SOUND OFF Special Interview: Rumer's BOYS DON'T CRY
Today we are talking to one of the most alluring and anomalous recording stars on the rise all about this week's stateside release of her sophomore album, BOYS DON'T CRY, a tribute to male songwriters of the 1970s - the ethereal Rumer. Discussing many aspects of this new release, as well as her previous studio work - such as her Burt Bacharach Christmas EP - Rumer sheds some light on what makes her such an arresting and intriguing performer to follow for the enthusiasts of intimate, revealing, performance-based artists around the world, as she herself reveals the early influences - Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Karen Carpenter most of all - that have shaped the unmistakable sound she continues to perfect on this moody, subdued and intoxicating new cover album. Plus, Rumer offers forth candid recollections of participating in recent gala concert presentations - none the least of which would be her superb "A House Is Not A Home" on the PBS Burt Bacharach edition of IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE - as well as recounts her own favorite performances, performers and albums and what she plans for the future; another new album is already in the ether! Additionally, Rumer also shares her thoughts on GLEE, provides amusing anecdotes about famous friends like Daryl Hall and Duffy, compares the recording industry now to the era BOYS DON'T CRY pays tribute to, recalls reactions to her dynamic new covers of these rare pop gems - all of that as well as much, much more!
Rumer's BOYS DON'T CRY is available now. More information can be found at Rumer's official site here.
PC: You are so unique. What can you tell me about your performance style and your major influences growing up - you have cited Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand in particular; why them?
R: Well, when I was younger I had brown hair and brown eyes and all my Brothers and Sisters had blond hair and blue eyes so I wanted them so I could be like them, too, but then when I saw EASTER PARADE starring Judy Garland in that role, with brown hair and brown eyes, I really found that I could particularly relate to her. I just thought, "Well, she's different and I'm different, so that's what different people do: they sing."
PC: How revealing.
R: Yeah, so, Judy Garland quickly became someone I really related to from that point on - someone who, honestly, I modeled some of my behavior on a little bit; she's like a role model to me. And, the music? You can't deny all those fantastic lyricists and those fantastic composers and arrangers who wrote those lilting, beautiful, dreamy melodies - you know, melodies that really sweep you off of your feet; melodies to make you swoon.
PC: She introduced so many remarkable standards.
R: And, besides the music, not to mention the costumes, the sets, the decadence, the Technicolor-ness of it all - creating this world of beauty, really; all to lull you into a dream. So, that became the aesthetic that I was drawn to from then on.
PC: It really shaped your whole perspective.
R: It did. And, then, Barbra? Stunning - just stunning. [Pause. Laughs.] She doesn't need an introduction, really.
PC: To say the least. What is your personal favorite Barbara album?
R: Oh, I love LAZY AFTERNOON.
PC: Isn't that an absolutely amazing album?
R: It's absolutely amazing - amazing. I have it on vinyl and I really enjoy sitting there with the vinyl and reading all of her funny comments on each song - and then on the jacket it says, "In case you noticed, I cut my nails so that I could learn to play the guitar." [Laughs.]
PC: What a sacrifice for her art!
R: If you look at the picture on the front, she has short nails; if you look at the picture on the back, she has long nails, and she actually put an asterisk with the note about it. If you have it on vinyl, you can have it big and look close to see those details. I love stuff like that.
PC: Rupert Holmes wrote some fantastic material for that album, as well - "Widescreen", in particular.
R: Oh, he's fantastic - I love Rupert Holmes and Barbra. I think their relationship is so unique - you know, she heard "Widescreen" and then wanted to work with him and they had this passionate, creative relationship doing various album projects together. There obviously was something really passionate and great between them, though, even if they ended their working relationship or whatever.
PC: Who are some of your favorite current or new artists?
R: Oh, well, I love the new stuff I've heard from Duffy's new album, of course - she's a good friend of mine and I just think she is so talented and amazingly gifted; she's amazing. I love Paolo Nutini, too - I think he's really, really good. I'm not really into that much contemporary music, though, to be quite honest.
PC: What can you tell me about working with Burt Bacharach on your recent EP featuring a cover of "Alfie", as well as "Some Lovers", a new song he wrote with Steven Sater for a musical.
R: Yes. Steven Sater was working with Burt Bacharach on this musical and they asked me to sing a couple of songs from it - one was called "Hush, Hush", which I actually thought would be perfect for Barbra; another was "Some Lovers". So, they gave me the music for both and I recorded them and sent them back and they liked it so we released an EP of "Some Lovers". I actually released a 7-inch vinyl of that - you can find it online.
PC: You created the artwork yourself for that, did you not?
R: Yes, I did - I do everything myself for my albums; all the art.
PC: You are very detail-oriented.
R: I really am - I really am.
PC: Where did the concept for BOYS DON'T CRY arise out of - performing songs originally popularized by men in the 1970s?
R: Well, I'll tell you what it was: I was living in a hippie commune and there was this German lady who didn't speak very much and who was always walking up and down the hallway. So, every now and again, we'd all sit in the ballroom and we'd sing songs and tell stories and read poetry and so forth, and, one night, this lady, who was very shy, got up and sang this song - it was just so beautiful and I was really relating to it. So, I said to her when she was finished, "What is that beautiful song?" And she said that she was a huge Paul Simon fan - a total Paul Simon freak who knew everything he ever did; otherwise she was quite shy, but when she talked about that it revealed her true passion. So, I found out that it was "Long, Long Day" from ONE TRICK PONY.
PC: No way!
R: I know! I was like, "Really? That's what it was?" And, so, she took me upstairs to her room and she played me "Long, Long Day" from ONE TRICK PONY and I was just like, "That is absolutely beautiful." So, when I went back to London, I dug it out and I recorded it with my producer and we put strings on it and piano on it and it became a big track. Then, suddenly, I thought, "I really want to do a whole album like this," - you know, find songs that may not necessarily have been the most popular at the time, with a few exceptions, and polish them off and present them to the world with a little bit of fairy dust on them.
PC: What are your thoughts on Laura Nyro? I sense a kinship.
R: Oh, well, you should - I just adore Laura Nyro; I love her. [Pause. Sighs.]
PC: Do you intentionally hold back and yearn to explore more diverse sounds like she did in any way, do you think?
R: I find it very important to keep things steady - you know, it's not the best time to get very experimental, when you are just getting to know people and people are just getting to know you, you know?
PC: Best to make things amenable from the get-go.
R: Yeah. I am a fan, as well, so I know what it's like. And, while I can put on ELI [AND THE THIRTEENTH CONFESSION] and just sit there with an open mouth, I am not sure that everybody would feel the same way; I don't know if everybody would get it.
PC: "Sara Smile" is a track that people may be slightly more familiar with thanks to Hall & Oates - was that included as a means to give the audience a familiar hit or two?
R: "Sara Smile" - I actually told Daryl that; I didn't want to do it. I mean, I sang it live and I just loved the song, but I didn't want to put it on the album at first because people were too familiar with it. But, then, the record company was like "No, no - we want a hit! We need a hit!" And, so, I was like, "No! No, this is an obscure covers project!" But, it ended up on the album.
PC: What about "Be Nice To Me"? Has Todd Rundgren given you any feedback on it? It's a very effective cover.
R: I asked Daryl to send it off to him because they are acquaintances, but I don't know if he has yet. I know that Todd is a Laura fan, though - you know the shuffle section of the song?
PC: The bridge.
R: Yeah, it's a bit of a Laura shuffle, I think, isn't it?
R: When I sang it, I wanted to bring out the Laura in it - I hope he notices that if he hears it.
PC: How did "Soulsville" by Isaac Hayes end up on the album? It's a bit of a departure - was it your idea?
R: It actually wasn't! That was my producer's idea to do that song. When he first asked me, I said, "I can't sing a song about black people! What do I know about the ghetto and what this song is about? I don't think black people would appreciate it very much if I did this. Me singing Isaac Hayes?" But, then, I realized that a singer's job is to be the storyteller, so if the story comes across without anyone thinking of the gender or the culture of the person singing then you have done your job. So, it was an exercise in how to tell a story for me with that song.
PC: Paul Williams is another of the 1970s singer-songwriters you take on with BOYS DON'T CRY. Have you spoken to him about it?
R: I have! I have met Paul and he was fantastic - he really likes the song.
PC: Have you seen him in Brian De Palma's indescribable horror movie musical THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE?
R: Oh, that freaks me out! [Laughs.] I can't say I enjoyed that. I mean, it was a funny movie, but I think it's mainly for boys!
PC: You might be right.
R: I really love the stuff Paul did with the Carpenters and Barbra the most - and "The Rainbow Connection". Speaking of musicals, though, my producer, Steve Brown, writes musicals - he has been called the British Stephen Sondheim, actually.
PC: What high praise!
R: He actually has a letter from Stephen Sondheim on his wall that says, "Dear Steve Brown, as you may know by now, I saw your show last night and I was just blown away by your work. It is very rare indeed that I hear rhyme scheme that delineates character in such a manner. Your show may very well be the first good British musical. Congratulations, Stephen Sondheim."
PC: What show was that letter in response to?
R: SPEND, SPEND, SPEND.
PC: That was very well-received.
R: It was a hit - and, he also did the musical version of the film IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
PC: A perfect topic for a musical.
R: Yeah, he is super-talented. When I met him, he had never made an album before; never. But, he understood things theatrically - like, when I came to him with a song by Aretha, he could bring three dimensions to it, especially in the way that he played. So, he really embraced my love of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand and Broadway and all of that - we really connected on that level; that's the undercurrent of all of our work in the studio, our love of theatre and musicals.
PC: It really comes through on your albums and also your live performances. Have you ever considered singing some Sondheim? "Send In The Clowns" seems like a perfect fit.
R: Oh, I love "Send In The Clowns" - I would love to do that.
PC: Tell me about performing the classic Bond theme at the BBC John Barry tribute, "We Have All The Time In The World".
R: I screwed that up! I came in at the wrong time - I thought it was a massive disaster; I missed the cue! I remember I walked out from the stage in my gown and said "I need to leave right now," and just went right out the door to the nearest pub. [Laughs.]
PC: You are too self-critical! In juxtaposition to that experience, was the PBS White House Bacharach concert a particular thrill to participate in for you?
R: Oh, yeah. I mean, it was laced with fear - it was terrifying. But, now, looking back, it's easily the most exciting thing I've ever done.
PC: How do you prepare for performing at an event like that?
R: You have to pray - pray, pray, pray, pray, pray. Pray to angels. Pray to God. Pray to Buddha, too, if you want! [Laughs.] Pray, pray, pray.
PC: Do you have a vocal warm-up? Is your instrument delicate?
R: Well, I do some warm-ups before I go out onstage, but nothing too complicated - I do very simple warm-ups. Mainly, it's a spiritual thing for me - psychological and spiritual. The focusing in prayer warms me up more than anything.
PC: Do you meditate?
R: No, I don't - I just don't have the patience for it.
PC: You have developing this project for a few years, correct?
R: Oh, yeah - five years!
PC: That's a long gestation.
R: It's been a long road.
PC: What material was most painful to lose along the way?
R: So much - I still cry about "Low George"; I still mourn it. I also did "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters" and that kills me to have lost that.
PC: That's one of Elton John's finest songs. Has he heard your version of it, even if it didn't make the final cut?
R: Well, we really didn't finish it in the end - we might finish it someday and it might appear as a B-side, though, at some point.
PC: Any others?
R: Randy Newman's "Rosemarie".
PC: How does the final mix of the album represent who brought what to the table, song-wise?
R: Well, it's about half and half - half the songs were brought to me by my producer and half I thought of on my own.
PC: Was the Neil Young cover your choice?
R: Yes. The Neil Young song was one that I wanted to do - I actually produced that track by myself.
PC: Do you enjoy exploring that side of the process?
R: Well, I am getting better at it - it's very labor-intensive, but it's very rewarding, too. It's very hard work, I'll tell you that!
PC: Is it true you spent a year just fine-tuning the production on your first album?
R: Yes, it is. You know, I think that with the way the market is and how everything is just really disposable now, I think that it is really important to create something of quality.
PC: Especially with the decline of hard copies.
R: If you get the hard copy of the album, you'll see how much work and energy I put into all of that - it's not much appreciated anymore, sadly. The 12-inch is really pretty, I think.
PC: What's next? Is it true you already are working on the next album?
R: Yes, I am - I have about five songs now. We are turning the music into color now - it's going to be the soundtrack to my journey towards happiness right now.
PC: Original songs? Cover songs? A mix?
R: I don't know yet - I know I want to put Laura Nyro's "American Gun" on that, though.
PC: Will you be performing in America anytime soon to promote the album?
R: Oh, I love performing in America. I am not sure what we are going to do yet, but we will see how it goes. We will see how people respond to the record and then we will go from there.
PC: Would you like to appear on THE VOICE or AMERICAN IDOL at any point to perform?
R: Well, I like watching those shows, I can tell you that! [Laughs.] I wouldn't mind going in and watching a session or going in to coach, but I don't know if I would want to be on them myself - I'd perform on them, though; I'd have no problem with that. I wouldn't want to be judged or any of that, though!
PC: Of course not. What are your thoughts on GLEE?
R: I've actually not seen GLEE, but I met Ryan Murphy, the guy who created GLEE, backstage at a human rights and gay rights thing. I remember I looked at him and I said, "Are you nervous?" and he was looking over a speech he was about to give. He said, you know, "I just want to get it right." And, I said, "Me too!" And, then he went on and he did a great job and somebody said to me after that, "Do you know who that just was?! That was Ryan Murphy!"
PC: Would you like to appear on GLEE someday or in an acting capacity of some sort?
R: Never say never! I went to acting school, you know...
PC: What roles did you perform that you remember best?
R: Well, I was Jack's Mother in INTO THE WOODS! [Laughs.]
PC: Some beautiful songs in that score.
R: Yes - there are. It's a great, great musical.
PC: What about Shakespeare?
R: Yes, I did Shakespeare, too. I did THE TEMPEST; MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. I love Shakespeare.
PC: Would you consider an all-Bacharach album someday?
R: Oh, definitely - I love that song "Hasborough Heights", especially. I love his albums with Dionne [Warwick].
PC: What were the most influential albums to you growing up besides those?
R: Definitely Joni Mitchell's HEJIRA. Laura Nyro's ELI. Judee Sill HEART FOOD. HORIZON by the Carpenters. There's a few.
PC: Whose overall sound do you liken yours to most closely? Karen Carpenter?
R: Oh, yeah - I love her. "Happy", especially - that's my favorite.
PC: BOYS DON'T CRY is a tall, cool drink on a hot summer day. Thank you so much for this today, Rumer.
R: This has been great, Pat - you are great fun talking to. I really appreciate it. This was lovely. Bye bye.