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A CONVERSATION WITH JANE SCARPANTONI, 11th  SEPTEMBER, 2003

Broadcast: Monday, 8th December, 8:30pm.

I took the opportunity to speak to New York cellist Jane Scarpantoni while she was in Australia touring with Lou Reed…

Francis Dutton: Well, thanks for coming on & speaking to us. I took the opportunity to get hold of you, well, for two reasons… one, because you’re in the country... and two, because I’m hoping to talk to Kristin Hersh on the program later this month. I spoke to Kristin back in late 2001, and it’s through that connection that I knew about you, because of course you played on Hips & Makers, and University...

JS: …University, yeah.

FD:  I can assure you that if you’d done nothing else in your entire career, your place in history would be firmly fixed by that effort alone! (Laughs)

JS: Oh, wow, thank you. Hip & Makers is one of the favourite things that I actually did play on, and coincidentally enough, when I was on tour with Lou...  we just came from Europe… we were in Sardinia. We played a gig, and two nights later, Patti Smith’s band came, and I sat in with her, and Lenny Kaye of course was there, and so when we were hanging out together, we were reminiscing about how great that was working on Hips & Makers, and how, like, still to this day, it was one of the best things we did together, and, you know, we were thinking about her, and you know, it’s so funny that you should call…

FD: (Laughs) Yeah, and of course, Lenny Kaye produced that album, didn’t he…

JS: Yeah.

FD: It was recorded at Stable Sound, I believe, in Portsmouth… that sounds like a fantastic studio.

JS: Yeah, yeah, it was, because it’s like… the building that the studio is housed in also houses this corral for horses, so you can look through the window, and you see these horses, like, (laughs) running around in it..

FD: That’s bizarre!

JS: I know, it’s very bizarre

FD: It’s such a beautifully recorded album, though, and you really make those tracks soar… I mean Houdini Blues… Me & My Charms…

JS: Oh, Houdini Blues… I love that song… when I first heard [the] demos of that song… I was like [sigh] this is the best thing in the world, and I was so excited to… make stuff up and work on it. And she’s a wonderful person, anyway, and I was like… these songs are… so good.

FD: Yeah. Because the amazing thing was that she wasn’t even, I mean, as I understand, it took quite a bit of cajoling to get Kristin to record that acoustic stuff in the first place

JS: Really?

FD: I think her husband & manager, Billy O’Connell, was partly responsible, with possibly a little urging-on from Michael Stipe as well…

JS: Yeah, he sang on that too… I didn’t hear about that par, that it took some… prodding to get her to do that, but it was definitely worth it…

FD: It’s so different from her Throwing Muses stuff…

JS: Oh, yeah.

FD: She’s really unique, I think.

JS: Yeah.

FD: I think if America had, like, a Japanese system of National Treasures, she’d certainly be one of them (laughs).

JS: I think so.

FD: Yeah. Anyway… I mean… your CV gives me stage fright to look at, actually!

JS: My what?

FD: (laughs) Your CV… you’ve played with a lot of people, haven’t you?

JS: Yeah…

FD: I’m looking down the list in front of me… Ween… Sparklehorse… Bruce Springsteen… REM… Lou Reed, of course…

JS: …and Silverchair, don’t forget Silverchair…

FD: You played with Silverchair?

JS: I did string arrangements for Silverchair, for their song called Cemetery, on Freakshow, and I did several of them for Neon Ballroom… including the one that had David Helfgott on it. Because I worked with this producer, Nick Launay, you know, who produced Midnight Oil… INXS… and Silverchair, and we’ve worked together in the States, too, so that’s how that happened, and that’s when I came to Sydney for the first time, in 1998.

FD: Is that the only other time you’ve been here, or…

JS: No, that was it, you know, I came here to write, so I was here for, like, a month, writing… just furiously writing charts for that thing, and recording ‘em, and then I got a little time off to see Sydney. Actually I hadn’t seen Sydney… I saw the four walls of my hotel room, and the four walls of the studio, and we got  the Sydney Symphony players to come… John Harding, the concert master…

FD: You started off as a classically trained musician, and I think I read somewhere that you were not really an appreciator of, how shall I say, things rock ‘n’ roll, to begin with… am I right in saying that?

JS: No, no, no! You’re wrong! (laughs)

FD: (laughs) Well I’m glad to hear it, ‘cause I was going to say, you’ve certainly come a long way if that was the case!

JS: Oh, no, that’s not true at all, you know, I was like any other kid, ‘cause I listened to Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and Velvet Underground… I was such a big Lou Reed fan, you can’t imagine what it’s like to be playing with him!  Bruce Springsteen, too, a lotta people…  Patti Smith… loved ‘em all, ever since I was a teen-ager. It’s amazing, I never thought playing the cello would get me… there.

FD: Yeah, you wouldn’t nessecerally pick it, but boy oh boy, it sure lends some warmth, and some depth…

JS: You can rock on those things. A lot of people don’t know it, you know, they go “oh, ooh, the cello,” and I was like.. I’ll show you something. Like, Lou’s got a great, expansive imagination, so…

FD: You did the arrangements for The Raven, or helped with them, yeah?

JS: Yeah, I did them. And I wrote arrangements for Vanishing Act, Call On Me, and, ah, Broadway Songs, and maybe some other things, but they were arranged in the studios. But those are the three that were written out… we had, like, a big 21-piece string section…

FD: Wow. And you’ve been playing songs like Street Hassle live… what a joy to play that one…

JS: …and Venus In Furs, and All Tomorrow’s Parties, and then [more recent] stuff, like, I had worked on the album Ecstasy, and he’s doing that song… he’s just…

FD: He keeps himself interested, doesn’t he?

JS: Oh, yeah, that’s what he’s all about, you know?

FD: Yeah, he gets a bad press sometimes, but you know, I get really annoyed with these interviews where it seems to be more about the interviewer than the person being interviewed… I saw one just the other day, where this guy was whingeing about getting a hard time at the hands of Lou Reed, and I thought, well, if I’d been Lou… (laughs)

JS: Yeah, well, what kind of questions… well, what sometimes happens is, some people [don’t know what they’re talking about] and then they ask him the same questions. And, you know, he’s heard this stuff forever. Don’t ask him about that stuff again. Know what you’re talking about. I guess it could get pretty old for him… he’s been doin’ it for so long, so I can understand that.

FD: I’ll tell you a funny story actually. A cousin of mine used to work for ABC radio in Adelaide, and way back in 1974, when Lou toured, he arrived at Adelaide airport, and they used to shunt them into a kind of boxy little room on the side of the airport where they’d conduct interviews. So he was taken into this room where they had all these cameras & lights set up, and he went & sat down in the opposite corner. And they’re going, ah, excuse me, Mr. Reed, ah, there’s a chair over here for you, and Lou’s like (darkly) “fuck you…”

JS: (laughs) Yep!

FD: …and so they had to move, like, everything from one end of the room to the other…

JS: (laughs) Ahhhhh, that’s my boss. He’s a funny guy…

FD: (laughing)…and he looked around at everybody, glared around the room, and said “I hate all of you,” then pointed at my cousin and said “especially you!”

JS: Awww, he’s so good, taking the piss out of people, it’s very funny, if everybody just understood his sense of humour, you know what I mean? He’s a cool guy.

FD: Moe Tucker I’m a big fan of, too, she’s terrific. I love the way they still get together every so often.

JS: Yeah… he says that loves her drumming, and that she’s an un-sung hero of the drums.

FD: So… are you a New Yorker?

JS: Yeah.

FD: God, it just occurred to me, we’re talking on September the 11th.

JS: Oh, right. Yes… I know.

FD: Were you there for that?

JS: Yep. Yeah, I was standing in the street, watching it come down.

FD: Bloody hell.

JS: On fire… down, down, down.

FD: When I talked to Kristin Hersh, it was not long after that, and she’d just played at the Knitting Factory, and she was telling me how bizarre it was, ‘cause they had to pass all these check-points and stuff…

JS: Yeah, you could not go down to where the Knitting Factory is, you know, it’s close, you can walk to, or you used to be able to walk to the Trade Centre. So, um, now there’s just two big… mass graves. Yeah, that part you could not go in, they cordoned off my street, too, in the East Village, I couldn’t even turn the corner for, like, two days.

FD: Uh huh.

JS: But anyway, I mean, I hope that our country can move on from there without, well…

FD: I used to say to people at the time that, you know, the question “why?” was almost illegal, you know, [or] to get into the nitty-gritty of why this might have happened…

JS: Well, who knows if we ever will. I mean, it’s that kind of atmosphere.

FD: It’s sort of driven people in the other direction if anything…

JS: Oh, Lord…

FD: Yes…

JS: We could go on & on about that.

FD: Yeah, it’s funny, I mean, in Australia we have this strange relationship with America… we don’t have a language barrier… and we like to think we’re a bunch of rugged individualists, and yet we consume the ass off the… you know… the fast food culture.

JS: I know, but it’s all-pervasive… around the world we see McDonalds, Starbucks, Gap, like… whatever, this mass globalization thing. It’s kind of horrible to see, because then the individual character of places… even in New York it’s happening, and that’s my town. I don’t want to see it, turn into, you know, Denver. Then New York doesn’t have its own personality, as well as Denver.

FD: Yeah. When I was an art student in Sydney years ago, if we wanted to find a studio somewhere, we’d just go out & find an abandoned building and move in! (laughs)

JS: Right on! Now it’s, like, pay through the nose…

FD: It’s all multi-million dollar apartments…

JS: I know. Well it has… in New York, we’ve moved into the basements. People can have their Pro-Tools in your house, and that’s what us musicians have been forced into, but, you know, we’re going to do it anyway.

FD: Yeah, well… keep doing it. So, have you got anyone that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with?

JS: Well, one of them just passed away… Warren Zevon. I just found out about it today. I was just speaking to someone in New York, and they just left that message, and I went “oh, man,” and co-incidentally, I spent the better portion of last night just listening to two records, his last record, and Mutineer, I listened to them over & over again, so there must have been somethin’ going on. But, yeah, he would have been one. But Bruce did play on his last record, and I have played with him, so… let me see… gosh… who would it be?

FD: I noticed you were playing some jazz a while back…

JS: Oh, yeah, that’s what I would really love… I was in John Lurie’s band, called The Lounge Lizards, in New York City for ten years, and I loved that band.

FD: Yeah, they’re great, in fact I picked up an album the other day that’s billed under the name “Marvin Pontiac,” …which is really, of course, John Lurie, and there’s some lovely stuff on it. Tracks like “Small Car”…

JS: Yeah, “Small Car,” isn’t that great? “I’m a Doggie”… I love that guy, and that band was so great…

FD: And he’s written some great soundtrack music, too.

JS: For “Get Shorty” of course, and “Stranger Than Paradise”… stuff like that.

FD: He’s a mighty talented guy.

JS: Incredibly so, and so I’m going to see him when I go back to New York, and see if I can get him to… you know, he’s [in a] hiatus. And [The Lounge Lizards] are all stellar musicians… there were a couple of different versions over the ten years, but… did you ever hear of a band called Sex Mob? That’s the trumpet player’s band, he was their musical director for a while, Steven Bernstien, and that’s a really great band, if you can find that. It’s on Ropeadope.

FD: There was a guy called Marty Ehrlich you played with, too…

JS: How the heck did you know about that?

FD: Ah, the internet, Jane… (laughs)

JS: My god, I played with Marty Ehrlich one time… it was a one-off gig, somewhere in Brooklyn!

FD: (laughs) …here’s another obscure one… Benton Bainbridge, or Benton C? He sounds like an interesting guy…

JS: Oh, yeah, like a supremo… whacky… you know, video-mixer-artist extraordinaire. And live mixing, you know, what we’d do is, like, live mixing of video, they would be mixing the video, and a bunch of musicians would be playing too, you know… sometimes it would be us musicians reacting to the video, and then it would be them reacting to us, in a big, round, kind of circular thing… it was cool. Also, do you know who Adam Green is? There was a band, Mouldy Peaches, from NYC. Adam Green is a songwriter from that band, and he has, just out, a new record, which I have here, what the heck did he call it? …’cause he changed his mind so many times… I did string arrangements on that, and he’s a big fan of Scott Walker and stuff like that… he’s, like, 21 years old, and he’s really great. It’s called ‘Friends of Mine’, on Rough Trade. You might find that really amusing… he’s a funny guy!

FD: And are you playing any classical at all?

JS: Once in a while. I do this funny… the only classical gig that I do, and I just in the last two years started to play that kind of thing again… it’s in Key West, Florida, the Key West Symphony, and the woman who conducts that orchestra, she gets the string players from all around the United States, and imports them to Key West, during winter months, or spring, when musicians can be enticed down there, to have a little vacation and play in their symphony. So that’s what I do, I take a whole parcel of friends from New York, and San Francisco and other places, and go down there. So, that’s the only symphonic or classical gigs that I do.

FD: Yeah, I’m very fond of classical cello, too.. the wonderful Bach solo stuff…

JS: Ahh, yeah, the Suites… I have them with me. I was playing them, kind of like trying to entertain our crew, while they’re sweating their guts out in the Italian heat… so I was like, I’ll just play this little change of pace here…

FD: Nice. Well, look, thank you so much for coming on & talking to us out of the blue like that.

JS: Oh, I’m glad that it was able to… be.

FD: And if I speak to Kristin Hersh later, I’ll tell her that I’ve been speaking to you. It’d be good to see your name on a forthcoming Kristin Hersh record.

JS: Oh, I would jump at the chance, because that was really truly… both of those experiences were great.

FD: I’m really glad to hear you say that… Hips & Makers is one of my all-time favorite records.

JS: [Mine, too] …it’s just like… her lyrics are so amazing…

FD: Yeah, she kinda talks about them coming out of the ether, and yet they have this really well-crafted sound about them. And the way the lyrics and the music work together.

JS: And I’m so glad that Billy & Michael convinced her to do that, cause I didn’t know that… what you said. But basically, all that acoustic stuff still has all of the fire of her electric stuff.

FD: It sure does, doesn’t it? Tracks like ‘A Loon’…

JS: Oh, (voice goes low-down-dirty) A Looooon!

FD: Or that other one [Sundrops] where you go berserk with the cello. There are two different aspects of your playing on that album… one was to give that kind of soaring background thing, and the other was that rough-edged, leading from the front kind of…

JS: Oh, but you know what, I’ve gotten even wilder, way wilder since then, ‘specially with The Lounge Lizards… did you ever hear Luna… Days Of Our Nights?

FD: No...

JS: Take a gander there.. then I do some pretty wild shit.

FD: Did [Kristin] allow you to, you know, like, do what you want on that album…

JS:  Yeah, she had some ideas, too. I think she got me because she had heard me do stuff with Bob Mould on his first [solo album] ‘Workbook’, so it was kinda like, she knew I could do that, except that Bob had made up all those parts, which is amazing …that’s another favorite record of mine. So, she loves him, and so then she knew that I could do all that kind of stuff, and I made up a lot of stuff, and we worked together on it.

FD: Yeah, I was just interested to know how that dynamic worked.

JS: Yeah… a little of both, you know? I’m going to have to give that question you asked some thought… about who I might play with…

FD: (laughs) Sorry to just spring that on you! And good luck with the rest of the tour… how much longer are you touring for?

JS: Well, we’re playing tonight at the Enmore, and then Newcastle tomorrow, and then we’re going to go to Japan, where we have a gig in Osaka, and two in Tokyo, and then we go home.

FD: Well, you’ll be looking forward to a holiday by then.

JS: Ahhh, actually, I’m having such a great time that I could keep playing with [Lou] forever.

FD: Doing what you want to do… what a great way to live!

JS: It is… good. (laughs)

FD: Well, take care.. bye bye.

JS: Thanks, Francis, bye bye.

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