An Interview with Justin Drown of the Podcast Obscura: A True Crime Podcast

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Today I’m proud to announce my first podcaster interview for Vinyl Writer, Justin Drown of Obscura: A True Crime Podcast. I discovered the podcast a couple of years ago, and it instantly became a must-listen. Justin’s passion for storytelling and journalism is apparent in the amount of work that goes into each episode, and how they are compiled. Justin brings a different form of true crime podcasting to the table that others don’t. The raw emotion mixed with extreme and often explicit details is something that is hard to find in other podcasts that are within the same genre, especially in his Black Label series. The episodes aren’t too long, but also aren’t too short, so if you’ve got the time, I highly recommend this one to anyone interested in true crime!

Anthony:
Justin, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview regarding your podcast Obscura: A True Crime Podcast. Let’s dive right in! Can you tell us a bit about how you got your start in podcasting and who or what influenced you to dive into the true crime genre?

Justin:
Like a lot of other podcasters, I grew up on a steady diet of Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911. The part that freaked me out as a child is that Unsolved Mysteries covered paranormal subjects completely straight. With the same matter-of-fact coverage, they’d give a True Crime case. So, as a kid, I was like, “Well, if Robert Stack is telling me about Chupacabra I guess they’re real.”

Anthony:
I can imagine Fact or Fiction and Forensic Files would have been some shows you gain inspiration from, am I right about this?

Justin:
Forensic Files came much later. That’s the show I think of when I think of my twenties. I must have watched every episode three or four times during those years. It became a habit. Get home from work. Throw on Forensic Files.

Anthony:
You started Obscura about 3 years ago, right? What were you doing before you started the podcast and how long did it take to see both your follower and download count move up to the point that you knew you were really onto something?

Justin:
I worked as a Security Guard from nineteen to twenty-nine years old. Staring down the barrel of thirty, I chose to blow my life savings to pursue my dreams of being a content creator. DON’T DO THIS. It was incredibly irresponsible and I’m lucky things worked out the way they did.

Anthony:
The true-crime genre seems like it would be a bit tough to break into with a sea of other podcasters doing similar type shows. How would you say you were able to break from the mold and even move onto the shortlist of “top true crime podcasts?”

Justin:
I could not imagine breaking in these days. When I started, it felt like there was maybe one new indie true crime podcast a month. Now, I’m seeing them spring up daily. I think Obscura working out was a mix of timing, hard work, and luck. Emphasis on timing.

Anthony:
I’m sure when it comes to picking a case to cover for an episode of your show, there’s a lot of research that goes into making an episode. What’s the process like when it comes to picking, researching, fact-checking, and writing an episode?

Justin:
When I started Obscura, I wore every hat. I researched, wrote, recorded, and produced every episode. These days, I’m lucky enough to work directly with incredibly talented writers. When brainstorming an episode, we try to stay away from frequently covered cases. Though, with so many podcasts, overlap happens. When possible, we like to reach out to the victim’s family. It helps to inform the script since Obscura is victim first at its core. As far as fact-checking goes, it’s important to use numerous verified sources which are then listed on our website.

Anthony:
What are some of your personal favorite podcasts? Are there any that you would like to be a guest voice for?

Justin:
I’ve listened to every episode of Your Kickstarter Sucks. On a surface level, it’s a podcast where the two hosts dissect bad Kickstarters. But it’s so much more than that. In each episode, Mike and J.F. relentlessly mock unshackled capitalism in a hilarious/ironic fashion.

If it’s True Crime you’re looking for, then I can’t recommend Morbidology enough. Emily G. Thompson gives exhaustive coverage to each case and she covers them with a compassionate gaze.

Anthony:
You cover some pretty heavy topics, especially in your Black Label series. One of the things that allow your podcast to stand out from the rest is that you’re not afraid to get into the extreme and explicit details of some crimes. Do you find yourself having to take some mental breaks in between episodes, or do you record multiple episodes in a period of time?

Justin:
Yes, I think writing Black Label gave me PTSD. It’s what led me to work exclusively with writers.

Anthony:
Have you covered a topic/episode that stuck with you for a while? Personally, your episode about the Hart family was one that stuck out, as well as “House of Horrors.” Do you have any topics that are particularly hard for you to cover?

Justin:
The Katelyn Nicole Davis episode of Black Label is the one the haunts me the most. There is an uncharacteristic rant at the end of the episode. That wasn’t pre-written. It was totally off the cuff. I was so filled with rage and sorrow recording that rant that I was crying. If you listen back to it, you can probably tell. I took a small mental health break after pressing upload on that one.

Anthony:
Following up on my question regarding breaks, what do you like to do in your free time? Do you collect any vinyl or cassette tapes? Play any video games?

Justin:
I’m into all forms of media. Reading, movies, video games, etc. I’ve been into the Hip -Hop artist, Clipping recently. Primarily the album Visions of Bodies Being Burned. I think their track ‘Say the Name’ is my most listened-to track of 2020. I just finished the 97’ Final Fantasy VII on my Nintendo Switch last night.

I’m not into collecting physical media anymore. I snapped out of it. There was a time where I had the entire Nine Inch Nails discography. Every Halo. Spent over a decade collecting. One day, I listed the whole thing on eBay. The same thing goes with my Criterion Collection blu-rays.

I think I fell out of love with owning things. All of those years collecting felt like an attempt to fill a void. I’d get a temporary high from a purchase and then it’d sit on the shelf with the rest. One day, it occurred to me that owning things would never give me the fulfillment I sought.

Anthony:
I’m always interested in the kinds of equipment and software people use to record. What kind of hardware and software do you work with?

Justin:
Equipment: Shure SM7B, DBX 286s, Focusrite Scarlett Solo, and a Cloudlifter CL-1.

Software: I use Hindenburg Journalist pro to edit on my MacBook Pro.

For plugins, I use a mix of iZotope and Waves.

Anthony:
Justin, again, thank you so much for taking the time to go through these questions with me. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Do you have any pets, a favorite recipe, future projects, maybe even live shows at some point when things calm down?

Justin:
Instead of plugging something, I’d instead like to suggest that your readers considering supporting the charity RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). In True Crime, covering sexual abuse is unfortunately common episode to episode. As a victim of childhood sexual and physical abuse at the hands of a family member, I know firsthand that we’re not doing enough to protect our children. To quote RAINN, “Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child.” If like me, you’re skeptical about charities then know that RAINN has an A rating on charitywatch.org.

Anthony:
And lastly, for our readers that would like to listen to your show, where can we find you?

Justin:
You can catch episodes at obscuracrimepodcast.com.

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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