INTERVIEW with RYAN PHILLIPPE: "I've worked with Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott and Chaka from Land of the Lost."
|Phillippe (left) in MacGruber, with Will Forte and Kristin Wiig|
INTERVIEW with 30 Rock's Scott Adsit: "So now in bars across the world, you can spend 50 cents and hear Liz Lemon and Pete Hornberger yelling at you to 'shoot it up the ramp!'"
Fri.,-Sat., May 14-15, 8 p.m., $20, The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., 267-233-1556, phillyimprovtheater.com.
INTERVIEW with The Square director NASH EDGERTON: "I didn't want to do action for the sake of action"
The Square, a gleefully nasty neo-noir about Ray (David Roberts) a married man hoping to run away with his lover Carla (Claire van der Boom) and the bag of money she has stolen from her husband, Smithy (Anthony Hayes). Of course, nothing goes as planned. Edgerton met with City Paper to talk about his film, and how he, well, planned it. City Paper: You started your career in film as a stunt man. Can you discuss how you got into that profession? Nash Edgerton: I don't know, it just kinda happened. Me, my brother Joel [who co-wrote and has a part in The Square] and my friends started making films on the weekends to try to put new stuff in our show reels to try to get work as stuntmen and as actors. This whole interest in filmmaking was born because we really enjoyed the process of what we were doing more so than what the intention of it was for. We got the bug, and kept making films. I still do stunts. CP: Was directing always your goal? How did working in front of the camera prepare you to direct films? NE: When I was a kid, my dad had a video camera and my brother and I would play around with it in the backyard, always making stuff. We never thought of it as a job, or a career. We filmed ourselves jumping off the roof of the house. When I went away to school, I had to decide what I was going to do and I went to university and studied electrical engineering because I was good in math and science and it seemed like the right thing to do. But it felt like school again, and as much as I was good at it, I did not, could not, imagine myself of being an electrical engineer. I got the idea one night to be a stunt man. CP: Are you fearless? NE: I find it challenging. I don't know... It was this lightbulb moment. I was at a high school formal with this girl I'd met. Her best friend's partner was telling some story, and he said the word "stunt" in a sentence, and I thought, that's what I'm going to do I'm going to be a stuntman. I went home, looked up stunt in the phone book, found an agency that represented stuntman, and called it. I came in at a good time when a lot of very big films were coming to Australia. [e.g., The Matrix]. That became my focus for a long time, and through that, I became interested in filmmaking at the same time. I taught myself how to edit. I like working on films, the collaborative nature of it, the nomadic nature of it. CP: Your brother Joel has been quite successful as an actor, appearing in everything from Kinky Boots to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Is there any sibling rivalry between you? NE: No. I love my brother; we get on really well. We used to fight when we were kids, but we stopped that when we were 10 or 11. At some point, we just became really good friends. Like everyone, we still argue and stuff, but I feel like we have skills that complement each other, but it's never a competition. I know he is a better actor and writer than I am, and he finds more interest in that than I do. We learn off each other. CP: You gave him a part in the film as Billy the arsonist. But other than a Spider-reference cameo, you don't appear in this film. Was that because you were directing? NE: I didn't think I was right for any of the roles. I wanted to concentrate on directing. If it feels right for me, I'll do it, but my interest in acting is more... I find acting challenging, and I'm interested in it because I find it challenging, whereas my brother has a real passion for it. That's not to say I wouldn't appear in something elseas long as it is the right thing. CP: David Roberts, the actor who plays Ray, isn't a conventionally handsome hero. What prompted you to cast him? NE: I set out to cast an ordinary looking guy, a relatively unknown actor. And I think because I did that, it took longer to get the film up. But I knew if I could do it with a guy like that, it would be more engaging, and intense, because you didn't know what he was going to do. If I cast someone typically a hero, and everything works out for him, that's what you think was going to happen, or if I cast someone who usually plays bad guys, you think, he has the potential for evil and is going to do bad things. I wanted to cast an ordinary looking guy. I wanted to set the film in a realistic tone. CP: What other decisions did you make? NE: I didn't want to do action for the sake of action. CP: Or sex for the sake of sex, for that matter... NE: I wanted to play against the convention that the femme fatale is all sexy and [their relationship] is all based on sex. It's set in real life, and in real life, people aren't black and white. It's not like his wife is a nag and he's trying to get away from her for that reason, it's that they have fallen out of love with one another. Carla and Smithy Smithy is not a wife beater. He's not overtly bad to her, they just don't communicate. He's a little bit controlling, but it's not sort of hyper-real. I wanted to start in the middle of the affair. It's not all about hot steamy love affair it's just like these are two strangers who found each other, and have a connection, and they try to get away. Any affair is going to get mundane, and the sex is not going to be like this spectacular thing and I just wanted it to feel real. CP: Do you think the characters deserve their fates? NE: YEAH! Totally! My films are very much about karma, whether I like it or not. All the characters are gray. Every little thing [the characters] do kind of affects other people, and that's what happens in our lives. We do stuff that affects other people. CP: What kind of problems did you have on the production? NE: I'm pretty good at figuring out what I need to get. CP: Your mathematic skills at work! NE: [Laughs]. Yeah, I came from making short films with no budget, so I'm realistic about what I can achieve with the amount of money I have. No major problems, just weather and timethe odd thing goes wrong here or therebut it was relatively smooth. CP: Everything was containedyour economy is to show as much as you can while revealing as little as possible. Was what your secret to constructing the film? NE: It was totally like a jigsaw puzzle. I like to be treated intelligently when I watch a film, so I like to do the same thing. I like to make the audience feel part of the movie, in terms of the way it's shot, and how the characters are experiencing what they are experiencing. All the clues are in the film, but I didn't want to bonk people on the head with it. As long as it's in the frame of what's being said or talked about...[you] learn it as the characters are learning it. That to me, made it feel more tense. In terms of being economical, I did my homework, and figured out how I was going to shoot it. Especially the more complicated scenes, like when Carla first sees the bag of money. I wanted there to be tension pretty early on...I planned that out and figured it out with a video camera. I did that for a lot of the scenes. I can't draw, I can't do storyboards, so that was my visual, moving storyboard. CP: What is your personal stamp on this film? What makes this a Nash Edgerton film? NE: The way I shoot things. The way I reveal stuff is all very me. I definitely guided the script in to the shape I wanted it to be. We changed scenestook things out, moved things aroundI don't know. People who see my shorts think it's always me. CP: You have a Hitchcockian cameo. Is there an in-joke you have in your films? NE: There's a reference to Spider in the filmin the hospital. I always reference something. Me and my friends, there's something we try to put in everything we make... A word. CP: Will you tell me what is it? NE: [He says, off the record]. It's a nickname of something from something that happened years ago. We always put it in there. You can see it at the start of Spider. In Square it's harder to spot. It's in a bit of graffiti. © 2010 Gary M. Kramer
|Rob Corddry in Hot Tub Time Machine|
Q&A with DAKOTA FANNING: "I'm more of a shower singer when no one is home, the door is closed and the shower is loud enough."
|Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart
as Joan Jett in The Runaways.
Dakota Fanning is one of the most poised teenagers I've ever talked to -- either insanely mature for a 16-year-old or well-coached in the ways of PR spin. But she lets loose in The Runaways (opens today, see Shaun Brady's review), the biopic of the titular girl band, playing corseted teen sex pot singer Cherie Currie. Fanning talked with City Paper about playing a real person, shower singing and who she is rooting for on American Idol.
City Paper: You're in a really weird spot as an actress now, going from child star to fully-realized human being. Why did you choose The Runaways as a part of this transition?
Dakota Fanning: I thought the story had so much to offer and it was such a challenge for me and to play a real person was such a challenge in and of itself. The subject matter is pretty intense. But I really loved that Cherie was actually 15 when she went through this and I was 15 when we made the movie. It just seemed the thing to do: It was the perfect mix of something different that I've never done before and kind of things that people not expect from me.
CP: You talk about the challenges of playing a real person. All the tabloid fodder focused on Joan Jett and Kristen Stewart's relationship. What was your relationship like with Cherie?
DF: It was amazing. Cherie is such an unbelievable person. We have a really close relationship, she's become really close with my family and I've become close with her. She's just a really complex, strong, wonderful woman and it's really an honor to player her bring her story to people who didn't know her story before.
CP: I've seen videos of the Runaways perform and you move just like her.
DF: The "Cherry Bomb" performance was actually a choreographed dance that she did. And to actually learn part of it from her was so special and to have her there to re-live that time in her life. It was really amazing to watch and it was a huge honor for me to be able to give that to her again.
CP: There's definitely a benefit to having the person that you're playing there. But did you think there was a bias in any way toward Cherie and Joan Jett because they were there and had such a hand in the film?
DF: Well, the movie was produced by Joan and it was based on Cherie's book. They were the ones who wanted to be wanted to involved. I don't really know the specifics on everybody else. The other people weren't on the set like Joan and Cherie were. But it probably would have been different because you can't put everything into the movie. You have to pick and choose what can be pulled.
CP: One of the things about the Runaways that I loved was it totally brought me back to be 15 and hearing "Cherry Bomb" for the first time. Just like, jumping on my bed and screaming that song. I figure this is an experience that most teenage girls have; when they find that passion for music, they sing into their hairbrush to get the teenage ya-yas out. When it comes to your own experience, are you a hair brush singer? A shower singer? What's your mode for rocking out?
DF: For me, singing has always been something that I've guarded with my life. I'm really self-conscious about it in front of my family, in front of my friends. I try to sing as softly as I can when a bunch of people are in the car and the music's playing. But I found that doing it in the movie, I can do it playing someone else. But when it's me, on my own, I'm a little nervous about it. I would say I'm more of a shower singer when no one is home, the door is closed and the shower is loud enough.
CP: Do you have any specific tunes that you go for when you're belting in the shower? You make sure you're all alone, shower's really loud, what are you singing?
DF: It changes all the time. I watch American Idol and I found the person that I like that week, that becomes my shower song for the week.
CP: I'm a huge Idol fan too. Who are you rooting for this season?
DF: I just love Crystal Bowersox with all my heart and soul.
CP: So you're definitely not a live singer, but it's the character that gives you the confidence to sing in front of other people?
DF: I think so. I've been an actor for so long that I'm used to taking a backseat to the character during the takes, during the scenes. It's obviously me. A lot of people would say it's the character, but it's obviously me doing it. But it is a different thing when you are playing someone else. You feel like they're with you and it's not all on you. Especially with Cherie there. When I was doing "Cherry Bomb" her family was there. Just seeing her gave me the confidence and the courage to do it the best I could for her.
CP: You're doing it for her, rather than for you.
DF: Oh yeah. This whole movie is for her. Like I said, a lot of people don't know her story and the story of her career or exactly who she is. It was my responsibility to bring her to those people. Because she is my friend and she means so much to me, I want to do the absolute best that I can.
CP: One of the reasons Cherie had such magnetism was because, as Michael Shannon [as mad impressario Kim Fowley] says in the movie, she's Bridgette Bardot with a kick-your-ass sneer. How did you work to balance the two parts of her personality?
DF: I think that's who Cherie is. She's such a badass but, at the same time, she has such an innocence about her, even today. That's why she why was able to do what she was able to do. She was able to wear a corset and being super girly but she was growling the songs and making people like it who didn't want to like it. She was going to make you like her songs. She was going to make you like her. She emulated David Bowie and that's how she got her confidence and her attitude on stage. You have to mix it with that vulnerability and that innocence that I kind of see behind her eyes. When I was watching those Live in Japan videos before I started filming, and especially once you meet her you can see that mixture. That's why she was perfect to be the lead singer of this band and became so iconic and was so good.
The Runaways opens today at UA Riverview.
Q&A with JAY BARUCHEL: "Because I have to look however someone wants me to look so friggin' often, I have to do these little measured acts of defiance."
|Courtesy of Paramount Pictures|
|LEAGUE OF NATIONS: Jay Baruchel, T.J. Miller, Nate Torrence
and Mike Vogel of She's Out of My League.
Uh ... awkward.
Back story: I'm an intern and I'm sent to interview Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Million Dollar Baby) and Nate Torrence, the stars of She's out of My League (read Shaun Brady's review). It's my first real assignment. It's a roundtable so I know I'll be interviewing with other reporters.
Problem is, I'm 15 minutes late (gimme a break! It was Snowpacalypsing outside!).
I rush into the busy hotel lobby when I spot Baruchel out of the corner of my eye. His hood is pulled over his head and his boyish face is masked with a beard. He is intensely talking to a middle-aged woman who seems to be a reporter. Thinking the interview has already started, I plop myself into the middle of their conversation, trying to be smooth, with these words: "Hey guys, I think I'm supposed to be joining this party?" (I kid you not).
The disgruntled reporter scolds me and informs me that she was conducting a lone interview, and that me and the rest of the group reporters would go next. She scurries me off into the lobby, and Jay chuckles and calls after me, telling me not worry about it.
When I see Baruchel again (this time, I when I'm supposed to), I apologize. "Don't worry, she was a bitch to me, too," he says of our banshee reporter buddy. Even if lessening my embarrassment was meant to curry my favor, it was still a nice-guy thing to do.
And that's what this movie is about: In this film, nice guys finish first. Baruchel plays Kirk, an average Joe airport attedant who can't get over his ex. Fate strikes when super hottie Molly (Alice Eve) forgets her phone at the baggage claim. When Kirk returns it, the two begin a courtship that is sweet, mired in premature ejaculation and testicle-shaving jokes.
Baruchel says that it was important to get to know Eve as a person, so that their on screen romance came off as legit: "No matter what, it was obvious that we were going to get the awkward stuff down pat but we made a conserted effort to hang out together. We ran errands together, I took her to the doctor's office, just so you could buy that we had some semblence of a connection."
Preparation aside, it was the romance between the men on that set that came more naturally. Through the film, Kirk seeks advice from his fellow airport employees: Stainer (T.J Miller), Jack (Abington-born, Warminster-bred Mike Vogel) and Devon (Torrence). "You never really know in comedy, sometimes it's like a pissing contest or a competition," says Torrence.
An excellent working relation ship paramount considering one of League's more memorable scenes: Torrence's character is tasked with assisting our hero Kirk in shaving his scrotum. "We're not misogynistic, frat boy dicks and we didn't want it to skew that way," says Baruchel. "It was more like a friend holding your hair back when you puke."
This is a big year for Baruchel. After League, he's got How to Train Your Dragon (March 26) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (July 16) with Nicholas Cage on his slate. "I mean, I'm terrified about this year. But really I've been the 'One to watch next year' for the past 10 fucking years. When I was 18 and did Undeclared everyone was like 'Hey look out for this kid!' And then Million Dollar Baby wins Best Picture at the Oscars and everyone's like 'Whoa, check out that kid!'And Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder come out and they're like 'This kid's gonna be big!' I'm just happy to keep working, and to have cash to buy DVDs, and I hope that continues."
He's clearly psyched about the animated Dragon. "[My character] Hiccup is the closest thing I have to a son. Well, besides my cat, who is the love of my life." He proceeds to take out his iPhone and show me an oil portrait of said cat, Mary Manu. She's decked out with a moncle and is painted in the blue-and-red style of the Obama "Hope" posters.
But Hollywood ain't all bread and roses. When I ask him about the airbrushing of his infamous Candian maple leaf tattoo (as seen Knocked Up), he gleefully shows me his other tattoos (a Celtic cross and his mother's maiden name). "Because I have to look however someone wants me to look so friggin' often, I have to do these little measured acts of defiance," he says. "My little routine that I do every time I wrap up a movies is I go home, I get a wee bit inebriated, and in the wee hours of the morning I will shave my head into a Mohawk. That's my go-to. I have to remind myself that I am still my own human being."
As they get ready to leave, Baurchel and Torrence say they wished they could spend more time in Philly, and talk about the awesomeness of Pat's, where they made their own first cheesesteak with Eagles cheerleaders.
"It really is the life," says Baruchel.
She's Out of My League opens Friday at area theaters.
"I am trying to use words to understand life; it takes me to different places in my mind": Q&A with Henry Rollins
Perhaps best known as the powerhouse lead of Black Flag, Henry Rollins has done anything but lose steam since. In his signature gravely-voice, he's hosted radio and TV shows (including a titular show on IFC), gotten all dramatic (like on last season's Sons of Anarchy) and currently heads up a publishing company/ record label called 2.13.61, Inc.
Rollins' interest and passion for human rights lead him to traveling to off-the-beaten track destinations such as Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Senegal. Now, trading in his frequent flyer miles for a tour bus, Rollins will report on his travels through spoken word performances in his Frequent Flyer Tour, which stops at the First Unitarian Church tonight. Even though Rollins plays a new city each night, he took time out of his schedule to chat with City Paper.
City Paper: You've done extensive traveling around the world. What locations resonated the most with you on your travels?
Henry Rollins: I think the most thought provoking were Bangladesh and China. In Bangladesh I saw so much poverty but so many smiles. In China I always felt like I was being watched and handed a line. Everything felt like propaganda there.
CP: What themes or messages from your travels will you be sharing in your performances?
HR: I have a lot of anecdotes from recent travels: India, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, China, all the other places as well, all gave me very interesting stories. As far as themes, I don't think that hard about themes or overall messages. I think these things happen naturally.
CP: After so much traveling, how do you find America upon your return?
HR: What I see abroad makes me like America more. We have it very good here. I think if more Americans could see more of the world, it might make them value what they have and perhaps they would take better care of the place and better care of themselves.
CP: Is there more similarity or difference in songwriting versus writing poetry?
HR: I just write stuff and it turns into different things. It's just writing to me. I am not all that aware of a style of a difference in the methods. I would perhaps be more aware of a difference if I were a better writer. I am trying to use words to understand life; it takes me to different places in my mind.
CP: What about in singing versus performing spoken word?
HR: Talking shows are a lot harder. There's nothing onstage but me, and if I stop talking, then there's no show. I don't know how I get through them but I do. Band stuff is hard too but at least it's a group effort and my many mistakes on the bandstand are somewhat obscured by all the surrounding noise.
CP: So you've been the lead singer of a band, a radio show host, a publisher, and a poet, what can we expect next from you?
HR: I have been doing a lot of photography. I have been working on it pretty hard, trying to tell the story through the lens. It's not easy but I am getting a little better at is, learning about light and composition and all.
Frequent Flyer Tour with Henry Rollins, Thu., March 11, 7pm, $20, First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St, 215-563-3980, r5productions.com.
There's no telling how you came across this interview. It could have been on Facebook or Twitter or someguysblog.com. The Internet, as described by Berkley-based virtual reality patriarch Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget, rewards aggregation of free content more than a work by any single person. In the race to aggregate as much content as possible, and then to aggregate the aggregators, the individual is lost. And where individuals can ostensibly showcase their singularity, they're usually reduced to streamlined categorization. Essentially, they become gadgets. City Paper spoke to Lanier about the Internet, the sanctity of advertising in the new digital age and the irony of this interview.
City Paper: This interview will go on our A&E blog, which the paper will probably link to on our Facebook and a Philly tech site will hopefully link on their page as well. Is this interview now completely ironic?
Jaron Lanier: Well, every impulse to change the world is ironic because unless you're a completely destructive revolutionary. I work within the system, and I have to work with what's available. I often wish that some company would change its policies in this way or that way, but I'm part of the loyal opposition, and I accept that irony. I personally don't use things like Facebook and Twitter, but I wouldn't expect someone I work with to pass some purity test. Finding this balance where you're trying to find some sense of idealism without becoming some dysfunctional Utopian and giving in and mindlessly going along with whatever the flow is, finding that in between space where you have a shot of both being effective in the world as it is and being able to nudge it a little bit is always key.
CP: You say that the Internet as it exists has become paradoxically both Libertarian and Maoist. Could you speak to that?
JL: In a strange way that Libertarianism manifests itself in the online world, which was to demonetize everything [Laughs]. It's a strange idea. In order to to treat information as having value in the online world, there has to be some sort of structure that says it has value, because everything of that information is just made up. And that structure could be laws or something about the code. But everything about the information is made up, so we can either decide it has value or that it's free. Because libertarians want as little government as possible, or they want as little structure to anarchy as modulated by money, so their inclination is to get rid of any structure that would say anything about what information would be and then that would take away the idea that information as value. That leads you in sort of the Communist or Maosit direction where everything is shared. Very, very weirdly in the information world, the Libertarian impulse leads to a Communist result, and ... I'm not sure if Communist is the right word. I prefer to use Maoist because it's a way to ask people to earn their living for more and more physical things and disenfranchising intellectuals. So trying to be Libertarian in the real world makes you Libertarian, but trying to be Libertarian in the online world makes you a Maoist.
CP: Unless I'm mistaken, you seem to simultaneously criticize the deinidividualized computing cloud as well as the cacophony of voices. Can you reconcile these two things?
JL: I would say in the '90s there was an abundance of individuality, and I think that was a good thing. What I'm seeing today is not that. What I'm seeing is people signing up to receive Twitter streams and connect to people on Facebook and build websites in which these communities of rather precise agreement.
I live in Berkley, CA, where there probably aren't many people who go to Tea Parties, and when I talk to people here, I talk to people here who haven't heard of Glenn Beck. They're just in their own bubble. And meanwhile, when I visit other places where people are paying attention to the Tea Party movement, they're completely unaware of things that are considered vital and essential here. It's as if we've just split apart completely. Of course the notion of divide in America isn't new, but I don't remember it ever being quite so extreme as that. So instead of a whole bunch of individuals, what you have is people organizing into these bubbles and start reinforcing each other's ideas instead of thinking for themselves.
CP: You say that advertising has become sacrosanct in the new digital age, that everything is free and open source, but advertising is the one centrifugal force today. But is this any different than free broadcast media reliant on advertising just a couple decades ago?
JL: Yes, because if you have a system in which you can charge for media, you always have the option of offering it for free as well. So if the possibility of payment is there, that doesn't preclude the possibility of offering it for free, so you have an expanded variety of business plans. What we have now is system in which your only option is free or perhaps delivery from a specialized device like a Kindle or an iPad. What we have now is a decrease in options. If we go back to the old world, it's true that you can have ad-based broadcast, but you would also have for pay cable HBO, you had variety. In the new world, that variety is denied to people.
CP: Web 2.0 seems so omnipresent. Do you find that you have to shy away from it?
JL: No, it's very easy, just don't sign up for Facebook or Twitter. A lot of people say, "The only way you can promote yourself is on social networking." But I have a book that's doing very well and I'm doing fine without it. So it's certainly not necessary. I just find that that stuff has brought out parts of me I don't like, it makes you into a popularity seeker and turns you into a shallower person. It certainly seems plausible to be successful without them.
In the book, I make suggestions, like if you use Twitter, tweeting about your internal state instead of external events. The easier, lazy approach is to say, "Stop using these things, they're bad." But I just feel like that's too cheap and too stupid and people are smarter than that. So if you find something that works for you, like Twitter and Facebook and many people do I'm just trying to put the problems out there and to get people to use them more thoughtfully.
I mean, every now and then I'll look at a Wikipedia entry even though I don't like Wikipedia. I'm willing to sort of compromise.
CP: But it seemed like you were talking about Google and a lot of other elements from the Internet.
JL: Well, let me be clear about Google. As I'm sure say in the book, my objection isn't to the algorithm, it's to the ad-business plan, and I say that because this isn't really advertising. Traditionally, advertising was a form of communication where people would create print ads and television ads and whatever and it was a communication art, whether you liked it or not, it was an act of communication. What's called advertising in Google isn't really that, it's more being a gatekeeper for connections between people and it's called advertising. As I point out in the book, if Google really functioned well, there would really be no room for this type of advertising. It's sort of a strange game, and I don't like Google's business model, but I don't mind their search engine at all.
CP: But isn't the idea of Search Engine Optimization forcing congruence along rigid criteria and thus reinforcing the hive mind?
JL: Sure, but I'm not trying to be a purist or anything. What you're saying is true, there's a bit of that quality, but there's all shades of grey. If you have a page rank or algorithm for search, it isn't - you know, there could be an essay about how this has hive-mind like qualities, but it isn't a big enough deal to freak out. It's important not to be such a purist so - you know, I don't want to become like an organic food person or something like that. The point isn't to set up some sort of litmus test, it's more just to try to make sure things overall aren't going too wrong. I'm actually saying something much more moderate than I'm perceived as saying. A certain amount of this we'll be able to manage, I'm just worried this is becoming more extreme than we'll be able to manage.
CP: You point out that one of the symptoms of the new Internet is the wide scale production of bullshit mashups and stupid YouTube videos. But doesn't this just mean that there is demand for that stuff and that people are stupid to begin with?
JL: I think stupidity exists within people, I certainly know it exists within me. I'm not suggesting everyone was brilliant before the Internet or anything. What I'm suggesting is that there's a preponderance of group-think that is made worse in the Internet. As I say in the book, we're playing with fire, because I think people are inclined towards group-think anyway, and I think we're designing tools that excite some of our lesser nature too easily.
CP: Where does the recession fit into all this?
JL: The Google computer and the hedge fund computer are profoundly similar. I mean, obviously there are technical differences in their domains. But essentially, they're just finding correlations in a bunch of data in order to get an upper hand from people who are providing the data. I find in the big picture they're very similar.
CP: Do you think open source has any utility at all?
JL: They have certain utilities. As I say, in the book I use them once in awhile myself. It's a funny thing because in every case where they have some challenges. So empirically what has happened is they produce dull code; there just haven't been any breakthroughs or creative code done in open source. What happens is some proprietary team comes up with something interesting, and then the open source world copies it, and so there's sort of this illusion that something's happening when there isn't. It's a funny thing with open source. People say to me, "Well isn't it great that you can get free codes so you don't have to raise start up money to get some code to do some experiments." And that's true, but the backside of that is that the people who make code don't make as much money, so there's this gradual cycle of impoverishment. And if you want to see what I'm talking about, compare the scene for apps for Android to the scene for apps for Apple, where the Andorid apps, with the exception of those made by Google, of course, tend to be slipshod and partially done and people don't makemuch money from them, compared to the iPhone ones. There's a very nice empirical comparison there.
CP: And, in fact, you praise the iPhone for being auteured.
JL: Well I don't praise it because it's made by an individual company I could care less how it's made. I just point out that the thing that happens to be made well happens to not be made by a crowd. The open source crowd can't make an iPhone. And by the way, I think Apple goes too far in the other direction. I think the degree of their secrecy and paranoid manipulation of perception is too extreme. And in general, I feel the world is set up between two extremes and I reject both of them. In terms of copyright, there can be a Rupert Murdoch approach where you have these giant media empires who control content and set prices, and then you have the Google approach where everything is free and there is sort of a monopoly of advertising. And I really don't like both of those. I think the book is actually trying to define a third path that's a little more moderate and would be more balanced.
CP: Do you believe that you can still change these sorts of "locked-in" phenomena?
JL: I would like to talk Google into giving up their business model, and it sounds like the most ridiculous thing since it's the most successful business model in history aside from owning a casino or an oil field. But I think it has to change for the good of civilization.
I don't claim to be able to tell what's locked in or what isn't. But my intuition is that some of the things I criticize are still worth criticizing because I think we can avoid them becoming locked in. Remember, Facebook doesn't make any money to speak of. Google does, and that's different.
Bluegrass fiddle-ette Sara Watkins defected from her family band Nickel Creek to strike out on her own with her eponymous debut solo effort (Nonesuch). I called Watkins up to talk about finding her own voice and what inspires her in anticipation of her opening gig for folker John Prine.
City Paper: There are a lot of standards on this record, and from what I've read even more in your live set, yet there is a cohesive feel that comes through and colors the entire record as one piece. There is a real self-consciousness about being as original as possible and a musical tendency to shy away from covers.
Sara Watkins: I don't really think of a lot of them as covers. Growing up with bluegrass, there are just so many traditional songs that you knew. A lot of the culture is to just play with people, so there are a lot of songs that are common so people can jump in. To me, a cover is a Morrissey song or something like that. But, there are songs that have been around long enough to have a certain existence on their own, without seeming like you are throwing a bone to the audience hoping they'll recognize one they might know. Emmy Lou Harris and Allison Krauss have made entire careers of playing other peoples material, but not by being "cover artists."
CP: Is it fair to say that your voice comes through on the record?
SW: I didn't really go into this with a certain message that I meant to have come across. My main concern was to not fake it by putting a song on the record thinking it might be what I want to hear or play five years down the line. My only concern really was whittling my record down from an even bigger list of songs that I felt went well together, it was less of a personal goal to do it topically. I didn't go into it with the conscious mindset to keep the finished piece so diverse, it just sort of happened more stylistically as the process went on.
CP: Well, I can say it really speaks to me. To be honest, I had never heard any of your stuff until your appearance on "A Prairie Home Companion" not long ago, and it coincided with a really difficult time in my life. So, what drew me to you were the ideas of kindness, loss, coping, seeking comfort when finding uncertainties that can be found in your music. Particularly on "My Friend" and more than anything on "Where Will You Be?" They really seem to stand for something contrary to the popular Lady Ga Ga ideas of self obsession and "sorry for partying" culture that is being portrayed as the "normal" life path for twentysomethings nowadays.
SW: When I was writing those songs they each came out fairly quickly, though months apart from each other. But, in each case, I would have a certain thinking or mood or be going through something fairly deep for me and it would boil down to a certain phrase or seed of thought. With "Where Will You Be?" it was the repetition of that chorus, along the lines of "When this happens, when that happens, when this happens, where will you be?" That actually got in my head before a Nickel Creek show and I got back to it afterwards. All this happened after I got off the phone with my friend and a few minutes later texted a line that summed up where my brain and heart were at the time, and I built the song around that. So, that is how these particular songs came out. But, I am still learning how to craft things. Songwriting is a challenging thing.
CP: Something that has struck me about your music is its ability to reach outside of a strictly traditional folk or bluegrass experience. I wonder what you think about regionalism and what you have seen in the receptions you have gotten across the country.
SW: I've been very fortunate in having an audience from people that keep track of Nickel Creek, so I've had more of a warm welcome than a lot of people in my shoes. But, I do feel like I am almost starting over, and it depends, right now I'm still really just building things up. I started doing my own shows last year and the audience was mainly people that were following me to begin with. I'll have a better answer after I play more festivals and have more chances to see new people and how they react. Bluegrass crowds may or may not like something that's not straight bluegrass, some people don't like instrumentals, there's a really diverse group that used to listen to Nickel Creek. Finding anyone that speaks to you is kind of a challenge, people come to shows already being really involved in that search, and most feedback on the ability to see something unique that isn't being crammed down their face like a lot of the pop stuff is. Just the other night I was speaking with a friend whose band is doing really well despite not much hype about their previous record because it's lasting longer. There are a lot of us out there doing it, and there has been a lot of change over in the past few years, and probably will be at least ten more years of interesting times. It's hard to make it out to see everybody and spread the word. But, a lot of people are looking for something that hasn't been hyped so much and bought and paid for by ad people that just want to jumpstart it. I think a lot of people that are dissatisfied with that are looking elsewhere and trying to find something that means something to the artist so it can mean something to them.
CP: I think part of what makes the music so rich definitely has to do with the subtleties of the messages. Everyone can find something if they look for it or lose themselves in it, a lot like you mentioned earlier. Your album does a good job of mirroring the human experience in life by leaving room to appreciate a nice melody for its own sake, or stare out into the abyss and find your true self reflected in it. As terrifying as it can be, there's something beautiful in being taken there.
SW: I'm still kind of amazed by that. It's really hard to find things that appeal to you on that level that you want, or that show you something familiar that you can identify with somewhere in your life, whether it be topical, aggression or something completely different that you want to feel in your life. It's so hard to find that stuff, but when people do they're so happy. I remember when I found Summerteeth by Wilco, I totally identified with the instrumentation and the message immediately. But some other stuff requires a little bit of time to dive into and find a way to approach. When I first heard Of Montreal it took me the longest time to figure out why it got under skin so much, but then I started loving it. So, there are lots of different ways to react. Whether that be to enjoy it and let it go without intruding on your pallet, or something along the lines of "Wow, that's totally different and I have never tasted anything like that! What is it?" The key is to do it as long as you can. My favorite artists of any craft just do it because that's what they love to do. The idea of somebody being a lifer is so intriguing to me and I feel like the stories, the songwriting, the history, all get so much more interesting. You can get so much more out of a song and its writer by knowing their story, and it does help me to listen to things when I know a little bit of background but am still not sure where things start and end.
CP: That is actually what drew me to you from the start. I remember on A Prairie Home Companion, you prefaced "My Friend" by saying a lot of people close to you saw themselves as the subject, even though they weren't originally. Aside from being a completely beautiful song, there is something inside there that adds a richness to experiencing you sing it.
SW: Haha, well thank you. That one was a very specific song, which is why it doesn't rhyme. A lot of my friends have thought it was about them when it wasn't, but as times have gone on it has changed, and honestly it's sometimes about me when I sing it.
Sara Watkins w/ John Prine, Fri., Feb. 19, Merriam Theatre, 250 S. Broad St., merriam-theater.com
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