Interview – Baffle Days

If in 2004 someone told you that the media’s biggest growth area in 2020 was going to be radio you’d have thrown your Motorola RAZR flip phone at them, but hey, here we are listening to the wireless more than ever. Amanda Watts and Tom O’Halloran are the brains and the brawn behind Baffle Days, an Aussie-focussed podcast that is one of our faves at VLHQ. We caught up with them in their home in the beating heart of Australian Climbing – the Blue Mountains – to find out what the deal is.

Firstly  how are you two handling the lockdown?
Tom: It’s been strange. I lost my job in mid-March at the very beginning, before many people had been impacted; the restriction on groups larger than 100 forced my employer to shut the doors. It was scary as no stimulus packages had been talked about at that stage and I was pretty terrified about the coming months. Things have settled now and the stimulus packages are helping to keep our heads afloat. We built a small bouldering wall under the house, something we’d wanted to do for a couple of years, and are slowly getting on top of the house jobs. I miss hanging with friends mostly; going craggin’ freely and cups of tea and dessert catch-ups on the weekend. The little things.

Trying to turn the downtime into an opportunity is the plan. I know as soon as life returns to normal I’ll be pissed at myself if I didn’t take advantage of moving things forward. We have plans.

Amanda: The financial impact has been pretty scary. Terrifying actually. We are both sole traders and having Tom lose his work so early put the pressure on. Particularly with a little person to support and the whole Olympic selection event in the mix back then. I am a problem solver so my brain has been working overtime to find solutions. We have been trying to adapt as quickly as we can, try to maintain our health focus (use exercise and yoga for stress release instead of alcohol), work on adjusting our businesses and our business ideas to try to turn this time into an opportunity to press go on ideas we have had for years. Finding a good life rhythm again now is the focus.

Where it all began; episode 1 with Jake Bresnahan.

Why did you start Baffle Days?
Tom: Due to the nature of my work, I spend a lot of time on my own. I used to fly back and forth to mine sites in Western Australia a few times a month. Or drive several hours by myself to power stations. That’s a lot of downtime in my head, which is a crazy jumble of strangeness at the best of times. I needed something constructive to do. I needed to learn something new. Solo harmonica lessons worked well in the car but not so well on the plane. And searching for a dropped harmonic while doing 100km/h on country NSW roads was a hazard to me and the cows. I needed something safer to pass the time with.

I discovered podcasts in about 2014. What a revelation! Actually I discovered them in 2008 with The Ricky Gervais Podcast. I listened to them nonstop for years! I could just about recite the entire 50+ hours back catalogue. They are absolutely hilarious and were great company on the train to school. But I never ventured further than Ricky and once he stopped putting more out around 2010, I stopped listening to podcasts.

Then around 2014 people started talking about podcasts on climbing and other topics. I had lonesome time to kill and dived head long back into them. I consumed everything I was recommended and was soon fully caught up on the back catalogues, then had nothing to listen to. I got annoyed with no new content. I also found it frustrating that it was all Seppo content.

We’ve got cool shit going on down here too you know! Oi!! You, yeah you Mr/Ms American podcaster person. Talk to us about our stuff. Mate, please listen. Nah…nothin’. So I figured I’d find the stories myself. I think it was around 2016.

I love a good yarn and Australians have plenty of good ones. Ones we know, ones we half know and ones that have never seen the light of day. I wanted to uncover them. But I felt super self-conscious and had no idea how something like that happened. So I just did nothing about it. I whinged about there not being an Australian one some more and convinced myself why I should start doing it with equal conviction as I convinced myself otherwise. Talking to people with a microphone in front of my mouth, recording that conversation then putting it on the internet is bloody scary!! Also, set up costs are expensive if you want to do it properly, which I did.

Soon, though, Amanda had had a gutful of my belly aching so we put our heads together, bought a recorder, a few microphones and called Jake Bresnehan, who had just climbed The Wheel of Life (may it rest in peace) and asked if he wanted to be on a podcast I was starting. He came round that night and we recorded our first episode.

Amanda: I’ve watched the way we produce and consume climbing media evolve so much over the past 25 years. From a quarterly Australian magazine and waiting for the newsagency to get the latest Rock & Ice, Climbing or Alpinist mag in, through to a one-second look at a climbing pic on Instagram. I have missed hearing the full story (or most of a story). The inspiration for me comes from ‘the process’, not from clipping the anchors or topping out. I wanted to be able to get people’s stories out and particularly to give Australian climbers (of all abilities and experience) a platform.

The full Baffle Days team – Audrey, Tom and Amanda.

Where does the name of the podcast come from?
When I was a kid, Mum and Dad had a holiday house up north of Bundaberg in a place called Winfield. It was on a creek called Baffle Creek. I think I first went up there when I was six months old. It was just a small shack, nothing to it at all. There were about 20 houses/shacks there and the nearest shop was 45 minutes away. My brother and I slept on bunk beds in the front room, we would put our frozen slices of bread on the tin water tank to defrost and there was no TV. I spent the days swimming from the jetties, climbing through the mangroves, making forts with driftwood and riding my bike with the few other kids around. It was 100% the best childhood ever. We would go to Baffle every school holiday and even lived up there for a year when I was eight.

Everyone fished up there. The blokes would go out each day in their tinnies, wearing their stubbies then come home and sink some cold ones in Warmie’s shed. Depending on the day there’d be anywhere from five to 15 people gathered about shooting the shit and having a good time. A few of us kids would come in and have a can of Coke or lemonade and listen. I loved sitting in the corner, my bike next to me, and seeing how the simple act of everyone chatting away about nothing in particular formed such a strong community. Obviously at eight I didn’t quite see it quite like that, but I loved watching them all laughing and sharing a yarn.

The podcast is named after these memories and in the hope Amanda and I can capture the simple, fun storytelling we had both watched growing up and create a Baffle Days community of our own.

What do you like about podcasts that you can’t get from other platforms?
Tom: Podcasts are easy! You can’t read a book while driving or watch a documentary while mowing the lawn. You can listen to a podcast though. It’s such a nonintrusive and efficient way to learn something new. Pop on your headphones and away you go. No more of that quiet time with thoughts rolling around your head.

That being said, time in your head is hugely important. We can both end up listening to hours and hours a week of podcasts and love it. But we also make sure we spend some time processing with no noise. Constant, total distraction from your head isn’t healthy.

What do you think makes a great podcast?
Amanda: If it’s an interview style one, the guest needs to feel comfortable and the host needs to know who the person is. Which, when you get into it, is harder than it sounds! The host needs genuine curiosity about the subject matter and to be asking the right questions. People like different styles of podcasts, even Tom and I differ in the styles we prefer e.g. the conversational style or the Q&A, learning style. So far, different people and topics have suited a different approach and we generally run with what we think works best for each one.

Tom: On the technical side, good audio quality is a must. I’m not a tech geek or pro audio producer, I know there’s probably a thousands mistakes I’m making in producing our audio. However, everyone can relate to how hard it is to sit through even just a few minutes of a podcast that’s been recorded on the Apple headphones or your laptop mic. Or when the two people talking are on two completely different audio levels.

Socially distant studio setup for an episode with Lee Cossey.

You both work, train and are parents, how do you find time for podcasting?
Tom: Efficiency! Scheduling, planning and no time wasting! At least that’s the goal. We may fall short sometimes but we know where we are headed. It’s really easy for us both to get distracted by all the bollocks noise – Instagram, whinging and laziness will ruin us all. We’ve added more into our schedules and found ourselves with more time each week, because Amanda and I have planned it all in. It sounds boring and not a living-in-the-moment type life, but it works! Having said that, we would love an extra three to four hours each day. Twenty four hours isn’t enough!

How do you go about choosing guests? 
We just think about who we want to sit down and chat with. It’s quite a long list! We’d love to uncover the old stories from the beginning years of our sport. There was so much adventure and unknown in the approach from those guys and gals.

We also want to get our ears into the little scenes that are around Australia at the moment. It would be amazing to sit down and ask questions of people that know more than we do about stuff. Most people have a good story to tell, no matter how hard they climb. We are keen to find them.

How do you prepare for an interview?
We try and understand who the person is. How we see them, how they see themselves. Get a few ideas of ground we want to cover but also let things progress in a natural way. Some of the best stuff can be uncovered if you let it just happen. Mostly, we just want to let the person have fun, be themselves and let us ask a few questions.

Is the process of putting an episode together what you thought it would be before you started making podcasts?
It’s definitely been a really fun process creating them. I’m not certain what we expected in the beginning. We knew we had absolutely no idea about any of the tech side of things. That has been a complete jump into the deep end. Which is pretty daunting when you are putting this lack of skill out for the world to consume. We’ve picked up a few good bits of knowledge along the way but are still a long way off being as good as we would like to be. The more you know the more you realise how little you know.

It’s a pretty time consuming process as well. From start to finish it’s north of five hours per episode. From doing research and planning beforehand, recording, editing, finalising, uploading, writing web and app content, updating people on Instagram. It’s a real time chewer. Plus the nature of how it goes means you can’t just chunk it down into 15 minute blocks. You need to sit down and have an hour or more at a time.

Amanda putting in the work away from the mic.

Have you changed the way you do things with the podcast under the Virus lockdown? 
Tom: It has changed things a bit. Our original vision was to do everything in person with our guests, it was actually a pretty firm non-negotiable for me. To survive the ever-changing times you gotta be flexible though – be like water – we’ve now had a few interviews over Zoom and they’ve been pretty great. We’ll definitely be doing a few more like this, though I do want the majority of what we do to be in person.

Amanda: It has made me be a bit bolder with our approach. Where I may have been hesitant to contact someone or felt we had time on our side, I don’t so much now. It has been a good kick up the bum to move forward.

Has the audience changed during the lockdown, we have heard that overall podcast audiences have gone down though we reckon that is because most podcasts are listened to when people are on the move and people are simply moving around less.
Tom: We haven’t seen a drop in our content consumption. I think there’s certain things people will always find the time to listen to, climbing froth is one. Hopefully we can continue to give the people what they want through these times.

My personal listening habits have certainly dropped off with my lack of work. I’d usually crank out quite a few hours each week between work and commuting. Hard to do that now I’m stay-at-home Daddy-ing.

Are there any other climbing podcasts that you really love and what do you get out of them?
Tom: I love the Jam Crack podcast. Nail Grimes is an absolute hoot to listen to. The British sense of humour is a favourite!

Staying British, I’m a fan of Decomposed radio as well. It’s a house and techno music podcast highlighting the DJ talent around Sheffield and the UK climbing scene. Training music sorted!

Then the usual suspects on the Seppo side of the pod pond. Power Company Podcast, Training Beta for training chinwags. Enormocast for story telling. They are all great and have gotten me through a lot of solo time with my sanity still intact.

You’ve done ten episodes so far, what have been your personal favourites?
Tom: This is a complete cop out but I’ve really enjoyed all of them. I’ve learnt something from each of the people we’ve spoken to. From a selfish point of view I really enjoyed picking Kris Hampton’s (Power Company Climbing) brain for some training ideas. Chatting with Emma Horan was also a real highlight. She was super open and I really think there’s a lot in we can all learn from in that one.

Amanda: I am afraid I have to cop out in the same way. It has surprised me how much I have enjoyed each episode. There always seems to be a gem or a few gems in each one that inspire me or that I learn from. 

Have you learnt anything from a guest that you’ve incorporated into your own lives?
Amanda: It has definitely reinforced ideas and refuelled others. Jake’s podcast was a great kick in the bum to have a long vision for being consistent with training and climbing. Everyone has different approaches to life, climbing and training so it’s hard to not learn something from everyone we speak to.

Learning about getting strong with John Sheridan.

Do you have any upcoming podcasts that you’re excited about releasing?
Tom: We had a great chat with Mena Crane from Climbing Psychology the other week. I’m super excited for people to hear what she had to say. It is one of my favourites so far. We also have some great ones lined up. Amanda and I will be recording some nutrition episodes too, which will be awesome for people to hear.

Amanda: Our past two have been great for different reasons. Mena Crane talking climbing psychology and Steve Bechtel’s were both interesting points of view to add into the Baffle Days world. I am very excited about recording a nutrition series in the coming weeks and months and have some climbers I am very keen to talk to.

Do you both have a dream climber that you’d love to interview on the podcast?
Tom: I don’t know if I have a dream climber to talk to. There’s certainly people that would be ace to chat to. The dream mostly is to uncover the realness. There are some big names in the international scene that would be great, but there’s also a few Down Under that I’d be more excited to explore some ideas with.

Amanda: The list is endless!! I would love to talk to Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou. I think she has some excellent wisdom and insights over her years of crushing, and Beth Rodden and I had our babies at the same time so I would like to compare notes with her.

What do you want Baffle Days to become?
Tom: I’m not 100% where we want Baffle Days to go. I love doing the podcasts and I love writing so at the moment it’s serving as my outlet for those things. I’d love to have more time to be able to put more content together. We would need it to start earning some money for that to happen though. I guess that’s the next step.

Amanda: Hahahaha the business minded part of me can send you through the business plan. But for now I think it’s best to say that we want to be able to carve out more time for Baffle Days to grow and have a solid presence in the climbing world.

Here at VL we’re both big fans of podcasts, at their best they can be inspirational and even life-transforming, has there been such a podcast either of you?
Tom: Depends on how deep you want to go with inspiration and life-transforming. In a bigger sense, Tony Robbins podcast has inspired us both. It made me bloody psyched to get out there and live as me, try something new and go for it 100%. That’s pretty bloody cool!

Also, when I’ve listened to the right guest on a Joe Rogan podcast it’s very much changed my life and perspective. There are some pretty incredible people he speaks with. Hearing stories, ideas and perspectives from people who have a completely different life to you can be powerful. I’m constantly trying to be better and I’m pretty open to listening to a lot of different approaches.

That’s the power of a podcast. You can change your entire perspective on life while sitting on the train!

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