Q&A with MINNIE DRIVER – The Singer And Actress, Talks About Her New Album, New TV Show “About A Boy”, Working With The Late, Great, Robin Williams and More.
Posted On 06 Oct 2014
Tag: About A Boy, AC radio, Adult Contemporary, All Access, All Access Music, All Access Music Group, and A Letter Home, Artist Interview, Ask Me To Dance, Barbados, Beyond The Lights, Bonnie Raitt, Calypso, Circle Of Friends, Elliot Smith, ELTON JOHN, Emmy Lou Harris, Father John Misty, Fear, Frank Sinatra, fun., Gary Lightbody, Good Will Hunting, Hollywood Bowl, Hozier, Island Records, Jack White, Jeff Buckley, London, Los Angeles, Love Song, Milo Roth Band, Minnie Driver, Moses Sumney, Neil Young, Peter Buck, R.E.M., REM, Robin Williams, Roy Orbison, Snow Patrol, Soca, T-Bone Burnett, The Cure, The Greek, The Greek Theatre, The Hollywood Bowl, Tired Pony, Tumbleweed Connection
As an in-demand TV and movie actor, Minnie Driver has not had a lot of time for her first love: making music, songwriting and singing. Before coming to national prominence in Good Will Hunting, Driver was first signed to a label in her native UK. Here she returns for her third Zoe/Rounder album, after a lengthy hiatus, that included having her son and a flood of acting gigs. Ask Me to Dance is a bit of a departure from her previous two albums of original material, featuring her own interpretations of other artists’ songs that have been important touchstones in her life. Here she brings her own inimitable style and take on songs by Elliott Smith, The Cure, Neil Young, John Prine, as well as Stevie Wonder and Frank Sinatra, among others.
Some of these songs are ones that helped her survive her teenage years, waiting for someone to ask her to dance, astounding as that may sound for someone like Minnie Driver. Today, better than ever, her vulnerability and great voice bring the material to life in new ways that speak to us all.
Ask Me to Dance marks another notable landmark in Driver’s creative evolution. Where her first two albums, 2004’s Everything I’ve Got In My Pocket and 2007’s Seastories, focused on her own vivid songwriting, Ask Me to Dance finds the artist interpreting a selection of compositions by some of her favorite songwriters, demonstrating the breadth of her musical interests while showcasing her substantial interpretive skills.
Minnie took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for All Access Music writer, Nicole DeRosa. Read more about Minnie’s musical journey below:
Hi Minnie! So where does this interview find you today and what else is on the agenda besides our interview?
Today, I am shooting my show About A Boy, but I have my guitar with me so I’m writing in between scenes!
On your new album, “Ask Me To Dance” you take a different approach to covering a variety of songs and styles from The Cure to Frank Sinatra. What inspired this approach and what are some of the tracks off the album that have a special significance to you?
I figured I could only make a covers record if I had a point of view about all the songs that connected to something personal. Rather than just recreating songs that were already great, I found ones that had varied significance for me – songs that had been the soundtrack to my life so far. Waltz#2 is very special to me because Elliot was a friend of mine, and I happened to be in the studio with him at Sunset Sound when he was doing vocals on it many years ago.
Please tell us about your new single, “Love Song“ which is currently being released to AC radio?
“Love Song” has some of the most beautiful lyrics Elton John ever recorded (in my opinion). I think it is one of the simplest most powerful melodies too and while Tumbleweed Connection might not have been one of his biggest selling records, I wore it out on my turntable as a kid.
You grew up in both London and Barbados. How do you think those locations influenced your life?
Music was always everywhere for me as a kid – in Barbados, Soca and Calypso were where I FELT music for the first time and then back in London , in the grey and the cold – that’s where I really started listening.
Can you share with our readers the early years of your musical career when you were supplementing your income as a Jazz singer and guitarist and your experience with the Milo Roth Band who were signed to Island Records?
I sang in restaurants and clubs when I was younger because I was a terrible waitress and couldn’t get a job doing that! Singing with a combo, to a room full of people who could not have been less interested in hearing me sing, was where I really learned to sing! I got to be bad in public when no one cared and it’s how I got better.
Signing a development deal with Island when I was 19 was fun and folly – we had no idea what we were doing, in the band I was in, and we didn’t have much guidance. It was really like throwing mud at the wall back then and seeing what stuck! We were dropped pretty quickly and I was about to sign another record deal as a solo artist when I was cast in the film Circle of Friends , and my life sort of took a turn.
You began acting in comedy clubs about this time as well. Did your musical and acting careers develop simultaneously? Or were you pursuing one direction more aggressively than the other?
I have always been a musician and an actor, I cant really separate them. I have never really understood the notion of ‘but if you had to choose one…’ I’m an artist, there are multiple mediums for expressing that, everything always developed as one big endeavor as opposed to one coming first or second.
What bands/artists are you currently listening to and inspired by?
I’m listening to a lot of Hozier at the moment, and Moses Sumney, both of whom I think are fierce, amazing talents. I’m also never far from Father John Misty’s last record, Fear Fun and A Letter Home and the Jack White produced Neil Young.
If you had the opportunity to work with anyone from the past, present or future, who would it be and why?
I would like to sing with Bonnie Raitt and Emmy Lou Harris, Roy Orbison and Jeff Buckley and I would like T-Bone Burnett to produce it. If I could play anywhere it would be The Hollywood Bowl, closely followed by the Greek Theatre here in Los Angeles.
I have followed your career for quite sometime, but like many, it really started with seeing you in the sweet movie, “Circle of Friends.” That and of course “Good Will Hunting,” which is one of my all time favorite movies. Would you mind sharing a memorable story with our readers from having the pleasure to work with the late, great Robin Williams?
Robin was a kind sweet soul and everyone who knew him and those who didn’t (but loved him anyway) will miss him greatly. He was a really good listener and taught me a lot about timing and patience in acting.
For your previous album, Everything I’ve Got in My Pocket you collaborated with some awesome people, including Ryan Adams, Liz Phair, members of Wallflowers and Pete Yorn’s band. How was that collaborative experience? Anyone you wish to collaborate with in the future?
I’m in a band called Tired Pony with Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol and Peter Buck from REM (among others) playing with both of them has fulfilled a lot of dreams! And writing with Gary subsequently has taught me more about songwriting than I could have imagined. I hope to collaborate with a lot of other musicians on my next record.
What’s on tap next for you Minnie? What are you most excited about for this year?
I am very excited for Ask Me To Dance to come out and I am sooooo looking forward to playing more shows. I have a musical movie called, BEYOND THE LIGHTS coming out in the fall and my show ABOUT A BOY goes back on the air in October…all in all its a pretty busy, creative time which is just how I like it!
Visit Minnie Driver’s website here for upcoming concert dates and more!
Photo credit: Alexandra Valenti Photography