Legendary songwriter Randy Newman will bring his songs and piano skills to the Center Theater on Thursday. Tickets are still available and cost $95 to $125.
Before his performance, Newman spoke to the News&Guide about his songwriting process, his take on politics and more.
Q: When you sit down at a piano to write, what is the difference between writing for a film and for an original album? They seem like two very different Randy Newmans.
A: They are. It’s a different part of the brain, too; it’s very different. With a movie you have got the parameters: You know how long it’s going to be, you know what the tempo is going to be, based on what scene it is. But with a song I basically have nothing in my head to start with. The movie stuff is written down, I write it. Songs I just play them, basically. Something will kick off the thing I’m doing and that’s how they start.
Q: You haven’t spoken highly of Hollywood in the past. Why do you keep doing movie work?
A: The orchestra. I love working with an orchestra, I love the sound of an orchestra, I like the musicians. It’s a real privilege to work with musicians like that. It’s not power or anything. It’s collaborating with people who are tremendously good at what they do.
Q: Does that make it harder than when you sit down to write original music and you can’t collaborate with others?
A: Yeah, in a way it does. It makes it harder to do it. My work ethic has never been too good. That’s why it’s taken so long in between records. But with a movie you have to work when you’re awake.
Q: This new album has songs both about Putin and the Kennedys. Why choose that subject matter?
A: I don’t know. With Putin, yeah, I know. I set out to write something because I thought it was so odd, that shirtless stuff he did like he wanted to be a movie star. He’s the richest man in the world, he’s the most powerful man in the world, and the other part of that is hard to understand.
Q: Yeah, it’s like he also wants to be admired by his people, even though they fear him as a dictator.
A: True. You know, that’s right. He wants to be loved also, at least by his own people.
Q: Your songs can be pretty dark, and this album has a lot of bite to it. Are you an optimist or a pessimist about society?
A: I’m an optimist about people. The odds are when you sit next to someone on a plane or a random situation it’s going to go pretty good. Not even pretty good, really good. With groups I’m less sure. But basically I’m an optimist about people’s behavior.
Q: Since this album delves into politics, what do you think about the current political climate of the country?
A: It’s never been divided like this; it’s not even close. People will say, ‘I couldn’t have a Trump supporter as a friend,’ and vice versa, which is not the way it’s supposed to be. Politics is supposed to bring people together, but people are taking positions that are so far apart that it becomes difficult.
Q: Does this kind of situation inspire you to write, or do you just feel emotionally exhausted by it?
A: Neither. I mean, it’s sort of inspiring, but I don’t like to write about things that’ll just go away. Or write about something that is absolutely current because things change so much. I’ve done it, but I don’t like it. And at a time like this that is so violently oppositional it’s a little harder for satire or irony, because there’s always something new and ridiculous. Like, you don’t expect to see neo-Nazis in 2017.
Q: Critics have described “Dark Matter” as ambitious. How would you describe it?
A: Yeah, it is ambitious. I’ve written in character a lot, in a different narrative voice than my own. But this album has two people sometimes talking, or more. It was hard to do. I don’t know that I’d do it again. But I think it worked. It was difficult.
Q: What made you want to do it that way?
A: I wanted to do something different. It is really important to me to be doing good work at this advanced age. Most people in rock ’n’ roll, you can make a pretty good case that people do their best work before they’re 30. But that’s not true in my case, partly because of the movies, which keeps you in shape at least.
Q: Anything you want people to know before they come see you perform?
A: No, but I am excited to go to Jackson Hole. I’ve wanted to go there all my life. I saw a National Geographic article about Jackson Hole when I was a kid, I must’ve been about 11, and I always wanted to go there. I kept that for a long time. I’m looking forward to going, very much so. ￼