the great creative work in Denver.
I've been noticing that more and more podcasters have been pooling their resources and talents together to improve each other's shows. Who are some local producers who've helped contribute to your podcast?
I've been having some really interesting conversations lately with local artists of all kinds. Daniel Ahrens (Discover Weakly) and I were talking recently about what a collaboration between our shows might look like. Also, the writers Amanda Eike Koehler (Suspect Press) and Alessandra Ragusin both have pieces coming out in October. We're excited to collaborate with just about anyone in the podcast community or in the creative community in general. Our show has a really open format, and so the more people we meet, the better.
If you could build a show based on an ideal sort of dream team of local creatives, who would you have?
We're already working with some incredibly talented and creative people but a dream team might look something like this: Ron Doyle from The Narrators is always doing something interesting; I'd love to work more with him on something. Mike King from Birdy magazine is a great musician, but he's also really creative and funny; I'd love to do more with him as well. I don't know Kitty Crimes personally, but she's one of Denver's most dynamic and creative musicians. I just recently went to the debut show of Queen City Companion, from Christie Buchele, and I'd love to work with her.
Also, which other Denver-based podcasts would you recommend our readers check out? Perhaps even someone who'd make a worthy subject for a podcast profile?
The Narrators, of course. Discover Weakly is great. Changing Denver. The Denver Podcast Network just started, and they have some other interesting shows outside of those two I just mentioned. I miss These Things Matter, but they have a huge back catalogue you can still listen to.
Have any of the submissions surprised you? Has recording this show altered how you regard the local creative community?
The way Amanda E.K., Bobbi Stark, Andrea Sanchez and Allessanda Ragusin read work (either their own and others') just blew me away. Being talented as writers and being able to speak with such a strong perspective in front of the mic is just really impressive. That makes me really excited about what's out there. I've been really checking out what's going on creatively in Denver recently and have met amazing people through such events as Warm Cookies of the Revolution and Queen City Companion. Denver is an amazing community, and I can't wait to reach out to more people and have them contact us as well. I challenge myself and others to think about how their work can translate to the medium, and I look forward to finding new and exciting ways to showcase what we are all doing in Denver.
Do you have any plans to adapt the podcast into a live format for the stage?
We are absolutely going to have a live show in the future. What that will look like at this point is not entirely clear yet. Our thinking is we'll probably have a local band, a comedian of some kind, and a storyteller or two. I'm a graphic designer in my day job (for Birdy magazine), and I'd like to put together some kind of visual element relevant to the stories and everything happening on stage as well. But we really are just at the planning stage.
Do you have anything else coming up that you want to mention before we wrap up the interview?
I think the most important thing to mention is that we are a community-driven show. As such, we are actively seeking submissions from people in Denver and, really, the rest of Colorado as well. This could be anything from a comedy bit to a poem, a serious journalism piece, personal essay, and especially music. We can even help record or shape a piece, too. So building a community is a huge part of what we are trying to accomplish with this show.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.