Ewen Bremner has had a lengthy career that has spanned nearly four decades. You may know him from Trainspotting, maybe you saw him in 2017’s Wonder Woman, or maybe you caught A24’s tender 2019 film, First Cow. Versatile as any actor out there, Bremner’s latest role sees him play legendary music producer, Alan McGee. Creation Stories, directed by Nick Moran, tells McGee’s story in an energetic fashion. Speaking to Moran, he compared the viewing experience of Creation Stories to drinking a shot of espresso, and he couldn’t be more correct. A lot of the success of the film rests on Moran’s direction and Bremner as the lead. Bremner is such a humble man, a vast juxtaposition of his performance in Creation Stories, and was a great interview.
Thank you, Falco Ink. for setting up this wonderful interview.
Um, alright, perfect. Well, it’s nice to meet you and I hope that you’re doing well. Are you in Japan right now? I [thought I] had heard you were.
Yes, I am. Yes.
Are you filming something there?
No, I’m here with family. I have family here.
Okay, great. Well, congratulations on Creation Stories, you were wonderful in the film. I truly believe that. I am curious, what drew you to that project?
Well, a lot of things. Obviously, Alan McGee is such a cultural icon and that’s an exciting prospect for any actor to get their teeth into. Irvine Welsh had written the script along with his friend, Dean Cavanagh. I’ve worked with Irvine Welsh on a number of projects, and I love how he writes and what he writes about. Clearly, there’s a real recipe or the ingredients that he’s working with or stuff that I really appreciate. He has a real taste for the grotesque and the comedic and a social conscience; you know, a sense of social justice. But he’s not an idealist, he’s misanthropic and the whole kind of cult connection of these ingredients is something that I really understand from my upbringing and we’re from the same city in Scotland, Edinburgh, and so the world that he is drawing on, I feel it’s like a mother’s milk, you know? I immediately understand it.
Nick Moran is someone that I’ve known for a long time and is such a unique guy, incredible energy. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to speak to him already, but he’s [a] really extraordinary guy and I didn’t realize before working with him, I kind of took it like: Every time you make a project, you’re taking a chance in goodwill and good faith with people that you’re working with. I didn’t realize that he had such a capable vision and [was] so flexible and able to execute so much of this ambitious project.
I kind of assumed that he was going to just run with it. We’ve been trying to put this movie together for a number of years. At this point, it’s probably about three years of trying and feeling to get the film, to make the film happen and feeling and feeling, and then it suddenly was happening and we had to run with it.
And so we were both thrown in at the deep end. But I’ve got so much respect for him and what he’s capable of.
I did speak to him [Nick] earlier, and the biggest thing I noticed was that he’s such a great storyteller. What was unique about him as a director? Because he also talked about the environment and the atmosphere he wanted to create on-set.
I say it’s a sort of calm [with Nick] and there are some common areas with actors who then become directors because of their way of thinking about what the scene needs, they start with their “actor head.” Because most directors I’ve never acted before so they stay away from it. There’s something that scares them. Most directors would never want to be in front of the camera and so it’s hard for them to think as an actor, I’m talking in general, but Nick, and a few directors I’ve worked with recently who are also actors, they think about the scene from an actors’ point of view and they work it out when there’s a problem, they put on their “actor head” and the think it through as an actor, they walk it through, and they talk it through. And that’s something that I’ve noticed in the last, the last few years of what were the few actors who became directors, and there’s something great about that. But with Nick, he’s made so many projects over the years, he’s got a wealth of understanding about how to make stuff. And his brain, we call it a magpie, you know, [because a] magpie finds these gems all over the place and he’s, he’s always switched on to how things are getting made.
So, Nick cannot switch his brain off. He would be doing every department on the film. Like the whole time we’re shooting he’d want to take the camera from the camera person, he’d want to take the microphone from a sound person, he’d go in and do the art direction, he’d be grabbing props and giving it to an actor, or he’d be fixing some of these costumes and fixing somebody’s hair because he’s an animal of movies. He’s grown up as a kid making films and he knows how to do it all and on a film like Creation Stories, our budget was really low. And we had such an ambitious schedule to power through to make it look like we’re in LA or to make it look like we’re in all these different historical eras and locations and worlds.
He would just really grab the reins of the horse and make everybody go faster. But also be taking on all these other jobs, which can be infuriating if you’re doing your job and somebody comes in and takes over. So, you know, it did elevate the level of energy on set quite a lot.
And you seem like such a nice and humble guy in person, but as Alan McGee, you have to kind of act up, right. Like he’s got a big ego at times. Is that hard for you at all to kind of have to be a little bit obnoxious to that reporter in the film?
I kind of love that stuff and playing with that stuff cause to me that’s kind of fun. Like people’s weaknesses in a way and it’s the root of all comedy: The person who has a different idea of themselves than the people around them, it’s a great engine of comedy.
I enjoy the eagle [wings] kind of expanding somebody’s sense of themselves, you know, things get out of proportion and the great thing about Irvin Welch’s writing as well as he really has this elastic sense of proportion you see, and all this and all his writing, his books, his films, you know, that he makes this [sort of] elastic quality of reality, and I love that. As an actor, that’s great fun because I can really enjoy that.
You mentioned that you grew up in that area that some of the film takes place in, was the music in the film music that you grew up listening to personally?
No, it’s not stuff that I was really listening to or interested in for the most part. I love music and I was really digging all kinds of music, but that, personally, I just [found it] didn’t do much for me. But you know, obviously, Alan McGee has to do a lot for me [while making the film], I have to really love it and it has to rock my world. As an actor, you choose to believe something and that becomes real, you know?
So was there any song on the soundtrack that you grew to love in turn the production of the film?
Eh, I don’t know.
Yeah, there’s lots of great music on it. And also just because I didn’t [like it] at the time, [that] doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate it more now as an older person, you know, with some kind of distance from it. And I can appreciate how music still travels, you know, it still communicates.
I don’t know about a specific track, there’s lots of great stuff and a lot of stuff that I did not know in the film as well. The one that jumps out is the track that Nick used for the closing credits, which I don’t know the name of it or the artist, but it really woke me up.
Note: The song in the closing credits is Shake the Cage (für Theo).
Another film that I noticed on your filmography is Trainspotting, which I haven’t seen yet but I do know that it’s had such a great legacy. Could you sell me on it and also talk about the impact it had on your career?
Well, it’s simply it’s about a group of friends who are faced with temptation and their friendship becomes vulnerable to this idea of taking advantage of each other, and so the friendship becomes the story of a tragic betrayal. And it’s quite moving because they’re characters that have a lot of affection for each other and the audience has a lot of affection for them. It’s this a really simple story of the temptation of betrayal and in tears, you know?
The impact it had on my career was significant because the film made a big impact and so people wanted to be associated with that film. You know, people enjoyed the film and had a love [and] affection for it.
It opened a lot of doors for everybody involved in every department, not just the actors, but the crew as well. It was a phenomenon at the time and these things are rare and I didn’t realize it at the time. It’s not just a vehicle that’s been pushed by money with huge marketing budgets.
It [Trainspotting] did get a decent marketing budget, but that’s not why the film is still talked about and still dear in people’s hearts. It opened a lot of doors for me and made it possible for me to get work in America [and] to be considered for parts there too, to be invited into a casting room to be thought of by a director to be considered for different kinds of work.
So yeah, it made it possible for me to have a career [that] I didn’t until Trainspotting. I didn’t take acting seriously as a career. I didn’t think it was realistic; I thought it was kind of preposterous that we’ll be able to have a life as an actor.
Creation Stories will be released on AMC+ and on-demand on Friday, February 25.
Rusty Anderson Talks New Single Firefly, Paul McCartney’s Got Back Tour, & More
As someone who had a hand-drawn picture of Paul McCartney hanging on my wall when I was in third grade and watched every concert movie/CD I could get my hands on — Back in the U.S. and Good Evening, New York City currently resides in my car’s CD player — I was overjoyed when I got Rusty Anderson, McCartney’s lead guitarist on tour for the last two decades, to agree to an interview. Here’s someone who I grew up watching on my TV, now in my Zoom room. Rusty was so gracious with his time, sitting in the Zoom meeting for 40 minutes as I asked him questions I was “destined to remember” from my own early days.
On his own merit, Rusty is an accomplished guitarist and singer/songwriter. His new single, Firefly, is incredible and is available on all streaming platforms now. As a guitarist, he’s also recorded with the likes of Elton John, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Lana Del Rey, The New Radicals, Miley Cyrus, Michael Buble, and Little Richard, as well as his own four-album catalog and of course, Paul McCartney among many more. Additionally, Rusty is working on new music that will be released soon and his entire catalog will soon be available on streaming platforms.
Thank you to Rusty for agreeing to this interview, for generously giving me your time, and for letting me nerd out about an intricacy in your Let it Be solo. Read on if you want to hear about the recording process of Firefly, the techniques he used on that track, reflecting on the Got Back Tour, guitar solos, and so much more.
Coastal House Media: Before I get into your single Firefly, which I love, I wanted to ask for your perspective since you’ve been around for a long time. How has the music industry with the promotion of new music changed? I’ve noticed with singles, for example, it’s not like people buy 45s anymore with B-sides. Can I get your thoughts on that?
Rusty Anderson: Oh, It’s a completely different universe. I’ve been playing music my whole life and involved in the business in some way most of my life and it’s completely changed. Especially seeing the invention of cell phones and the digital age and stuff, the old way fell off a cliff, basically. Now it’s all about promoting through digital means, like playlists and streaming and the way that the record companies [have] kind of finagled along with YouTube and Spotify and all that. It’s very much like they left the leverage of the artist out of the whole thing. And I could go on and on about that, it’s kind of dark. But we make the most of it, don’t we?
CHM: Your new single, Firefly, is a digital release that just came out earlier this summer, about a month ago. It is really great and was curious if there were any songs that inspired this because it reminded me of someone and I couldn’t recall who.
Anderson: Yeah, it’s a good question. I just wrote it on piano, actually, the melody and music, and it stuck with me. I listened back to it again a few weeks later and thought, “Yeah, that’s good,” and then a friend of mine, Ron Sexsmith, who’s a wonderful songwriter, and I said, “Hey man, you want to try writing some lyrics to this tune?” And he said sure. I always wanted to do something with him. So he wrote some lyrics and then I thought, “Oh, that’s not quite the right vibe. Maybe a little more positive,” [and] we sort of worked it over it ended up becoming Firefly.
I thought, “Now that’s cool,” but then I couldn’t stop imagining hearing Stewart Copeland playing the drums, so I asked him if he wanted to play, he goes, “Yeah, sure.” Then he put his drums on [the track] and it just came together in this really interesting way. And just to keep the craziness going, I invited my friend Chris Shaffer along to share the lead vocals with me. We literally each sang half of the song. I co-wrote and produced his record a while ago and always loved his voice, so I kind of had fun with the whole process, because it’s enjoyable working with other people sometimes, especially if it’s a really great cast of talent.
CHM: So then it is you singing on the track? Your voice is amazing.
Anderson: Thanks! Yeah, how I worked [that] was we sort of trade-off, I’m singing, [then] he’s singing, [then] I’m singing, [then] he’s singing the lead vocal. I then produced the track, playing the guitars, bass, keys, and editing drums. It’s a process, you know, putting music together — it doesn’t just happen. You can just play it live as a band, though that usually doesn’t happen as much anymore, especially since COVID and people have their own studios. But it’s all got its different allures, I guess, the different ways of recording.
CHM: So how do you get your friends to play on your track? Do you say something like, “Oh, if you do this for me, I’ll play on your next song,”?
Anderson: [It] just depends on your relationship with the musician. Sometimes people get paid, [and] sometimes it turns into favors and all that. As I said, I’ve been working with Stewart, we were in a band together years ago called Animal Logic, and I’ve been working with him on this new orchestral stuff and he played on my tune. I don’t know, it just all works out.
CHM: Towards the end of the song, the guitar kind of reminds me, of My Sweet Lord, do you know what I’m talking about?
Anderson: The very end?
Anderson: Oh, you know, there are different techniques that I try to create that don’t always sound like a guitar. There’s a harp-picking technique that I think I used, maybe you’re referring to that. I kind of enjoy coming up with something maybe a little unexpected guitar-wise, because the guitar, as an instrument, [is] just so beautiful whether it’s electric or acoustic. And on Firefly, I mixed all of it together. There’re some electric bits, acoustic bits, effectual bits, like that harp-picking technique, but I always love that, the ability to sort of put on different layers of guitars and try to maybe create some new combinations of things that listeners wouldn’t expect. That’s what I strive for.
CHM: How long did Firefly take to make?
Anderson: It took a while because [of] everything going back and forth to different people. Stewart [Copeland] lives in LA, but he is over in his studio and then Ron Sexsmith lives up in Canada, so there’s a lot of things done online [and] that always takes a while for someone to do it and then get it together and then send it to you.
CHM: Are you guys like sharing Google Files back and forth?
Anderson: [laughs] Yeah, that seems to be the way these days. But then it’s a trip. When I tour with Paul [McCartney], it’s all on a schedule. Everybody’s on a leash and you’re there, you go to the shows in each city, you all get up together, you soundcheck together, you perform together, hang out together, and chat about the show afterward on the bus or fly together and it’s just such a different reality. And I feel really privileged to be able to have all those experiences and create music in those different ways.
CHM: Before getting into Paul and all of that, do you have a new album coming out in the future or anything like that planned?
Anderson: Well, the way I’m sort of doing it, I released Firefly, and then I’ll release a few more songs. It seems like a good way to do it these days because sometimes if you release a whole album at once, it’s almost too much for the way the cycles of the media and online, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, playlists, it all takes time to sort of work it through that system. It’s almost better [to] release a song at a time…maybe I’ll release a few; I don’t know. I haven’t really figured out exactly which song I’m releasing next, but especially over the pandemic, I had some time to create and start recording things and get tracks together. [I] tried to make the best use of that time possible. That and hanging out with my family, doing paperwork, yoga, and stuff like that.
CHM: You’ve had a lengthy career, being a studio musician as well, and you’ve worked with a wide range of artists. I was just looking at the list and there are some that I would not have expected. You’ve done music for Tim McGraw and Michael Bublé. I know that some of these albums were from, I don’t know, 10 or more years ago, but how did that process work? Were you sending the stuff that you recorded on your own to a producer? Or were you going to a studio?
Anderson: Well, a lot of the time I just go down to a recording studio and play. Sometimes it’s a big tracking date where everyone plays together. Then sometimes just overdubs. Like I played on Livin’ la Vida Loca for Ricky Martin. I’d already done some stuff with him at that time, along with a friend who I’d worked with named, Robi Draco Rosa, who was one of the writers on that song. He has his own band that I’ve played with and we’ve written songs together, etc. Anyway, He asked me to play guitar on a demo and brought it over to my home studio. There were a few key blank spots for guitar so I came up with the parts right then and there, also engineering. it was done in an hour or two — it was really quick. I didn’t really have a reverb unit at the time that I liked — I think my gear was somewhere else — so I thought, “Well, I won’t put any reverb on this, because obviously, it needs it, but I’m sure they will add it in the mix.” He goes, “Okay.”
So the record company called me and said, “Oh, by the way, they’re going to use that demo as the actual record.” I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool.” And then they call back, “Oh, by the way, it’s the first song on the record,” “Oh, by the way, it’s the single,” “Oh, by the way, it’s huge.” And then I’m in the health club working out on the treadmill or something, and I hear it in the background and I was just shocked because all of a sudden the guitar came on and there was no reverb, just bone-dry. And I thought, “Wow, they didn’t even put any on,” and in a way, I think it became the sound of that song — it became a thing, in a way, having more kind of a unique sound than if I would’ve put reverb on it. But it just kind of shocked me because these things are never as you expect, there’s always some element of surprise, you know?
And sometimes you go to a recording studio [where] there’s a whole band and you track the songs together. And then I stick around and do some guitar overdubs. Or a lot of times, people will send me music and I’ll play on [top of] it. And I’ll do the same if I’m working on my stuff and send it out to other people and they’ll put some music in and send it back. Or sometimes we’ve cut songs together in a studio. Like on my first record. I have four records out, Firefly makes the fifth release, I believe, and the first one I did, Paul McCartney played on it and he sang background and played bass and even some guitar. We just showed up at the studio together, it was the whole Paul McCartney band: Abe [Laboriel Jr.], “Wix” [Paul Wickens], and Brian [Ray], and I was just so floored! It was such a privileged to work with those talented people and be able to pull everyone together. And David Kahne was producing; it was really magical.
We got the basic tracks together and then Paul calls me the next day and he says, “I really like that track that we did.” He says that this one section — he called [it] the “rescue bit — which was a section where I didn’t know what I was going to do, he says “It’d be really cool to put some other instrument in there,” maybe a flugelhorn or an oboe, or a flute, or something surprising. So then I called my friend who plays with Brian Wilson, named Proben Gregory, he plays like four different orchestral instruments, to overdub in the rescue bit. And sure enough, it had a unique sound that I never really would’ve thought of.
And that’s another fun thing about working with people, especially someone as incredibly talented as Paul McCartney. They may contribute unexpected ideas. Of the records I’ve released, they seem to get done in different ways, with different musicians, actually.
CHM: When I was looking you up on Apple Music, I only saw two albums. Is it because Rusty Anderson Afternoon is a separate category?
Anderson: Actually, I’m glad you asked that because I’m in the process of getting those back online. There was a section, [but] I took them down because I wasn’t happy with the business arrangement. I think two of them are under Rusty Anderson Afternoon, which really refers to a band vibe with my buddy Todd O’Keefe — he’s a very talented cat, too — the rest of them are simply as Rusty Anderson. But yeah, they’re going back up. And obviously, you can buy all this stuff on my website, if you are into CDs or downloads, but anyway, I took those down a while ago and I’m just putting them back up now. And you can catch the music [and] those videos on YouTube.
CHM: I would love to transition over to Paul if that’s okay. You’ve now toured for 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to see you twice in 2015, and then this past year, How easy are these songs to play for you guys? It looks so effortless to you in particular.
Anderson: Well, it’s interesting because certain songs require more focus than others; or certain sections in songs. I mean, I’ve been playing guitar since I was a kid, so unless it’s some really intense jazz or classical bit or something, it doesn’t require a whole lot of focus to be able to play it. But there’s a thing called muscle memory, and once you rehearse a song and get it in your fingers and in your DNA and everything, it requires less thought. And it’s better if you don’t think too much.
And, you know, most of these are now classic songs, and so I’ve heard them for years. In fact, it’s so crazy because I remember when I first started playing with Paul, there was a time when we were playing a song and then it came time for the solo. And I was just kind of jamming along and I think I missed a couple [of] notes of the solo realizing that I was actually playing it because it almost feels like the songs play themselves, this music, you know? It’s really hard to explain.
CHM: That actually leads to a question that I had for you. You play a lot of the solos for Paul, some of them are just iconic and you stay close to the original, i.e. Maybe I’m Amazed, Something, My Love, but what did he tell you in regards to playing them? Did you have to stick to the original?
Anderson: I think I’ve used my intuition on that. I am such a fan of Paul and The Beatles and his career and all that, [and] there are certain songs that you just can’t mess with the melodies, [they] are too strong. You could play something else, but it would just be disappointing and it doesn’t peak the moment, you know? You have this incredible vibe happening with everybody there, the big audience, and everyone’s on the same page. We’re all together, celebrating these incredible songs and I think it would be a big disservice to all of a sudden play some other melody instead of the one that’s there. But that’s not always the case. Let it Be, for example, is more of a modality or a style that’s being played as opposed to melodies that are really specific. So I’ll kind of just improvise that one and let it flow to different places it wants to go.
[Then with] something like, well, Something, the song [laughs], [which] has such an incredible solo in it and is one of my favorite [George] Harrison moments whether it’s guitar or vocal. It’s just such a brilliant bit that he came up with and I really didn’t want to do that any disservice. And I’ll put my “English” on it and maybe spin the phrasing a little bit differently, but the basic substance of the notes I think are sometimes really important and sometimes not as much and I think this song [Something] spells it out.
CHM: Shifting gears to some rapid-fire questions, I know you guys alternated between New and Queenie Eye on this past tour [the Got Back Tour], do you prefer one over the other in terms of playing?
Anderson: No, I mean, they’re really different songs. I’d say New is a little easier to play; Queenie Eye has a strange guitar tuning with a slide and takes a little more focus, but I really enjoy the rhythm of that song and it’s got a cool chorus, I dig it.
New is really cool, too. I mean, it’s sort of “pop-y,” but in this sort of way that Paul almost seemed to have invented. It’s hard to explain. But that’s a cool arrangement, too. A lot of the horn parts and the guitar play together, it’s really weird. It sounds like it flows as a band, but if you just isolated the guitar part in New, you’d be surprised.
CHM: I think that the last time you guys were on the road before COVID, in the second or third slot, you guys would play Hi, Hi, Hi, generally speaking, and now you guys play Junior’s Farm. I’m glad to have gotten to hear both live, but do you have a preference between either of those?
Anderson: I like Junior’s Farm, it’s cool. It was a radio hit back in the day and I was very young, so it has a certain amount of awesomeness that stands the test of time quite well. Hi, Hi, Hi was also a hit back in the day, and that’s cool, too. It’s a little bit more kind of a straight-up, sort of “boogie-blues” vibe. Which is cool, but not as special as Junior’s Farm to me.
But, that’s the thing about a setlist. If you had like a thousand people putting setlists together, you’d have a thousand different setlists because everyone’s got their own perspective, that’s the beauty of music. People hear into things, they have their own interpretations, whether it’s a piece of art, a song, a painting, or a book, people interpret it. And that interpretation is what bonds people together. And it’s “loosey-goosey,” it’s an individual experience for everybody. And that’s the beauty of art and that’s the beauty of music; you could have like, the musicians’ Hall of Fame or Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all time, but they’re all just opinions.
CHM: Do you have a favorite opener that you guys did? I know you guys used to do Eight Days a Week, Save Us, or Hello, Goodbye, and now, Can’t Buy Me Love. What’s your favorite way to kick off a concert?
Anderson: Eight Days a Week was cool or A Hard Day’s Night. I enjoy them all, actually.
CHM: Are there any songs that you guys used to play more that, you kind of miss? I’m mad that you guys started playing Jet right after Syracuse, I just missed it.
Anderson: We played it [Jet] at soundcheck one day and I said, “Paul, we should maybe put Jet in the set.” He goes, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” I don’t always insert my opinion, but every once in a while, I will. And that ended up in a few of the sets and I always enjoy playing that song [Jet] just because it’s such an unusual track and it’s [got] a lot of the elements Paul does so well together in one song and I love the way the band plays it — it’s just got this energy to it. It always feels exciting.”
CHM: Do you have any songs in particular — besides Jet — that you miss playing or wish you could play more?
Anderson: I was glad we started playing She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. On this last tour, we did a section from Abbey Road that Paul, had never played — that was really cool. It had [a portion of] You Never Give Me Your Money, except for [a portion missing from] the very beginning of it. It’s hard to categorize when you take a song out a little bit out of context from Abbey Road, but it was on the second side — [part of] that whole medley thing.
Too Many People was always fun. [There’s] just such an incredible wealth of amazing songs, they’re sort of timeless and awesome to play [and] keep coming back to them.
CHM: Are there any songs you haven’t played with Paul from his catalog or The Beatles’ catalog that you’d like to play? I know you said that you don’t like to insert your opinion on the setlist too much, but if you did…
Well, I have a few times. I sort of pushed Helter Skelter back in the day and he [Paul McCartney] wasn’t sure. And then we finally played it and it went over like gangbusters. So it ended up in the set. I’d love to do The Back Seat of My Car. We sort of rehearsed it, but never ended up doing it. Or Little Lamb Dragonfly, [which] we never rehearsed. I don’t know, there’s been a few that got suggested by people that we never quite ended up putting in the set, or sometimes they get in the set and then we do it for a tour or two and then never play it again.
CHM: You said Paul was a little skeptical about Helter Skelter, was that just because of the controversy or because of the arrangement of the song? Or maybe the way the crowd might receive it?
Anderson: Oh, I think it was the controversial aspect of it back in the day, but that’s all gone. I mean, why should a song be connected to some psycho just because they liked it? There are a million Beatles fans and Paul McCartney fans around the world and everyone has their favorite songs and their connection to the songs, so I don’t know — I thought it was a little silly.
CHM: Do you remember playing Helter Skelter in Boston a few years back with Rob Gronkowski on stage? I recently came across this video, have you seen the YouTube video? Because the way you’re looking at Gronkowski is hilarious; you’re looking at him like he’s something out of this world.
Anderson: I mean, he is! He’s a very tall, giant athlete and obviously incredibly talented and it’s just the energy he was putting out and the sort of scope of it on stage was like something to behold.
CHM: To begin closing out, I wanted to talk about The End, the song you guys always end on whether it’s following the “Abbey Road medley” or the “Sgt. Peppers reprise.” Of course, during The End, you guys always have that little jam and I love that moment where you guys are just having fun — it looks like you’re just in the garage, jamming out together. I don’t hear every single concert, but I know that there are a couple of bits there that you have to play from the original track, but how structured is this jam?
Anderson: We don’t have to do anything. I mean, there are certain licks that are really cool that we sort of want to throw in because they’re so good, and then at a certain point, we [are] just doing whatever.
CHM: I could be wrong, but Paul usually ends it right with the little riff that ends the solo on the original track, right?
Anderson: That’s the cue that we’re ending it, people recognize it.
CHM: I know that I keep saying “last question,” but this truly is my last question for you. Do you remember the Syracuse concert? During Live and Let Die, the fireworks were going off, but were they especially loud during this show? Because I was further back and it seemed loud and Paul’s reaction definitely gave the impression that it was louder than usual.
Anderson: I don’t remember, man. I mean, I know that one night they’re loud, next night, they’re super loud, next night, they might be quieter. They’re usually about the same volume, but every once in a while there’s some acoustic element or they have different laws in different states and different countries or different venues. I think the Hard Rock [stadium] had its own laws there.
CHM: So do you wear the in-ear monitors on stage? Perhaps that quiets the pyro noise...
Anderson: I’ve been messing with that. I kind of mostly have been using in-ear filters, which, in theory, filter out everything equally, so it’s like a master volume turning it down, but it doesn’t really work that way because you get more bass than you do high-end. Like, if you stick cotton in your ears, it kind of goes [vocalizes muffled sound]. So it’s like halfway between hearing normal and a little bit [like with] cotton. But that’s usually what works best for me on stage because it’s a very different thing to perform than it is to listen in the audience because you’re not hearing a mix like everyone else hears. You’re hearing what you need to hear to be able to perform.
Firefly is available to stream now on all digital platforms.
Emmy Spotlight: Composers Jeff Cardoni and Nainita Desai
Composing a score is no easy task, just ask any composer. Both Nainita Desai and Jef Cardoni have had successful careers in Hollywood, but it wasn’t always easy. The two have both done a wide range of projects from TV, film, video games, and documentaries. Desai composed the epic score for 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, while Cardoni composed the score for the Tony Hawk documentary, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.
Both Desai and Cardoni share the fact that neither had formal music education, “[I’m] self-taught when it comes to music. I didn’t go to music college or university. In fact, I have a degree in mathematics,” said Desai, though she did take a post-grad course in music technology. Cardoni stated, “I didn’t go to music school. I mean, [the] piano is my thing, so I did all of the recitals growing up for about 10 years; that was my only formal training and then I picked up guitar and drums.”
Some kids grow up knowing exactly what they want to do in this little thing we call life. Desai always admired film scores, but unlike Cardoni, she always had the goal of becoming a composer in the back of her mind, “I always loved film and my dream was to be a film composer,” She cited John Williams and Ennio Morricone as some of her heroes. Cardoni actually did not originally set out to become a composer, “For a while, I wanted to be a guitar player in a band,” he said, though he was a fan of film scores and eventually connected the dots. Some of Cardoni’s inspirations include Thomas Newman, specifically his score for Less Than Zero.
But the hardest part of getting into the film industry is exactly that: Getting your foot in the door. Cardoni moved to Los Angeles at 28 and took some film music classes at UCLA. At this time, Cardoni would make his way to the back of The Hollywood Reporter magazine and send demos out to any company that would take them. “They used to have this thing before the internet became so prevalent on Tuesdays [where] The Hollywood Reporter would have a listing of all the films being made and all the things in productions and [I’d] comb through that and try to call people or fax them. I would ignore anthing with a big actor because I knew there was no chance,” said Cardoni. Despite those efforts, many wouldn’t ever call back and he would put flyers up at the American Film Institute stating that he was available to score short films.
But, as many know, simply getting to LA does not mean that you’ve automatically made it and have guaranteed success. Cardoni dealt with a lot of self doubt: “I mean, the doubt is always there. There were times where I was like, ‘Can I buy a latte?’ you know? It was tough to figure out where the money was coming from and figuring out if it was worth it.”
Desai got her start in the film industry as a sound designer, “I used to go record sound effects in the natural world around me. But I [also] had my hobby or writing music on the side and building up my own recording studio at home.”
Despite both getting starts in the film industry in one form or another, you may be wondering what their big breaks were, “I [worked as] Peter Gabriel’s assistant engineer,” said Desai. This experience with Genesis’ Peter Gabriel allowed her to work with some of the best engineers and record producers out there, and it eventually led her to be called to score her first project.
Perhaps getting your big break takes — as Paul McCartney says — “a little luck,” and Cardoni accredits his big break to that. His break came when he got a gig scoring CSI: Miami in 2003, “I look back and if all of those things didn’t happen exactly the way [that] they did, my life would be entirely different now because I didn’t come here [and] know anyone. I didn’t have any ‘in’s,’ you know?”
For someone not nearly as well-versed in music such as myself, I always thought that the process of scoring documentaries must be different than a narrative film. However, both Cardoni and Desai say that it’s not so different after all. “As a composer, I’m telling the story through the music just as much as the filmmaker is taking the audience on an emotional journey through the arc of the film,” said Desai.
When asked to describe their scores for their projects in three or fewer words, Cardoni used the words “poignant,” “inspirational,” and “atmospheric.” He revealed that some reviews of the Tony Hawk documentary actually give a positive shoutout to his score, “I was just looking on Twitter the day the movie came out to see what the reaction to the movie was in general and I was just happily surprised that some of them mentioned the music. I feel like for them [critics] to mention it and in a good light, it must have had an impact and it wasn’t like wallpaper.”
Desai’s choices to describe her score were: “epic,” “authentic,” and “intimate,” all of which are fitting for her score of 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible. I listened to the score while using an exercise bike and boy, I have never peddled so fast. Even without having seen the documentary at that point, it’s not hard to picture Desai’s score attached to visuals of mountaineers scaling huge mountains. What attracted Desai to the project was the emotional roller coaster that the film is, “the story takes you on an emotional roller coastal from danger to drama and intimacy and heroism and tragedy. It’s got everything.”
With two different documentaries with very different subjects, it makes sense that Cardoni and Desai’s missions were different. Desai wanted to explore the psychology of the documentary’s subjects, for lack of a better term, “What makes this man tick?” “What makes a man like him?” are two of the questions that Desai set out to answer. With 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible featuring 14 different mountains, Desai also wanted to make each mountain feel unique, “I wanted to portray each mountain in a different way, musically, and we wanted to create a real musical character for the mountains themselves. So not only do you have the human in it and his journey, but you have the character of the mountains,” said Desai.
Cardoni faced his own set of unique challenges. While he didn’t have to make 14 different tracks for 14 different skateboards, Sam Jones, the director of Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, is both a skater and musician, so the expectations are higher when the man leading the ship is a fan of the documentary’s subject.
In regards to what’s coming next for these two composers, Cardoni has quite a few to be on the lookout for. First is a show called Ghosts, which will premiere on CBS, which he describes as his tribute to Beetlejuice and the nineties. He’s also beginning to work on the second season of Heels, a Starz drama about professional wrestling which Cardoni is extremely proud of. Lastly, he has two Netflix films, the first is called Me Time, set to premiere on August 26, and stars Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, and Jimmy O. Yang. The second Netflix film is Players, a heist-comedy that is directed by his friend Trish Sie.
Desai’s future projects show her versatility. The first is a video gamed, slated for a July release, called Immortality and is a part of the Tribeca Games Showcase. Also at Tribeca is her film, Body Parts, a documentary about sex scenes in Hollywood that she is excited about. Beyond those two, Desai also has a miniseries called Crossfire starring Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, Line of Duty). These projects are very different for her and she enjoys the challenge of being taken out of her music comfort zone.
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible and Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off are available to stream on Netflix and HBO Max, respectively.
Hero Fiennes Tiffin Talks First Love, Diane Kruger, Wanting to Branch Outside of the Romance Genre and Teases After Ever Happy
After a lovely conversation with First Love director, A.J. Edwards last week, it was great to speak to the lead actor, Hero Fiennes Tiffin. You may know him as the heartthrob lead in the After films (2019-2022), Hardin Scott, but his turn in another romance film, First Love is a great performance to watch for those who are unaware of his work. He’s a lovely gentleman and I cannot wait to see where his career goes.
I spoke with Hero about his experiences on First Love, specifically working with Sydney Park and playing Diane Kruger’s son, but he also spoke about his upcoming roles, wanting to diversify from the romance genre, and gives a little tease as to what’s to come in the fourth After movie, After Ever Happy.
Coastal House Media: Hi, Hero, it’s a pleasure to meet you. How’s your day going so far?
Hero Fiennes Tiffin: Good, pleasure to meet you too, Andrew. The sun’s out in London, which doesn’t happen often, so I’m happy.
CHM: Before we get too far into this interview, what led you to take on this role in First Love?
Fiennes Tiffin: Do you know what? That’s a really good question. I’ve done a bunch of romance films called the After franchise, and I was keen to start exploring other genres and then I’ve got another romance come through and I was out to my agents, “Guys, I thought we were trying to move away for a bit,” and they said, “Just read it, it’s a great script, great director.” And I read it and it was a great script with a great director. So I thought I’d always give the time to talk to A.J. [Edwards], the director, and when I did it was his belief in the project and specifically belief in me that kind of persuaded me to do it.
I think I was quite ready on that call to say, “I’d love to keep doing romances every now and then, but I think I’m quite keen to diversify my portfolio by doing different genres,” and yeah, it was his belief in the project and belief in me, I guess, that led me to say yes. And yeah, I don’t regret any of it. I was so, so lucky and happy and learned so much working with all those actors and with A.J. [Edwards].
CHM: Do you recall your first zoom meeting with A.J. [Edwards] by any chance? I spoke to him last week and he vividly remembers that and I just was curious to hear your perspective.
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I do. I remember it very well. I was in the hotel room in Wales that I was staying in while I was shooting The Loneliest Boy in the World. And again, he might not know this, but my perspective was very much: “I’m going to hear him [out] and let him persuade me and stay open-minded,” but I kind of entered that call being aware that I might not want to do another romance so soon off during the back of [the] After [movies], but again, in the first minute and a half, his belief in me is kind of what persuaded me to do it, so I remember that call distinctly.
CHM: You just mentioned how many romance movies you’ve done, but what do you hope that audiences take away from First Love and find unique about it?
Fiennes Tiffin: Well, I think the difference between specifically First Love and the After franchise [is] that they’re completely different sides of the romance coin; the character specifically the character I play in First Love, Jim, is so different to the character Hardin in [the] After [movies]. And I think the dynamic of their relationships [are] different and just how they tell the story. I mean, you can have a genre movie [be] completely different from another movie in the same genre, and I felt like if I was going to do another romance [movie], it was important that it was the other side of that coin, which First Love definitely was.
CHM: Shifting gears back to A.J. [Edwards], I know you talked about his belief in the project, but what was unique about him as a director, as opposed to maybe some others you’ve worked with? And was there anything that you learned in particular from A.J. [Edwards]?
Fiennes Tiffin: All my experience as an actor has come firsthand on-set — I’ve never done any training. A.J. [Edwards] is a little bit old school in the best way and quite experimental and testing and I think he knows the project so well. [And with] his editing background, he knows how he’s going to piece it together. He would throw out some things here and there, like say we had a couple of hours free, he’d be like, “Let’s do post-breakup,” and instantly, just like that, [you’re] making [things] up as you go. So very improvisational and [he’d] just chuck you in the deep end, which I think you get some great stuff out of it.
Also, [having] the ability to just work without having to worry too much about continuity is so freeing. I think nowadays when you work with a bunch of cameras [it] is so important to make sure [that you] sip the water on the same line and do the actions at the same time, which can sometimes take away from the performance because you have to juggle so many different physical things in your head and beats to get. But A.J. [Edwards] allowed us to just live it and just say, “Do you want to do that scene completely differently?” [and then on] take two [say], “Do whatever you want,” and that allowed such a spontaneous, real, authentic kind of performance [that] made me feel so free, and I’m really proud of the work. I think his style was different and I can actually speak for a while about how kind of different he is to every other director I worked with, but I loved it.
To sum [it] up in a nutshell, [it] is just so freeing. There [are] no limitations on what you can do or when you should do it, he will make it work. If you can put the performance out there, he’ll make it work within the film.
CHM: I want to talk a little bit about Sydney [Park], who you share a lot of your screen time with. Could you describe her in three or fewer words as a screen partner?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m going to need more than [three words] — I can’t do it in three or less. She’s so fun to be around. It’s kind of nuts, I don’t know how she’s always so positive on-set. It feels like she’s done this a million times and she just enjoys it and has fun with it.
She [will be] joking around, doing accents, playing around, and then, “Action,” and she’s straight into character. I think all the actors on it were amazing to work with, but Sydney [Park] just kept me in a good mood, she’s so positive. And just like I said, she feels like she’s a veteran. I mean, she’s obviously so young and new to the game, but she’s clearly had enough experience to feel so comfortable and that kind of has a knock-on effect on you. I feel like everyone around someone who’s comfortable and happy on-set kind of feeds into that as well.
CHM: Did the chemistry come naturally for you guys? Did you guys have to hang out a little bit before the production?
Fiennes Tiffin: We hung out a little bit. We didn’t get too much time, but we went to grab some food and we played a bit of golf with a bunch of other people through[out] filming, but we didn’t get too much time. I think we just naturally got on quite well, which was good [and] I hope that shows. We’re both Scorpios as well, so that might have something to do with it [laughs].
CHM: One of the established actors in First Love is Diane Kruger. Not many people can say she played their mother, what were some memories you had working with her? And did you learn anything working closely with her?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a scene in the film where she starts to get a little bit emotional and I genuinely forgot I was acting. I felt like I was [in the] front row at the most amazing theater performance and I suddenly realized, “Oh my God, it’s my line!” and I’ve just been so absorbed in having this front row view of such an incredible performance. Everyone on it was so great in that own way [and] I’ve only got great things to say about everyone, but I think Diane [Kruger] was really aware of her talent going in and that was a big part of taking [on] the project like, “I’m playing Diane Kruger’s son.”
I feel like at this stage, I’m always so keen to work with great actors like her [Diane Kruger] because I know I’ll learn so much and I really did. I was lost for words at some points; the way she can just turn it on and off. It was a pleasure to play her son.
CHM: What’s your favorite memory attached to the film? It sounds like you guys had some fun off-set, but what was your favorite memory?
Fiennes Tiffin: I don’t know if I have a specific thing, but I just enjoyed the whole process because we shot in L.A. [and] I stayed 20 minutes from where we were. And I’m sorry, I’m not specifically answering your question as to a specific thing I loved, but the general thing I love so much was just how it felt like we were making — in the best way — a fun movie with a bunch of friends who had come together. Every location we’re shooting is 10, 15 minutes from somewhere else, and I’m sure we did everything by the book, but we definitely made the most of having a small crew and the ability to just be like, “Let’s shoot over there,” and “Let’s shoot over there in natural light,” and everyone was so collaborative; it just felt like we were doing it for fun, not work. I think the general vibe [and] feeling on-set was what I remember distinctly as the most fun.
CHM: Do you remember the scene where your character takes Sydney Park’s character on their first date by the water? A.J. [Edwards] had described that day and I don’t know what your perspective as an actor [is] compared to his, but I think if I’m not mistaken, you guys had to shift to that location. I don’t know if you were aware of that. Do you remember that day at all?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I think [that] for the actors, [it] felt really freeing and liberating and we’re [just] doing this [and] that. I’m sure for [the] producers, it was a nightmare because you’re constantly having to adapt, improvise and overcome. But that location is so beautiful and it just felt, again, like we drove an hour down that way, we saw a beautiful spot [and said], “Let’s go shoot there,” and that authentic nature of coming to the location the same way the character would had a domino effect all the way down to [the] performance. I think all of the locations were so beautiful, I remember that day so well, and as I said, [it was] so fun for us, but I’m sure [that] for the producers, it was probably a bit challenging, logistically. But I’m so proud of all the locations and spots we filmed in.
CHM: Your character in the movie makes a mixtape for Sydney [Park]’s. Have you ever done that in real life?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m so bad with playlists. I’ve got so many songs [but I] just think of it, search it, and then years later I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t thought of or heard that song in ages,” because I was too lazy to make a playlist. So no, that’s something that I should learn from Jim, the importance of making mixtapes and playlists. But A.J. [Edwards] actually sent us a Spotify playlist of the kind of music around the time  that Jim would maybe listen to and that was really helpful to get into character. I think I can take a leaf out of A.J. [Edwards] and Jim’s book in that way.
CHM: If you were to make a mixtape for somebody, could you name one song that you would put on it?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a song by Sam Sparro called Black & Gold that I always forget to add to playlists and I always come back to; it feels kind of timeless, so maybe that one.
CHM: I don’t know anything about the After movies, quite frankly I get them confused with Linklaters’ Before trilogy, so could you give me a little bit of an elevator pitch for these films?
Fiennes Tiffin: Listen, I think the fanbase of the books specifically, and then the films secondarily kind of speaks for itself in a way that I think the story is so brave in showing a relationship that is so far from perfect [yet] both parties worked so hard to make it perfect. I think the fanbase speaks so loudly in terms of how much people resonate with that and how much criticism you can get for portraying a toxic relationship. But no one wants to watch a film where everything goes right, do they? So I think that kind of teeter in the balance between documenting a relationship that’s challenging where both parties try so hard in that poignant, important part of your life when you’re coming of age; similarly to First Love.
I think [the] After [movies are] definitely high-stakes, dramatic [movies], you know? Everything is turned up to 10 out of 10. If you’re looking for a steamy romance, I don’t think you’d have to look much further than [the] After
CHM: If I’m not mistaken, there’s a fourth one coming out this year, correct?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yes. I honestly lost count at this point, but there is; I’m really happy.
CHM: You mentioned there’s like a rabid fanbase so could you give me any sort of tease for what’s to come in this?
Fiennes Tiffin: I think naturally, as you know, people who have read the book know we’re coming to an end. If there’s anything that’s in the books that you think should be in [here], that probably [will] be in this one.
Without saying too much, we are coming to an end, so I think if you’ve seen the first few, you definitely need to see this one. And if you haven’t, then you need to go to watch them.
CHM: You mentioned wanting to kind of get out of the romance genre a little bit, do you have any other projects coming up that maybe aren’t in the romance genre?
Fiennes Tiffin: I definitely do. I shot something in South Africa called The Woman King, which I’m so excited for. And again, I learned so much working with some amazing actors on that [film such as] Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, John Boyega, yeah, I can’t wait for that. That’s very far from a romance, especially [with] my character, so [I’m] happy to diversify the portfolio. I think that one comes out around mid-September.
First Love will be released in theaters and on demand on June 17 by Vertical Entertainment.
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