Interview with ‘House of Cards’ composer Jeff Beal

Composer Jeff Beal in his home studio with Los Angeles musicians recording Season 2 of hit Netflix drama “House of Cards,” which just received two Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Composition (Original Dramatic Score) and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. Photoc courtesy of Jeff Beal

Composer Jeff Beal in his home studio with Los Angeles musicians recording Season 2 of hit Netflix drama “House of Cards,” which just received two Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Composition (Original Dramatic Score) and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. Photo courtesy of Jeff Beal

On the heels of two new Emmy nominations for his music for “House of Cards,” Jeff Beal talks about composing for the hit Los Angeles-scored series

Beautifully underscoring the dramatic intrigue of Netflix series “House of Cards,” Jeff Beal’s darkly atmospheric score just garnered two more Emmy nominations. This marks the composer’s third Emmy nod for the show, and 13th altogether.

To date, Beal has won three times, including for the 2007 TNT miniseries “Nightmares & Dreamscapes” and USA Network’s detective series “Monk” in 2003, which were also scored here with our wonderful Los Angeles musicians.

Recorded at his home studio, music for “House of Cards” features more than a dozen of L.A.’s premiere string musicians. Beal spoke with Linda A. Rapka from his home studio about composing for the hit series. Continue reading

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Robyn Hitchcock: Ready for the End of Time

0413hitchcock_lgBlending classic English sensibilities with darkly clever psychedelic pop, Robyn Hitchcock constructs a musical universe all his own. With a career spanning nearly four decades, the frontman of Cambridge’s neo-psych post punk group the Soft Boys first made waves with the much-admired 1980 release Underwater Moonlight before the band split later that year. Not to abandon making fine-crafted pop thick with wise whimsicality Robyn has steadied a prolific career, making a decade’s worth of music with the Egyptians (including 1985’s Fegmania!) and more recently with members of R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows and Ministry as the Venus 3. In March the singer, songwriter, painter and even sometime-Hollywood actor celebrates the release of a new solo album, Love From London (Yep Roc Records), and his 60th birthday. He sips a cup of tea and chats by telephone from his hotel room in New York. This interview by Linda A. Rapka.

Robyn Hitchcock: Sorry if you can hear that noise. That’s me making a cup of tea. You can tell how English I am.

You describe your new album, Love From London, as one that ‘celebrates life in a culture imperiled by economic and environmental collapse.’ That sounds contradictorily optimistic.
I do my best to block out the news. I don’t have CNN on all the time or spend all day listening to NPR or Radio 4. I don’t follow Twitter. I recoil in horror at most that goes on at real life. I try to keep my head buried in the late ‘60s. The emphasis on my record is on celebration. Little bits of information—snippets from the outside world—bleed through occasionally in what I’m singing, but I’m not here to give you the bad news. I just wanna boogie. Continue reading

Q&A (and new single) from Pony Boy

Marchelle Bradanini, aka Pony BoyShe is neither pony nor boy, but don’t let the stage moniker of doom-wop singer/songwriter Marchelle Bradanini’s fool you. Singed with just the right amount of L.A. flare, Pony Boy’s down-home Southern style allows the small-framed blonde and blue-eyed bombshell to get down and dirty with the right amount of class.

The B-side to Pony Boy’s new “Not in This Town” single, titled “The Murder Ballad of Carrie Lee” (and up for free stream/download on Soundcloud) is aptly described by the artist as “junkyard doom wop soul country blues.” An imagining of a cross-country crime spree by a ’50s gal who falls under the sway of a bad boy, the tune moshes together twangy banjo plucks, bouncy piano riffs and the obligatory harmonica solo, creating a mossy swamp pond that lays thick underneath a foggy vocal track mixed with just the right balance of smoke and grit. While the song itself is finely crafted, Pony Boy’s seductive voice is definitely what sets her apart, carrying a soul and strength unrivaled by other Americana-loving female vocalists in L.A. This interview was done [on the quick! – ed] by Linda A. Rapka. Continue reading

Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Anniversary: “Let ’em Feel How it Felt” – Interview w/ Slimkid3, Fatlip, J-Sw!ft & LA Jay

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All photos by Linda A. Rapka

South Central Los Angeles hip hop group the Pharcyde changed the face of West Coast hip hop forever with their 1992 debut Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde. With its ingenious blending of jazz, funk, classic rock, R&B, powerful beats and insanely sick rhymes, the album continues to influence and inspire. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release, two founding members Slimkid3 (a.k.a. Tre) and Fatlip along with producers J-Sw!ft and L.A. Jay—and plenty of special guests—will perform a special concert presenting the album start-to-finish (with skits and everything) at the Roxy on Wednesday, May 23. The four met up with Linda A. Rapka at Delicious Vinyl headquarters in Hollywood to reminisce about the making of the iconic album and the bizarre ride it’s taken them on since.

Who came up with this idea to do a Bizarre Ride 20-year celebration?
LA Jay: It was J and Mike Ross. [Founder of Delicious Vinyl.]
J-Sw!ft: I proposed it to Mike. He told me he was doing this box set and I said are you gonna do some kind of promotion? Are you gonna do a celebration? I think it’d be dope if we did the whole album like Pink Floyd, like The Wall—do it live, front to back with skits. Let ’em feel how it felt in the studio actually running it.
Fatlip: You know what it is? It’s weird ’cause obviously we’ve got some like creative chemistry, and then like yesterday, J was the first person I seen when I walked in the room and he was playing all the skits, and I knew this was a good idea. Continue reading

¡Ay Caramba! Interview with “The Simpsons” composer Alf Clausen

“This is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since Halley’s comet collided with the moon.” The Bridge Recording studio in Glendale greeted Alf Clausen and the Local 47 orchestra to “The Simpsons”  500th scoring session with giant golden celebratory balloons adorning the entrance. Alf posed beneath them holding the Certificate of Honor presented to him by Local 47 President Vince Trombetta on behalf of the musicians union. photo by Linda Rapka

‘The Simpsons’ orchestra and Alf Clausen celebrate 500 episodes

by Linda Rapka

“The Simpsons” celebrated a landmark achievement in television history last month, airing its 500th episode Feb. 19.

The momentous scoring session took place Feb. 3 at the Bridge Recording studio in Glendale, which greeted the musicians with giant golden celebratory balloons spelling out “500” on either side of the entrance. Continue reading

A Union-Man’s Man: Tom Morello

Photo by David Atlas. Courtesy of Tom Morello

Taking up the working man’s plight, ‘The Nightwatchman’ sends out an urgent call for action with his new ‘Union Town’ EP

Tom Morello is as well known for his heavy guitar riffs with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Street Sweeper Social Club and his solo acoustic act The Nightwatchman as he is for fervent political activism. Co-founder of the political group Axis of Justice, whose declared purpose is “to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice together,” Morello has championed causes ranging from immigration reform and ending war to abolishing torture and the death penalty. Inspired by the labor struggles in Wisconsin, his newly released “Union Town” EP aims to invigorate listeners to stand up, get active and fight for the rights of workers, with 100% of proceeds from record sales going directly toward this cause. This interview by Linda Rapka. Continue reading

The Magnetic Fields: “I Go to Bars Every Day” – Stephin Merritt interview

As published by LA Record:

Illustration by Alice Rutherford

The Magnetic Fields: “I Go to Bars Every Day”

With his unmistakably morose baritone voice, peerless pop sensibilities and endearingly quirky lyrics, Stephin Merritt is one of our best-loved songwriters of the last decade. With the Magnetic Fields, his 69 Love Songs made the unlikely ascent from blogger buzz to worldwide acclaim, but Merritt also juggles a slew of other bands (Future Bible Heroes, the Gothic Archies, the 6ths, the Three Terrors) along with theatrical productions (Coraline, Peach Blossom Fan, My Life as a Fairy Tale) and side projects (film scoring, TV commercials, Lemony Snicket audiobooks). He writes all of his songs in gay bars, hates loud noises, despises live music and doesn’t own a TV. And though he moved from New York to Los Angeles over three years ago, he has yet to meet any Angelenos. This interview by Linda Rapka.

Why do you wear so much brown?
Stephin Merritt (guitar/vocals): It’s flattering and it matches my eyes. I think that everybody should wear colors that match themselves as much as possible. Just as one’s clothes should match, they should match what one looks like.
What happened as a child that made you afraid of Grace Slick?
Stephin Merritt: We went to see Odetta and the Jefferson Airplane. Odetta was intimidating enough for a child. And then there was the Jefferson Airplane, and Grace Slick said, ‘They’re killing children over there.’ Clearly to me now, she meant Vietnam, but at the time I thought she meant stage right.
The latest Magnetic Fields album, Realism, is the last installment of your no-synth trilogy. What’s next?
Stephin Merritt: Clearly there will be some synthesizers, but other than that I don’t know. Well, I know that there will be new synthesizers. There’s a new generation of synthesizers being made—more by visual artists than by synthesizer manufacturers—and they have interesting new sounds. It’s been a while since there have been new sounds in popular music. It’s been the same old sounds, on and out, again and again.
Do you think these new synthesizers give hope to modern pop music?
Stephin Merritt: Yes I do! I think the way that things move forward is generally through technical innovations rather than necessarily creative innovations, and not on the level of the artist as opposed to the instrument. Ultimately the artist is the instrument. Art consists of exploring possibilities of that particular instrument rather than exploring some other thing. Usually the person who invented the instrument is the last person you’d want to hear playing it, because they’re just showing off that instrument.
So you moved to Los Angeles three-and-a-half years ago intent on making 50 Hollywood musicals.
Stephin Merritt: I learned the hard way not to have conviction that has easily realizable components. I can’t be jaded until I’ve done 50 successful Hollywood musicals. Then I can be jaded.
Your approach to making music, with very specific self-imposed rules and restrictions, reminds me of the Dogme approach to filmmaking.
Stephin Merritt: My first movie score was in intentional direct violation of the Dogme 95 rules, so it required that I learn them. It’s a silly set of rules with the realities of filmmaking. Any set of rules is a good idea, if they’re not so referential that they prevent creative work at all.
The Dogme movement intended to make filmmakers and audiences rethink the art and essence of filmmaking by framing it around a set of specific constraints. Is this what you’re attempting with your music?
Stephin Merritt: I can’t say that it would be rethinking, because it’s not like I have a habit that I’m trying to break. It’s more like I don’t have habits and I’m trying to get some for long enough to make a record.
Is that why all of your musical projects are so goal-oriented?
Stephin Merritt: I need a reason to get up in the morning. If there’s nothing to do or no clear direction, why not just stay in bed?
You’re also scoring the silent film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which will feature lyrics that sync up with the movement of the actors’ mouths. How is that going?
Stephin Merritt: Um … no comment. It’s a hard time to find time to work on it because I’m also rehearsing for Magnetic Fields. I think once I’m on tour I’m going to be able to devote a lot more time to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea because I’ll have nothing to do all day but sit in airplanes and hotels and sit around at sound check waiting to be called upon to play.
It’s well-known you don’t enjoy performing live or attending concerts.
Stephin Merritt: I don’t really approve of live music.
Then why tour?
Stephin Merritt: I don’t approve of live music where the sound is the point. Experimental music works well live because you can see what the experiment is. And music which is more about sentimentality than about sound works well live because you don’t hear what the sound is. I saw Tiny Tim in the ’80s, and he was amazing live. Him and his ukulele doing three chords over and over again in different combinations, playing only three-chord songs from the 1900s through the 1980s, with a little pickup band backing him up who’d never rehearsed together. They were just following him. It was so moving. He’s a great performer. But I am not Tiny Tim and I want my records to sound a particular way, and that’s the point of them. Playing live has nothing to do with my artistic vision.
You once had a job writing an astrology column for a local lesbian newspaper under the name ‘Madame Cheva.’ How did you get that job?
Stephin Merritt: How did I get that job? I don’t know. I had done a few articles for their spin-off magazine. I reviewed the local tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants, rating the fortune cookies at each one. The first fortune cookie I got was, ‘You will visit many exotic places.’ In the same office was the lesbian whom I started doing odd work for. I was doing layout and then I started writing articles, but they were only supposed to have women writing the articles, so I was ‘Madame Cheva.’ I believe I was not the only man writing for this paper. Presumably some of the articles were actually written by women. And of course I just made up the horoscopes. I don’t believe in astrology in any way, and I don’t think anybody who does it for a living does. I did it in verse several times.
The French shoe company Bluedy created an entire line of Stephin Merritt footwear in 2008. Have you ever worn them?
Stephin Merritt: No. I’ve seen tiny pictures half the size of postage stamps online.
It’s perplexing that they never sent you a pair.
Stephin Merritt: Not if you know French people. They take years to do anything. They could e-mail and find out what my mailing address is and send the shoes. They don’t have to fit me or anything. I’m not going to wear them.
In college you studied film as well as the history of the built environment.
Stephin Merritt: I was studying lampposts. Suburbia. It’s like urban planning without the urban part. It’s the opposite of nature.
Did these studies make any impact on how you think about music?
Stephin Merritt: Well, sure. I was fascinated with small-town life, especially in decay, which you see in (Bogdanovich’s) The Last Picture Show—towns in the middle of basically reverting to nature. Much of the lyrics on The House of Tomorrow are about that.
I read an interview where you said you find people from California shockingly shallow—that they’re even worse than how they’re portrayed by the media. Are we really that bad?
Stephin Merritt: Where did you read this? It was probably a New York magazine and I was trying to make the reporter feel better. Truly, I have no opinion whatsoever of Angelenos because I never meet any of them. Everybody I know in Los Angeles is from New York. I don’t know how people meet each other in Los Angeles other than coming from New York and knowing each other before.
Angelenos like bars.
Stephin Merritt: I go to bars every day. Everyone I meet is from New York. Or they don’t talk to me.
You do all your songwriting in gay bars. What makes a gay bar so conducive to songwriting?
Stephin Merritt: I need music in the background to drown out the music in my head that plays in endless loops. Like the Bumble Bee tuna jingle. Catchy songs stick in my head and there needs to be music playing to get those out of my head, and it’s best if it’s something quite simple and not demanding. Like thumping disco music, which is what they play in the sort of gay bars where people over 30 congregate. Mainly my taste in music is not thumping disco music, but for work purposes it works. If I like the music, it’s too distracting.
Have you yet discovered any contemporary hip-hop you like?
Stephin Merritt: Oh yeah, sure. I like Prince Paul. But I mean, not very contemporary. It’s so incredibly derivative of late ’70s and early ’80s hip-hop. I heard it the first time.
That’s true of all pop music, or anything mainstream today.
Stephin Merritt: Right, yeah. Lady Gaga is Kylie Minogue. And Kylie Minogue is Robin S. At least Kylie Minogue has done these wonderful murder ballads with Nick Cave. I would love to meet Lady Gaga’s costume designer. Which is nothing against Lady Gaga—it’s just that once you’ve heard it before, you’ve heard it.
Like alternative. Or indie rock.
Stephin Merritt: Oh my God. Calling all indie rockers: give up.