YOU SAY YOU WANT A PODCAST REVOLUTION? by Donny Levit
Maplewood’s Mark Strigl interviews heavy metal heavyweights
On a snow-covered evening back in February, Mark Strigl is nestled in his Maplewood home as he chats it up with Paul Stanley of Kiss from the rocker’s decidedly snow-free climes of California. In non-COVID times, the two would probably be seated in a backstage dressing room at an arena before the band takes the stage to play “Detroit Rock City” or “Beth.” But for now, Strigl is making do with Zoom as he peppers “The Starchild” with questions about his new side project album, Philly soul, and Motown greats.
Stanley is one of many personalities whom Strigl has profiled over the past 15 years on Talking Metal (@talkingmetal), his music podcast featuring hard rockers and heavy metal icons.
Considering that podcasting was in its relatively nascent stages back in 2006, it’s fair to say that Strigl was on the cutting edge of what has now become a household term.
The history of podcasting dates as far back as the 1990s, when the term was sometimes referred to as audioblogging. But with the advent of portable media players such as the iPod, one could easily download an audio file and take it on the go. Today, podcast statistics are astounding.
According to an Edison Research/Nielsen report, as of January 2021, there are over 1.75 million podcasts available worldwide with over 43 million episodes.
Strigl’s passion for music began long before he launched his podcast. In addition to playing guitar in rock bands in New York City, he recorded numerous independent albums as a singer and songwriter. “My venture into TV was always from a love of music,” he says. “I was trying to get into working at MTV Networks. Once I was able to get in there in an entry level position, it became obvious that in order to have a career and move up in the company, I needed to learn about television production.” Fortunately, MTV Networks paid for Strigl to take video production courses at NYU. “I would say most of my training came from just being at MTV, learning about videotape, editing, producing, and how to tell a story,” he says.
Strigl would later move over to VH1 where he began working on a countdown show called “100 Greatest Metal Moments.” “I was writing and producing this show, which was perfect for me because I’d always had a love for loud rock and heavy metal music,” he says. “Towards the end of the production, it became apparent that there were holes in a lot of stories that needed to be told. My boss said I should get in front of the camera to help fill in the holes. That was the first time I really was broadcasting on air.”
As he started to become a recognized VH1 presence, the metal bloggers began to take note. “And they started writing things like, ‘Who is this guy and what makes him the metal expert?’ I took that criticism to heart and felt that I needed to prove myself,” he says.
Strigl recalls a 2004 keynote speech by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs about a technical innovation which would allow audio content to be downloaded onto an iPod. “I figured this would be an easy way to get my own audio show that would be like a radio show and it would give me some street cred,” he says. That’s when he enlisted his friend John “Ostronomy” Ostrosky to help write the code for an RSS feed that would distribute a program in the form of an MP3 audio file to subscribers.
“Back in those days, podcasting was the Wild West,” he says. “Nowadays, anyone can start a podcast, but it wasn’t that easy back in 2005. We wrote the code and figured out how to get what at that time was the iTunes platform to download the shows, just as they were setting up the podcasting section of iTunes.” Strigl estimates that there were only a few hundred podcasts on the iTunes platform at the time.
While Strigl was new to podcasting, he was able to quickly assemble a roster of impressive interviewees for his burgeoning Talking Metal show. “We were specifically covering loud rock, hard rock, and heavy metal,” he says. “We were able to start getting guests partly because there wasn’t any competition. Those bands weren’t very popular anymore. They weren’t in the mainstream anymore in 2005. Sirius XM wasn’t doing interviews with them. FM radio wasn’t doing interviews with them. Neither was MTV. So, I think we became this outlet where these rock stars of years past suddenly had a platform to come and talk, and it caught on pretty quick.”
Since the podcast launch, Strigl has racked up an impressive resume of musicians, including Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Ozzy Osbourne, Geddy Lee (Rush), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), and various band members from Metallica, Iron Maiden, Journey, and the Scorpions. He’s also conducted one-on-one interviews with many actors, including, Jessica Alba, Alan Cumming, and Sean Penn.
The podcast would lead to a show called Talking Metal on Fuse TV, where Strigl served as executive producer, creator, and host. But in the meantime, his interviews continued to pick up pace. And boy, does he have some great stories to tell.
“Some of the more exciting things have happened when we cover festivals,” he says. “They’ll fly us up to Heavy Montréal, which is a massive hard rock heavy metal festival. They’ll give us full access and we get our own golf cart and driver. We’re able to drive around this massive festival and have access to all these different bands.”
“We interviewed Slash in Los Angeles at a real famous rock ’n’ roll hangout called the Rainbow, which is right on the Sunset Strip,” he recalls. “Slash came in and he was wearing your basic regular T-shirt, and his hair was kind of messed up. He didn’t even really look like Slash. But then he ordered some pizzas and just before the interview he put on his sunglasses, top hat, and he put on his flannel, which had been folded up in his top hat. And then it was like, boom! Slash had arrived. It was really interesting that he was this kind of normal guy who just showed up. But once it was time for the interview, it was Slash the rock star.”
Nowadays, Strigl’s travelling interviews have ground to a halt. However, he does appreciate being close to home and enjoying his adopted town of Maplewood. Although he moved around a lot as a child, he lived in Morristown while he was in grade school. “I used to come to Maplewood for my tutor back during the early '80s,” he recalls. “I have vague memories of going into [my tutor’s house] in this town and there were all these beautiful houses and big trees here.”
In 2007, Strigl moved to Maplewood from Manhattan with his wife, Emily Strigl, who works at Johnson & Johnson as a clinical trial manager. The couple has two sons; 10-year-old Grant attends Jefferson Elementary School while Harrison, 12, goes to Maplewood Middle School. Their additional family members include Pearl, their golden retriever, as well as Otis, their pug dog.
Music has been the foundation for Mark and Emily since they met at the Continental, a now-defunct East Village club. “I remember our first date when I saw his record collection,” says Emily.
“It was all heavy metal – and I’m a big metalhead from back in the day. I grew up in the Midwest listening to Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. And so I found my match. I was in love instantaneously. I used to go to concerts by myself. And then we started going to concerts together.”
Decades later, the Strigls still regularly attend live shows and hope to return to doing so soon. “I think we’ve seen 200 or 300 concerts together since we started dating,” says Emily.
Even without live music, the Strigls are taking advantage of their lives in Maplewood. “Every Sunday night, we used to go as a family to the St. James's Gate for dinner. We miss the movie theaters in South Orange and Maplewood, but we’re still enjoying the parks. I love the South Mountain Reservation and was just up there walking my dogs this morning,” Strigl says. “This is such a unique place and we feel fortunate to be a part of a community that is so diverse, forward thinking, and open to different ideas.”
Although his Maplewood home is his primary recording studio, Strigl hopes he’ll be able to hit the road for an interview in the not-too-distant future. “I’m very anxious to get back to doing in-person interviews,” he says. “There’s an exciting connection that happens when you’re there personally. I love being backstage.”
Mark Strigl’s Talking Metal podcast can be accessed at talkingmetal.com or markstrigl.net.
Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his indie rock show Under the Influence and his jazz show Kind of Pool on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio and