Music Interviews
11:03 pm
Fri January 25, 2013

Petra Haden Covers Classic Film Scores With A Single Voice

Originally published on Sat January 26, 2013 2:36 pm

Petra Haden had a problem when she was a child: "I remember watching Looney Tunes cartoons and having the music stuck in my head," the singer and violinist says.

Soon, it wasn't just TV songs but movie scores, too. Haden is the daughter of a famous jazz musician, Charlie Haden; she's also performed with Beck, Foo Fighters, Mike Watt and Bill Frisell, and was a member of the 1990s rock group That Dog. But for her newest album, Haden went back to her old affliction.

Petra Goes to the Movies features versions of 16 of her favorite movie scores. Though her father and Frisell join her at times, the album is performed mostly a cappella.

"The bass line is the anchor for me," Haden says. "I started with the bass, and either doubled that and then added the harmonies, or sometimes added my own harmonies that I've always wanted to sing on the song. And then it just went on from there — singing violin parts and trumpet parts and just trying to emulate the sounds of the instruments."

From Psycho to The Social Network, Haden's layered vocals offer a captivating interpretation of classic — and not-so-classic — theme music. Here, the singer talks with NPR's Scott Simon about her inspiration for the project, the pitfalls of trying to sing instrumental music and why she couldn't choose just one song from Superman.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Petra Haden had a problem when she was a child.

PETRA HADEN: I remember watching Looney Tunes cartoons and having the music stuck in my head, like (humming).

SIMON: And the problem kept getting worse. Soon, it wasn't just TV songs but movie scores too. Now, Petra Haden is the daughter of a famous jazz musician, Charlie Haden. She's also an accomplished musician - former violinist and vocalist in the rock group That Dog. And she's sung with Beck, Foo Fighters, Mike Watt and Bill Frisell. But for her new album, she went back to that old affliction. Cue "A Fistful of Dollars" and "The Man with No Name."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SIMON: For "Petra Goes to the Movies," she decided to mostly ditch the instruments, though her dad and Bill Frisell do join her at times. This album and its 16 movie scores, from "Psycho" to "Goldfinger," is largely a cappella.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HADEN: The bass line is the anchor for me. And I started with a bass and either doubled that and then added the harmonies, sometimes out of my own harmonies that I've always wanted to sing on the song. And then it just went on from there, singing violin parts and trumpet parts and just trying to emulate the sounds of the instruments.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Petra Haden makes recording an a cappella version of songs written for orchestras sound easy, but she admits there are some odd pitfalls.

HADEN: You know, after a while, hearing some of these songs, I think I sound like a chicken or something. Like (Humming). You know. But I think not really.

SIMON: You know, that I can see that in an ad. She sounds like a chicken, Rolling Stone.

HADEN: I can't believe that I just said that. I sound like a chicken. Great. Buy my record, everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Another cut we want to ask about. The superhero that defines them all.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: John Williams' theme from "Superman." It struck me as fitting. It almost sounds like a chorus of kids' kazoos, not the London Philharmonic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And the more I heard it, the more I thought, you know, somewhere in this world today there are probably is a chorus of kids going (Humming), you know, probably doing it that way.

HADEN: Oh yeah. That's - it's my favorite movie, it always has been.

SIMON: Which version are you talking about? The one that came out, the original Christopher Reeve?

HADEN: Yes. I've had a huge crush on him since I was little. I have had Superman posters. I had two vinyl records of the soundtrack. People knew how much I loved the music. And anyone that I watch it with, I'll recite all the lines. I know every single line in that movie. It's pretty funny.

SIMON: Isn't there the moment when Lois says to Superman on the balcony, how big are you?

HADEN: I mean, how tall are you? And she goes and how much do you weigh? And he says, oh, about 225. And she says, 225? But by the way, just how fast do you fly? I don't know really. Never bothered to time myself. Well, say, why don't we find out?

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SUPERMAN")

CHRISTOPHER REEVE: (as Superman) Why don't we find out?

MARGOT KIDDER: (as Lois Lane) You mean I can fly?

REEVE: Yeah, actually, I'll be handling the flying, if that's OK.

HADEN: I know the whole scene.

SIMON: Oh, mercy. I'm very impressed, very impressed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Petra Haden, the musician of a thousand instruments - mostly her voice. Her new album, "Petra Goes to the Movies." Thanks so much for being with us.

HADEN: Thank you.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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