In the tradition of cinema’s blonde bombshells, Hollywood’s favourite ingénue has taken on the music world with a debut album covering Tom Waits’ cult classics. Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe found success crossing cinema and song, how will Scarlett Johansson fare? Indigo Clarke writes.
“I always loved to sing ever since I was a child… I wanted to be in musical theatre, though that’s really dorky to admit,” Scarlett Johansson, the petite and pouty Hollywood actress slash sex-symbol reveals in her deep and metered husky voice. The latest Woody Allen muse is in London promoting her debut album, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” – a compilation of ten Tom Waits covers, plus an additional self-penned track, produced entirely by none other than Dave Sitek of New York’s, TV on the Radio.
Orchestral and experimental, the album has been created with a ‘beginning, middle and end,” Johansson says, explaining that it has been intended as a complete body of work rather than as a single-driven album. Upon heavy and at times unrelenting compositions, Waits’ potent lyrics find alternative expression through Johansson, and her resonant, somewhat monotone vocals. With maturity and confidence seemingly beyond her 24 years, Johansson discusses her much-anticipated release, and decision to record her “reinterpretations” of maverick singer/songwriter Tom Waits.
“I feel confident that I can sing, and whether or not everybody personally likes my voice, I believe I am vocally strong enough to cover these songs and carry an entire album,” she asserts. “I’m over the moon, and deeply honoured and moved by the results of the album and the work that went into it. It was quite a simple decision to do all Tom Waits covers as I’d been a huge fan for so long.”
Surprisingly, given the pained, emotional intensity of many of Waits’ lyrics, Johansson says she not only related to, but, “could apply Waits’ songs to my own life. I’m young, but I’ve certainly lived a very full life – although, I haven’t had as many drinks,” she laughs. “I just always loved Tom Waits, and I thought my own voice could lend a new angle to his music. I went through the album and picked songs with a strong cinematic quality. My favourite singers all tend to be quite theatrical and visceral. Each Waits’ song I covered I felt required a different emotional response, so the album is very emotionally rich and layered.”
Dave Sitek, never one to pass up a challenge, says, “I file a lot of what I do under bananas” he laughs, explaining that he had no idea what to expect when taking on Johansson’s debut. “I love juxtapositions in music, and I was really excited to work with Scarlett. I created ambient structures for the songs to sit on top of. I used all kinds of weird electronic equipment… a lot of what I did was experimentation – dictated by a question mark rather than an exclamation point.
Once taking on this project, I thought, ‘let’s jump on the cinematic aspect to Scarlett’s persona and voice’ - rather than run away from the fact that she’s an actress, I wanted to embrace it.”
The album came as a result of Johansson performing on a benefit album for the LA Philharmonic's Music Matters educational charity (along with Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Garner and others), “I was approached to do an entire record after that,” Johansson explains happily, “and I just couldn’t pass it up. I have so many friends that would kill for this opportunity, I knew I had to take it.” Collaborators on the album include Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Celebration's Sean Antanaitis and… David Bowie! [“He just appeared in a cloud of smoke Labyrinth style” Johansson jokes].
The calm, confident and self-possessed starlet couldn’t be happier with the result of her initial foray into music, “I love to share the album with people, and everyone I share it with is so surprised. I don’t feel I have to prove anything, or have any responsibility to promote this record beyond just spreading the good word.”
‘Wherever I Lay My Head’ is due for release on May 24