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Marykate O'Neil

A Conversation with Marykate O'Neil (continued)

PM: So there are a couple of tracks I'd love to go into, like "Happy"--that's my runaway first favorite.

MKO: Excellent.

PM: Yeah, I'm all over there. Can we back up on that tune all the way to its creation?

MKO: Well, that song, actually, I had an idea of--I don't know, ideas probably that I didn't actually follow through on--but I had an idea of where the label had talked to me about doing--oh, look, Jill is on the other line. I'll have to call her back and tell her I was talking to you.

PM: And tell her hi.

MKO: Yeah, I will. Where was I--the label wanted to me to do some covers. And then I thought, well, if I'm going to do some covers, I'm going to do covers that my friends wrote.

PM: Right.

MKO: It was definitely more fun. And Jill had written that song a long time ago with Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne.

PM: Oh, so it's just a write between those two.

MKO: Yeah, and they just never did anything with it. So they didn't even actually--they couldn't find what they did.

PM: They couldn't find it?

MKO: I'd heard it long ago, and I think they did it on like ADAT or something--even something like pre ADAT that I had never heard of. But I just remembered it from hearing it, so it isn't that true to the cover, because I don't think we ever really found it. But I had her lyrics and the music.

PM: Now, on or off the record, that ominous sound in the beginning, is that a sample?

MKO: No.

PM: They just imitated something from that--what was that song, was something about [with a deep voice] "walking in the rain" or something like that?

MKO: Yeah, what's the name of that band? Well, Jill and Adam wrote it from a sample. But what I did is I just--we did it ourselves.

PM: Just played it.

MKO: Yeah. So we didn't sample it.

PM: That's such a cool part, damn.

MKO: Yeah, I know. [laughs]

PM: Something harmonically got struck there that's just really, really good. Well, I guess they thought so, too--or all of yous. How did that end up on the track, that sound? Oh, they started, as you say, with a sample, so that's how... yeah.

MKO: They wrote it as a sample--they took the sample, and I just remembered it.

PM: Nice.

MKO: I actually did this song in Northampton MA with my friend Ken Maiuri.

PM: Oh, yeah. Of course, I want to talk about him, because about him I know almost nothing, and he seems very important on the record.

MKO: Yeah, he's like one of those great multi-instrumentalists who is actually as good as--you know what I mean? He really can play everything, like total freak of nature, in a great way.

PM: It's amazing how some people are like that.

MKO: Yeah. So that's what we did; we recreated the sound of a loop, but we just did it organically.

PM: Right. So Ken plays normally with Pedro the Lion, or has played, or--

MKO: He played with Pedro the Lion, and then they broke up, and he now plays a lot with Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion. And he also does this thing right now that they just had a movie out about--did you ever hear of the Young@Heart Chorus?

PM: Oh, yeah, yeah, it's about the elderly people singing group, right?

MKO: Exactly.

PM: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I saw a trailer, it looked pretty great.

MKO: Yeah, he plays with them, too.

PM: Oh, my God!

MKO: It's really a great movie.

PM: Unbelievable.

MKO: So that's Ken, anyway. He does lots of things.

PM: So let's talk, then, about the great single, it must be the single, "Green Street."

MKO: Yep.

PM: "Green Street," that really should be the name--not just the name but the theme of a new hit TV show, I mean, that's perfect.

MKO: Yeah. [laughs]

PM: It's like tailor-made for a TV show--not only that, but the theme, the whole feel of "Green Street," it's just a beautiful--

MKO: Oh, thank you.

PM: --TV type of thing. Who is playing guitar on that cut?

MKO: So many people. I think Ken plays a lot of it. But then actually Jill and me.

PM: Wow, there's some really rockin' guitar on that song.

MKO: Thank you.

PM: Obviously, your version of Randy Newman's "Living Without You" pointed up something really interesting but elusive to me. What's the story behind that cover and how it got reinvented musically?

MKO: Oh, I just--it's such a great song, albeit dangerous to ever cover truly good songs. Do you know what I mean?

PM: Of course, but sometimes you have to.

MKO: It's always going to pale in comparison. But his original version is so like carnival-esque, sort of like a drunk person, I always imagine like "whaaaaa"--you know? [laughs]

PM: I went and listened to some other version that must have been cut later. And I went, oh, wait a minute, wait a minute, there's all these voicings there that weren't in the original version.

MKO: That was on Nilsson Does Newman. Do you have that? Did you hear that version of it?

PM: I'm sure I have. But I thought I heard--I went to a Randy Newman iTunes site, and it was him singing, but it wasn't the original version of that song. And there were new voicings. And I went, no, no, no, I want to find that original one.

MKO: Yeah, I've only heard the original one. But I think it's just like a perfectly written song to me.

PM: It's uncanny good. [Randy Newman has released at least three different recordings of this song: there's an orchestrated one on his 1968 debut album, a solo version on the classic 1971 live album, and another solo rendition on The Randy Newman Songbook, Vol. 1 from 2003.]

MKO: So I just did it as simple as possible, and kept it as a demo.

PM: It's a very impressive and a touching reinvention of that song.

MKO: Oh, thank you.

PM: I thought it was really, really good.

So did some of the stuff actually go down at Adam's studio? Is Stratosphere Sound his studio or the band's studio?

MKO: It's his studio. Yeah, we did a lot of the overdubs--some of it I would start out actually in my apartment.

Marykate's apartment

PM: Right, on Pro Tools Light, like?

MKO: Yeah.

PM: Right.

MKO: And then if I would meet up with Jill at Adam's studio, if she was in town doing a show in New York, I'd say, "Let's book at date at Adam's studio." And she'd come and do some singing and guitar work.

PM: I interviewed Adam Schlesinger once, not so long ago. He was really a nice dude.

MKO: Yeah, he's really nice. He's a really talented producer.

PM: Yeah, and their songwriting, it's ridiculously good.

MKO: And I like working at their studio because they have a little B room, which is perfect for us, because I'm just doing sort of little things here and there, I don't need a big cutting room.



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