Want Some Hanky Panky? Gary Spencer Knows Where To Find It

Friend Gary Spencer has been tasked to carve out a little slice of heaven from mega-club Webster Hall, and brand it as “The Hanky Panky Club.” As creative director, he is opening his ambitious concept with a performance by the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and my favorite DJ in this world: Paul Sevigny. For me, this is an incredible booking. The influence of the New York Dolls on NYC music, and the direction rock took from their lead, is incalculable. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I wore a suit to an office and listened to jazz. On the way to something somewhere, my cab cut to Park Avenue from another avenue to avoid traffic but got stuck again. As I glanced out the window at the very grey NYC of the early ‘70s, I saw the Dolls stumbling over each other in dresses and such with a wonderful entourage in tow. I had seen a light and got an itch that I have spent the rest of my life trying to scratch.

It was a few years later that the Ramones indoctrinated me into the life completely, but it was the Dolls who showed me the path. Rock and Roll, to its devotees, is a religion. Its anthems rarely get old, and the offerings of ancient bands and rock stars still play well to generations. Rock produced today and a zillion days ago will play well to people who aren’t even theoretical yet. It’s an "old school" genre that still delivers, still sells out stadiums. Gary Spencer is approaching the new Hanky Panky venture with an old- school mentality. I will be there to support and, more importantly, to enjoy a slice of the life I have chosen.

Hanky Panky starts with a bang, with the New York Doll’s David Johansen and my favorite DJ and (perhaps) person Paul Sevigny. Why were they chosen for this grand affair?
Friday is going to be a special night; we’ll have David Johansen from the New York Dolls performing, Paul Sevigny spinning.
I wanted to keep the integrity of not only the space but also NYC, and who better than David Johansen of the Dolls to do that? He’s New York and he’s totally rock and roll. Webster Hall is New York rock and roll history, and we have the club that overlooks it – how cool is that!!! Paul Sevigny is a quality DJ; a guy that really knows his music and is a perfect compliment for the Dolls and the room in general. He’s underrated and he crosses so many eras of music in his set. Plus, he’s an absolute gentleman. Deadbeat Darling will be supporting Johansen;  they are an amazing band whose latest album “Angel’s Share” was produced by Ken Nelson (producer of Coldplay’s “Parachutes” and “Rush of Blood”). Terry Casey, another underrated DJ, will also be spinning and maybe even you Steve, who knows? It’s all a secret!

It’s in but it’s not. The Hanky Panky Club includes the balcony of Webster Hall. Let’s face it… it’s Webster Hall, but a redefinition of part of it. Webster Hall is very music-based. Tell me about the pairings of bands and DJs at The Hanky Panky Club, and the development of a separate brand from Webster.
Lon Ballinger, the owner of Webster Hall, contacted me and said he was looking for a different demographic, a market that he hasn’t been able to tap into, and that he wanted to open the space that was above the main club. After walking through the venue on a Friday night, I was like – WOW – this is incredible; the energy on the main floor was like nothing I had seen in a nightclub for a very long time. Hundreds of people were having a genuinely amazing unpretentious night out. It was refreshing to see, but it was even cooler to see and live it from the comfort of the balcony, which is incidentally attached to – ta da – Hanky Panky!

I really feel that that’s what people will do: they will enjoy all the trappings and service of The Hanky Panky Club but also enjoy the energy that the main room and balcony have to offer, if and when they need it. In pairingup the music on a Thursday, we will have a soul evening, Fridays will be electronic, and Saturdays will be more commercial/house. The bands on these evenings will also reflect the respective genres in the main room. Your career. Tell me about it, and tell my readers about the wonderful nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow.
I was standing in Peter’s nightclub “Stringfellows “ in 1983, and his director of operations Roger Howe approached me and told me he wanted me to work for the company. I had zero experience at the time, but ended up a week later as a bartender at Stringfellows. Later on, I moved on to be the reception manager at the world famous and way-before-its-time Hippodrome. What I always remember from that is when Roger said to the bar manager at the time, “I want Gary to work at the bar,” and the bar manager said “well, we don’t have any positions available.” Roger said “Well find him one.”

Those guys understand image. They know the rest can be taught; they build all their clubs around selling glamour and image. Plus, they know all about programming. He knows his trade. Peter started off in church halls, then booked The Beatles one night and never really looked back.

Peter will always be legendary in nightlife. He understands what nightlife is; it’s fantasy, it’s sexy, it’s escapism, it’s what should be talked about amongst your workmates on a Monday morning after a wild weekend. But not only does he bring all of those qualities to his clubs, he does it with a swagger and a smile, whilst being able to laugh at himself which is a rare but very-much-needed quality in nightlife.

After I worked for Peter, I fell into a very successful modeling career and also produced the Fashion Café fashion shows worldwide. My modeling career led me to New York where I have lived for the past 15 years. Four years or so ago I went back into the hospitality/ nightlife industry and, before becoming creative director here at The Hanky Panky, I worked for Joe Bastianich at Del Posto.  I opened the Rusty Knot for Ken Friedman and was also at private members-only club Norwood.

You told me your approach to nightlife is old school, and you used the word "patience” several times. The need for it …not letting someone who doesn’t "belong" into a party in just because they’re buying bottles… will this fly?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it will fly. If somebody is right for the room and that person decides to buy a bottle, then that’s fabulous. But what I don’t want to do is let somebody in just because they have the money. I’ve seen too many nightclubs ruined that way.

While we’re on the subject, I think service plays a big part as to whether a venue is successful or not. NYC used to be known for its high standard of service, but we’ve gotten so used to everyone coming here for the last 20 years that nowadays, when a cocktail server comes to take your order, it seems like everything is too much trouble for them. Why would anybody want to spend money in an environment like that? That ethic would fail in any other business. The cocktail servers at Hanky Panky will not only be stunningly beautiful, but will also take your order if you are sitting at a table or not. I know many very wealthy people that want to be served fast and efficiently. They don’t want a “table” or a “bottle,” but they don’t want to deal with the bar either – so, they call a server over .

Another problem is that not enough nightlife people are operators in nightlife, so they defer to promotional teams to fill their venues up. Which is fine, but there is no easy fix. It takes just as much effort to fill a room that is promoter-driven as is concept-driven. The difference is that the concept-driven room will probably have far more longevity and be a hell of a lot cooler in the long term, but that’s where the “patience” bit comes into play, and unfortunately the world has become a little too “instant gratification” for my liking.

Tell me about future programming at Hanky Panky and where the name came from.
The evenings will always begin with a live band that will come on at 10:30pm and make way for the DJ around midnight. As I said earlier, we have a soul DJ spinning on Thursdays, so the band will be jazz or soul or maybe even reggae. DJs coming up soon will be people like Christopher Sealy, Bridgette Marie, Tommy D, John Luongo, and hopefully I’ll get some of my English-European mates here as well. And of course, not forgetting your good self, Steve.

When I did the first walk-through – walking up the marble staircase, past the distressed walls – I felt like I was being lead to a naughty secret hideaway. And then I saw this red neon light that was propped up in the corner that said “hanky panky,” and from then on, I immediately named it The Hanky Panky Club. If you read the dictionary definition of the phrase, you will know it’s a perfect fit.

What would you want people to leave HP feeling and thinking?
That they had fun, that they had good old-fashioned fun. That they were served well, and listened to great music amongst good people. There’s not enough of all of that anymore, and I, along with the Hanky Panky crew, intend to change that.

Gary Spencer

The Most Exciting Films From This Year’s South By Southwest

This year the film portion of the South by Southwest Conference had thirteen entrees that premiered at Sundance and a number of studio-funded projects destined for wide release, meant primarily to bolster the star power attending the daily and nightly Paramount theater premieres. This is not a bad thing—rather, it’s a testament to how vital the SXSW Film Conference has become to the film scene in general, a diverse conflagration of anything and everything within the strata of a theatrical experience. However, it doesn’t make breaking new, below-the-radar films any easier, especially with a bigger schedule—the much-anticipated premiere of the The East comes on the final night of the conference, after this will be published—and more theaters scattered around town.

That’s where I focused most of my efforts on the film front, catching more than 20 films—in honor of the film conference’s 20th anniversary—most of them produced on very low budgets or premiering for the first time in the United States. I skipped Burt Wonderstone and the Evil Dead reboot, as they’re flicks I’ll see in my local megaplex depending on the Rotten Tomatoes reception. I skipped Before Midnight in favor of a local Austinite’s film, quite regretfully—I’d rather pay to see the final installment of Linklater’s walk-and-talk romance trilogy, anyway. The six films listed here are the ones I found to be the most impressive and important glimpses into the cultural zeitgeist at the 2013 film conference—though there are a number I didn’t get a chance to see due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that the press screening library crammed into the convention center stairwell was so atrociously barren. But with so much paranoia surrounding pirating these days, who’s going to risk turning in a DVD to the media?

Spring Breakers

Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, the charged 1,300 plus audience at the Paramount was—as a Deadline reporter put it—both “joyful and bewildered” when the lights went up after the North American premiere. While some critics may find the surface layers of the film to be a mile wide and an inch deep, or an extended Skrillex music video, this is merely the backdrop Korine wanted to create. The slow-motion montage of barely clothed coeds binge drinking on a Florida Beach in the opening minutes of the film is the ultimate thesis statement—the youthful, primal obsession with self-destruction, beautiful imagery, carefree sexuality and complete sensory overload is all about to come into sharp focus.

With a dreamlike storyline, seedy neon-soaked cinematography, and non-linear editing reminiscent of a Terrence Malick film, Spring Breakers preys on the audience’s senses. You kind of can’t look away, whether you’re enjoying yourself or not. And—without giving up the ending—one could even argue that Korine’s work is a bizarrely magnificent statement about feminism, where the pretty, aggressive blondes in this vapid fantasy world of a St. Petersburg Spring Break are the ones who are the true gangsters.  Regardless of if you agree with any of this analysis, you should see Spring Breakers for James Franco alone, as the corn-rowed, grill-sporting thug who goes by the moniker of Alien—it’s truly a performance for the ages.


Heather Wahlquist has appeared in relatively minor supporting roles in her husband Nick Cassavetes’s films over the past decade, which makes her leading performance in Yellow all the more impressive. In it, she plays one of those artificially gorgeous yet vividly delusional California women named Mary Holmes, who is barely holding it together. She teaches elementary school children and chases pills with vodka nips throughout the day, regularly drifting into her own alternate realities, which are equally colorful, musical, hilarious, and horrifying. As her antics get worse, she is forced to return home to her family, where Wahlquist takes us inside the core of her character, revealing the origins of her mania. The entire film, which Wahlquist also co-wrote, is a quiet yet remarkable achievement.

Good Ol’ Freda

The Beatles have been covered from just about every angle possible by now—except the one director Ryan White found for Good Ol’ Freda, when he interviewed Freda Kelly, the head of the band’s fan club for much of the ’60s and perhaps the only Beatles employee who had never broken her silence about the band. It’s a sweet film and a fascinating look at an incredibly respectful and moral person who was tasked with protecting and representing some of the most famous people in the world. White’s storytelling does reveal a few new insights into who the Beatles were behind the scenes, but the film focuses primarily on Freda, examining how someone so close to those who were literally changing the world could remain so true to who they really are as a person.

Scenic Route

Bleak tales about the insignificance of man and the brutality of the world are tough to pull off without fine acting and crackling dialogue, which is why Scenic Route works so well. Two friends, played by the diametrical opposed Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, are stranded off the incredibly photogenic highway through Death Valley and forced to reexamine their friendship after drifting apart. The situation quickly goes from bad to worse, however, due in part to both men’s egos and stupidity, as well as a bit of bad luck—which, when you get all philosophical about it, is something that life often serves most of us in the end.

Drinking Buddies

There’s a incredibly unique tone to Drinking Buddies, thanks in part to director Joe Swanberg’s technique of having his actors tightly improv every scene in the film. It’s also probably because his core cast consists of seasoned professionals like Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and—most impressively—Olivia Wilde, who really shows off her dynamic acting chops while also looking crazy hot. The result is a romantic dramedy—if that’s even a thing—that qualifies as one of the more realistic unrequited love stories that has worked in a while.

Cheap Thrills

The first film purchased at South by Southwest this year—by none other then Drafthouse Films, who held the world premiere in one of their theaters—this fine dark comedy is ultimately a real-world fable about what desperate men will do for money. Made on a shoestring budget with a quality cast (Pat Healey, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, and, by far the most impressive transformation, Ethan Embry as a tough guy) Cheap Thrills is a testament to true independents of the past that deserve to break through to a wider audience. It manages to break new ground and entertain, while keeping its message hidden until the very last frame.   

Valentine’s Day Dinners Your Girlfriend Will Love

Alright, the photo has nothing to do with what I’m about to say, but I couldn’t resist. Guys…it’s time to impress. You know you’re getting nothin’ Valentine’s Day night if you don’t put together a satisfying romantic night.  And while homemade dinners are quaint, these six NYC restaurants guarantee 100 percent excellence and no dishes to clean afterward. You’re in, you eat the best food, you hold hands across the table, and then you skip back to your apt ASAP for some good lovin.’

Louro: This recently-opened spot in the West Village wins “most creative” with their six-course, $85 menu inspired by The Beatles most iconic love songs. And yes, though the connection between a dark chocolate brownie sundae for two and the song “Here, There, and Everywhere” is a bit tenuous, that does not stop me from making it a must-attend event. Inside-info here.

Market Table: This cozy spot on Carmine St. abounds with terracotta floors, brick walls, sleek wood tables, and dishes that are market-fresh. And seeing as their entrees are usually in the $28-$32 range, their special four-course, $55 menu on the 14th is pretty irresistible. Menu commonly includes dishes like braised shortib ravioli, duck with pistachios and butternut squash, Maryland crab soup, and chocolate sea salt pot de crème. Inside-info here.

Perilla: As Top Chef’ first winner Harold Dieterle’s West Village restaurant, Perilla is a brunch and dinner knockout. It’s the classy, understated spot that doesn’t need to boast.Their three-course, $65 menu includes their top dishes, like the Hampshire pork belly, spicy duck meatballs, grilled black grouper with andouille sausage, andtheir heavenly, salted caramel chocolate beignets.Excuse my drool. Inside-info here.

Hakkasan: This Michelin-starred, high-class Chinese spot in Hell’s Kitchen is the king of the prix-fixe: Seven courses. $98. Get ready for dishes like roasted Pacific cod with Rosé Wine and egg white, seared scallop with sweet mango in sweet basil and peanut dressing, and chocolate orange with marshmallows and chocolate crumbs.  Come hungry, leave perhaps too full for nooky, but you’ll make it through. Inside-info here.

BLT Prime: This Gramercy steakhouse offers a special Valentine’s menu spotlighting fried Kumomoto oysters, aged sirloin from Rosencrantz Farms, goat’s milk ricotta ravioli, and wild salmon. Inside info here.

Mas Farmhouse: Named after the French word for what it resembles: a country house. Paneled wood and stone walls, fresh flowers, farm-raised poultry, cheeses, and veggies – all overseen by a James Beard chef. One the 14th, treat you and yours with a four-course, $120 dinner. Inside-info here.

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We All Won’t Live In A Yellow Submarine, Because The Remake Has Been Called Off

Decidedly not groovy. 

Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has announced his planned Disney remake of the 1968 Beatles film Yellow Submarine is officially off, despite having cast voice actors ( Cary Elwes, Dean Lennox Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz, and Adam Campbell) for the parts of all four Beatles as well as a Beatles tribute band called Fab Four to perform. The flick would have featured 16 Beatles songs and "motion capture technology," whatever that means. 

Disney ditched Yellow Submarine last year over "budget concerns" and now the director has ditched it as well.  

Via Rolling Stone, Zemeckis told Total Film, "That would have been a great one, to bring the Beatles back to life. But it’s probably better not to be remade — you’re always behind the eight-ball when you do a remake."  

Zemeckis probably has a point: even the announcement of a remake tends to raise a holy hell, so heaven forfend its not done properly. And Beatles fans do so love to bitch and moan.

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Lone Beatle, Surviving Nirvana Members Plot To Ruin Both Bands

In news that 100% cannot be real in this or any other universe, it transpires that Sir Paul McCartney will be filling in for the late Kurt Cobain when “Nirvana” plays a reunion set at the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief tonight in New York. Earplugs are recommended.

Drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic will also be joined by “unofficial fourth member Pat Smear” on guitar, making this frankengroup all the stranger. Luckily, McCartney won’t be singing “Rape Me.” The band will play something new that they’ve come up with together, ensuring the total dissatisfaction of anyone charitable enough to shell out for a ticket.

The best part? McCartney said of his collaboration with the grunge icons in The Sun: “I didn’t really know who they were. They are saying how good it is to be back together. I said ‘Whoa? You guys haven’t played together for all that time? And somebody whispered to me ‘That’s Nirvana. You’re Kurt.’ I couldn’t believe it.” See that? Nobody stays cool when they get old.

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“I Hate Music!” Says Michael Musto, Your Gay Grandpa

How many times have you heard some old person complain about what the kids are listening to these days? (Oh, yesterday, from me?) It’s a certainty, like death and taxes, that popular music will only cause the furrowed brows of the cool kids of yesteryear to become more creased, their now wrinkled hands forming into limp fists raised slightly in the air as the loose skin on those arms shake with a ferocity only matched by the senility so depressingly spouting from their typing fingers. Do not dare hush them! They have opinions, and they are always correct! Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Musto has something to say about the current state of pop music! 

The venerable Village Voice columnist is very upset today, because of Rihanna and Flo Rida and Ke$ha. And honey, he has lost his mind and control of his elipses:

The number-one slot on the chart generally goes to whoever gave the most free copies to concert-ticket buyers that week. The second week, they’re suddenly not even in the top 100. … Adele is happy. … Once you’ve heard the title of a Taylor Swift song, there’s no need to hear the actual song. … The "Piano in the Dark" sample in Flo Rida’s "I Cry" drives me cuckoo crazy. I keep wanting them to finish the phrase! … Someone please tell Rihanna it should be "shine brightly like a diamond." … Boybands are back. They’re like a case of crabs you just can’t get rid of. I really like their hair, though. … The musical repetition that started with all those Kesha songs is now in every single mix-mix-mix-mix-mix by every singer-singer-singer-singer. Stop-stop-stop-stop. … People who walk around listening to music are generally oblivious to everything else, not even aware that they’re endangering your life as they step into traffic in the middle of the street. Somehow they always come off scot-free as they glide through everyone else’s tragedies. They’re probably listening to Eminem.

Please, sir, tell me more!

Every song today happens to be "featuring" someone. Would the Beatles have had to give up their instrumental breaks to someone rapping about bitches and hos? 

Very good musical analysis, Mr. Musto! I had never ever considered the possibility of the Beatles singing about bitches and hos, much less the notion that Paul and John might step away from their microphones to give room to someone else to rap about bitches and hos. Very astute observation, pitting a band that has not released music since 1970 against, say, Jay-Z and Kanye West. Very smart! 

But hey, Michael Musto is hardly a music critic, and he knows it! Which is why he then begins to quote heavily from his music critic friend, who, similarly, is so angry about everything, especially Pitchfork:

"Pitchfork.com is an intentionally obscure website that reviews every indie record, rating them with a score from 1 to 100. It’s hard to get a score over 73. They create stars, like Melody Maker and NME did in England 20 years ago, and then they turn on them. As a result, your EP will sell 6,000 copies in Brooklyn, and then your full album will stiff. If you’re no longer new, you’re not as cool to them. They love bands they never heard of, and they love Neil Young, but everything in between is not good."

Anonymous Music Critic, you are so on-point! We’re on the cusp of 2013, after all, so it’s about time someone take a stance at those dastardly Pitchforks with their 100-point rating scale. And goddamn you, Brooklyn, for being so overpopulated by people who pay money for EPs! "White people," am I right? 

I mean, I get it: it’s hard to take your afternoon nap while listening to One Direction, and that only leaves you being cranky at dinnertime (which is 6PM, in case you forgot). 

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Prolific Wunderkind Ty Segall Releases Yet Another Album This Year—And It’s Completely Different

Fans of sludgy, lo-fi, aggressive rock have only had one name on their lips this year: Ty Segall. The 25-year-old Californian, whose shaggy blond hair and baby face make him look like a young Thurston Moore, has already put out two albums in 2012. One, Slaughterhouse, has a spaced-out wall of guitar sound, while the other, Hair, is a lo-fi, feedback-filled, shambolic psychedelic trip. These records are the best kind of genre exercises: wildly fun and playful, but still operating within conventions that make them easy to listen to. Both records were deemed “Best New Music” on Pitchfork (average score: 8.45), and praised up and down the blogosphere. Stereogum spoke for many fans and critics when they called
 Slaughterhouse “a confident attempt at
making the ‘evil, evil space rock’ Segall
has repeatedly cited as his ideal sound.”

So why, on his third album of the 
year, Twins, is he leaving all that behind? “The whole ‘evil space rock,’ thing—honestly I wish I’d never said that,” Segall admitted recently while on a rare break in his European tour. Confronted with that Stereogum quote, his usually implacable Californian good–naturedness is punctured for a rare moment. “Evil space rock is one ideal sound,” he says, sounding a little baffled. “But, we like doing different stuff.”

From the opening chords on the new album, that’s clear. The screeching, lo-fi, dirty metal sound of almost all his other records (save, perhaps, last year’s tuneful Goodbye Bread) is gone. In its place is an unusually mature, structured, and melodic collection of songs. There are layered vocal harmonies, female backup singers, bridges, and snappy, memorable choruses. That’s not to say it’s not heavy—there are still plenty of lightning bolts of guitar wizardry. But the mix has calmed down, the notes all have plenty of space to breathe, and the background fuzz is at a minimum. At times, Segall almost sounds like 1990s Britpop kings Supergrass (especially on the album’s opener, “Thank God For Sinners”) or even Revolver-era Beatles. (“The Hill” has moments that sound like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” or, as Segall calls it, “that song where they say ‘Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.’”)

Segall sees the record as more of an evolution than a departure. “I wouldn’t say that I have to sound distorted and gnarly and messed up on recordings for me to be happy with them,” he tells me. “I’ve always wanted to get that clean sound.” Indeed, the past year have seen a whole raft of lo-fi artists, from Frankie Rose to the Vivian Girls, attempting to release more full-sounding, mature albums. Segall is just another in a long line.

Not that he necessarily had any of this planned going in. When I ask him what his inspiration for the new record and its new sound was, he pauses for a moment. “Well, you know, I got this fuzz pedal that I really liked, and I really wanted to use. I was like, okay, start here and see what happens.” Some things never change.

Follow Chris Chafin on Twitter.

‘A Lasting Impression’: A Q&A With Composer Zoe Sarnak

Zoe Sarnak is doing pretty well for a recent college graduate. Just three years after graduating with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Harvard, she’s about to bring her first musical, A Lasting Impression, to the New York stage. Relax—she also minored in music. Following a staged reading of the show at Pace University, A Lasting Impression brings a tale of artistic pursuit and struggle to a place that has seen its fair share of creative undertakings: the New York Theater Workshop’s 4th Street Theater, where it runs through August 26. I sat down with Sarnak to talk about the process of bringing her musical to the stage, the influences who inspired her to compose music, and how her passion and craft have been a constant in her post-graduate life. 

How long have you been rehearsing for this production?
The shortest process ever. We started, basically, at the beginning of the month. We cast just in the week before that, so it’s been very whirlwind and crazy in the best way.

So is this the second production, after the Pace University version?
I call the Pace production a showcase. It was semi-off-book. It was staged so they weren’t at music stands, and it wasn’t like reading style, but the process was so fast, and it was really designed to workshop the piece itself. Most of the actors were on-book. In fact, the director was like, “Please stay on-book.” This is the first fully staged production.

Is anyone from that production involved?
Two of the cast members from that Pace production are now in this production. There’s this really cool pseudo-ensemble. Part of the concept of the show is that all the music is the main character’s music, so essentially the voices in her head are the singers in the band. They’re a character in the show, but they are also part of the pit. And those two girls were both part of the Pace production.

You went to school for science and you were a music minor. Was music something you had always had a passion on the side?
I sort of think about it this way—are you a Sex and the City person? There’s this thing they call “secret single behavior,” and it’s like the things that you would never do if somebody else was around. Music was my secret single behavior. No one really knew I wrote music, and I didn’t start my minor until junior year. It was one of those things that I always knew I wanted to do but felt… I was scared, I think, and I was great at science and knew that would be a smart thing to do, and I even started applying to medical school. I think [my first show] The Quad totally changed my life, because it was only through accidentally following through and writing and finishing a show that I was like, “Oh God, I have to do this.”

What did your studies entail?
Theory, composition. It was very little to do with musical theater. It was very much understanding harmony structure and counterpoint. In my senior year, I got to do the orchestrations for The Quad. I came to the city shamefully behind on my musical theater studies and have been playing catch-up in a great way. Like, I had never heard the music of Company or actually most of Sondheim, really. And that’s insane! Obviously. That’s insane. It’s weird because if you meet people who grew up in the city, they know that stuff because it’s always revived. I’m from New Jersey, and it’s amazing that there was never the regional production of Company there.

I was going to ask you about Stephen Sondheim because the subject matter of this show is one he has touched on often, with Sunday in the Park with George and Merrily We Roll Along. Were there other shows or films that dealt with the idea of pursuing artistic endeavors that inspired you?
I think that, for me, the idea of structure and craft is very informed by the Sondheim vision of theater. And how he speaks about it in Sunday in the Park as a very precise thing. I think how I see the musical side of things as much more informed by the music industry and figures like Janis Joplin and this idea of just being overwhelmed by musical passion. We all write what we know, and I think a lot of that really comes from my own experience.

Did you study playwriting, or is that something you just started doing?
No, is the short answer. I read a lot of plays. I was never really in shows, so I don’t come from that perspective; it’s one of the reasons why I’m so like in awe of the work that directors and actors do. I think that’s something I’m learning through doing and through reading, because seeing shows is really helpful as well as seeing what is on the page that correlates.

Is that how you began writing music, too? Just replicating what you saw or heard?
Certainly subconsciously. I was writing music when I was in seventh grade, my diary version of it. Other people painted and whatever it is, I think that I can now look back and hear what I wrote and go, OK, I had the Beatles playing in my household growing up and I hear that. My mother actually really prefers classical music; I listened to a lot of that and it seeps into some of the chord structure that I use. Or jazz; I studied jazz. But it was never like, Oh I want this song to sound like this and so I’m going to study that song and apply it. Except…there’s a song in the show called “Now Soon Later,” which I sort of got the idea from “Now / Later / Soon” in A Light Night Music, so that’s a little bit of an homage to Sondheim.

Can you maybe name three people who have influence you, both on the pop side and the musical theater side?
The Beatles have to be the top of the list. How many people give that answer? But it’s right, it’s the correct answer—it just is. I think that Sara Bareilles is one of the greatest living songwriters right now and does not get appreciated as such because she happens to write from a pop place. I mean, she’s so beautifully poetic. The lyrics of “Gravity”: “You hold me without touch, you keep me without chains.” That’s wonderful writing. I’ve always attached to like ’90s bands like Marcy’s Playground, Third Eye Blind, and Matchbox 20, and—speaking of musical theater crossers—Duncan Sheik. And I am definitely a songwriter person, and I love Billy Joel and Elton John. On the musical theater side, my Beatles equivalent is Rent. I was younger when it first came out, but I’ve seen it so many times. That score is just the most moving piece of cathartic musical theater, and if you don’t feel something then you’re not alive, you know? I can understand that it’s a cliché answer but I have to give it because it’s just true. 

Fiona Apple and The Roots Salute Paul McCartney on ‘Fallon’

Fiona Apple may have been on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to discuss her acclaimed new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, and perform some new material from said album.

This was all well and good, and indeed her new tunes are worth tuning into her late-night appearances for. But the most pleasant surprise was her closer, a collaboration with Fallon’s house band, The Roots, on a dynamite cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ "Let Me Roll It." All parties totally nail their parts, and Apple ends by giving an enthusiastic birthday greeting to McCartney. Here’s hoping the lad from Liverpool, now 70, tuned in. 

Roll clip.