Podcast aims to make human connections in Utah’s growing counterculture

Hosts of “Other People’s Stories” are out to foster “a bond of community,” with interviews on a comfy couch.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lo Peterson, left, and Elizabeth Leach are the hosts of "Other People's Stories," a Utah podcast, April 5, 2022.

Three mics. Two chairs. One green velvet couch.

These are the staples of the studio — actually a Rose Park living room — where Lauren “Lo” Peterson and Elizabeth Leach record their podcast, “Other People’s Stories.” The guest sits on the couch, while the hosts sit in their two white armchairs.

The space, in Peterson’s house, is immediately comforting. It’s a well-decorated, ambient area fit with gemstones, a sprawling record collection, vintage cameras and typewriters. Three cats — Valentina, Leo and Taco — also stroll through or hang out.

The atmosphere puts people at ease, which is Peterson’s goal. “Spaces are important to me,” she said. “I think that it tells a story about the person that you’re with.”

The living room has become the invisible listener to the stories told by the podcast’s guests — an eclectic group of Utahns that has included former Salt Lake City Council member Shireen Ghorbani, baker Mandy Madsen (who owns the Mad Dough doughnut shop), and Americana band Backyard Revival.

Peterson and Leach, in their first two seasons of the podcast, have asked guests to share stories of “who are you as a person and why you are the way that you are,” Peterson said.

Mostly, though, the talk is geared toward sharing experiences, trading tales, and — as the hosts put it — “shooting the shite.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Elizabeth Leach, left, and Lo Peterson, right, talk to friend Sam Jeet about their recent trips, while sitting in the living room of Lo's home. Leach and Peterson are the hosts of "Other People's Stories," a Utah podcast, April 5, 2022.

Capturing human connection

“Other People’s Stories” is the hosts’ second effort for the Utah Podcast Network. The first, “Alt-Wrong,” took aim at “conspiracy theories and scientific fallacies,” Leach said. It also took a lot of research, and the pair was looking to do something different.

Peterson and Leach, who worked in the tech industry before getting into podcasting, said they wanted to use “Other People’s Stories” to focus on human connection — something social media, whatever its other merits, tends to stifle.

The subjects come from different occupations — among them politicians, business leaders, artists and musicians. The goal, the hosts said, is to interview people who are interesting, innovative and cool.

As Utah is growing, Leach said, the counterculture scene is slowly and surely rising. Salt Lake City, she said, is “cultivating itself into a Portland or Austin-esque kind of place.”

The hosts aren’t asking subjects just about what they do — but learning who they are. “It’s like 100 years ago: Everyone knew their neighbors and everybody knew the family running a restaurant,” Leach said. “That builds a bond of community.”

In a recent episode, for example, Peterson and Leach interviewed Tripp Mims, baker and owner of Mims Bakery, a cottage business he and his wife, Thy Hoang Vu, launched just after the COVID-19 pandemic started. They talked about bread, but they also talked about grief; Vu was killed last October when a suspected drunk driver hit her car during a police pursuit. Mims told the hosts about his work with lawmakers to examine the laws that govern police chases.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Elizabeth Leach laughs with Lo Peterson as they talk about their recent vacations in the living room of Lo's home. Leach and Peterson are the hosts of Other People's Stories, a local podcast, April 5, 2022.

“We as humans have so many facets,” Peterson said. “We don’t always, from the outside, get to see all of the inner workings of somebody.”

And they learn bits and pieces that they never would’ve come across otherwise. In a recent episode, musician Kya Karine, aka Bass Princess, told them Salt Lake City is the nation’s capital for cover bands for weddings.

Leach said she once heard a podcast talking about the loss of one’s religion — something many Utahns experience, she said. The hosts both grew up in Utah County, where the population tends to be more conservative and more likely to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than people in Salt Lake City. Leach’s parents are members of the faith, but not particularly active, she said; Peterson grew up in a strict Latter-day Saint household.

(Though the hosts come from towns just a few miles apart — and even went to the same junior high school — they didn’t really become friends until a few years later, through an experience with a mutual friend.)

One aspect of leaving one’s religion that struck Leach, she said, is how those people also experience a loss of community — and how that transition, from being connected to being isolated, can affect someone.

Peterson added that she believes “podcasting, specifically over the last 10 years, has become this huge, huge industry of connecting people with people. I think that something that isn’t very common is connecting with people in your [own] community.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Valentina the cat listens as Lo Peterson and Elizabeth Leach discuss their recent vacations. Peterson and Leach are the hosts of Other People's Stories, a local podcast, April 5, 2022.

Talking with friends

There’s no particular rhyme or rhythm to how the show books its guests, Leach said. The hosts tend to seek out people who seem interesting on social media or in real life, or people who may seem to have a “more than what meets the eye” quality, she said.

Peterson added that the podcast “bridges the gap in between being a human and being the person everybody sees you as.”

The interviews are conversational, less stuffy and jammed with information as many podcasts tend to be. They limit their prep time, so they can keep the conversation organic and candid. With Peterson’s living room as a studio, it feels like sitting down with two friends.

“That’s who Elizabeth and I are at our core,” Peterson said.

A question about their dream interview subjects sets off on the sort of back-and-forth two friends have. Peterson nominates former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan — and the conversation momentarily derails when Leach confirms that Sloan died nearly two years ago. They tease the idea of finding a Ouija board, or a medium, which Leach is on board to pursue.

Ultimately, Peterson suggests the current coach of the Jazz, Quin Snyder, would be a dream interview — but so would any cast member from “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.” Leach’s dream team includes James Huntsman, who recently filed a lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the church’s finances, and Flamingo Jazz, the New Orleans-style band that plays Wednesday nights at the downtown Salt Lake City bar and restaurant Lake Effect.

They have some ideas for podcasts into the summer — but, Peterson said, they’re happy to hear from anyone who would like to be on the show, or can nominate someone interesting. “It’s about Utah, which means our best pool of people are the people who are listening,” she said.

The podcast is a true passion project — neither host gets paid, and though they wouldn’t be opposed to it, they don’t entirely mind. Not getting paid, they said, means they can’t be accused of having an “agenda.”

“We do it literally just to do it because we really do think that Salt Lake City is a weird, delightful, strange, very innovative, very productive place,” Leach said.

“We do want people to be the best versions of themselves,” Peterson added, “and if [money] were to ever sway us away from that, I don’t think that we could in good conscience make money off of it. Honestly, I don’t think that we’re just not those people.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.