Search The Line of Best Fit
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Yasi Salek Bandsplain 2022 Rick Rodney RRP Image Services RRP10341
Nine Songs
Yasi Salek

Yasi Salek, host of the Bandsplain podcast, talks Paul Bridgewater through the songs that soundtrack an angry adolescence and a life of loving music.

30 September 2022, 09:00 | Words by Paul Bridgewater

Bandsplain was one of the first podcasts take advantage of Spotify's native ability to embed full-length songs within an episode and it remains one of the few shows to do it well.

Doubling up as a deep-dive into the career of cult bands and iconic artists alongside a curated playlist to explain the hype, host Yasi Salek and her guests – who straddle the worlds of fan, journalist and podcaster - guide the listener through the careers of the obvious (Kate Bush, The Replacements, PJ Harvey) to the not so obvious (Dave Matthews Band, Insane Clown Posse).

Why does it work? Salek's enthusiasm is rooted in a no-bullshit approach to music appreciation that fundamentally understands fandom, and Bandsplain excels in unearthing the forgotten histories that have been buried by the way now we discover - and discuss – music. Fundamentally, Salek is kind to her subjects, restoring the colour and detail to their stories that's been lost

Yasi Salek Bandsplain 2022 Rick Rodney RRP Image Services RRP10168
Photo by Rick Rodney

“It’s about choosing bands that people have probably heard of, but maybe people don't know about them,” Salek tells me. “Or even if they do know them… well, a lot of people understand U2 is not a cult band – but I would argue that most of them only know three U2 songs. Everyone knows who Bono is, but a casual listener would be like, ‘Yeah, I know the uno, dos, tres catorce song…’ They don’t know the history, that they were a punk band to begin with.”

When I talk to Salek, Bandsplain is on hiatus but returns this week with a new home, as part of The Ringer network, kicking off with a two-parter on Smashing Pumpkins.

Choosing the songs that tell the story of her life has not been easy for Salek however: “I know you said that this is a feature you guys love to do,” she tells me pointedly, “but I can guarantee that it's harrowing for everyone who does it. It was absolutely harrowing for me, I stayed up nights, there's at least 50 other songs that I had to leave out of this list. And I'm sorry to those 50 songs, I love you as well.”

“Give it Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

YASI SALEK: In 1991 I was nine years old. I'll paint you a picture: I was being babysat by my family friend who was maybe 14 or 15. She definitely had her boyfriend over, using this opportunity to have some illicit comings and goings with her boyfriend Chuck. They were blasting Red Hot Chilli Peppers and they played “Give It Away”.

And in my entire young nine-year-old life I had never heard hard guitar rock music and I lost my mind. I was like “What is this? I fucking love this!” I was radicalised to hard guitar rock music from then on.

There's a particularly graphic rest-of-the-story that I will not tell, that involves a period and some handprints on a white shorts, and that’s also really tied in with me to the song.

BEST FIT: Nine is a very young age to get into a song – and a band – like this

What can I say? I was a very precocious child but I had older people around – like this girl that babysat – and I was just a lonely kid who was really into pop culture and I think I found the Red Hot Chilli Peppers so cool, their image, the art of the album, the videos. There was so much to take in. It’s kinda of like a flavoured JUUL, you know? They’re like “Oh now, we can't sell mango JUULs because it's an adult activity” but it's absolutely intriguing to children. I feel like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers is kind of like that: if you play for little kids, they love it. It has a thing that's very rhythmic and intriguing to children and their visuals are so bright and colourful and fun. I couldn't see why it connected with me at nine.

Were you the kind of teenager who was actively looking for people in particular who could help you get access to the music you were getting into?

Not on purpose. I was pretty shy, but I had some really important figures: a cousin who is ten years older than me and we were like best friends because I was a strange child and she was a strange adult. She was very cool and she had a very cool boyfriend and they taught me about the Pixies and Concrete Blonde and all this amazing music. And I had a friend in middle school whose cousin was a full on punk, with a subhumans patch, the mohawk. He put us onto all this punk music and would make tapes and stuff for us.

Those are probably the two most important older people, because I'm the oldest in my family and I didn't have a lot of friends.

“Violet” by Hole

BEST FIT: I’d remember that she wrote this after coming out of a relationship with Billy Corgan

I honestly didn't know that until like 20 years later either, but isn’t it great that the only thing she ever said about it was when she went on Jools Holland: "This is a song about a jerk. I hexed him, now he's losing his hair.”

It’s funny, because I just went on 60 Songs That Explain The 90s to talk about Hole so I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting them. I didn't include a Nirvana song because Hole was more important to me, but I did obviously find them by way of Nirvana. I was radicalised to hard rock by the Chili Peppers but then I heard Nirvana and I was like: "Oh my god!" I was so angry – such an unnecessarily angry 11-year-old child. And in Nirvana there was this expression of anger that I hadn't heard before – and then I got into Hole.

It was next-level mind opening because I’d never heard a woman being angry like that. As a young girl who had all these messy, complicated emotions, and all this rage, I had not seen the feminine rage expressed in that way. I also hadn't seen a woman who was essentially – at that point of their fame – a pop star, but had this volatile combination of strength, with her leg up on the monitor speakers – and such vulnerability, because the music is really sad as well as being really angry. I think it changed me forever. That album (Live Through This) was one of the most important ones of my life.

I find it’s something I listen to much more than Nirvana these days

It’s infinitely more listenable. I mean Nirvana is also really good, but it's just… this a perfect album from start to finish. There's not a skippable track. It's incredible how good that album is and it's distinctly Hole. It isn't the same as Nirvana, even though people wanted to say that. There’s all these stories about how when they were recording the album, Kurt would call the studio and be like: “You need to double her vocals.” And they were like, “No.”

“Unsatisfied” by The Replacements

It was so hard for me to pick the song from this album (Let it Be) because it was my gateway into The Replacements – again, thanks to Gina Arnold, because she talks about the The Replacements at length in that book. How else would an 11 or 12-year old know about The Replacements? They weren't super prominent in pop culture – maybe ever – but definitely not at that time. It’s not like they were on MTV.

I saved up my allowance money and went and bought Let it Be… it might have been a fluke accident that I chose that one – maybe I just liked the cover, or it was the only one they had at the record store. And it blew me the fuck away.

I had an argument with someone about this the other day, and they were like, “No!, Let It Be is not the one…" There’s always the Tim contingent, and Tim is an excellent album, but I think Let It Be has every part of The Replacements that I love, with a song like “Unsatisfied” which shows the brilliance of Paul Westerberg’s songwriting and is so emotionally wrenching but also so beautiful. But then it has “Tommy Got His Tonsils Out” which is just like punk kid fuckery. That intersection of The Replacements is what really spoke to me.

It's crazy, but a week later I went to a garage sale and they had a copy of Pleased To Meet Me on vinyl for a dollar, and I bought that because I had a little record player. Just great luck!

“#41” by Dave Matthews Band

I was already an angsty and uncomfortable teenager in high school and then I had to move away, to Singapore and start over again with no friends. I don't know why a side effect of that was that I got into this type of music that I would have never been into before… music that I also wouldn't publicly talk about, which was stuff like Dave Matthews Band and Counting Crows. It was sad and expressive in this way that I was going through.

I feel those kinds of bands express yearning really well, and yearning is just the flip side of anger. But this song? Listen, if I found this song today and there’s a fucking, you know three minute sax solo, would I be like fuck yes I want this? Probably not, but at the time I was super down for it. Now the sax solo comes on and I'm like hell yeah brother play that sax!

Grayson Haver Currin - who was my guest for the Bandsplain episode of this – did try to ruin it for me by explaining that the song was about their lawyer. That didn't work, I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, this is a love song and I don't care what anyone says!

Have there been any bands on the podcast that you’ve really had you mind changed about?

Yes, Insane Clown Posse. I was very struck by all this stuff that I didn't know about their philosophy. And honestly, what good people they are and what a community they have formed. It really made m re-contextualise that band.

I think I have a general goodwill towards all bands, simply for existing – it's kind of the premise of Bandsplain. And I think that even if it's not for me, I think it's very cool that they do their thing, that they exist and I love fandom. When I see these pure expressions of fandom for any band, I'm really touched by it.

“Summer Babe - Winter Version” by Pavement

Pavement’s probably one of my top five favourite bands of all time, but when I first heard them... I wasn't that I disliked them, but as a pre-teen it was a little over my head. I heard Pavement on that No Alternative compilation – ”Unseen Power of the Picket Fence" was on that – and I saw them play at Lollapalooza in ‘95 and I remember being like, "Cool, cool…" but I was there to see Hole, you know?

And then I was maybe 18 or 19 and I was working at a record store. I came back to Slanted and Enchanted and it blew my fucking mind. I think that there's music that you can access because you're so filled with all this emotion – like, I'm a teenager, and you need to express, and there’s Hole and Nirvana and all the stuff that I talked about before. But then there's this more nuanced, what I liked to call "This-isn't-the-life-you-promised-us music", you know, that kind of angst.

By the time I was an adult – because I was 18 or 19 – I was like, "What the fuck is this shit?" and that song and whole album really spoke to me. I have two Summer Babe tattoos, which seems excessive…

Did you see any of the reunion shows?

I did, I got to see them play at the Fonda. Oh, it was so good and I did cry. It's not a big deal – I've cried every time I’ve seen them. I saw them in 2010 at the Hollywood Bowl: I cried. I saw them at the Coachella they played: I cried. I'm a crier.

“Sodajerk” by Buffalo Tom

To this day, I'm obsessed with this song and I listen to it all the time. My So-Called Life was obviously my favourite show and this is on the soundtrack of that but they were also in an episode performing “Late at Night”, which is another great song.

I think I wanted to bring this up not just because I love this song, but because of the amount of little rabbit holes you open up through a soundtrack. The amount of discovery that came through this one song that I love that made me go by the soundtrack: Archers of Loaf, Juliana Hatfield, Afghan Whigs… these are not necessarily bands that might have been so available to me at that young of an age. I wasn't old enough to be at the cool record stores, reading the cool music magazine to know about Archers of Loaf, but I did because of the soundtrack And then I would go buy the album.

I mean, also Jared Leto singing “I Wanna Be Sedated” in his band The Frozen Embryos? That was really impactful for me. I already had the Ramonesmania double CD, which I swindled out of Columbia House. Did you guys have that? You pay one penny for 12 CDs? That that was a hugely important facet of my young life, because they didn't have any checks and balances here. They didn't ask for a credit card or for your social security number, so you could simply sign up, tape that penny on, keep changing your name or address and keep reaping the benefits of these twelve CDs. I had so many CDs from these people. I hope the statute of limitations is up on that, and they don't come after me.

BEST FIT: It’s a part of discovery music that I think’s been lost, the randomness of choosing a CD because you just liked the cover or the name sounded interesting.

Now, it’s all available, right? I remember buying The Feelies tape for $1 because it looks like the Weezer cover. I remember that's exactly why I bought it. And then realising there were all these other cool bands from the ‘70s. It didn’t really even occur to me, because we didn't have this catalogue of things to just type and flip through. How else would you know if you didn't open up these rabbit holes? But now everyone has access to everything, and maybe it makes discovery a little bit less satisfying.

“Carousel” by Blink 182

I'm from Torrance, California, which is in the South Bay of the greater Los Angeles area, right above Orange County in Long Beach. We have a great pop-punk and punk history and legacy: Black Flag is actually from nearby, Hermosa Beach. The Descendants are from Manhattan Beach. These are our people and punk was always really popular, and pop-punk in particular.

All this music I've talked about so far was either massive or it was basically non-existent anymore, but Blink 182 was my first favourite band that was active. I would go see them at all ages clubs, and it was so special. But you know, there wasn't really pop-punk yet at that point - there had been iterations but that kinda started the wave and, man I was obsessed. Cheshire Cat? Absolute fucking banger of an album. “M+Ms” My first song with my first boyfriend. Very special to this day.

“Sheela-Na-Gig” by PJ Harvey

One thing I find so rewarding about her as an artist is that I still find songs that I hear and see in a different light maybe years later – and “Sheela-Na-Gig” is one of them.

She makes such nuanced, incredibly intelligent music that’s also emotionally gut-punching, but specifically around what it means to be a woman in the world. We talked about this at length on the two episodes of Bandsplain with Ann Powers from NPR. But this song… I loved it back then, but now listening to it I’m blown away by what a combination of things it is. It's funny, but it's also super dark. It's upbeat and catchy, but it's angry. And it's really tackling this idea of feeling shame in the female body, which I think is an evergreen feeling for a lot of women.

I'm still blown away by how much I can peel back on all the songs of PJ Harvey years and years down the line.

“Super Saturated” By Drug Church

I just wanted it to be known that there’s still really fucking good music. There's still really good guitar rock music. And obviously, I am a sucker for ‘90s guitar rock in particular, because I think that whatever music you find when you're a teen – because you're an open wound of a person – is going to resonate with you the most and the longest. But there's still music today that hits me like that and this fucking amazing band Drug Church and “Supersaturated” is one of those songs.

I love really hooky music that is presented in a fucked up way, if that makes sense. There's just so much good guitar rock now and I am going make a little list for you. Feel free to stop me but there's so much… Joyce Manor, Soul Blind, Angel Dust, Young Guv… this Australian band Death Bells, they're amazing. Mannequin Pussy, Turnstile – obviously. Viagra Boys are so fucking good. There's this band called NIIS from LA that are so good. Sextile is amazing - this industrial band.

There's this new girl Blondshell who’s only put out one song but that one song is fucking incredible. Soccer Mommy. Hether Fortune is a genius. Guitar rock is not dead babe, it lives and I just want people to know!

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