Friday, June 27, 2014

Playlist: June

  • Robert Plant—lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar (2014)
  • Jack White—Lazaretto (2014)
  • Lana Del Rey—Ultraviolence (2014)
  • Yes—Heaven and Earth (2014)
  • Tim Bowness—Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Different Shades of Blue (2014)
  • Bass Communion—Box Set (2014)
  • Steve Hackett—Genesis Revisited Live at Royal Albert Hall (2014)
  • Umphreys McGee—Similar Skin (2014)
  • Natalie Merchant—Natalie Merchant (2014)
  • Steven Wilson—Cover Version (2003-10)
  • National Health Communion—Of Queues and Cures (1978)
  • Led Zeppelin—Deluxe edition reissues I, II, III (2014)

Sunday, June 01, 2014

My Interview With Emily Blunt

When Emily Blunt entered a small French café in West Hollywood to meet for our interview for American Way, no one seemed to recognize her. Maybe it’s because the café patrons were already distracted by Dexter actress Jennifer Carpenter, who was sitting in a corner. It could be that filmgoers are so accustomed to Blunt as a brunette that they failed to recognize the Golden Retriever blonde in sunglasses. Or perhaps it’s because the actress was heavily pregnant, her belly orbited by a silk scarf. Two and a half weeks after the interview, Emily and her husband John Krasinski had a baby daughter named Hazel.

I'd half expected a trail of paparazzi in the actress's wake. Prior to the interview, I'd been following Emily's activities on Google—she was a daily fixture in the tabloids.

“They just want my water to break in front of them,” Emily told me. “It’s the most exposed I’ve felt when I have my picture taken. So I feel more protective. They all want to sort of see how big the bump’s getting and predict when the baby’s coming. It’s a bit of a frenzy.”

I asked her if she'd ever considered getting a bodyguard.

"It’s not that bad compared to some people. I can always wade my way through them," she said, laughing. "I’ve never felt the need to have that."

On the day of our interview, Emily managed to briefly elude her professional stalkers and we enjoyed a lengthy breakfast together. She's genuinely lovely. A great sense of humor and she laughs a lot. Also: entrancingly beautiful. If Hollywood was to cast the part of Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand ships," she'd be first on the list.

Here's a few excerpts from the interview that didn't make it into the article for American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, which you can read here. The story, which will be in seatbacks throughout June, is timed to the release of Edge of Tomorrow, her sci-fi movie with Tom Cruise.

What inspired you to take on the role?

The two things that drew me to it were Doug Liman and Tom Cruise. I love Doug’s movies. He always manages to carve out new space for himself within a genre. He puts his stamp on it. You know that’s a Doug Liman movie. Tonally, he has something that’s quite fresh and humorous. I love it when sci-fi movies aren’t earnest. I want to shoot myself when they’re too earnest or sentimental or dramatic. I think what Doug manages to do is to create a story where the stakes are very high and he plays stuff very much for real. But you find within it that there are moments where it’s very humorous and you can relate to these characters when you can envision yourself in their shoes.

Tom Cruise probably did all his own stunts. How many did you do?

We both did stunts. I thought, ‘Well, if he’s doing them, I have to do them. I don’t want to wuss out.’
I actually had an Asian mad doubling me for some of the massive hits. Because the suit was so heavy, they needed a guy to carry it.

What was worse to wear – the corsets and crown in Young Victoria or the exo-skeleton in Edge of Tomorrow

I spent days on set praying to be in the corset. That’s how heavy it was. But it was so heavy, you kind of get used to it. It’s something you endure, initially, and then you have to embrace it otherwise you’ll just cry.

After Gideon’s Daughter, you broke into Hollywood very quickly – you had to fight to get the part in Devil Wears Prada – tell me about that.

I went on tape for it and then I went on tape again. It wasn’t this drawn out process. I read for it and then four days later I read for it again. They called me the next day. Oh my god, that film changed everything. I don’t think any of us expected it to become the event it was.

If Revenge Wears Prada, the book sequel, gets made into a movie, are you game to do it?

I think we’d only do it if all of us did it. I spoke to Meryl about it when we were doing Into the Woods and she was like, ‘I don’t want to lose the weight.’ I’m very cautious about sequels. The film was so good and worked so well that it could take something away from the original by trying to replicate it.

Lightning round: Give me a few sentences on your memories and enduring impressions of working on the following movies:

  • Gulliver’s Travels 

Staring at green tennis balls on green walls.

  • Dan in Real Life

Dancing with Steve Carell. And it was awesome. I like to dance. It was a scene where we dance stupidly in a bar. It was hilarious.

  • Five-Year Engagement

Just a stupid laugh, the whole thing. Jason Segel is a good friend of mine and it was a film that was exciting and kept you on your toes because we improved so much and it’s always exhilarating working like that.

  • Charlie Wilson’s War

[Laughs] Cripplingly embarrassing. Crawling all over Tom Hanks in my underwear. He was such a gent. I don’t think he’d ever done that kind of role. He doesn’t play those kinds of characters. So we laughed about that. I remember I had the flu as well doing that scene, so I’m sure I infected him with all kinds of horrific germs during the process. I remember feeling like crap that day.

  • Sunshine Cleaning

I met my friend Amy [Adams] on that. Albuquerque, New Mexico, was not my favorite place to shoot. Everything’s beige. But we had a laugh.

  • Looper

That was the most awesome experience. [Director] Rian Johnson is a gem. He’s spooky good. That was three and a half weeks and it was one of the most rewarding, if not the most, rewarding experiences I’ve had on a film set. He has an extraordinary vision that he communicates to you with the utmost clarity. The dialogue is completely rare and not like anything else out there. So you’re blessed with these lines that you think you’ll never get a chance to say again. Shooting with the little kid was so magical. He was amazing. I remember we auditioned three boys and I flew down to read with a few of them. They narrowed it down to three. Pierce was the youngest. He was barely six. He’d just turned six. It was like the atmosphere froze in the room.

  • The Adjustment Bureau 

Matt Damon in a Fedora, which made me laugh every day. We did really hit it off and he’s now one of my dearest friends.

On YouTube, there's a video of the scene in The Adjustment Bureau where you and Matt Damon meet for the first time in a men's bathroom. That video has a one-word description: Chemistry.

We not only hit it off as friends, but I think we found a rhythm as characters that really worked for that scene. We riffed around the dialogue and improved some stuff. So the scene felt quite spontaneous and fresh. George Nolfi let us play around with the scene a bit, which was nice. I think we really needed that scene to work, otherwise the movie doesn’t work.

Would you ever go back to doing TV?

Oh my God, yes! Yes, please! Please. It would be amazing. One hundred percent. We all want to. You speak to a lot of actors, they all want to. I love what HBO are doing. Have you seen True Detective? I really want to see it. Breaking Bad is so good, but I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me.

What’s the last time you can remember laughing hard?
Last night. Something John was doing. No one makes me laugh more. To the point where I think I’m going to give birth. And I just said, ‘You have to stop. You have to stop now, my water’s going to break.’

You’re at a momentous stage in your life – your life is about to change profoundly. Has it sunk it at all? Do you feel ready?

I know. It feels as if something magical is about to happen. John said this the other day: It’s like somebody is taking your hand and saying, ‘You’re going to meet your husband tomorrow. And then looking you dead in the eye and you know it to be true. And then it’s a combination of that and also somebody saying to you, ‘You’re going to football practice tomorrow and you’re going to get the stuffing knocked out of you. But you have to go.’ [Laughs.]

So, it’s like the combination of the most glorious experience of meeting this person that’s going to change my life and also not knowing what to expect from the birth. Everyone has their story and I’ve heard some horror stories and some lovely stories. Everyone wants to overshare. And now I’ve actually stopped listening to any of it because everyone wants to give you their advice and wants to give you their story. I think that mine is going to be mine. It’s different for everyone.

What do you still wish to accomplish in your career?

There as some directors that I’d like to breathe the same air as them. I loved Wolf of Wall Street so much. I thought it was filthy brilliant. It could have gone on for another three hours and I wouldn’t have cared. Leonardo was my favorite performance of the year. It was extraordinarily raw and his ability to be that ugly. It took my breath away. I felt pinned to the couch. I’d love to work with Scorsese.
I love David Fincher. He likes people to feel uncomfortable. That’s what I like. He’s not an obsequious director. He likes people to feel rocked and very uncomfortable. I like that he doesn’t cater to the audience, because so many films cater to what they think people want to see or what they think people want to feel. That’s why I like movies like Wolf of Wall Street, which is just a spectacle of filth. I want the shock factor.

You once said that you don’t wish to be defined by the job you do – how do demarcate that part of your life so that it’s not all-consuming?
I think it’s quite easy. You just walk through the front door of your house. When you walk into your house, it’s a different world and when you walk outside, it’s another world sometimes. Don’t do too many movies. [Laughs]

Elbow: a live review


Elbow live at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, CA

May 29, 2014 By Stephen Humphries
“Charge,” the first song of Elbow’s concert, is aptly titled. The British band storms the audience with startling vigor, urged on by Richard Jupp kicking his bass drum with the force of a Clydesdale. Midway through the new track, a pair of female violinists seated at the rear of the stage swoop in. Their dramatic musical squall increases the barometric pressure inside the room. The audience somehow finds its breath for a loud cheer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Playlist: May

  • Wye Oak—Shriek (2014)
  • Toni Childs—Citizens of the Planet (2014)
  • Tim Bowness—Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014)
  • Joe Bonamassa—Different Shades of Blue (2014)
  • Swans—To Be Kind (2014)
  • The Black Keys—Turn Blue (2014)
  • Syd Arthur—Sound Mirror (2014)
  • California Breed—California Breed (2014)
  • Nils Lofgren—Face the Music (2014)
  • Jonathan Wilson—Gentle Spirit (2011)
  • Pink Floyd—The Division Bell (1994)
  • The entire Kate Bush catalogue

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Playlist: April

    • School of Language—Old Fears (2014)
    • Se Delan—Fall (2014)
    • David Crosby—Croz (2014)
    • Sonar—Static Motion (2014)
    • Syd Arthur—On and On (2012), Sound Mirror (2014)
    • Joseph Arthur—Lou (2014)
    • Wye Oak—Shriek (2014)
    • Damon Albarn—Everyday Robots (2014)
    • Nils Lofgren—Face the Music box set (2014)
    • The Cadlillac Three—The Cadillac Three (2013)
    • Talk Talk—London 1986 (1999)
    • The SundaysReading, Writing, and Arithmetic (1990)
    • Kate BushHounds of Love (1986)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Now on Newsstands: John Wesley interview

Photo Credit: Photography by Andy Wright,

Fact: John Wesley has just released one of the year's strongest albums.

The 10-track album, titled Disconnect, is the career pinnacle of the the solo artist first discovered by Marillion and renowned as a tour guitarist for the likes of Fish, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. 

Every single song has is hooky melody, strong lyrics and fantastic production. When I interviewed Wes for the new issue of Prog, he told me that he picked up all his production skills from working with Steven Wilson over the years. (In turn, Wes showed Wilson how to shoot a gun.) Also, Alex Lifeson of Rush lays down an epic solo on the song "Once a Warrior." Quite appropriate given that Disconnect has a very Rush vibe. 

Watch the video for the title track and lead single, below.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Now on Newsstands: Imogen Heap interview

Imogen Heap has no need for drummers.

On her fourth electro-pop album, Sparks, the British songwriter created beats by sampling sounds such as her baby niece’s heartbeat inside the womb, the slam of a dishwasher door, and the clatter of a Chinese printing press. An egg in a bowl became a snare drum effect.

Heap's love of "found object" instrumentation doesn't end with rhythms. When I interviewed her for the new issue of American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, it quickly became clear that Sparks is one of the most ambitious albums ever made. It boasts a cast of thousands of collaborators from around the world who helped Heap with her sound collages. (Read more about them in my interview.)

“I quite liked this idea that, instead of it always being me, the spark would come from the outside world,” Imogen told me.

For starters, Imogen asked her two million followers on Twitter to help out.

"I asked my fans to send in anything they wanted, any kind of sound," says Heap. "Within the first hour there was maybe two or three hundred sounds. The first sound was a Ukelele sound generated by a man named Robert Ponto. He was a fan who came on and uploaded the sound of a ukulele being played – one chord of a ukulele and then putting on an effect, which sounds like a digital delay."

That became the initial spark for the song "Lifeline." The songwriter described how the rest of the song quickly came together.
My brother sent in the sound of his daughter, who had yet to be born, the sound of her heartbeat in her mother’s womb. The tempo of the heartbeat was perfectly in time with the sound of a slinky going down a staircase sent in by someone named Toby Barnett. There was a perfect contra rhythm.  I thought, ‘Well, that’s meant to be.’ So I had the tempo and I had the rhythm and I had the key and now I just needed a melody.   
I had 900 sounds all-in-all.  I had started to build a piece of music quite quickly together. Later on that evening,  I knew my brother was watching and they’d just had their first child. So now, I’m an aunt for the first time ever. Very exciting. So I thought, ‘Ok, Giles , you’re online. Everyone’s online. I’m going to sing the first thing that comes into my head. That’s going to be the melody I use in the song. The first melody I sang ended up being the beginning of the verse.  I’ve never done that before –online, live in front of people. I felt like everyone was supporting me. I wasn’t just singing it for me, I was singing for everyone. I was so inspired lyrically to write this song. I was literally beaming with excitement. 
It was a wonderful way to begin a record – not scared and lonely and in room wondering, ‘What am I going to write about?’ It was a magical beginning and it just kept on getting more magical. 
You can hear the end result, "Lifeline," below.

Heap created the album over several years, aiming to finish one song every three months. As soon as each song was finished, it was released as a digital single with its own music video. (I've included a few, below.) The songs now comprise Sparks (which also includes one or two previously unreleased new tracks.) Heap famously hates deadlines. But her piecemeal approach to the album freed her both creatively and physically.

"I realized that, any project I wanted to do, for the first time in my life, I could say, ‘Yes.’ Because the record didn’t have to be done in a year. For the first time, I could integrate my touring life, my family life, my musical creativity. All these things together fitted into each other. Instead of feeling isolated, making the record on my own in my basement, I was outside, collaborating with people on all sorts of different levels."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Playlist: March

    • The War on Drugs—Lost in the Dream (2014)
    • Jimi Goodwin—Odludek (2014)
    • Elbow—The Takeoff and Landing of Everything (2014)
    • Joseph Arthur—Lou (2014)
    • Beck—Morning Phase (2014)
    • The Civil Wars—Between the Bars EP (2014)
    • Real Estate—Atlas (2014)
    • Warpaint—Warpaint (2014), The Fool (2010)
    • Se Delan—The Fall (2014)
    • St. Vincent—Actor (2009), Marry Me (2007)
    • Walter Becker—Monkey Circus (2008)
    • David Bowie—Young Americans (1975), Station to Station (deluxe edition, 1976), Low (1977) 
    • King Crimson—Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973)
    • Yes—Yes (1969), Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972), Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), Relayer (1974)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Now on Newsstands: Elbow interview

When I interviewed Elbow's Guy Garvey about the band's sixth studio album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, he said, "It’s a dense first listen, I will say that, but utterly rewarding." 

The album is, indeed, a grower. At first, I was disappointed that The Take off and Landing of Everything doesn't boast the immediate wow factor of Build a Rocket Boys! tracks such as "The Birds," "Lippy Kids,"  "With Love" and "Neat Little Rows." But now that I've spent some time with the new album, I'm smitten with it. Some of the tracks that initially passed me by, such as "Colour Fields" and "Real Life (Angel)" and "This Blue World" and "Blanket of Night," are now among my favorites. And the single, "New York Morning," will sneak up on you and become your ears' new best friend - take a listen to the music video, below. 

If the album has a weakness it's this: It doesn't take Elbow to too many new places - honorable exceptions "Lunette/Fly Boy Blue" and "The Blanket of Night" - but the band compensates with gorgeous melodies and Guy Garvey's never-more-soulful singing. Indeed, The Take off and Landing of Everything is consistently strong. I love every track. (Tip: Doesn't work well as a background listen. Headphones and a dark space are a must.)

True to Garvey's word, the album is utterly rewarding.

My interview with Guy Garvey about the making of the album is in the new issue of Under the Radar magazine (more details on its contents here), which is now on newsstands or available as an e-version (download the magazine's new app for free.) 

Also, here's a bonus interview I did with the band for the magazine in which Garvey talks about his favorite cities and the songs he associates with each of them.