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Joni at Geffen Records in Los Angeles Print-ready version

Geffen Records
March 31, 1991

Transcribed by Lynn Gruenwald

[Joni comes into frame and sits behind desk]

Joni: You really want to do this, do you? [laughs]

Off Camera Interviewer: I don't mind...

Joni: Okay.

[Edit to Joni mid-sentence, referring to video monitor]

Joni: ...aligning problems, SMPTE [The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers] lack of matchup and there's some noise at the head. This is - What I've seen, two generations, one with bad sound. So I'm looking at it like, [crosses fingers] like this, you know? 'Cause, there's three spots in it that look like they won't transmit -- So, I'm giving it the - we may have to go in on three more shots here.

Interviewer: Wow. So did you direct it, as well?

Joni: There was a director who shot 180 minutes. This is three minutes and 40 seconds. He had a concept which was very expansive. I had a concept which was very simple. He allowed me to edit it, so that I managed to pull my concept out of his. We had four different videos. We could have sliced it four different ways. To me, some things wouldn't intercut. To him, initially, "Why not?" But there's - Like, for instance, in the first half hour there was performance on the road. This was the very beginning. To me it's like a screen test. Lot of shoulder shaking, very - you know - attitude, and dance. And you could...you could do it that way. But the way I always thought was more like a movie, where it's more like a soliloquy. Separating it from the music, so although it's sung, it looks like a talking head speaking instead of a talking head singing. So you're going for cinematic performance, method acting motion, as opposed to wider shots, silent movie gestural acting.

So there's like, you know, 180 minutes to 3:40. You've gotta' really get kinda' hard-nosed. So what I did was, I stuck pretty much to the intimacy of the lead vocal with close-ups and illustrated a little. Tried to tell a story as best as possible, so... It's kind of on me, in a way, like. But, ah --

I: Are you happy with it? Aside from the technical --

Joni: Yeah! We are all happy with it. I mean... There are...there are certain things because in my own photography I'm like into two worlds -- Well, the album art? You know, like two images occupying the same thing so a dissolve is more than a dissolve to me...you know, it's like -- And also, like a second in video is bigger than a second in mu - is smaller than a second in music, really. You know I mean, the music - Like, let's say a second is 30 frames in video. A bar in music could be 21 frames, and you can play 30 2nd notes in a bar. So you can get into finer division in music than you can in a second of video, so I'm used to working in small measures.

You know, like - and - and cross dissolves and the way I edit is really unorthodox. I put my hard cuts in last. You know, all the dissolves...the music has got a lot of "Sheoo-hoo" to it. So you put all that in first, and then you come back and put the bright beats in. [claps hands in rhythm]

Well, that's considered kind of, generally, a loss of perspective. "No, you don't do it that way. You put your hard cuts in first and then..." You know, like dissolves, people don't even look at them as artistic. They look at them as kind of a last resort. When in doubt, dissolve...if you can't find a good cut, you know.

So it's - it takes a while to get a... But anyway, in spite of all those differences and humps you have to get over, like "She's lost her marbles!" [Laughs] "No you can't do it that way!" You know, like -- We finally came up with something we all like. But in the process we had some online, technical problems and... That's what I want to be sure, because, the picture right at the beginning had a lot of noise...and we also had number problems right at the same spot. So my question is: "Yikes, do we have to re-lay this, or what!?"

I: Ok, great. [Some barely audible talking from group]

Joni: So, what do we do? [Turns on video monitor and plays] Oh!

I: There's a remote somewhere.

Joni: It's coming in late...

[Loud tone, Joni jumps and everyone groans. Laughter.]

Joni: At least they test the tones. [Laughter]

Joni: 'Cause we had sound, that copy that I took home last night was sibilant and gloomy, it was like awful, so they must have done that today. Oh no, it's still there.

I: We must be almost there, okay, now we're there.

Joni: Come along. It's kinda' the Barnett Newman (?)... [Waits for playback] Okay here we go. [to machine] Give me some sound.

[Video fades up with music, Joni point to screen.]

Joni: See the noise? That's not good, is it, on first generation? Second generation.

[Music vocal: "Back in 1957 we had to dance a foot apart..."]

Joni: It's okay there.

["Come in from the Cold" video continues to play. Joni watches and smokes. Jump cut to later in video.]

Joni: Too hot.

Off camera: The colors in this monitor are really imperfect.

Joni: Are they?

[Video ends. Discussion ensues between off camera group and Joni.]

Voice: That's beautiful.

Joni: I just hope it's - you know -

Voice: You did a great job.

Joni: Oh thank you!

Group Comments: I really love it. It really looks great. I love it.

Joni: Thank you.

Group: I really love it. Isn't that, the sepia, isn't that beautiful? Oh yeah, it's really good. The colors with the sepia, it's gorgeous. Like when the color dials in it's like, this warmth that comes in...

Joni: It faded, like, up like a cross fade. But see, we ran into technical trouble there too, because we got to - We did it on the offline, everything was fine. We get to the last scene where you've got - The shots came from color 'cause we did four takes in close-up, right? The first two got screwed in the printing bath. The printer printed, like -- The bath from the film was too dark. So it was unusable. And I was grateful! I thought - Everybody was sweating. I'm saying "Don't worry. We've got 180 minutes, anything that dies is good news," you know?

[Laughter]

So then the color comes up at the end and it was fine. So we made our black-and-white out of it. We have it on two rolls, color and black-and-white.

Off Camera: Right.

Joni: So you have these long sections of close-up. The American attention span being altered down to

[Suddenly video starts to play again. Joni turns it off and resumes talking.]

...down to zip, you know, like. So, you dial the color up in through it. Well, when we got to the last shot, something had happened where, as you brought the color up through, the whole head went out of focus. Didn't do that offline. So online it should be looking better, but it's looking worse. So when you examine it they find out that the color, and the black-and-white... The color head is slightly smaller than the - God knows why technically - and the transfer as it gets towards the end, the head shrinks, right?! It's like Con Interest (?) gets a hold of the head...

[Laughter]...and now when you go to bring it through, all the edges blur and instead of being two identical shots coming through itself, one in color and one in black-and-white - One, the color one's smaller, so all the edges of the face all like go out of focus. So I don't know, there were a lot of things that happened. I don't know how they happened.

Off Camera: Yeah, that blue meant it was too hot.

Joni: That, when it starts breaking up into blue, hot pink, it's too hot.

Off Camera: It could be in this monitor too.

Joni: Let's hope! 'Cause I'm gonna' put it in -

Off Camera: Because I'll tell you, people come in and change this thing all the time.

Joni: It's out of my hands now! But the bouncing, that, like, at the beginning. The noise, that doesn't bother you? You just see the picture and see the story, right?

Off Camera: Yeah, it doesn't bother me at all.

Joni: [Claps hands] Excellent! [Laughter] And then I, I'm ready to be interviewed. 'Cause I hate going into an interview worried, you know? [Laughs]

Off Camera: Yeah, it's beautiful. The shots outside on that road are incredible.

Joni: We've got hours of that.

Off Camera: So wonderful.

Joni: You could do a whole video there, you know. But it's a whole different attitude, it's more dancey and stuff.

Off Camera: Well you said, you say they used to dance a foot apart? Yeah, you guys are on the -

Joni: They did, they used to measure you! In '57 like at the school dances? Like -

Off Camera: You don't want to get too close.

Joni: Yeah, they wouldn't, you know. 'Cause like at public dances, you know, everybody'd be grabbin' ass, you know? [Laughter] But school dances, they actually stood there with a ruler and you had to, you know. They were still of the waltz mentality [poses in upright posture] "Da-duh!" Dignified. And so on. And when the twist came out, people, I mean it didn't take much to be shocking in the 50's, you know?

Off Camera: Maybe that was better.

Joni: I think in a way it was. It was an innocent time. 'Cause there's nothing, you know? What's Madonna gonna' do? Beaver shot, and then what? [Laughs]

Off Camera, multiple voices: Isn't that interesting. It's true. So, we're off. So what's next on this busy schedule? This is, we're doing an interview now. I see that Preston is set up out there.

Off Camera: Just show Joni the colors. Joni, this is Laurie who's been doing the post editing.

Joni: Oh yeah, very nice to meet you. You know, I may be a bit off --

Laurie: You saw the color with the smart (?).

Joni: Yeah. And I may be wrong. Violets is like my least favorite color. It's really nice with that blue-gray that you had. I picked -

[Cut to another office as Joni walks through. Multiple voices.]

Joni: ...see if it's broadcast-able, because for that being - that looks worse than 4th generation offline. And that's our major, you know. It might, they might...we should really get realistic and look at it.

Staff Member: 'Kay. We have to do a couple still shots. We're on the way.

Joni: Thank you. [Walks away down hall.]

Off Camera: You're welcome. Thanks!

Staff Member: Next! I love it. A whole assembly line here.

Joni: Good thing I'm portable, right?

Staff Member: Yep. Portable. Still film mode.

Staff Member: It's called, budgeting your time wisely.

[Joni meets photographer.]

Joni: Okay I'll put this here. [Sets coffee mug down] Is that out of the way alright?

Photographer: That's fine. Basically all I need is - You want? Here, I got an ashtray.

PA: Where should I be?

Photographer: Yeah, in that area.

Off Camera: Bring that ashtray over.

Joni: So I'm...here?

Photographer: One shot, yeah. One shot here, and one right -

[EDIT]

Joni: [Chatting with makeup artist, only a few words are audible] ...or even here...voyeurism...so weird...weirder than the one before.

Makeup Artist: Yeah. Very.

Photographer: Okay. Let's see what we got. Just bring your head out a little more this way so - Yeah, there you go. And one more. Oops. Let me reshoot that one. And... The longest 60 second shot we'll have today. While we're waitin', you might wanna' see those. [Shows Joni contact sheets.]

Joni: Alright! Yeah! Yeah...

Photographer: Remember when you were dancin' around the control room?

Joni: Did you use 'em for anything?

Photographer: Yeah, we used 'em in the Times, yeah. Yeah.

Joni: Oh, I never saw that piece.

Photographer: I just thought I'd bring them and if there was anything you wanted, I'd make you some prints. So...

Joni: Great! I don't have a loop here.

Photographer: You don't have a loop, well -

Joni: Maybe they've got one though, somewhere.

Photographer: Yeah, Bren's got one. When we go next door. [Tears backing off Polaroid test shot.]

Assistant: This is old Polaroid. [Holds light meter near Joni]

[Edit]

Assistant: 16.3

Photographer: Alright, we'll shoot at 16.

[Joni repositions her hair, smooths her jacket, etc.]

Photographer: [Shooting] You bring these guys everywhere you go, here?

Joni: Yeah. It's my entourage.

Photographer: Okay, that's it. Okay, and it's - Yeah, that's good, with your head that way is good. And...and that's good, hold that. And, head this way.

Joni: I'm gonna' favor this side if you don't mind, okay? [Points to left side of her face.]

Photographer: Oh. Okay. No problem. Glad you told me. Everyone's got their - Oh, hold that.

Joni: Yeah I've got a -

[Edit to overhead shot.]

Photographer: Yeah someone told me the exposure was on...

Joni: Oh okay.

Photographer: Yeah, okay, now do something with your hands, kinda' spread out. Yeah, there you go. Yeah, that's it. No, I'm not getting' it so don't -

Joni: Okay, let me just try a couple -

Photographer: Anything you want to do with that, that's fine.

Joni: Am I in your perimeter?

Photographer: Uh...I like when you were leaning into it before. Yeah, yeah - There you go. That's good. There, we'll go a little tighter.

[Edit]

Joni: [Mid-conversation] ...with just a couple people but, if a lot of people are there?

Photographer: I don't see how that helps.

Joni: We had a video shoot there. It just took the crew, like -- you know what I mean? It's a building that, it's not lonely, if it's two people rattling around in it like in some big houses. But when a lot of people are there it's just so happy, you know what I mean? It's like -

Photographer: That studio has got such a great vibe though, it really does.

Joni: Yeah.

Photographer: Can you bring your other hand up too?

Joni: See, that was the bedroom. And the bedroom in that thing is a...lonely you know what -

[Laughter]

It's much better as a studio.

Photographer: Okay, almost done here. We'll do...35. Here, let's -

[Photo Session Video Ends.]

[Sit Down Interview Begins.]

Camera Operator: We're rolling again.

Interviewer: [to himself] Okay, what was I gonna' say?

Interviewer: An astonishing range of people cite you as a big influence on them. Prince, The Replacements, a guy in England we just interviewed last week: Seal, an R & B singer. I wondered if that surprised you. And I also wanted to ask you about a remark Prince said, where specifically he learned how to use color by listening to your songs.

Joni: Hmmm.

I: And what does color mean to you?

Joni: Well, see, my harmony because the open tunings - I have 50 different tunings. I don't play in standard tuning on the guitar. The reason that I chose that, because the harmony that I hear in my head -- which it comes out on piano -- I don't have a very facile left hand. So to simplify my left hand, I change into these tunings.

Now the joke all through the 60s was, if I was over at somebody's house and I picked up their guitar, of course I'd throw it into a tuning and they'd pick it up after me and they'd go, "Ahhh! The Martians have been here!" Or, you know, "Joni's weird tunings."

The harmony was not enjoyable to a lot of people, it was strange to a lot of people. To me, it was a diagram of my emotions, which were complex. The times were complex.

You know, just think of the Cold War with the threat of atomic bomb. That's a dissonant drone. To me that's...you have a nice day but the bomb's hanging over you. You put a major chord, which means a nice day, but you put a dissonance, a second note running through it that means the bomb is hanging over us!

You know, so none of my emotions were purely simple. They were all - My life has been led against a backdrop of impending disaster, which I'd wake up and go to sleep with every night. "Doomsday Joan," they'd call me. [Laughs] So...so this enters into my sense of harmony which people mistakenly - Rock 'n Rollers couldn't play those chords. And jazzers, who I had to turn to to play...these are not jazz chords either. So when a jazzer lays a chord over it, he's already changed the harmony a little bit.

People say my music is jazz. I made one jazz record. That was with Mingus. Mingus's music is jazz, but my harmony...any jazzer will tell you is not! Like Wayne Shorter would say: "Well, well...These are ah...These are not piano chords and these are not guitar chords. What are these chords?!" That's what he said on "Ethiopia," which is an un - you know.

So the harmony, like a painter, when you juxtapose color against color, if you use colors of the same value, you create a vibration. You do the same thing when you get -- that's 60s psychedelic poster art. If you run a 2nd through the music you get the same thing. When I was in art school they said: "Never use colors of the same value beside each other, because they'll cause a vibration." Well, two years later San Francisco poster art came out. My dissonances are the audio equivalent. They're irritating to people. You know. And, they mean an irritant, running through a sunny day.

So Prince was very young when he got Hissing of Summer Lawns. He was open-mindedly young. And, where that was chronologically timed for most of my peer group to go off of me, because they loved the record before, which set up expectations. In most American's minds that record failed. But in English where - England, and in Prince here in America... In England with young artists coming out of art school...Thomas Dolby, who was able to hear that record with an open mind. There were some.

My female audience here suddenly thought I was taking pot shots at them, because I started saying "you" a lot, instead of "I" a lot, which gave them an out. "Oh, she's talking about herself." "Oh, she isn't talking about herself, then she must be talking about us. Ah! I don't like the portrait. She's a bitch." You know, so... [Laughs]

You know there was all kind of complications in the reception in this culture, of The Hissing of Summer Lawns. It got...it got complicated. Not so much in England, where, like I say, in Prince. Now if he got his colors from there, we're talking about fairly new harmonic ideas. Which aren't jazz, but are wide open chords like jazz. But they don't belong to the idiomatic - you know, I have a friend who played with me sometimes who literally wrote the book on jazz harmony. And, he was playing on, um...what was the name of the song? Betsy's blue..."Moon at the Window." And he was getting madder and madder and madder and finally I stopped the tape and I said to him: "Victor, what's wrong?" You know, "Don't you like the words?" "I hate the harmony!" he said. My girlfriend Debbie: "I hate the harmony." So many people: "I hate the harmony!"

It was, either you'll like it or you don't. These strange chords, if they don't match... If they match you emotionally, [sighs] "Haaaahh!" They're a relief 'cause they depict your feelings. If they don't, or if it's a change you do have, you're on the brink of and you don't wanna' go through, you'll hate 'em! You know? So...

I: This'll be the last question, I read an interview with the director Rob Reiner where he said, you know, people think it gets easier once you've been successful. But that he actually thinks it's much harder because, when you're just struggling to get ahead, nobody has anything to compare you against. But once you've had a measure of success, there's always the pressure, from everybody else at least, to match up to what you've done in the past. Do you think that's true? Do you - have you felt that?

Joni: Well, two things. First, the best quote on that I heard was Sophia Loren, who said, "Hard enough to catch the tiger. Harder still to ride it!" You know? See...I, I don't compete against anyone, and I don't compete against myself either.

I mean in a way my standards keep growing. So I have an external thing that I'm trying to reach. And while criticism can disturb me enough, you know, to give me a bad day or something...especially 'cause so much of it is so ignorant, you want to call 'em up and say, you know, "You don't know how out-on-a-limb and how wrong you are!" You know, you want to educate them. But you can't, because they're attached to it and - I've tried doing that - it fails miserably.

The hardest thing to educate people to is...a quality of human nature. Supposing you had a great date, you had a great, wonderful, oh, what a wonderful girl. You tell all your friends and now this coming Friday you've got another one coming up. Oh, you can hardly wait, you know like you just --! Well, when you get there it could be even better than your first date but you'll experience it as less. Because your expectations have so developed in the process.

Well this is what happens psychologically. Like this album looks like people are gonna' love it. They're gonna' hate my next one! You know. Or they're not gonna' like it as much, because an expectation will be set up. So the best thing that I can do with my next one, knowing this pattern -- Ha! Watch it throw me a curve now! This is the pattern I've experienced. I'm open to an exception. But probably, I will make quite an experimental next album. It's a good time to stretch out. It's a good time to stretch out. You know, knowing that -- they're gonna'...

I've seen it happen with Aja and Gaucho. You could probably reverse those two albums. Gaucho was such a good album. It was so undervalued. You know. Probably because the one before was so loved. You know, the criticisms of Gaucho were paltry compared to what it was. That somebody could make two records in a row that strong, that complete! That...you know, two good albums...not just two good collections of songs. Not even just two pieces with a couple of good songs, you know?

So I've seen it happen to other people as well as mine, you know, my projects. We just live in a society that has gotten out of hand on the newness factor. You know, like, it just keeps getting ahead of itself. You know. They'll get tired of a person's name. Or get tired of a person's look and stop seeing 'em. Stop seeing that Michael Jackson is a brilliant dancer! Stop seeing his moves..."Whoah!" You know, like even if he keeps progressing, you know...

Every generation has to be more shocking than the next. But, I think we should start going the other way. Let's like get rid of a little shock you know, like, get a little heart back in the culture. You know. I hate to sound like Bush! "A kinder, gentler" culture, you know? But, it wasn't a bad idea!

You know, I mean I think that we've lost, the 80s...that intelligence is missing a piece without... The business can be friendly. I've found out that, it's unbelievable how pleasant this project is going. You know? The company is pleasant, everybody's pleasant! It's so much nicer way to do business. Rev (?) is, I think everybody feels better, you know? It just seems like a good experimental time on relationship, the 90s. 'Cause we went too far one way in the 80s. It was like, you know, just too lonely a route. If the hard times come and people gotta', you know, strengthen themselves and their compassion. 'Cause we've got hard times comin'.

I: Okay. That's a good place to stop. Thanks. Wanna' get the guitar?

Joni: Yeah.

[Cut to Joni with guitar.]

Joni: One second, let me just play four little pieces of music for you. [Plays guitar] Let's see...Ok. So, I'll show you little pieces of...

I: Okay.

Joni: 'Kay this is, um...

[Plays instrumental version of "Night Ride Home" and smiles at end.]

So most of this album is in [Strums] this tuning. Which is, for guitar players watching this, it's 7, 7, 2, that's 3...3,5. 77235 with a drop, with a C on the bottom. So it's mostly like a C Major chord. As a result the songs have got a kind of a [Strums] optimistic modality to it. And ah...

I: How do you like to cut that? How do you work against that optimism with the guitar?

Joni: Well, [Strums again] Hear that chord? Minor. Inquiry. [Plays a note of the chord.] Inquiry. So that you've got major and a minor and a doubt. It's -- There's always what I call inquiry notes in the voicing. [Plays two notes] Ominous. [Another note] Inquiry. [Another note] Doubt. [5th string] Possibility. [Last string] Resolution. [Laughs] So that's a complex emotion, isn't it?

[Joni strums another chord.] Back to a pure uncomplicated emotion. [Strums again.] Uncomplicated. [Another chord.] Joyous! [Plays a few more chords] Positive, happy. [Plays another chord] Well that's pretty much a minor with an inversion but this one's -- [Strums again] Now I don't know the name, maybe that's a "sus" or -- I don't know like the letter, alphabet names of all this stuff, but -- So, I identify it more by [patting her heart] how the chord feels.

"Come in from the Cold' is, let's see, how's that go? [Plays several chords.]

Joni: Try for another...Oh, yeah, "Cherokee Louise." [Plays some of song.]

I: That's great.

Another Voice: Joni, can I have a request? Do you mind playing the beginning song that you were playing again, I had a --

Joni: The first one?

Voice: Yes, ma'am.

Joni: Mm-hmm. Let me just tune up a little better. [Tunes guitar.] Okay. [Plays "Night Ride Home."]

Interviewer: That's beautiful. Beautiful guitar, too. Did you have that made for you?

Joni: Yeah. This was a... This is an early Steve Klein. He made it. It's got a number, real small on it. And all of this is personalized. It's got a - this is the hexagram from the I-Ching, for the wanderer. It's "A Stranger in a Strange Land." That's where that concept comes from. And these are all the trigrams of the I-Ching. All eight of them, each representing the father, the mother, the three sons and the three daughters. Which in combination create all the 64 changes, divided into six, which you can possibly go through in a lifetime.

And, then the rest of this is kind of personal. That's my serpent and my eagle, the high and low nature of the Scorpio. [Laughs] And then this is the provincial flower of Saskatchewan, where I come from. He did a beautiful job.

Interviewer: It's wonderful. Thank you so much.

Joni: Okay! Great! Thank you!

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