Jim Jarmusch interview. Talks about working with Rza and meeting the Clan
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch Talks ATP
In films like Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man, and Ghost Dog, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch created a series of surreal, deadpan worlds that bear only passing similarities to our own. Along the way, he's collaborated with a murderer's row of musical visionaries: Joe Strummer, Tom Waits, Neil Young, RZA, GZA, Iggy Pop, the White Stripes.
So it's fitting that the folks at All Tomorrow's Parties have recruited Jarmusch to curate one day of ATP New York, which comes to Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello, New York September 3-5. Jarmusch's day has a line-up that runs from indie rock and punk (Girls, Fucked Up, Kurt Vile, Vivian Girls) to drone-metal (Sunn O))) and Boris) to hip-hop (Raekwon, GZA, DJ Kool Herc), to psych (Dungen, Wooden Shjips, the Black Angels). Bands playing the other two days of the fest include Sonic Youth, Iggy and the Stooges, Sleep, the Breeders, Fuck Buttons, Shellac, Tortoise, Explosions in the Sky, the Books, and Avi Buffalo.
Pitchfork recently spoke with Jarmusch about music, his ATP experience, his relationship with RZA, and his future projects, including a documentary about the Stooges.
Pitchfork: How did you get involved in curating the festival?
Jim Jarmusch: Last year, I curated one day of films there, and so I went. They showed some of my films, and I just had such an amazing time. Then Deborah [Kee Higgins] and Barry [Hogan, festival organizers] asked me a little while after that if I wanted to curate the last day of bands for this year, so it was exciting.
Pitchfork: How did you pick the bands?
JJ: It was really, really hard. I'm such a fan of so many eccentric, amazing musicians that I think I went too fast at first. I picked all these bands right away, and then I was thinking about the overview of the thing, but there are so many amazing bands out there that, man, I couldn't stop. So Barry just took the reigns and started calling bands that I had on the list and booking them, just filling it in. I could've programmed like 50 bands. We had some trouble getting bands that I wanted, especially from outside the States. I really wanted Tinariwen or Konono N°1.
Pitchfork: Looking at the bill, a few musicians you've worked with before show up.
JJ: Well, GZA is going to perform. Also, I had music in The Limits of Control from Boris and Sunn O))). I'm really excited that they're going to play [their 2006 collaboration] Altar, which they've only done once before ever. I asked Tom Waits to headline early on, but he thought he would have a new record done, and it got [moved] back, so he's still working. I asked Neil Young, because I know Neil and Thurston Moore had wanted to do some kind of feedback war a year ago, and Neil couldn't do it, [his] schedule didn't work.
Pitchfork: Kool Herc is going to DJ during your day. Do you know him at all?
JJ: I met him once. But man, he is one of the great progenitors of hip-hop, so to have him there is just amazing. He's the guy that started it all.
Pitchfork: The Greenhornes are playing, and they're connected to Jack White. What do you think the likelihood is of Jack White showing up?
JJ: I invited the Dead Weather as a possible headliner, but they were playing New York before that, [and] they weren't able to play. You never know. Jack Lawrence plays with Jack White a lot and is also in the Greenhornes and Patrick Keeler. It'd be fun if they show up. Did you see the film It Might Get Loud? In the beginning, there's a part where Jack White is making a one-string electric guitar out of a two-by-four out in a cow pasture. And I told Jack, "Man, what if you just came up and started building those guitars, and then more and more [people] came up and started droning away on them?" That didn't happen, [but] that was another idea.
Pitchfork: We've got a video of you doing "Cortez the Killer" with Bradford Cox and Randy Randall at last year's ATP. How did that happen?
JJ: My friend Shane Stoneback was recording some of that stuff. I had been talking earlier to Bradford, because he's so amazingly prolific. And I love No Age, so I was happy to meet Randy, too. They were in there, and they just grabbed me and pulled me in and said, "You're gonna sing with me on 'Cortez'. Ready?" And then it was rolling [laughs]. It was kind of unexpected. But I really liked that offhand thing. I love the whole setup, with the little surveillance cameras on little stands. I kept wanted to gravitate back to that room and see what the hell was going on in there.
Pitchfork: What are some of your other memories from ATP?
JJ: I've never been to the English one, though I'd like to go. I really love Kutcher's because it's so run down already that there's nothing 3,000 rock'n'roll kids can do to it. I like that it has the venues indoors. I love that there's not really cops or authorities around; everything's very relaxed. They have a VIP room that I've heard no one has ever been in, since everyone likes to hang out with each other. I love that funky bar that they have next to the swimming pool. It looks like some kind of leftover set from the "Mannix" TV show or something. They got that indoor pool and that little pond out in the back with one-legged ducks and lawn furniture thrown in it. I just like the whole scene. You can just wander around and meet people and hang out.
Last year I was only there for a day and a half and I saw Dead Meadow, Deerhunter, Boris with Michio Kurihara, Sleepy Sun, the Melvins, BoaDrum, No Age with Bob Mould, Caribou, Shellac, Animal Collective, the Flaming Lips-- I saw so many bands in like 36 hours. And I missed a lot.
Pitchfork: If you had to pick any band who you're looking forward to the most this year, who would it be?
JJ: There's a rule in my household that if Iggy is playing anywhere within 90 miles, we go. I just saw the Stooges in London a couple months ago with James Williamson. It was amazing. Sleep is going to be really cool. I'm a longtime Sonic Youth fan. I've seen Hope Sandoval once with Mazzy Star, but I just love her voice and her style. Boris and Sunn O))) is gonna be amazing. T-Model Ford is playing. He's 96 years old.
Pitchfork: Who are some of the other people you wished you could have gotten?
JJ: The Contortions, CocoRosie, Bush Tetras, some hip-hop people like Kool Keith. I'd like to get this band Skeleton Key. I was thinking of some things like Solomon Burke or Bettye LaVette or Booker T. and the M.G.s.
Pitchfork: In the past, you've worked with musicians that cross genre boundaries, but they're all some pretty unpredictable people. It seems like some of these guys would be pretty tough to wrangle.
JJ: When I started out making films, I was a musician. I knew more musical people, really, than film people. So in my early films, a lot of my friends were in them, and a lot of them were musicians. Certainly John Lurie. Richard Edson, from Stranger Than Paradise, was actually the first drummer in Sonic Youth, and he was in other bands like Konk. I've worked with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. I've had Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Joe Strummer and a lot of musicians in the films. I wrote for them, thinking about them as being characters in the films, rather than anything really about their musical world, their musical life. These were mostly people I knew. None of them were hard to wrangle as actors. They were all very focused, and it was really a pleasure. I never had any trouble with any of them. Even Wu-Tang showed up on time. They were great. In fact, we were shooting Coffee and Cigarettes, and we were actually waiting for Bill Murray. He was only half an hour late. That was pretty amazing.
Pitchfork: I love that scene.
JJ: I invited Bill Murray to come to ATP just to hang out, but I haven't heard back from him. I think he'd dig it, but I don't know where he is at the moment.
Pitchfork: You're good friends with the Wu-Tang guys, and you seem to have a working relationship with RZA that not too many other people have.
JJ: RZA's been doing a lot of scores since [scoring my film] Ghost Dog. He did some stuff for Quentin Tarantino and some stuff for Blade: Trinity. My thing starts with a real love and respect for the Wu-Tang Clan as a unit. To me, they are a great example of a collective of really eccentric geniuses. I've been a fan since the beginning of the Wu-Tang, and my taste in hip-hop generally runs toward more hardcore stuff and gangster stuff. Getting to work with RZA and meeting and hanging out with GZA and Ghost and Meth and Rae and all of them-- they're just incredible characters, incredible minds. ODB, too-- I got to hang out with a few times.
Pitchfork: What do you think attracted them to you? RZA's worked with a ton of filmmakers, but I don't get the impression they're in his circle.
JJ: I don't know. When I first finally got to meet RZA at three in the morning in some studio in Midtown, I think Raekwon was there. I don't know who else was there, but they were saying, "Wait a minute, is this the guy that made that film Dead Man?" Apparently, the Wu-Tang had been passing that film around, which is kind of a shock to me. They started quoting the film, and they were really happy to meet me. RZA and I got along really well and just launched into a lot of strange conversations. We just clicked.
Pitchfork: You were also close with Rammellzee, right?
JJ: Yeah, what a great loss. I'm still in shock of losing Rammellzee. That's another incredible character-- an incredible artist and an incredible mind. I just hope his work will be appreciated-- all of those puppets and figures he constructed that looked like the cross between ancient samurai armor and futuristic stuff, all his theories about language, things he wrote, things he said. He's a real big inspiration to me.
Pitchfork: What else are you working on now?
JJ: I'm working on a documentary about the Stooges. It's going to take a few years. There's no rush on it, but it's something that Iggy asked me to do. I'm co-writing an "opera." It won't be a traditional opera, but it'll be about the inventor Nikola Tesla, with the composer Phil Klein. I have a new film project that's really foremost for me that I hope to shoot early next year with Tilda Swinton and Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, who was Alice in Wonderland in Tim Burton's film. I don't have that quite financed yet, so I'm working on that. I'm also making music and hoping to maybe score some silent films to put out. Our band will have an EP that we'll give out at ATP. We have enough music for three EPs or an album.
Pitchfork: What's your band called?
JJ: We were called Bad Rabbit, but now we're called Sqürl. We'll have an EP, but we're just slowly putting it out. Maybe by the end of the year, we'll have some vinyl out there.
Thanks 4 the interview & event news, I'm looking into making the trip to see them perform, I haven't been upstate in years. It's good to see Clan members making this transition into TV and film. I'm doing what I can to expand my own horizons of life and occupation like them.
I saw a commercial for a TV show RZA is apprearing on flippin through the channels late last night, I can't remember the show but I think it's one of those law and order ones.
Here's that ATP info for people in the NY area:
haha i remember that interview where jim was talking about wu-tang on shrooms