Chances With Wolves is not your typical radio program. Operated by two Brooklyn-raised DJs, Kenan and Kray — whose love of music has bonded them since they were kids — Chances with Wolves has freed itself of the traditional constraints of modern day radio programming by ignoring genre categories in favor of "feel" and "mood." What started as a small experiment between friends grew into a 6-year-running radio program with quite a following. Now that East Village Radio — where Kenan and Kray recorded — has shut its doors for good, we decided to ask the men behind the show some questions.
When did you first start putting music together?
Kray: Well I’ve been making little mixtapes since I was fifteen. I’d make little tapes for my walkman and for girls. But me and Kenan worked together in a nightclub music venue and we would play the music between the bands and before and after. And we would compete to find the best songs: “Check this out I’ve got some new old songs, hidden gems.”
Kenan: We’d go back and forth.
At what point did you decide to make a radio station?
Kray: We didn’t decide. Somebody else had the idea. There was this radio station called East Village Radio, and they said, “You could make a show of it.” Me, Kenan and Mikey Palms. And so we just made a demo. We went over to my friend’s house and made a fake. We call that Episode 0, our pilot episode.
Where did the name originate?
Kray: There’s this movie with Kevin Costner [called Dances with Wolves]. I think it won an an Oscar. It’s like a little play on that, a pun.
Kenan: It was a joke, and you can hear in the first episode, we’re literally saying, “That’s a veto. We’re not calling the show that. It’s ridiculous.”
Talk about starting the show.
Kenan: I feel like Justin had a vision that I was able to understand really early on. I give him a lot of credit for understanding the direction we were going in, and for taking it out of a genre-based radio station and having it more based around feeling. We’re looking for music that feels this way or makes you feel this way, rather than doing a psych show or a funk show or, and as a DJ that was a different concept for me. Even though I had done radio before in college, because of the way that I approached DJing it made sense to play music together by genre, to do a reggae set, to do a funk set.
Kray: To put them in boxes, all filled with ticky tacky.
Kenan: I was moved by the idea of not doing that. It was okay to have our own rules and then when people started responding to that, that was the moment when I was like, “Oh shit, maybe there’s a want for this.” People like it and they’re listening.
In one sentence how would you describe CWW to someone who had never heard of you?
Kray: I have to do that all the time, but I’m usually not trying to come up with the right answer. I say, “It’s old records that we find that are beautiful or something, and then we mix them up and put wolf howls over it.” That’s not really trying to capture it, just trying to answer the question.
Kenan: When you start to explain you have a radio show, you can see people start to tune out. It’s something that’s really hard to convey. So I just say, “Go listen to it, because it’s really hard to explain.”
Who is your typical listener?
Kray: We get a lot of emails from people. And often they talk about how they put it on while they’re working. A lot of artists or people that make things.
Kenan: Some guy in the Norwegian woods was building a house with his dad, and Chances with Wolves was the soundtrack for him building this house with his father. It’s nice for us to think about while we play; it becomes atmospheric. Maybe you’re not tuned into every single song—we are while we’re doing—but maybe the people listening aren’t.
Kray: It’s in the background.
And you’re okay with that?
Kray: That’s the best.
You never play the same song twice. Where do you go to find these songs?
Kray: Records. We have a lot of records and we still buy records. And the internet.
Any particular spots?
Kenan: The depths.
Kray: There are peer to peer sharing things where record dudes make rips of records and if you’re looking for a specific one that’s really good to use.
What’s the preparation for the show like?
Kray: A week.
Kenan: Because the show is weekly, we don’t have a choice but to have that. Unless we’re doing a themed show, there’s pretty much no discussion before the show. We both just show up with what we have.
Were there ever disagreements about what you should play?
Kenan: At the beginning we’d have aesthetic discussions, but that stuff dissolved quite a bit after a couple of months. We figured it out pretty quickly and the trust between us became a big part of it.
How did you feel about EVR’s closing?
Kray: I felt fine. I’m not as sentimental.
Kenan: Yeah I’m a little more emotional. [Laugh]. It was bittersweet. I was bummed out. I got really emotional thinking about how we’ve been doing this show through the different stages of our lives and it’s been a crazy big part of our life, thinking about that ending was powerful. And then we got to the station to do the show, and all of our friends showed up and there was a big party on the street—so I didn’t have time to be sad about it while it was happening. And then I think that show turned out so good—I loved it—it just felt like everything ends and this was a good change.
I have to ask — what is your secret to success?
Kenan: I don’t know. I don’t know what the criteria are for the definition of success. The fact that people have received the show well is something that is really beautiful and motivating for us. That’s the success. There’s not really much else.
Is there a rule that every DJ should follow?
Kenan: I don’t know about telling anybody anything, but I know that a big part of our approach on the show was sincerity and authenticity. There’s very little posturing around the music that we play. It is what it is. And a lot of it is stuff that no one paid attention to in the first place—it was overlooked, a “weird” record.
Kray: Yeah, I always used to call them beautiful failures. Most of the people we play are people who made this beautiful art that no one gave a shit about. And it just languished in some box. It was successfully beautiful.