Back when Landon O’Brien, Dave Culpepper, and T.J. Lemanski worked as security guards at the Blanton Museum of Art, walking the galleries on a seemingly infinite loop, they would constantly hunt for audio content to fill their days. As a result, they ended up listening to a lot of podcasts—and there are quite a few out there. We discussed cooking podcasts, gardening podcasts, wrestling podcasts, podcasts of people playing Dungeons and Dragons… The list goes on and on. “We were intrigued by the form,” says Lemanski.
And so Free Beer, your local Austin contemporary arts podcast, was born after artists O’Brien, Culpepper, and Lemanski teamed up with friend and fellow artist Nate Ellefson. So far (and we’re only three in as of this publication) each monthly episode has revolved around an interview with a single artist. The Austin-based podcast has already reached listeners in China, Ireland, Brazil, and even (wait for it) Nebraska.
Audio is “just another way to interact with something,” Culpepper says.
An understandable but significant mistake listeners inevitably make going into Free Beer is expecting it to match preconceived notions of podcasts as journalism. It’s tough not to with mega popular NPR podcasts such as This American Life and Serial, but podcast content ranges immensely, and the guys of Free Beer have no intentions of producing anything conventionally investigative or narrative.
While they’re wholeheartedly interested in learning something from the artists they interview, they aren’t interested in using the podcast format to simply present recordings of questions being answered. For them, the podcast is just another medium to explore. “The interview is important, but I feel like it’s more important to do something different with the interview,” Culpepper says, “like explor[ing] the interview a little further with how you can actually be a part of the practice.”
That’s what makes Free Beer interesting: its dual functions as both a conceptual sound project lacking any structure or formula and as Austin’s premiere contemporary arts podcast bringing with it the formality of Q&As with interesting people.
Although each Free Beer episode thus far has revolved around an interview, the focus is on conversation. The hosts approach their guests as fellow artists and friends, not as journalists. “It’s not meant to be critical,” O’Brien says. “It’s more curatorial.” The first three episodes are very much about the naturally occurring casual banter, the given event taking place, and the sounds that result—whether simply the sounds of a question being answered or, for example, the sound of artist Sean Ripple‘s skateboard repeatedly slapping the concrete floor of a parking garage at Target, where he’s been doing his #TargetResidency. The latest episode with artist Erica Nix features a full 12 minutes of audio just from a group workout session. As though in further demonstration of the podcast as sound piece rather than hard journalism, that same episode ends with 10 minutes of the hosts reading every single West Austin Studio Tour participant’s name—all 200 of them.
Rebecca Marino is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. She also works as a visual artist and curator in Austin, TX. She often drinks free beer with the guys of Free Beer on the weekends.