The realest and most legit former MTV VJ this side of anywhere, Jim Shearer, took time in 2007 to sit down with The 120 Minutes Archive and answer questions straight from our contributors. Inside this compilation of his answers, you’ll find out what he had to say about a number of topics related to music and MTV.
Jim stopped by The 120 Minutes Archive in February to comment on the demise of his MTV2 series, Subterranean. In response, our contributors began to ask the following questions for him. Awesomely, he came back to answer everything.
Could you briefly describe the process of producing Subterranean?
Jim: Basically, we’d schedule a band to come in, write up questions (after doing a good amount of research and listening to their album), and then have a conversation with them when they arrived at the real and/or fake basements that we shot in. Following our interview is when the band would sit down and give additional commentary on their video playlist picks.
Was the show taped at a usual time, or whenever the guest could appear?
Jim: We shot the show at all times of the day. I remember we actually did a show with Kings of Leon late night under the Brooklyn Bridge (that was probably the latest it got, 10-11PMish). We also did a bunch in the morning 10-11AMish. When we taped in “real” basements, we had the ability to tape the show whenever. In the studio, we pretty much had a schedule to follow (we’d do Sub on a Wednesday or Friday).
Besides featuring artists who had currently released records, how were the guests determined?
Jim: Our guests for the most part were booked because they had something new out (video, album, DVD). We did have our occasional “friends to the indie cause” bookings like Fred Armisen, David Cross, and Sofia Copola.
Was it harder getting British artists than American artists on the show?
Jim: Nope. There was actually a long span (shooting wise) where we didn’t tape with an American artist. When one would finally come on, we’d say something like, “You’re the first person from the states we’ve spoken to in the last month-and-a-half.” Off camera we’d actually keep international tabs. There was one time I think we had two or three French guests on in a row.
Did some artists arrive “wasted”? I remember Anthony of Dirty Pretty Things seemed a little out of it during his segments.
Jim: We’ve had artists come in that seemed to be “wasted” on something. Whether that be alcohol, lack of sleep, or whatever, I don’t know. As for Anthony, that was kind of a crazy Subterranean. The reason I never interviewed them is because I had to catch a flight (for another MTV2 shoot).
I was running out of the studio, as they were coming in. Don’t know what Anthony’s status was on that day cause I was trying not to miss my flight.
What happened to the “fake basement” set? It had all those signatures from the bands that passed through. Are they going to auction it off, or put it in a vault somewhere for 100 years until it goes into an Indie Rock Museum?
Jim: Ah, the fake basement. A year or so into the “fake” basement I started bringing down permanent markers for the bands to sign the wall after their interviews. The wall boasted clearly legible (I’m a stickler for legibility) signatures from Beck, Sonic Youth, Robert Smith, The Flaming Lips, Bono from Coldplay (aka, Noel Gallagher), Death Cab For Cutie, Muse, Gnarls Barkley, Cat Power, and many more indie-minded luminaries. I found out they were getting rid of the fake basement the day I was leaving to go back to Pittsburgh for Christmas. If I knew earlier I would have arranged to save it, however, I couldn’t jam five walls of basement with me in my friend’s car.
It all happened a little too quickly. On the same afternoon I found out that we weren’t shooting with that set anymore, they threw it away (yes, in the garbage). One slab of wall was saved in the studio, which was later brought up to our office. However, we recently had to leave our office space, so that slab of wall is missing in action. As for the other pieces, I heard through the grapevine that someone came by with a pickup truck the next day and brought it back to his home. That’s the last I heard. So the “fake basement” is floating around somewhere in the greater NYC area. Sounds like a damn Indiana Jones movie, huh?
The evolution of music
What are your favorite bands/videos from 120 Minutes from back in the Kevin Seal/Dave Kendall era (the pre-Nirvana days)?
Jim: Wow, you’re taking it back to the old school! I started watching 120 Minutes sometime in 1993 (after the Dave Kendall era had ended). My parents actually didn’t allow me to watch MTV for the longest time, so I was probably three years into my secular music discovery phase around then.
Pre-Nirvana, I was actually very much into old-school hip-hop (Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run DMC, and Sir Mix-a-lot). To retroactively answer your question, The Cure is probably my favorite band from that period.
Do you miss the ’90s at all? Why did MTV focus so much on alternative rock back then? Was it just a trend that has now lost its popularity?
Jim: Yes, I do indeed miss the ’90s. Growing up in that era was like a little kid growing up in a candy store (so much good stuff to choose from). I think MTV focused on it, because they had no other choice. From Lollapalooza to Nirvana – everything felt so exciting and new at that time, it was just something MTV couldn’t afford to ignore. I don’t believe it was a trend.
The reason it died out is because everyone wanted to sound like everyone else, and before you knew it, you had watered-down versions or Nirvana and Pearl Jam – and record labels willing to sign them.
At what time period do you believe that alternative rock “went into a coma”? Would you say it was in 1998, when pop groups like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC threw MTV off its course?
Jim: I honestly think “Alternative Rock” went into a coma when bands like Creed and Matchbox 20 became popular. At least to me, these bands didn’t really represent anything. They lacked that “realness” of a Nirvana, Beck, Soundgarden, or Weezer.
Remember the kids who visited TRL and screamed into the camera when they got to announce a video? What would they think if they got to see themselves now?
Jim: Let’s walk through the scenario: Kid goes to TRL in the late ’90s and “woo-hoos” their guts out when a Britney video is announced.
The kid makes sure his or her best friend tapes it. Years later, the kid (now someone in their mid-20’s) goes to the back of their closet and pulls out an old dusty VHS tape. They pop it into their VCR to see what’s on it. Lo and behold it’s them screaming for “Crazy”. They do one of the following:
A. Chuckle. Cause c’mon, all of us were a little dumb when we were young, and besides, TV makes you do stupid things.
B. Looks around the room to make sure no one is watching, then promptly ejects said tape and deposits it in the nearest trash receptacle.
C. Is still so proud of the tape that he or she posts it on YouTube for all to see.
What are your opinions on what I like to call it the “generic era” of music right now, where bands continuously are making carbon copies of each other?
Jim: I think it’s always easy to say that music sucks. Mainstream-wise, the state of music right now doesn’t really excite me. However there’s always great bands out there, it just takes a little more work to find them, especially when the mainstream isn’t giving them the time of day.
The whole “emo” thing really annoys me. It’s very formulaic, with the whiny, melodic sing-song verse only to be countered by the gruff, Cookie Monster chorus. The tight-jeans, eyeliner, and parted-hair is also a bit played out. Don’t get me wrong, a band can wear whatever they want, but when you flip through an issue of AP and can’t tell one band from the next, it might be time for some bands to quit being followers and start being leaders. I just like when bands are unique.
Good call on the “generic era” of music. Think about it, we are in 2007 now, what will this decade be remembered for?
What’s Morrissey like? You had to have met him at some point.
Jim: Believe it or not, I have never met Morrissey. A couple of years ago, he was scheduled to be a guest on Subterranean to promote “You Are the Quarry.” Every week leading up to the show we held our breath. We were a bit worried, because it was not out-of-the-ordinary for a guest of that stature to cancel on us. A week before the show, we got word that he wasn’t coming in.
Which artists were particularly difficult to interview for you? I remember seeing BRMC come in and I was uncomfortable just watching it.
Jim: It’s funny that you remember the 120 Minutes BRMC interview, because I’ve always considered that my “welcome moment” to indie-minded music television. I believe (?) that was my second-ever 120 Minutes interview. My first was with Clinic, and though they weren’t super talkative they were actually quite charming.
BRMC proved to be a bit more difficult. It’s not that they were mean, but as a VJ-rookie I assumed when you asked someone a question they’d give you a pretty lengthy answer.
I was wrong.
I wasn’t prepared for the short answers they gave. Also, I was a bit thrown off cause they were more talkative before the cameras turned on. I also became a bit intimidated, and when that shows, you’re dead in the water.
Over the years, bands have been difficult, but I think I’ve become more adept at beating the answers out of them. The Horrors came in recently, and years ago their unwillingness to talk would have eaten me alive, however years of interviewing bands from all over the world (shy and dynamic alike), helped me get some decent answers out of them.
The majority of the artists that come in are easy to deal with, but there are a few that rub you the wrong way. For example, there was a certain British buzz band who came down to the basement that angered me, because they pretty much snickered at every question that came out of my mouth. The reason I got mad is because they were also doing it when the cameras were off.
However a band presents themself on TV is their business, and I’m totally down with it (even if it means crossing me). However, if you don’t treat someone with mutual respect off camera, that’s just not practicing good people skills.
I’ll keep the bandname secret ’cause one day (when the time is right) I’m going to challenge them to a steel-cage-handicap match, with all proceeds going to charity.
I will win.
The 120 Minutes Archive contributors asked Jim Shearer these questions during the months of February and March 2007.