Denver musician and writer Andy Thomas has always loved hearing different accents while traveling. For him, the way people speak says a lot about where they are from.
“I’ve always been fascinated with not only the difference in where someone's from, but also the similarities we all have,” he says. “On a personal level, I just like hearing about people from different areas, and I like talking to people from different countries.”
He adds that right now in the United States, with so much xenophobia and fear out there, these types of conversations are even more important to have.
“There are just so many things that are beautiful about people in other countries that I hope more and more people can be aware of,” he says. “We've seen so many people who are just shut off and so terrified, and so kind of ignorant to other people outside of their world.”
In that spirit, Thomas, former Westword contributor and a member of Denver bands despAIR Jordan and Lost Walks, is launching My City, My Scene, a podcast in which he interviews people from different countries and talks about music in their area and beyond.
The podcast officially launches on April 6, but the show has already garnered some success, debuting in the top 100 music podcasts on iTunes.
My City, My Scene offers easily digestible thirty-minute bits in which guests dish on subjects such as Arabic music and its use of quarter tones (which can sound out of tune to Western ears), and how people in Ciudad Juárez have used electronic music to escape the cartel violence that has plagued the border city for years.
“It’s fun to learn about other people,” Thomas says. “It’s fun to learn about different places. I think the best way to tell these stories is through music. I’m a musician. We all like to talk about music with our friends. It says a lot about people when you can understand the type of music they are into.”
In each episode, he plays guests' favorite songs from their respective cities, something more current from that location, and a closing song that the interviewee likes from wherever and whenever.
The average listener may be hearing the local music for the first time, which makes listening to My City, My Scene an even richer experience.
“There are rock bands in all these countries, and electronic bands,” he says. “I’m not asking people to explain the traditional music in their countries. It’s just their experiences as an individual and what they're into.”
When he first envisioned a podcast, Thomas says, he was going to ask guests to play and talk about a certain kind of music, but a friend talked him out of that approach, and the podcast is better for it.
“He just said, ‘Why don’t you let them play what they want to play?'” Thomas recalls. “It was kind of an epiphany to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, we're just going to find these people, and they're going to talk about what they're going to talk about.'”
Thomas has interviewed people in Germany, Canada, Senegal, Japan and England. Some of the guests are people he’s met through his travels; others are friends of friends.
“That’s also cool to think about,” he says. “We're all probably one person away from knowing someone from a super unique part of the world, so I didn’t have to do a big blanket search for people. I just asked a couple people: ‘Do you know someone in Africa? Do you know someone in Syria?’”
The season finale deals with Taqwacore, a subgenre of punk made by Muslim youth that deals with Islam and its culture and interpretation. Thomas says the genre sprang up after the September 11 terrorist attacks and deals, in part, with the anger that people in that community feel for being vilified for their religion and Middle Eastern roots.
“The guy I interviewed was born and raised in Chicago, but his family is from Syria,” Thomas says. “Traditionally, we talk about the countries they're from, but this one has a different slant to it.”
The interviews were recorded last year, and Thomas notes that one of the unifying factors among guests was that everyone, no matter where they were from, was in quarantine because of the pandemic. They didn't talk about COVID-19 in any depth, but knowing everyone else was stuck inside to one degree or another made for an instant connection.
“How often are you able to call people from all over the world and have them be in the same situation as you?” Thomas muses. “It was kind of refreshing in a slightly sad kind of way.”