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Deadbeat and Dollhouse: Conversations With James Iha and Melanie Martinez

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A Conversation with James Iha

Mike Ragogna: Let's get into this Deadbeat series. You're doing the new music for this Hulu series, what do you think about it?

James Iha: I like it a lot. It's a funny supernatural comedy. It's a funny show, I think all of the actors are great, the writing is really sharp, the director and his team were really great to work with and I had a great time doing it.

MR: How are you coming up with the music for this one?

JI: The director and his team have an idea of the music and I had an idea of it as well, there are references to other things. It's a collaboration, and because there are no lyrics, the scenes do that for you and you're supposed to build around either the character or the scene or play against it depending on what the mood of the story is or what the director's trying to go for. So it's a completely different process from songwriting, obviously. But yeah, I really enjoyed it, it's just a different way of making music.

MR: Okay. Do you find any moments where your creativity actually alters the director's vision?

JI: Without patting myself on the back, yeah, definitely. It's strange when you watch an episode without music, there are moments when it feels empty, and then when you put in music it's like, "Oh, yeah." It kind of helps glue things togehter and makes them along or points out things to the audience that maybe aren't as totally apparent with wha tth echaracter is saying or doing. I think good score music can do that, and even if you get direction it's still whatever's coming out of your hands, whatever chords you're grabbing or whatever's inspiring you at the moment. it's an interesting process.

MR: So it takes into consideration all of your approaches to creativity. It's coming from a few different angles that you normally would take anyway.

JI: Yeah, yeah. I've played in bands for much of my life, and when you're writing songs inspiration can come from anywhere, but the kind of song you're going for--When you're in a band you think about the lyrics and the song structure and the arrangement, blah, blah, blah, but with a picture and with the director's notes it just can be something else, a different kind of input. I guess it's maybe akin to what a producer would bring to a band.

MR: Yeah, or even a lyricist, because a lyricist would paint the picture too.

JI: Yeah, totally. And generally the structure is kind of more open ended in some way than song structure is because it can be really super minimal and it doesn't have to be crazy chords or crazy dynamics, it can be really subtle or it can be loud and crazy like a rock song. But yeah, I found it to be really fun and challenging. It's just a different way of making music, or for me it was at least.

MR: I wanted to ask you, how did this come together? Did they seek you out like, "We've got to get this guy?"

JI: No, I think the director was aware of who I was, but I kind of feel like TV and film music was something I wanted to explore so I met them through somebody at Lion's Gate who are producing this project.

MR: I'm imagining this is sort of a culmination of a lot of acts you've worked with and groups you've been in including Tinted Windows, which by the way, I was a fan of!

JI: Oh cool, cool. Yeah, I don't know if I'll ever do composing and scoring full time, but I think the way music is going, recorded music is not really something you can live off of, touring and diversifying and doing other things, which is what the whole business has been trying to do since the 2000s, for me scoring is something I've always been interested in and I think it's also what musicians have to do, to diversify and do other things than just playing or producing bands. There's not really much of a business left there anymore.

MR: It seems like with the exception of a handful of superlabels, the type of money you need to throw at things to make them what used to be considered "big hits" is just not available to anyone else.

JI: Yeah, it's really interesting how things are evolving or devolving. In one way it's totally free and open to whoever wants to get into it, but in another way it's a catastrophe.

MR: It seems like a lot of bands and artists would like to have their careers go further than they are but that they hadn't considered the decline of the old school model when they originally got into music.

JI: Yeah, it's impossible to make a living if you're a guy in a band unless your band really happens on some level. For those aspiring artists, [hums fanfare] obviously people are still as much into music as they have been, so they should definitely follow their muse, but it's hard. I don't think music should be free, but it's kind of like the norm and it's a weird thing that it wasn't free before. Now that everyone's so used to it being free it seems weird that jpeople paid all this money for music and went to record store and did all that. It's kind of mind-boggling how it shifted.

MR: Well it seems like even then people weren't paying for the music, they were paying for the delivery system.

JI: Yeah, and now that it's just random data that can be downloaded in a second nobody thinks about it anymore. You can't make a living on that.

MR: You kind of touched on this already, but what advice do you have for new artists?

JI: I think up and coming artists are just as driven as they used to be and they know what they need to do, just follow the dream. I don't want to be cynical and say, "Don't follow the dream," so that's the only advice I really have. Follow what's important to you and I'm sure people who make something that's unique and special will still break through on YouTube or whatever's out there in the future.

MR: Yeah, it seems like you have to keep your eyes peeled for the next move in a lot of ways.

JI: Yeah, some kid sitting in his bedroom making up cool songs, they have a lot more of an outlet than they used to, they can put it on YouTube, whereas before they had to get out of their small town for somebody to hear it. So that's cool that that can happen.

MR: James, Smashing Pumpkins was so important in the alt and rock universes. That band was pretty magically, wasn't it.

JI: Yeah, it's definitely one in a billion kind of bands that come together at the right time and the right people and the right atmosphere, it's magical in that way. I try to think of it as that kind of thing, too. I'm very lucky to have played with both bands, they're both incredible and they both have a lot of passionate fans. It's great playing that huge music.

MR: You've had a lot of other great associations since then, and it seems like it all leads back to those bands.

JI: Yeah, I'm definitely lucky to have played in the Pumpkins and to have played in Perfect Circle and done things afterwards that either directly came from that reference or otherwise. I'm very lucky to have had the career I've had and I continue to work hard at it. I think doing film and TV is another frontier I'd like to explore. It's great, working with a very cool director's vision and the writer's cool vision. I always try to work on good projects regardless of what they are. It's great.

MR: Are you going to work some of your old band mates into the mix on Deadbeat?

JI: There wasn't a lot of room for outside music...

MR: Maybe some ethereal vocals?

JI: [laughs] There's not really much room for vocals, I think it would be too distracting.

MR: Do you still have that Gibson Flying V?

JI: I do, I do. It's a rockin' guitar.

MR: Very cool. Does it get used?

JI: Not often. I don't bust it out too often, it's not an easy guitar to jam on in the studio because of its shape, but it's a great one.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

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photo courtesy of Atlantic

A Conversation with Melanie Martinez

Mike Ragogna: Melanie, are you ready for unbridled fan love from your Dollhouse EP release?

Melanie Martinez: Yes! I'm stoked to finally put out original music!

MR: It looks like you co-wrote with Kinetics and One Love. How did that come together?

MM: We wrote "Dollhouse" our first time ever meeting! I'd say they are a huge part of how I found my sound. They're so talented and every session is just better and better. I couldn't be more grateful to work with such amazing guys.

MR: What was the process like putting together the EP together?

MM: Well like I said earlier, "Dollhouse" was written the first time I met Kinetics and One Love. We kind of just kept writing intense stories together and eventually it became this collective body of work. Same thing with Robopop. Every session is a new song and a new story I get to tell and it's so exciting. There are a lot more songs besides the ones on the EP that I'm also very excited to put out eventually.

MR: How do you like being on the road touring? Have any adventures you can share?

MM: No crazy stories yet, but it's definitely been fun and I love performing and having people sing along. I can't wait to tour again in June! It's going to be a lot different than the other shows I've done.

MR: It's been suggested that you're the American version of Lorde. But how would you describe your music?

MM: People are always going to try to find other artists they can relate and compare artists to. If I had my own genre it would be called "heavy-child." My reasoning for this is because my music has childlike qualities to it, such as toy sounds and words that are very nostalgic and relate to childhood. It also has a heavy beat and a heavy story behind it. I like to tell dark, honest stories and sugar coat them with a child like aesthetic.

MR: Your new album will also feature collaborations with Robopop. What was that creative process like and how eager are you to get that debut album out?

MM: My EP has collaborations with Kinetics and One Love , as well as Robopop. All are so talented and have been wonderful during the making of the EP. The creative process is always different. I can be inspired by different things each time and it's always really fun just thinking of different ways to tell different stories. I'm so excited to finally put original music out. I am a songwriter primarily and its so nice to be able to finally show that. That was the hard part about being on The Voice, I had to sing covers every week and it was very hard to show who I was entirely. It's going to be great seeing people's reaction to this EP.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

MM: Well, I am a new artist myself. I've learned a lot so far and I'm excited to learn more. But I think the only advice I can really give is to just really ask yourself if you want to do this. If you have a plan B then it isn't going to work out for you. You need to have every part of your heart and mind devoted to being an artist.

MR: Any thoughts about your time on The Voice?

MM: It was a great experience and I learned a lot from the other artists that were there with me. I'm very thankful for being able to touch people and gain a following off the show. I'm truly grateful for all the support. I'm so excited to finally be able to do my own thing and really start my journey.