Lorraine Petel’s Famous Last Words and the future of rock radio
Lorraine Petel has a deep background in music and radio, from early roots in the punk scene to developing content for Sonos, NTS radio and shesaid.so. Her work has helped to push rock music broadcasting to new levels, even winning her the admiration of punk legend Iggy Pop, leading to collaborations between the pair for Pop’s own BBC Radio 6 show.
With Petel’s latest radio show Famous Last Words, released by Sonos, she is diving even deeper into the punk world, helping to showcase rising artists who are pushing the genre forward. The second episode of Famous Last Words airs Nov. 9, building on the exciting work of the first episode.
Ahead of the show, we connected with Petel to talk about the project. During our conversation, she detailed her vision for the program and her goal of shining a spotlight on new bands. More than that, Petel revealed why she thinks supporting new punk artists is so important, why she’s excited for the future of radio and how she came to hang out with punk rock’s godfather in Miami.
I feel like your show has a strong angle to it in terms of what you play, but it's also subtle and easy to listen to. What is your vision for the project?
I've been in radio for 10 years now, and I grew up on punk the majority of my life. In the last few years, I really noticed there was a void in terms of any representation of a lot of new bands, especially within the rock world [and] alternative, indie and punk. John Peel was such an inspiration for me when I started radio to begin with. I was like, "We should bring back this modern-day John Peel because nobody really redid that." There are bits and pieces, but not like a full-fledged "Let's figure out your next new favorite band." I had this idea for a few years, and Sonos just came into my life.
My vision is to pretty much allow people to understand that there are a lot of bands still happening. There's still an underground, and there's a lot of cool people that are making a lot of cool things. I just don't think they're coming to as much a stage as they would have in the 2000s or the '90s. I just want people to recognize we still have a lot of people that are doing this thing, and you can find your new favorite band. Rock is not dead. It's just not, and I want them to connect with me on a personal level. I want them to be like, "OK, I can trust this person." I'm like their strange best friend that they don't really know. I just wanted to be a collective connective experience for people.
I want to follow up on your comment about rock not being dead. I think it's always crucial to be exploring where rock is at, just to make sure we don't ever let it become stale or overly nostalgic.
Definitely. We're not in an era that outer sources allow bands to really discover themselves. Giving them time, money and studio spaces to really hash out their sound, I don't remember who said this, but their point was, "I don't think we're at that point in time where the Who can go into the studio and recreate Tommy." We don't have that space anymore, and it sort of sucks. I love My Chemical Romance and Green Day, but at the same time, there's so many new things that we can give the stage to. While also never forgetting about My Chemical Romance or Green Day. The point is, there's other people that have been doing the cool thing, too.
That really fits with where a lot of us are at here at AP. We definitely want to keep covering bands we've loved for a while, but we're also focusing on our roots in covering new artists and giving them a platform. There's also the other side that I love about your show, which fits with my own interest in also digging into the deepest roots of punk. You have this great old-school sensibility, first wave, new wave, kind of thing.
I'm going to be a totally open book: Green Day and Lookout! Records changed my life. I think because I was so obsessed with Green Day and Lookout! Records, I wanted to see what they really listened to. It was like Operation Ivy obsessing about the Clash and Rancid being a lot of reggae. Moving forward, I really resonated with '80s sounds. It was such a cool time and just totally raw. It didn't have any pretentiousness about it. I also lived in London for years, and that really influenced me as well. It's like all the building blocks. I just try to find things that are just as raw and authentic as possible.
Radio is such an interesting business to think about shifts in technology and access, especially alongside the convo about how rock is shifting.
It's incredible. When I first started radio, like [in] 2011, it was really nerdy. We're dealing with a lot of wires, really dusty records. A few years later, it blew up for some reason. So many internet radio stations popped up. Then, all of a sudden, everybody wanted to be in radio. Artists wanted a radio show, DJs wanted a radio show. It's really exciting but oversaturated at the same time. Everybody can create a radio station now. It's really exciting to see people so enthralled with connecting with people on an audio platform. It's a really exciting time. People are obsessed with the audio platform, which I find truly interesting. I'm not sure how we got here, but it's pretty amazing.
Even though there is a very conventional path into professional radio, we're also in a very Wild West moment with everyone going out and starting podcasts and the like. It has a little bit of that "rip it up and start again" punk ethos.
Yeah, because a lot of traditional radio — like terrestrial radio — are grappling with the fact of "How do I move forward with this? What is archiving mean for us? Can you even archive?" Internet radio is just like, "We're archiving and putting the tracklist up!" It is a bit of a Wild West. Who survives? Who doesn't? What is that going to look like?
Given all the shifts happening around us, how are you discovering music? Is it mostly through word-of-mouth, online or what?
I've been so invested in different parts of the scene all over the world. I have a lot of friends that run independent record labels and send me stuff. I really dove into what they're releasing or championing. Outside of that, I really am just on the lookout constantly, like through Bandcamp. Anything that comes out at me, it's like, "Is this something that I hold value to? Is it missing the mark?" It's a lot of digging. It's a lot of talking and emailing people.
Well, your deep research is really audible on your show. Of course, it's also made for an interesting connection with Iggy Pop. How did you link up with him?
Oh, my God, it's like Uncle Iggy at this point! It's a funny story. I started NTS back in 2016. It was just a show about and still is about what's going on in punk. Ben Ratliff, who was this New York Times writer that mainly focus on jazz, loves NTS. He found my show because I did — I'm so embarrassed about this show, my second show ever. I was living in London, and it was the morning Trump got elected. My show is that day, and I'm just like, "I can't just like go on and pretend this is fine." Ben tapped into that and sent it off to Iggy.
A few months later in 2017, I got a Facebook message from Adam [Dineen], Iggy's producer, saying that Iggy namedropped me and my NTS show. A few months later, I went back home to Miami, and Iggy's lived in Miami since the early '90s. I was with family, friends, and they're just like, "You should email Adam and see if he can hook you up!" So I did it. I was like "YOLO, let's see what happens" Then Adam put me in touch with Henry [McGroggan], his manager, and then Henry emailed Iggy.
All of a sudden, Iggy emailed me personally. [He] asked me "What new bands are you listening to?" I sent him off two records. He emailed me back right away, and he's like "Come to my studio in Coral Gables this time in this day, and we'll hang out." So I went, and it was fucking amazing and incredible! Ever since that, we hung out, just talked about shit. We recorded two BBC 6 shows. After that, he was just like, "Would you be cool if you helped me out and sent me new bands that are coming out that you think are notable?" He's genuinely so fucking interested in what's happening in the world, and it warms my heart. He could have definitely checked out, but he's still invested in the scene. He also is invested in younger people. I have so much respect for that man!
Episode two will be airing on Nov. 9. What should we expect from that one?
It starts off with post-punk dream pop goes into some Marked Men/Radioactivity vibe, goes into some hardcore and ends with a little bit of post-punk dream pop again. It's all really exciting new things. A big thing of mine with radio is that I want to make sure that the programming is not kitchen sinky at all. It actually weaves and flows. There's a direct line, no matter how small or big, that takes you on a musical journey. "How did we get from point A to point B?" I don't know, but it sounded great!