RZA knows the score — and more
Wu-Tang Clan co-founder making directorial debut
When Wu-Tang Clan co-founder RZA talks about his score for the film “The Man With the Iron Fists” — which he also co-wrote and directed — he lights up. The Grammy-winning producer born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs says he hasn’t been as energized about any project since his first album with Wu-Tang back in 1993, and apologizes for “geeking out” as he gushes about the multitude of synthesizers he used to meticulously mimic the sounds of an orchestra.
The film, co-written by RZA and Eli Roth and slated for a fall release with Universal, is set in feudal China and stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. As it happens, RZA didn’t originally intend to score the film, and had to be convinced by the film’s producers and his buddy, director Quentin Tarantino.
“I finally said, ‘OK, I guess I’ll be scoring it,’” recalls RZA, who promptly called frequent collaborator Howard Drossin to help him out. “We have a great working relationship, and I said, ‘Howard, here we go again. Let’s do another film together.’ … And so I went into musician mode and started writing different cues and different emotions for the film. I think actually it was a wise idea because really, at the end of the day, who would understand these characters more than me?”
RZA, whose scoring credits include Tarantino’s two-volume “Kill Bill” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,” took a very different approach to scoring “Fists.” Instead of working with an orchestra as he had in the past, he and Drossin used electronics to create most of the orchestral parts.
“We took months and five or six different computers, about seven or eight keyboards, and we emulated an orchestra,” RZA explains. “That to me is a special catch to this film: It sounds like we went and hired a big 80-piece orchestra, which we’d done in movies in the past. But we actually did this score electronically. We talked about this with the producers, (and said) ‘This may change the game a little bit.’ Because without a doubt the electronics reached the level of orchestra.”
Listening to score samples, it’s difficult to argue. On one cue, which could almost be mistaken for a Howard Shore theme, strings start out softly and swell to a dramatic crescendo, punctuated by horns and Asian instruments. Haunting female vocals and choirs backed by cinematic swells populate much of the rest, as well as complex character themes that Ennio Morricone might have written. (“It’s Morricone meets RZA,” he chuckles.) Most would never guess it was created by two guys twisting knobs and pushing buttons.
Read more: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118056044
Chatting with drum legends Neil Peart of Rush and Jim Keltner, who has drummed for four of the five Beatles, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, among others, was enlightening and inspiring. They both have more energy and passion than most men half their age!
Drummers get their fill
By Laura Ferreiro
June 24, 2012
It is said that a band is only as good as its drummer. Not only do drummers serve as the anchor that keeps the rest of the players in time, they also provide the essential foundation upon which most songs are built.
The one thing most rock drummers can agree upon is that it takes a lifetime of learning to master.
Neil Peart of Rush, widely considered one of the world’s best rock drummers, says that even 40 years into an incredibly successful career, he seeks out teachers who inspire and challenge him.
“I’ve been fortunate to have three really good teachers in my drumming career, from the beginning up until quite recently,” says Peart, who will participate in the Drummer’s Reality Camp at the Los Angeles Music Academy College of Music in Pasadena from June 27 to 30.
The camp, now in its third year, offers aspiring drummers from all walks of life the opportunity to learn from the masters.
The Canadian drummer, who lives in West L.A., hopes to inspire burgeoning drummers at the camp in much the same way his teachers have inspired him. He also cites the unique sense of community among drummers as a key aspect of the camp.
“It’s pretty well recognized among all musicians that drummers are tighter — and looser — with each other than any other players,” Peart says. “Two drummers get together and immediately their hands are moving around and they’re talking about what they do with an excitement that’s rare. There’s no such thing as jealousy, vanity or competitiveness among drummers, for the most part.”
My review of Best Coast at the Wiltern for Variety:
Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno seemed completely at ease in front of the hometown crowd, which erupted when they took the stage. The band, which was augmented to a four-piece, focused heavily on material from their recent Jon Brion-produced album during their set. Best known for his work with Fiona Apple, Kanye West and Aimee Mann, Brion gave their sophomore effort a slick pop polish and smoothed out some of the rough edges of Best Coast’s earlier work, removing many of the distorted guitars that gave their first album, “Crazy for You,” a lo-fi, garage-rock vibe.
Read more: http://bit.ly/MY1F4l
Talking to RZA about his upcoming film “The Man With the Iron Fists,” which he directed and scored, was inspiring. The hip-hop icon was endearingly excited about his new role as director, and said he hasn’t felt so energized by a project since making Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album, “36 Chambers”:
Hip-hop horror route to helmer
Most people think of RZA as a hip-hop pioneer who made his name as a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan two decades ago. But the Grammy-winning producer, born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, also enjoys a thriving career in Hollywood — scoring several films for such directors as Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch and is now making his directorial debut with “The Man With the Iron Fists.”
The film, co-written by RZA and Eli Roth and slated for a fall release by Universal, is set in feudal China and is a martial-arts movie of sorts starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu. It’s quite a step up the movie food chain for a man who pioneered a sound dubbed “horror hip-hop” as part of Gravediggaz.
“I can honestly say that out of all the jobs I’ve done in my life, directing has proved to be the hardest but yet the most fulfilling,” says RZA. Long before undertaking the project, he spent several weeks shadowing Tarantino on the set of “Kill Bill” while working on the film’s score. “He let me observe and watch him,” RZA recalls. “I sat there with a notebook for days.
Read more: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118052411
Proscenium flash for acts that push electronic envelope
There’s no denying that electronic music is having its day in the sun with artists like Skrillex winning three Grammys this year and electronic music festivals drawing hundreds of thousands. But watching live shows where people trigger sounds on their laptops does not exactly qualify as performance art.
This is where V Squared Labs comes in. The L.A.-based visual art studio uses 3D projections, light displays and other visual effects to create elaborate stage shows for everything from Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, which attracted more than 200,000 attendees in March, to “American Idol.”
The lab also created the explosive staging and visual effects for electronic superstar Amon Tobin’s current Isam tour, which stops at Coachella this week. It’s quite a feat, with a multi-dimensional, shape-shifting 3D art installation rising 25 feet into the air. “The idea was to make an entirely different kind of concert experience — not a dance party with pretty lights to look at but a genuine integration of performance, 3D cinema and musical exploration,” Tobin says. “(V Squared Labs) wasn’t scared to try new things and approached the whole project with a level of ingenuity that was vital to the success of the show.”
Over-the-top corporate branding was everywhere at South by Southwest this year (including a five-story Doritos vending machine), but the music is still what mattered. Here’s my SXSW round-up for Variety:
SXSW jam-packed, but jams still matter
Artists rise above the branding bonanza
There’s no denying that Austin’s SXSW Music Festival is a must-do annual industry event. Since it began in 1987, it has grown to include countless panels, invaluable networking opportunities, and thousands of perfs by burgeoning musicians alongside established artists like Bruce Springsteen, who delivered this year’s keynote address and showed the youngsters how it’s done at his hot-ticket showcase.
In the past 25 years, SXSW Music has grown from 700 registrants to more than 17,700, not counting the unregistered hangers-on or the massive Interactive and Film components. And while this may be good news for fest organizers, it makes life much more difficult for festgoers. It used to be easy to waltz into official SXSW showcases to see your bands of choice, but now a badge-holder who wants to see, say, Jack White perform may wait in line for hours, with no guarantee of getting in, as was the case Friday night when many were left out in the cold.
Not surprisingly, countless brands have been cashing in on the opportunity to market to this large, tastemaking audience and align their products with hip bands. Some brands, such as Fader Inc. and Converse, have been doing this for years to great effect, sponsoring some of the most well attended and anticipated events, such as the Fader Fort, where everyone from Kanye West to the Black Keys has performed. This year Converse created a “pop-up” version of its Brooklyn-based Rubber Tracks studio, where artists can record in a state-of-the-art studio for free.
Read more: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118051745
Jack White previewed his new solo album and had Bill Murray dancing on the bar by night’s end. Here’s my review for Variety:
Jack White is known for making a righteous noise when accompanied by just one other player in his famed (but now retired) duo the White Stripes. So imagine the ruckus he can create when accompanied by two full bands. This is how White chose to preview material from his forthcoming debut solo album, “Blunderbuss” (due out April 23 on Third Man Records/Columbia) at his Third Man Records showcase at Austin’s SXSW Music Festival Friday night.
Fans waited in line for hours to check out White’s latest project, and many who didn’t make it into the filled-to-capacity venue lingered outside to listen in. What could have been White simply showcasing his new songs turned into a two-part, two-hour party featuring several White Stripes classics as well as tunes from his other projects the Raconteurs and his cinematic Danger Mouse/Daneile Luppi collaboration, Rome.
Read more: http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117947259
Bruce Springsteen delivered an inspiring keynote address at SXSW. Here’s my report for Variety:
Springsteen schools SXSW
Rock legend delivers festival’s keynote address
At Bruce Springsteen’s first-ever South by Southwest keynote address on Thursday, he offered the packed audience a revealing glimpse into his artistry, inspiration, and what it means to be a human being in troubled times. His funny, moving and candid address kept the audience captivated and served as a great reminder of why this New Jersey boy is such a gifted chronicler of the human condition.
Arriving a few minutes late for his noontime address, the Boss marveled at the sheer number of bands and types of music showcases at SXSW. “It’s great to be in a town with 10,000 bands,” he said, exaggerating a little, adding, “It would’ve been a teenage pipedream.” He then rattled off a ridiculously long list of musical genres including country, pop, rock and folk to deathcore, slowcore, “Nintendocore” and electronica, pointing out that the number of performing musicians and musical genres has increased exponentially since he started making music in the 1960s.
Waxing poetic about how he can now carry his entire music collection in his breast pocket and the fact that his catalogue has been converted into zeroes and ones in this digital age, he pointed out that what really matters is just getting out there and playing. “There’s no pure way of doing it, there’s just doing it,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s the power and purpose of your music that matters.”
My review of Fiona Apple’s comeback performance at SXSW for Variety:
One of the most highly anticipated events of the first full day of Austin’s SXSW Music Festival was Fiona Apple’s return to the stage to preview her forthcoming album — her first since 2005′s critically acclaimed “Extraordinary Machine.” The new album is slated for a June release on Epic Records, and its title is a whopping 23 words long: “The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do” (unusual capitalization intended). Judging from her performance tonight, she still has plenty to say.
Apple revealed a bit of what’s in store with the new album, previewing a handful of new tunes during her hourlong set at the NPR showcase at Stubb’s BBQ. The sizable outdoor venue was packed to capacity, with people lined up around the block waiting to get in.
A piece I wrote for Yahoo about some unexpected behind-the-scenes Grammy moments:
2012 Grammy Awards: Moments the Cameras Missed
It’s not every day that Lady Gaga gets teased in front of thousands of people, but this is exactly what happened before cameras started rolling at the Grammy Awards on Sunday. When welcoming the audience and encouraging everyone to take their seats, Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich looked down at Lady Gaga, who was seated near the front holding something that looked like a giant scepter.
“Hello, Gaga. What’s that for?” he asked, pointing at the large golden rod. “Don’t hit me with that thing!” Gaga, who was seated next to country darlings Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, took it in good spirits and smiled from behind her fishnet mask. He also took a good-natured jab at Paul McCartney, saying, “Who let you in?”
The Grammys cut a bunch of categories this year, but did they go far enough? I talked to some experts about it for Variety:
Revamped Grammys calls for more trims
When the Recording Academy announced last spring it was reducing the number of Grammy categories by almost a third, it didn’t take long for artists to get up in arms. Some alleged the cuts unfairly targeted ethnic minorities because of eliminations in Latin, R&B, Hawaiian and Native American categories. Others said it’s unfair for lesser-known artists to have to compete against bigger names. It even resulted in a class-action lawsuit filed by Latin jazz musicians against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. However, many in the industry — even those with a stake in the game — wonder whether NARAS has gone far enough, and if further cuts should be made.
A review of a very moving performance by Glen Campbell at the Grammy Museum. It’s his farewell tour since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s my write-up for Variety:
Glen Campbell at the Grammy Museum
Watching Glen Campbell perform at this stage of his career is a bittersweet affair. The 75-year-old country crooner is in the midst of a series of farewell shows following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis last year. But Campbell seemed so joyful and spry during his intimate performance at the Grammy Museum that it suggested a new lease on life, with Campbell finding the humor in difficult situations. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117947024?refCatId=34
Getting Russell Brand & Ringo Starr in a room together is ridiculously entertaining. My write-up for the LA Weekly:
Ringo Starr, Russell Brand – Troubadour – 1/30/12
It’s always surreal entering a dark rock club in the middle of the day, but it’s even more bizarre when you find yourself standing next to a Beatle and Katy Perry’s ex while most people are sitting at their desks fighting off the Monday blues. This was the happy fate of a few lucky Sirius XM competition winners (and a wayward journalist) who saw Ringo Starr perform, get heckled by comedian Russell Brand and answer questions about his fabled career while most of L.A. toiled away. http://blogs.laweekly.com/westcoastsound/2012/01/ringo_starr_russell_brand_-_tr.php
I weigh in on two of my all-time favorite music venues , the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre, for the LA Weekly’s Top 10 LA venues list:
Top 10 Best Live Music Venues in L.A.: #5 – #1
A piece I wrote for Drop in the Bucket, which builds water wells and sanitation systems at schools in Africa.
The Vital Role of Girls & Water in Building the New South Sudan
NOTE: This is a guest blog post by Laura Ferreiro, Communications Manager with Drop in the Bucket.
While most of us are lucky enough to have clean water flowing from our taps just steps away, many people in Africa have to travel on foot for miles for this vital resource, sacrificing time and energy they could be using going to school, caring for their families and building better lives.
The water situation is especially dire in the world’s newest country, South Sudan. As it celebrates its recent independence from neighboring Sudan, it remains one of the least developed, poorest countries in the world. People have to travel for miles to find water sources, especially in Northern Bahr El Ghazal. Unfortunately, the burden of fetching water falls mainly on girls, who take on the role of water collector for their families. They are forced to miss school or drop out entirely to spend hours a day walking and waiting in line to collect water. Drop in the Bucket is one of the only aid organizations working in this region to not only alleviate the extreme water crisis, but also to help children stay in school. Los Angeles- and Uganda-based Drop in the Bucket is opening a compound in Northern Bahr el Ghazal to build wells at local schools, construct latrines and do vital sanitation education. In addition to providing life-giving clean water, these wells add tremendous value to the schools. In fact, we have found that when we build wells at schools, enrollment doubles or triples.
Here’s my write-up for Canada’s Globe & Mail of an unforgettable event honoring Leonard Cohen, where he was on hand to preview his new album, “Going Home”:
Leonard Cohen previews new album at L.A. soiree
“I love to speak with Leonard, he’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard, living in a suit.” So begins Going Home, the elegiac opening song of Leonard Cohen’s new album, Old Ideas, which will be released Jan. 31. Thousands of fans have been able to hear Going Home this week, streamed via The New Yorker – the first time the magazine has featured a song on its website. But a smaller, more exclusive group was treated to a full hearing of the album at a recent L.A. party at the palatial estate of Canadian Consul-General David Fransen. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/music/leonard-cohen-previews-new-album-at-la-soiree/article2309722/
I really enjoyed writing this Variety article about the Bob Dylan tribute album, “Chimes of Freedom,” benefitting Amnesty International. It features loads of amazing artists including My Morning Jacket, Sting, Adele, Lucinda Williams, Pete Townshend and even Ke$sha, and of course it’s for a great cause!
Amnesty’s ‘Chimes’ ring on Dylan’s 50th
To mark its 50th anniversary, Amnesty International is releasing a 75-song compilation featuring a slew of renowned artists covering Bob Dylan, who also celebrates 50 years as a performer this year. Sting, Pete Townshend, Tom Morello and Pete Seeger line up on “Chimes of Freedom” alongside some surprising contributors such as Miley Cyrus, Adele and Ke$ha (a self-professed Dylan fanatic) to cover the one-time politically charged troubadour, with all proceeds supporting the human rights organization. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118047899
I interviewed the directors of “Moneyball,” “Shame,” “My Week with Marilyn” & “Martha Marcy May Marlene” about the riveting musical performances in their films for Variety.
Lyrics bring pix to life
Some of the most poignant and pivotal dramatic moments in this year’s crop of Oscar contenders have been brought to life not through pithy dialogue or climactic speeches, but through song. Rather than over-the-top musical numbers a la “Moulin Rouge” or “Chicago,” we’ve seen several notable, heart-wrenching singular performances that reveal key qualities of the films’ major characters in ways that dialogue can’t conjure…Steve McQueen, the writer-director of “Shame,” decided to take the Kander and Ebb classic — best-known as a showstopper from the likes of Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra — and turn it on its head by having Mulligan, who plays a nightclub performer, deliver an emotive, stripped-down version of the Big Apple anthem. ”What was interesting for me about the song and the lyrics is it’s not a triumphant song at all — it’s much more of a blues song — and how Sissy could communicate to Brandon,” McQueen says. “It was the only time when he was forced to listen. He brought his boss to the nightclub so he couldn’t get up and leave so he’s cornered, and he opens up to this song she performs.” http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118047366/
My review of Sting at the Wiltern on November 28 for Variety:
Sting at the Wiltern
Following a highly successful but half-hearted Police reunion tour and forays into symphonic and Renaissance music, Sting has gone back to the basics on his aptly named Back to Bass tour. Playing the first of three sold-out shows at the Wiltern Theatre, Sting adeptly wielded his electric bass guitar all night, the instrument he picked up as a schoolboy in northern England that eventually catapulted him to stardom with the Police. It seems a fitting time for the star to return to his roots, having just celebrated his 60th birthday and released a retrospective box set marking his 25th anniversary as a solo artist. Looking lithe and lean as a man half his age, Sting seemed completely at ease leading his able five-piece band through re-imagined versions of several familiar tunes. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117946662?refCatId=34
A conversation with Cliff Martinez about his haunting score for “Drive” and the Chemical Brothers about their “Hanna” score:
Pix pulsate with driving electronica
In the riveting opening scene of “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s character deftly pilots a getaway car through the dark streets of downtown Los Angeles, with a pulsating, ominous electronic beat behind him. The sounds are subtle yet highly effective in setting the tone of dread and longing for the neo-noir pic, along with a handful of unlikely ’80s synth-pop tunes that round out the soundtrack. While a synthetic electronica score may seem an unusual choice for a cerebral action thriller, it plays a pivotal role in setting “Drive” apart from other heist-gone-awry films, and arguably helped it become one of this year’s critical darlings. This synthetic approach has recently been employed effectively in the scores to a number of critically acclaimed films including “The Social Network,” “Contagion” and “Hanna.”
A fun interview I did with “Portlandia” stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen about the music in their hit IFC show:
Alt-rock hep cats make ‘Portlandia’ sing
While music plays a prominent role in most comedy sketch series, it rarely influences the entire tone and aesthetic as much as it does in IFC’s “Portlandia.” The show, directed by Jonathan Krisel and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, will kick off its second season in January and continue its hilarious spoofing of Portland’s alt-rock, tree-hugging bohemian culture. This music-centricity seems almost inevitable given that the show’s two main writers and principal players, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, started their careers as musicians. Brownstein is best known as the former guitarist/singer for renowned feminist punk-rock band Sleater-Kinney and currently fronts the band Wild Flag, while Armisen was the drummer for punk outfit Trenchmouth long before trying his hand at acting. “Music is part of every aspect of the show,” explains Armisen, who is also a regular cast member of “Saturday Night Live.” “Even the way it’s edited has a musical element to it. Sometimes we think of the individual pieces as songs, in the way that they would be placed on an album.”
My interview with Kristen Wiig for Variety’s Women’s Impact Report. She’s naturally hysterical:
Wiig: ‘SNL’ triple threat emerges from ‘Bridesmaids’
Until recently, Kristen Wiig was known primarily for her neurotic, attention-seeking characters like Penelope or her wine-swilling take on Kathie Lee Gifford on “Saturday Night Live.” But the runaway theatrical success of “Bridesmaids,” which she co-wrote and stars in, has proved that Tina Fey’s not the only triple-threat comedienne to hail from “SNL’s” ranks. Wiig, now in her seventh season on “SNL,” admits that the popularity of “Bridesmaids,” which has grossed more than $283 million worldwide prior to its availability on DVD/Blu-ray this week, came as a complete surprise. “You never know when you start on these projects,” says Wiig. “You hope that people have the same vision you have when they see the movie and they like it, but you never know how it’s gonna turn out. So I’m still in shock.”
A feature I did on one of my heroes, Patti Smith, for Variety’s Women’s Impact Report:
Smith: ‘Just Kids’ paints rocker in new light
Frequently dubbed the “Godmother of punk,” 64-year-old rocker-poet-visual artist Patti Smith’s groundbreaking style and unflagging integrity have garnered her numerous admirers ranging from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe to Johnny Depp.But it’s Smith’s heartbreaking memoir, “Just Kids,” about her struggles as a young artist in New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and her intense relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, that has people talking about her gifts as writer in a whole new light. The work has spent most of the year on the New York Times bestseller list, and won the coveted National Book Award for non-fiction in 2010. What is striking about ‘Just Kids’ is not only how well written it is — impressively well written — but the directness, the lack of self-conscious irony, in it throughout,” says National Book Foundation executive director Harold Augenbraum. “She conveys creativity, intellectual toughness and vulnerability, all at once. That’s rare.”
A chat with ’80s icon Thomas Dolby about his new album and accompanying multimedia video game:
Online game amps up Dolby’s new music effort
Thomas Dolby, whose 1980s hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive” cemented his status as a pop icon, decided to step away from the music business in the early ’90s and forge another fruitful career as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. His company, Beatnik Inc., invented the ringtone synthesizer embedded in billions of mobile phones, and he served as music director for the California-based TED conferences, a renowned lecture series named for its roots in technology, entertainment and design.
Now back in his native U.K. and retired from Beatnik at age 52, Dolby is gearing up to release his first album in more than two decades, titled “A Map of the Floating City,” which is accompanied by an online multimedia video game.
An interview with the creators of the Steven Spielberg-produced NBC series, “Smash”:
‘Smash’ hopes Broadway makes TV musical magic
There’s no denying that musical television is having its day in the sun. With shows such as “Glee,” “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “Dancing With the Stars” among the most popular in primetime, it’s no surprise that networks are greenlighting more music-based programming. Buzzed about in the coming fall season is NBC’s “Smash,” which boasts a team of heavy hitters behind it, including Steven Spielberg as co-executive producer along with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (producers of “Chicago” and “Hairspray”), renowned songwriting duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Broadway’s “Catch Me if You Can,” “Hairspray”) and playwright Theresa Rebeck, who also is head writer.
The show, which will begin airing midseason with “The Voice” as its lead-in, goes behind the scenes of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, and stars Debra Messing and Christian Borle as the musical’s creators and songwriting team. “American Idol” alumna Katharine McPhee plays an aspiring young actress-singer vying for the title role, and Anjelica Huston stars as the musical’s producer.
“It’s essentially a workplace drama and the center of it is about the making of a musical,” explains Rebeck, who is mining her own life as inspiration for Messing’s character. “It’s a very dynamic, interesting and complicated world. I think it’s a world that has a lot of interest for America. It’s sort of like ‘The West Wing’ with music because that world had really intelligent, passionate people in it.”
A feature I did for the LA Times about “Rome” — the Danger Mouse, Danielle Lupi, Jack White and Norah Jones collaboration
Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi are at home with ‘Rome’
A shared passion can often spawn a friendship, but in the case of pop producer Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi, their mutual love of classic ’60s and ’70s Ennio Morriconescores and spaghetti westerns spawned that and much more. What began with pals swapping favorite rare records and vintage films became a five-year musical collaboration culminating in “Rome,” an ambitious album named after the Italian capital where they did most of the recording. The acclaimed 15-track record, which has received praise from Entertainment Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and others, features several musicians who performed on Morricone’s most famous scores, including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West,” as well as distinct vocal turns by Jack White and Norah Jones. It showcases an unexpected side of Danger Mouse, the Grammy-winning producer and composer (born Brian Burton) whose credits include the soulful pop stylings of Gnarls Barkley and the jangly indie pop of Broken Bells. The L.A.-based Burton, however, says the process it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
“It’s actually really close to how I started (making music),” he explains. “The first music I ever really did was instrumental music in college film classes, and I decided I wanted to make music based on film scores, especially a lot of spaghetti westerns. So the first thing I did was a mock soundtrack in my dorm room with guitars and keyboards and live instruments as much as I could get my hands on.”
My LA Times interview with Glaswegian band Glasvegas about working on their sophomore album in an idyllic Santa Monica beach house:
Scotland’s Glasvegas dives into L.A. life
Glasgow’s rainy streets are a far cry from the sunny shores of California, but for Glasvegas, Los Angeles felt like a perfect fit as soon as the Scottish quartet stepped off the tour bus in front of the Troubadour. It was January 2009 and the band had just released its self-titled debut album to much critical acclaim, and was about to play its first L.A. gig at the legendary venue. “I felt like I was home, and I don’t know why that is,” lead singer James Allan says of the first time he set foot in L.A. “Everybody told me I’d hate it.”
Thoughts of living in L.A. lingered as the band toured the globe, opening for U2 and picking up a multitude of awards along the way, as well as a nomination for the prestigious British Mercury Prize, whose judges cited its debut album’s “bittersweet sounds of classic rock ’n’ roll” and “gloriously elegiac anthems of contemporary life.”
An interview with Craig Lyons, who paved the way for artists performing in the virtual world Second Life:
Second Life’s thriving music scene
“If I could get some bubbles, I’d be forever indebted,” singer Craig Lyons tells the packed house at his Monday night gig. The crowd promptly complies, filling the room with bubbles while Lyons plays his tune “Under Water.”
Two nights earlier, the audience made it snow as he strummed the chords to his song “Winter.” Strangely enough, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has come to expect this type of supernatural behavior at his shows, which take place several times a week in Second Life, the virtual online world that allows users to interact with one another as avatars.