Steve Martin & Edie Brickell: Unexpected Turns Interview | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

Unexpected Turns

Jan 26, 2016 Edie Brickell Bookmark and Share

Steve Martin‘s decades-long career as an entertainer has had its fair share of twists. In the 1970s, he was one of America’s foremost stand-up comics. He segued that success into movie stardomwriting and starring in comedy classics such as The Jerk and Bowfingerbefore eventually branching out into writing novels and plays. In recent years, Martin’s primary creative outlet has been music. The longtime banjo player won a Grammy for 2009’s The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, and shares another with songwriter Edie Brickell for the title track from their 2013 collaborative album, Love Has Come For You. As he prepares for the release of his second record with Brickelltitled So Familiarhe’s able to trace some of his recent success as a musical artist all the way back to his roots in stand-up comedy.

“So many things are about timing,” Martin explains. “Putting spaces in, taking things out, learning how to edit things down, and knowing whether some words in a joke are frivolous, and then knowing whether a passage in a song is frivolous as it moves along. In its most abstract sense I would say all of this is really about that indefinable word: timing.”

For Brickell, finding a new collaborator in Martin was a case of fortuitous timing. Brickell and her band, The New Bohemians, scored a major radio hit in 1988 with “What I Am.” The young songwriter found herself not entirely comfortable with fameshe was “embarrassed” by it, she explains (“I didn’t feel I deserved it”). She met her husband, musician Paul Simon, and music took a back seat to being a mother. It was a casual conversation with family friend Steve Martin at a party which led to this new chapter for her career.

“As I was raising my kids, I realized I was singing and writing all the time,” says Brickell. “It doesn’t go away. I realized it was important to me, and how much I loved it. And now my kids are grown, and I met Steve and I suggested we write a song together.”

Martin was keen on the idea, and sent Brickell an instrumental track he’d yet to set words to; she sent it back to him with her lyrics and vocals layered in. Excited by the song he received back from her, he recorded and sent over more instrumentals for her to add to.

“I never knew what would come backthe songs had no inherent meaning to me other than as music,” says Martin. “I was always pleased, and I was always surprised by the subject matter…. I couldn’t write Edie’s lyrics. I just couldn’t. They’re coming from such a strange place.”

“When Steve sends his banjo tracks with the melody built in there, you can hear [characters and their stories],” Brickell elaborates. “It has so much personality, and I’m inspired to write in a way I’ve never written before…. It’s like the ghost of a character floats through me and the words pour out.”

The songwriter brings a storyteller-like quality to their music, with subject matter that sometimes juxtaposes rather darkly against Martin’s rollicking banjo-picking. (One particularly hard-to-forget song from their first album recounts a true tale of a baby that was tossed over a 50-foot drop from a speeding trainand survived, thankfully.) Together, Martin says, he and Brickell are able to achieve “things that we wouldn’t achieve musically on our own.” They’ve already planned the next step of their musical partnership, and written a musicaltitled Bright Starwhich will play in Washington, D.C. this winter before opening on Broadway in 2016. Martin had the idea for a stage musical when he started connecting the dots between the narratives in Brickell’s lyrics.

“Steve’s imagination is very quick, and he had so many different characters based on just a handful of different songs,” says Brickell. “From a tiny acorn, a very large oak tree grew.”

Martin clarifies, modestly:

“We hope it’s an oak tree,” he says, and they both laugh.

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s November/December Issue. This is its debut online.]


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Robert martin
February 2nd 2016