You know Brian Williams as the trusted, avuncular news anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, but did you know that he’s a hardcore indie-rock nerd, too? This week, Williams launched his new Web-only show BriTunes, where he’ll sit down semi-regularly to interview some of his favorite groups. In the debut show, he chatted up Rhode Island garage-rockers Deer Tick. The biggest surprise? The dude is as pro interviewing rock stars as he is, say, foreign dignitaries or presidents. So we called up Williams to chat about his new project.
What made you want to do a Web-only show about music?
I’m just like everybody else. I love music. If you ask my wife and kids, they don’t necessarily know the guy they see for a half-hour on the nightly news. They know me as a music freak. Electronics and the Internet has made it an incredible age for music. You can hear an emerging bar band from Moscow or an emerging bar band from Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Square or Red Hook — it’s all there.
Do you feel awkward as a serious news anchor interviewing musicians?
I’m sure all of it looks incredibly dilettantish but I hope these artists that I approach for interviews know that I’m a serious fan. It’s motivated by my absolute love of music.
How do you discover new music?
I always hit iTunes after midnight on Monday nights, when everything drops. I love the popularity bars. It’s like the Futures market! It’s fun. I also skitter around on the Web. I actually still read the reviews in Rolling Stone. The star system still has sway in our household.
Do you ever get to go out to see shows?
Not as much as I want. That’s what I don’t have, is a lot of elective time. I have four events this week after work, they’re all for charity ventures. In this line of work, that fills your time. I have a wife and two children and a house and a two-car garage and a dog. No one should fear me becoming a tragic hipster. I may be a hipster, but never tragic. I’m not going to bars in Brooklyn and drinking PBRs. I did that when I was 18. I was a fireman on the Jersey shore and I have a huge advantage because we stalked a new band then called Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Those were great days.
How many albums do you own?
Oh, jeez. My music library — albums are boxed up, like so many people. I flipped out for the CD era. My regular iPod carries 5,600. I carry a full library. I keep another current playlist that’s about 780 songs. I had an iPod Touch but I just got a Nano. The technology moves so fast that having a Touch these days is like having a toaster.
Your inaugural show features an interview with Deer Tick. How did you discover them?
My family and I go up to Rhode Island for a week in the summer and the Providence bar band community is really robust. If you ask them about their favorite groups, they pick Deer Tick. Their new album is really good. They have a nice song on there called “Houston, TX.” Their lead singer John McCauley credits the rasp in his voice to two packs [of cigarettes] a day. But, you know, whatever gets you through the night. He’s really good and his lyrics are really personal. If you listen to the lyrics on “Dirty Dishes” too closely, you’ll never leave your apartment. It’s pretty obvious that it’s about a breakup and a relationship gone bad. But it shouldn’t be listened to on any sort of medication. And I love their sound — there’s a little Dylan, a little Knopfler, a little Petty.
Any other recent discoveries?
Camera Obscura. Been around a long time. I love the new stuff. It’s a jaunty California sound by way of Europe. I last listened to it on Saturday afternoon as I was getting ready for the Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington. I had it on my iPod. It’s great to have on in the background. Ditto the Veils. I know they’re always on the brink, but I think the song “The House She Lived In” is a little gem.
When you go to a party, who controls what music’s playing?
I do the playlists at parties. Absolutely. Absolutely! And if I get invited somewhere, and if they’re good friends of ours, I bring the iPod. I pretty much insist on doing music for the event. I’m very much into playlists. My brother used to put tapes together for restaurants and he has one of the greatest LP collections I’ve ever seen. He was a Vietnam-era hippie. And he got me hooked onto music when I was young.
When you prepare your newscast, what do you listen to?
Something quick that gets your energy up. The other night, I was listening to Jay-Z’s “My First Song.” That was the last song I listened to before going on air. I was tempted to go on and say “Ch’boy!” but I didn’t. It was close.