Fireside Chat

John Cale

60 minsFirst aired 2 May 2019
Nara Hernandez

The eternal avant-gardist and rock & roll provocateur charts a course from the Velvet Underground to experimental composition.

Although John Cale is likely best known as a founding member of the Velvet Underground, Cale actually left the group in 1968, and has spent the next four-plus decades composing music, producing records, collaborating with artists from across the stylistic spectrum and consistently pushing boundaries. A classically trained musician born and raised in Wales, he played viola – amongst several other instruments – and eventually earned a scholarship to study music in the United States. Moving to New York City in 1963, he quickly entered the city’s avant-garde circuit, performing alongside heavyweights like John Cage and La Monte Young before linking up with Lou Reed and starting the Velvet Underground in 1964. The creative tension between the two was said to be the driving force behind the band’s seminal first two albums, The Velvet Underground & Nico and White Light/White Heat, with Cale providing many of those records’ more experimental flourishes. Over time, however, these impulses rubbed Reed the wrong way, and Cale was forced out of the group in 1968. In the years that followed, he began his long career as a solo artist, alternately offering up efforts that were both wildly experimental and more traditionally song based. Collaboration was a regular part of his work, as he teamed up with artists like Terry Riley, Brian Eno and Nick Drake, not to mention his later output with acts like LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective. He also worked as a producer, stepping behind the boards for albums from Nico, the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Squeeze, Happy Mondays, Siouxsie and the Banshees and countless others. Throughout it all, Cale has become known as arguably one of the most important figures in underground rock & roll history, particularly in relation to proto-punk, punk and new wave. That being said, he’s also delved into drone, experimental, classical, electronic and numerous other sounds along the way. In short, John Cale is one of those figures whose body of work can’t be neatly summed up in a simple phrase, or even a series of them, but there’s no question that his influence looms large over modern music history. In his Fireside Chat, Cale charts a course from the Velvet Underground to experimental composition.


Interview by Mark “Frosty” McNeill
Written and engineered by Frank Westerkamp and Marc Übel
Produced by Carmen Hofmann and Jordan Rothlein

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