Did Jerry Lee Lewis kill his wife and get away with murder? Was the Church of Scientology involved in the death of Jeremy Blake, the artist who produced the cover of Beck’s Sea Change album and how did Sam Cooke and Sid Vicious really die? These are all stories from the first season of Disgraceland, a true crime podcast that looks at the deviant side of rock ‘n’ roll.
The podcast, which launched last month, was created by Boston musician Jake Brennan. Here, he talks to Deadline about its origins, the challenges of creating compelling audio stories and plans to turn the project into a bigger, possibly scripted, play.
Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, Sid Vicious and the tale of satanic ritualism within the Norwegian black metal scene make up the first four episodes of Disgraceland with future episodes revolving around Van Morrison, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the Rolling Stones and James Brown.
“I didn’t want to do just another music podcast and I don’t think there’s a lot of great music podcasts,” he tells Deadline. “The best podcasts are all about telling stories. I knew a lot about the general aspects of these stories from being a music fan – I first read the Jerry Lee Lewis story in Rolling Stone magazine when I was 15 – but the details come from research. It’s the details that interest me and I try and hone in on the characters. I try to do stories that people know and some they don’t, like the Norwegian black metal episode.”
Brennan, who got his first kick of rock n roll when he saw his dad’s band open for the Ramones when he was ten, previously produced audio projects featured in network television shows, broadcast commercials and feature films but podcasting saved him from the world of advertising where he previously worked as a creative director.
However, he says the feeling behind Disgraceland comes from being a kid in a punk rock band – Cast Iron Hike, who were signed to Victory Records.
“The types of writers I like are Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King and James Ellroy, they are very simple writers, very conversational. But everything I learned to do from a production and presentation stand point comes from my background in the hardcore scene, using your limitations as strengths and pulling things off. Being in a band gave me an education of how to get shit done. It’s a whole independent world with a support system to be able to do things on your own,” he added. He produces the episodes from his own studio. “I have a little studio in an old massage parlor that was broken up for giving hand jobs and I pieced it together with some instruments to do the music and bought a nice microphone and that was it.”
Season two of the podcast will launch in July and run through October; he is currently working on an episode about The Beatles’ John Lennon. “If I’m going to do something that’s such well-mined territory, I’m going to be looking for a unique hook to exploit. Everyone knows Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman and we know that Mark David Chapman was a sick bastard. I could tell that story the same way that a thousand people have done in documentaries or in books and movies but the interesting part of that story to me is the reason, because Mark David Chapman thought John Lennon was full of shit and if you look in the 1970s and as much as I love John Lennon, he was kind of full of shit.”
He hopes the podcast will run for a number of seasons and he has around 200 stories in various forms. “It’s a balance between finding the stories where the artist is the deviant and mixed with artists that were affected or party to a crime.”
Brennan, who is repped by UTA, has already been approached by producers keen to turn Disgraceland into a bigger project with television aspirations. “It’s humbling and mind-blowing the conversations that are going on with television and I’m trying to figure it out right now. I know how to make podcasts and I might have one chance to make a television show so I’m trying to do my due diligence so that I make the right choice before I agree to anything.”
The format would obviously work as a non-scripted documentary series, mining the same territory as A&E’s Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G. and Who Killed Tupac? or HBO’s The Defiant Ones. However, Brennan also mentions that it could work in a scripted format. “I have some pretty creative ways on how it would work in a scripted format. It’d be harder and more expensive but it could be pretty creatively compelling,” he added.
Given the success of podcasts over the last couple of years with the likes of Serial, Dirty John and Pod Save America, it’d be very surprising if Disgraceland didn’t also make the step up to an even bigger audience.