I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Jeremy Leonard, also known as DJ Spaceman Spiff, who was a WKNC DJ for seven years between 2008 and 2015. Jeremy fulfilled a variety of roles within his time at WKNC including Station Librarian and Daytime Assistant Music Director.
Within his time at NC State, he received his Bachelor of Architecture within the College of Design, receiving numerous awards and recognition. Jeremy later went on to receive his Master of Architecture from Yale University.
I met Jeremy last semester, who at the time was my architecture studio professor. Upon learning of his involvement with WKNC earlier this semester, it was only fitting to set up an interview.
I would like to highlight, there are very few students that have the opportunity to be involved with WKNC for such a long period of time, let alone the sheer drive and love for it.
It was clear in our interview that Jeremy has a profound passion for local and underexposed music, a love that was curated throughout his life and prospered within WKNC.
My discussion with him really opened my eyes to how passionate DJs can be about the music they put on the air. Radio is so much more than music– it is an outreach, a platform for underexposed music and a powerful form of self expression.
Our discussion also introduced me to some absolutely phenomenal bands. If you are interested in hearing some of DJ Spaceman Spiff’s picks, he created a playlist of some of his favorite and nostalgic tracks from his time at WKNC. You can find his playlist on Spotify.
Below are some of the highlights from our discussion.
How did you get involved with WKNC?
I grew up in Raleigh and went to high school in Garner. I used to listen to WKNC in high school and my older sister listened to it too. I very much looked up to my sister so I gravitated towards WKNC to be more like her in a way…. also the show The OC. My sister bought the show soundtrack which had some awesome indie rock songs featured on the show, and I was craving more of that style. I started listening to WKNC to find more bands that had that sound. I used to listen to WKNC on the way to my high school. My favorite DJ was Rochester, who had a show called “Carpooling with Rochester”. He had a great personality and played killer music.
I knew as soon as I became a NC State student I wanted to be a DJ. In my first week of school, I attended Welcome Week and signed up for a training session… DJ Sweet Annie Rich was my trainer. She had an Americana show but I ended up going the daytime rock route.
The coolest thing about WKNC is that they play everything. I’m not into Chainsaw Rock, but I love that they play metal and have a devoted audience. I wouldn’t have heard great electronic music if not for Afterhours.
Can you describe your involvement with WKNC? What year did you start and what roles did you fulfill in your time at the station?
I started in 2008 when I was a freshman. I graduated in 2013, but Jamie let me continue my show into 2015.
During my freshman year, I was the librarian and I helped organize the CD collection. I was also an assistant daytime music director for my first couple years at the station. In that role, I would review five to ten albums a week.
There is an unbelievable amount of music released every month.I had to open my mind and expand my taste so that I could be better at my job. Between me and the other music directors, we would select the songs that would be put into rotation–I wanted to make sure that our selections were catchy but also boundary-pushing. By reviewing so much music, I listened to albums I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Are there any artists or albums that you found during your time at WKNC that you still listen to? If not, what do you find yourself gravitating toward today?
I still listen to many of the albums I discovered at WKNC. There is this band called Royal Bangs, whose music is unbelievably rambunctious and infectious. Their second album, called “Let It Beep“, I thought was just f—ing awesome.
Another was Casiotone For The Painfully Alone. He makes these melancholy, two-minute pop songs built around warbly synths and lo-fi percussion. Throw Me The Statue and Portland Cello Project are two others that I particularly liked from my time reviewing albums.
All just really good music that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.
My musical interests are still focused around sad people with guitars, but I’m a musical omnivore, and listen to a little of everything. I listen to bluegrass and Robyn… I still love indie music and I love a good pop song.
What was the origin of your DJ name?
My DJ name was Spaceman Spiff, which is an alter-ego of Calvin from the comic Calvin and Hobbes. He would daydream being a lonely space explorer when he was supposed to be paying attention at school. I’d like to think my time as a DJ was my escape from the intensity of my college classes.
Are there any particular artists or songs that motivated you to join WKNC?
The station’s support of the Triangle’s music scene is what I found most appealing.
I remember being blown away when I heard Hammer No More The Fingers song “Vodka Grasshopper” on the airwaves. This was music you could only hear on WKNC–no one else was covering it, except for the Independent.
I also love Double Barrel Benefit. Max Indian’s set in 2010 was a major highlight for me. On their album, their songs sound lo-fi, but on stage, it sounded like blistering, stone cold classic rock. They’re a band that I think should have been huge.
Without WKNC’s guiding light, I never would have heard the album “Antarctica” by The Never. Their lush pop-rock soundtracked an exquisitely illustrated storybook by singer Noah Smith. WKNC is so important in my life for introducing me to this music and a multitude of phenomenal NC-based artists.
Given your experience as an Assistant Music Director and DJ, where do you recommend finding artists that don’t get a lot of exposure?
The radio, of course! I’m always jotting down songs that I liked on WKNC. I used to have a piece of paper in my car where I would log the times to look up when I got back to my computer, but now the station provides scrolling text that displays directly on my dashboard! .
When I was in high school my options to discover music were the radio or I would go to amazon.com and listen to 30 second clips of songs. This around 2004 to 2006 when I was first finding music on my own and platforms like Spotify were not around.
These days, YouTube and Spotify have good algorithms. If you listen to things a little off the radar they will feed you things similar to that. I know I’m praising the dark side. Although these platforms can be the enemies of smaller artists, they also provide a good platform to discover them.
In my experience, Bandcamp is the best platform for discovery. I’ll click around on people’s pages and find what they’re enthusiastic about.
One band that I found this way is default genders. They make really emotional synth pop music. Their album “Main Pop Girl 2019” is jaw-dropping. It was only after I heard that album that I realized I heard of them originally on WKNC, back when they made music as Elite Gymnastics Bandcamp + WKNC for the win.
How did WKNC benefit or influence your college career?
Finding all this new music was incredible, but I also became really good friends with my co-DJs. I had a show with my friend Kirsten (DJ Vice) and Justin (J Town) for a couple years called the “After School Special”, which usually was Wednesdays from 5 to 7pm. The three of us would push each other really well. We would bring in music the others didn’t know, and we would all bring different music together and suggest things that the others would like.
It was also nice to get out of the College of Design for a bit. I would go to the literal opposite side of campus and engage with the broader college. WKNC allowed me to get outside of the bubble. I love architecture but I love music just as much if not more. I would say more.
If you are interested in reading up more on Jeremy and his architectural work, you can explore his online portfolio. Beyond having a large array of musical knowledge and DJ experience, he has a stunning array of architectural work.
It was a treat to interview DJ Spaceman Spiff and get another perspective into the WKNC experience.
Stay tuned for more DJ interviews in the near future.