Randy Newman Talks Character
The Orpheum, Dec. 12
It’s impossible in such a small space to introduce a performer like Randy Newman. His 60 year career in music is the stuff of legend. From his start as a songwriter to his contemporary run of theatrical scores, Newman has brought a sly playfulness to everything he touches. Newman prefers to write in character. He creates these rich personas and sets them in motion as though they are intricate machines propelled along by the music. I recently had the chance to talk with Newman about the creation of these characters and his new record Dark Matter ahead of his appearance at The Orpheum Dec. 12. I started by asking him about his approach to writing and the creation of these characters.
“You know, I've done it almost all my writing career. I've chosen to do characters other than myself, to write myself out of my songs…Because no one else does. Almost no one else. It's not like I said, 'come on men,' and they followed me out of the trench. You know, it's not like a lot of people do this, that style of writing. Because it's more of a direct medium, you know. It's like, I love you, you don't love me. You love me, I don't love you. It's that kind of thing. 90 percent of songs, they've always been love songs. And I don't write that way.”
Interestingly it is the music of diction that Newman follows in the creation of these characters.
“Most often, the music will take me there. Or some kind of syntax or diction. I'll be playing something and something the character says, or the way he says it, will promise a direction of some kind. And that's what will do it. And that's how it'll start. And sometimes I'll have an idea that I'll want to do. Like, I wanted to do that "Putin" thing. You know, it changes, narration changes on the "Putin" thing. Putin himself goes in there and speaks for a little while. I didn't know how I was going to do it. But I wanted to do something about him because he's a bizarre character himself. I mean all that physical stuff, taking his shirt off and stuff. It's like he wants to be … I've said this before, but he's the richest man in the world and the most powerful but he also wants to be Tom Cruise or something. He wants to be a star of some kind.”
(The track “Putin” is one of the highlights of the new record and a wonderful exploration of the absurdity of our current political climate.)
One of the things that stands our about this new record is Newman’s use of his cinematic orchestral techniques applied in the pop context.
“Well, I try to be careful that it [the orchestral arrangement] doesn't draw attention to itself to the point where it gets in the way of the song, of the meaning of the song, of the vocal. I think it's something I've gotten better at over the years. I mean, I listened for the first time in ever to my first five records. They released a disc of them, all five. So I listened to it. And I was the same songwriter 50 years ago, in a way, that I am now. I'm a little better with lyrics, maybe. But I'm certainly better at writing for orchestra. Because of the pictures I've done, and experience just in general. And part of being better at it is just being more sensitive to the vocal. Staying out of the way a little better. And handling the orchestra better. I love an orchestra. I love it so much I've probably hurt myself, commercially, using it. But I really like it.”
The effects speak for themselves. The new record is a fantastic romp and you can expect the same from Newman’s show. As a note, this is an all ages show as well and relatively early by New Orleans standards if you want to bring out the little ones to catch a couple of their Disney favorites as well.
Alt-J at the Orpheum
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, alt-J returned to New Orleans to take the stage at The Orpheum. I had been looking forward to this show for a while and the boys from Leeds delivered. After their Mercury Prize win in 2012, their ascent to stardom was perhaps overwhelmingly fast; but over the course of three records they have built an outstanding repertoire of songs and the skill to deliver their complex sound to an audience. For this performance the three members of the band were separated by lighting structures that isolated and highlighted their positions on the stage. When the screens that encircled the stage came to life, there was a roar from the crowd. The setlist was a mix of the old and the new with about a third of the tracks coming from their latest record. “Tessellate” and “Dissolve Me” still sound outstanding live. Despite it’s place as a fan favorite “Matilda” feels a bit long in the tooth at this point. “Left Hand Free” and “Every Other Freckle” still land and the former works great as part of the encore. “Adeline” and “Pleader” as a one two punch at the end of the set is a great use of the new material. On the whole the group seemed more in sync this time around and the theatrical nature of their stage business only served to heighten the experience. A great show from one of the powerhouse bands on the indie circuit.
To Do This Week
Tonight check out Esme Patterson at Gasa. Tomorrow Tab Benoit is at Venue 182. Monday make sure to catch Anthony da Costa at Gasa. Tuesday The Dead and Company roll into the Smoothie King Center.
To Listen This Week
- Poliça and s t a r g a z e have released a single from their collaborative album via Soundcloud
- Jamila Woods teams up with NE-HI via Youtube
- Bjork shares the video for “blissing me” from her new record via Youtube