Living It Up With Chris Isaak
On November 20th, Vanguard Records is releasing the DVD and Blu-ray Chris Isaak Live! Beyond The Sun, featuring the artist's greatest hits plus his personal tribute to Sun Studio in Memphis and the legendary artists who recorded there. Recorded February 13, 2012 at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, before a live studio audience, this special performance showcases Isaak's rich baritone singing with his band Silvertone as he presents his hits including "Wicked Game," "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," "Somebody's Crying," and more.
This collection also features classic songs from his recent critically acclaimed album Beyond the Sun, his personal tribute to the glory days of Sun Studio producer Sam Phillips and the music created by his heroes such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and others in that legendary studio. The DVD also includes bonus footage featuring behind the scenes band rehearsal and a meet and greet with fans.
Chris Isaak is currently on his international tour in support of Beyond the Sun with dates through December 2012. Some of the cities on this tour include New York (Beacon Theater November 2nd), Washington, DC (Warner Theatre November 4th), Chicago, IL (Chicago Theatre November 24th) and Los Angeles, CA (Nokia Theatre LA Live December 11th). For a full list of tour dates visit http://www.chrisisaak.com.
1. I Want Your Love
2. Somebody's Crying
3. You Don't Cry Like I do
4. Wicked Game
5. Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing
6. Ring of Fire
7. It's Now or Never
8. Live it Up
9. Miss Pearl
10. Great Balls of Fire
11. Blue Hotel
12. Oh, Pretty Woman
13. Best I Ever Had
14. Big Wide Wonderful World
Mike Ragogna: Hi there, Mister Ben Drew, also known to the world as Plan B.
Ben Drew: Hey, Mike, how are you doing?
MR: I am okay, how are you sir?
BD: I'm good.
MR: I just saw a trailer for your movie Ill Manors; let's just launch right into some of the territory that movie covers. You're covering a lot of ground with this one.
BD: Yeah, I mean, I was just looking at how kids kind of entertain themselves in this day and age. The internet, the iPhones and stuff, they spend all day watching music videos, and coming from hip-hop, I'm making hip-hop in a way that I can tell stories and convey my message in that way. I found out that I could do that in song, so for me, it'd be a musical progression into telling my stories by making a film. I wanted to bring UK hip-hop to the world by giving it the most appropriate place for it to live, and I think with the way I make it doesn't just work on radio. That's my thing. When I'm telling stories from hip-hop, it's not best tailored for radio. It's better to have a visual representation for it, and with this film, it allowed me to focus on different social problems going around in the UK by achieving a different character to convey each one.
MR: Who are some of those characters?
BD: We have a story about a crack-addicted prostitute, we have a story about jogging, we have a story about a girl that's being sex-trafficked from Eastern Europe, and obviously we have a complex one to do with crime in the inner city of London, which I think anyone knowing that you have rich parts and poor parts can kind of relate to. We've even got a story about a thirteen year-old kid who wants to be part of the local gang, and gets taken in by them. It's showing the pitfalls of someone of that age not really understanding what they're getting into and I use the vehicle of hip hop music to delve deeper into the backstories and deeper into what the characters are seeing and thinking, and the real message behind each story. And obviously because it's a feature film these stories come to a head at the end and resolve.
MR: Like a Robert Altman movie without endless talking and self-analyzing. [laughs]
BD: Well, yeah, I would say this is like the hip-hop musical version of Crash. I tread carefully when I say "musical" because it's not the kind of film where the actors and the characters break into song and dance, it's not like that. But it's my voice narrating what's going on. When you have a film and the characters start breaking into song, you can't take it seriously anymore. The issues we talk about in this film are really serious and dark and I wanted to make sure that the importance and the seriousness is kind of kept intact.
MR: I interviewed when you released The Defamation of Strickland Banks, which could've used its own movie. This is where you come from, your creative process. How you approach your music is very visual.
BD: Yeah, I always wanted to make a film from ...Strickland Banks and I think it would've helped the cause in America with a movie for it. At the time, I'd had my first record out and it hadn't done massively well commercially, so ...Strickland Banks kind of broke down all those rules and those borders and boundaries I'd had before. The success of it over here and getting all the awards...the BRIT awards gave me a lot of power. The ball was already kind of rolling on Ill Manners, trying to get it made. I was actually ready to shoot it before ...Strickland Banks was completed and came out. I guess I just decided that I wasn't going to wait for someone to back me as a film director. I was just going to try and do it myself. That's why I ended up putting the money up myself. We made it on a really small budget and that was extremely difficult, but I learned so much. I think looking forward, I'm in a great position now, if I want to do another concept album. I think there's going to be a market there for me. I'm going to have that respect and that support, not just from the next film company I work with, but also for more recording. I think that in terms of a concept, the Ill Manners film soundtrack has been successful. We really have to wait and see what happens when it comes out on DVD and it becomes a word-of-mouth film. The success of the album has already done an unusually lot of good during the October release date over here. I really hope that America and Canada and other English-speaking countries like Australia can kind of get to grips with this and enjoy the UK hip-hop the way I've always wanted it to be enjoyed.
MR: How did you approach writing the songs for this project? Did they come as descriptions of the scenes?
BD: I did write quite a few songs that we scrapped before the film, but the thing is budgets would change and locations would change and even characters would change. The film used to be nine stories and we reduced it to six, so I had to lose whole stories and whole characters, and that meant that in the finished film, there are some characters that didn't exist before. Some characters are an amalgamation of two other characters. Characters would change sex, and the origin of where they came from in the world would change. It felt like a false economy to be writing the music first. So instead, we got the film in the can and I just looked at where it was baggy, where it felt slow and where it could be sped up and I used the music to do that. That's where I decided I would write the songs. To be honest, the way I came about making this film, my initial preparations for it and where it ended up were completely different things. I think through doing the final assembly of the film and seeing what it was lacking, I decided to push the release date back by a year. I sold the distribution of the film to get a bit more money so I could go and shoot extra stuff and so some of the songs that exist in the film didn't exist when we first started filming because I had that time to sit with the film and look at it and realize what was missing from it. There's a whole scene held in a cellar over this young child being in his mother's womb. His mother's a heroin addict, she got pregnant and you see her shoot up, and you just go through the decades. This kid grows up and you see how he becomes a junkie as an adult. That whole musical segment, I think, is about three minutes to three and a half minutes long, and that did not exist in the original script. That scene didn't even exist until maybe a year later. I was just dreaming stuff up as I was going along.
MR: "Drug Dealer," of course, being one of the tracks on the album...
BD: ...that's actually the song I was just talking about.
MR: Right, and it features Takura. How did you choose the guests on the project?
BD: I always heard "Drug Dealer" as a reggae funk and when I tried to sing it, I just felt like somebody else could do it better than I could. Takura was someone I'd toured with with Strickland Banks. He just happened to turn up at the studio that day with another artist he was working with and I said, "Yo, can I borrow you for five minutes?" and I threw him in there and that was it.
MR: I saw the trailer. Was it tempting to act in the movie as well?
BD: No, I wrote and directed it, but it would've been difficult if I was in it as well, man. No way. I needed to prove to the world that I could direct. I didn't want to create a film so that I could be the lead role. I didn't want that. I guess as a writer and as a director, I have too much intensity to do that. I just feel if no one is directing me, then I'm going to be appallingly bad. I feel like the processes you have to go through, you have to really trust the script and trust the director you're working with. I just feel that there's so much on my mind in terms of being the writer and the director and, in some ways, a producer. It would have just been too far a stretch if I'd acted in it as well.
MR: "Deepest Shame," that starts off the album, can you go into that song's storyline?
BD: "Deepest Shame" was based on a true story. There was a prostitute who was staying at my friend Doug's house. He had a problem with drugs where, basically, he was addicted to either crack or heroin, and she stole one of my friend's phones and when they saw her again sixth months later, she was really apologetic about stealing the phone and said she'd pay them back. They knew that they weren't going to get the money unless she had it on her at that point. She didn't have it, but she said, "Follow me and I'll get you the money" and she walked into this fried chicken shop and right out the back to one of the workers and solicited herself to the man. She came out with ten pounds, which is about ten dollars and they said, "Well this isn't enough," so she said, "Okay, follow me," and she proceeded to take them to different fast food restaurants down the high street and come out and give them money for the phone. I was like, "Yo, why didn't you just walk home? She's got problems," and he was like, "Yeah, but she did take my phone. She offered to pay the money back and I knew she was a prostitute. So I know how she makes her money and I was going to get it back if I followed her." And I was like, "Yeah, but what the hell was she doing in between?" "You know, turning tricks?" I had a laugh, because there's a kind of sick thing about it, and this is why I say Ed and Aaron, the two kind of main characters in the film, reacted with two sides of me. Aaron represents the heart and Ed represents the head. I understand why my friends did what they did. I see the logic in it, but me being me and having the heart I have, I would have just let her go. We were sixteen at the time. None of us had any money, so I understood why they did it, but obviously, when I see that story in the film, it was just too complicated to go into the truth. It was easier to watch that she steals a drug dealer's phone. I think it's different in America, but over here, you basically buy a number and you can fill up the credits on that number. It's not the actual physical phone, it's the chip inside. Even drug dealers over here use it. If you went online or you registered the chip, then police can tap your phone and listen to the phone calls, whereas if it's an unregistered chip, they can't. Many dealers will have the same number for years. What's great about the number is that all these addicts have that number memorized in their head like their name. They can go to any payphone and just call that number. If you lose that number, you lose thousands and thousands of pounds. So that's why in the film, it becomes a really serious scene. She's stolen this guy's business line, and he kind of forces her in and out of these chicken shops to get his money back. Each time, he's hauling her out for the minimum. That's why it's so dark.
MR: Right. What advice do you have advice for new artists?
Plan B: Like musicians rather than actors? If you're listening to the music on the radio now and you're kind of constructing the way you make music to fit in with what's on the radio now, I think you're just setting yourself up to lose. If you want to be a musician and you want to be an artist, it's got to be a personal thing. It's got to be because you love it. You love expressing yourself and you use that music as a therapy in your life in order to get over certain struggles that you have, certain things that kind of eat at yourself. I've always used it for that. I'll write a song that I'm very invested in and other artists, when I listen to their songs, I feel some kind of emotion, or I know something. If you're only getting into music because you want that red carpet opportunity when you can soak in all the praise and the adulation and f**k around in the VIP area and drink Cristal with a bunch of bitches around you, I just think you're in it for the wrong reasons. It's got to be a personal thing. We've got to find a way of expressing ourselves, which is unique to you. It's great to have influences but make sure those influences stand for what you stand for, in terms of you. Every day, I meet talented young kids, but when I ask them how they see their direction, they always drop names, the artists that are kind of cold and doing things right now and I just think, "What the point?" It just seems like you very rarely come across young artists that know about real music. All they seem to know about is the conveyor belt bullsh**t. I can't see how they're going to have longevity if that's the life they're being influenced by.
MR: Okay, we'll end the show there, but I want to thank you so much, Plan B, for sharing all that information about the movie. I really wish you well with it.
Plan B: Thank you very much, man. Thank you. I hope you get to see it soon.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Rachael MacFarlane
Mike Ragogna: Rachel MacFarlane, otherwise known as Haley on American Dad!, how be ya?
Rachel MacFarlane: Hi Mike. I'm wonderful. How's it going with you?
MR: Dandy. I'm really happy to be doing this interview with you because I'm, of course, addicted to both American Dad! and Family Guy. That's a cool little orbit that you're in.
RM: It's so nice. Honestly American Dad! has been the redheaded stepchild of Family Guy for the longest time and it's been over the last few years that all of a sudden we've got people saying, "Oh, I love American Dad! It's so great!" and it's always nice to meet people that watch our little show.
MR: I've watched that thing from the beginning. This is no casual love affair, and we can discuss episodes, but let's not.
RM: I know, that would be terribly boring.
MR: I guess that's another interview. [laughs] Let's instead talk about Haley Sings. Now it's Haley singing, but it's really you singing, but it's really Haley singing. God, I'm confused, and just what the heck got you into doing this here musical thing-y?
RM: Going back a little far, I went to Boston Conservatory and I majored in musical theater and I've always been a singer. It's something that I sort of put on hold for a little while, while I was doing voiceovers and loving it and having such a good time. But all of a sudden, I started working with my wonderful manager, who also managed Rosemary Clooney for a couple of decades, and we were thinking about a good angle to sort of launch my first record. Then, all of a sudden, I'm talking to my producers on American Dad! and they say, "Hey, we want Haley to be a jazz singer in Roger's bar in our season opener," and my manager and I are like, "For real? Seriously? Okay! That might be a fun angle!" We started talking about it, and it just became crystal clear. We're going to take some of these great old jazz classics that Haley's going to sing in the episode, and we're thinking, "What's the kind of music that Haley would listen to?" Well, she's a hippie child, right? So she's going to listen to the music of the sixties and the seventies, which is the music of my childhood. My parents were old hippies and I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. We thought, "Why not do this sort of hybrid record, and it'll be from Haley's POV," and that's where we got Haley Sings.
MR: So it's an amalgam, and look at some of these tracks--Simon & Garfunkel's "Feeling Groovy," Carole King, or The Chiffons, however you look at it, "One Fine Day," you do, also her original by The Drifters, "Up On The Roof," and the ballad Judy Collins is credited with, "Since You've Asked."
RM: That's a really personal one for me, that was my parent's wedding song, so I had to throw that one on there.
MR: And there's even Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle."
RM: My dad introduced me to that song when I was a kid and it seemed to be a good fit for the record. We had a lot of fun picking the music for this.
MR: Plus there's a hidden track we should tell everyone about right now, just in case anybody's going to turn off their player, and that's "Secret Agent Man," which is a rip.
RM: There's a funny little story about that. The background singers, who are uncredited on the record, are Wendy Schaal, Scott Grimes, and Dee Bradley Baker, otherwise known as Francine, Klaus, and Steve Smith.
MR: What is the logic going to be in the storyline of Haley suddenly doing jazz songs?
RM: I will give you a little bit of a teaser of our season opener. Roger has this bar, and he wants to turn it into the happening club in Langley Falls. He's looking for a singer and he hears this beautiful singing of "Someone To Watch Over Me" coming through the pipes in the house. So he starts crawling through the pipes tracking the music, and he passes a couple of rats dancing and winds up in the bathroom and it's Haley singing in the shower. He's like "Oh, wow! Okay, so I've got to hire you to be my singer in my club," and she's like, "Right on, let's do it!" That's sort of how the story develops, and what unfolds is that Roger ends up falling madly in love with Haley, which turns into the most insane American Dad! madness you can imagine. (Note: This interview took place before the season premiere.)
MR: Wait, he's done that before.
RM: Oh yeah, it just gets really, really twisted.
MR: Now, Rachel "MacFarlane," your last name reminds me of someone else. Who could that be. Hmm...
RM: Oh, gosh, there are so many MacFarlanes.
MR: True, but there's this one...
RM: Are you talking about Seth?
MR: No, not him. Wait, yes, him. And I have to ask you like now how you got credited for being the original "Meg" in pilot for Family Guy.
RM: This is such a funny little nugget of information that somehow got out into the abyss, but it's actually not true. Isn't that funny? I've read that about myself so many times online and I think, "What a crackup!" No, I was never Meg, always Haley.
MR: Do they make that mistaken because Haley is yet another MacFarlane TV Show Dynasty teenage daughter?
RM: Perhaps. I mean, everyone know the original, original Meg was Lacey Chabert, right? And then we got our wonderful Mila. Gosh, I may have read for Meg, like a million years ago when Seth was doing the pilot, but it was never a legitimate role. But I like when people give it to me, it's nice.
MR: How do you explain what's happened here? Seth has become the King of Animation, he's a great musical writer, and Ted was an awesome movie. Is there anything he can't do?
RM: Yeah, it's been an unbelievable evolution, to be honest, to watch Seth go from my big brother and always an incredibly talented guy, to this mogul that he's turned into. He's still the same guy, which is wonderful. He's funny and sweet and generous and just a terrific human being; all of this hasn't changed him, which is great. It's been a really slow evolution, and I think that's why he's been able to remain so grounded. Family Guy took a while to catch on; I'm sure everyone remembers the many cancellations, and I think that was really humbling, in a way, for Seth. But then it took off on DVD and on Adult Swim, and then American Dad! grew out of that, and then The Cleveland Show. It's just been very, very slow. I think it's over the last two or three years that all of the sudden we've become aware of what an empire he's created--the animation world and beyond, like you were saying, with Ted. I was speaking to Seth the other day and I said, "In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine it was going to perform the way it's performed?" and he said, "No." It's been such an incredible ride.
MR: Yeah, I'm excited for that Ted Blu-ray to come out and hoping there's great bonus material. Years ago, I was lucky enough to meet him thanks to Tony Lunn when I went to an episode viewing at Seth's offices.
RM: Yeah, did you go to Family Guy or American Dad!?
MR: Family Guy, I never got to American Dad!.
RM: Well you've got to come to American Dad!.
MR: I'm in, thank you! [laughs] I loved the energy of everyone at that company. Okay, back to Rachel now, although, Haley's always in there, too, isn't she.
RM: Oh yeah, sure! I think the comical thing, and the thing that made the record work so well, in this regard is that Haley is me, with a few tweaks here and there. When I went in for the audition, unlike most of the other voiceover work that I do, the producers said, "Hey, we want her to sound like you." So, basically, I go there in there and I go like, "Daaad, I can't believe you're letting Jeff sleep in the house! Ugh, this is so unfair," which is me, yeah. I love working on American Dad!, and to be completely honest, it's one of the easiest gigs I have.
MR: You playing you.
RM: Not having to come up with some kooky voice.
MR: I wanted to ask about some of your other voiceover roles, like The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
RM: Yes, on Cartoon Network. Gosh, I did that show for a number of years. I played a couple of characters on that. That show, believe it or not, is where I met my husband as well. A lot of history for me on the Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy.
MR: Not so grim after all.
RM: Not so grim! It was a blast working on that show. And Codename: Kids Next Door. Good stuff from Cartoon Network.
MR: And beyond that, you played Blaze on The Batman?
RM: I did! I did indeed.
MR: That makes you a hero among the ComicCon hordes. And speaking of Batman, did you see the last Batman movie?
RM: I haven't yet. That's the trials and tribulations of having a toddler. I think I've seen The Lorax.
MR: What's going on with your personal life? So you're married and have a kid...
RM: I'm married and have a kid, yes. I have a beautiful almost three year-old girl, which is actually part of the reason that voiceover has been such a lovely occupation for me, because it allows you to have a very rich personal life. I have a lot time and that's very important for me, balancing my family and my work. It's going to be interesting as this whole different part of my career begins, this singing piece, which I've wanted to do for as long as I can remember, and balancing that with motherhood and all that goes along with.
MR: Now you have fifteen songs on Haley Sings. It must've been hard to whittle down what I imagine was a long list.
RM: You have no idea. We actually recorded twenty-two tracks. It was some hardcore studio time. Once we actually got down to narrowing it down to the fifteen, it became pretty clear which ones needed to be on there. But I'll tell you there was one that I still am very sad didn't make it on. Perhaps Haley Sings Again.
MR: And not only that, but there'll have to the European release with all the juicy bonus tracks?
RM: Oh, of course, there we go! Or the song that I only perform live, right? Yeah.
MR: And then you have to release it ambiguously on the internet so it becomes one of those great pirated tracks that becomes a classic.
MR: It's great that you have such a cool musical side in addition to your voiceover work.
RM: Yeah, honestly, I kind of have to give it up to Seth for being that push that I needed to get this done, because, as I'm sure you know, when he recorded his record a couple years ago I thought, "Are you kidding me? Really? He's doing this? This is what I want to do! All right. It's time. It's time to get here and make this happen." So, as always, that brother-sister rivalry helps. It works.
MR: Did he have anything to do with the arrangements on here?
RM: He did not, although he provided his wonderful insight and opinion. He's always been one of my biggest champions when it comes to my singing and music. So he's sort of been cheering me on the whole way, which I've greatly appreciated.
MR: Where did you record the album and who did these arrangements?
RM: This was such a trip. We recorded it almost a year to the day after I was at Capitol in studio A listening to Seth record his record, Music Is Better Than Words. I was back there in Capitol Studio A recording Haley Sings. It was quite a year. The arrangements were done by two incredibly talented guys, Matt Catingub and Tedd Firth, who just killed it with this stuff. One of my favorites is what they did with "All My Lovin'," ripping it down. It's dangerous, taking on a Beatles song, and I feel like what we did with that was just really trying to give it its own feel and kind of make it into a totally new vibe.
MR: I believe that Capital's Studio A in Capitol is the last place--at least on the West Coast--where you can really do these kinds of orchestral or fully arranged recordings these days, because they really know what they're doing there and have such a love for music.
RM: They know what they're doing, they've got the space, and I'm telling you, there's just nothing like walking down that hallway. It's so iconic, that studio, and just seeing all the photographs of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and Dean Martin and all the greats. There's nothing like that to inspire you to go in and record a good track. I considered myself so incredibly lucky to record there.
MR: It's a beautiful place. Rachael, what advice do you have for new artists?
RM: You know, I think I can say this without a shadow of doubt--if you keep working hard at this, you can make it happen. I mean, for me, this was a dream that I really thought had passed me by. I'm not a teenager, and music can be a young persons' endeavor these days, and I had sort of gotten to a point where I resigned myself a bit to the fact that this was going to be something I would do as a hobby and that I would have my voiceover career, which I love, but that the dream of recording an album and being a singer professionally maybe wasn't in the cards. But once I recommitted myself to it, it was amazing how all of the pieces came together. I will never forget that feeling of being in the studio thinking, "I can't believe this is happening. I'm actually doing this." So I would say it's just all about perseverance and commitment and not giving up. I know it's such old advice, but it's the truth. I feel like I'm sort of living proof of that.
MR: And for voiceovers? I know there are a lot of people struggling, I know I was struggling to get voiceover gigs years ago. What advice do you have for those guys?
RM: Yeah. It's really hard. You get into one little niche of it, and your career can flourish. I've had a lot of luck in animation, but you struggle in other areas like film trailers or on-camera commercials or whatever it is you want to do. So again, it's all about practice, practice, practice, and when you find yourself in that lucky situation where you've got the ear of somebody that can take you where you want to go, put together your best demo and let the chips fall where they may.
MR: Seems like everything is "a difficult field," everybody wants to be an actor, but it's such a small niche to get in. And voiceover is an even smaller niche of people.
RM: I agree with you. It's almost comical, the little voiceover community, because you just run into the same people over and over and over again. Part of it is wonderful because it feels like this great little family, you know? And it feels like this wonderful little niche of acting, which is great. But it's really, really competitive and really challenging, too.
MR: Yeah, and I imagine the producers really feel comfortable and appreciate the good working atmosphere with the people that they trust and have used.
RM: Exactly. To use an example of one of, I think, the best voice actors in the industry right now, Dee Bradley Baker, who's Klaus on American Dad!. The guy is on every show you could possibly think of, because when people hire him, they know they're going to get an incredible product. People get comfortable with those actors and they use them over and over again.
MR: Any last words, so to speak, of wisdom? Any shoutouts?
RM: Any last words? I'll give a shout out to my manager, Allen Sviridoff, who, honestly, I wouldn't be doing this without. He's a tremendous manager. And to my producer's Mike Barker and Matt Weitzmann on American Dad! who embraced this project wholeheartedly and have been so supportive the entire way. It's been quite a journey making this record come to life.
MR: You're beside yourself with oodles of joy from having the album finally come out, ain't ya.
RM: You know, I really am! To be honest, again, I'm still sort of pinching myself that it's happened and I'm doing a little touring. I have some live performances coming up in LA, New York, and Boston and all of it seems like a dream, you know?
MR: Very nice. All right, all of the best, Rachel MacFarlane, thank you for your time. All the best with the new album Haley Sings and the new season of American Dad! and everything you ever want to do for the rest of your life and beyond.
RM: Mike, thank you so much.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne