Dirt – podcast Q&A with Kris Kaiyala

Dirt – podcast Q&A with Kris Kaiyala

Who said the only exciting thing to happen in November was black Friday!  Traditionally Tea in the Sahara would offer up the best shop window of podcasts for you lovely people to tune into. This week guys is different, and as promised in my recent newsletter (plug) we sit down for a Q&A with Kris Kaiyala, the indie podcast magician pulling all the strings behind his hit audio drama ‘Dirt’.

Dirt has an IKEA minimalist modern & historical vibe, excellently presented and brilliantly executed by the man-dem Kris Kaiyala! I have previously had the pleasure of reviewing both seasons of Dirt which you should listen to for further context as this week it is not about being a parrot, and more about getting on with the Q&A.

I must quickly say before we kick on with the Q&A a lively shout out to Kris for answering my slight niche questions in record time! If an indie podcast deserves more accolades and appreciation none is more fitting than Dirt. Remember guys most indie podcasts are usually performed by one or two people wearing multiple hats to get sh*t done on top of the daily grind. If James Brown was the hardest working musician in showbusiness, then Kris is definitely the James Brown of audio drama. Hope you like the analogy fella?

Tea in the Sahara reviews of season one & season two of Dirt.


Questions put to Kris Kaiyala

How did you get into podcasting?

Good question. I didn’t actually set out to be a podcaster. Prior to a couple of years ago, I hadn’t given the medium much thought or attention. But I had been toying with several short fiction ideas for years and was thinking about how I wanted to go about crafting and publishing them, when two things happened: I listened to Limetown Season 1, and then the pandemic hit. When I heard Limetown, it just set my mind ablaze. The story itself was interesting, but the serialised fiction format floored me—the idea of telling a story in chapters that could be released as podcast episodes and that could easily be available on Apple or Spotify right alongside the greats. I had never considered that as an option before. The idea of telling a contemporary story with highly immersive audio and music—it just hit me as something that I could try to do and potentially have a lot of fun doing it.

After Limetown I promptly binged Girl in Space, The Message, Ghost Radio Project, Temujin, Homecoming, The Black Tapes, Vega, Point Mystic, and other podcasts I absolutely cherish, studying their styles and techniques. This was in the fall of 2019 and early 2020 before Covid was a big news story. Weeks later I was working remotely like so many people around the world, and I figured it was a good time to really dig in and try to make a go of it on top of my day job. It’s turned out to be an incredibly creative outlet, and I’ve loved every moment of it.

For those not so familiar with the podcast, where did the concept of Dirt come from?

Dirt is kind of a mashup of several story ideas I had brewing in my head. For one, I’d always wanted to tell a story that conveys the beauty and harshness of the “other” Washington—the part of the state that isn’t Seattle or what people commonly know or see on postcards. There’s a whole other aspect to Washington state that is mostly barren deserts and rocky chasms and lonely crops of all kinds. To me, that part of the state has always felt like home, probably because I grew up outside of Spokane, a city in eastern Washington, and spent my youth travelling from small town to small town visiting family or competing in soccer—or I guess you’d call it football over there.

The idea of the driver’s license literally came from me finding a license of Yakima woman in the street one morning, in downtown Seattle, as I was walking into the office. The first name of the person on the license might have even been Antonia, I can’t remember for sure. I put the license in an envelope and mailed it back to its owner anonymously, without a return address. But in my mind, I was like… What if someone decided to return the license in-person, instead, since the address is right there on the license? Why would someone choose to do that, for a stranger? What would that encounter be like?

And then the historical part of Dirt is largely based on my own family heritage and Finnish-American roots in the Pacific Northwest. I actually do have a Finnish grandfather who lived an adventurous life and who was a musician and who wrote stories about his life around Washington and Oregon and who took up metal detecting in his later years.

Was Joseph’s character loosely based on someone in real life?

Not really, but I’ve worked on and led teams in digital advertising for quite a while, so the character of Joseph—and the environment he operates in—are familiar to me. Also, his connection, or maybe disconnection, to his family heritage is also familiar to me. I’m aware of my family roots and have always been very interested in them, but I’m also a couple of generations removed from those early days when immigrant families like the Kaiyalas made a go of it around Grays Harbor. And plus, even though I now live in Seattle, growing up on the other side of the state I was a little separated from the rest of the family tree. In Dirt, Joseph is connecting more with his heritage as he goes, and in a sense, I am too.

How hard was it creating Dirt largely by yourself?

It has been difficult at times, but the honest answer is that it has been 100% amazing. From the beginning, I wanted to do mostly by myself. Not because I don’t like working with others. I do. It’s been awesome collaborating with the voice actors, many of whom are friends and co-workers. And my wife, Sara, and other family members have been a huge help at every step along the way. But when it came down to making the show, I sort of jealously kept it all to myself. I really wanted to wear all the hats and learn about and get good at every aspect of creating and producing immersive audio. I crave owning every role—writing, recording, sound designing, casting, composing, and directing. The hardest part has been the time it takes to put all the pieces together, especially since I do it during off-hours. But I absolutely love the creative control and freedom I have over it. I collaborate with people all day long in my day job, which is great, so this project has been an interesting contrast to that.

I have highlighted the audio quality within Dirt a few times within both of my reviews. Were you a sound design engineer in a previous life?

Ha, no. The closest I ever got to something like this was recording funny skits on cassette tapes as a teenager in the ‘80s (just dated myself). Oh, and I used to write and record goofy answering machine greetings for my parents with character voices and background music, just to make them laugh. Dirt is my first serious attempt at creating something for the world at large to consume and hopefully enjoy.

As you have created quality soundtracks for both seasons of Dirt you clearly have an ear for quality music & audio. How did you come across Mya Tozzi whom we can hear singing within ep.10?

Thanks for saying that. Scoring and placing the music has been another super fun component of this project. Mya is pretty great, isn’t she? She’s my sister’s niece, so I’ve known about her for quite a while! A few years ago, she started posting videos of herself playing and singing songs on her Instagram and I knew I had to find a way to involve her. I also knew she was writing her own material, and I suspected her style would fit the podcast well. Fans of Season 1 of Dirt will also recognize her as the performer of “Skin Touching Sinew,” in Chapter 6.

Your writing depicts parts of America that are not so frequently heard of. Speaking as someone based in the UK I found it insightful to listen to. Was raising the profile of Seattle done intentionally?

Really, it’s just me writing about things that I know and that are important to me. The US is pretty big, and it’s so different from place to place—especially in the west where geology and geography play key roles in people’s lives. I grew up in an area that isn’t often in the spotlight, so I understand if the setting, especially when the story ventures outside of Seattle, is new to many listeners. To me, that was part of the allure of the story. I want the land to be a character of its own. 

Seattle is a big global city, but even Seattle is unknown to a lot of people. (And a lot of people who live here would prefer it stay that way, feeling there are already too many people here.) But interestingly, you only have to drive an hour or two in any direction from Seattle and it can feel like you are heading off the grid, just like what happens to Joseph in Chapter 8. 

The description of the Coinmaster metal detector is so detailed I wondered if metal detecting was perhaps a hobby of your own?

No, I’ve never done it. I’m only familiar with it as a hobby that my grandfather took up later in his life, in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Us grandkids used to call it his “beeper” because of the noise it made when it detected something. But it was an easy device to weave into the story once I decided on the basic premise. I actually bought a vintage detector on eBay that is very similar to the one my grandfather used decades ago. The detector handling sounds you hear throughout the chapters—the plastic grip, the opening of clasps and covers, the clicking of switches on and off—are literally the sounds of a vintage detector in my hands as I’m recording.

What recording equipment and software do you use to create the show? Any tips or tricks to share?

The recorder I use is a Zoom H5, which is a terrific device. The stock XY stereo microphone capsule it comes with does an amazing job of picking up environmental and even vocal audio. For narration, I use a Shure KSM32 microphone, which I’m not ashamed to say I purchased because I had read that’s what they use on This American Life. And for almost all of the dialogue, I use a Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun mic. I really love the crisp sound it produces. I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as an audio interface between the mics and my computer, and I edit everything using Adobe Audition. For the music, I proudly use Garage Band on my iPad. It’s an amazingly powerful, and I suppose underrated, app. And for the handful of sounds, I’m not able to record or produce myself, I make creative use of uploads on freesound.org, which is an incredible resource. You just have to make sure you’re paying close attention to attribution licenses so you are using sounds correctly.

One tip I would share is if you are a budding sound designer or audio mixer, make sure you listen to your edited sound files away from your workspace. My routine goes like this: build a scene, mix it down, then listen to it in the backyard or on a walk with my shiba inu Reggie using different headphones or earbuds, make note of changes as I listen, go back in and make those edits, mix it down again, then listen again in the backyard or on a walk while taking notes, etc. Repeat this until it sounds the way you want. I’ve found that separating the listening experience from the editing experience is really key to making things sound as complete and polished as possible. 

Gun against head moment, so far what has been your favourite episode of Dirt?

Oh, this is tough. Parents aren’t supposed to name favourite children, right? I think in terms of production and draw-you-in moments, I really like Chapter 4 (S1 E4) and Chapter 8 (S2 E2). I have always loved how quiet Chapter 4 is in places. There’s a risk in being quiet because the norm is to be loud and flashy in order to get people’s attention. In Chapter 4 there’s a lot of activity and mystery swirling about in the periphery, but the moment when Joseph rolls down the car window for Kim to hear the train in the distance, or at the end of the chapter when he walks to the opposite wall of the garage and realizes what’s there in front of him and the soft music kicks in, those are moments where I still sit back and I’m like, wow, that turned out pretty cool.

I know this is a cheeky Q given you have only just wrapped up season two however, is season three currently in pre-production?

Well, I can’t leave people hanging like that at the end of chapter 13, can I?

Finally for any budding indie podcaster out there looking to get into the fantastic world of podcasting what advice would you give them?

I would want Dirt to be evidence that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment or a huge staff or even a fancy studio space in order to create immersive audio fiction. If you think you need those things before you can even get started, you don’t. The equipment I use is good, but it’s not top of the line stuff. Don’t get overwhelmed or stalled out by thoughts like that at the beginning. Big podcast production houses do come with the added benefits of marketing support and paid sponsorship and revenue, which I can admit to being jealous of. But if you have an idea and just want to get something out in the world as a creative outlet, buy a decent recorder—such as a Zoom H5, which is what I primarily use for environment recording—and start playing around with it. 

To me, there’s no better way to tell or consume a story than through audio. Audio puts your imagination in the driver’s seat; it’s where the proverbial magic happens. And it’s a great way to start to tell that story or stories you’ve been hanging on to for a while. 

End of questions


Once again thanks to Kris for agreeing to do this Q&A with me, and for being a jolly good sport. Although we have never actually met I like to imagine we share similar insights into the exciting indie podcasting space which is rapidly developing.

As you can see guys my writing style is far from a neutral Switzerland, which I hope in some insane way appeals? True I am not the coolest beer in the fridge however, what I like to offer is awesome scripted podcast reviews to captivate imaginations. You see I try not to offer a flurry of fire-sale style reviews, opting for a more less is less policy. Again not everyone’s cup of tea, moreover for me writing should simply engage with its audience.

So where can you find out more about Tea in the Sahara? Well, funny you should ask! Recently I launched a newsletter that aims to keep you up to date with all of the latest reviews & Q&A blog banter happening. If you haven’t checked it out yet you can sign up via my Twitter profile, or by using the small Revue sign up box at the end of this review.

If you are a writer, creator, or production company looking to have your podcast reviewed just like Kris surely Tea in the Sahara has to be worth a punt? If you enjoyed this Q&A format, and are looking to give your future fans more context about your own podcast then maybe (just maybe) I am the Indie Podcast Critic Writer that you have been looking for? Please get in touch via my contacts page, or email me directly at tinthesaharah@gmail.com.

You can follow more about Dirt on their website and the show can be found on Apple Podcasts & Spotify or from wherever you grab your podcasts from. Just make sure you do!

For further Tea in the Sahara reviews please check out my other podcast & audio-book reviews. And to all my American readers, and pals I have worked with throughout the year’s Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers, Kev.

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Tea in the Sahara

Where podcast reviewing is far from beige!

tinthesahara@gmail.com


Kris Kaiyala

Dirt – season two – podcast review

Dirt – season two – podcast review

Tea in the Sahara

Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic


Back in March this year I had the pleasure of reviewing a truly awesome scripted podcast called ‘Dirt’ by the gifted Kris Kaiyala. Well at last Dirt is back with season two, and Kris has kindly given me an exclusive sneak peek of episodes seven to thirteen which covers about a four day story-arc time frame.

And yep, like a cheeky boomerang on it’s return flight, I’m on hand with a small review on why you should jump on this super slick inde podcast. A podcast that in my opinion should be as popular as the runaway viral Netflix series Squid Game!

Kris writes, produces, directs, and is also the voice behind lead character Joseph Elo for STUDIO5705. In case you didn’t read my review of series one of Dirt you should head over there for further context. And once you have done that consider binge listening to Dirt on your podcast player of choice; trust in old Kev you will thank me!

For all those Amazon Prime peeps with zero patience looking for a fast-track I have you covered with this brief synopsis – the plot around Dirt follows lead character & narrator Joseph (Kris Kaiyala), a successful Seattle playboy CEO, and owner of a futuristic app development agency.

Joseph receives a letter in the post from his grandfather, which wouldn’t make for much of a gripping storyline, however Joseph’s grandfather Aimo passed away over thirty years ago. Queue a treasure hunt across the States portrayed with all of its beautiful topography. This podcast is definitely an audio adventure for those keen to understand America’s unseen historical past, which thankfully does not include Disneyland.


Overview

The second series transitions pleasantly from the first season with Joseph seemingly hot on a breadcrumb treasure trail of boxes filled with connecting puzzles & clues supposedly left by Aimo.

Although the files I listened to were in draft format that takes nothing away from the magic of this immersive audio drama. Kris’s continued detailed narration is pitch perfect for a narrator/lead character. For me the key takeaway from this exceptional podcast is the level of sound production that Kris stamps into every episode.

It is that eye for detail, and level of high definition audio which makes this podcast stand head & shoulders above others. I’ve banged on about this before in my previous review, however Sizzling bacon, buzzing metal detectors, and guitar band feedback noises feel so nuanced and tangible within Dirt.

When a character is simply walking around within a scene the effort & thought process that has gone into making you aware of different surfaces they are treading on can be heard. It honestly feels as if you are physically walking beside Joseph on his treasure hunt across a richly depicted landscape.

Mr Kaiyala has an audio ninja ear for sound with the ability to create lush soundscapes that our characters encounter. These include, but are not limited to bustling bars, and even seaplane landings on water! There are few indie podcasts that offer up such a rich texture of sound & audio detail. The cool segway beats from Dirts previous series is back and incorporated into season two, seemingly guiding the listener from one plot scenario to the next.

Like Aimo’s canny treasure hunt the listener is introduced to background music supplied by the super soulful Mya Tozzi who performs the track “Me and My Other” at the end of chapters ten & thirteen. Mya has an effortless, angelic voice which made my mind wander, transferring me somewhere else; a warm place where you can relax & sip strong cocktails type of fantasy place. Another ace inclusion into the canon of this amazing podcast which blends so well into those scenes.

I previously knew zero about Mya Tozzi, but if you take yet another thing away from one of my reviews definitely check her out via her Bandcamp page: https://towniemusic.bandcamp.com where you can purchase tracks used within Dirt, and support an incredible artist.

In terms of storyline, I won’t go into too much detail and steal the listener’s thunder and ruin the experience for you guys. Let’s just say Kris has cranked up the continual storyline to eleven adding yet more fun escapades for our character Joseph to fall into. Oh, and fans of the whole zebra crossing fake moustache & eyebrow combo will be happy as it surfaces again within season two.

Most of the regular characters return including Antonia Flores (Megan Morales), who returns with a touch more sass than from the previous season which is fun. A fan favourite of mine Mrs Fixit herself; Mel (Jessi Brown) is back, and is as sarcastic as ever which is wonderful for this overtly sarcastic Brit reviewer!

Let’s close out with opinion time. If season two of Dirt was an album, then Kris has certainly beaten off the curse of the difficult second album. What he has managed to do in my opinion is produce yet another award-winning podcast which I cannot wait to listen to in its finalised form.

So without sounding like a Dirt fanboy I urge you to listen to this podcast if you enjoy your audio drama’s with a contemporary vibe, and shrewd nod to the past. Dirt will definitely be right up your alley. Clever writing backed by awesome audio are the last words I will leave you with if you still happen to be on the fence with smashing that download & subscribe button.

Dirt season two launches on the 2nd of November and as far as the format goes, it’s one new episode released per week on all platforms starting with episode seven & going through Chapter thirteen. However, if you don’t want to wait a week for new episodes you can pay to subscribe to gain instant access to all of the new episodes to binge to your heart’s content. 


Thoughts

And that’s it folks, this short review is finito! Let’s move into any other business. Recently I launched my first newsletter celebrating Halloween, and a selection of horror-themed podcasts that I have reviewed this year. So if you haven’t checked it out yet you can sign up via my Twitter profile, or by using the small sign-up box at the end of this review.

Kris Kaiyala has also agreed to a Q&A sesh with Tea in the Sahara in the near future which will offer you lucky podcast fans further insight into how Kris made Dirt so bloody good!

If you are a writer, creator, or production company looking to have your podcast reviewed just like Kris maybe you should consider Tea in the Sahara? Perhaps you like the previous Q&A format that I have done, and are looking for something similar for your own review? If that is the case, then maybe (just maybe) I am the Independent Podcast Critic Writer you have been looking for. Please get in touch via my contacts page, or email me directly tinthesaharah@gmail.com.

You can follow more about Dirt on their website and the podcast can be found on Apple Podcasts & Spotify or from wherever you grab your podcasts from. Just make sure you do!

For further Tea in the Sahara reviews please check out my other podcast & audio-book reviews. Until the next time podcast people, cheers Kev.


Credits

Written, directed, produced, and composed by Kristopher Kaiyala

Season 2 principal cast:
Jessi Brown (Mel), Genie Leslie (Kim), Megan Morales (Antonia), Aaron Patterson, (Carl), Kristopher Kaiyala (Joseph)

Dirt – an audio drama – podcast review

Dirt – an audio drama – podcast review

Tea in the Sahara

Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic


As we creep from a relatively dull February into March and with spring finally in the post (albeit on a 2nd class stamp), I have yet another extraordinary podcast for you guys to load up into your podcast player of choice and submerge yourself into!

Master of his own destiny Kris Kaiyala, writer, producer, director, voice actor, and all-around superstar behind the wonderfully immerse ‘Dirt audio drama’ from STUDIO5705 is the next solid entry into the Tea in the Sahara reviewing cannon. And I for one am as happy as Larry to have been introduced to this ultra-modern & fresh podcast. Cheers, Kris.

Spoiler ALERT, apologies if you have not already binged and listened to the whole series just yet, as I will be offering up my own thoughts and opinions on the show within this review. For those people at the back not paying attention, you have been warned!


Overview

The plot follows our main character and shows narrator Joseph (Kris Kaiyala), a successful Seattle playboy CEO, and owner of a futuristic app development agency over the course of six chapters. Joseph receives a letter in the post from his grandfather, which in normal circumstances wouldn’t make for much of a gripping storyline however, Joseph’s grandfather Aimo passed away over thirty years ago!

Joseph is not your average CEO and Dirt is not your average storyline as we discover that Wiley old Aimo might just be leaving his grandson ‘Joey’, what the kids call today a trail of Easter eggs to follow. The quest for answers sends Joseph on a personal adventure back into his family’s past, trying to uncover what it is that Aimo is trying to tell him from the grave. Aided by his sister Kim (Genie Leslie), Joseph gets caught up in some interesting, if not challenging situations. Including almost getting killed on a side crossing, which I think we Brits call a zebra crossing whilst wearing a fake moustache & eyebrows, thus making him an unknowingly social media sensation overnight. You see guys it takes skills to write this type of script.

Through some clever detective work, Joseph returns to a childhood farm, now run by family friends which he spent time on as a kid that his grandfather helped to set up back in the day. It appears that Joseph is not the only person to receive instructions from the late Aimo, as we discover that current farm owner Salvador Flores (Jhonattan Fuentes) knew that Joseph would return to the farm.

If you are scratching your noggin right now, fear not the picture becomes clearer as the Flores family including love interest Antonia Flores (Megan Morales) use an old beat-up metal detector left by Aimo to discover, and dig up a jewellery box that holds a key, and a letter containing the next clue in this cryptic puzzle. Aimo also likes to write his letters in a poetic, almost riddling fashion that certainty turns the old brain matter over like a cement mixer which is great.

The show dances back and forth in a kaleidoscope fashion with an ongoing hazy dream that Joseph has about the sea, boats, and of course Aimo. It’s at this point I would like to highlight the stunning production & sound effects used within this show which to my untrained ears is pretty damn spectacular. The soundscape atmosphere which is crafted throughout the series is flawless. The sound of crickets at night time accompanied by that airhorn sound you associate with huge American trains, to boats bobbing about in a harbour, is all expertly blended & embedded within Joseph’s world.

I even strangely enjoyed the binky-bonky ‘start your day’ music used within the scene where Joseph is getting ready for his day. As Kris mentions, enjoy this audio drama wherever, but for a truly immersed experience, it is best listened through quality headphones. I also salute another podcaster keen to invite the audience further into the show by releasing an artistic soundtrack of songs featured within season one, which for fans of the music used within the podcast will be a welcomed innovative move.

As for the writing within the podcast, it definitely draws the listener in with its multiple layers of description, which for someone like me who is a nuance freak is music to my ears. I hope Kris doesn’t mind me saying this, but those intricate levels of narrative description and visual scene framing really reminded me of another podcast ‘The Leviathan Chronicles’ by Christof Laputka.

In terms of characters (and myself being British dry and sarcastic), I was immediately drawn to Kris’s assistant Mel (Jessi Brown) who plays dry, and slightly sarcastic perfectly. Sarcastic mannerisms are not easy to pull off with conviction without becoming fairly arrogant which jars. Kudos Jessi, on an amazingly balanced performance that often made me smile. Joseph’s character voiced by Kris Kaiyala is also an interesting enigma that I liken to a modern version of Steve McQueen in the film The Thomas Crown Affair. A successful businessman, marginally aloof, with smarts, however minus all the crazy bank heists McQueen’s character relishes. Plus I couldn’t quite see the proclaimed king of cool wearing a fake moustache & eyebrows combo either!

I especially enjoyed the heartwarming scene when Joseph meets up with the Flores family who had not seen them for many years. The warmth and harmony written within that scene portray kindness that only lifelong friendships can bring. In a crazy modern Covid world it seems like a distant memory catching up with friends & family who we haven’t seen for far too long. So within this unique podcast format, it is refreshing to be reminded of how good that togetherness feeling actually is (I hope that makes sense?)


Thoughts

So the million-dollar question is, who is this podcast for? Dirt is an intriguing podcast when listened to, its narrative completely absorbs the listener into the fabric of the show. Pretty much everyone enjoys the thrill of a good treasure hunt right? It’s almost human nature not to get caught up in the romanticism of an expedition into the unknown. Well, Dirt gives the listener a healthy double shot of a good old-fashioned mystery. I for one am in (lock, stock, & barrel) and cannot wait for season two, which will be dropping at some point this year so you won’t have long to wait to find out the next instalment in Joseph’s crusade.

Final thoughts, if you like what you have read in my review, definitely take a look at Dirt’s official website which is packed full of information about the show. It is also worth pointing out that Dirt is an independent podcast, with Kris wearing multiple hats seamlessly, and if this review has piqued your interest please rate & review the show in order to spread the word. Kris is currently running a small trivia competition to receive a Dirt sticker which is another cool touch that I will most definitely be partaking in!


Outro

I really hope you have enjoyed reading this review for ‘Dirt – an audio drama’ which is unquestionably worth checking out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or from wherever you get your podcasts from. If you are a fan of Dirt, then I highly recommend another puzzle-based podcast ‘The Cipher’ written by Brett Neichin.

Are you looking to have your podcast or audio drama reviewed? Well look no further you’ve unexpectedly found your perfect partner; Tea in the Sahara! Whatever your podcast genre please do get in touch via any of the below methods or through my contacts page, and check out my other reviews cheers Kev.

Ghost Tape – QCODE podcast review

Ghost Tape – QCODE podcast review

Tea in the Sahara

Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic


If like the UK you are hunkered down in another enforced covid lockdown and are looking for a new podcast to get your teeth into, you might just like this next review. Ghost Tape is another excellent immersive audio podcast introduced from those creative types down at QCODE. Those same creative types behind another insanely good podcast Dirty Diana which I reviewed a few months back, which you should also have a gander at.

The premise of horror audio drama Ghost Tape is centred around its lead protagonist Tessa Dixon played by the fantastic Kiersey Clemons, and a mysteriously haunted audiotape said to have been recorded during a massacre in the Vietnam war. QCODE has exceeded my expectations again with a stellar writer Alexandra E Hartman, and heavyweight co-creators Aron Eli Coleite (Netflix Locke & Key) & Nia DaCosta of movie reboot Candyman are more than capable of pushing that creative dark envelope. The show is directed by someone called Malakai, which I assume in that sense is like Madonna and only uses one creative name.


Overview

This psychological storyline starts with the recent suspected suicide/murder of Tessa’s grandfather, Byron Dixon. A distinguished military vet, voiced by the actor Bill Duke of vintage Predator movie fame. The podcasts are divided into sessions, and that is expanded on as every episode is set (so far) within a shrink’s office situated within Fort Taylor a Texas military training camp where Tessa is completing her basic training (still with me?)

The mysterious tape in question is said to be possessed by evil spirits of villagers savagely murdered during the Vietnam war some 40+ years ago, upon Tessa listening to the tape, she unwillingly releases the evil spirits. Within Tessa’s possession, the tape previously belonged to her late grandfather, who appears to communicate with Tessa via the tape as if stuck between two worlds, and he was indeed a genie trapped within the magic lamp.

Tessa perceives that this individual audiotape has more to do with Byron’s suspicious death and subsequent cover-up than the military is willing to let on. So spurned on with anger, fueled by hate of a heroin-addicted father Tessa enlists within the US army in the hope of somehow establishing the truth about her grandfather’s untimely demise. Oh, and the reason army recruit Tessa is in the brig (army prison) it’s because her battle buddy private Philips has gone missing casting further suspicions over Tessa’s recent erratic behaviour.

This podcast reminds me slightly of Hellraiser by Clive Barker, and that’s not in the sense of Hellraisers twisted macabre horror you witness from the film, more the similarities, or magnetic pull that the tape has over those who possess it. Once the owner has the tape they won’t let go, and for those who have held it, it will stop at nothing to retrieve it.

Ghost Tape really is a heavy-hitting audio drama at its best with Kiersey Clemons who is also an executive producer bringing to life a sassy, ballsy Tessa Dixon that doesn’t take sh*t from anyone, skillfully executed with reckless flamboyance! Tessa’s character is troubled that is for sure, and it is worth reminding listeners that this podcast does tap into some real-life raw subjects such as addiction, suicide, coming out as openly gay, and the horrors & brutality of war. So if you are someone who prefers their podcasts to have a rainbow happy ending twinned with a traditional love story, Ghost Tape might just not be the one for you.

The writing & acting is top-notch especially with the scenes between Tessa and the armies Psychiatrist Oscar Martinez, reminding me of that sexually charged scene from Basic Instinct where Sharon Stone’s character is taken into the police station for questioning at the beginning of the movie. And no before your mind wanders, not that specific scene you first thought of, more the tense atmosphere that the directors of that film created within that particular scene. The clever little nuances of a stereotypical office clock on the shrinks wall ticking away as the questioning becomes more stressful, and the deliberate nonchalance, evasiveness from Tessa’s responses towards his line of questioning is wonderfully scripted.

To add some much-needed humour to the podcast you should listen out for larger than life performances of Tessa’s grandma (Tessa’s dad’s side) who’s timing, and dry sarcasm add a touch of comedy to help briefly lighten the moment of this otherwise gripping audio drama. I must also mention the sound engineers, and music used within Ghost Tape as the mashup end theme music of a military march blended into what sounds like traditional Vietnamese music is outstanding; hats off to Darren Johnson, an award-winning pianist and composer & his team.


Kev’s Thoughts

This has been a slightly longer review for a podcast-only three episodes old, but there is so much to unpack I didn’t want to write a review and miss anything out. So I will close with me playing detective and give you an early inner critic theory on Ghost Tape that has been kicking around in my head for a while. This might just be me and my overactive mind working overtime, but am I the only person that has picked up that Tessa mentions about being cold quite a bit? Now here is the curveball, is Tessa already dead and this is some weird ghostly paradox that we find ourselves listening to? Is she already possessed? Don’t call me Kojak just yet, but definitely food for thought.


Outro

I hope you have enjoyed reading this podcast review for ‘Ghost Tape’ which is definitely worth checking out on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you are considering having your podcast reviewed by Tea in the Sahara you can reach me via my contact page. Do check out my reviews on Dirt, and Wandering with the Dead, if you are interested to see the level of detail which goes into one of my independent reviews.

Hopefully, if you have made it this far down the page you have enjoyed my style of writing? If you did why not check out my other reviews, and maybe like and leave me a comment (review links below!) Cheers, Kev.

Dirty Diana – QCODE podcast review

Dirty Diana – QCODE podcast review

Tea in the Sahara

Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic


Dirty Diana’s opening credits warn the audience that the show contains adult language & explicit scenes, and is therefore not advised for persons under the age of 17 to firmly paint the image you’re not in Kansas anymore! Dirty Diana is an adult-themed podcast by QCode, created by Shana Feste, acted and produced by silver-screen actress Demi Moore. Think of the show as a hybrid between Sex in the City, and the 1990s film Basic Instinct, however within this podcast no one dies; well least not yet anyway.

To set the scene Demi Moore plays the lead character Diana, who on the surface appears to be your stereotypical wife/mom living in middle something America that the rest of the world is accustomed to when thinking of the big U.S.A. Diana starts out in the series as a helpless lady surviving within a boring male chauvinist finance firm, coupled with a rapidly failing marriage and unsettling addiction to prescription drugs. Is there a way out for Diana? Well, that escapism and sanctuary come in the shape of Diana running her own secretive erotic sex-positive website called “Have a Good Wood” where she records intimate female fantasies for her ever-growing popular podcast. I bet you didn’t see that one coming now did you?

Each episode is aptly named after the lady sharing her particular secret fantasy, and without giving away the obvious, and trying to remain British some of them are quite risque. Naughtiness aside the show is much more than provocative fantasies as the podcast deftly documents Diana’s car-crash life as it entangles and spirals out of control right in front of you. This ingenious writing concept by Shana Feste is quite revolutionary placing the female character centre-stage allowing the listener almost Hitchcock “Rear Window” access to Diana’s very intimate life.


Overview

Charting marital infidelities, counselling, and trademark estranged mother, the show all-be-it the very extreme end of life really does showcase how easily lives can spin out of control. The writing is flanked by a stellar cast of actors like Danish actor Claes Bang, actress Mackenzie Davis of Terminator Dark Fate fame, and one of my personal favourites fellow Brit Carmen Ejogo as Petra.

As mentioned the quality of actors on display would give Netflix a hit show, however, convert that into audio and you really see if an actor is worth their hefty price tag as there is nowhere to hide within audio dramas. I will highlight two of my favourite characters from the podcast, but before that, I want to also acknowledge how class Demi Moore is as Diana. Her instantly recognisable husky voice really lends to the spicy theme of this audio drama as she takes to audio work like a duck to water. You should also keep an ear out for Eric the hapless gringy bartender who pops up during ladies’ night with all the cheesy one-liners. His inclusion was comedy genius.

Petra played by Carmen Ejogo is a real force to be reckoned with, her presence adds a much-needed classy, no-nonsense, foxy panache to the show. Petra is the recent sole heiress of her father’s wealthy estate which is linked to Diana’s financial firm. Petra is a lady that knows exactly what she wants, and how to have a good time whilst she gets it. This is another shrewd move by the writer allowing a strong female character to co-exist with the lead character, but not too allowing Petra’s performance to overshadow Diana’s story.

The second actor I would like to mention is Claes Bang who plays Diana’s husband Oliver, whom most Brits might recognise as Count Dracula from the recent BBC TV series about the famous bloodsucker. Like Diana, Oliver’s character also starts out life as a fairly useless man coasting through life desperately trying to save his ailing marriage as it veers ever closer to the impending rocks. Claes brings a talented sense of tragicness and desperation to the role of Oliver which was wonderful to hear acted out. My favourite scene with Oliver takes place at their daughter’s school singing performance where Oliver and Diana share a moment of recollection of how their life used to be, the fun, the laughter which was quite a touching scene of joint reminiscence.

I couldn’t write this review without mentioning the music used throughout the podcast which was ace! Original music & composition was supplied by Darren Johnson who weaves the music into the very fabric of this audio drama. I want to highlight a super cool track that was dropped in the show which worked so well. The nightclub scene where Oliver takes Diana to meet the stripper he has been visiting is backed by a track called ‘Painting Greys’ by a chap called Emmit Fenn which sounds slightly Dr Dre’ish in parts and works perfectly for that particular sleazy nightclub scene.


Outro

So who would listen to Dirty Diana? Well if you are reading this blog I would like to think that you hopefully have a thirst for seeking out interesting, challenging podcasts not shy of offering you the listener something different. The theme is very much on the seedier, raunchier side of things, but life is not all unicorns & candyfloss, right? However, the core message of this ongoing story for me is all about Diana and how she loses control and turns a corner towards turning that around (that is all I will say). This is just the first season of Dirty Diana so I personally cannot wait to see what antics the writers have in store for Diana come the second season!

The show can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you use to listen to your podcasts. Oh, and just some friendly advice if you choose to listen to Dirty Diana I would recommend using headphones as there are some more, well let’s just say adult scenes that should not be played on your Amazon Alexa whilst you make your dinner; just friendly advice!

Are you looking to have your podcast or audio drama reviewed? Well look no further you’ve unexpectedly found your perfect partner; Tea in the Sahara! Whatever your podcast genre please do get in touch via any of the below methods or through my contacts page, and check out my other reviews cheers, Kev.

City of a Thousand Faces – Audible review

City of a Thousand Faces – Audible review

“There is a city far away, my parents often spoke of it as if it has always been there, and always will be. I had seen it in paintings and read about it in stories the richest most powerful city on earth, the centre of everything. It drew people from every corner of the empire and beyond, hungry for wealth & power, or in some cases more wealth & more power. Dazzled by its brightness, and like moths drawn to a candle many were burned alive by its candle… Tumanbay!”

‘The City of a Thousand Faces’ written by Walker Dryden, and read by Clare Corbett is a deeper dive into the absolutely amazing world of BBC4 audio drama Tumanbay. I previously reviewed Tumanbay in some depth a few weeks back, and enjoyed the audio drama so much I just had to download the Audible version to compare experiences. And boy I wasn’t let down!

Tumanbay is a historical mystical world based on the Mamluk slave dynasty of ancient Egypt. Since the sultans of this dynasty  were earlier slaves or the sons of former slaves, the Mamluk dynasty came to be known as the slave dynasty. Visualise a desert city far away built by slaves ruled by the almighty sultan where wealth, greed, power, and corruption sit side by side as the natural order of society; and sultans are dethroned, or assassinated as frequently as the changing of the seasons.


Overview

The City of a Thousand Faces stage is set within the first season of Tumanbay’s audio drama world. The depth, and journey the writers take you on actually brings the characters to life in such an astonishing way it feels like they literally jump off the page, or in my case out of my headphones. Clare Corbett’s narration is absolutely spot on, and I was completely blown away by her vocal ability to make every character sound defined and unique. I was also massively impressed with her varied accents as she switches between both sultan and peasant, and back again with ease within a world built out of beggars, spies, and emperors.

This book and the subsequent dialect from the audio drama run pretty much in parallel with one another, with the book naturally adding more contextual details about events not so present within the audio drama version. The wonderfully crafted scene between Cadali & Gregor where they share a mutual joke between themselves at the expense of the sultan is absolutely fantastic writing; normally enemies they both enjoy a brief moment of dare I say it associated amusement.

I also enjoyed the detailed description as you discover the depths of Tumanbay’s city of the dead, where a much richer, the nuanced picture is presented of the dark catacombs where Gregor is held in court by the underworlds thieves & dwellers.

The high stakes powerplay story of love, betrayal, and corruption is all there in grizzly high definition for readers to fully immerse themselves into, as the story builds towards the cities slow process of self-destruction. I comfortably chewed through the one hundred chapters within days as I enjoyed the storyline and enchanting journey that much. My one hope is that the writer’s John Dryden & Mike Walker continue the story beyond this first book/season, and continue the epic saga on into the other three seasons already associated with the audio-based drama. Perhaps that was always the plan. Either way, I know that if this was to happen it would make for excellent reading/listening (fingers crossed!)

However you chose to enjoy this book of historical fiction in either audio or book format, they both can be purchased from either Amazon or Audible for your reading/listening pleasure. I can also highly recommend listening to Tumanbay via the BBC Sounds App, or what other method you chose to listen to podcasts on (Stitcher, Castbox, Spotify).

For any budding writers out there that would like a frank & honest review of your audiobook or podcast whatever your genre please do get in touch via any of the below methods, or through my contacts page.

Tea in the Sahara

Where podcast reviewing is far from beige!

tinthesahara@gmail.com


Tumanbay – Goldhawk Productions – podcast review

Tumanbay – Goldhawk Productions – podcast review

“There is a city far away, my parents often spoke of it as if it has always been there, and always will be. I had seen it in paintings and read about it in stories the richest most powerful city on earth, the centre of everything. It drew people from every corner of the empire and beyond, hungry for wealth & power, or in some cases more wealth & more power. Dazzled by its brightness, and like moths drawn to a candle, many were burned alive by its candle… Tumanbay!”

Written by John Dryden & Nick Walker this epic four series audio drama Tumanbay is a historical boundless BBC Radio 4 drama based on the Mamluk slave dynasty of ancient Egypt. Since the sultans of this dynasty were earlier slaves or the sons of former slaves, the Mamluk dynasty came to be known as the slave dynasty. Visualise a desert city built by slaves ruled by the almighty sultan where wealth, greed, power, and corruption sit side by side as the natural order of society; and sultans are dethroned, or assassinated as frequently as the changing of the seasons. The fear of secretive, elusive Queen Mia from the Amber Provence and her advancing armies cause panic to run through the very fabric of the already shaken, unsettled city. Is it just the city that Mia wants to rule? Or perhaps there are supernatural forces at work?


Overview

Each episode follows events that take place within Tumanbay, this cut-throat sandy oasis, set against a backdrop of opulence and political intrigue, like a hybrid of a 90’s video game Prince of Persia, with the seediness of Jabba the Hutt’s Palace, only with excellent casting. Each of the four series feels like they are set out individually with their own storyline, yet masterfully link together with one glorious theme; which is super clever writing. The timeline is never mentioned however, if you take into account the plot development, and the passing of each sultan I would estimate that the show’s timeline is about fifteen-twenty years which leaves plenty of time for the plot to unfold.

The actors used in Tumanbay are quite simply outstanding. The display of accents and vocal abilities really makes you feel like you are within the city walls, walking alongside the cast on those secretive cobbled streets. There is a whole host of talented actors on display within Tumanbay, like Heaven played by Olivia Popica. However, I would like to briefly introduce you to the two key cornerstone characters that I enjoyed the most throughout this audio drama.

Rufus Wright voices Gregor, who entered Tumanbay as a boy and rose through the ranks over the years to the commander of the palace guard. A straight-talking, no-nonsense character who manages to stay one step ahead of everyone else by relying on his wit, and ability to weed out palace spies. Gregor also has the insane ability to make sure he holds all the aces all of the time and prefers to live within the shadows rather than within plain sight. Gregor also acts as Tumanbay’s narrator and guide, providing the listeners with his thoughts and opinions on the precarious situations he finds himself in. If you were in a very tight jam Gregor is the chap you want in your corner, and definitely make sure you are not on the receiving end of who can be at times a ruthless man.

Matthew Marsh plays the crafty Cadali, the grand vizier to the sultan, or whoever might be in power at that point in time. Matthew really helps you visualise and bring to life this disgustingly, conniving, corrupt creature that is Cadali. He is also the polar opposite of Gregor, only sharing their need to survive as a common interest. It is Cadalis job as grand vizier, to advise and influence the sultan in matters of the city. You can already see from my opening statement that he prefers to angle the cut of the cloth towards that of his own needs and interests. The fantastic casting of this particular character, which we all love to hate; every good series needs its villain to boo and hiss at!

I also want to touch on the beautifully crafted music incorporated throughout the series composed by Sacha Puttnam. Sacha really gives the listeners that magical Arabian night feels in a smart subtle way. The way he blends, and then fades the music into the end of every episode is nothing short of genius. I almost wish I didn’t know this was happening because it sadly signals the end of the episode you are listening to. It is definitely worth checking out the Tumanbay theme (titles 1) to see exactly what I mean about Sasha’s music, and whilst you are there explore the other brilliant music used within the show.

Whilst I am on this musical/sound theme I also wanted to briefly mention the sound design team responsible for all of the amazing sound effects, quirks, and other weird noises that bring this show to life. Without Eloise Whitmore & Laurence Farr we wouldn’t have the wonderful, creative, sound scaped world that is Tumanbay.


Thoughts

I like to end on the most obvious question, who would listen to Tumanbay? Well, each episode is about 45 mins long so you do really need to set some time aside to fully immerse yourself within this audio drama. The show is built around the city’s political unrest, and skulduggery which features all of the common trappings you would expect from a city where life is cheap, like prostitution, slavery, and violence; the show is no shrinking violet. That said if you enjoy a really solid audio drama set in a semi-fictional past you couldn’t ask for better than Tumanbay.

Naturally, the BBC have the financial clout to produce this show in such a magnificent way, but no story is any good without creative writing, and John Dryden & Nick Walker have this comfortably in the bag. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is not a potential spin-off, or dare I say it sequel to Tumanbay on the cards (and here’s hoping). At this point, it is worth mentioning that the writing partnership of Walker & Dryden has just released a book based (also available in audio format) on the Tumanbay series called ‘The City of a Thousand Faces’ that I will certainly be checking out. Whatever format you enjoy book or audio it can be purchased from Amazon or Audible, if like me you prefer listening to the audio version of dramas. Tumanbay is produced by Goldhawk Productions and you can check out the other dramas that they have produced like their podcast LifeAfter via their website Goldhawk Productions.
You can find Tumanbay on the BBC Sounds app, or from wherever you listen to your podcasts.

For any budding writers out there that would like a frank & honest review of your podcast, whatever your genre, audio-drama, factual, comedy, please do get in touch via any of the below methods, or through my contacts page.

Tea in the Sahara

Where podcast reviewing is far from beige!

tinthesahara@gmail.com