The internet is full of a lot of things. Every direction you turn, there are YouTube videos full of debauchery (among other shit), unsolicited social media opinions, and many other things floating around the world wide web. Within the realm of all that lies podcasts. In the last 10 years, podcasting has blown the fuck up. There are so many. With a quick Google or Spotify search, you can find whatever you are looking for, whether it’s murder, informational, comedy, or a self-help podcast. And that’s just four of what seems to be an ever-expanding list of categories. With a space that is becoming increasingly crowded, how do you set yourself apart from the rest? Well, the guys over at Wild Life podcast, Brandon and Dan, seem to have found a way to do that. We had a chance to talk with them in mid-April before the podcast officially launched (the first two episodes dropped May 15th). Our wide-ranging conversation covered many topics regarding the podcast, how it all started, what listeners can expect when they listen to it, and life in general. It was insightful, honest, and gave us a look into what they are creating.
Mick: Before we dive deep into the podcast, how does this all start? How did you two link up to put this together? How does the idea come together?
Brandon: Dan and I met freshman year of high school. We did not go to the same school, but we hung out at the same places. Maybe like 7th and 8th grade we got introduced to each other. High school we really started to hang out. One of my buddies talked to one of his buddies and wanted to start a band. The actual first time I met him I slept over at his house.
Mick: You said you started a band. What kind of music did you play?
Brandon: We did not even make music. At the time, it was like we are going to be in a band and Dan will be our keyboard/synth player. We were all like “Yeah dude that makes sense”.
Dan: I played piano a long time and am classically trained. I’m Asian so my Asian parents instilled that in me. We got together because we were interested in music. Different kinds of music.
Mick: I see, so did you talk to each other after graduation? Stay in contact after high school? You know how that goes.
Brandon: Dan and I stayed in semi contact. Dan will always be one of my best friends. If he were in town, he would hit me up. I went to school locally here in Chicago and Dan went to school in Colorado. I went to the Art institute of Illinois for audio production.
Mick: What about you Dan, where did you go to college?
Dan: Born and raised in Chicago. After high school, I moved to Colorado for 4 years and went to Colorado State University. I majored in megatronics engineering and had a minor in music. Megatronics engineering is pretty much a mix between electrical and mechanical. I hated it. Hated every single class I took. My heart was more into audio and music. I called my parents up one day and told them I hate what I am doing, hate the classes. It took a while to convince my parents this new path was the right one to take. I wanted to pursue audio production and figure out how people do it in the industry. Whether it’s music composition, sound design, or podcast editing, I wanted to learn it. I packed up all my shit, got a trailer, and moved to California. I went to school there and majored in digital audio technology. I learned to compose for film, compose in general, took some sound design courses, and learned to add sound to movies. I learned live sound production for bands. I graduated in 2017. My first job was a music teacher. It was contract work, was not stable, and my friends told me to apply for a company called Facebook. I applied, did not expect to get the job, but have worked there for two and a half years at this point. Besides the podcast, I co own a company back in Chicago where they curate DJ mixes for a fitness school. I still teach band and music lessons.
Mick: Sounds a lot better than megatronics engineering?!
Brandon: Yeah, I think it is ironic how we talked about being in a group of friends that liked music, were super passionate about it, and all that. Out of that friend group, 6/7 friends actually went to school for audio engineering/production or some other music centric degree. Which is interesting. The group that we were in was very music centric.
Dan: I switched to audio because nothing else really made sense in my life.
Mick: Sometimes, you need that change. Being forced into a path does not mean it is what you want to do.
Dan: I could make 6 figures easy and have a good job, but I would not be happy. It was breaking the boundaries my parents wanted me to be confined in.
Mick: Right, so what makes both of you want to start this podcast?
Brandon: Yeah, so I had a couple previous endeavors. I reached out to a couple friends, and nobody was passionate about what I was doing besides me. It was always a hard dynamic to work with. I really wanted to start a band or do this, but people are half into it. So, I had surgery last November 1st, which was the 10th anniversary of my dad passing away. It was supposed to be a routine surgery. And I have had some problems with my hearing. They said, “Oh you have a cholesteatoma, which is basically blocking you from hearing at this point. If it got bad enough, you could die from it.” I could feel myself start to have problems hearing, which is a problem for someone who is passionate about music and audio. Bad genetics. I went in for surgery and if they remove it, it could go from 40% hearing to 80%-95%. They put me to sleep, and I woke up discombobulated, dizzy, and could not focus. The infection had caused so much damage to my ear, nothing was salvageable in terms of what makes your ears work. Doctor told me that I would never hear from that ear again. Laid in bed and walked with the help of my wife for a week at least. My balance was completely thrown off. I was under a lot of drugs and as my ears started to heal, it felt like packing was in there. Now, my ear canal is gone between my ear and brain. So, I was laying there and thought about how bad this fucking sucks. There was a million times that I felt like shit about myself and cried alone. It came as a shock. It was a reality check. It was supposed to be 2 weeks of recovery time but ended up being a month and a half. My biggest hurdle was being in a place that is loud because you cannot triangulate where that sound is coming from. While dealing with all that and thinking about my past, I felt like I was a one-man army. I started to realize that is how I live my life. And I just got an idea for the podcast. I wanted to give a voice to the people who have been through some fucked up shit in their lives. And not only that but for people that may go through something similar in their lives too.
So, I was driving one day, came up with the idea, and called up Dan. Oddly enough, me and him were both on the way to pick up Taco Bell. We talked about it a little bit. Like I said before, I have had people who are half into something. Dan has been the only person that I ever worked with on a free creative level where he is pushing me. He will say, “You haven’t done this yet” and stuff like that. I would not want to do this podcast with anyone else I know.
Mick: You had surgery only 5 months ago? When you have surgery and are laid up in recovery, I know that gives you a lot of time to think. And it is like the wheels started turning. It helps to have someone push you, especially on something you are passionate about. It helps to have that not just with the podcast, but even with you trying to adjust to what life is like now after surgery. So, for you Dan, he comes up with this idea, but what is going on in your life at this point when he brings up this idea? He calls you, coincidentally you are ordering Taco Bell at the same time, but what makes you want to do this podcast when he brings up the idea?
Dan: Well, for me, Brandon called me in January, told me about his surgery, and everything that happened. I had no idea up until that point. He calls me and tells me this story. I’m just shocked because I work in audio for a living and if I lost my hearing in one of my ears, I could not do what I do anymore. My ears are my greatest asset. And I’ve treated my ears like shit over the years. Going to concerts being right next to the speaker blaring in my face-
Mick: As most music lovers do!
Dan: Right, you know what I am talking about. Now, when I go to shows, I wear protection because it is my greatest asset. Anyways, when he told me, I was dumbfounded. I never knew anyone in my life who went through that. He was telling me “How the fuck am I gonna live with myself? Nobody understands this as well as I do and I know there are people out there that have been through similar experiences, traumatic experiences. And I want to make those kinds of people feel like they matter, and they are not alone.” So, I thought the idea for a podcast was brilliant. Brandon told me he was going to put some paid ads on Craigslist and see if we get any bites. So, the first night he did, how many emails did you say you got Brandon?
Brandon: Yeah, I think the first time we put an ad out on Craigslist, in the first 10 minutes, we got 15 people that responded. The first wave of interviews that I did was 35-38 interviews, back-to-back. It was all from Craigslist. We were not putting it out into the world except through there, at least at first. For me, I wanted to prove to people that we can do this and that we are serious about it before we start to broadcast it. Even to family or close friends. So, everything was Craigslist and Reddit based at first.
Mick: Right, so when you interviewed these people, was it weird for you at first? Was it weird trying to connect, talk to strangers, and get things going? And to stay motivated after back-to-back interviews?
Brandon: I was super motivated at first. When I put that first Craigslist ad out, my wife was on a work trip to California. So, she did not even know I was doing this. I mentioned to her about the podcast, but it was one night while she was gone that I was like you know what I have a couple hours by myself, I’m going to put these ads out there. She came back home, and I told her “Just to let you know, every night of the week, from the time I get off of work until 11 at night, I had interviews with people.” She was like “What the fuck?” and pretty surprised. So, I went into it completely on the deep end. Going through interviews, like you mentioned before, you have to rifle through some stories and find what you are searching for in people.
The first interview I did that really affected me was this woman who was a part of a cult. Typically, my interviews were lasting 30 minutes to an hour but my interview with her lasted two and a half hours. And I remember after going back and listening to everything, I texted Dan and said “I’m not qualified to do this. Like, what am I doing? This story was so fucking tragic.”
Dan: Like imposter syndrome.
Brandon: Yeah exactly, it was very much like imposter syndrome hitting me at that point. You have this idea and it’s a cool idea. Then, you get these stories. For a brief moment, you disassociate yourself and look at them as podcast guests. But it really hit me even more after I did this interview with a woman who lost their child.
I thought about it like fuck we really have an incredible responsibility to these people who are sharing their stories with us right now. We cannot take this lightly. This isn’t Joe Rogan podcast or some frat boy podcast where you joke around. What these people are telling us, they are intimately letting us into their lives. They are sharing their deepest, darkest shit. Me & Dan both feel it: We bear a great responsibility to do right by the people that choose to be on this podcast.
Mick: You definitely do, no doubt. So, Dan, you are doing the editing of this podcast right? What’s your role?
Dan: Right, so Brandon does the interview portion of the podcast. Then, he does the initial editing. He obviously edits out his voice and his questions, so it is just them telling their story. So, you have to go through the whole recorded phone call and edit out the pieces. Now, that Brandon has done a bunch of interviews, he keeps editing in mind while doing the interview. If people start going off topic, that’s more shit that you deal with editing out. You need to keep the person on track. Going off what he said about how we bear a great responsibility to these people and their very intimate stories, that’s why we want the production of each episode to be flawless. We want full production for each episode and no bullshit, no half assing. After Brandon does his edits, he sends it to me. I bring the audio file to a fuller production. I edit it more, so it’s paced more naturally and in first person. From there, I set queue points throughout the story. You know, if somebody’s child is dying, I don’t want to play happy music, right?
Mick: Yup, you got to set that tone!
Dan: Right, so my job is to add in music behind it to give the mood more reinforcement. Even in your episode, when you told the part about the shootout, I put in gun sound effects into the background to put the listener more into the reality of what is going on.
Mick: That makes sense. So, Dan, you are editing these episodes. How does it make you feel while you do it? Brandon talked about how overwhelming it was after interviewing the girl who was in the cult. It has to be pretty heavy at times for you too.
Dan: I listen to every episode before I edit or start the music portion. And it’s pretty crazy listening to them. I had to reassure Brandon with “Yeah man we can do this. We do not have imposter syndrome. And this will be successful.” I want to pour my heart into this because for one it is a good idea. Plus, I have not really heard of someone doing something like this. And I want to make sure every single episode is flawless with production because if we put out a half assed episode, I won’t be happy with that. So, when I hear these stories and what people went through, yeah it is surprising. I grew up very fortunate with 2 parents who stayed married. Both are still alive. I grew up in an affluent family in a middle-class neighborhood. So, I did not have actual problems. Hearing these stories, it is not your reality, so you are just thinking “Holy shit, this stuff actually exists and happens to normal, everyday people.” You know? You do not need to turn on the newest Netflix special to find out something fucked up happened in the world. Everyday people can tell you these stories. It is interesting and as Brandon said, intimate. So, we have to make sure we do them justice.
Mick: Like you said, you do not have to turn on Netflix to see & hear what is going on.
Brandon: I think we walk a fine line between entertainment and being able to tell these people’s stories wrong. The entertainment portion is necessary for people to come in and want to hear these stories. All the production that we do on the backend takes a backseat to what these people are actually trying to tell us and trying to convey. I have done interviews where I thought this was heavy shit. I think that every one of our episodes ends with something that the listener can take away from it.
Your trauma does not have to run in parallel with someone else. You know, my dad never killed my grandma, or I was never held hostage in home and shot three times. At the end of story, when they talk about this is why I carry on or how they carried on, I’m able to take my own personal experiences and grow from that. Even though initially these stories are hard for me to listen to, as they are for anyone. Nobody wants to hear about somebody else struggling or in those situations but at the end of it, it is very therapeutic to hear how these people cope. I mean you are a guest on the podcast. How have you coped with the shit you have been through, you know? How do we deal with shit from the past and deal with our day to day? You do not have to have the same thing happen to you to take something positive from what that person is saying.
Dan: Right, we want the takeaways to be universal. For people listening to the mother who lost their child, maybe hug your kid a little tighter. For a person listening to the woman who grew up in the cult, maybe they call their parents and thank them for not being that fucked up. They can be thankful for the things that they do have. Listening to these people that have been through hell & back and knowing that these people have been able to deal with it in a positive way and that they can live their life with a positive future. That says a lot. That’s huge. That message is the most important driving factor at the end.
Brandon: It puts things in perspective. When you are driving down the road and think, “Fuck dude I’m going to be late to work because I am in traffic.” It’s really bullshit. It’s rough on all of us but someone has it rougher than you.
I remember when my dad first died it was super rough. I did not have a place to live and had a car I bought for $500 off one of my friends. So, I had no place to live, and my dad just died. It’s winter in Chicago. I was living in the backseat of my car at the time. I remember there was nights where I did not have money for gas. I would turn on my car, let it heat up enough to fall asleep, turn off my car, and be woken up a couple hours later because I was too cold. So, I had to turn on my car and heat it up again. It was a vicious cycle. I looked at my phone one night and this girl I knew from high school was on Facebook complaining about “How I did not know what to do, my life is in shambles, my boyfriend was fighting with me, I have a test at college tomorrow, and everything is just so bad in my life.” I remember thinking “Dude, what the fuck?” and typing up this long message on her Facebook post talking about my dad just died and I’m living in the backseat of my car. It was one of those points in my life I remember. I deleted that entire message and thought about how pain and trauma are all relative.
Mick: It hits people in different ways.
Brandon: Exactly, you can’t compare it to other people. You are given what you are given. And if you can deal with it then you can deal with it. And I’ll never forget that specific night.
Mick: You are right. Even you in some of your worst moments, you realized instead of firing off this message, you took a step back. You realized my shit is mine to deal with, my pain is my pain. What I’m going through, she might not be able to deal with. What she is going through, I might not be able to deal with or deal with it differently. But it’s like that’s her shit, her pain, and her trauma. And yours is yours. Both of you starting this kind of podcast is raw when you get to the meat of it. The editing you want to be flawless, but the stories are raw. And the lessons are universal. The stories are specific, but the lessons and takeaways are universal.
Brandon: I think it is raw, but it is in that person’s own voice and in the way they want to tell the story. I think we all listen to that Netflix series or murder show where you have a narrator in the background telling you and walking you through everything. But this allows those people to tell their story unaltered and in their own words.
Mick: Right, you talked about how stories have stuck with you. For each of you, what story has stuck with you the most or for a while at least?
Dan: So, I have heard four episodes because Brandon is still in the editing process for the others. Out of the four, the 2 that we are going to launch have. The one with you and the other with Samantha (girl who survived growing up in a cult).
Mick: So, what about Samantha’s stuck with you?
Dan: Haha well without ruining the episode, Samantha’s episode had murder within the family. I’m not close with a lot of my family. It’s not like something happened… unless something did, and I do not know about it. I do not visit my cousins or aunts often. It was just pretty much me, my sister, my mom, and my dad. We did everything together. So, to hear so and so killed so and so in my family, it’s like holy shit. It took me back. Then, yours was pretty rough to listen to. Just because I could not imagine of my buddies getting killed right in front of me. I do not know what I would do. You know Brandon is one of my best friends and if something happened to him like that, I would be fucked up for a long time from that. Those two definitely stuck out more than the puppet lady, right Brandon?
Brandon: Yeah, the puppet lady is a good one. It is a story that needs to be told. There’s a lesson behind it.
Dan: For sure and that helps with the podcast. It is not like we have one type of story that the podcast is based around. It can literally be about anything. Trauma comes in so many different forms.
Mick: Absolutely. People’s idea of trauma is really narrow sometimes. Hopefully with your podcast, people can realize that trauma isn’t just this or that.
Brandon: Yeah exactly. I think that’s kind of what Dan was talking about. The episode is with April. She wants to be a puppeteer, right? She’s really good at it. She’s passionate about it. And she meets this guy, but he is very anti her being able to pursue it as a career. He’s very emotionally and verbally abusive to her to the point where she stops working with the puppets and doing things that she likes to do. Eventually, she breaks that cycle. At the end of it, I did an outro about it. At first, I dismissed her too as “Oh, it’s a girl with puppets. That’s hilarious, let me interview her.” But you break that down and it’s like this person she was with did not support her dreams or aspirations. It does not matter what you want to be. If you are with someone who is emotionally abusive and not supportive of what you want to do or your dreams, it’s fucked up. And yes, this is the most exaggerated form of that. But it still holds true.
Dan: You know I wanted to be a big electronic music DJ that tours the world. And if I was with someone who did not support that dream, fuck them.
Brandon: There’s a lot of trauma and finding yourself in that story so it is really cool to hear that. There’s one we recorded that REALLY stuck with me. We can’t put it out though.
Mick: You can’t publish it?
Brandon: Yeah, the guy backed out and told us he does not want us to use this interview. Dan and I talked about it. Yes, you signed this sheet (Wild Life podcast contract) about your story. But this guy had been through enough. At the end of the day, I do not want to cause someone further pain, any more trauma, or anxiety about what they have been through. It’s another nice thing about me and Dan doing this as a passion project. It’s us. I do not have a boss to appease. So, we can make those kind of decisions.
The only interview I ever cried during is going to be the 3rd episode that comes out. It is a story of a girl named Aisha. She met this guy, he was the perfect guy, and they got married. She wanted kids really bad ever since she was a little girl. She gave birth prematurely to a baby and that baby ended up passing away. The way that she is able to deal with everything and her positivity along with the fact that 3 years after this happens, she wants to go on a podcast about it? To me, it’s super inspirational. It shows so much strength.
I think in society we do not talk enough about mothers having miscarriages or losing their baby right after they are born. Things that really affect the mother or the father. A lot of marriages fail statistically after that happens. We do not allow a space for people to say “It’s okay. There is nothing wrong with you.” Because moms take that shit personal and beat themselves up about it. That was one episode where we are going to do a lot of good putting that out into the world.
Mick: I agree with you on that. I think you putting that out there allows other women or mothers who may have gone through it to know they are not the only ones who have been through it. It does not always make you feel better but knowing that you are not as alone in your feelings, your shit, or your pain, it can be comfort to somebody.
Brandon: Yeah, that’s where the parallels show up between this and the passion for music. To be passionate about doing this is like when I would listen to music or try to write music right? I would listen to the lyrics, the emotion of that song, and the emotion of the instrumental. And it made me feel like “Holy shit, this guy knows what I am going through right now.” And again, it might not be a parallel situation. The guy wrote this song about his girlfriend breaking up with him but when I would listen to it, it was like it described how I felt when I lost my dad. I feel like that’s where the cross section happens.
Dan: It’s subjective.
Mick: You said you listen to music and get a feeling from it. With these stories, it evokes feelings, and you connect to it based on those shared feelings even when the situations that caused those feelings are different.
Brandon: Exactly, that’s what I want to get through to people on this podcast: Everybody is going through shit on a personal level. Whether you are sleeping in the back of a car or mad because your boyfriend is fighting with you, everybody is going through something. Everybody you meet is going through their own personal struggles.
Mick: Even the lady whose baby passed away, when people see her in public, they do not think about that when they look at her. It is not the first or a hundredth thing they think about when they see her. And unless she opened up about it, they will never find out. Like you said, everyone you walk by is dealing with something in their head, their heart, or whatever it may be.
Dan: You know Brandon is a father, so I am sure that story hit home for him even more.
Brandon: Well, I also knew her. My wife was pregnant at the same time she was pregnant. Their pregnancies overlapped. So, watching that and having that happen to her, it was like “what the fuck.” She was a friend of a friend and what happened to her stuck with me. Being able to hear what happened during that time detail by detail in that raw type of way, it was super impactful.
Mick: Now, is interviewing somebody that close to you weird? Did you have reservations?
Brandon: No, I did not have any reservations. As I said before, when I started this, I was doing interviews for two months straight. Doing 3 interviews a night every night of the week makes interviewing kind of monotonous for me. Those stories affected me, but it was still monotonous. The last interview I did during that time period was Aisha’s story. After her interview, I broke down to my wife and felt like I had just gone through an emotional rollercoaster those past 3 weeks.
Mick: Well, interviewing 30+ people over 3 weeks would make you feel like that.
Brandon: Yeah, you become numb to the tragedies and all of that. Her being the last person I interviewed made it all really hit me. I think it was because I knew her on a personal level. That is when it hit me like “Holy shit, I interviewed these people. But they are all people on the other end of that phone.”