ACL Music Fest Sunday Interviews

The American treasure turns the tables, asks the questions

ACL Music Fest Sunday Interviews

Randy Newman

7:30pm, Vista Equity stage

A professional songwriter since the age of 17, Randy Newman quickly had his songs recorded by Gene Pitney, Irma Thomas, Three Dog Night, and too many others to list. His self-titled 1968 debut, like many of his albums that followed, was a critical but not commercial success. The Southern California native's two biggest hits were the misinterpreted "Short People" from 1977 and 1983's "I Love L.A."

Following in the footsteps of his noted uncles Alfred, Lionel, and Emil, Newman began composing for film in 1971. Since then, his work has garnered him 20 Oscar nominations and two wins. Recently, The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2 continued the bare-bones approach of its 2003 predecessor, just vocals and piano on some of his finest tunes. During a recent interview, he turned the tables and started asking the questions.

Randy Newman: Have you heard anything good lately?

Austin Chronicle: I'm surprised you asked me that.

RN: I ask because I've got to pay attention.

AC: I'm here in Austin, so that's really my focus. My favorite right now is Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears.

RN: I don't know them.

AC: They do a soul and blues thing that reminds me of Otis Redding. I'm also a big fan of Grupo Fantasma.

RN: That I've heard of. I'll listen to them.

AC: What have you been listening to?

RN: My daughter often points me at stuff. Now she's listening to Townes Van Zandt. I don't know how she got there, and you can't make fun of it either.

AC: What's the last thing you put on your iPod?

RN: Rick James' Street Songs. I love that album. Or maybe it was Nicki Minaj. I saw her on Saturday Night Live. That was some really fancy stuff she did.

AC: Do you find it difficult to discover new things these days?

RN: People send me stuff, and I find that people are getting really good at being in the studio. The thing is there's a lot of good stuff. Every once in awhile, I listen to SiriusXM, and there's no doubt there's some talented people out there. I really liked that record by Edward Sharpe. It sounded like the Sixties, like "Downtown" by Petula Clark. But it wasn't that as much as there was a definite talent for music on the record.

AC: Is the first thing to grab you when you hear something new the production?

RN: I don't look for lyrics much. It just isn't there, so if something sounds good to me, I'm fine with it. Emimem writes lyrics of some interest.

AC: There are times when his beats and the production overwhelm what he's trying to say.

RN: There's no doubt he's a bright guy. He's got something to say. I enjoy his humor when he uses it, although he can be very angry now.

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