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hosted by web celeb Emily Blunt. Here, musician extraordinaire Jon Brion chats with Ms. Blunt. Jon Brion is a legend walking basically...

Jon Brion in the studioBluntly Speaking | Jon Brion
an emily blunt interview

I Heart Huckabees (Jon Brion) Soundtrack Review

Eternal Sunshine (Jon Brion & Others) Soundtrack Review




Bluntly speaking? Since childhood I've been a composer geek. For Show & Tell I'd bring in my Victrola and play Bartok, converting some and, inevitably, sparring off a few uncreatives amongst us - careful their blows didn't connect with my 78 rpm treasure. "Hit the face and spare the vinyl," I always said.

But alas, I cannot play a note - was just given "the ear." Perhaps that's why when I hear orchestrations whipped up from that extraordinary mixture of pure talent and glorious individualism, as with musician extraordinaire Jon Brion, I've been known to weep.

He's a writer, producer, and parlayer of "Unpopular Pop" (see interview for explanation). Brion also dabbles in film scoring - which has given him a Grammy-nod (Magnolia) and great acclaim outside of an already loyal following that trade his Largo tavern cd bootlegs, with the enthusiasm of exquisite wine connoisseurs.

His latest scoring work is attached to David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees. It's unfair to say, "It's his best work," 'cause it's all his best. In fact he shared, the main theme, 'Monday,' was actually hibernating in the 'Brion Songbook of Musical Glee,' for three years. It just fit. So his latest work includes his older work which is now new, again.

When offered to actually speak with the man who has created so many pieces I adore, our modern day Debussy if you will, I broke into a sweat. The fact that on top of being a remarkable lyric spinner, multi-instrumentalist, and melodic maestro, he's also absolutely ah-dorable and that had me in a slight state-o-panic. Where do we start? And what if I swoon like some deranged fan that's found her way backstage at studio 50?

Emily: First let me thank you for your political efforts. I understand you just attended a fundraiser for Kerry?

Jon: Yeah, I was up there in Seattle being a loudmouth. [laughter]

Emily: Bravo. I'd like to start with how you conjure up these notes for film. I mean, I see you alone in an Edward Scissorhandsy castle studio - eighty instruments - tinkling.

Jon: There's a little bit of that goin' on - yeah. I think most film composers work in isolation. I tend to work with the director as much as possible. It's more the two of us watching the movie together trying to come to common ground.

Emily: How do you key - so to speak - into a character so keenly? Especially with Jason Schwartzman's character in Huckabees - the music fit the "persona" so exactly.

Jon: Yeah, well then you'll be very amused to know that piece of music ['Monday'] - the recording of it - had been lying around for three years! [laughter]

Emily: That's amazing! It was instant character description via music.

Jon: When David [O. Russell] kept talking about the feeling he wanted, and I saw - watched - the music he related to, I knew there were some things that might give him that response. And he walked in the studio one day and I said, "I have a present for you. You might like it." And he was dancing around like "Oh-my-God!" He ended up using that piece of music a few places in the movie. Mind you that's after we'd been hanging out for weeks - watching the movie together, talking, having dinner talking about everything - talking about the universe! [laughter] He loves to do that and so do I. So we got on like a house on fire!

Emily: Well the movie shines for it. I understand you have no formal training - and how many instruments do you play?

Jon: Ohhh. It's not that many. People have this crazy idea that I play everything under sun. Everything I play is based on piano, guitar or drums. If it's a marimba or say xylophone? The keys are laid out like a piano - but you play them with drumsticks. I can play piano and I can play drums so yeah and of those types of instruments are easy for me to play. And almost shouldn't be counted. And I'm self-taught.

Emily: Amazing! You're such a sought after musical producer-with your own sound - yet you let other talents' abilities ring - how do you chose whom you'd produce?

Jon: The same way I chose directors. If I think they're good. If I think they have something to offer - if I think they're individuals. I am not really interested in somebody who isn't. The people I'm attracted to are already smart and trying to figure out how to communicate with people. They wanna make something different. It's the same in "Film Soundtrack World." The kinda people who wanna use me don't want the standard soundtrack to begin with. We chose each other carefully. I'm a very grateful for those associations. And they are not all accidental I could have chosen to work with really crappy people! [laughter]

Emily: Yeah but you haven't. In fact, more so than any other I can find, your scoring list is for the who's who of intelligent individual filmmakers.

Jon: Bravo.

Emily: David O. Russell said you're the greatest musical collaborator he's met and Michel Gondry said you are a wizard at reading a director's thoughts for a scene. How do you work with directors - giving them what they want yet keeping your voice?

Jon: Well, I'm making all the music regardless - I'm generating all the ideas - and this is what I developed working with Paul Anderson [the director of Magnolia etc.] - I am watching the director watching their movie. Music has a physiological effect you can feel it. You know. You can put on a Marvin Gaye record and people start tapping their foot. And it's not accidental he made the music to do that. A lot of people are afraid to talk about this kind of stuff because they think it demystifies it - but I violently disagree with that. The really great stuff? No matter how much you talk about it, or how much you pick it apart, it's still part of the great mystery - so for me…I just watch them watching their movie. And by the time I'm working with them they'd been working with the movie for two years. In fact maybe past the point of always having an emotional response.

Emily: You have a clever phrase that seems to be associated with you that you invented - can you tell me about "Unpopular pop?"

Jon: It's just because when people say pop music now they're often talking about just melodic songwriters, especially some with some angle on the lyrics. It's not actually "popular" music. Popular music is Brittany Spears. You know people would refer to Aimee Mann stuff as pop but I've never really heard a song of hers on the radio. Ya, I've heard a song of hers on the radio maybe three times the entire time we've known each other [since 1980's-ish]. She doesn't sell Brittany sized units and I don't think it is "Pop Music." I think that's a dangerous term to use…unfair for her and the Elliott Smiths of the world. Its not meant to be a denigrating term - it's for lack of being able to call it anything else. I thought it was funny because people Jon Brion in the studiohave forgotten where the term came from and the whole notion of Pop Art. People were like, "Okay how do we use these commercial things and use that as our fodder for making creative stuff?" [here we go kids: Music History 101 with Jon Brion - how cool is this ->] Pop music is a term that came up for popular music that came up after the twenties. It was used for Gershwin, and Porter and Irving Berlin. That was an interesting moment where the people who were really good intelligent songwriters were also the most successful. You had to be thoughtful. And you had to have great memorable melodies to be a success at that time. It just hasn't been the case in recent history. Melody is not a requirement. Thoughtfulness isn't a requirement. Lyrics making sense or being original? Absolutely is not part of the requirement! The most interesting ground breaking music has usually been in hip-hop. It hasn't been in rock and it hasn't been in top 40. I think there's inventiveness in the Elliott Smiths, Tom Yorks, Bjorks, Aimee Manns and Fiona Apples.

Emily: So who are your influences? I hear a lot of Beatlesque-y stuff in your music?

Jon: Oh yeah. And that's the primary obvious one. And I'm embarrassed by how inescapable it is for me.

Emily: Sorry.

Jon: No-no it's all right. In fact I think a lot of people in bands are trying to figure out how to get those sort of sounds, and do those sort of things and they're very conscientiously trying to be retro. They're only thinking, "That's cool." And I'm actually not trying to do that. I am actively trying to do that - I'm usually leaving elements out 'cause I'm like, "Oh, that's too many Beatle elements…" I try to always have some thing in there - in the song element - that maybe wouldn't have been there had it been them. But I've kind just acquiesced to the fact that, that, is part of my mode of expression. I at times try really hard to avoid it but it's part of a natural language to me.

Emily: [could he be cuter? I'm pleadin' with him to be cuter…] What's the oddest instrument you've found and play?

Jon: I dunno. I think many people would think many of them are odd. But I don't know if I think that any of them are odd. Everything I heard made some sound that was unique and hence that's what made it beautiful. My friends all have the same "oddball" instruments and we all know the same ones - there's this single gene pool of of toys and thing that use to be state or the art and are not anymore [laughter]. A friend of mine instead of putting a shaker on a track one time, he picked up a bottle of rubbing alcohol and we used that as part of the rhythm track! He was shaking it made a yuswooshgghagagaswiach sound. Something like that is more unique to me than say, just some weird instrument I picked up in a music store.

Emily: I saw you at Largo and watched in amazement as you played all the instruments and accompanied yourself via a sampler on 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'…

Jon: Argh - the fucking Beatles again! [laughter] I can't escape it.

Emily: [laughter] Yes, sorry but it was friggin' nirvana. I then took friends back, to tune them in, and you did this mad 'America the Beautiful' version with the string quartet, The Section - starting with standard and pomp then twirling into a hip-hop dub session of musical mayhem including clever Bush excerpts pumped in [I guess] from the sound man. I was positively blown away. [*sigh*]

Jon Brion at Huckabees premiereJon: Thanks! That's what it's about. There's no set list. As long as humans keep showing up and paying attention I will keep doing it. I've chosen to do something where both my work and and my life are integrated and both are happening simultaneous every hour I'm awake.

Emily: Have you achieved what you want in life?

Jon: There's more to do than I could possibly do before I die. There's no such thing as achieving everything I want - and I have felt like a "success" for a really long time.

Emily: Right on. Any more solo albums in the works now that you finished Huckabees?

Jon: Yeah actually! I am not taking on anything so I can do some solo stuff. That's the plan - we'll see. [laughter]


"Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic" - Oscar Wilde
…And discovering Jon Brion's music is a good start.






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