June 12, 2008

Joey Ryan and the evocative melodies of “Bella”

I recently got a chance to sit down and watch Bella, an independent film from Mexican director Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. I loved so many elements of it — from the believable way it traces a chance connection between two people over the course of just one day, to the gentle yet realistically untidy way it deals with the mistakes we look back on throughout our lives.

Monteverde is a tenacious Austin-based filmmaker, and Bella (his first feature-length film) was the winner of the Peoples Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. It is a visually dazzling movie with gorgeous use of light in the cinematography, which stood in contrast to the darkness that both main characters are slogging through. With the dialogue weaving in and out of Spanish and English, the film traces two realistically flawed characters struggling to make some beauty out of a pile of overwhelming life circumstances.

My ears perked up immediately when I heard a sweetly rough-voiced tenor sing a few acoustic folk songs at pivotal moments on the film’s soundtrack. For a split second, I considered that just maybe it was Ray LaMontagne (or Brett Dennen?) but it was actually fledgling Los Angeles songwriter Joey Ryan. There is no official soundtrack released yet for Bella, so Joey was kind enough to send me some alternate versions of his music for the movie, and to respond to questions about his unique involvement with the film and his inspiration behind writing these songs.

The spirit of his compositions reflects the genuineness of this film, and there’s a heartening story of how it has been a bit of a saving grace in his own musical career as well. Joey writes:

The story of Bella, well . . . I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Psychology, and a couple weeks before graduation decided to abandon my plans for neuroscience graduate school to try to be a musician. I pictured myself at 30, just hating myself for never having given my dreams a chance. So, I made an album and spent almost a year in Los Angeles (where I’m from) playing shows and whatnot. It was difficult to discover that the process was hard for me and that I wasn’t able to play the venues I had hoped for. I was admitted and enrolled in a Masters program in psychology, at that point and was quitting music. I didn’t understand how anyone could build a music career from nothing in the environment of Los Angeles.

Then, literally a week before the first day of class I got a call from a company called Mophonics in Venice Beach. I had given them my album almost a year earlier, and they said they were going to put one of my songs on a TV show. When I came in to sign the paperwork for that, they asked me to send them anything else I had been working on, so I went home and sent them my GarageBand demo of this song I had just written.

Coincidentally, Stephan Altman at Mophonics was in the middle of composing the score for Bella and immediately had a scene in mind where my song would fit. The song was “Like You” (from the bathtub scene) and they asked me to add some lyrics in Spanish for it. So in the film the lyrics are “Yo se que no puede salvarme, I know I’m on my own, Yo se que no puede salvarme, I know I’m alone”. The Spanish means “I know you can’t save me”. This is Nina’s low point. She has yet to fully accept the help and friendship Jose is offering and feels completely alone and desperate there in the bathtub.

By the end of the day the director was in love with the song and it was in the film. That was the first time I ever paid rent with money I made from music.

The second song in Bella happened a couple weeks later. Stephan called me at 8am (woke me up) from a soundstage where they were mixing the music for the film, and said that a song they had been planning on using was no longer available. He asked if I could watch the scene and write something. So I did, and by 10:30am I had written and recorded (on GarageBand again) something for the scene and by 11am it was in the film too!

“Light On” (played when Jose and Nina walk down to the beach) was written for the film, for this particular scene. I thought the main theme musically should be a sense of resolution. Each character had just gone through their most heart-wrenching depths and they were starting to climb out together. I wanted the music to sound like the first deep breath of air after a long hard cry. Lyrically, it’s about pure, platonic, and altruistic friendship between two people who need each other’s help. That was the second time I ever paid rent with money I made from music.

A string of opportunities through Mophonics over the next few weeks meant that I never went to the first day of classes for my masters program, and it’s now two years later and things are going amazingly well. Mophonics is putting out my new full length record …with its roots above and its branches below this summer. I’ve toured both coasts and am going across the country this month, from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between. And my songs seem to find their way into different opportunities that have kept me (very happily) paying rent through music.

Light On – Joey Ryan
No One Else Like You – Joey Ryan

That version of the “Like You” is featured on Joey’s upcoming release …with its roots above and its branches below. You can preorder it on Joey Ryan’s website and/or enter your email address to be on his mailing list so you can also download two other songs for free: “Let You Go,” which was on television in the UK, and “As It Must Be,” heard on One Tree Hill. Joey Ryan has tour dates coming up, including one in Denver next Sunday at the Walnut Room (I can almost taste the pizza already).

Also, anyone else from California –especially the Bay Area– will likely love his California EP from last year, and the eponymous title track with lyrics like, “San Francisco, you’re always busy, you’re always pretty . . . on a clear day there’s no place I’d rather be.” This is effortlessly charming music with a warm streak of melody, honesty and humility.

May 20, 2008

Indiana wants me

I was up late last night after watching the Rockies sadly best the Giants at Coors Field in Denver (that bottom of the sixth was a bitch). So if I weren’t already working on a growing sleep deficit from this weekend, I’d be seriously considering going to the theaters at midnight tomorrow to see the new Indiana Jones (actually, I still might). I’ve been awaiting this new installment — I adore everything about those movies, and have even forgiven the Temple of Doom for scaring the bejesus out of me at a sleepover when I was 9 or 10. Ripping a guy’s beating heart out of his chest cavity may frighten children. Good to know.

Ever since the previews for the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull started airing, I’ve pretty much been walking around humming this when I need to feel especially victorious. If I had a personal theme song, this would kind of be in the running because then I’d feel awesome all the time.

CONTEST: The soundtrack for the movie is released today, featuring an original score composed by Academy Award winner John Williams. Fuel/Friends has one copy to give away if movie soundtracks are your thing, or if you just have a crush on Harrison Ford. Leave me a comment about some element of one of the Indiana Jones movies that you wanna write a comment about — a quote, a moment, the time when that dude literally melts and turns into dust because of God’s wrath, etc. etc. You choose.

And since I have no mp3 from the soundtrack, this song works very very well. A girl can dream.

Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor

PS – I so just added him as a friend on MySpace

December 21, 2007

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (Once) cover “Into The Mystic”

One of the most highly acclaimed musically-infused movies to come out this year, Once is the story of a Dublin busker who works part-time in a vacuum repair shop instead of living out his musical calling (Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames and The Swell Season), and the musical connection that he forms over the course of a week with a fellow struggling artist, a not-yet-twenty year old street vendor from the Czech Republic who happens to play the piano (Marketa Irglova, the other half of Swell Season).

You’ve probably seen the lush and lovely soundtrack that they made popping up on year-end Best of 2007 lists all over the place, and with good reason. This particular cover is a bonus track on some special editions of the soundtrack, and it is jaw-droppingly good. Although it starts winsome and delicate, it builds into moments of heartfelt intensity. The song always ends too soon, so I have to back up and listen to it over again.

Into The Mystic (Van Morrison cover) – Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

The DVD came out this week in the U.S., which is something that my Netflix queue is thrilled about.

* * * * * * * * *
In unrelated news, this kinda restored some of my faith in humanity this morning as I read the paper over my cup of coffee. Religious or not, I thought it was an inspiring story of giving this time of year, and what we are capable of.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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