Sunday, August 17, 2014

Spaz reviews STEPHEN CUMMINGS' Nothing To Be Frightened Of




     Any music fan with a decent knowledge of Australian music is well aware of who Stephen Cummings is. However, Cummings has traveled so many musical paths since the late '70s that those who enjoy his music probably have different opinions based on the many stages of his career.  There are those that fondly remember his work as frontman for The Sports, who were often compared to artists like Joe Jackson, Graham Parker & The Rumour and other similar acts who blended Rock influences, Pub roots and Punk energy.  His solo career began in earnest in 1984 with the synth-laden Senso album.  Cummings was never afraid to try something new, often mixing several different genres throughout the course of a single album - from tender ballads to soulful Dance Pop to primitive Rock 'n' Roll. . His two albums in the mid-'90s, Falling Swinger and Escapist, were recorded with The Church's Steve Kilbey and are often thought of as Cumming's masterpieces. By the time those two albums were released, Cummings had moved away from his experiments with Dance Pop and embraced the darker human side of Rock and Folk.  And with over 20+ solo albums to his credit, it’s astounding that every single full length he has released has been different than the one before or after.  This is an artist with a unique sound that is always working on his craft, moving in directions as he sees fit, record labels be damned. Each and every one of his albums is worthwhile, especially the ones he's released since Falling Swinger. Truth be told, 2003's Firecracker is an especially good one, a definite stand out in a catalog of outstanding albums.

     With the release of Nothing To Be Frightened Of, Cummings throws another curve ball and offers up an album stripped to Rock and Folk's most basic elements - guitar and vocals.  Instead of traveling the path of every pretentious singer/songwriter on the planet, NTBFO avoids the acoustic and focuses on longtime musical co-hort Shane O'Mara's electric guitar, some haunting organ, drums and Cummings' voice. It's raw and primal, but it’s not Rock 'n' Roll.  This is an album that defines a new genre: Garage Folk Rock.  Recorded in just two days, NTBFO is emotional, haunting and primitive. It’s dark, yet hopeful. The album is not unlike the album's he's been recording over the past two decades, but it’s not like them either.  Cummings has a distinct musical vision that seems to work on many different levels. Sometimes he sounds bitter, other times bemused, but he is always beguiling. As simple as they may sound, many of the tracks 'feel' so much deeper than they appear on the surface.  Songs like "Love Is A Hurting Thing", 'Not Over You", "A Joy To Sit Alone" and the title track are right up there with the best of his previous work. Only "Flying" fails to connect with this writer, but repeated listenings will be the true test over time.  The album feels loose, at times as if they were making things up as they went along, but that is part of NTBFO's charm. The production is warm and clean, so it doesn't sound like they were sitting in the kitchen in front of a boom box and hitting the 'record' button - it's not THAT primitive! When Cummings sings, he sounds nothing less than passionate and lost in the moment.  Worlds away from his recordings with The Sports, Cummings is even more vital today than he was some 37+ years ago.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Recalling The Truth:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     The streets of Rock ‘n’ Roll are littered with long-serving singer/songwriters and musicians who have never quite achieved the commercial success that they are so deserving of.  Thankfully, many of them have at least garnered plenty of critical accolades and have managed to build a sizeable cult audience who support them through thick and thin.  If you talk to most music journalists and critics over the age of 30, their lists of favorite cult artists will vary but one name is most certainly going to pop up more often than not – Robyn Hitchcock. Robyn first came to the attention of music fans and critics when The Soft Boys released their debut album in 1979. Since that band’s break up a few short years later, Robyn has forged a solo career that has seen him straddle the line between eccentric Folk troubadour and Alternative Rock forefather.  Compared to everyone from Syd Barrett to Bob Dylan to Andy Partridge (XTC), Robyn has remained remarkably consistent throughout his career, picking up some very famous fans and friends along the way. His collaborators include REM’s Peter Buck, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Gillian Welch, Nick Lowe, Jon Brion, Grant-Lee Phillips and many others.  Lauded director Jonathan Demme even filmed a documentary on Robyn entitled Storefront Hitchcock.  While he hasn’t graced the Billboard Top Ten, his albums have been extremely influential and are nothing less than inspiring.  Even the occasional outtakes collections he releases are worthy of your hard earned cash.
     With the release of The Man Upstairs, Robyn switches gears and offers up a predominantly acoustic album that features a handful of new originals, some surprising cover versions (The Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You,” The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship” and Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On” to name a few) and covers of tracks by some of his friends. The album’s beauty lies in Robyn’s ability to cut to the heart of the songs without a tendency to over-produce or over-emote.  If you’ve followed Robyn’s career over the years, you’ll already know that it was time for another acoustic album since he normally switches back and forth from release to release.  This time, he brought in friend Joe Boyd (Nick Drake/Fairport Convention/REM) to produce the album and Boyd’s warm production enhances the sparse arrangements of the songs.  The originals blend together well with the covers, allowing the album to live and breathe from first note to last.  The music contained on The Man Upstairs is both delicate and bold, emotional yet detached. If you’ve never experienced Robyn Hitchcock’s music before, this is the perfect place to start.  After spinning the album, you’ll want to rush out and collect everything with his name on it! 
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to track Robyn down at a hotel in Seattle and discuss The Man Upstairs and so much more…

 STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  The Man Upstairs is just about to be released.  How are you feeling about this project and how are you feeling about the reaction you’ve had so far?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK:  Well, people have been very positive. It’s great actually.  Unusually, the record was made like a year ago.  It was finished by the middle of October and it was mastered in November/December, and the artworks been done.  Normally it’s always a rush, but it seemed like the best thing was to release it in August.  So, for once I haven’t been behind on it.  So, it’s a bit more relaxed this time in terms of the birthing. Normally these things all happen with terrible haste, you know?  In this instance it’s rather like someone deciding to have a baby and knowing what it’s going to be called before it’s been conceived. 

SPAZ: If the album was finished last year, are you already mentally on to the next project?
ROBYN:   Oh totally.  I mean, I was playing the guitar when you rang.  I have a notebook full of songs that I’m working on at the moment.  But, yes.  So you know  there’s a big focus on making the record, coming up to recording it and all of that, and then once it’s done and it’s sequenced and it’s mastered, I tend not to listen to it, especially because with each passing record there are more records, you know?  I mean, when I made one album, I would listen to it once a week or something like that. Now, there’s records of mine I haven’t listened to for decades. Just because there’s so many of them. 

SPAZ:  Why did you choose Joe Boyd for this project?  You have worked with him before, right?
ROBYN:  I listened to the records that he produced when I was a teenager.  You know, that stuff went straight into my DNA.  I was 13 when I heard The Incredible String Band and the first Pink Floyd single, which he produced and then Fairport (Convention) - I was about 15, 16.  I didn’t get into Nick Drake until later, but I totally knew who the hell Joe Boyd was.  I wanted to get Joe Boyd to produce The Soft Boys in 1977, but we didn’t know how to get a hold of him.  People were harder to find in those days. Then I met him in the mid-‘80s because REM was recording in London where Joe is based so I went to visit.  Peter Buck invited me along to one of their sessions, and I met Joe. Joe stalked through the kitchen at midnight while Peter and I were drinking horrible lager and playing the guitar.  I asked Joe Boyd something about The Incredible String Band, and you know, he was really happy to talk about it.  He loved talking about what he’s done in his past and his world and all the rest of it. 

SPAZ:  Joe Boyd worked on some of truly great albums from that period. 
ROBYN:  He was there at a very key point in the evolution of music and in terms of Folk music.  Joe is essentially or was essentially a purist.  He liked Folk and he liked Blues.  He wasn’t really a Pop guy, but he was there at a point when Folk, to put it simply enough, went into the main bloodstream of music via the popularity of Bob Dylan and suddenly you’ve got Peter, Paul, & Mary, and Donovan, and The Byrds, and Sonny and Cher, and all these people sort of producing a sound.  Dylan was the spider at the center of the web and they were all a part of its ripples.  Then it sort of echoed with British people.  There was the British Folk Revival and Davy Graham and all sorts of people, and Incredible String Band.  So he was involved in all of that.  It got to me as a teenager, so I met him 20 years later with REM and then we started eventually doing a live thing - he reads from his book and I play some of the songs that he mentions.  He’ll do a chapter on Nick Drake, and I’ll play a Nick Drake song.  Then he’ll do something about Bob Dylan going electric and I’ll play a Dylan song, that kind of thing.
     There’s a lot of history, so this is just one very long breathless sentence answering your question about how I came to work with him.  So, we had talked.  We muttered about production and producing a record of mine over the years, but I know he was happy to do it.  He just said he didn’t want to do a complete selection of original songs.  He said it rather disdainfully and said no offense, but I’m not interested in producing singer/songwriters anymore.   He said you can make an album like Judy Collins did in 1960s - you know originals and a few covers.  I said, “Oh, you mean like Introducing Robyn Hitchcock?  So I thought, that’s a great idea, let’s do an Introducing Robyn Hitchcock album.  A few of my favorite songs, a few of mine, and a few songs by friends of mine that you might not know so well.   And bingo.  That’s how we got the material.

SPAZ:  Is there a commonality between these songs that you chose?
ROBYN:  Well, I hope so in mood.  I mean, I hope that the songs that are by me and the songs that are not by me blend together so the needle doesn’t kind of lurch out of the groove when it moves from one to the other. My hope, and Joe’s, is that it just works as one thing, as an integrated piece and that mood would be reasonably autumnal and somber.  You know, it was recorded in the second week of October.  I like those kinds of records.  I think most music I like is autumnal and somber in some ways.   To be made by young people feeling kind of somber in an adolescent way or older people feeling somber in a menopausal way or very old people feeling somber in the next stop – the grave, really.  We all know the night’s gonna fall.  We’re creatures of nightfall.  We’re prepared for death by nightly sleep, and then it’s just part of our rhythm.   Also by the seasons.  At least if we’re in a place with temperate climate and where leaves fall from the trees.  I think that time of the year, from the harvest then into the early autumn, in the Northern Hemisphere, the August, September, October is just -  that’s the time of year to be still.  The music I like best always seems to echo that. I’m not a midsummer evening guy and I’m not a first day of spring bloke, and I’m definitely not a sort of frozen midwinter character.  It’s yet another Robyn Hitchcock autumn record, but it’s the latest version. 

SPAZ:    I guess it’s not an irony then that my favorite time of year is also that whole autumn thing and also I love Robyn Hitchcock.
ROBYN:   Well, thank you.  Well, you know – it’s the romantic time, isn’t it really?  The light is at its best.  It’s not too harsh and it’s not too weak.
SPAZ:    Exactly.  Especially in - well, maybe not in the last couple autumns, but it’s usually that time where you can stand in the sun and still feel a chill.
ROBYN:   Oh yeah, but you can also still feel a little warmth, as well.  So, yeah, that was probably the brief, you know.  It was Joe’s idea to do it that way, and it meant also that I then didn’t have to come up with – well, I had plenty of songs lying about, but I could be a bit more selective about which songs we kept.  I chose the songs, both mine and other people’s, but he definitely had his input into which he thinks worked and which didn’t, you know?  So what we recorded are things that Joe and I are both happy with. 

SPAZ:  When you step into the studio, do you already know if it is going to be an electric record or an acoustic record….  Or does it just happen?
ROBYN:   Well, no.   This was going to be on the acoustic side.  I mean, I knew there was going to be no bass or drums on it.  There was actually an amp and a bit of electric guitar recorded on an amp.  Another factor in it was Joe brought Jerry Boys with him and Jerry is a very respected engineer.  He actually started out - think he worked on some Beatles sessions, but he engineered Steeleye Span and he engineered the Albion Band who Joe worked with a bit in the ‘70s, and he did this kind of Folk Rock-y people of the ‘80s that Joe did – 10,000 Maniacs and Billy Bragg and REM, and he also did Buena Vista Social Club, which is his biggest commercial landmark.  So, Jerry just recorded it beautifully.  There was something like - he put five mics on my acoustic guitar, very different parts of the room. There are very few overdubs on the record.  So, the answer is yes, I knew it was going to be an acoustic one.  The one before, it sounds like a full band, but it was actually all recorded in Paul Noble’s bedroom using drum samples.   The one before that was recorded with a band live.  I wasn’t playing any electric guitar on it so I could hear myself sing.  Yes, I think I decide or I decide with the producer what the sound is going to be beforehand.  You know, I’ve got a pretty limited power.  I mean, probably most people do.  There’s just the things we do instinctively, you know, as recording artists.  So I veer between empty records and full records.  So, my last three records - I did a fairly empty one, a very full sounding one, and then another even more empty one, you know?  And I can’t remember what I did before that.  That was with the Venus 3, I think.   So this is on the empty side, so I would assume that my next one would be a full one, but I don’t know.  I have no idea yet. 
SPAZ:    Well, you’re working on it…
ROBYN:   I might go for an even emptier one.  I might try and follow the line rather than just lurching back like windscreen wipers to the other side.

SPAZ: On “The Ghost in You” – you stripped away everything and you really managed to get to the heart of that song. Same thing with “To Turn You On.”  I would never have imagined it acoustically, but when you do it, it makes total sense.  Were there songs that you tried to pare down that didn’t make the record or just didn’t sound right to you?
ROBYN:   No, I’ve always liked those songs, and I have sung “The Ghost in You” for quite a while, and I’ve sung other Roxy songs, acoustically, so I know it can be done.  The originals, “The Ghost in You” and “To Turn You On” were both real state of the art for the early digital ‘80s lush productions, but they both caught my ear because they’re essentially really good.  They’re great tunes and they’ve got that sense of yearning in both of them and loss.  Terrific sense of yearning and loss, which is there in the best Folk music. You know, you could get lost in the labyrinth of the definition of Folk and in the end decide that there was no such thing.  But you know, anything you can pick up and sing with an acoustic guitar, at least by kind of 1960 standards, is a Folk song.  It doesn’t have to be traditional.  You know, you could sing an Oasis song with an acoustic guitar or whatever the more recent stuff is.   “Chances Are” was made up on an acoustic guitar.  So, yeah, do you see what I mean?

SPAZ:  “San Francisco Patrol” – in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever done. What inspired that track? 
ROBYN:   It’s really simply San Francisco.  You know, there’s an overlay.  There’s a movie - Magnum Force – have you ever seen that?
SPAZ:    Yeah, it’s the second Dirty Harry movie. 
ROBYN:   Yeah, well, I’ve written a suite of eight songs based on Magnum Force that can be sung at various points.  I’ve only done it once, but you rent the cinema and stand in front of the screen.  You stop it at certain points, I walk up to the screen and I sing it and then you can see Clint’s freeze frame over me. I sit down again and the movie rolls on.  But, the eight songs aren’t really about the movie.  They’re about me, but they are triggered by the movie so you’ve got a parallel story. I’ve spent a lot of time in San Francisco.  I have history going back there to the late ‘80s and so I just kept seeing that film by accident and it suddenly slipped over from being something I didn’t care about at all to something that became a minor obsession.  I started watching it in German and memorizing lines from it.   So, I was back in San Francisco - each time I go back there I remember the things that I did before and that I’ve seen that movie a lot so I impose… I see it through a filter of both my own experiences and the synthetic experiences of Dirty Harry and his friends.  You know, that artificial history didn’t really happen.  My life happened, but that other thing was a movie.  But, after a while, can you tell the difference?  So, I’m kind of just looking through these lenses of romance and the song just pops out really.  I think I saw someone in a red dress and I thought, oh, I can’t take my eyes off of you, and there it was. It worked well.  It was very well recorded.  It almost sounds a bit like something from Van Morrison’s record Veeden Fleece
SPAZ:    Well, what about “Recalling the Truth?”  That was another great track that I was just blown away by.  Where did that come from? 
ROBYN:   Well, I think I started writing that in San Francisco too. I wrote that last summer so that’s one of the more recent ones.  Well, it’s just how I felt really.   So, I put it down as simply as I could and I definitely worked on it in San Francisco, but I think most of it was written in London.  I think it actually began in San Francisco.
SPAZ: Is your songwriting influenced by your surroundings?  Do you think that your songs would be completely different if you had moved to LA?
ROBYN:   Oh God, yes.  LA is so toxic, but in a rather inspiring way.   A particular kind of flower grows out of your grave in LA.  It produces a kind of malevolent lilac bloom.  LA has a special ability, which is to make the sunlight look artificial and when the sun shines in LA, it just doesn’t seem real.  But, no, I’ve written quite a few LA songs and they tend to have a sort of terrible tension in them.  Come to think of it, “Comme Toujours,” I think I wrote the lyrics to “Comme Toujours” in San Francisco, but a long time ago, and then I found them in a notebook and I wrote the music and finished the words off, but its genesis was in San Francisco.  But, I didn’t really answer your question.  I think emotions gestate in you and you may be somewhere else completely when they actually come out, when they burst out of you or seep out of you or flow out of you with the guitar.  So, I might be in Australia, but actually I’m finally processing something that happened in London.  I might be in San Francisco.  I’ve certainly  summoned up San Francisco while I’ve been on the island of Hawaii, you know, so sometimes the place you’re in affects you immediately, to answer your question.  Sometimes it takes a while for you to process it.   You know, like mineral water - using the finest alpine mineral water being distilled from mountain rainfall over 20 years or something.  You don’t know how long these things are going to take to come through.  I think, at heart, you have feelings when you’re born or feelings that your parents had even.  You might just inherit feelings and you’re waiting for something to come along and trigger them.  You have a muse.  You have a person or a city, but actually what that city does is it triggers something that’s been lying around in you forever waiting to come out.  I think San Francisco is one of my triggers.    So what happened, I don’t know - it might be something that happened in New York, but actually it gets triggered by San Francisco and then it’s written in  another country altogether.
SPAZ:  Did you have a lot of stuff that you recorded for this album that maybe we’ll hear somewhere down the line or were these tracks the only ones you tackled for this record?
ROBYN:  Oh no, there’s a couple of more originals and there’s a few more covers, and there’s also many songs that were written that weren’t recorded and may crop up another time, you know?  I leave a trail of notebooks.  I burned a whole bunch of them a while ago and then somebody else destroyed a bunch of them, but actually, that’s probably quite a good thing (chuckles).  It was sort of purgative.  I think it’s a bit like pruning a tree.  I think the new growth was better than the old growth.

(Photo: Laura Partrain)

SPAZ:    What’s next for Robyn Hitchcock?
ROBYN:   I’m in Toronto in September and nationally, Americana Association.  That’s my ‘here I am folks’ rather than South By Southwest, which is what I did for the last one.  This is a bit more rootsy, you know?  Then I’m playing gigs all around my world from here to eternity, but I have got a new collection of songs.  I mean, I’m collecting them.  I’m not finished.  There’s lots of stuff.  So I would imagine that I will have another.  In my mind I have two or three separate projects.  I think the main thing now is to make each record separate from the last so it’s not just one long salami that people are taking slices off of.  So, I’m thinking of how I can package my upcoming recordings in ways that will work for people to listen to, you know?  Each record in a way is a mood.  Inevitably, I’m a reflective guy and I’m now a reflective guy who has been around for quite a long time so I’m likely to come up with a kickass record and you know, people my age – if they try and kickass, they’re liable to just get a hernia.  You know, without sort of rushing to embrace senility, I’m not gonna come up with anything like The Soft Boys now or even the Venus 3 records.  They’re probably all gonna be a bit more reflective.  But, I’m good at it. I’ve been an old man for years.

SPAZ:  What have you been listening to on your CD player or watching on your DVD player?  What interests you?
ROBYN:   Well, I haven’t listened to anything on a CD player, and I don’t have a DVD player, but I do have vinyl now so I’ve been listening to Jason Isbell.  Have you heard that?  He was in Drive-By Truckers - that’s a really good one.  Cass McCombs.  I’ve been listening to an Australian singer called Melody Pool, who I think is really good and another one called Jen Cloher.  You know, I’ve finally, after years, discovered On The Beach by Neil Young.  I was never really a big Neil Young guy.  When I’m back home I play that twice a day.

(Robyn walks over to the window)

ROBYN:  God, there’s all these sea birds outside.  The Beatles stayed in this hotel once.  The Beatles – I picture them sitting at the window…  Now, these birds are all clustered around! Someone must’ve thrown something out of one of the other bedrooms and now they’re expecting more.  They’re waiting for Ringo to come back!
Thanks to Robyn Hitchcock

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Dana House




An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with Jenni JWOWW Farley!

DISCUSSIONS MAGAZINE: When did you first realize you wanted to be in entertainment?
JENNI “JWOWW” FARLEY (Executive Producer of Jersey Shore Massacre): No idea. I went on Jersey Shore because I thought it would help my graphic design company and club promotions… never knowing it would take me this far.  And now my passion is producing. 

DM: Who is your biggest film star idol?
JWOWW: Angelina Jolie!  I've been in love with her since I can remember.  She is an amazing actress. She had a crazy weird stage in her life that I can relate to. 

DM: What has been the hardest part and the most fun part of your career path up to this point?
JWOWW:  Hardest part is definitely not knowing what's next.  Some days, I wish I had a stable 9-5 job that gives me job security and a 401k.  But then I laugh and realize I would be fired within a week and know my passion is TV. The fun part is everything! I love every aspect of my job! It's awesome to be on camera and to be behind the scenes. I love creating TV and I love making people laugh. 
DM: How has your career changed since pregnancy?
JWOWW:  Less club appearances.  Nobody wants to ham with a pregnant chick! Haha! Just kidding.  But besides that, I’m still kicking ass and filming Snooki And JWoww 4 with less than a week away from my due date!

DM: Of all the people you’ve worked with – who was easiest on the eyes?
JWOWW: When I was filming The Three Stooges, I almost fainted when I met Sean Hayes. That was a ‘shit your pants’ moment for me! He was on my favorite show of all time growing up! Haha! (Will And Grace... Duh!). But easy on the eyes was probably the men on One Life To Live that I worked with. All men have to be hot on a soap opera. LOL.

DM:  How’d you end up turning this into a horror film?
JWOWW:  I love comedy and I love horror so we made sure there was a balance in this movie. I love to be able to laugh throughout the movie and it reminds me so much of Jersey Shore but then all of a sudden something happens which makes you jump and scream and watch the movie with one eye open (or is that only me?).
DM:  How’s it feel to be one of GQ’s sexiest 100 ladies of the 21st Century?
JWOWW:  I screamed in my hotel room when I got the news!  Even today, being 9 months pregnant and I'm like, “Dayummmm I was hot at one point in my life.”  I try and remind myself of this because I can't see my feet. Haha!

DM:  Are you still super tight with Snooki, Pauly D, and The Situation?
JWOWW:  I talk to Nicole every single day! I also speak to Ron, Sam, and Deena weekly! Vinny and Pauly, I keep in touch with every so often but haven't heard from Mike in a while... 

DM:  What is the number one thing you want the world to know about this film – Jersey Shore Massacre?
JWOWW:  We broke records for a reason when Jersey Shore came out and I want all those fans to know this movie won't disappoint.  This movie will make you laugh so hard you cry and freak out during a horror scene. I want the fans of Jersey Shore to be able to see Jersey Shore Massacre and remember all the reasons why they fell in love with the show and now have a movie to love just as much!

DM:  What’s in your pocket right now?
JWOWW:  Popcorn from the movie theater. Haha! I get that shit everywhere.

DM:  Give us one item, not yet accomplished on your bucket list?
JWOWW:  Selling a TV show.  I'm really close but I want it sold and breaking TV records!

DM:  When did you last say “I Love You”? …and to whom?
JWOWW:  Today when my mother called.  She keeps calling making sure I didn't have my daughter yet.

DM:  What does the next ten (minutes, days, years) look like for you?
JWOWW:  Ten minutes - resting my feet from being swollen and gross. Ten days - I will officially be a mom! Ten years - being an amazing mother and kick ass producer!

DM:  What’s on your turntable, iPod or in your car right now?
JWOWW:  OMG! I'm the worst with music. I haven't updated my iPod since 2010!




Thursday, August 7, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with director/actor JON FAVREAU!


with director 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

           A great movie will leave a distinct impression in the viewer’s mind.  It remains etched in their brain like a tattoo that never fades.  The visuals, the dialog, and the story become a part of their lives.  They memorize and recite each line as if they were written by Shakespeare.  They laugh at scenes they’ve seen thousands of times before and cower at others. The movie stays with them long after the credits have stopped rolling.  They revisit the theater to experience it again.  Eventually, they embrace it many more times in the comfort of their own homes when it arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Though we all can enjoy the same film in equal measures, it is an experience that affects each individual in very different ways.  The same can be said of music – the emotional impact cannot be underestimated. This is why movie soundtracks can be so crucial to the film that is playing up on the screen. Whether it is an orchestral score - by anyone from Elmer Bernstein to John Williams - or a classic Pop song, the images and the melodies combined make a visit to the theater the ultimate experience.  
     There are many film directors who understand that the music played behind the dialog or on top of the action on screen has to be perfect.  For example, director Steven Spielberg trusts composer John Williams implicitly and that working relationship has never hit a bad note (pun intended).  But what happens when a director chooses existing music to enhance the visuals on screen?  Many have done a great job, but it takes someone who really understands the emotional link between movies and music to make it a truly successful blending of sight and sound.  Quentin Tarantino immediately comes to mind.  However, film-maker Jon Favreau is right there with him at the top of the list.  As a director, screenwriter and actor, Favreau has become one of Hollywood’s favorite renaissance men.  He’s made some astounding films that incorporate great music to go along with the visuals including Swingers, Made, Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2 (which featured music by AC/DC!) and his most current film, Chef.  Though Chef was an independent film, it has received unanimous praise across the board from critics and fans alike and is proof positive that Favreau can create magnificent work without the big budget provided by a major studio. And again, he has thrown together a diverse soundtrack that is every bit as enjoyable as the movie itself.  With tracks performed by Pete Rodriguez, Liquid Liquid, The Martinis, Perico Hernandez, Gary Clark Jr., Lyle Workman and many others, the Chef soundtrack stands as a great collection on its own.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you can still enjoy the soundtrack wholeheartedly.  But you’re still going to want to see the movie - it’s a Jon Favreau film. ‘Nuff said.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to send off a batch of questions to Jon, who was gracious enough to answer questions about the soundtrack to Chef and more…  

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your new film, Chef, has been receiving great reviews and now the soundtrack seems to be garnering similar praise.  How are you feeling about this project and the reaction you’ve had to it so far?
JON FAVREAU: I’m very proud of the film.  When you choose to make a film through the independent route, you don’t know if it will ever find its audience.  I’m very grateful that this one has.

SPAZ: The music plays a pivotal role in the film.  Prior to filming, had you already decided what songs you wanted to use?  Or did they work their way into the movie after the filming?
JON: I had an idea for some of the titles but I went through hundreds of titles with Mathieu Schreyer that we winnowed down to the soundtrack as it now exists.

SPAZ: For Chef, is there a key song that inspired the others? Did you choose one and then move forward in a certain direction because of it? Or did they all come together naturally and totally unrelated?
JON: I was listening to a lot of Cuban music as I wrote it, but all of those cues evolved over time.  The earliest cue that I remember choosing during the writing process was “Bang Bang” by Joe Cuba

SPAZ: Music, food and film are three of the top things that many people find the most comfort in.  Did you bring all three together for that purpose? Or perhaps a happy (and comforting) accident?
JON: I found that music and food complimented each other cinematically.  Since you can’t taste the food, the music helped to fill in the sensory experience.  Music and food both reflect their specific culture; they both include ingredients and can be deconstructed and recombined to make a creative statement.

SPAZ: How closely did you work with music supervisor Mathieu Schreyer on the Chef soundtrack?  As a director/writer/actor, did you sometimes defer to Mathieu’s suggestions if you were on the fence about a certain track?
JON: This was Mathieu’s first film, but he has great musical tastes from being a DJ.  He brought a fresh perspective to the process.  It took some time for him to get used to the experience that a music supervisor and director go through, but he worked very hard and offered up a lot of creative and inspired choices that we together evaluated.  We ended up with a soundtrack that we’re both very proud of and reflects the intersection of both our tastes.

SPAZ: Often times, a movie soundtrack just seems to be thrown together for cross-promotion purposes by the record label and movie studio, but your films have never felt that way.  How important are the song choices to Jon Favreau?
JON: Music has always been a big part of the creative process for me.  Swingers was the first time I assembled a soundtrack and it reflected the swing music movement of Los Angeles in the ‘90s.  Each soundtrack has its own personality.  Putting together the soundtrack is one of my favorite parts of the process of filmmaking. I feel like a DJ.

SPAZ: The flow of this soundtrack is outstanding.  Isn’t this the same order that the songs appear in the film?  That, in itself, is a new concept that most companies don’t take into consideration when putting soundtracks together. Don’t you think that it can be an anti-climactic listening experience to hear the ending theme as the first track on the soundtrack?
JON: Mathieu and I wanted the album to give you the feeling that you got when you watched the movie.  Featuring the songs in chronological order seemed like the right thing to do for both of us.

SPAZ:  When you are filming a scene for a movie, do you already have an idea of what song you will be using and you pace the scene based on that song?  Or does that happen in the editing room?
JON: I usually have something in mind and will often play music on the set for a sequence that has a musical aspect to it.  More often than not, we end up swapping out songs for different choices as we explore the music in the editing process.

SPAZ: Has there ever been a time that you wanted a particular track for one of your films but couldn’t license it so you had to replace it with something else that would fit the scene? (“Oh, we can’t get A Flock Of Seagulls?  Well, OK, I guess we’ll go with Martha & The Vandellas then!”)
JON: Other than the soundtrack for Swingers which I had hoped would feature a lot of Sinatra, which was too expensive, I have been pretty effective in getting all of my first choices.  It often requires moving money around in the budget and reaching out to people to give permission with persistence, but it usually can be done.

SPAZ: Before you entered the world of film-making, how important was music to you personally?  Which artists did you find inspiring?
JON: My musical tastes have shifted throughout my life as I discover new things.   I always liked music but never enough to actually learn how to play an instrument.

SPAZ: Do you remember the moment when you realized that the music was a key component to the movie you were watching on screen?
JON: Music usually disappears for me as an audience member and I’m drawn into the storytelling.  I do however enjoy when a soundtrack stands out to me.  But that isn’t often the case.  Filmmakers like Scorsese and Tarantino have a particular knack for creating soundtracks that stay with you.

SPAZ: Do you have any favorite film composers?
JON: There are so many talented composers around today that it’s hard to make a shortlist. 

SPAZ: In regards to using pre-existing or newly penned ‘songs’ in a film, are there any particularly powerful ones that you feel ‘worked’ better than others in some of the films you’ve seen over the years?
JON: There was a trend in the ‘90s whereby a film would feature a new Pop song in order to market the film and the soundtrack through a music video.  That process doesn’t always land you with the best soundtrack.  

SPAZ: Being a film-maker and having to deal with the business side of things, has that changed your view of music?  Are you still able to listen to things and separate business with pleasure and not think “Oh, this might work well for this scene in this movie…?”
JON: I can usually separate things but every once in awhile, I’ll be listening to music and it will spark an idea in the movie.  I remember coming up with the opening sequence for Iron Man 2 while watching an AC/DC concert.

SPAZ: A great film has the same power as a great song – it stays with you long after the first time you experienced it.  Does it feel good to know that your work has connected with so many people?
JON: It’s the best part of the job.

SPAZ: You do so much great work in front of and behind the camera. You’ve become somewhat of a renaissance man. Can we expect a Jon Favreau solo album any time soon?
JON: Unfortunately, music is not one of my skills. 

SPAZ: What’s next for Jon Favreau?
JON: I’m directing Jungle Book for Disney.

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
JON: The Chef soundtrack.

Thanks to Jon Favreau
Special thanks to Karen Gilchrist, Melissa Cohen, Joe Bucklew, and Dave Garbarino

(Original Soundtrack)


(Original Soundtrack)


An EXCLUSIVE interview with A BRONY TALE director BRENT HODGE!

My Little Brony:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Let’s face it, folks – the ‘geeks’ shall inherit the earth.  Yes, that is a bold statement, but almost every facet of the entertainment industry NEEDS fanboys and fangirls to embrace their passions and spend their hard-earned cash.  This keeps the fans happy and the industry profitable.  But it wasn’t always this way.  It usually takes years before corporations realize that they are sitting on a goldmine – Marvel being the most obvious example.  It took many false starts before the Marvel universe finally connected with audiences around the world.  And those ‘geeks’ that people once laughed at are the very same ones that are either making these movies or spending hard earned cash to see them. While many of these hardcore fans are now showing up on the ‘hip’ radar, it has been a long, hard journey for the ‘geeks’ of the world.  Three decades ago, fans of Star Trek (Trekkies or Trekkers, depending on who you talk to) were ridiculed for their over-obsessive passion for everything connected to the Trek universe; comic book fans were labeled as harmless yet slightly creepy nerds (and worse); and music ‘geeks’ had more white label test pressings than girlfriends.  But that has all changed – hardcore fans have become the demographic for movie studios and record labels alike.  Even the word ‘geek’ is being put out to pasture, replaced by the far less derogatory fanboy/fangirl. 
     But that doesn’t mean that all fans have it that easy these days.  More specifically, Bronies seem to have it particularly tough.  What is a Brony?  In general terms, it is a male between the ages of 15 and 50 who is obsessed with the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Yes, the cartoon that was initially targeted at little girls has become a phenomenon with men who some would claim are ‘old enough to know better.’ Trying to explain their passion for this innocent slice of fun is like trying to explain why girls of all ages are fascinated by sparkly, pancake-faced vampires who could easily lose in a fistfight with Justin Beiber. To be honest, it doesn’t matter.  Bronies find joy in My Little Pony and there is nothing wrong with that. 
    The new documentary A Brony Tale, directed by Brent Hodge, doesn’t try to delve into the psyche of Bronies and present these men as outcasts, geeks and freaks -  in fact, it celebrates Brony-ism by casting no judgment at all.  The movie alternates between the world of the Bronies and the journey of My Little Pony voice actress Ashleigh Ball as she accepts the concept of Brony-ism and attends her first Brony convention.  The film, which was co-produced by Morgan Spurlock, is an honest, humorous and touching look at boys and men who have no interest in conforming to society’s definition of masculinity. They are real guys who connect with My Little Pony for a myriad of reasons, but each of their reasons are as unique as their individual personalities.  Bronies are not rebellious, confused or unstable  - they are just regular guys who happen to be obsessed by a TV show originally created for young girls.  There’s really not a difference between them and some 50 year old guy searching for a rare Donny Osmond 45 on Ebay.  In the end, A Brony Tale doesn’t try to answer questions – it merely offers a peek inside a world that many will never understand. And that, my friends, is OK.  You don’t need to understand everything.  You just need to be a little more tolerant when you discover that your best male friend has become hooked on a particular cartoon that he doesn’t want to talk about… Yes, Bronies are everywhere!
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Brent Hodge and talk about the movie, Bronies and ‘geeks’ in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  A Brony Tale is just about to be released.  How are you feeling about the reaction you’ve had to the film overall?
BRENT HODGE:  I feel pretty great.  I mean, this is a film I made in like 2012 with my handheld camera and it’s just had this crazy life.  So, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been incredible. 

SPAZ:    Now, let’s get this out of the way early… are you now or were you ever a Brony?
BRENT:  (chuckles)  No, I’m not.  Everyone asks me this too, and you know, I tried.  I tried it.  Their community is cool.   I like them.  They fly me in to see what they stand for.  But, you know, I sat and watched the show and it just didn’t fly as much for me.   I mean, I get it.   I get what they’re about, but the show just didn’t hook me.

SPAZ:  Ashleigh initially seemed really hesitant to embrace the whole Brony thing and attend the convention.  How did you feel about it when you first became aware of the whole movement?
BRENT:  Oh, I thought it was hilarious.  With Ashleigh, I used to joke with her that I think this is so funny that these guys liked your show… because she had been doing so many shows.  She did Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake and she had never really run across any fans.  I think she went to like one fan convention thing before the whole Brony thing.  It was all little girls that wanted autographs.  So, this was something else.  She just kept getting a lot of emails.  She would forward me the emails and say, “Look, I got another one.  Look at this guy.  He says he’s 50 and lives in Virginia and he loves Rainbow Dash”  and she just thought this isn’t going to go away and it’s gotten bigger and bigger and more and more emails.  She still gets them.   She still gets fan letters all the time, and so I just thought we have to film this.

SPAZ:  Were you thinking about filming it before you heard about a convention or it just happened that the convention was coming up?
BRENT:  We started to talk about it as the emails were coming in, and we said we should film this and then the convention - we had a lot of lead time before the convention.  The big trigger was the media, like how it’s starting.   Fox News, and Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert started doing bits about Bronies and then we were always talking about it, and I said I think this is a thing.  This is gonna be a big thing, and it started becoming a thing.  So, we were right there as it started.  We just didn’t know what the conclusion was gonna be.  That’s probably what took us so long to get it done.  But the convention definitely push-started us to really start filming.

SPAZ:  When you approached the people that you interviewed, were you initially amused or intrigued by the whole thing?
BRENT:    Oh, I was absolutely fascinated.  I think it was amusing as well, but I was just fascinated at why they were emailing Ashleigh.  The first guy I met was Dusty, the malest Brony in the world, that works at a bike shop.  I had to find a way to go see him.  I had to find a way to interview this guy no matter where it was gonna go.  I didn’t care if this went to a movie.  I just thought, this guy is such a character.  I got to hear his story.    I spent hours with him.  He only made a small cut of the film, I think an important cut of the film.  I got the liberty to do that too with this doc because we self-funded it.  I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time besides myself, and some of the guys in the film I suppose – if you want to call it wasting the time interviewing them.  But,  I definitely took my time when it came to getting what I needed in interviewing them.

SPAZ:  I think the film has this nice balance between Ashleigh accepting the whole concept, her journey to the convention, and then you also exploring the world of Bronies.  When you first started, were you thinking of focusing more on the Bronies or more on Ashleigh?
BRENT:  I definitely wanted it to be more Ashleigh and then I realized that it was a film about guys who like My Little Pony versus a voice actress.  But, I think she really led us through it and I really feel like that audience really relates to how Ashleigh is feeling.  I definitely wanted it to be more her story, and I’d say it probably came out 50/50 actually in the end.  Only because her story of going to BronyCon can only last so long.   That’s like a 20 minute documentary.  She really only has maybe 25 minutes of screen time.  And I just needed those other characters here.  Like, Bryan’s story – the military Brony, pretty much hooked me, but then the other guys - like the guy who works out all the time.  There’s some funny characters.  Could they lead a whole film or documentary?  No, probably not, but they were definitely great anecdotes through the whole thing.

SPAZ:  I think that the whole Brony thing gets a bad rap from people because it’s just like the whole Trekkie/Trekker thing. I feel that these people who are obsessed with My Little Pony or Star Trek are not that much different than a sports fanatic who sits in front of the TV set and always refers to their team as “we.”
BRENT:  Yeah, exactly.   You’re absolutely right.  The Bronies do get a really bad rap because they are going against counter pop culture, and they are challenging the status quo of that.  So, people are going to react, and people’s heads do turn.  It’s become really normal in the last few years.  You see a Brony now and it’s almost become a hipster thing versus a year or two ago where it was almost wrong to do it.  Now people seem to embrace it a little more.

SPAZ:  I think the movie has a lot of humor, but it doesn’t make fun of anyone. I think people will walk into this movie saying, “Oh I want to laugh at these people,” but they can’t because these people are real.  They’re honest.  They’re human. 
BRENT:  I’m really honored that you said that.  It’s like Morgan Spurlock and his team –they got involved, and that meant a lot to me because I’ve always felt that they take on massive subjects, like obesity in Super Size Me, but they do it in a way where you don’t leave the theater feeling horrible about yourself.  You know, like what you eat, what you do.  But, instead you’ve gone through this journey with Morgan and he’s the one that gained the weight, and you still laugh.  You go through it and you have fun, but at the end you still feel like you learned something or there’s a takeaway.  I just wanted to do the same thing with Brony.  They respected me as a filmmaker, and they respect themselves as a community.  So, I think it’s definitely my duty to make a respectful film.  That’s how it came out in the end, I think.  It’s that it is funny.   It’s quirky.  It’s cartoons.     And that’s why I wanted to also show in the doc – I wanted it to be fast and have a lot of fun like a cartoon does.  But I didn’t want to make fun of these people.  It was a challenge just making sure that I didn’t totally put my opinion forward all the time.  And my opinion started changing too.  It’s like I realized, these guys are okay.

SPAZ:  I think the movie ends up celebrating the whole thing rather than being mean spirited and poking fun. 
BRENT: Yeah.  You can still celebrate something, but allow people to still think it’s weird.  And that’s fine.  You got to go through, at least get an inner look through Ashleigh’s eyes and through the Bronies’ eyes and what they go through and now you definitely have the choice to formulate an opinion.
SPAZ:  It’s no different than us geeks who go to record swap meets.
BRENT:  Exactly.  I almost feel like everyone has their own ‘geek.’  I’m a huge hockey fan.  I’m an Oiler’s fan.  They’re the worst team for the last five years.  It doesn’t matter.  I’m always gonna be an Oiler’s fan.  I talk on the forum.  I have all the swag.  I get the autographs, whatever.  Like I have the “Ashleigh” in that world that I really love, in a hall with all these guys that I’ve just looked up to.  It’s interesting, that hit me at a point where I’m like wow, I’m the Brony of the hockey world.  I’m like, I’m not that far away.  You know, I found out a lot of these guys are Bronies, but they’re also into other things.  Like they’re into working out or they’re into motorcycles.  Dusty is as much a Brony as he is a Harley Davidson fanatic.  So, that was neat as well.  I could certainly relate to that.  I went, “Oh okay, probably some of these guys are hockey fans too.”   And then it all made sense.

SPAZ:  Were there a lot of people that you interviewed that maybe didn’t make the film?
BRENT:  Yeah, absolutely.  I interviewed a good 50 Bronies.  There was a chunk  - and I had to pick and choose to even it out of who I thought fit in certain areas too, of the film.  Like, who’s going to start this thing?  Who’s gonna end it?  Who’s going to be my middle Brony?  And I think the majority, the ones that didn’t make the cut, they didn’t make it because maybe they told me a similar thing to another guy who I thought would be more worthy in the film.  I had a guy who was kind of like the second manliest Brony in the world, and I’m like – well, I can’t - I don’t need you.  I have the manliest one.  Why put in another one who is into motorbikes.  It just seemed odd.  I wanted the audience to be able to relate to a Brony.  Whether you’re in a family, in high school, you like DJing, you’re into working out.  I wanted it to be this moment where you think, okay – I’m not actually that far away from being this guy.   So that’s why I sort of spread it out amongst the different types of Bronies.

SPAZ:     As the filmmaker, what is the ultimate message that you want the viewer to walk away with?
BRENT:  Originally, I wanted it to be more of an inside walk into this world and then I realized the message of the show, which is ‘Friendship is Magic,’ that sort of started to become a major part of this.  I started making this film by myself.   Just my handheld camera, just doing it on my own.  Then the more the film grew, my best friend made the music composition.  His wife started producing it with us.  And all of a sudden I realized these are my Bronies and my friends, and we’re actually making this film together.  So it seems weird to say that ‘Friendship is Magic’ is what the ultimate part of this film is.  The total message may just be the fact that there’s this community around us if we create it and don’t underestimate the things that make you happy.  Like Bryan said, if ponies makes you happy, that makes you happy.  And that’s sort of what these guys go for.  They don’t need to always make sense, but they are happy. 

SPAZ: Did you discover something about the Bronies that maybe you weren’t expecting? 
BRENT:  I think it comes out in the film that they are truly genuine about it.  Like, there was no irony.  When you get an interview with someone, it’s usually 20 minutes.  You get set up, set up lights, quickly do audio, do the interview, and then get out of their office right away and move on.  With these guys, I’d get picked up at the airport by one of them.  They would take me to their favorite lunch spot in their city.  They would do an interview, and then they would also want to hang out after.  I just thought these guys actually just want to be friends.   This is what the whole show is about, and this is what their community is about, and that’s what they want.  They just want to be friends.  Friendship is Magic.   And they were genuine across the board.  Then they would text me the next day, and now they have a new friend.   And this is probably a guy that had a very hard time socially growing up.  So, they’re getting into their late 20s and they just don’t care anymore.  Like it’s time to realize who you are and making friends is hard so maybe this helps. 

SPAZ: What’s next for Brent Hodge? 
BRENT:    I’m doing a Chris Farley documentary next, which is really cool.  I’m directing it with a company called Network Entertainment.  They have the rights and we’ve already started.  Also, I want to do a lot more work with Morgan and Virgil and that whole team.    So, we’re sort of scheming up some of the next things. 
SPAZ:    Yeah, Morgan is great.  Usually if his name is involved I go, okay – I’m going to watch this.  Now, of course, with A Brony Tale, I just thought the whole idea was pretty fascinating, and I didn’t realize until after the credits started rolling that Morgan was involved.  So I thought, “Okay – bonus!” 
BRENT:    That makes me feel good because I was thinking we were getting so much love because of Morgan and then a lot of people didn’t even realize he was involved until later.  It almost makes sense.  Like it’s kind of a project I originally really wanted him involved.  I really like the body of work that they do, so I’m assuming that I probably get a lot of my influence from that.  And so, I feel like it’s just sort of under the Spurlock brand, what they do as well.   It’s similar to styles of what they do.

SPAZ:  What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD, and record players?
BRENT: I was watching Netflix last night - 20 Feet From Stardom.  It’s a great documentary.  That’s the last thing I watched.  I’m also catching up on Game of Thrones.  I’m huge on my music, but in terms of the artists, I think I was listening yesterday to a lot of Johnny Cash. He is probably my big one just right now.  I’m reading this Spanish book because I’m trying to learn Spanish.  That’s my other media at the moment.  That’s about it. 
SPAZ:    Do you ever rest?
BRENT:   Yeah, a little bit.  I try. 

Thanks to Brent Hodge
Special thanks to Lauren Watt, Craig Van Gorp and Dana House