We’ve Got A File On You: Michael Shannon
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
There are few working actors who can claim the versatility and breadth of work Michael Shannon has under his belt. The Kentucky-born actor, raised in both Lexington and Chicago, makes an impact no matter the size of the film he appears in, from small-scale indie dramas like Take Shelter and Bug, to villainous turns in blockbusters like Man Of Steel and major awards players like The Shape Of Water. He has the kind of presence that commands your attention, even if his appearance is only brief, and even when he channels his knack for intensity at more of a simmer than a boil. It’s difficult to define Shannon by just one of his roles, and that alone speaks to his range.
But just past the vast range of Shannon’s performances onscreen is another angle to the actor: a lifelong enthusiasm for music and a devoted admiration of the musicians whose work he has devoured. As his career has progressed, he’s embraced that passion by dabbling in it himself from time to time, whether fronting his band Corporal or making repeated guest appearances with the charity David Bowie cover project Sons Of The Silent Age.
This week, Shannon and frequent musical collaborator Jason Narducy — the Evanston musician behind Split Single, and a session player / touring member for acts like Bob Mould and Superchunk — set out on something entirely new to the former: a proper concert tour. The two have had a history of performing the music of artists like the Smiths and the Velvet Underground at one-off shows in cities like Chicago or New York, but their latest iteration of that — a cover set of R.E.M.’s debut Murmur in its entirety for the album’s 40th anniversary — has now spawned a full-fledged tour in cities across the United States.
While gearing up for this tour, Shannon sat down with us (during a busy press day, introducing himself by saying he’s had “too much coffee”) for just over an hour to discuss his forays into more music-adjacent endeavors. Sometimes sincere and deep in thought, sometimes playfully sardonic, Shannon walked us through his portrayals of some of the most iconic musicians in history, his appearances in the music videos of Deerhoof and Local H, chance encounters with David Byrne, and his escapades eating all the pizza in a band’s green room. Like the expanse of the man’s credits, talking with Michael Shannon can go seemingly anywhere, and showcases an actor whose voraciousness with music knows no bounds.
Covering Murmur by R.E.M. With Jason Narducy And Friends (2023-2024)
What is it about this album that stands out to you in R.E.M.’s catalog?
MICHAEL SHANNON: To be fair, I’m a huge fan of all their records, and they’re all very distinct and their own entities to themselves. I wouldn’t say I prefer Murmur to their other ones — it was more a matter of the fact that it was the 40th anniversary of Murmur. And it was also the 40th anniversary of a venue in Chicago called Metro. Metro is a venue I’ve been going to for many years, and it means a lot to me. I’ve had so many experiences there seeing so many bands I love. It’s kind of my favorite venue to see music. The owner of Metro, Joe Shanahan, was very excited to hear that we wanted to do this, because the first show ever at Metro was R.E.M. It was before Joe actually even owned Metro; he rented it out because he had run into R.E.M.’s tour manager and said, “If you guys come to Chicago, I’ll take care of you.” So the first band that walked on stage at Metro was R.E.M., and that was about 40 years ago, so [our cover show] just seemed destined to happen.
When did you first get into R.E.M. as a band? And what has your relationship to their music been like over the years?
SHANNON: The album that really brought them to my attention was Document. When “The One I Love” came out, that really stopped me in my tracks. That was such a powerful song. I was kind of a loner and didn’t have a bunch of friends at school, but the handful of kids I did speak to were also very into R.E.M., and they were like, “If you like Document, you should go back to the beginning.”
Murmur just feels like magic. It’s interesting, considering how young they were when they made it and it being their first record — there’s something that feels very old about it. It feels like it has all this wisdom in it. And it’s not even necessarily decipherable, and it’s not even necessarily verbal — a lot of people comment on how hard it is to understand what [Michael] Stipe is singing. But it’s very evocative of a lot of feelings that I was grappling with at the time. And it’s a very Southern kind of music — I grew up in Kentucky, and they’re from Georgia — without being country or Western or bluegrass. But it matches up with the terrain, with the landscape. It feels like it’s got secrets in it, the way that land has secrets and history in it.
Where did the idea to bring this album on tour come about? Most of the other cover sets you’ve done in the past have just been Chicago-based.
SHANNON: There’s a festival in San Francisco called Sketchfest, and before we even played the gig at Metro, they were reaching out and asking if we were interested in playing their festival. Jason [Narducy], who runs the band, told me about this, and they were asking for two nights, so that’s where we’re heading first. It kinda blew my mind — it’s not something that ever happened with any of the other records we performed.
Then after the [Metro] gig, all these other venues approached us and expressed interest without us soliciting it. I think that’s just because of this record and what it means to people. When we played this record in Chicago — out of all the shows we’ve done, it had the most energy coming back from the audience. It was a celebration of this record and what it meant to the people there. A lot of people said afterward, “I’m so grateful you did this, because I’ve always loved this record. I never got to see them play it live, and I know I’m probably never going to get that chance, so it’s amazing to see that.” Even though it’s us, and not R.E.M. [Laughs.]
You’ve worked with Jason on a number of different live sets over the years. What makes him an ideal collaborator musically?
SHANNON: Jason’s whole career has been very adaptable, and he’s been playing with so many different kinds of musicians. He’s someone who can go from Bob Mould to Superchunk to playing a solo show on an acoustic guitar in somebody’s living room. He’s just got an amazing knowledge of music, and he’s very kind and creates a very relaxed environment. It’s a very stressful thing to do, and if somebody got all uptight about it, it wouldn’t be any fun. But he just makes it fun.
And he just knows so many other amazing musicians, because he’s the one who always puts the band together. He’s got a real sense for who suits whatever record we’re doing. We don’t rehearse a lot — the idea is that we study on our own, and then we show up and get one rehearsal to go through it, and then we play. That takes a lot of discipline, and you have to find people you trust who are gonna show up and know what they’re doing, and he always does that.
You mentioned in your Seth Meyers appearance recently that Mike Mills coming onstage to perform for that Metro set was unplanned. What was it like to have him join you on these songs he had a vital part in making?
SHANNON: That just kinda shot the thing into the stratosphere. It was not something I was anticipating. Jason is friends with Mike Mills, and Mike actually recorded on Jason’s last Split Single album [Amplificado]. So Mike had given Jason a heads up that he was planning on trying to get there, but the day of the show, his flight was delayed and he kept texting Jason like, “Gee, I hope I make it.” But then he walks in right before we go onstage. We were doing this thing Jason likes to do where we go over the ins and outs of songs and transitions, like, “Does anybody need to tune or switch instruments here?” And in walks Mike Mills. Jason said, “I brought you a bass.” And Mills was like, “No, I know you guys worked really hard on this and it’s your night. I’m just here to enjoy it.” But I guess he just got swept up in the spirit.
It’s funny too, because he told me later that he went back and watched some of it on YouTube, and he was like, “Oh man… I didn’t sound any good at all.” And I was like, “I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it, man. I think you acquitted yourself just fine.”
Covering The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead, The Velvet Underground, And Modern Lovers (2015, 2019, 2023)
What makes the idea of a cover set something you keep returning to over the years?
SHANNON: I think it’s just because I’m such a geek about music. I just love music so much, and I’m very fixated on records. I don’t like playlists or putting a random shuffle on. I believe in records. I believe that they tell a story, and I’m curious about all the work that the artists put into making these records, coming down to track order and how Side A and Side B are different. The landscape and texture of a record are part of it. We’re kind of missing out nowadays. When I go into some place and it’s just spitting out random songs one after another… I mean, if I hear a song I like, I still enjoy it, but I think you’re missing out on that part of the experience. So I like presenting things in that fashion.
Now with the Velvet Underground stuff, that was more of just a grab bag of songs. We didn’t play one record from beginning to end, although I would be curious to try and do that. By and large, I like to play a record.
Do you have an album you would choose if you did a single record by the Velvet Underground for a set?
SHANNON: The crazy part of me would say White Light/White Heat. That would be insane. I would love once, before I die, to play “Sister Ray.” That’s such a crazy album, and to try to perform “The Gift” would be fun. Any record, I would do.
Oh wait, I was actually part of an evening where they played Loaded! It wasn’t with Jason and it was in New York, and I wasn’t on every song. I just did a couple of them. I’ve done this with some other people in New York at Joe’s Pub a couple times. I actually did Fables Of The Reconstruction at Joe’s Pub! So this is not my first R.E.M. record.
What excites you about getting these opportunities to bring your own relationship to these albums and artists to the stage?
SHANNON: For me — whatever album I’m choosing to do — I’m just lucky to be there. The album takes precedence. It’s not like I’m gonna put my whole new spin on it and make people appreciate it in a way it’s never been appreciated before, because that’s just silly. Of course, I think anybody would rather hear the actual band play the album than me.
But the one thing I can offer is that it’s an act of devotion — rabid devotion. The amount of time I put into it, the amount of times I listen to the record… I’m stone-cold off-book. I’m never onstage with pages; it’s not like karaoke. I have devoted all my faculties to trying to crack open this record and deliver it to the best of my abilities. It’s not a facsimile — it would be foolish to think that was even possible. But it’s the devotion that I bring to it that I hope makes it a worthwhile experience.
And there’s something that happens in live performance that you can’t really quantify. It’s such a release, for me, particularly if I’m doing a record like Murmur. My relationship to this record is over 30 years [old], and so there’s so much in my subconscious or memories or feelings that are gonna come out in the moment. My hope is that every show is distinctive and different to itself in subtle ways — to just have it be alive and unfolding in front of you, as opposed to a CD or something.
Covering Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” While Shirtless With Sons Of The Silent Age (2018)
This feels like it comes with its own sets of physical demands for embodying the original artist and getting in character to perform like Iggy Pop. What was it like channeling that physicality?
SHANNON: I’ve seen a lot of great shows over the years, but one of the top three I’ve ever seen was Iggy when he came to Coachella with the Stooges [in 2003]. Mike Watt was on bass because [Dave Alexander] had passed away, but I had never seen anything like that in my life ever, ever, ever. So [Iggy] quickly became a hero of mine.
I discovered very quickly — because that was not a long set, and we didn’t do that many songs — when I came offstage, I was like, “I don’t know how that cat does that every night.” And I’ve heard that, when he plays, he’ll play a long time and then, the second he gets past the edge of the stage, he just kind of collapses. That’s what I mean [about] that devotion. I’m going to give you all the energy, all the lifeforce that I have right now in this moment. I’m going to give it to you, and then I’m going to walk offstage and just collapse in a heap. I just think that’s such a beautiful thing for a person to do, even if it’s done in service of music that might be considered grungy or dirty or punk. That’s such a generous thing for a person to do, and sometimes even to their own detriment. People get hurt—Iggy got hurt a lot. I can see how that happened. In my effort to channel him, I was maybe halfway to what he gets to, and I was fucking knocked out.
You’ve made a lot of appearances with Sons Of The Silent Age over the years, with the most recent being one where you covered the songs of Brian Eno. How did you first get connected with the band, and what’s been fun about getting to perform music from all these different figures in David Bowie’s spheres?
SHANNON: It’s basically a band that Matt Walker is the captain of. Matt was Morrissey’s drummer for a while, and when Jason and I did The Queen Is Dead, Matt came in at the encore and sat in with us and played a couple songs. And then Matt asked me if I was interested in participating [in Sons Of The Silent Age], because it’s a fundraiser for medical research that his wife organizes, so it’s for a beautiful cause.
It’s a fun project to keep trying to find people who are somehow connected to Bowie. I don’t know how many more people I can come up with. I mean, Bowie did know everybody. But in terms of real associates of his… T. Rex is kind of a stretch; they were contemporaries, but I don’t know if they really did anything together. The Eno [covers], I was really excited about, because I’ve loved that music for a long time and we were playing some stuff that people maybe were not that familiar with. It’s always fun to introduce people to music they haven’t heard, rather than just playing stuff that they already know they love.
Playing George Jones In George & Tammy (2022-2023)
I was surprised to hear that you didn’t really have much familiarity with George Jones’ music before coming onto this. What made you want to take on playing him, even with that in mind?
SHANNON: I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty reluctant to do it at first. I felt like there were probably other people more qualified to do it. I would look at pictures of him and listen to him, and I’d be like, “I don’t really feel like I’m much like this guy” — even physically. But Jessica Chastain is a friend of mine — I’ve known her since we worked together on Take Shelter — and she knew I was a musician, and she had seen me perform in my band [Corporal] back in the day. It was really her saying, “You’ve got to do this, Mike. I’ve just got a feeling.” And I didn’t want to leave her high and dry, because she needed someone to do it, so she just eventually talked me into it.
But I’m really glad I did it, even though I wasn’t steeped in country music before that experience. I didn’t have those records growing up, but I became a really huge fan throughout the process of working on [the miniseries] and working on the music. It’s one of the perks of what I do: you get to learn about things that you probably otherwise would never have even considered looking at. I’ve had that experience a lot over the years, and I feel like a better person for it.
Were there any challenges in performing those songs yourself, since your background musically was less in country music and more in rock?
SHANNON: Yeah, it’s a different kind of singing. But I had one of the finest vocal coaches in Nashville, or probably in the world, for that matter — fella named Ron Browning. He was working with Jessica and I for a long time before we even started shooting. That was actually one of my favorite aspects of doing it: having that time to work on music and learn about singing from someone who knows so much about it and is very authentic. He taught me about different techniques that, frankly, come in handy and apply to anything, even if you’re singing rock music. Particularly in terms of strengthening your voice or being able to hold onto your voice for a longer period of time, because that’s something I’m a little anxious about [with] going on the road. I’ve never actually done a tour before. I’ve only done these one-off shows. We’re playing nine gigs, so I want my voice to survive. I’ll definitely be leaning on some things he taught me.
Playing Elvis Presley In Elvis & Nixon (2016)
You mentioned in another interview that this performance was less about trying to look or sound like Elvis, and more about trying to understand who Elvis was by spending time with Jerry Schilling. What was the importance of digging into Elvis as a person in that way, beyond just doing an impression?
SHANNON: That was all very important to Jerry — one of Elvis’ oldest and dearest friends. Jerry took me to Memphis, and that sentiment you’re talking about is something Jerry said to me. He said, “I’m really tired of people thinking that if they can sound like my friend or look like my friend, that they are him. There was so much more to who he was. He was a very complicated person, and a very smart person, and a very frustrated person.” Because, for as much success as he had in his life, there were a lot of things he wanted to do that he never really got the opportunity to do. So there was this certain tragic element to him that isn’t silly or kitschy. He was a flesh-and-blood human being.
To say that I didn’t think at all about looking or sounding like Elvis is not honestly the truth, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered wearing the wig or the costumes. I was just thinking about a lot of other things too. But that’s the way I play any part, whether it’s a real person or an imaginary person. It’s always much more complicated than just figuring out what their voice sounds like. Most people have a lot going on inside them. [Laughs]
There’s been such an active interest in exploring Elvis in movies these last couple years, between the Baz Luhrmann movie and Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla. What do you think it is that makes him a figure that filmmakers still feel is “of the moment”?
SHANNON: What do they say: “Our culture runs on 30-year cycles”? Something like that. Basically, our culture just repeats itself every 30 years, so it lines up if you look at it that way. But Elvis is such a gigantic thing. It doesn’t just boil down to one performance, or one era, or one year. He covered so much ground and was around for a while. There’s just never been anyone else like him.
Full disclosure: I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. As with George Jones, I was not personally a huge Elvis fan when they asked me to play Elvis Presley. I was a kid who walked around listening to R.E.M. on his CD Walkman, so it wasn’t necessarily my dream to play Elvis Presley. But in the process of playing him and getting that opportunity, I learned a lot about him, and was surprised by what I found out. I’m not entirely sure I know the answer to that question, if I’m being really super honest about it.
In a way, the fact that we’re still going back to the well is an acknowledgement that we’re still not done figuring out everything about what fascinates us about Elvis.
SHANNON: I think there’s something comforting about it. The future is scary as hell. The future of civilization, and definitely the future of our country, is up for grabs. So sometimes it’s very comforting to retreat into something from the past and celebrate that. But even the two movies you mentioned — the Baz Luhrmann film Elvis and Priscilla — are very different movies that tell extremely different stories for very different reasons. So there’s not even necessarily a unity to that. And the movie I made was also very unique, in that it wasn’t a traditional biopic — it was just focused on this one incident from his life. The whole movie covers maybe 48 hours in his life, which I think, frankly, is the way to go with those things. I think trying to squeeze someone’s entire life into a 90 minute movie — particularly someone like Elvis — is a fool’s errand.
Starring in Deerhoof’s “Exit Only” Music Video, Acting Against Himself (2014)
I once talked with Greg Saulnier and Ed Rodriguez at a show about this video, and the story they gave me was that you had come to so many shows over the years that you eventually hit it off, and the video came out of that.
SHANNON: The guy who directed that video, Vice Cooler, came up with the concept, but I was such a rabid fan of the band that I would’ve done anything. I was a little shocked when I got there — I was like, “This is pretty gnarly.” But I was game. It was quick. The great thing about music videos is that it doesn’t take very long. You’re in and out in a few hours. And I love that song, so I was very flattered to make the video for it.
I have been to a ton of Deerhoof shows. The first time I ever saw them, they were opening for Wilco at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. I didn’t even know who they were. Me and my buddy were just going to see Wilco. We went in, and I had never seen anything like that — still, to this day. They blow my mind.
But yeah, we shot that in some divey little joint in downtown LA. I think it was a punk club at night — very barebones facility. It was a blast. I had fun doing that.
Starring In Lucero’s “Long Way Back Home” Short Film And Providing Spoken Word Vocals On “Back to the Night” (2018)
You’ve been collaborating with Jeff Nichols since the start of his career, and his brother Ben is in the band, so how long had this idea to get involved with Lucero been in development?
SHANNON: They’re a real tight family, the Nichols family. So once you meet one of them, you’re friends with all of them. I’d been talking to Ben since Shotgun Stories [in 2007]. The idea for that… I think that came together fairly quickly. I’d never met Scoot McNairy before, and I was a big fan of his, so it was fun to meet him and hang out. God, where did we shoot that? I think it was somewhere in Tennessee I’d never been before, but we were there for a few days. But it was kind of like a little vacation. I’d do that again for Ben. I love Ben, and I love Lucero, and if Jeff gets an inkling to do it again, I’d do it again.
The anecdote I came across was that you started working with Jeff when he got in touch with you about Shotgun Stories via an old professor, and that you didn’t tend to work with filmmakers who hadn’t yet made a feature at the time. What was it about the way he approached his work that made you initially want to work with him?
SHANNON: Well, I took a bit of a gamble, because you don’t really know how somebody works until you’re working with them. It was just based on a conversation that we had on the phone. I was really impressed with the script, the writing of it. I’d never read anything like it. It was very sincere and complicated. It was very elegant, considering it was a script about a bunch of rednecks, basically. But that first film was a big learning process for Jeff—he would admit it just as much as anybody. He would ask me for advice or my thoughts on things from time to time. But he really knows his way around a camera and lenses and structure and composition—it’s just embedded in him. Some people have a knack for that, and he’s got a real aesthetic that’s very personal to him. Nobody else does things the way he does them, or presents them the way he presents them.
A lot of Shotgun Stories was — no pun intended — a real shot in the dark. [Jeff] didn’t even have the money to process the film, so when we wrapped, it was all unprocessed film canisters in his dad’s office, and he had to go out and raise more money to even see what he had. It wasn’t like we walked off set saying, “Nailed it.” We didn’t know. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It took him a very long time to actually finish that film.
Starring In Local H’s “Innocents” Music Video And Covering “Heroes” With The Band (2018)
How did you get connected with Local H? I know they have such a presence in the greater Chicagoland music scene.
SHANNON: I’m not even entirely sure how I met [guitarist and vocalist] Scott [Lucas]. How did I meet Scott? I don’t know, I’ve just been going to their shows for a really long time. Like I said, the Metro in Chicago is a venue that means a lot to me, and a lot of people who work at Metro are friends with Scott. His wife actually works there.
I’ve just always loved [Local H’s] music so much. It was just weird to start actually hanging out with rock ‘n’ roll people. It wasn’t always that way. There used to be a real fault line where I was on one side and rock ‘n’ roll people were on the other side. The closest I would get is seeing them at a show and watching them perform. But then, suddenly, I’m rubbing elbows with them, which I guess is one of the perks of doing movies and whatnot — gets you a little more access.
You also covered Bowie’s “Heroes” with Local H at a show the same year you did the “Innocents” video. What was it like putting a heavier spin on that song in Local H’s style?
SHANNON: Well, it’s funny — I finished doing that, and then after the gig, Scott was like, “Man, you were screaming.” And I’m like, “That’s funny coming from you. Was I screaming harder than you scream?” He was like, “I don’t know, dude. You were screaming.” Then I got real self-conscious about it. I was like, “I shouldn’t have screamed so much.” But it’s hard, because they’re so loud that you can’t hear what’s happening, so you start screaming. But then, I guess, the mix in the house is more balanced, so you end up sounding like a psychopath or something.
With Local H shows especially, they’ve morphed into this thing of legend, where each one is so unique and varied. The last time I was in Chicago, it seemed like every other person I chatted with was just talking about a Local H show they had just hit up. Do you have any favorite memories you have of seeing the band over the years?
SHANNON: I just saw them over the summer in Hammond, Indiana. They were opening for Stone Temple Pilots at this outdoor music festival/carnival/state fair-type thing [called Festival Of The Lakes]. The night of the show, there was a big storm coming, but Local H got on and completely crushed it. I actually got to stand on the side of the stage, and I had never watched them from the side of the stage before. It was a big venue. I’d never seen them play for that many people before.
It was that kind of pre-storm weather where it was super humid and hot, and they were dripping sweat. The drummer [Ryan Harding] was talking with Scott between songs, and I heard afterwards that he was saying to Scott, “I don’t think I can do this. Can we cut some songs?” And Scott was like, “No, we’re gonna do it, man.” And they crushed it.
The storm came in the middle of Stone Temple Pilots’ set and they actually had to stop playing, because there was lightning. The fairground was emptying out, and I was just watching this massive exodus from this little trailer they’d set up for Local H. I got in trouble because Scott had gone out to watch Stone Temple Pilots, and they had some pizza in their green room, and I ate all the pizza. I got in trouble for that. I was like, “Well, you guys were gone for such a long time. I was hungry.” I think they’ve forgiven me, but it was yummy pizza, that’s for sure.
I got to meet the mayor of Hammond, Indiana, too. He was really nice. He got me into some beer. That was cool.
Corporal, His Band With Ray Rizzo And Rob Beitzel, And Their 2010 Self-Titled Record (2007-present)
How did this band first come together?
SHANNON: It’s a long story. Many, many years ago, I did a play in Louisville, Kentucky at this theater festival. The play was about a rock ‘n’ roll band, and it was called Finer Noble Gases [by Adam Rapp]. In order to do the play, you had to form a rock ‘n’ roll band, because the band plays during the play. So me and the other actors came in from New York, but they were going to try to find the drummer there in Louisville, because the drummer in the play doesn’t actually say anything. He just plays the drums.
So they found Ray Rizzo there in Louisville. Ray was one of the top drummers in Louisville. Everybody loved Ray — he was in the scene, and he was in a bunch of bands. He had played with Days Of The New, and he really had a lot of cred. He was really interested in doing theater, so he did the play, and then he would get us gigs in Louisville. Some nights, we’d do the theater performance, and then pack up our stuff and go play a gig. It was really an amazing amount of fun. The band in that play was called Less, so for a while, I was in Less.
Then Ray decided to move to New York, and they did the play in New York, but I couldn’t do it in New York. I was busy, so I was kicked out of the band. But I would go see them play and get nostalgic for the whole thing, and a little bummed out. So I pulled Ray aside once, and I said, “What if me and you started a band?” And Ray was up for that.
So when Corporal started, it was just me and him. We played some shows, just the two of us — not really super well-attended, but we played them nonetheless. I started coming up with some songs and writing, and I said, “Ray, I think I want to make a record.” I showed him the songs, and he put his touch on ‘em. And then we brought in another guy who was also in Less — Rob Beitzel, on guitar. So then it became a three-piece, and that’s when we started to develop a modicum of a following and actually got some people showing up at the shows. And then we made the record.
A lot of that came about in a period of time when I was not super busy. I was not working, so I had the time to devote to it. Since then, I haven’t had as much time, so unfortunately, it’s not something I’ve been able to keep up with as much as I would like.
It does seem like you all get together every now and again over the years for some stray one-off shows.
SHANNON: Yeah, I would like to. We made that record, and we played those songs a lot. The way I feel about it now is that, if we were gonna get back together and play again, I would want to come up with more songs. I don’t just want to keep playing the same songs over and over again. Ray writes music too, but he can perform that music with a variety of different people. He doesn’t necessarily need me to do it. It’s really on me to finish some more songs.
But, to be really super honest about it, I find that music’s much harder than what I do for a day job. And what I do for a day job is not necessarily easy at all, in terms of getting the opportunities to do it. But music is just such a brutal life. I don’t know how anybody [does it]. I guess the only way to make money at it nowadays is to go on tour, because you’re not making any [money otherwise]. When we made this CD, it sat around in a box in my closet, and that was it. We’re on Spotify, but that doesn’t really lead to much. It just doesn’t lead to a check to pay your rent. The disparity is so wide — there’s people like Taylor Swift making billions of dollars, and then there’s people that barely make any money at all. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of middle ground.
Acting Against (And Fighting) Eminem In 8 Mile (2002)
What familiarity did you have with Eminem’s music when you came onto the film, and what was it like acting with a musician by trade on a film about his life?
SHANNON: I wasn’t a huge fan of his going into it. I didn’t have the records or anything. I was more into older New York hip-hop — A Tribe Called Quest, and things like that. But I’d heard his songs, and was impressed with his abilities as a rapper.
I just remember it was surreal to be a part of that. It was just one of those moments where you don’t quite trust what’s happening. You’re like, “Where am I? Is this really happening right now? Eminem and Kim Basinger are standing in front of me. What planet am I on?” But the thing I remember the most about him was how nice he was. He was incredibly respectful, and seemed very appreciative that people were there to help tell his story. Not what I was expecting — I don’t know why. I guess, because of the persona, you expect some bad boy to walk in and be trouble, but that really wasn’t the case. He was very pleasant and very smart, and just kind of a natural. I really liked him a lot. I really liked that whole experience of working on that.
Professing His Love For Talking Heads’ Naked To Fans Outside A Broadway Theater (2012)
I wanted to get to know more about your affinity for this album specifically after coming across this video. You mention liking the arrangements and percussion in the video, but I was curious to learn more about your love of this one.
SHANNON: Some of my favorite Talking Heads songs are on that album. There’s a song on that album called “The Democratic Circus” that I think is one of their finest songs. It’s funny, because I performed that song at a political rally/fundraiser in Kentucky with Ray Rizzo, the drummer from Corporal.
And then I went to see American Utopia on Broadway, and there was a lounge you could go to afterward, and eventually the people from the show would come and say hi. I was up there and, sure enough, David Byrne walked in. I was like, “Oh my god,” because he’s my hero, really. He walked over and I was talking to him, and I said, “I love that song ‘The Democratic Circus.’ It seems like there could be a spot for that in the show.” Which is always such an obnoxious thing to say to somebody who obviously puts a lot of thought into what he performs and is not doing requests. But I was like, “Considering what’s going on in the world right now, blah blah blah…” And he was like, “Yeah, well, actually, that wasn’t a big hit.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know. But I just performed it recently.” He looked at me funny, like, “What? Why would you do that?” — not knowing the extreme prowess that I possess to mimic other people’s songs. And that was kind of the end of the conversation.
But I love [“The Democratic Circus”], and I love that song “The Facts Of Life” on the B-side. For those people who do think of Naked — which may not be a particularly large group of people — a lot of people remember the A-side more, because that’s where “Blind” and “(Nothing But) Flowers” are. But I love the B-side of that record. There’s some really weird stuff going on on that B-side that’s not as much the African or Latin influence, and more clunky, weird, almost Tom Waits [influence]. It’s funny — a friend just gave me Bone Machine on vinyl and I was listening to that the other night. That’s what just popped into my head, talking about the B-side of Naked — it’s kind of like Bone Machine. Just really almost creepy songs, which I like.
Starring In Every Mother’s Nightmare’s “House of Pain” Music Video For His First Screen Credit (1993)
SHANNON: Now you can ask me about that, but I have to preempt this by saying that the likelihood of me remembering much about it is slim to none.
Looking back on this now, and thinking about this point as the very beginning of your career, what do you feel this really early screen acting experience taught you most?
SHANNON: Like I said earlier when I was talking about the Deerhoof thing — and this is no offense to music videos; I love music videos, and I’ve been watching them since I was a wee lad — in terms of participating in music videos as an actor, it’s not the deep end of the pool. There are more challenging things that I do than that. These are really mostly just fun. It’s fun to show up and be a part of a vocabulary that you’ve been consuming since you were a kid. Watching MTV and being transfixed by all these incredible music videos, and then getting to actually be in one is like being a kid in a candy store. But they’re not particularly challenging acting scenarios.
Yeah, that makes sense. If the stories came to you more clearly, I would probably have us get into how landing that gig came about. But I understand that it was quite some time ago.
SHANNON: Yeah, I was just doing things early on in Chicago. When you’re starting out, if anybody asks you to do anything, you say “yes,” because you’re desperate. That’s what I always tell people when they ask me for advice, because people always [ask], “How do you do it?” I say, “Well, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to do it the way I did it, because I did it the hard way. But one thing is, if someone gives you an opportunity, take advantage of it, even if it’s not always ideal.” But you do it. And you try to learn from it, whatever it is.
02/01 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall (SF Sketchfest)
02/02 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall (SF Sketchfest) (Reckoning)
02/04 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
02/08 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club
02/09 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
02/10 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
02/12 – Ardmore, PA @ Ardmore Music Hall
02/13 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
02/14 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg