November 02, 2009

An Interview with Jordan Galland

Much like the metropolis he’s called home for most of his life—New York City—Jordan Galland reflects an amalgam of creative energy. His backstory includes forming and fronting the indie-rock band, Dopo Yume—which released four albums and toured with the likes of Rufus Wainwright and Cibo Matto—as well as having written and directed short films and stop-animation videos.

Galland channels the varied facets of his talent into Airbrush, his debut effort as a solo artist. At turns kooky and contemplative—its standout tracks include titles like “Everyone Else Is Boring” and “When The Girl Is Lying”—the album is an engaging blend of melody and shameless emotion.

While Airbrush is available now, Galland will make his directorial debut with the independent film, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead—a vampire comedy adapted from Hamlet, starring Jake Hoffman, Devon Aoki, and Kris Lemche—when it opens nationwide in February 2010.

To score the film, Galland recruited longtime friend, Sean Lennon. The two are frequent collaborators, having worked together periodically in Dopo Yume as well as having co-written tracks on Lennon’s 2006 LP, Friendly Fire, his sophomore effort as a solo artist. Lennon released his soundtrack to Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead—his third solo album—last week in North America. “I couldn’t have been happier about it,” Galland says of his friend’s latest achievement.

Here, Jordan Galland talks about his progression in music as well as the nature of his collaboration with Sean Lennon on his first feature film.

You’re not new to making music, but Airbrush is your first solo album. Was there a catalyst for you to go on your own?

My first band, Dopo Yume, was definitely a band situation, but I wrote the songs; I did a lot of the arrangements, and I sang. I felt comfortable moving in the solo direction. It wasn’t too much of a departure from Dopo Yume, partly because Dopo Yume was a constant, rotating cast of different people. There were moments where I did play acoustic shows alone just to keep the band going while I was in between members.

Under that name?

Yeah, under that name. And the reason for it [was] a lot of the time bigger acts would come along or friends would come along and hire the musicians that were playing with me. And I wasn’t paying them to play with me. [They’d] be like, “Hey, I love your drummer. I’m going to pay him to come on tour with me.” And that was fine. Of course, I was upset a little bit…

Because you needed a new drummer.

Or I’d have to play without a drummer or with a drum machine. I was never really upset about it; it just felt like [a] constant struggle of trying to keep performing. It was a difficult thing… And then the band just kind of ended in an organic way, like when you break up with someone just because it isn’t right. I guess that was what propelled me. I had this collection of songs; it felt not right to me that they weren’t out.

Airbrush isn’t conformed to one genre or even to one sound. Was that kind of diversity something that you wanted to pursue?

Yes. There’s a vague image of an album in my head, like a movie or a story that has different landscapes—has different trees, different mountains, different valleys. And each song tells a piece of that whole. But on another level, I don’t necessarily plan it. Songs take shape on their own, in a sense.

Because you’ve lived so long in New York, how much do you think that environment has impacted not only the way that you approach art, but also how you appreciate it?

It’s a profound thing for me, living in New York. We moved to New York when I was five years old from Connecticut. And my mom told me that I said, “This city is better than the country with just plain trees.” I don’t feel that way now. I love the country. I love getting out of the city. I love experiencing nature. But [New York] was a profound environment; it’s very stimulating. I loved Woody Allen movies at a very early age and I felt like I related to their appreciation of New York as a mixture of all kinds of cultures and class and neuroses. And then [there was] the history of it from a musical standpoint. One of the first clubs I played when I first played concerts, in 1998, was CBGB. And CBGB, I sort of realized very quickly, [held] the remnants of a pre-MTV culture [that] when you played [there], everybody found out about you.

By word of mouth.

Right. But somehow it was more electric back then… By the time I was getting into music, I felt like a lot of what had been cool about the scene in New York had shifted to something else. I definitely think the Strokes recaptured it at a certain point because people craved that for a moment. They craved the New York, gritty rock band.

Like a renaissance.

Right, but that kind of came and went kind of quickly. In the mid-‘90’s, [though], I started working with Sean Lennon and Cibo Matto, hanging out with them and learning from them. There was a center, a musical community that was very profound for me as well. [It was] a very cozy sort of world in downtown Manhattan with practice spaces in the basements and concerts at bars around the corner. Everything was in a twenty-block radius. And I think that also creates a sense of community, being that artists are working together and sort of competing and still celebrating all together.

Is there a thematic link between Airbrush and Sean Lennon’s score to Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Undead?

The score Sean did for Rosencrantz is his own thing… I never played anything or wrote any melodies. I was just giving examples of what I wanted during a scene. Sean and I having worked together before, it was a very smooth collaboration… I’m used to sitting for hours and writing with him, but this was more like five minutes here and there. I’d be like, “Hey, I emailed you a sample song. Can you come up with something similar?” And it was just back and forth. I needed to use somebody else’s music in the film. I couldn’t wrap my head around trying to direct, edit, and do all that stuff and compose good music.

But, in the end, Sean’s music wasn’t really ready yet—he hadn’t composed that much…and I gave the [trailer editor] instrumentals from Dopo Yume and instrumentals from Airbrush [for] an early trailer; it was just to put a teaser out. He used the song, “They Always Come Back” [from Airbrush] in the trailer and it got a big response… Then the song ended up being in the movie… So that’s the connection, but it’s not a real thematic connection.

You said you gave Sean some guidelines about what you kind of wanted, but as far as his composing, you didn’t have any input on how he wrote?

No, no—he just did everything. On a professional level, I knew he could do it even though he’d never done anything like it. I knew how he worked. And on a friend level, I knew he was really excited to explore this aspect…[to] see for himself what is was like to score a movie and do all this work… He liked it so much he decided to release the soundtrack as a solo record on his own label.

Being that you’ve worked in film before, what do you think he brought to Rosencrantz with his music?

Sean really has a profound relationship with music and composition… He’s really good at filtering influences into his own specific personality and a new product. I knew that I could communicate that to him. And he, in himself, is an instrument. His brain is an instrument—finding the right takes, the right instruments, the right references, and combining and turning it into something new… I knew Sean would attack it with earnestness and honesty and a real explorative quality because I know that’s in his nature and because I knew that he was hungry to try it.

For more information on Jordan Galland, please visit his official website and his You Tube channel.

Jordan Galland's stop-animation music video for "Everyone Else Is Boring," from Airbrush: