A Conversation with Kyle Eastwood
Mike Ragogna: Kyle, I discovered your music in an interesting way. You recorded a cover of "Trouble Man" on your debut album From There To Here.
Kyle Eastwood: Exactly.
MR: Well, I was amazed by Joni Mitchell's hypnotic, soulful lead vocal when I first heard her perform it during the Yasgur's Farm "A Day In The Garden" concerts in '98. I searched for a recording of it and eventually bought From There To Here to get that track and wound up being impressed with the rest of your album.
KE: Yeah, she's been doing it off and on since she recorded it with me. I saw her do it in New York at Madison Square Garden in the year after she did that record. We worked together on the album, she did the song with me. I had Vince Mendoza doing some orchestrations for a couple of tunes, so I think that's where she got the idea to do the following record, Both Sides Now with strings and the whole orchestra.
MR: That's pretty informative, I never heard the story before. So, let's talk about your new album Metropolitain. I think it's a pretty smart jazz album, and for those not acclimated to your music, you are categorized as a jazz bassist among other things. But you're also a composer, arranger, and I'll bet all sorts of things we don't even know yet.
MR: What went into Metropolitain's track list?
KE: Well, I composed them, more or less, over the period of about a month before we went into the studio in Paris -- I live most of the time in Paris and work with my band in Europe. We wrote off and on for a few weeks, and then just got together and started playing a little bit. Then, we went right in the studio and kind of knocked them out in a few days. It pretty much was my working band in Europe, with a few guests here and there, a few French musicians. Manu Katché is a great French drummer, and Till Bronner is a great trumpeter from Germany.
MR: And you've got Camille singing those ethereal vocals.
KE: Yeah, she came and sang on a track. I met her just being around Paris, and I was really into her stuff. She was interested in coming and doing something, so we cut her in on one track.
MR: That was on the title track.
MR: On "Live For Life," you also feature Milo Lee, Valerie Delgado, and Toyin on vocals.
KE: Yeah, I met Toyin at the Montreal Jazz Festival a few years back. She had a demo with some songs she'd written and done some recordings of, and it was just the kind of song that I liked. So, she came over to Paris with a drummer that she works with quite a bit -- she lives in Geneva, herself -- she came over and recorded the song with us.
MR: You followed From There To Here with Paris Blue, and that went to number one on the French jazz charts.
KE: It did, yeah. It was there for a few weeks.
MR: You said you live mainly in Europe, but do you also live in the U.S.?
KE: I come over to the States, and when I work with my father, I obviously work in Los Angeles on his films, so I'm there for a few weeks or a month at a time. I do, though, live in Paris most of the time.
MR: In your opinion, is France still a country that is in love with its jazz music?
KE: I think so. There are definitely a lot of great jazz festivals there, and there are a lot of really good audiences for it. I think people there are just into a wider variety of music. People listen to pop and rock music, but also like jazz and a lot of different styles of music. Even the radio there is a little more eclectic than here in the States.
MR: Who were some of your musical influences when you were growing up?
KE: Well, I grew up hearing jazz around the house a lot because both my parents are big jazz fans, so that's kind of what I grew up listening to. I did a lot of listening to Paul Chambers, as a bass player, and Ray Brown. Then, of course, a lot of music from Miles Davis, and my parents listened to a lot of big band music, so I grew up hearing a lot of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, and stuff like that. I got into a lot of R&B, Motown music, and funk music growing up. So, I was listening to a lot of that, and it became some of the first music that I started figuring out and playing along to as a bass player.
MR: Among the music in your house probably was your father's since he plays piano, right?
KE: He does, yeah. He plays piano and we've worked together on some of his films. He writes a little bit of the music sometimes or comes up with melodic ideas to incorporate into the score.
MR: Well, they say the family that plays together... Let's talk about Honkytonk Man, although you were in a couple of movies before that as an actor, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Bronco Billy, right?
KE: Yeah, briefly. I have a few lines here and there. In Outlaw Josey Wales I got killed off in the first reel, so it was kind of quick.
MR: But in Honkytonk Man, you actually lasted the whole film and were the star.
KE: Well, in the book, the story was told through the eyes of the character I played, so he was actually the main character. Yeah, it was a pretty big part and it was fun. I enjoyed working on it, and I got to spend the whole summer with my dad working with him.
MR: Getting back to the music, because your father was a friend of everybody's, you had a lot of people just coming over to the house and playing music, didn't you?
KE: Yeah, sometimes. I grew up in the Monterey area and the Monterey Jazz Festival has been going on there since '58. So, that was kind of an annual outing for my parents, and they started taking me at a pretty young age. I got to meet quite a few musicians in the '70s traveling through.
MR: Miles Davis, you said earlier, is one of your influences, and this album is co-produced by his son Erin Davis, right?
KE: Yeah, Erin and I met at the Monterey Jazz Festival in '90, I think, when his father was there.
MR: Second-generation collaborations.
KE: He's a drummer himself, and he's really knowledgeable about so many different kinds of music. He's kind of a musicologist, he's got really good ears, and he's a good person to have in the studio with you.
MR: Now, Metropolitain is considered a new album, but it has a copyright date of '09. Is this because you're re-promoting the album?
KE: Well, I've kind of been touring on and off for that album since it came out. I just recorded a new album, actually, at the end of August. That album won't be out until February or March of next year, I don't think. We've been touring on and off since then, playing quite a bit of music from that record, and starting to incorporate some of the songs from the upcoming CD as well.
MR: So, am I talking to the bearded Kyle Eastwood or the non-bearded?
KE: (laughs) I'm non at the moment. I was a few days ago -- I fixed my razor, actually.
MR: Let me ask you something about growing up in the Eastwood house. How important was music in your household?
KE: Really important. Both of my parents play piano, and are both really into jazz, blues, and just music in general. Everybody in my family at least played a little bit and were big music appreciators. There was always music around the house.
MR: Now, beyond the acting that we touched on earlier, you've been involved in several films musically. That list would include The Rookie, Regarding Harry, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima, Flags Of Our Fathers, Gran Torino, Invictus, and I know I'm missing a couple.
KE: I think you got most of them, actually. You must have done your homework. (laughs) Yeah, I did the score or arrangements -- co-composed them with my father--on the last six films my father has done.
MR: What's the creative process like? Oh, and obviously, you're family, so you're going to get invited.
KE: (laughs) When I'm working with my father, a lot of times, I get a chance to see the script ahead of time, so I get an idea well in advance about what I'm up against. Usually, once the movie is roughly cut together, you sit down and watch it and take notes to spot the places that are important musical segments of the film or areas that really need music. Then, once you've picked those spots, you pick the most important out of those--the ones where you've kind of got to develop some sort of theme that either goes with a character or goes with the film in general. After that, you just sit down at the piano and see what you come up with and see what looks good with the picture.
MR: Are there any movies that you arranged or scored that pop out as being a favorite?
KE: I think Letters From Iwo Jima is the one I'm most proud of, actually. The music was really epic, the theme came out really strong, and the movie was strong, and I think they really compliment each other very well. As a film, and musically speaking, I think that was probably one of the ones that I like the best.
MR: Speaking of favorites, you play acoustic bass, electric bass, double bass--what's you're favorite to play out of that bunch?
KE: (laughs) I like doing them all, really. It's nice to be able to have different colors, depending on what the music calls for, whether it's acoustic bass for a swing or jazz thing or electric bass for more of an R&B or funk thing. So, it depends on what the music dictates, and I like doing them all, really. It's nice to be able to change it up and do something different sometimes.
MR: Do you compose on the bass or do you compose in your head and then take it to another instrument?
KE: Occasionally on the bass if it's a bass-driven thing or if it's a bass line that I come up with first. But, usually, it's at the piano where I usually compose first. You can sit down at the piano and put down whatever is in your head -- a melodic line or chord changes--whatever it may be.
MR: What's your process like? Does the music just come to you, or do you sit down and play some stuff and then it starts rolling?
KE: It's different all the time. Sometimes, you just sit down and start fooling around at the piano and you sort of come up with something you like and develop it from there. Sometimes, you hear something in your head and you'll sing it into your cell phone or something and then go sit down at the piano later. So, it depends because it's different all the time. Sometimes you come up with an idea and put it away for a while. Then, sometimes, I'll come up with an idea and give it to people I collaborate with, then they'll bring something new to it, change it a little bit and bring it back to me. We kind of bounce things off each other that way. It's different all the time.
MR: Are there any parts that you come up with -- maybe even thoughts for a song -- that you give to your co-writers and they come back to you with something that just blows you away?
KE: Yeah, that happens a lot, actually. That's why it's nice to collaborate with people because it kind of takes you outside your box sometimes. If they can bring something new to it, then you might take it in a different direction than if you were just working on it on your own. In that respect, that's why I like collaborating with people -- you sort of ping-pong the idea back and forth with each other, and sometimes it goes in a totally different direction, but it's cool anyway.
MR: Nice. Kyle, which song on your album, Metropolitain, was most surprising when you got it back?
KE: Well, "Metropolitain" started out as just a couple of melodies that I was playing on bass, and the bass line was this sort of groovy middle section. By the time we kind of fleshed it out, started playing it a little with the band, and then when Camille came in and sang on top of it -- I think that was the one that changed the most in the sound and direction than it originally started from. "Live For Life" was another one like that because that was one that Toyin had written, and we actually hadn't really played it before she came into the studio -- it wasn't something we had rehearsed. So, we came in with two keyboard players on it, guitar, three horns, and the singers and stuff. We actually played it all live in the studio and there wasn't any overdub, so it was pretty much the first take, how you hear it. It was fun to play with a big band like that, play it all live in the studio, and nail it on the first take.
MR: How many days did it take to record the album?
KE: We were in there for about three and a half or four days. We kind of got together and rehearsed in London for an afternoon, then went over to Paris and recorded it. So, that's pretty much what you hear.
MR: You tour on like three different continents.
KE: I guess, yeah. I play quite a bit around Europe, a bit in the States, and then we just got back from Asia. So, we're kind of bouncing around all over the place.
MR: What's the future tour look like?
KE: Well, we've got some dates coming up in New York City and Washington D.C. next week. Then, we head out to California to hit L.A., San Francisco, and San Diego. Then -- where else -- Tucson, Arizona.
MR: Nice. Are your parents going to see you?
KE: I think some of my family might make it up to the Bay area because it's near my hometown. I just played at the Monterrey Jazz Festival a few months ago in September, so they caught me at that one.
MR: Do you have any advice for new artists?
KE: Just keep working at it. If it's your passion, just stay true to it with a lot of practice, a lot of working at it, and sticking with it. Hopefully, you can be in the right place at the right time, which has something to do with it sometimes. Make the most of your opportunities.
MR: It's a very different music business now. New artists have a challenging road to hoe.
KE: Well, the Internet has a lot to do with it nowadays, so if you can get your stuff out there that way, that's good. Also, do gigs and stuff because that's a good way to get people to know what you're doing.
2. Bold Changes
3. Hot Box
4. Black Light
5. Bel Air
6. Samba De Paris
7. Song For You
8. Rue Perdue
9. Le Balai
10. Live For Life
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
Jesse Harris: On tour in Japan this past October 2010, my girlfriend Hannah Cohen, who was opening the shows and singing background vocals with me, took all these beautiful videos from the window of the trains. I thought one in particular was brilliant and blessed with the serendipity of having a woman sitting in front of Hannah's stationary camera as we pulled slowly into the station and stopped. Having never used iMovie before, I suddenly realized that the music to "Little Star" would fit perfectly as the background music to this film, and in a couple of hours, edited together this video with some of her others from that same trip.
1. Little Star
2. The Waves
3. Strange Bird
6. I Think You're Hiding Something
7. Somewhere Down The Road
8. Wish I Was A Bird
9. Dear Dorothy
10. Over The Bridge (And Into Queens)
11. No Way Out
12. Wedding Song
The following is the next installment of Theo Shier's conquering the world one video at a time. This clip shows Theo taking a swing at John Lennon's "Love," and his performance at that Beatle's tribute concert was heralded by The Fairfield Weekly Reader in the following gushing way: "Protean young guitarist, Theo Shier, playing solo, turned Lennon's meditative, heartshaking ballad 'Love' into acoustic, John Mayer-ish funk without losing a bit of the lyrical ardor. You can do this if you have talent -- gobs and gobs of it." The rest is music history.
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