The archetype of the rock star biker is cool, but are they real? This one is. Meet singer songwriter Mark Kasprzyk, front man for alt rock band Redlight King. Kaz talks about how motorcycles fit into the life of a touring musician, why so many rockers ride, and the challenges and rewards of piloting a 1950 Harley Davidson Panhead with a suicide clutch in LA traffic. Not only is this wide-ranging interview one of the most fun yet, it also turns out that rock and roll might just have one more thing to teach us.

Show Notes

Mark Kasprzyk of Redlight King (Photo: Parts + Labor Records)

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To learn more about Redlight King, their web page is a great place to start. Follow Kaz on Instagram to get news on their upcoming album. He’s @redlightking. You might find his label, artist-led Parts + Labor Records interesting, too.

Here’s the video for Born to Rise, the one that sparked the idea for this episode.

This interview with Kaz provides some more background on how it came together. For information on the Unknown Industries crew, check out their web site. Indeed, they are now a more commercial venture than was the case when this video was shot, but, hey, everybody’s gotta make a living. And these guys can still make those Harleys dance.

In our conversation, we also talked about a track called ‘Old Man’, and Neil Young’s song by the same name. This was a huge hit for Redlight King, and I’m happy to report the story is true that Young himself approved sampling the original song when he heard what Kaz had in mind. I think it’s brilliant, and all the better for being so personal.

Here’s some background on motorcycle racer and bike builder Paul Bigsby, inventor of the electric guitar. And here’s a video of that very first instrument being played.

Googling around for inspiration while I prepared for this interview, I found this essay on how bikes and rock and roll came together. I don’t know that it’s the most thorough or nuanced telling of history, but it’s a fun read.

Musicians who ride are literally too numerous for there to be a definitive list, but my pals at EatSleepRIDE keep a Pinterest page on the subject that should get you started. If you want to fall very, very far down this rabbit hole, the short lists here and here ought to point you in the right direction.

Here’s the video for Redlight King’s cover of Rush’s ‘Working Man.’ You can tell that Kaz is proud of his roots, and he clearly brings that work ethic to his music, too. I think recording this track was a natural.

Thanks to Mark Kasprzyk and Redlight King for helping make this happen. It was a blast. Best of luck with the new album… I can’t wait to hear it.

No motorcycle brand inspires stronger emotions, deeper loyalty, fiercer criticism and maybe more seething envy than Harley Davidson. With 115 years of history behind the bar and shield, more North Americans ride Harleys today than any other make, and the brand is so famous globally that its name alone is worth $5.7 billion dollars. Yet behind the corporate story remains a stubbornly indiosyncratic motorcycle company whose products still turn heads and haunt dreams, and whose riders are still a tribe of their own. In this episode, I talk to former Harley Davidson insider Steve Piehl about what makes the company tick, how it’s changing, and where the magic will come from to see it through its second century.

Show Notes

A screen grab of the New York Times article that inspired this episode.

 

The article accompanying the picture above appeared in the New York Times on June 22, 2018. Here’s a link, but be warned that this content may only be available to subscribers. I love the idea that within days of being “allowed” to drive anything at all on public roads, she was on a bike. Motorcycle people really are all the same.

I wasn’t making that number up about the value of the Harley Davidson brand. Interbrand, who has been tracking this stuff for years, ranks Harley as the 77th most valuable brand in the world… just ahead of Netflix (though Netflix is gaining fast. Make of this what you will). I think this is a point that a lot of pundits miss when they obsess about Harley’s recent volume declines: there is a ton of goodwill, here. Their future doesn’t hang on the next bike, but on the millions of people who adore the bar and shield.

The 77th most valuable brand in the world, worth $5.7 billion… or roughly 335,295 Fat Bobs.

If you were in a canoe somewhere, there is, I suppose, a slim chance that you missed the MoCo’s announcement this summer of some radical additions to its product line (in this episode, I said that the announcements were made in August, but in fact the date was July 30). The new products are part of a larger initiative called “More Roads to Harley Davidson”, and you can find the official corporate version of what they’re up to here.

Needless to say, the announcements fired up the pundits and trolls, so there’s plenty of commentary to read online. If you want to get your feet wet with some reasonable reporting from a motorcyclist’s perspective, I’d suggest this, from Cycle World.

Maybe this is just some kind of podcaster Stockholm Syndrome, but the more I learned about Harley Davidson as I prepared this episode, the more I affection I felt for the brand and its bikes. I’m still doubtful there will ever be one of its battle cruisers in my barn, but Harley’s new bikes seem to offer the promise of some MoCo flavour in a style that might suit me. Of the bunch, the one I keep gawking at is the Streetfighter. Even this bike writes an attitude cheque I can’t cash, but at least I’d only be pretending to be fast (versus fast and badass). I’m keen to ride one. My Monster is on notice.

Harley’s Streetfighter. The MoCo is late to the sport naked party, but what an entrance. Photo from Harley-Davidson.com

Meghan Patrick’s cover of “Unknown Legend” comes from a Warner Music Canada anthology album called “Covered in Gold 5.0”, which you can find on iTunes. The artist’s web site is here.