Scarlett Johansson, David Sitek, Nick Zinner, Sean Antanaitis - Scarlett Johansson listening party.
Scarlett Johansson will release her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head, on Atco Records, an imprint of Warner Music Group's Rhino Entertainment, on May 20. The inspired album features 10 Tom Waits songs and includes one original track. Collaborating with TV on the Radio producer David Sitek, Johansson is also joined by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, Sean Antanaitis from Celebration, as well as others.
We've got a Listening party for your listening pleasure:
Listening Party Tracklist:
2. Town with No Cheer
3. Falling Down
4. Anywhere I Lay My Head
5. Fannin Street
6. Song for JoSCARLETT JOHANSSON
Anywhere I Lay My Head
We've also got Scarlet Johansson and David Sitek taking us through the album track by track:
SJ: “I didn't know this song would start the record until Ivo sequenced it, but it makes for such an incredible introduction. I had always loved the original Tom Waits version, and we were so fortunate to have such inspired musicians working on this album so I was psyched to get them to record it and just see what would come out of all these incredible musical minds.
DS: The record is focused around Scarlett, but she insisted on being loyal to the people who brought it to life and picked an instrumental song and said, “There's gotta be a way that we can do this.” There were all these creative forces behind this album, and this was a song that was purely their own. It was a testament to Scarlett that she insisted it exist.
2. “Town With No Cheer”
SJ: A lot of Tom Waits lyrics—just the lines in the songs—are rhythmically bizarre and challenging to sing, and “Town With No Cheer” is like that. To figure out how to approach them I had to make a lot of weird notes and scribbles over the words on my lyric sheets that wouldn't make sense to anyone but me.
3. “Falling down”
SJ: When I had the idea to do an album of Tom Waits songs, before I had even met Dave, someone suggested I sing “Falling Down,” but I decided it was too corny for me to do just because it has the lyric about “Scarlett and me.” But Dave hadn't even noticed it so when I mentioned it he thought the synchronicity was crazy and I never even thought twice about it after that. I was like, “Yeah, let's do it!”
DS: With “Falling Down,” our pursuit of making one song with both Kermit the Frog and David Bowie on it became a success. The banjo part was a eureka moment. I turned to Sean [Antanaitis] and was like, “Do you remember when Kermit the Frog was sitting on that lily pad playing the banjo during 'Rainbow Connection'?” Sure enough Sean figured it out. The goal was to get the banjo to sound sad or sentimental. Then we layered on a bunch of things that probably shouldn't be together and it turned into this backdrop against which Scarlett's crystal clear voice sits so incredibly far out.
4. “Anywhere I Lay My Head”
SJ : “Anywhere I Lay My Head” is the title track. Obviously these are all songs written by Tom Waits except for one of them, and I didn't want to call the album “Scarlett Sings Tom Waits” or something corny. So it didn't seem right to make up a name for it that had no relation to Tom Waits and this title seemed so appropriate—a reflection of this whole process. The song is a kind of anthem for this project: That line, “Anywhere I lay my head I'm going to call my home.”
DS: We made it a home!
5. “Fannin Street”
SJ: I loved Tom Waits's original and found it extremely haunting. I thought I could sing it, and I found it very charming. I just had no idea that David Bowie would end doing this song with me.
6. “Song For Jo”
SJ: Dave delivered the fine news that we had room for one more song on the album. It started as a track that Dave had written and sent to me a while back. We put it on the backburner and thought, “Well, if we get time….” And we happened to get time from 4:30am to 11:30am the last day we were there.
I had never really written a song before. I'd only written poems or short stories, and felt like I didn't know anything about how to write lyrics for a song. Dave helped me figure out, “Who are you writing this for?” Then we just mish-mashed it all together in a very scientific formula that Dave and I created. When you spend a lot of time in a place like Maurice, Louisiana, you become very sentimental about things and you have a lot of time to yourself. It's sleepy and it's too hot to work during the day. It's too hot to do a thing. So you sit around and you think about people you've known and relationships you've had and you become very introspective. It's not like you're going to turn on the TV when you're in this incredible environment. So you sit in it, and you sort of cook. I had a sudden memory of a specific time, and Dave just embraced it. It was a memory of someone that's very close to me: a vague and blissful memory of my wanton youth or whatever. It's a song about friendship, I think.
7. “Green Grass”
SJ: I loved “Green Grass” the first time I heard it—I was intoxicated by it. The original is just incredible. Very early on in the process of talking to Dave about the kind of record we might make, I sent him a message like, “I just heard the most incredible Tom Waits song that I had never even heard before!” The character, the way he loves, you can't shake him. It's like he's warning you. There's something about that insistence that I found sexy and haunting and intoxicating.
DS - It was cool to still be discovering Tom Waits even after we'd started. When you listen to a Tom Waits album you might not relate to every song, but at some point in your life you will relate to all of them. He's so all over the map, but it's all from a very sincere place. And “Green Grass” is so cinematic. I was like, “We can't not do this song.”
“Wish I was in New Orleans”
SJ: That was a song I wanted to do from the beginning when I first conceived of the album. New Orleans is a city that people have a love affair with, and I feel very sentimental about times I've spent there. And it's a very moving song. And with everything that's happened there and the disaster that everyone there is still dealing with, all the devestation and loss… I think it's just a beautiful song from a different time of that city.
DS: Sean Antanaitis came down to Louisiana with a make your own music box kit. It had these slips of paper where you punch out the notes and then feed the little slip of paper through the box and it plays the notes you punched out. Well the accompaniment on “Wish I Was in New Orleans” is entirely from that music box. He taped 50 or 60 of these tabs of paper together and punched like 380,000 holes into it. Then he clamped the music box to a piece of wood then clamped the piece of wood to a guitar then put the microphone in it and sat there and cranked the whole song through the box. It was like a 17-foot-long paper trail of notes that we ran through a harmonizer and then added Scarlett's voice. It was like, Bazow!
9. “I Don't Want to Grow Up”
SJ: Dave really wanted to do this song and we tried it so many ways. We tried it all together as a band with me singing, we tried different tempos, different styles. Then he was thinking of dance music—and we share a love for New Order and stuff like that—and Dave's brilliance broke through. He started out experimenting with a dance beat and at first everyone was like, “Whatever.”
DS: The original is so guitar-y and ruckus so I thought, “If we try to do it that way I'm definitely going to get a talking to from Tom Waits.” I staid up all night trying to give it one last hurrah and approached it like, What would Bernard Sumner do? Then there was a break in the song where I needed something, and I had set up all these microphones outside. So I was like, “What should happen here? Hmm what's going on outside? It was all these crickets and just sounded like nighttime and it was for the part that goes, “When I'm lying in my bad at night.” That was enough synchronicity that I stuck with it.
SJ - When we all finally heard it we were hopping around the studio. Everyone was amazed at what it had become.
10. “No One Knows I'm Gone”
SJ - That was another song where I just loved the original. The original is much more quiet, like it's a secret. So I approached the vocals like I had a secret I was whispering. Dave and I imagined someone walking through a cemetery just singing it to herself.
11. “Who Are You?”
DS: It's just such an incredibly written song, there's no way around it. It's so red-blooded it's crazy. I got so attached to it. When I first heard the line, “I did my time in the jail of your arms….” I still can't even get my head around that, it's so poetic. That was the first time in my life that I acknowledged that Tom Waits was a lyrical genius. And Scarlett had her own attachments to the song.
SJ: Dave never sings on records but he sang on this one with me. And it worked out very well as far as how our voices sound together. In some ways there's a similar tone.
DS - Yeah we're the lowest of our sexes.
SJ - Whatever notes Dave couldn't reach I could, and whatever notes were so deep that my voice fell out, Dave could reach them.