From the Vault: Bryan Cranston’s Essential Soundtrack

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BLACKBOOK’S SPRING,  2010 ISSUE.

As Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad, actor Bryan Cranston transformed from the hapless dad in Malcolm in the Middle to a desperate man who cooks up an elaborate plan—along with plenty of meth—to provide for his family. Here, the two-time Emmy winner boils his life and loves down to an essential soundtrack.

This list is much more than just the songs I like. It is the soundtrack of my life. It pretty accurately expresses how music has influenced and shaped me over the past 54 years. What follows is chronological, not in terms of when the music was produced, but when it mattered to me. So, here it is: my life in 15 songs.

Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” I was popular in grade school, but that didn’t translate to being bold when it came to girls. Carolyn was a beautiful, fun girl who set my heart afire. I needed to ask her out. A graduation party at a friend’s house was my last chance. Paul and Art were harmonizing this song as I watched a new boy in school accomplish in two seconds what I couldn’t in two years. He went right up and asked her out. She said yes, and before the party was over they were making out on the living room couch. I was staggered, hurt and embarrassed. This song takes me back to that vulnerable time.

The Doors’ “Light My Fire.” My parents ended their marriage in the late ’60s. This song gave me an escape. I’d listen to it over and over again and it took me to another place: “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher. Come on baby, light my fire.” I was still a virgin then and wondered, Can a girl really light you on fire during sex?

Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.” When I was 16, I followed my brother Kyle’s lead and joined the Los Angeles Police Department’s Explorer program. Every Saturday for eight weeks, I had to get up at 5 a.m. to make it to the Academy for training. The radio alarm was set to jolt me awake, and I liked not knowing what song it would be: Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” or maybe this one, “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” In 1972, my Explorer troop traveled to Europe for a month. The official agenda was to learn from other police departments. The unofficial agenda was liquor and women—nirvana for a 16-year- old boy. After a few beers, a couple of the guys would break out guitars and play this song on a street corner. I’d accompany them (poorly) on my harmonica. To our surprise, passersby would drop coins in the hat, ensuring beer money for the next few days. This was also the trip where I lost my virginity to a very professional woman in Austria. I vowed to return one day to find it.

Elvis Presley’s “The Wonder of You.” In the mid-’70s, realizing I was never going to be a policeman, I took off with my brother from California on motorcycles. We traveled for two years with stops to avoid bad weather and to make money. Our destination of choice was Daytona Beach, Florida, where our cousins lived. One of them, Freddie, was accustomed to using his musical talents to pick up girls. We joined in. I honed my impression of Elvis Presley and even won a talent contest or two gyrating to his songs. It was a seminal moment when I realized that timidity wouldn’t win over girls. I changed overnight.

Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Billy’s music reminds me of my years living in the Big Apple. Good times.

Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major.” How can anyone possibly listen to this classic and not be moved? Were my musical tastes maturing or was I still just trying to impress the ladies?

Nat King Cole’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” This was “our song” at my wedding to Robin in 1989. Sappy? Perhaps. But you bet it was sweet.

Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” On a thunderous, stormy night in Venice, on our honeymoon, we ducked into a church near St. Mark’s Square. We listened in awe as the musicians made this orchestration come alive.

George Strait’s “I Just Want to Dance with You.” I love this song’s simplicity. It compelled me to lift my new baby girl in my arms and dance her across the room every time it came on.

Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” I was fortunate to have a recurring role on Seinfeld as Tim Whatley, the gang’s dentist. I appeared in some iconic episodes, such as “The Yada Yada.” This song played at the farewell wrap party while clips and outtakes of the nine-year run were shown.

They Might Be Giants’ “Boss of Me.” This was Malcolm in the Middle’s theme song. That show changed America’s view of the modern family, and the experience changed my life forever.

Jack Johnson’s “Taylor.” My daughter’s name is Taylor, so this one is a must for obvious reasons.

Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” What I love about this song is not just that it affects me, but that it makes my girls sing and dance. There is joy in the world.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I first heard this evocative cover at a graduation ceremony when my sister, Amy, received her master’s degree, a huge achievement considering our childhood. In a quiet moment, close your eyes and listen to this transcendent song. You’ll have the feeling you’re no longer in Kansas.

Photo by Randall Slavin. Styling by Vanessa Geldbach.

That Guy Split Up With What’s-Her-Face

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TMZ, People, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have all harmoniously confirmed the terrible breakup of a torrid sexual relationship between Hollywood actors Jennifer Anniston and Robert Pattinson, who appeared on The Daily Show with Jimmy Fallon last night to confirm that he will be the new legal guardian for Suri Cruise, the illegitimate child of British chanteuse Adele and an unnamed father who is probably Bret Michaels, the rock star famous for his recently called-off double-engagement to Twilight’s Kristen Stewart and one of the girls from Teen Mom.

Meanwhile, Gillian Anderson, Anne Hathaway and Carey Mulligan have filed for a divorce from their respective husbands—Stevie Wonder, Tom Cruise and Justin Theroux (née Jeremy Piven). Kenny G, accredited just two days ago as a lawyer, will represent both men in what is likely to be a blood-soaked beast of a court proceeding. Kenny G is also caught in the middle of his own bitter divorce from a crazed fan, who filed for marriage without his knowledge; that case is presided over by Judge Judy.

Judge Judy could not be reached for comment, but this weekend she was spotted scarfing down hamburgers at Chateau Marmont with Ryan Gosling, the world-renown David Duchovny impersonator.

Linkage: Beyoncé Named ‘Most Beautiful,’ TLC To Take Holographic Left Eye on Tour

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This photo of Beyoncé’s feet — swollen from pregnancy but still corn-free! — proves without a shadow of a doubt that Bey deserves that "World’s Most Beautiful Woman" crown. [People]

Black Hippy’s Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q throw one down for the internet with "SOPA," off of Ab-Soul’s forthcoming album Control System. [Fader]

According to TMZ, T-Boz and Chili are planning a "massive" TLC reunion tour for later this year, and they want to take the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes with them — as a hologram. This is, it would seem, all happening. [TMZ]

Spike Lee’s "return to form" film Red Hook Summer is set for a late-summer start, with an official release scheduled for August 10th via Variance Films. [IndieWire]

An original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sketch, drawn in 1983 by one of the series’ co-creators for just a "laugh," has hit the auction block for a very reasonable $6,000. [BestWeekEver]

Miley Cyrus has a closet full of kimonos that she needs help organizing — do we have any volunteers? [MileyCyrus/Twitter]

Ryan Gosling Fans Are Really Mad at ‘People’

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It’s that time of year again when we start handing out awards and honors to famous people, sometimes only to make them more famous. And Bradley Cooper, who is quite handsome and, yes, sexy, was awarded for his looks and got the honor to grace the cover of People‘s annual Sexiest Man Alive issue. While that other popular hottie Ryan Gosling got an honorary mention in the issue (it also lauded Liam Hemsworth’s jawline and the perpetually furrowed brow of Chris Evans, among others), Gosling’s fans are pretty upset that he didn’t get the title that went to Cooper. 

Today, while thousands of people were in lower Manhattan protesting the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park and the uneven distribution of wealth in the United States, a group of Gosling’s devotees stood outside of People‘s headquarters with Gosling masks and handwritten signs to protest the recent issue. Of course, the stunt was organized by Buzzfeed, who recently held a candlelight vigil outside the Kardashians’ Soho store, Dash, following the news that Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from husband Kris Humphries.

Sadly, the attempt to occupy the media might not prove too successful, but at least the police presence was kept to a minimum.

Mayer Hawthorne on Collaborating with Snoop Dogg & Signing to a Major Label

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“I’ll admit I took some singing lessons,” says 32-year-old Mayer Hawthorne of performing live during his current tour. Singing lessons or not, Hawthorne’s voice is atmospheric; a potent brand of seductiveness, the kind of crooner-style soul to make love to, and his command of it is all the more striking given that during the first 31 years of his life, he hasn’t taken a single singing lesson.The record Hawthorne speaks of is How Do You Do, his second since being signed to Stones Throw in 2009, and his first since inking a deal with Universal Republic. Has major label-backing changed the way the neo-soul singer from Ann Arbor, Michigan works? We’ll let him answer that one. Here is Hawthorne on maintaining his silky voice, collaborating with Snoop Dogg, and the pressures that come with success.

How’s the tour coming along?
It’s been great. The best part is that you always get to see new reactions to the new songs, which is fun. Detroit is always a special stop-off for me, since it’s home. Orlando was surprisingly really good too. It’s always the ones that you’re not expecting to be good like Orlando that end up being the most fun.

I actually saw you in Toronto in 2009. You were getting over strep throat and had to cancel a bunch of shows beforehand. How is your voice holding up this time around?
It’s actually fine now that I’ve learned my lesson. I mean, it’s always a struggle when you’re doing really long tours, but you learn. When I first started singing I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was having to figure my voice out all the time, and now I’m a lot more comfortable on stage. I’ve learned so much in such a short time about how to use my voice properly and take care of it and I’ve had no real issues lately.

I’ve always found it hard to believe you’ve never taken a singing lesson in your life before.
Well, I’ll admit I did take a few lessons for this album, from John Mayer’s vocal coach, actually. But, I’ve learned a lot about my voice. Mainly it’s just doing 400 shows over the past 3 years.That’s where you really learn from experience and the trial and error of it all, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also toured with Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, I did a few shows with Bilal and Erykah Badu, all these amazing vocalists, which always helps.

What was touring with Bruno Mars like?
Oh man, all my tours and all the artists I’ve performed with have been so fantastic in their unique way. The Bruno Mars tour was interesting. There were a lot of screaming 12-year-old-girls all the time, but I had to learn from experience that those people are really fun to play for too. They were some of the best crowds we’ve played for, because you know, young people get the most excited for music, it’s awesome.

How did recording for this album differ from the first one? There must have been a lot of lessons applied there, from getting so popular so quickly.
Yeah, well I went back to Detroit to record the majority of this record for that reason. I didn’t want to lose that grittiness that everybody loved about the first record. I recorded everything myself, and I played even more instruments on this record than I did on the first one. But it’s definitely a step up from the first record in every area. The singing is obviously elevated, because I took lessons. I’ve actually learned how to sing a bit. I’m also better at all the instruments that I play, I’m a better producer, and arranger of songs, and all that just adds to making a better record.

You’ve been with Stones Throw since 2009, but when did you actually sign with Universal Republic? That must have had an influence on this album.
I actually signed with them about halfway through recording the new record. A lot of the recording was already done before I signed. It’s always a really scary thing signing with a major label. I was pretty terrified that they were going to come in and change the whole sound of the album. But so far, it’s been an incredible experience and I think that every little success we have and every person that comes to the show and knows the words and sings along, that gets the label more excited and more on my team. It’s the whole “trust my vision” approach.

How did you convince Snoop Dogg to sing on that track “I Can’t Stop,” and not rap on it? What did that conversation look like?
Well, he asked me what he had to do to get on this album, and I told him there’s no rapping on my album, you’ll have to sing. He was like, “What up, let’s do it,” and of course, the whole time he was dropping some Snoop-isms with a whole bunch of his own flavor. He was calling everybody ‘nephew.’ He’d be like, “Okay, let’s do it, nephew. I ain’t scared, nephew.” I didn’t really know how he was going to do it, I’ve never heard him do anything like that before, but that’s always the goal, when working with another artist, especially one that’s as well known as Snoop, I’m always trying to get them to do something that hasn’t been done before and get them out of their comfort zone.

How did your song wind up in the Spike Jonze and Kanye West collaboration, We Were Once a Fairytale?
One day some Spike Jonze people hit me up and said that they wanted to use my song in the film, and all I knew about it at the time was that Jonze was directing, and it was starring Kanye. And, you know, Kanye has looked out for me a lot. He’s blogged about me and tweeted about me. I hadn’t met him yet at the time, but I’ve also always been a huge Spike Jonze fan, so of course I was excited they wanted to use my song. I was actually really pleased with the film too, I thought it was fantastic.

You’ve also become something of a style icon these days, with GQ featuring you recently in a style profile. Does that put pressure on your image?
Kind of, but I’ve always taken a lot of pride in my style, and you know my motto has always been “flashy but classy.” Style is something that I’ve always held to, so it’s just about the idea of wearing whatever you feel confident in. If you’re walking around wearing whatever you think is dope, as long as you walk around and you say, “I feel like a million bucks,” then everybody will say “Hey, that guy looks like a million bucks”.

How would you define your sound at this point in time?
I just call it soul music because that’s what it is. Really, I could give a fuck about what people want to call it. They can call it space orchestral punk music, but as long as they’re listening to it and talking about it, that’s all I care about.

Patrick Stump on His New Album & Life After Fall Out Boy

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Patrick Stump rose to fame as the soulful lead singer of the successful punk rock band Fall Out Boy. But while on an “indefinite hiatus” from the band (rumors of their breakup have been unsubstantiated), Stump went ahead and recorded a solo album called Soul Punk. Apparently, he took the solo part literally, since Stump wrote, performed and produced it all by himself. On the record, Stump bathes his songs in synth, recalling ‘80s new wave, but there are, as the title suggests, elements here of soul and rhythm and blues. Here, Stump talks about his new sound, diagnoses mainstream music, and sheds light on his post-Fallout Boy career.

You recorded Soul Punk by yourself. What was that like? It was weird, because it was so day-to-day and I didn’t really have to work with anyone but myself. It felt freeing and there was a different kind of vibe. There weren’t really a lot of like big experiences, since most of the time when making a record with a band, there would be arguments about something, a fight, some sort of roadblock. If anything, it was the most relaxing experience. If I wanted to go get lunch, I could go get lunch.

Why did you name the album Soul Punk? A lot of reasons. Obviously, one of the things being that I always felt a little out of place in the punk rock scene. While I was listening to a lot of the same punk rock bands, I was also listening to a lot of R&B, soul, jazz and hip-hop. Those were all great influences on me. And in the same way when I was producing and writing, I would still refer to a hip-hop or R&B record. I also wanted to put my stake in the ground about the two genres, and invoking what those things mean to me. A lot of people use ignorant words to explain what those words mean. The idea that punk is just pink-haired mohawks and complaining about school lunches. I always saw it as a state of being rather than a fashion statement. I found a correlation between the two and I wanted a catch phrase. I also wanted to play with people, because when you say “soul punk” there are expectations of what that should sound like.

Do you have any favorite artists from R&B and soul that you look up to? The renaissance of Charlie Wilson has been amazing. He can make his voice crazy. I never just listen to something that is exclusively R&B, but at the same time, I also can’t think of any rock singers that I appreciate that aren’t also inspired by R&B. We could go way back to Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, to the artists of Prince’s time in Minneapolis. And now, they are some talented new people coming out. I’m excited about Frank Ocean.

What is the first sinlge “My City” about? I kind of wanted to make a statement about our city culture and the suburbs, because the suburbs are the city. They are an extension, and it was a way to talk about my personal relationship with it. There seems to be this idea in America that you’re not real unless you live in a small town, that people are realer in smaller towns. I don’t think people realize how arrogant that is. Most people live in a city in the United States, and I was thinking about that. Something really stuck with me after Katrina, and I was thinking about New Orleans. I remember someone said after everything had happened, “They can move.” I was like, No, they can’t. The people that live there, their homes are there, their culture is there. You can’t just get up and move. So it’s a very simple song, and easy to get, but I wanted a song for that feeling. I wanted something that people could stand up and say, “No, this city is my city”.

Do you have anything to say about mainstream music? I think the mainstream is always one step behind what’s happening everywhere else, but I also don’t feel there is anything wrong with it. I think for the most part, music right now is cool. I’m a little worn out on the bounce-off-the-floor dance beats. I think there is a lot of great music out there, but it would be nice to have something else on the radio.

What’s the song “Dance Miserable” about? That song is openly political. It’s one of the more impassioned times for American politics. There’s the Occupy Wall Street protests, and then on the other side, you have the Tea Party movement. With all of these different movements, I was thinking about how a lot of times an answer for people in protest is to attach religion to politics. I was a little bit concerned with the idea of separating church and state. If you are religious, you’re faith can’t determine what happens after our lives, but it is supposed to take care of what happens here. And why I wrote “Dance like you’re disappointed” is because people are focused. People are voting, and laws are getting passed about what goes on in people’ lives, and it’s like, people are out of jobs, losing homes, they need clothes and food, and all you’re concerned about is who they are sleeping with and whether they are smoking a blunt? I don’t care about any of those things. What they need is food and shelter. People are going wild, losing their jobs and families, and I just feel like it is irresponsible.

Did you ever feel pressure or a need to prove that you’re not just the lead singer of Fall Out Boy? Whatever it is I’m not trying to, I don’t go into anywhere, any room, any radio station, and assume that anyone gives a shit because I’m the guy from Fall Out Boy, you know what I mean? I don’t rest my laurels on that. While promoting Soul Punk, I’ve got a lot to bring. If you’re going to use a word like “soul,” you’ve got to prove you have it. If you’re going to use a word like “punk”, you’ve got to prove you’ve got it. I’m trying to get to a place in which I feel I deserve to be there.

John Hawkes on Elizabeth Olsen & His Battle to Remain Anonymous

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The buzz out of Sundance was that Elizabeth Olsen gave a career-making performance in the subdued cult drama Martha Marcy May Marlene. While that turned out to be true, Olsen’s work isn’t the only acting jewel the film has to offer. The supernaturally reliable John Hawkes—who, after years of solid character work finally got his due with an Oscar nomination in last year’s Winter’s Bone—turns in a quietly menacing performance as Patrick, the magnetic leader of a cult-like”family” that Olsen’s character flees.

Next up, he’ll segue into blockbuster filmmkaing, with a part in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic, Lincoln. When we recently sat down with Hawkes at the Greenwich Hotel, we found the 52-year-old actor lamenting some of the trappings of his recent success. Here he is on paparazzi encounters, giving interviews, and playing the bad guy.

I know that you don’t like to use the word “cult” when referring to this film. It’s funny that this has gotten around, that’s so amazing. It’s like, boom! That and the “press shy” thing. And that I don’t want to do big movies. It’s interesting how it all gets started.

Have you been slapped with the press shy label? A tiny bit. Doing press is the least interesting part of the job, no offense. I’d rather the work speak for itself. And it is odd to be here talking to you, but I’m talking to you because I’m trying to help this film. My micro amount of fame is about more than I can handle. I am a private person and there are guys on bicycles, paparazzi, chasing me around in New York, which is bizarre. Were the big stars all out of town? I kept discouraging them, and finally I said I’m a private person, and they kind of left me alone.

Is this a result of your Oscar nomination? Oh, I suppose. Little pieces before that, I was in Deadwood, and people love Eastbound and Down; I’ve been working for many years, but, yes, when your name suddenly gets tossed around with the big boys and they consider you part of the club….

Does your desire for anonymity color your decisions at all? No, it doesn’t color my decisions so much as, you know, I’ve been kindly invited to talk shows and things, but look, it’s all for selfish reasons. I just want to be believable on screen. It’s really hard for me to believe someone that I know too much about, I like to retain an air of mystery about myself, which is great to talk about in an interview because it’s all very ironic! I’m here against my will! I’m tied to the chair! But really, I want to help this movie and it’s a joy to discuss things, but we live in an age where things travel so quickly. It used to be you could do an interview for the Peoria newspaper, and it wasn’t going to go anywhere. But now everything you say or do is potential fodder taken out of context. It’s hard for me to believe a movie star in a role role, no matter how great an actor they are. Especially if I know too much about them.

What about acting opposite movie stars? No problem. They’re wonderful actors. It’s just that when I go to a movie, even the best of stars, if I know too much about them, I associate. And so, wow, that movie star is doing an incredible job playing a busboy. But hopefully if they see me, they see a busboy. I’m not interested in too much hype because, it’ll be like “Oh, I saw that guy in Jimmy Kimmel last night.” I love that show, but I’m trying to be effective in my work and I don’t know how else to do it other than to try and duck the light as much I can.

You’ve had success at Sundance before with two films in particular. This is your third. Are you now able to tell beforehand when a film is going to break through at that festival? No, I wish I could. There have been many, many disappointments along the way, and surprises for certain films that get in, that you think don’t have a hope in hell. I like to think I’m a decent judge of material. I think that I’ve come around to being able to find things that I don’t regret doing. I’m not going to do any small movies and later on regret it because I’m a slow decider and I’ve got to really make sure it’s something to put time into, and I guess large movies are the same. I’ve turned down a lot of average sort of roles in average studio movies.

Is Lincoln something you chose because it’s a Spielberg film, and you just don’t say no to Spielberg? Partly that, but I’m also really fascinated with that period and I’m a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis. Now there’s a movie star who is such a cipher, I know that I can still look at him and believe him and he can disappear in his roles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against movie stars. Some of them are terrific actors. And I don’t think the general audience may feel the same, but for me personally, I just don’t like knowing much about someone if I’m going to watch them act. For the Spielberg thing, it’s a large cast, a lot of supporting roles, people with more visibility than myself playing a lot of those supporting roles. It’s a fantastic script and a great chance to learn more about the period.

What kind of preparation did you do for Martha Marcy May Marlene? I read not much. Yes, that’s true, but I may be selling myself short a little bit. I did a great deal of thinking, but a lot of it was subtraction. It’s always, what is the story and how can the character I’m playing best tell that story. It felt like a lot of it then was just trying to figure out the best way to actually make Lizzie’s character a credible person you would want to follow for an hour and forty minutes. If the character of Patrick is too obviously a cult leader, an evil Svengali, then I think it’s less interesting for us if she can fall under the spell of someone like that. Now an audience member could think, That guy has decent ideas. He just needs to be credible rather than her just falling under the spell of the cliché. There had to be more nuance, more depth and surprise behind it.

He’s sort of a likable guy. I hope so.

But at the same time… He’s just misunderstood, really (Laughs).

He’s frightening, too. Was that in the script, or was that all you? No, it’s just in the script. It’s whatever the scene calls for. If the scene calls for him to figuratively take a character and shake them and throw them against the wall to get them to shape up or listen, all to the greater good by the way, then so be it. And if the scene requires a figurative caress and smooch on the cheek, that’s fine too. It’s really what the story wants.

When during shooting did you realize that Elizabeth Olsen was giving the kind of performance that would be talked about as one of the year’s best? I think as soon as the camera rolled, to be honest. We didn’t rehearse a great deal, but I know that I enjoyed meeting her and I didn’t know her family history, or who her sisters were. I came early, getting the lay of the land, spending time with our director and other crew members, and as soon as we began to work, she surprised and amazed me in a similar way Jennifer Lawrence had a year and a half before. You could just see that something was going on. There was an element of truth that was surprising and an element of just proficiency at the craft at such an early age, which are things most of us strive for our whole acting lives, and to see someone bringing it like that is shocking and beautiful. It was great.

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DJ Shadow on Technology, Music, & Glorified Wedding DJs

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In the fickle world of dance music, where consumers and producers chase after new sounds and styles, only to abandon them once something fresher and edgier comes along, DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) has admirably stuck to his guns. After two decades in electronic music, he remains relevant as ever, as evidenced by the excitement surrounding his latest release, this month’s The Less You Know, The Better. But as well-regarded as he is in the States, he approaches deity-like status across the pond. It was in 1996, with London’s legendary Mo’ Wax label, that Shadow recorded Endtroducing…, an album built solely on samples, and widely considered to be one of the best of the decade. We recently sat down with the notoriously press-shy DJ in the back of his tour bus to talk about his new album, his ambivalence towards technology, and why a laptop doesn’t make you a DJ.

Could you tell us a little bit about your new album, The Less You Know, The Better? Well the last album, Essential Mix, was a provocation—it was designed to be one. So it was, I guess, a bit of a deviation in terms of what I consider to be the lineage of Endtroducing to The Private Press to now this album. Which is not to say I think in any way that this record is not challenging or that I’m just sort of giving up and going back to a default mode. Definitely not. I do think that every record has a different design and this record was more about going “OK, I cleared the air. That was accomplished.” Now it’s just time to kind of get back to refining my art with samples and making music that will resonate with people. Because ultimately that is always what I want—for the music to matter to people and for them to feel invested in it and for it to speak to them.

Let’s talk a little bit about the campaign illustrations that accompany this new album. It’s really just to have a little bit of fun. I’m the subject of the satire.

Like with that “You’re either with us or against us” line I saw on one of the drawings? I live in Silicon Valley, and it’s well-established as the world’s best testing ground for any new gadget. So as a result, the message that I receive on a daily basis is that my life is incomplete and my soul is unfulfilled unless I have this new product or this new app. It’s just sort of accepted, especially in this country, that that is our salvation, and I think that has come at a cost for a lot of art. I didn’t grow up wanting to start my own tech firm. I grew up loving music. So I think naturally, my reaction is to be a little suspicious. I think it’s OK to have a little bit of pushback and to say that maybe this isn’t the healthiest message. I think it’s just kind of not going to rock the foundation of any of these major corporations by one artist saying, “You know, hey, if anybody else out there is feeling a little bit ripped off by this whole philosophy, then you’re not alone.” And I think that for some reason, I feel like a lot of artists are sort of afraid to take that stance because they don’t want to be beaten with the Metallica schtick. And I just sort of feel like it’s apples and oranges and it’s really not about that for me.

I see you have these big cases of cassettes on the bus, which you rarely see anymore. Let’s talk a bit about how much DJing, and music in general, has evolved—not only the sounds but the actual forms—how DJs started by spinning and scratching vinyls, to hopping onstage with just a laptop. And just pressing play. What’s astounding to me about all of that is not so much the methodology or the technology. It’s the fact that we have access to 10 millions songs, and yet they’re still playing the same fucking 100 songs over and over and over again. That’s the part I don’t get. It’s not like they’re going out there saying ‘I’m gonna expose these people to 50 songs they’ve never heard of.

And now you don’t even have to get your hands dirty crate digging. You can just go on the Internet, so I’m sure the lack of astonishment is compounded by the fact that it’s so easy to access some pretty obscure music now. I understand where technology has a place, and it’s hard for people to understand that you can say these things without being a Luddite. Technology isn’t going to make you less of a lazy person. And if you are a DJ that really doesn’t care all that much about making a personal statement or trying to break any new ground with your audience, then essentially you’re just a glorified wedding DJ. There’s people who are like, “What’s wrong with giving people what they want?” Nothing. But that makes you a wedding DJ. For me, it’s a compulsion to expose people to music.

What are some particularly memorable finds during your career? It happens almost every other day. But where it really matters is, for example, working on this record. One of my ways of sort of clearing my head and stepping away from my workspace would either be to make some lunch, or go out and just wander into a thrift store and there’s kind of this karmic element of “Am I going to find the ingredient that’s gonna get me out of the arrangement issue I’m having.” So there’s been so many times where I go to a thrift store that I went to last week, and there’s a box of new records there and it’s like, “Woah, this looks really crazy,” or “This looks interesting.” Or you just get this sort of vibe where you’re holding it and you’re like “I think I know what this is but I’m not sure. It’s only 50 cents so I’m gonna buy it.” So many times I’ve taken those records back and within the first 5 minutes, it’s like “Ah, that’s it.” You know what I mean? And I really like that. Like I said, it’s almost like this karmic element that you’re meant to find that record at that time. And I just don’t personally feel like the same thing would happen if I just start googling peoples’ names.

You’re from Northern California but you’ve made quite a name for yourself in the UK. How does the UK scene compare to the scene in the U.S. for a DJ? You know how they used to say about New York, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere?” I feel like London is that for electronic music. It’s the most discerning and most forward-thinking—and not just London but other cities in the UK. The UK is a music-loving country, there’s just no other way to say it. As an artist, you want to go where people care about what you’re doing and it just seems like people care there. These days, when you touch down in the States—no matter who you are, I’m sure a lot of artists would identify with this statement—that it just seems like people care a little less about the arts in the U.S. right now. It just seems like it’s not a priority, it’s not where people are getting their emotional fulfillment. I don’t know what that means, but for me, it’s a truism. I don’t see a lot of people running away from home and defining their life on any one genre of music right now. I don’t think anybody’s gonna be doing that for your average pop catastrophe that’s ruling the charts right now.

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Jesse Williams On ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ & Ending His ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Sex Drought

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Jesse Williams arrived at the BlackBook offices wearing a t-shirt that bore the unmistakeable silhouettes of Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins. (They’re unmistakeable if you’re as big fans of the actors as we are.) It was a tantalizing piece of promotional swag for The Cabin in the Woods, and was given to Williams by the film’s co-writer and executive producer, Joss Whedon. For horror buffs and the Whedon faithful, Cabin could not come out soon enough. Initially slated for release in February of last year, it was delayed until January 2011 for 3D conversion, a decision that nearly proved fatal—for the film, and for Williams’ budding acting career.

In July of 2011, MGM financially imploded, and The Cabin in the Woods was one of several anticipated films to find itself in distribution purgatory. Williams, a former high school teacher who had little acting experience, thought the film would be his big break. He was forced to regroup and embark on a career where his high-profile calling card collected dust on a shelf. It didn’t take long for the 30 year old to catch another break. After nailing a guest stint as Dr. Jackson Avery on the immortal ABC soap Grey’s Anatomy, producers awarded Williams with a full time gig beginning last season, the show’s seventh. Somewhere along the way, Lionsgate picked up The Cabin in the Woods, which is finally hitting theatres on April 13. So when Williams sat down with us for a quick chat recently, he was all smiles.

Under what circumstances did you become a regular on Grey’s Anatomy? It was supposed to be two or three episodes and then they said, stick around for a few more weeks, because it’s a performance-based contract. I didn’t know if I had a job each week, and ended up doing like twenty episodes. But every week it was like an audition like shit, am I going to be around?

Did you really want to stick around? I did. I hadn’t done anything that big, and I admired the work being done there.

Did you watch the show before? I didn’t. I was aware of it, and I was kind of aware of the music on it, because they break a lot of artists. But I got the audition the night of my birthday. I was on my way out, but I stayed in so I could see what this show is that I was auditioning for. So I watched a bunch online, and gave a shitty audition the next day.

Your show is infamous for backstage drama. What’s it like now? We had a bad couple of years, and I landed right afterwards. I kind of regret that because I wish I got to see all the good stuff, because now it’s like one functional family. I got there and Katherine had her last episode on my first episode. So we worked together for one or two episodes.

Was there a big goodbye for her? Yeah I think there was. I didn’t work there on her last day, and I was brand new. She’s a tough cookie, but she respects being pushed back. I don’t know her, but my experience on set was she’ll stomp all over you if you let her, and she’ll respect you if you push back

What happens to your character that lets him stay for the long haul? Well, they’d laid some of the groundwork before I got the offer, and I think it was probably a bit of a try out for me. My grandfather is character that’s been talked about for seven years on the show, this legendary surgeon, and I’m his grandson who shows up, and I resent him for the burden of his legacy.

Is your character a ladie’s man? I might have the record for the most amount of episodes without banging anybody. It came to a screeching halt with an out-of-the-blue shower scene with Lexi Grey, who’s the main character’s half-sister. We’re talking and flirting outside her car, and the next thing you know it’s us having sex in the shower.

What do you like best about working on Grey’s? I’ve been in this business for only five years now, but it feels like a luxury to be on a show as a person of color where the characters are complete people. They’re just individuals, not leading with race and not self-identifying all the time with some sassy TV bullshit. We don’t have to talk in slang, we’re just people. I think Grey’s has been a leader in that field for network TV, to have people from all backgrounds just be human and not have to wear that on their sleeve all the time.

I think your most watched performance in Rihanna’s video for “Russian Roulette.” It has 60 million views and counting. That was her first song back after the Chris Brown thing. They called me up and were like, She’s a fan of the show and her manager is also a fan, so it was just one of those random things.

Did anybody mention Chris Brown on set? Absolutely not, but I felt like I was playing the Chris Brown character. I’m a guy of similar complexion with tattoos, so I read into it.

Tell me about The Cabin in the Woods. There’s a lot of anticipation surrounding it, among a certain set of film fans. It’s creepy and unnerving, but it can’t help but be really funny.

Do Bradley Cooper and Richard Jenkins play the villains? I don’t know if I can say that, but in many ways, they’re not. I think it also really questions what a villain is, and how much damage you have to do to become a villain. I worked at a law firm defending people who did some pretty bad things, but were they villains?

You worked in a law firm? Yeah, I actually wrote a comedy about working in a law firm that I’m starting to circulate. I worked in one on Park Ave. for a year and a half. I was a case manager, and I hired and fired contract attorneys who were way more qualified than me. It was stupid.

Has it been frustrating to watch Cabin in the Woods get pushed back repeatedly? It was, because these are our calling cards. I’m nothing without my work, and we’re out here selling that I’m the lead in a studio film. It was coming out in 2009, and they pushed it back to make it 3D, and then MGM folded. I worked on that movie for three and a half months, and we became very close, and were all trying to do our thing. None of us were famous. And we were all waiting on this thing, and it puts you in a very vulnerable position, because you have no control over it, but in some people’s eyes, you’re nothing without it. This is a business of followers. If you’re in a movie, I don’t need to see your work. Someone could be in Twilight with no lines, but they’ll get something, because they’re in Twilight.

It says something about the studio’s faith in the film that it’s still getting a theatrical release. It looks like Lionsgate is very serious about it, and that’s exciting. It’s a memorable film. There’s nothing indifferent about it.