Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Q and A with Pink Martini: Live at McCarter Theater Tomorrow

Pink Martini’s fifth album is sure to be a hit. “Joy to the World” is being released at Starbucks stores and music retailers nationwide on November 16th, but Princetonians have the opportunity to see the band live tomorrow at McCarter Theater. This non-denominational holiday album features songs in 9 different languages, including French, English, and Ladino (the intersection of Spanish and Hebrew). Intersections catches up with lead singer China Forbes on the album, her career, and advice for aspiring musicians.

Q: Technically, a Pink Martini is a Cosmopolitan. Why did you choose Pink Martini?

A: Thomas was really into cocktails at the time when he started the band. Between his love of Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany and cosmopolitans, I think he thought of the name. And then later lived to regret it, but I think he’s accepted it by now.

Q: What inspired you to sing in so many different languages? Are you fluent in any of the languages you sing in besides English?

A: I speak French fairly well, I studied it throughout elementary school through high school had a grandfather who was half French. I studied Italian in my senior year in high school because I thought I was going to study opera. I don’t speak all the languages I sing in, so a lot of it was inspired by loving songs from films that I sang on the first album, like the Japanese song from the film The Black Lizard and the Greek version of “Never On Sunday,” …so it kind of started that way and we were just inspired to try more and more languages.

Q: What do you hope people will come away with after listening to your album “Joy to the World”?

A: I think it’s just a selection of really beautiful holiday songs that are familiar and then some totally obscure ones. So I think it's kind of a revolutionary holiday album in that its not specifically Christian, it’s not all about Christmas, it’s in tons in different languages, and it really weaves together songs that are known and not known. It’s a fresh approach to a holiday album.

Q: What was it like working with Saori Yuki?

A: We got to work with her when we were in Tokyo last March- she performed with us at our show. She was so gracious and elegant and it was so cool because she was kind of the Barbara Streisand of Japan in the 70s. We covered one of her songs on our Hey Eugene album called “Kaya Tan” and because of our covering her song, somebody sent her the clip of our version of the song and it sort of inspired her to go back to performing after she had retired. It was such an amazing outcome-you never know what’s going to happen.

Q: What is your favorite song on “Joy to the World”?

A: I love “La Vergine Degli Angeli” which is a song that’s basically an aria by Verdi, and it’s not traditionally a holiday song but it’s about the virgin and angels and it’s just a beautiful song that Thomas and I have always loved. “Do You Hear What I Hear” is a really nice recording as well.

Q: Thomas Lauderdale, your bandleader has said that, “In actuality, these albums are actually produced by whoever happens to be in the room at the time, band members, friends, random people off the street who wander in … everybody has a chance to weigh in.” How do you think this influences the music that your band makes and the final product you put out?

A: It has a nice spontaneity to it, the fact that the process is open to suggestion. It is very much the combination of group work and individual work. Sometimes it’s just Thomas and me in the studio for hours and hours and other times there are tons of people there and everyone’s giving their opinion. I think this just helps convey the inclusivity that Thomas really brings to everything he does.

Q: Did you think you would be doing this when you started out as a musician? What encouraged you to pursue this type of music?

A: No it actually kind of happened by accident. I always thought I would be a singer songwriter, which I was doing before I joined Pink Martini- I wrote all of my own songs, and played guitar, which was a totally different style. And then Thomas called me and invited me to sing with this band he started. It was fun, but it was completely not what I saw myself doing. Over the years, I grew to like it more and realized that it was actually maybe a better direction for my style of performing and my voice. It actually became something that I wouldn’t have thought of for myself but really suited me.

Q: What was your most memorable moment as a musician?

A: Playing at Carnegie Hall for the first time sort of felt like a Cinderella moment. Everybody was so excited for us because all of our fans who had watched us over the years from little clubs downtown work our way up to Carnegie Hall. It just felt really special.

Q: What advice would you give to others trying to break into the music industry?

A: I would say play an instrument, write songs, and team up with people who you think are talented and who you like to hang out with. Experiment with collaborating, and find and discover what best suits you. In this day and age you can do everything on your own, you don’t really need a record label, so make a record.

Q: Do you see any collaborations on the horizon? What is the next step for the band?

A: It would be really fun- my cousin is one of the members of Grizzly Bear and I keep wanting to do something with him. It would be really fun to sing with Natalie Merchant who I met this year and got to sing on stage with at the Cambridge Music Festival in England. She called me up on stage and it was like this high school fantasy coming true. But who knows? I haven’t actually arranged any of these things. They’re just dreams right now.

Interview conducted, condensed, and edited by Lisa Fierstein ‘14

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