Only for the sexiest woman alive would we slosh around the East Village in this winter mess for a listening party. Last night at Joe’s Pub, Stereogum got a preview of Scarlett Johansson’s forthcoming Tom Waits covers album, a project we’ve been tracking for well over a year. Anywhere I Lay My Head, out 5/20 on Atco/Rhino, collects ten covers and an original (“Song For Jo”) co-written by Scarlett and the album’s producer, Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio.
Scarlett and Dave spent five weeks recording the album at Dockside Studio in in Maurice, Louisiana last fall, collaborating with members of Sitek’s extended indie rock family, including Celebration, Jaleel Bunton (TVOTR), and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitarist Nick Zinner. TVOTR fanboy David Bowie lends vocals on two tracks (“Falling Down” and “Fannin’ Street”). Well she certainly knows how to get our attention. Not that that’s ever been a problem.
Sitek’s unmistakable mark is all over the project, his thick production often vying with Scarlett’s multi-tracked
baritone contralto (thanks Jack) for the listener’s attention. They recorded “tons of layers of insane stuff,” Dave offered in a Q&A session that followed the playback portion of the evening, mocking himself as an “overproducer.” He said he was going for a “cough medicine/Tinkerbell” vibe, an illustrative laugh line that’ll probably seep its way into the press release (and most subsequent pieces) on the record. Rumbling organs, screeching guitars, banjo, and a large hand-wound music box (featured on “I Wish I Was in New Orleans”) are supplemented with found sounds of the bayou: bird calls on “Song For Jo” and crickets and dogs on “I Don’t Want To Grow Up.” Sitek recalled the strange experience of “sitting with your friends trying to tune down crickets at 5:30 in the morning.”
The producer praised the red-blooded, visceral Americana painted by the Waits songbook, and its undercurrent of “heartbreak and hard work.” Johansson cited Waits’s beautiful melodies and distinct voice. The duo did seek the songwriter’s blessing before pursuing the project (he said OK, phew!) but have not spoken directly with him since the project’s completion. Johansson has heard that Tom is pleased with the result. We do know he was at least curious to hear it.
ScarJo claims she hasn’t thought about touring behind the record, but admits that the right “user-friendly” environment — “Scarletpalooza,” suggested Sitek — might coax her to perform live. “It would be a shame not to,” she admitted, but the prospect makes her nervous. “I think it will happen.” She also admitted to massive stage fright. Johansson, of course, performed with Jesus & Mary Chain at Coachella last year, and no one rioted.
Here’s the album’s tracklist:
Anywhere I Lay My Head
01 “Fawn” (Alice)
02 “Town With No Cheer” (Swordfish Trombones)
03 “Falling Down” (Big Time)
04 “Anywhere I Lay My Head” (Rain Dogs)
05 “Fannin’ Street” (Orphans)
06 “Song for Jo” (original)
07 “Green Grass” (Real Gone)
08 “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” (Small Change)
09 “I Don’t Want To Grow Up” (Bone Machine)
10 “No One Knows I’m Gone” (Alice)
11 “Who Are You?” (Bone Machine)
UPDATE: There was a video here of Scarlett and Dave talking about working with Bowie, but we took it down because you are not supposed to film anything at a listening party, don’t you know? We are mere Internet Bloggers and don’t know better, etc. The Other Boleyn Girl in theaters 2/28!