My Favorite Album: Jason Mantzoukas on Joni Mitchell’s "Hejira" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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My Favorite Album: Jason Mantzoukas on Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira”

“Where I feel like this record for me wins out over other Joni records is her forgoing a lot of the traditional folk arranging and embracing the jazz stuff.”

Aug 19, 2020 Jason Mantzoukas
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You may know him as the infamously depraved Rafi on The League, as one-third of the How Did This Get Made? podcast dream team, or as the animated preteen pervert Jay on Big Mouth, but actor Jason Mantzoukas is also a long-time audiophile with impeccable taste in music.

While he’s practically cornered the market on playing zealously obscene weirdos, Mantzoukas in real life is a much more cogent and mild mannered version of the wild-eyed deviants he embodies so often, which is why it might come as a surprise to fans of his public persona that he would pick Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, a gorgeous and tender album, as his all-time favorite.

“I know that for Joni this record represents a kind of restless time in her life where she was traveling and had just ended a relationship, and there’s a lot of upheaval and a real powerful potent melancholy to it,” Mantzoukas says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “And I feel like without revealing too much about myself, there is something about it that then and sometimes now really resonates with me.”

Mitchell’s 1976 album combined her still unadulterated by cigarettes and alcohol vocals with the fretless bass of Jaco Pastorius, creating a fascinating blend of folk and jazz that Mantzoukas was deeply enamored by from the first listen as a teenager. “Where I feel like this record for me wins out over other Joni records is her forgoing a lot of the traditional folk arranging and embracing the jazz stuff,” says Mantzoukas. “One of the central components of this record that just adds to Joni’s kind of melancholy songwriting is Jaco’s heartbreaking, plaintive bass work, which I think was such an amazing complement to these songs. You’ve got all of these jazz musicians willing to explore with Joni, and it’s an amazing record that delves into all of these topics in a way that is exploratory and seems to have a freedom and a languidness that other previous Joni Mitchell records just didn’t have.”

Even though Hejira traces Mitchell’s nomadic journey across the country as she interweaves her recent heartbreak with the sights and sounds of various road trips, Mantzoukas doesn’t consider it to be an album for wallowing in sadness. “It’s not indicative of a sad mood to be listening to this record,” he says cheerfully. “If anything it is the opposite. It’s like a salve to bad moods.”

For a Los Angeles resident like Mantzoukas, Hejira has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it perfect for a life lived half inside a car. “It’s a beautiful place, and a beautiful record to drive around to. It’s just because the record itself feels full of momentum and it’s about road trips and it’s about travel and it’s about physically moving, mentally moving on from things. It’s not a placid record and that is something that is very powerful when you’re listening to it.”

In Mantzoukas’ personal pantheon of favorite records, Hejira stands alongside other contenders like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, all albums that Mantzoukas says “are over time continuing to reveal themselves.” But in choosing between them, Hejira shines especially bright. “I’m finding moments and meaning and still finding a new connection to it as I get older, as I recognize the lyrics in the song to be different, looking at them from a 46-year-old point of view [rather] than a 19-year-old point of view or whatnot. These are records that aren’t frozen in time to me. They are continuing in my love for them and my appreciation of them because I continue to listen to them very regularly, and it only continues to grow and become more interesting.”

(Jason Mantzoukas is a comedian/actor/writer who has also had notable roles in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, as well as co-writing Ride Along.)

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.

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