Game Worn: Cole Cuchna Walks The Talk In The Jordan Air Cadence
The Dissect podcast founder discusses the growth of his passion project, his creative process and the Jordan Air Cadence.
Words: Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins
Photography: Raoul Ortega
“Game Worn” explores the breadth, nuance and stories behind the modern entrepreneurial mindset, as well as the sneakers that support subjects in their pursuit of greatness.
Now in month six of quarantine, many of us are still adjusting to this “new normal.” Mostly isolated to our homes, we’re each trying to find our version of comfort. Those who are fortunate have taken on creative projects, while others have found new ways to get active. Most people are also making sure to spend safe, quality time with their families. If you’re Cole Cuchna, you’re juggling all of the above.
Cole is widely known for his award winning podcast, Dissect — a serialized, deep-dive music show that examines a single album per season, with one song per episode. He’s done a forensic-like analysis of some of the most important contemporary releases. As a result, he’s built a loyal fan base of listeners who eagerly tune in to hear him put their favorite albums under the microscope.
Yet before he had created one of the most impressive examinations of music in recent history, Dissect was Cole’s side hustle — a project he would work on at night, after long days working full-time at a specialty coffee company in Sacramento, California. There, he was a jack of all trades, which included marketing and creative direction.
Cole grew up writing songs, playing in bands and ultimately studying classical music and composition in college. Creating Dissect helped him stay connected with his love for music, even amongst his busy adult life at work and as a family man. His passion project has now paid off big. The side hustle is now his main hustle. And the podcast he created, blending all of his interests, is now the centerpiece of music discussions everywhere. He’s gone from being a fan and student of music to an at-home professor living in our headphones week after week.
Now, fresh off the finale of his sixth season, Cole took some time to speak with us about being dedicated to his craft, making sure he’s focused on the right things in our ever-changing world and the new Jordan Air Cadence.
Looking at the evolution of your show over the years, I’m curious, how has your creative approach changed?
I would say that the biggest change is the amount of time and resources that were allocated once it became full-time, and I got to quit my other job.
I always wanted to stay true to what got me here. I actually made it a point to not change Dissect. When I first took it to Spotify, I still recorded at home, I still wrote all of the scripts myself. I didn’t really change anything for the first couple seasons. I didn’t want to turn my back on what got me here. I think that’s part of the appeal of my podcast, and podcasts in general, is that they’re very personal and intimate.
Specifically with mine, you’re hearing my interpretation of these works. As I expanded the team, I wanted to preserve the authenticity of the show, which is, in many ways, direct communication from me to the listener’s ear.
“Dissect is like my therapy. It has never felt like work.”
You said that you didn’t want to turn your back on what got you here. What are the other aspects of that, besides staying hands-on?
The number one credit goes to the albums and artists themselves. There were some strategic elements in what I’ve chosen to dissect, because without a great piece of art, the show is nothing; it doesn’t exist. I don’t want to take too much credit. I try to facilitate a deeper understanding of music and use my background.
Maybe what sets it apart is that I have a pretty eclectic music background, in terms of where I came from and having a self-taught perspective. I started playing guitar when I was young, and then I moved into piano and wrote songs for about 10 years. I wrote my own songs, played in bands and toured.
In my 20s, I went to college and studied formal composition. I really got to see the more mechanical and theoretical sides of music. With Dissect, I try to bridge those two worlds together. I take an approach that I learned in college and apply it to contemporary music that I listen to for my own enjoyment.
When you’re in college, you study classical music. I always thought that was weird, because to me, popular music offers the same amount of expression, insight and genius that classical music does. I just thought, “Why not? I’ll use these skills and apply them to contemporary music.” I think that’s what makes the show unique, a mindset that really treats these albums as works of art. They are on the level of Beethoven, and I’m treating them with that amount of reverence, respect and love. As objective as I try to be, I don’t think I can necessarily hide my love of these albums sometimes.
Like you said, your analysis is heavily research-based, but it’s also driven by love. Is there an intention, at times, to separate your personal feelings from the analysis?
I think the love is what keeps me going. It takes a certain amount of love to spend three to six months thinking, listening to and writing about a single album. That’s always the driving force. Otherwise, it would feel like work, and Dissect has never, to this day, felt like work. It feels like the same kind of passion project that it began as. On the show, I try to create a pretty clear divide, when it comes to sharing my personal opinion or breaking from objective analysis.
Since you spend so much time listening to an album, does it ever feel like, “Oh, this album is burnt out?”
It doesn’t, because you’re discovering new things at all times. It just enriches the experience. It becomes new over and over again. Every time I find a discovery, especially a big one, it gets me going. I’ll jump out of my seat, literally, and just be so ecstatic in my own head! That’s why I do this, for those discoveries. By the end, it’s a brand new album to me.
You’ve been talking about how much time you spend with all of this — not just the music, but the actual creation of the podcast, as well. There’s the research, the multiple drafts, the edits, the tracking and the sound engineering. There’s a ton of work that goes into making this thing great. How do you balance the demands of the art you’re creating with prioritizing everything else in your life, like mental health and family?
I would say that it was a bigger concern before this became my full-time gig. Thinking back to those days, I sometimes questioned how I did all of it, to be honest. I was a brand new father. I literally started writing Dissect a few months after I had my first daughter, when I was also working full-time. By the end of season two, which was the last one I did on my own, it was just too much.
Yet there was a part of me that kept thinking, “I’m onto something.” It was a struggle during the last half of the second season, but I got a sense that it could develop into something more. That’s what carried me through.
Dissect is like my therapy. It has never felt like work. I’ve been pretty good about compartmentalizing, now that it’s my full time job. I’ve made a pretty strict routine with myself, in terms of just saying, “I’m done working for the day, now I’m going to be with my family.”
With this show — and I know I’m guilty of doing this to you, too — fans are constantly offering suggestions for future seasons. Like, “Hey Cole, you should do a season on so-and-so.” What goes into deciding what the next season is?
It’s a mix. I would say there are a few components. I do take in fan consideration, because I want to stay connected. There are albums I could do that would be more self-serving. A dream of mine is to dissect a symphony. Whether people would actually listen, I don’t know.
I try to gauge where the audience is. That’s important. The other component is, can this album hold up for what ends up being a roughly 12-hour analysis? Because every episode is a 5,000 to 8,000 word script.
Wow. Additionally, with podcasting, the audience is accustomed to hearing your voice as opposed to seeing you. Yet, in a decent amount of press photos, you’re pictured wearing Jordans. I’m curious, did you always have a relationship with sneakers the way you do with music?
Yeah. Before music, I was obsessed with basketball and the NBA, like since elementary school. I was obsessed with the Chicago Bulls. Obviously, if you’re into basketball, you’re most likely into sneakers, especially if you’re from that era. Jordans were everything.
Our family couldn’t afford Jordans, so I never actually got a pair until I was in my 20s. But I always loved them. I have vivid memories of going shoe shopping, and I would get a strict limit, a dollar amount that I could spend. I think 40 bucks was usually my limit.
I’ll always remember going to the wall of shoes, taking them off the shelf and just looking at the hot new features. Shoe technology was really accelerating in the ‘90s. You see that evolution throughout the history of Jordans themselves.
Around 13 years old, I got really into skateboarding. I was a very, very serious skateboarder. With skateboarding, you’re actually forced to think about shoes all the time, because you’re wearing through them faster than most other sports. You’re always looking for your next pair of shoes, because within a month or two, your shoes are destroyed.
When I got back into basketball in my 20s and 30s, and even just listening to more hip-hop, too, I got more passionate about sneakers. And by then, I was actually able to afford some of the shoes I always wanted. It’s funny how a lot of the shoes I own, most of them are Jordans. I’m just trying to buy back a piece of my childhood.
The nostalgia of it all.
Finally buying a pair of Jordans was like, it’s weird to say, but it was a defining moment of success for me.
There are stories to Air Jordans, probably more than any other shoe.
It’s a really great timeline. Even with The Last Dance documentary, there are defining moments of history in each model. That’s really unique. Sneakers, in general, transcend their physical form to represent something about culture. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to Jordans, specifically. They just capture several moments in a bottle. The cool thing is that you get to own a piece of that.
Totally. I know we’re in the middle of quarantine, but if you think back to a time before Covid-19, which sneaker is your go-to for a big event? Or maybe for recording or a press photo shoot?
Usually, it’s always Jordan Is. The Air Jordan I is my favorite shoe of all time. It’s the most perfect sneaker I have. Any red Air Jordan I is my go-to for special occasions, photo shoots, big meetings, etc. It translates the highest amount of confidence that I can glean, through a sneaker.
I want to jump into the Jordan Air Cadence. What was your first impression of the shoe?
When I got them and opened the box, the first thing I noticed was the midsole. That was the biggest thing that jumped out. I love shoes that feel like they’re moving and active, even when they’re not.
I also instantly thought of the walks I’ve been taking during quarantine. There are only so many chances to go out now. Walking is a big part of me going out into the world. Before, I just threw on whatever for a walk or a run. Now, it’s a little more strategic, because it’s a chance to get a ‘fit off, even if no one’s seeing me.
Also, they’re really comfortable. I don’t know the technical term, but just the way the sole hits the ground when I walk, that component of the Air Cadence feels very thought out. When I walked in them for the first time, it felt really natural. It’s one of those shoes that feels like a natural part of your foot. So, I’ve been walking in them, and they’ve become my go-to quarantine shoe.
You’ve been outspoken about your support of the Black community and the artists whose work you feature on Dissect. A lot of people wouldn’t get into these topics during their press moments, but you choose to do so without hesitation. You also live in Sacramento, where Stephon Clark, a young African-American man was shot and killed by two officers. What are your thoughts on this moment in history?
I felt like it would be inaccurate, in a lot of respects, to not talk about what’s happening, in terms of social justice and inequality. Any portrait of me right now, in this moment, is incomplete without addressing it. Every city has their Stephon Clark, George Floyd and Trayvon Martin, and most of them have more than one story of an innocent Black life lost.
In Sacramento specifically, we lost Stephon Clark. He was shot 20 times by officers in 2018. He was unarmed, and the gun they claimed he had turned out to be a cell phone. The officers were not charged.
Specifically in Sacramento, there’s been a huge effort to keep his name on the tips of everyone’s tongues and his story on everyone’s minds. His brother has become a really important figure in the movement here.
This will be a defining moment in history, and hopefully for the better.
You saying that makes me think about what makes a “defining moment.” There’s this idea that something lasts to help solidify those moments, good or bad.
The other thing is, there’s no secret that all six seasons of Dissect have been about Black artists. The majority of them are speaking about these issues. These artists help all of us to learn more about experiences that may not be our own and to learn about history that we weren’t taught in school. These pieces of art can shape the way you live your life. Listening — that’s really what Dissect is. It’s an act of listening. That’s the way that we learn from each other, in order to then help each other.
The Jordan Air Cadence is now available on Nike.com and at select retailers.