|Title: Interview With Tom Waits
Source: Veritas Empire (USA). February 15, 2007. Telephone interview by Ethan Dawes. Transcription as published on Veritas Empire
Date: published February 15, 2007
Keywords: Orphans, writing, Jim Jarmusch, soundtracks, covers, acting, commercials, internet
|Source: Anti Records "Orphans" promo picture. Date: published October 2006. Credits: photography by Anton Corbijn|
Interview With Tom Waits
So yeah, little ole’ us gotsta little ole’ interview with Tom Waits. So here it is folks Tom Waits on his new album entitled “Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards”.
V: So first off, where did the name for the album and sub discs come from?
TW: It started out we had all these songs that sort of fell behind the stove so it seemed like a legitimate name for a bunch of castaway songs.
Is there a disc you identify most with, or in other words, are you the bawler, brawler, or bastard?
I think the bastard, I like all the spoken word stuff, I'm still trying to hammer out my own unique hybrid of incorporating all the vocals and backing tracks. I’ve been doing the spoken word stuff for a long time and I'm tryin to just sort of invent my own niche.
You're known for being a storyteller and with all the different vocals you use do you sometimes feel as if you are assuming a different role when you're writing songs?
Well all song writers say “I” and “me” and “we” but it doesn’t necessarily mean “I” and “me” or “we”, it's just a device it's just putting it in the first person, you know, “House of the Rising Sun” was written from the point of view of a woman that had taken a bad turn but the most popular version is from the point of view of a man, it’s a cautionary tale and all cautionary tales will always have a place because we’re still warning our kids about the “dark side”.
When most artists compile large records such as these, they throw in the hits, some live tracks, and a few unreleased. You went into the “vat” grabbed a bunch of b-sides and called it “Orphans”, why do you think this was a better way to encompass your music?
These are just parallel projects we were doing while making records, you start workin’ on something then someone pulls you off the tractor and asks you to do somethin’ else, they’re just things I’ve been through and ongoing things. Something for a movie or a compilation record, things that normally wouldn’t wind up on the same record, just some satellite projects.
Do you feel like you were bias in anyway while choosing which old recordings to put on the record based on which record that song was initially for?
Well a lot of it was new, once we came out with a title like “Orphans” there are a lot of things that can fit in with that box, once we got the Bawlers, Brawlers, and Bastards, I mean those can be anybody’s songs.
I know you’ve done a lot of work with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, how did you two meet?
We met in New York in the early 80’s. I had just moved there from LA, we were trying to do a play, Franks Wild Years(1), and I was very naive to assume that in a couple of months we would be opening in a theater over there. It was kinda David and Goliath, or throwin’ peanuts at a gorrilla, bigger than we thought it was and took a lot longer. I lived over there for a while, probably 14 different places. We met at a party (Jean-Michel Basquiat’s birthday party)(2) I didn’t know any of those people, and I was new to New York and it was kinda bizarre, like some big magazine party or something. From there Jim was ready to do a picture and sometimes you think there’s a certain amount of happen stance and synchronicity or whatever. You meet somebody that you're supposed to meet and they should be in your next project and I think people want to see if the worlds gunna collaborate with them and get some encouragement. When you bump into somebody and they have some time on their hands and you think it's gunna work out, and a lot of artists seem to go with their instincts on that one, before you knew it we were down in New Orleans doing this picture (Down By Law)(3). It was an all around good experience and we’ve been friends ever since.
I was reading about the record and it says there are collaborations with artists in film and I know Jim plays guitar, is he on the album at all?
Nope, nothin for Jim, but there are some songs I did during the soundtrack I did for his film “Night on Earth”.
Do you plan on doing any soundtracks in the future?
It’s a tremendous amount of work, my feeling with movies is they always ask you when they’re outta money and they want it by the weekend and there’s some real large flaw in the film and they're emphatic about their feeling that your song will repair that. There’s usually a lot of pressure and no love or money, it's rare that it's both love and money, it's usually one of the two. But who knows?
So what do you think of Scarlet Johanson doing an entire album consisting of covers of your songs?
Well some songs are meant to be recorded by other people, those are the seeds in the tomato you know? You expect that someone will hear it and might wanna interpret it themselves. So we’ll see.
Yea hey, you might have a whole new audience of 14-year olds!
Oh yea, the teeny boppers, it’ll be like The Beatles concerts, girls crying, holding pictures of me and coming apart emotionally behind police barricades.
You refer to your voice as your key instrument and you have so many different tones. One critic said your voice sounded like, “It had been soaked in a vat of bourbon, left in the smokehouse for a few days, then taken outside to be run over by a car”. When you first started to work on your voice is this what you were going for?
In some ways it's like bein’ a character actor you try to find the right voice for the song to make sure it fits, that’s usually how it's worked, you try to expand it, most of what you absorb ultimately it's what your going to secrete, if you pay attention that is.
Do you think playing different roles in your songs helped when you first started acting?
Songs are kinda like movies for the ears, sometimes when you don’t have a picture you have to invent more atmosphere to conjure up the people in the song, which is why I usually put food in there and street names and stuff. So I guess it helped with the embellishing.
I noticed that you often mention brands in your songs but the last place you want any of your songs to end up is in a commercial...
Well there’s a certain amount of poetic license, it's usually if it fits or not, I'm not consciously trying to endorse products. My problem is that they’ll ask you three times and you say no, then they go find an impersonator it's kinda like a parking ticket for them, it's not really that much of a penalty, but it's like they say, “It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” It's the ants at the picnic, you get used to it. Some people say, “gee that’s flattering” but not really for me. It's good exposure but it's just based on what you’re going for or else you wind up like a race car driver.
Who did the cover art?
Julianne Deery took the polaroid at this roadhouse, and then Matt Mahurin whose done some covers for me in the past, put all the ghosts in it.
Is that what you were going for, with the ghosts and stuff?
I guess, it's like salvage art with all those sepia photos. I guess that was the idea to create this atmosphere of subliminal people in an underworld poking through.
So what’s in this 94 page handmade booklet?
Just photos and lyrics, that’s all, credits too. There’s no essay or long drawn out liner notes or anything like that.
Knowing that not everybody is going to really be into your music do you consider any elements of your music to be punk?
Well everybody likes the feeling of not everybody is into the stuff they’re into, I’m somewhat of an outsider. Second guessing what the public’s response will be and tryin’ to create stuff that will have a broader appeal isn’t really my thing, I'm more interested in the arcane minutiae of it all, just oddball things. I like small moments in the world, I’m in the salvage business.
Where did u record orphans?
This place out by San Quentin called Bay View Studios(4), they should call it San Quentin view... cause you can see San Quentin. Yea, we worked with Carl Derfler, Charlie Musselwhite, and these guys from this group Club Foot Orchestra(5). Carla Kihlstedt and Marc Ribot, we were just tryin’ to plug in a lot of other songs after we had the central idea for the record.
The album has already leaked on the internet and everything, what do you think of all the pirating that goes on through the internet?
It's kinda Pandora’s Box not much you can really do about it, I mean people are policing them. I mean goin to a record store is a whole experience for me I don’t have a computer so that whole galaxy isn’t really available to me. Well I’m a grumpy old guy it's kinda like takin' chickens to the beach, it's like OK now get ‘em all back in the truck, it's a little too late to take any action.
Well thanks a lot for doing this, so the cover is going to be a photo of you then made to look like a sketch is that cool?
Yea, you can draw a mustache on me, devil horns, or have me look like a goat I’m all for free expression.
(1) Franks Wild Years: Further reading: Frank's Wild Years
(2) Jean Michel Basquiat: Soho artist/ painter. The party referred to was November, 1984. Further reading: Basquiat Tribute site .
(3) Down By Law: Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. Shot on location in New Orleans in 1985. TW: actor & composer. Plays main role as DJ Zack. On soundtrack: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Till They're Sore".
(4) Bay View Studios: 1368 S. 49th St., 94804 Richmond. California, USA.
(5) Club Foot Orchestra: Further reading: Club Foot Orchestra official site