Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Cheryl Waters

We talk tunes with the KEXP DJ and live-in-studio coordinator.

By Seth Sommerfeld May 16, 2012

KEXP DJ Cheryl Waters is one of the tastemakers defining the Seattle sound. She’s been a fixture at the public radio station for the past 18 years, and though she currently hosts the uber-popular “Midday Show,” her other KEXP gig might be more important. As the on-air events coordinator, she’s responsible for bringing in all the bands who perform live on KEXP (you know, those YouTube videos you blow off work to watch). This Friday KEXP’s Hood-to-Hood celebration hits Ballard with live on-air performances in Bergen Place Park by a great lineup of rock, indie, and alt-country acts curated by Waters: Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, The Maldives, My Goodness, Deep Sea Diver, and Ramona Falls.

We chatted with the veteran of the airwaves about what she looks for when bringing in artists to play KEXP and which up-and-coming Seattle bands she thinks could make it big.

What aspects of Hood-to-Hood are you looking forward to?

All the bands this year are local—one from Portland, the rest from Seattle. A number of the bands have new music out right now, so that makes it really interesting and relevant. The Maldives live shows are practically transcendent. You never know how many people will be on stage. There was a joke among my friends when they were starting out back in 2005 or 2006. We’d go to these shows at the Sunset and they could barely all fit on the stage and we’d be like, “It’s just nine really great-looking guys up there playing this great music.”

What do you look for in an act when you set up an on-air performance?

One of the things we like to do is feature up-and-coming bands—bands that resonate with our listeners, bands that we know they’ll get excited about. And they trust us to curate that music for them.

What new local artists excite you?

That’s one of the hardest questions for me to answer. It’s funny, you’ll run into someone—and of course I’m the perfect person to ask this of—but they’ll say, “What are you listening to right now?” And then I become a deer in the headlights. If I worked for a Top 40 radio station I would just say, “Oh, well I played this 100 times this week.” It would be at the top of my mind, but in any given week I’m playing hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of artists.

One of the bands I’m really excited about right now—I think they have so much talent—and I don’t know how huge, if they’re gonna be the next big Death Cab for Cutie, I don’t think so, but Absolute Monarchs is incredible.

What was your favorite live performance you’ve seen in the last year?

I just saw Father John Misty. He’s living in L.A. now, but we still consider him a local artist. I think he’s gonna be huge. I think he’s got the full package: His songs are great, his album’s great, but the live show is incredible. He’s really got some presence.

How are the plans for KEXP’s move to Seattle Center going?

We have signed a lease to be at the Seattle Center, so we’re in a multistage process right now where we’re assessing what our needs are. We are also in the early stages of fundraising. Being a nonprofit, of course, we have to do a capital campaign. So we’re at least a couple years away, but we’re really excited.

KEXP’s Hood-to-Hood 2012: Ballard Day
May 18, 10–6, Bergen Place Park, free

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