If you’ve been a longtime Radiotopia listener, you might’ve heard ‘The Heart.’
It’s a podcast about intimacy, bodies, gender, power dynamics and all the invisible things in the air between us, hosted by Kaitlin Prest and co-created alongside Mitra Kaboli. After bringing listeners stories for years, and earning a Peabody Award nomination in 2017, The Heart went on hiatus.
Fast forward to now: Prest recently founded Mermaid Palace, an audio company rooted in community, unapologetic artistic impulses and a commitment to centering queer voices. And, The Heart is back — beginning today!
What about The Heart has changed? New voices and unguarded stories at this burning moment in time. Two members of Mermaid Palace — Phoebe Unter and Nicole Kelly — previously co-hosts of the podcast bitchface, are now producing and hosting alongside Kaitlin. What might be familiar? Irresistible stories and sounds that take you somewhere else, with a touch of irreverence (with editing from continued Heart collaborator Sharon Mashihi).
On the episode released today, listeners can get to know Phoebe and Nicole (NK), including how they formed their creative partnership and got to where they are today. Future episodes will traverse topics ranging from the habit of people-pleasing and what it means to divest from it, code-switching, intergenerational trauma and unlearning whiteness.
Without further adieu, you can also get to know a bit more about Phoebe, Nicole, Kaitlin and The Heart right here:
The Heart - Lesbian Separatism Is Inevitable - 27:11
How NK & Phoebe fell in art love. Are you the creator of this podcast? Connect with listeners Podcasters use the…
Phoebe and NK — can you tell us a little more about yourselves? What is your experience in podcasting and what brought you to ‘The Heart’?
Nicole Kelly: We started making bitchface in 2016 as a podcast about identity, power, and our deepest obsessions. We gradually built a small audience by creating what we wanted to hear, combining interviews, music, conversations, narrative and highly personal experiences caught on tape to bring listeners episodes about topics like monogamy, collective organizing, hitchhiking, the ‘female gaze’ and rage.
Phoebe Unter: Eventually, we also started collaborating on other things… like a collection of zines on feminism, and gatherings at organizations such as the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles.
NK: Although bitchface wasn’t strictly narrative, it was sound rich and personally political. The Heart was a big influence. In 2017, we were in New York, where they were based at that time, so we emailed them. In the email, we explained that their show was our only reference for highly-produced experimental audio with queer vibes, and we asked to buy them a coffee.
Phoebe: Kaitlin’s response was really unexpected — she met with us, listened to the show, left a voicemail on our bitchface hotline that made us cry, and published one of our episodes.
NK: That was huge for us. People tell us all the time that they found us via The Heart.
Phoebe: This past Valentine’s Day, Kaitlin told us that she was starting a company called Mermaid Palace. She wanted The Heart to return to listeners, and asked if we were interested in making the episodes for it. The Heart’s editorial advisor Sharon Mashihi had said it was “bitchface or bust.”
NK: We had to do it.
As the new producers, we’re carrying The Heart’s signature narrative style forward, the rich sound quality, the feminist and queer lens, and a goal to make critiques of power accessible to a wider audience.
Phoebe: Because of the reputation that The Heart has built over the years, we get to be a little more experimental now.
Kaitlin Prest: Funny enough, this is full circle for The Heart, which started in a spirit of punk artistic rawness.
Kaitlin — what’s the difference between ‘The Heart’ that listeners know and love and the new version of ‘The Heart’?
Kaitlin: In one way, the show will sound exactly the same, except instead of using me and my friends using our personal lives to ask big questions about power and gender, Phoebe and NK will use theirs.
In another way, it will sound like a more unflinching version of itself.
When I first heard Phoebe and NK’s work, it sounded to me exactly the way The Heart sounded when we were at our most vulnerable, our most daring and our most politically motivated.
I mean, the show has always been politically motivated. We’ve always straddled a delicate balance of appealing to a mass audience while staying true to what we set out to push forward in media. Part of the reason for that straddle was because we wanted the ideas to go far, to be accessible. Another part was that we had no choice — if we wanted to be respected professionally in public radio we couldn’t be too political without being labelled as activists instead of legitimate documentarians. The world is different now. The podcast landscape is different now. I think there is a massive audience of people who don’t want to hear sugar-coated queer feminist work. Phoebe and NK are making that non-sugar-coated work.
Phoebe and NK — The first new episode releasing January 15 will cover how you met and fell in “art love.” Can you tell us a little more about that and what you will be exploring?
Phoebe: This is our origin story, but it’s also about creating your own world when the one that exists is oppressive and unsatisfying. It’s a story about what happens when the frustration with trying to be successful within set boundaries reaches a boiling point, and you must burst beyond the things you are told you should be.
NK: This is the story of meeting someone who helps you become a truer version of yourself.
In the future, what kinds of stories will ‘The Heart’ tell? What can listeners look forward to?
NK: The Heart will feature stories about love and sex, like always, while delving into love in its many forms — not just romantic — and relationships in a larger sense.
Phoebe: Relationship to self, to community, historical relationships and power dynamics between individuals and groups.
Can you walk us through your creative process when creating ‘The Heart’?
Phoebe: It involves a lot of Domino’s pizza.
NK: And hundreds of Google Docs.
Kaitlin: And whiskey.
Any interesting stories from your time creating this new iteration of ‘The Heart’? Anything in the process that surprised you?
Kaitlin: Working with Phoebe and NK brings me back to the heyday of Heart making. What’s surprised me is how this new era has quickly felt like a continuation of the past. It feels like I’m back in Mermaid Palace, which is what we called my bedroom with Mitra and company when I lived in New York, where we often made the show. A place built on intimacy and trust. The Heart is that too. Our work could involve vibrators, bonding drugs, being moved to tears. Phoebe and NK are incredible, respectful collaborators.
Who or what are some of your personal influences?
Phoebe: We’re most inspired by people in our audio community making politically challenging and beautiful work. And we’re really lucky to actually know them! Lewis Wallace, Erisa Apantaku, Aliya Pabani, Palace Shaw & Ariana Lee, Mara Lazer, Ari Mejia, James T. Green, Ariana Martinez, Phoebe Wang, Myra Al-Rahim and Sharon Mashihi, to name a few.
NK: “Espera” by Sayre Quevedo, “Signature Research” by Dylan Gauche, “EMDR” by James T. Green. “Five Women” by Chana Joffee-Walt and the episode of I Love Dick it was in part inspired by. “Mei Mei, A Daughter’s Song” by Dmae Roberts is my favorite radio story. Slave Play. Andrea Long Chu’s Twitter feed. The 1619 Project. The podcast Tea With Queen & J. We listen to certain episodes of The Heart together, like “No”; “Man Choubam,” “Love, Harry” and “BFF.”
What do you hope listeners will take away from this new season? What do you hope to invoke in their listening experience?
Phoebe & NK: We’ll keep you entertained while also giving you stories told by thoughtful, critical people whose experiences will hopefully make you a little more more empathetic and perhaps moved to action.