Written by Maria Arroyo
“There’s no pie, and if there is, there’s enough for everyone!” Dan Drago – 25 O’Clock Podcast
These are the words Dan Drago uses to describe the community that is the Philadelphia music scene. I was a little nervous about the outcome, as this was my first podcast interview, but as it turns out when you have music in common, things become a little easier to talk about!
This time around, I got to interview Dan Drago, the creator of 25 O’Clock, who, at this time, self-claimed the title for the “Philly’s longest-running music podcast.” Well, at least we think since no one is coming out to challenge it.
25 O’Clock is all about friendly conversations with some of Philadelphia’s amazing creatives. Drago has interviewed different producers like Brian McTea, Michael Cumming, and Jesse Gimbel, musicians and songwriters like Brian Walker (A Day Without Love), Will Brown, Kate Dressed Up, and everyone in between that helps bring the Philadelphia music scene to life!
“I started [25 O’Clock] back in 2014. I had been in a band,” Drago begins. “I’ve lived in Philadelphia since like ’04, so I’ve been in this area for around 17 years. I played in a band called The Way Home, and we played all up and down the East Coast, we toured independently, put out a record, so I did the whole being in a band thing, you know, beating my head against that particular wall for a very long time. The thing is, you can write great songs, have a great band, have talent, a good fan base and you can do a lot of smart things… and it still doesn’t work. It’s like lightning in a bottle…
Around 2013, I decided I was done getting in a van, and I was done sort of sacrificing all those things about your life that you sacrifice while you’re trying to, you know, ‘make it,’ or whatever that means because we still aren’t quite sure, and for the first time in my life, I wasn’t touring. It was like almost getting a divorce or something.”
Drago explained that after this, he started to try and find a new way to be involved in the industry.
“I came from Philadelphia, and I used to listen to NPR programming and that was super engaging and I was really into it. I thought Terry [Gross] was phenomenal, and I realized how much I loved it. I started out with people I’ve known for years coming over and just talking, ya know, really low stakes. They’d come over and I’d have the mic on the kitchen table and we’d just talk. Then I had other people starting to reach out to me, like publicists and small labels, etc.
It just sort of happened organically. I just put one foot in front of the other so to speak, and looked up and said ‘huh, I have 20 episodes.’ next thing you know, you have a hundred! Who makes a hundred of anything?”
I then started to ask him about his monumental 200th episode with WXPNs Helen Leicht and his next steps to follow. “I think your episode after [Helen] led to the perfect segue for artists and people who are making an impact in the community,” I share, referring to his following episode with A Day Without Love’s Brian Walker.
For those of you who don’t know, A Day Without Love has been grinding in the Philadelphia music scene for a long time, and continues to share his story, promote his art and music, and continues to advocate for our community as a whole. Please show him some love here as he continues to make his voice heard!
“[Brian Walker] is a great guy to know and a great friend in the scene,” Drago shares. “He has really helped me shape how I go about thinking about access and the music world when I never thought of those things before. It’s good to have these people in your life with these perspectives., so you can dial in on that a lot more. I’m doing my part and I’m reaching out to as many different kinds of people, many different kinds of musicians and people who work in the community too.”
We shifted to talking about the effect this whole quarantine has had on his podcast, which is typically known for in-person conversations.
“Well, I wasn’t going to have people over because it wasn’t safe, and for a second, I thought about just cannonballing the whole thing, because I thought that so much of what I do relies on that intimacy that you get with just two or three people in the same room. I thought if I wasn’t doing the interviews, maybe I’m just doing playlists, or maybe I’m just playing the music of other people, but that didn’t feel quite as fulfilling.
So I took a couple of days, had some missteps, just technically figuring it out, figuring out the flow of how it’s gonna work now, you know, my face is here and their faces are in there, and I’m recording on my end and their recording on their end, etc. But once I got the technical hiccups down, it was better. I’m a trained audio engineer, but I’ve never worked in the streaming thing, so certain things have gotten a lot better and a lot easier for sure. Fortunately, the intimacy is still there, the connection is still there, and they didn’t have to be in the room. It was something that could be shared one way or the other.”
“Was there anything that became a little easier to deal with?” I asked him.
“Scheduling suddenly became a lot easier,” He shares. “They’re in their space and I’m in my space and we just click a button and go, we don’t have to worry about transportation or anything. I was also doing the podcasts bi-weekly from the start in 2014, so this helped me during quarantine to set a very attainable production schedule.”
Now for my more inquisitive questions. “Is there someone in the Philly area that you would want to interview either still here with us or gone, who would it be and why?”
“I mean, there are so many people that I still want to talk to and the great thing about the Philly music world is that regardless of success level perceived or otherwise, everyone’s pretty approachable,” Drago shares.
“I’ve met all kinds of interesting people in Philadelphia, and everyone’s super approachable, but in terms of who I would want to talk to? I think Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner, he’s an amazing steel player, he was in the band Marah and he’s just such a remarkable player and has been around for a long time. He might not be the biggest name to people outside of Philly, but if you’re in Philly, people know him. Helen Leicht was also a big gift. I wasn’t sure if she’d want to do it because sometimes people who spend a lot of time on that side of the mic, might not necessarily want to be on the other side of it.”
“Do you have a list of different people you want to interview that you can cross off after you’ve had that chance?” I ask him.
“I have a list I keep mentally of different people I think it’d be fun to interview,” Drago shares.
I tried to get a little more in terms of possible future interviews, but he played that pretty close to the chest, and so I guess it’ll be a surprise for everyone! I then asked him what he thought his podcast was doing for the music community of Philadelphia.
“If nothing else, I like to focus on DIY artists and people who aren’t necessarily looked at,” Drago reveals. “I like to shine the light on people who might not otherwise get the opportunity. The number of people that I’ve had on the show said afterward, ‘Wow, this is my first podcast interview’ which just goes to show that a lot of the perception we have of other people’s success is being made up in our heads. Back to Brian and the way he approaches things about accessibility and inequality, like these are stories are worth hearing.”
Drago also shares that one of the biggest points of his interviews is to find out the artists or bands’ earliest memories of music because it offers a perspective that others can relate to.
“My questions are always ‘Where are you from?” and “What are your early experiences with music?’ These are things you could never get in the press release or on someone’s Wikipedia page, etc. If I ask you those questions, we are gonna get into an area that’s gonna be fulfilling for the two of us to talk about and hopefully fulfilling for people to listen to.”
As always, I like to end my interviews by asking them what their biggest piece of advice would be to those reading this interview.
“Have something of value to offer,” Drago says. “When I started this show, I realized that I finally had a much more tangible thing to offer than I ever did being in a band, and so when I had something to offer, I felt good about asking things of other people, and I think it’s the most important thing for anyone going out into like any sort of creative endeavor is to have something to offer.
Always be community-minded and don’t just think about how you can benefit from the community, think about how everyone can benefit. I try to be too overly influenced by whatever might be popular at this exact moment, and I think I’m better for it. It’s clean production, good guests, meaningful conversations, and good music.”
Connect with Dan Drago