You’re looking for eddies in people’s life stories

2 August, 2021

Grant Gibson is a journalist and a former editor of Blueprint, RIBA Journal and Crafts magazine. He launched his podcast Material Matters in 2018, which won the Best Podcast category in 2020. He is a judge for the category this year.

Did you have a good lockdown?

I have been shielding for a large part of the last year. I left London and moved back in with my parents in Essex and here I remain. It’s a family home where I grew up – they’ve had it for 45 years – and as a teenager when you just want to be out, I absolutely hated it. I was stuck in this god forsaken place surrounded by fields and it drove me nuts, but I’ve got to grips with it now.

Why the focus on materials?

Materials just seemed to make sense at the time because it allowed me to go into various different areas from craft and making through to architecture via design via fine art and a little bit of engineering and material science.

And it was a nice pathway in – you can talk about people’s specialist areas and you can also get into their personal life and it means you’re not constantly chasing big names. You are just looking for people with a story to tell about a material in which they are expert.

The judges liked the way you mix work and personal life. Does this make it harder to find people who are willing to be interviewed?

I spend quite a lot of time trying to find people who have a reason for doing what they’re doing rather than a seamless career that’s gone from school to the RCA or the Bartlett to becoming world famous. You’re looking for eddies in people’s life stories – or at least I am.

Architects and designers, because they’re used to pitching for multi-million pound projects, tend to talk really fluently, particularly about professional matters whereas there are many makers who would rather be left alone in their studio and not talk to anybody ever again so that becomes about drawing things out of people and actually you tend to get a much more personal interview as a result.

So how’s it going with the next series?

I’m in the middle of putting it together but the guy I can talk about is Chris Day who is a mixed race glass blower and whose work talks about the civil rights movement. He’s definitely an unusual figure in the glass world and his work is very apposite in terms of what’s going on today. Also, for 20 years he was an electrician and plumber before he moved to glass and you can see some of his old life in these pieces of work so it’s interesting but more importantly he’s got a story.

What advice to you give people thinking of launching their own podcast?

Everyone thinks these things are quite easy. I’ve had a lot journalists or ex-journalists in the last couple of years asking how you make a podcast and I generally tell them they’re a lot harder than you think.

Material Matters has an impressive number of downloads. What were some of the milestones to reach 250,000 listeners?

The breakthrough for me was getting Edmund de Waal to agree to be interviewed for the first series because that gave it real legitimacy. Then, after the first series, Miranda Sawyer mentioned it in her audio column in the Observer. She was really nice about it and that set it all off really.

Now you have a loyal audience, can the podcast start making money?

We’re looking at making the podcast three-dimensional in some shape or form – that’s the plan for next year. The pod has done very well – it’s had a good lockdown –  so coming out the other side is about how you spin stuff off.

Can you give some interview tips?

It’s old school isn’t it? Listening is absolutely the key and responding to what people tell you and in another part of the brain keeping a view on where you want to go with it. Increasingly you get people wanting to know what you’re going to ask and a lot of the time I don’t know. I say ‘it depends what you tell me’.

What are you looking for from this year’s entries?

I’m looking for something that approaches the subject in an original way and there’s no getting away from quality in terms of sound so investment in technology and originality of approach.

The next series of Material Matters will launch in September. For more details about the forthcoming series and previous episodes visit https://grantondesign.com/podcasts