Interview: Randall Poster, music supervisor to Wes Anderson among others
Randall Poster is a guy who has done a lot, a very lot, in the world of music. He’s Wes Anderson’s music supervisor and has put out two compilations of covers of Buddy Holly and Fleetwood Mac respectively by some of today’s biggest bands. The Kills, She & Him, Antony (of Antony & The Johnsons), and a host of others have lined up to be a part of his skill set. So what makes the guy tick? Well, behold here a tiny sliver of insight into the wonderful world of Randall Poster.
So let us start big. Where are you from and how did you get where you are today?
RANDALL POSTER: I’m a native New Yorker.
Oh cool, what part?
New York City.
(long pause) (crickets) (tumbleweed) Nice.
I’m currently in Los Angeles California, where I’m working at the moment, for the next week or so. And I got here on Virgin America airlines. [Laughs.] In terms of where it all came from, basically I had no professional direction coming out of school. A group of friends of mine and I made this crazy [student] movie about this college radio station and I learned a lot of DJing and years after that I decided what I wanted to do is work with great directors. So if I focused on music in movies, that might be a vehicle to do that. So far it’s worked out pretty well.
So how do you go from “Hey, I’ve got pretty good taste in music” to “Hey, name of director, I’d like to work with you and here’s the music I want to try and put in your movie”?
What I did was I made a movie. Otherwise, my advice to people is find your compatriots, band together and make a movie.
So you had something to show people, basically.
Yeah, you know, find your community. Find a friend who wants to direct, find a friend who wants to produce, find a friend who wants to design and just do something.
How did you work with Wes Anderson? His new movies seem almost to be centered around the music, so I’m curious to know how much direction he took from the music supervisor.
Well, Wes and I have been working together since he was finishing “Bottle Rocket,” I did that with him. Really it is a director’s medium, so the musical element is one part of Wes’s genius. So what I try to do is pursue any and every simple lead and instinct he has and try to build a house around it.
Can you give me an example of that?
Say in “Moonrise Kingdom,” where we started out with this one piece of Benjamin Britten music and then went out and sort of hunted and gathered every piece of Benjamin Britten written music and tried to use as much of it as we could.
So I guess we should talk about the Fleetwood Mac thing. I’m curious because now Fleetwood Mac is having, for lack of a better phrase, sort of a moment in the sun all of the sudden. And I’m wondering: why Fleetwood Mac? Why are people putting so much emphasis on Fleetwood Mac now?
I mean I can’t really talk about anyone else. I know I wanted to make this record, because for me, it was a big part of my life. The songs either hit me in the head, in the heart or below the waist. I just felt it was such a rich legacy of music that a lot of people probably hadn’t realized how far back it went. There were a lot of people who were unaware that Fleetwood Mac existed before Stevie and Lindsay. For me it was a very interesting challenge to take that whole legacy, that whole repertoire, and to try to reinvigorate it.
What’s your favorite Fleetwood Mac time period and song?
There are days you wanna eat Chinese and days you wanna eat Italian, you know? Some of it, of course in doing this, I gain a much deeper appreciation of the Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac, so I’d say the one song I adore that isn’t even on our tribute record is “Rattlesnake Shake” by Fleetwood Mac. It’s the one I’ve finally felt hitting again and again lately.
I’m trying to figure out how to word this next bit, because I used to live in Eagle Rock, which is where Bethany from Best Coast is from, and I’ve run into her before. And I now have this job writing about music and it’s strange writing about someone that you used to vaguely know. I know that she really wanted to be part of this Fleetwood Mac compilation and was one of the first to sign on. I’ll be blunt — we reviewed her last album and it was so different than her first one. I thought on her first one she sounded very confident and on her second one, she sounds very different on it. Right, well, her version almost sounds like a damn She and Him song, it doesn’t quite sound like her… were you there when she recorded it or did she like send it over or…
No, no. I think to me, what she brings to it, and was something that I saw, that I heard in the first record was she brings this sort of girl group vibe to it. And again, maybe the She & Him correspondence is the sort of girl group element to it that strips the gothic witchery out of it, and sort of articulates it in a more freshly struck way. And I think a couple of versions of the Stevie songs particularly, and you kind of hear the lyrics in a way you didn’t hear them before. They kind of, I guess maybe at a certain point, I find that since I’ve gotten old I don’t understand the lyrics to the songs as clearly as I did in my 20s. Except in some of the versions here actually, the articulation of the lyrics I actually kind of hear it more distinctly than I did in the original versions, you know?
Were there any other ones—did you have to cut out artists?
I literally ran out of room on the CD. Literally. It came to the final second of the CD, and we basically were left with two tracks available as digital extras. So we just couldn’t fit them all on the record. Literally. Just couldn’t fit them all on the record.
What, to you, makes a good cover? I know Billy Corgan covered “Landslide” and it was a pretty straight take, and then you’ve got something like Bethany from Best Coast (and I can appreciate what she did to it, I just think her last album was really weird) and she totally changed it. What, from your perspective, makes a good cover?
What makes a good cover is when an artist puts their own DNA in it, you know? The challenge is to make each track, but you don’t want people sitting around the campfire singing Fleetwood Mac songs. And they’re not easy songs to do.
I really like that imagery, actually.
It’s fine when you’re camping, but when you’re making a record it comes off as like “Oh, someone doing Fleetwood Mac songs.” To me, the value, or why it’s worth buying something, is when an artist is able to put themselves in it. And I think we largely succeeded in doing that. And then again, I think there are various models for “good.” Sometimes a band figures out that they’re gonna try and be really cool and hip and figure out they’re gonna deconstruct something, and oftentimes that’s just an exercise in onanism. Really. I mean it’s like there’s no point in taking something forward if you’re not helping the past have any purpose in and of itself beyond that.
What was that word you used? A kind of—
Right. Rapid interview u-turn. I know that’s what the Kills did with that one song, I thought that was one of the best songs on the record. They completely changed it.
It’s funny, because the Kills went into the studio planning to do Peter Green’s “A Man Of The World” and came out with “Dreams.”
Was that a surprise to you?
Yeah, I got the call that “Actually, they cut ‘Dreams,’ I hope that’s okay” which it was, only problem would’ve been if someone else had done it, which they hadn’t, so it was cool.
So this is your second [compilation of covers], you did a Buddy Holly one for the first one. Is there another one coming up with another artist?
I’m hoping to do a David Bowie record.
Oh that’d be the fucking tits! That’d be great. [Laughs] That was the most unprofessional way of putting it, but that’d be really cool.