VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: This Is The Now - "I Wish I Was A Banker"
This Is The Now is a band and collective led by the mysterious Tiger G, originally formed in a garage studio in Venice, California, now based in DUMBO Brooklyn. Combining the glam of Bowie, the fuzz of Pavement, and the wit and dark humor of Lou Reed, their upcoming debut EP Titan will be released in spring 2012.
Here are some words from the video's director, Michael Arthur:
"When Tiger G first played "...Banker" for me, I thought of the newspaper comics of the early 20th century -- comics like Little Orphan Annie and works by Lyonel Feininger. Very early on, I had a notion to incorporate graphs and charts that Tiger had provided me with, but I also wanted to incorporate newspapers somehow, to give a documentary-like feel to the animation. I should also note that the footage of the crowd was shot down in Zuccoti Park the day the protestors were evicted from the park.
"I went down to the area with my tripod and my iPhone and was shooting footage as the protestors slowly made their way around the barricade and reoccupied the area. It was a pretty charged day for obvious reasons, and there was a general feel in the air that the police might try to forcibly evict everyone at any moment. The footage of the man waving the flag was shot a week or two earlier. I really liked the way the crowd of tourists kept appearing and taking pictures of him -- I had set up my tripod behind him and shot a time lapse scene of folks taking his photo..."
Mike Ragogna: Ed, how are you doing?
Ed Burns: Very good, how are you?
MR: Good, thanks for taking some time today to talk with us today about Newlyweds, and also about your buddy PT Walkley.
EB: Ah, yes. PT has been a friend of mine going on eight years now. I met at a guitar shop in New York. I think at the time he was 22 years old. He was giving lessons, and I was making a low-budget film and I needed some very inexpensive music for the film and he said, "Hey, why don't I give you my demo." I looked into it, fell in love with it, used about three songs from the demo, he and I became great buddies, and he's been the composer for every film I've made since. I've made about five movies now.
MR: Nice, Ed. Which one did he start with?
EB: A movie that not a lot of people saw, probably because it didn't deserve quite a big audience, called Looking for Kitty. But it's got some nice PT Walkley music in it.
MR: Okay, so you were a musician looking around at guitars.
EB: I was, yeah, but I'm a very mediocre rhythm guitar player.
MR: And you guys jam.
EB: PT and I actually have a little side project where he let me play my rhythm guitar with another buddy of mine from high school, so we have a little band. I'll periodically throw one of that band's tunes into the movies as well.
MR: So, for the music on the Newlyweds soundtrack, "PT Walkley & The Blue Jackets" are credited on the cover. That's you guys.
EB: The Blue Jackets is basically our sideband, and we got one song on the soundtrack, a song called "All Night Long." Everything else is just PT, and given how many different styles of music he plays and how much the guy is one of these very prolific writers, he plays with all sorts of musicians, so we're his crappy garage band. But he also plays with more polished guys in town.
MR: Let's also talk about PT's new album, Thriller, that you've obviously heard. What are your favorite songs?
EB: I like "On the Snub," "Go Away," "Summer Song"... we even used the demo version of "Summer Song" in Newlyweds, that's one of my favorites. Those are probably my tops. "The Way that You Are," as well.
MR: Ed, some of your most popular films have been The Brothers McMullen, She's The One, Saving Private Ryan, 15 Minutes, Sidewalks of New York, The Groomsmen, 27 Dresses... You're constantly working. How do you balance all that screenwriting, directing, acting, making music, and being a New Yorker?
EB: Well, my primary gig and my real passion is for writing and directing my small personal indie movies. I got into the business as a writer/director with ... Brothers McMullen, and the acting, quite honestly, was just an afterthought. As a kid from school who didn't know any actors, just out of necessity, I kept myself and some of my buddies in my student films, and in ... McMullen I kinda wrote a small part myself. So years later, after She's The One and this other movie, looking back, I started to get acting offers in Hollywood studio films, and the first real one was Saving Private Ryan. So I got very lucky with that. But the way I approached these two careers now, writing and directing, my true passion, was by the acting gigs, which afforded me, quite honestly, some financial freedom to continue to make these small movies. It also gave me access to the business and allowed me to work with a lot of big name actors. I can then use the relationships and try to put together my little films. That's kind of how I do it. I look for acting jobs when I know I'm not going to be making one of the films that I want to make.
MR: Right, or when you're not appearing on Entourage.
EB: (laughs) Exactly. That was rough because my brother works for Entourage and I was a big fan of the show. So he calls me up one day and says, "Hey, we want to do this cool thing where you play a version of yourself, would you be interested?" I said, "Absolutely." That was a lot of fun to do.
MR: Okay, back to PT Walkley. Obviously, there's the music, but what about his lyrics?
EB: I think clearly he's influenced a lot by what he sees on the streets of New York, but also by what he has seen and experienced in the indie music scene in New York, and that struggle to make a mark, get signed, get seen, get on the radio. I think the reason we hit it off is there are a lot of parallels between independent filmmaking and being in an indie band or being an indie musician. It's a tough fight. But the thing that I've always noticed is that he's got a great sense of irony and he's really playful. He can write a straight-ahead, somber love song, if you will. He has a great sense of humor, and that's what I'm most attracted to.
MR: I love that you guys are so tight that you're actually going out there to help promote his record in addition to talking up your own projects. That's really great.
EB: Well, we view this, after the first film, as a real partnership. We started watching the Academy Awards last night and we see John Williams, the great composer, is nominated for two Spielberg movies. And John Williams has composed the music for every Spielberg film I think going back 30+ years. And while P.T. and I have yet to get a nomination -- we're hardly Spielberg/Williams -- we like the idea of those types of partnerships and friendships. We're just going to continue to work together because we have similar sensibilities. The great thing is that I give him my script and he can immediately start writing even long before we start shooting. Later, I'm in the editing room throwing in some ideas of his. So far, it's been a pretty great collaboration.
MR: You mentioned the awards last night. What did you think of "Man or Muppet" winning best song?
EB: I don't know what happened to the Best Song category. They used to have guys like Springsteen and U2. I mean, it's a nice song, but only two nominations? I'm not quite sure what happened there. I'm used to when they would bring in the big guns.
MR: Yeah, I'm with you. Let me get advice from you for new artists.
EB: I've been to film schools a long time and taught students and now it's interesting. For kids who want to make movies, they're in a similar place as to where musicians have been in the last ten years in that the barrier to entry has never been lower in that you can get pretty inexpensive recording equipment in the music business. You're starting to see these indie bands and these indie musicians recording something and they're putting it up on MySpace and later YouTube, and all of a sudden, it gets discovered and they're playing Palooza and showing up on Saturday Night Live. In the film business, you needed half a million dollars to make a movie. Now you can make a movie with these digital cameras probably as inexpensively as kids can cut their basement recording. That said, just like there are all those songs that are up on YouTube by unknown artists, there are all those films that are up on YouTube by unknown filmmakers. So getting out there and trying to promote this stuff is the hardest part of the gig, and there is no easy answer. You just have to keep at it, you have to look at other people who had success with it and try to copycat their model. But even if you fail miserably and no one links on and you get no views on YouTube, that doesn't mean you should stop doing what you're doing... I love making movies and of course, you want to reach as wide an audience as you can, but I would never not do it. I've had plenty of movies that bombed, but I still loved those experiences. I know all of my musician friends love playing music. So my advice is do the thing you love to do, and if you're lucky, you can make a living doing it. But don't let that first defeat prevent you from pursuing dreams.
MR: Beautiful. And basically, the same points apply with both music and film, don't they?
EB: Absolutely. In a weird way, even more so for musicians because, while it's become inexpensive to make the first film, it's not like it's just picking up your acoustic guitar and being able to go to a place and sit on a stool and do your thing.
MR: Yeah, it's a whole different world. I'm getting PT on the phone in a few minutes, but if we were to play music in the meantime, which song should that be?
EB: I would go with "All Night Long" and you can hear a bit of my crappy guitar playing.
MR: (laughs) Okay, we look forward to your crappy guitar playing, though I'm sure it's not, sir. I really appreciate your time, thank you very much, Ed.
EB: Thank you for having me and for supporting P.T. you're a good man.
1. The Lucky Ones - PT Walkley
2. All Night Long - PT Walkley & The Blue Jackets
3. Summer Song - PT Walkley
4. A Toast - PT Walkley
5. It's Easy On You - PT Walkley & The Blue Jackets
6. Cover Me - PT Walkley
7. Break Your Heart - PT Walkley
8. Ovenbird - Patrick McCormack
9. Smooth Underneath - PT Walkley
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger
Mike Ragogna: P.T., you just got one hell of an endorsement from your buddy -- actor, director, writer, and producer Ed Burns. We talked about the movie Newlyweds, you, and your new album Thriller. What's your version of how you met that guy?
PT Walkley: I was working at this guitar store in downtown Manhattan called Ludlow Guitars. It's still there, it's one of the great remaining boutique shops. Anyway, I was working there and somebody called and said, "Hey, I want to get a guitar, can I come in anytime?" Next thing you know, Ed Burns comes in. He had just started playing guitar at the time. We hit it off, became fast friends, and started jamming from time to time. At the time, I'm doing all these home recordings and getting my catalog together, so I'm secretly thinking, "I gotta get him songs, but I don't want to be too forward." Finally, I get the gusto to give him a song, and it turns out to be a homerun for the movie he's making at the time called Looking for Kitty. That was sort of the spark. Then we made a version where we extrapolated the melodies to make it the score for the movie. Then I became his go-to guy for music. Later we formed a little band called The Bluejackets on the side. It's been a blast, for sure.
MR: When talking with Ed about his guitar playing, he was being a bit self-deprecating about his guitar playing. What do you think about his guitar playing?
PT: He brings a definite scrappy vibe to the table. He's definitely rock-based, big into the rock stuff, as I was, so we connected on that vibe when we first started Bluejackets. He's not going to come out and do a Joe Satriani solo. He brings in his sound and his energy, which is very high at all times, which is great.
MR: You've worked on quite a few films based on your relationship with Ed, such as Looking For Kitty that you mentioned. But you also had music in The Groomsmen, right?
PT: Yeah. I did a lot of songs and score for The Groomsmen, which was a blast. He actually also shot a lot on Center Island, and there was a day when, basically, we had a softball game, and he shot it and that was one of my favorite scenes of the movie because I got to be in it. It's always a party when he's making movies, and a few months later, you look at it and you've got a great movie to watch.
MR: PT, you've also had some nationally broadcast commercials, like for General Electric, Mercedez-Benz, Starbucks, Macy's, Mastercard...
PT: It's a blast. In a way, it's the direct opposite of scoring for films. It's short form so that's great. You can be done with a piece in four hours, they take it or not. If they don't, you have to get thick-skinned, there's a lot of rejection. But when they go, it's great, and you move on to the next thing. You never know what style you're going to have to work in. One day they might want a Rumba version, the next day hip-hop, the next day, rock, so it keeps you on your toes, stylistically. It also gives you a crash course in learning those styles and maybe that's why a lot of my records are all over the place, genre-wise.
MR: I'd just say you can tell that your taste is expansive. I wanted to talk to you about being a New Yorker. Where do you hail from, sir?
PT: I hail from Long Island, Cold Spring Harbor, which is right in the middle, North Shore. I lived in Boston for four years, and I've been in New York City for the last twelve, thirteen years.
MR: What part of the city are you living in now?
PT: Lower East side, on Grand street by the East River, by FDR Drive.
MR: Nice, below Stuyvesant Town.
PT: Yes, it's a nice little spot. You've got the river right there, and East River Park, which they're really overhauling into a beautiful spot.
MR: You're making me miss New York. It's got to be inspirational. You go down there and write a little bit?
PT: Yes, definitely.
MR: What's your creative process like?
PT: It's really random. I'm always working on something, so there isn't much time to just sit and devote to writing. While walking over to the studio to work, something else, little snippets pop in. I'm very much a snippets guy. I always keep my iPhone to use a little voice recorder, to get little ideas. I'll have either a little melody or a lyric that I don't want to forget and I'll just sing it into my little recorder. When I have about 100 of those or if it's time to come up with a new batch of songs, the hard part is stringing them together. Like, this little goofy part goes with that, but if I want to do this, it has to go with this chord. There's a little push and pull, and then out comes the song. Or there's the rare moment where a full song just pops into your head and you're done, but the hard part is the other way.
MR: Why Thriller for the album title?
PT: There was this orchestral-laden rock-pop opera, very studio-slick, and we really pulled out all the stops and got a lot of heavy session players and special guests and stuff like that, which is great. That's definitely one approach. But I think it took almost a year to make, so I thought back to my earlier days of the satisfaction of home recording, and being up till 3 in the morning, overdubbing, and having no safety net or nobody rushing your take, or saying, "Oh, you can't put canned applause in a song, it's too silly," or questioning the boundaries of your creativity. When you get to that space you're just there doing it, you really tap into something pure. You can be as out there as you want and it just comes out a little more with a hand-drawn vibe that comes out with home recordings. Then you can go mix it with someone who knows what they're doing who'll put the finishing touches on it. But if you want to capture that ghost of the hand-drawn thing, it's always good to do it at home. Given that vibe, given that sort of aesthetic, I thought it would be funny to call it Thriller, because it was handmade, and so NOT thriller, not the Michael Jackson Thriller. It was just an off-the-cuff idea that I thought would be funny.
MR: What inspires your lyrics?
PT: Well, I'm mainly really a melody guy, and sometimes, the lyrics pop in later, but I do put it off until the very end... maybe it's because I care so much about the lyrics. I always love a sad song delivered happily, or songs where the "grass is greener," that whole vibe, that irony. So that seems to be a theme that runs through a lot of my songs as I look back. But there's no unified vibe. I like to keep the stories different as they come to mind.
MR: And what did we do before cell phones we could sing into.
PT: It could be torture, those melodies, those lyrics, those ideas, and you don't want to forget them. I used to call my answering machine and I'd forget they were there, and I'd have friends over and hear my messages. I'd hear all these goofy tunes and goofy voices coming through, so good thing there are iPhones now to tone down the embarrassing moments. Then you can act like your talking to someone on the phone as opposed to talking to yourself.
MR: Well, that's good for the lyrics, but it's not good for the singing, because it sounds like you're singing to someone on the phone. (laughs)
PT: Right. (laughs)
MR: Advice for new artists? What would you say?
PT: It depends what you want to do. My breaks have taken me one way, which didn't really include jumping in a van and going on the road and trying to cultivate a following. But then again, as I went on, becoming a "rock star" became less important. I realized that the writing, producing, and being as productive as possible was the most important thing because my breaks led me into the film scoring and commercial world. That's where I make my living, and then I can put out my records too and have a nice little following to listen to them and come to the shows when I do shows. But it really depends on what you want to do. You definitely don't need a label any more unless you need tour support. Make a record at home, which is what I did. (laughs) It's tough, it mostly depends on what people want to do. If you have a song recorded, put it out there. It's as easy as that now. As far as getting heard, getting famous, getting a following, there are so many steps and luck and cultivating that luck involved. It's tough to really give any definite advice on that.
MR: Out of all the songs on Thriller, is there a song which you identify with the most, one that's the most personal to you, either from the storyline or musically?
PT: There are a couple that are definitely more personal. "The Way That You Are" was based on when I was a kid and I had this really mean art teacher that just did not want to foster any creative freedom with kids. All she did was beat us down. I think the only constructive criticism she had for me was like, "That doesn't look like an owl!" I think at one point, I turned in a blank piece of paper like it was something invisible and I said, "It's a sculpture, it's invisible, use your imagination." I was probably being a little brat. She said, "I need something that I can hold in my hand." So there's a lyric in "The Way That You Are" about "...if you don't give a damn about what you can and can't hold in your hand, you know who you are." Something like that. It's sort of a let-your-freak-flag-fly song.
The most personal song is "Summer Song," which talks about my whole path of wanting to stay home, not go on tour, and just do my thing, be creative and see what happens. It's like what we were talking about -- being as productive as possible, not prioritizing, not placing so much emphasis on what is success. Is it getting out and being a rock star or is it being fulfilled creatively and being productive, putting what you create out there on a regular basis.
MR: You have the full-blown version on your album, but the demo version ended up being on the Newlyweds soundtrack, right?
PT: Yeah. In the movie, I was just workshopping it. We -- the Bluejackets -- were rehearsing at the studio where some of the movie was shot, then Eddie taped it just so we could remember it. In the movie, there was a scene that was shot at the studio, so he just laid it in as if a band was rehearsing downstairs, and that's the song he put in. In the movie, it's a rough version, but on the soundtrack, the final version is in there.
MR: By the way, we were so caught up in talking about you that there was one question about the movie that I didn't get to ask Ed, so I'm going to ask you instead. Obviously, you've seen the movie. Just how evil is that sister?
PT: Do you know Vincent Price's voice on Thriller?
PT: Well, that times two!
MR: (laughs) Do you have any thoughts on scoring that movie, oh by the way? Now it's your turn to talk about Ed's project.
PT: Well, I had actually done this whole piano score for it as a first pass. It turned out to be so full of dialog and we were trying it. It was just one of those cases where we were better off just putting a few choice songs in there. So we did a couple new songs. It was more of a song placement exercise, which is great too. We go back and forth on that. I think Nice Guy Johnny was mostly songs too, and the one before it, Purple Violets, was all score. You never know what is going to be the right prescription.
MR: You have your work cut out for you, don't you.
PT: Yeah. (laughs)
MR: Well, PT, you gave us advice for new artists and a tidbit about Newlyweds. Any other words of wisdom?
PT: I would say, don't count out that internet. It's definitely going to be big. (laughs)
MR: If you were to give PT Walkley from the guitar shop before he met Ed any advice, what would that advice be?
PT: Let's see... don't count out that internet... (laughs) Stick with it, it's a slow burn, but it beats anything else.
MR: Oh right, I almost forgot, you've opened for Coldplay and for Weezer. What?
PT: Yeah, that's what I would tell myself from the past. I'd be like, "Hang in there, you're going to open for Coldplay and Weezer." They gave us this break and they were doing a free show to start the Viva la Vida tour at MSG. They asked us to open for them. It was insane! I was really looking forward to the show, but for some reason, I just couldn't stop anticipating the soundcheck. I just had to get behind the drum set and hit the kick drum and feel like King Kong for a few seconds. It was beyond expectations.
MR: And the place was sold-out. You played a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden with Coldplay.
PT: Definitely. I think for our set, it was probably two-thirds full, which is definitely a couple more than any other show I've played. I think there were 12,000 people or more at the time.
MR: Seriously, you've had a lot of wonderful luck, and I know that goes hand-in-hand with your talent. PT, all the best in the future. Definitely, we have to keep our eye on you.
PT: Yeah, keep your eyes and ears out, and tell all your friends and pets.
1. The Way That You Are
2. Go Away
3. The Marriage Of Mice
4. The Only Reply
5. Summer Song
6. The Purpose Of A Skunk
7. If I Were British (Sing Along)
8. I'm A Snob
9. Mellotronic Growth Plate
10. A Little Better
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008