Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Free Fiona
Jon Brion (in an interview with Rolling Stone) about Fiona Apple's next album:

Sony has yet to find the magic song on Brion's latest production, Apple's new record. The album has been finished for months but sits on the shelves at the label as, Brion says, execs search for a single. "It's a done record," he says. "They'll take whatever amount of time they'll take deciding how to promote it. And who knows? Those things are a black hole."

Oh for happier times. This from a NYT Magazine profile of Brion last summer:

Recording studios are dreary places: bunkers filled with wires, smudged glass partitions and ashtrays. The Paramour, where Brion is at work, is not like that. Nestled in the Los Angeles hills, the grounds resemble Norma Desmond's spread. There is an ominous iron gate, an ancient lap pool illuminated by torches at night and a garishly decorated ballroom.

Down one dark hallway, music can be heard. There are red walls, a fireplace, a Scrabble board and left-over Cuban pastries gnawed by Charlie, the Paramour's half-wolf, half-German shepherd. A Hawaiian guitar rests against some Chinese gongs. In front of a Beatles-era E.M.I. console, an Apple computer displays a screen saver of David Bowie, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp at Bowie's ''Low'' sessions.

It's 1 p.m., and Jon Brion is still in his pajamas and slippers. For the past three months, Brion, Tom Biller, an engineer, and the singer Fiona Apple have been living at the Paramour. Right now, Brion is noodling at a Casio keyboard, playing along to a mix of Apple's ''Oh Well.'' ''I cried the first time I heard her play this,'' Brion says. ''We were at Ocean Way, Sinatra's old studio, and I just put my head down on the table and cried.''

As ''Oh Well'' plays repeatedly, Brion tries to conceive an arrangement that won't disturb the power of Apple's vocals. He says he thinks her delivery on the current version might be too slow for the anger of the words. To help, Brion has written out the lyrics in color-coded fashion on two giant pieces of white paper. Blue represents sad passages, red anger and green the resignation of Apple's whispering ''Oh, well'' in the last line.

''There's a space between this line and that line, and it's this continual sort of push and pull,'' Brion says. ''If she's not singing, I offer something to carry the listener through to the next moment where she returns.''

Apple's first release, fueled by her ethereal vocals and a video with her in her underwear, sold three million copies. Brion played on it, and they became close friends. After a rambling acceptance speech at the MTV awards, Apple absorbed a media assault. In 1999, she recorded the follow-up, ''When the Pawn . . . '' -- the full title stretches to 90 words -- which Brion produced and played most of the instruments on. It featured a hybrid of hip-hop beats and Brion's skewed instrumentation. Like most Brion-produced projects, it was hailed by critics. And like most Brion-produced projects, it was a commercial disappointment, selling fewer than a million copies.

Apple contemplated never recording another album. Then, in the spring of 2002, Brion and Apple met for their weekly lunch. Brion had recently been ejected from a five-year relationship with the comedian Mary Lynn Rajskub. Making matters worse, the breakup occurred while he was scoring Paul Thomas Anderson's ''Punch-Drunk Love.'' Rajskub had a large role in the film, and Brion spent hours watching his ex on celluloid. Now finished with the score, he was at loose ends.

''Please, please make another album,'' Brion begged Apple. ''I need work that can save me.''

Apple agreed, and Brion went to Apple's label, Sony Music, with strict stipulations. There would be no deadline. If a Sony rep wanted to check on progress, he would have to fly to Los Angeles. Brion requested renting a wing of the Paramour rather than recording at a conventional studio. The label agreed.

In an era of industry bloodletting, Sony's acquiescence to Brion's demands demonstrates how highly respected Brion is in the industry...

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