Paul Hanford is more than just a pillar in the Berlin musicscape, he’s a talented podcast host, renowned DJ, and recently published author. Through his podcast Lost and Sound, Hanford dissects and cozies up with some of music’s most interesting chefs and via his recent book, he peels back the underbelly of the city that played the backdrop for it all – Berlin. We sat down with Paul to discuss his nomadic style of interviewing, the freedom of podcasting, and his love affair with the mischievous capital that is Berlin.
Hi Paul! Please introduce yourself and your podcast to our readers.
Hello! My name’s Paul Hanford and I am the host of the Lost and Sound podcast.
And where would you like to grab coffee today?
Today we are going to get the U-Bahn to Boddinstrasse and get coffee at Isla.
You’re someone whose career has an extremely diverse relationship with sound. Taking things back to a young Paul, who you once described as “a weird kid who couldn’t express themselves in a recognized way to get ahead at school” born in Dorset, England. What sounds do you remember surrounding your childhood?
Paul’s Coffee Spot
Well, when I was eight, the exact amount of pocket money I would get would be the price of a seven-inch single, and every Saturday I would make my way to Woolworths and use it to buy a record. This would have been in the early to mid-eighties, so there were loads of really amazing pop music like Frank Goes to Hollywood, Musical Youth, and Culture Club clouding up the musicscape. It was the highlight of my week.
I remember having one of those crappy little suitcase-esque record players that exclusively played tracks either too fast or too slowly and emitted this burning smell. For example, whenever I hear Culture Club I would smell this salon-style burning scent and to this day I get a whiff of it if I hear them play.
That decade was a phenomenal era of music that was born out of the post-punk era and evolved into something equal parts colorful and political. At the time I didn’t realize how political the sounds I was consuming were, but now I look back and I feel so lucky and blessed to have been among them so young.
Do you recall any specific moments where you felt that the music you were listening to was explicitly political or do you exclusively look back retrospectively now and view it like that today?
I don’t think I realized at the time how influential that music was, but I was still conscious of how it was taking political situations and molding them with sounds. For example, I remember groups directly addressing the miners or Thatcher. I also recall the conversations that surrounded Boy George and his playful presentation of gender identity. However, I didn’t understand the significance of these topics or the impact they would have on mainstream culture or evolution going forward.
You began your podcast Lost and Sound after Brexit as a result of funding from the Council of England. Throughout your career, you’ve created and dissected music via a myriad of mediums. What appealed to you about using podcasting as your preferred one this time around?
Well, honestly, the independence. I’m not the biggest podcast listener, but as an interviewer, podcasting is a perfect playground. I enjoy not being bound and the format of podcasting enables me to relax and enjoy a conversation with my guests. The fact it doesn’t air live also empowers me to edit the conversations to bring out the best in them too just as a photographer would do with lighting or editing. It’s flexible and I enjoy the freedom that comes with it.
Paul on Podcasting
When it comes to selecting your interviewees you say that your prerequisite is that you have to have an “affinity” for each. Could you describe what this means to you?
Yeah, that’s my only absolute criteria. I really only speak to guests whose music I connect with in some way. I don’t have any interest in specifically sourcing conversations with people who are the next big thing when I personally don’t feel connected to their art.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting to have someone on who is doing incredibly well at that very moment, but it’s also equally exciting to have a conversation with someone who is just starting out or is reflecting back on their career from a distance. For me, it’s more about meeting my guests on the same sort of plane of appreciation and creativity, once we’re there, that’s when we can sit back and let the magic happen.
On that, one of the things that bolsters the relaxed atmosphere of Lost and Sound is the fact that your show is somewhat nomadic. You don’t have a set recording location. As the podcast’s captain, how do you view the inevitable hiccups that occur in these setups – as welcome imperfections or triggers of anxiety?
Well, I think I’ve been very lucky with the hiccups that have occurred in that they have either been very easy to edit out or become valuable parts of the content. For example, when I spoke to DJ Fuckoff, a group of men interrupted us and we had just been discussing misogyny and patriarchal systems in her industry. Though unfortunate, it felt hilariously ironic and became this kind of useful ‘here’s one I made earlier’ type moment.
As a host, I’m not perfect when it comes to levels or recording practices, but I am entirely focused on creating a safe atmosphere for my guests. When you are intent on that, you create this space where accidents don’t feel like mistakes, they feel like part of the journey, you know?
Totally. Now, I believe congratulations are in order because you’re a recently published author!
Your book Coming to Berlin chronicles the city as this powerful and beautiful thing, almost as if the city is your ex-lover. Now, having resided here for a number of years, do you still feel like the city holds the same magic?
This is such a good question and it’s something that pops up in my mind regularly. It’s funny that you compare my relationship with Berlin to a romance because the way in which it has evolved and grown has kind of mirrored a romantic trajectory in a sense. For example, there was the phase where I just fancied the pants of Berlin, but there have also been times when I felt I haven’t recognized it at all and other occasions when I felt like I was falling head over heels with it as if for the first time.
We Berliners tend to develop a bit of a love/hate attitude to the city once we’ve been here for a while. We hate it. We love it. We love to hate it. We slip into this routine of underappreciating or over-judging both it and its inhabitants, and while that in itself is a very Berlin thing to do, it’s also important to remember how hypocritical that action is when so many of us only moved here a number of years ago. We’d be crazy to not stop and appreciate it once in a while. I mean, it’s Berlin.
Today, what moments make you feel like a real Berliner?
That’s another great question. Nowadays when I see e-scooters or cyclists I get a jolt of anger, which is a real symptom of the Berlin Schnauze. I also sometimes feel this judgment against tourists when they’re moving too slowly or not at all which, as someone who has written a book from the perspective of an immigrant, I recognize is ridiculously hypocritical, but I truly believe in the Fran Lebowitz ideology of moving through a city with empathy and appreciation of your surroundings. When I notice people neglect to acknowledge those things in Berlin I feel annoyed. I want her to get the time of day that she deserves.
At your book launch, you spoke about experiencing imposter syndrome when writing your book, stating “every day I felt like I couldn’t do it”. Now that you have in fact done it, what do you think young Paul, the boy who struggled to stand in line with a monotonous educational system, think of the fact that his older self had written a book?
I mean, to be honest with you, the arrogant part of me would’ve been disappointed that I was only doing it now. Younger me would probably give myself a hard time for not having already written a book or directed a film or written an album in 14 years, however, current me feels proud of what I’ve accomplished.
Yesterday I was browsing a book store and not only did I come across some copies of my book, but I watched as a girl picked it up and read it. That moment, walking into a bookshop and seeing someone pick up my book, something I created, was something really special. Younger me would have liked that.
Paul’s Favourite Sound
I always finish these interviews by asking my guests to describe their favorite sound, so, Paul what is your favorite sound?
That’s such a hard question because I know that whatever I say, I’ll change my mind about it later, but if I had to choose I think I would go with a bass. I love hearing bass on really, really, really, really amazing speakers, you know? Like so good that they make it sound truly alive, like a fireplace.
We’re so used to hearing music on compressed MP3s but when you have the opportunity to listen to music on a powerful system that compels every element, it’s just incredible. It breathes new life into it and powers it like it’s a living organism. I mean, fuck. That’s definitely my favorite sound.