Interviews


 An Interview with Cinzi Lavin

This page features annual interviews by fellow musicians.

2009 INTERVIEW:
 
Cinzi had the pleasure of being interviewed recently by composer and suspense-novelist G. Fredrick Guzasky, who covered many oft-asked questions about her life and career.

 
Q: Do you come from a musical family?
 
LAVIN: Absolutely not. I'm the only one in my family who plays any instruments. I'm a distant cousin of Dennis Day, the famous Irish tenor, but that's about the only musical connection.
 
Q: How many instruments do you play?
 
LAVIN: Piano, violin, string bass, guitar, saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), clarinet, ukuleke, ocarina, zills, and tin whistle.
 
Q: How many instruments do you play well?
 
LAVIN: Violin would definitely not make the list--I'm a wretched violinist. [Laughs] Piano is my favorite by far, but I'm also very fond of the clarinet and tin whistle. I'm a mediocre guitarist; I studied under an incredible teacher, the late John Landry, and never felt that I lived up to his expectations. Maybe someday I'll go back to studying again, if only to justify all his patience with me.
 
Q: Who are your favorite composers?
 
LAVIN: I love Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Schumann, and Faure, whose great-great grandson was a piano student of mine in New York. I think Paul Simon and Elvis Costello are incredibly creative, both musically and lyrically, and for musical theatre, my favorite is Stephen Schwartz. Ennio Morricone, Philippe Sarde, and Michel Legrand are cinema composers I've admired for a long time.
 
Q: How did you get into the music business?
 
LAVIN: I feel like I've always been in the music business. When I was about eight or nine, I'd go to the local hospital, senior center, and nursing homes and perform for the people there. My grandmother instilled a great devotion to charity in me, and it felt good to be able to do something for others, particularly entertaining them. By the time I hit high school, I had a regular paid gig at a local tea-room weekdays during the summer playing the piano, and throughout the year I performed with an established local adult musician who "discovered" me and incorporated me into his act. Sometimes I'd play solo, sometimes we'd do duets, and sometimes he'd have me lie across a grand piano while he played and I sang. It was strange to have a life that was so different from my friends--they'd be working on the weekends as waitresses and lawn-mowers, and I'd be putting on an evening gown and being whisked off to country clubs and elegant private parties. It was very exciting being treated like an adult, but I knew there was a standard of professionalism I had to live up to in order to earn the respect I was being given, and I did. That's a lesson I was extremely fortunate to learn early on. By the time I went to college, I'd become a seasoned performer as well as having been the musical director and accompanist for all the shows done by my school, which was also invaluable in terms of experience working with musical theatre. I learned what worked and what didn't, what changes needed to be made as a production was underway, how to interact effectively with the cast. In college I played and sang with a couple of bands, but was mainly focused on my studies: English literature and theatre. After graduation, I started teaching piano and became very successful at it. Over the years, I kept teaching and began writing more and more music, something I'd done on and off since childhood. I branched out and arranged music for orchestra and choir, which I still find thrilling--it's exciting to have so many harmonies and textures of sound to work with. During the last few years, a host of opportunities have come to me, and I've had a chance to do a lot of different things: writing music for advertisements and television, recording with studio artists, and even torch-singing again. I've had a very varied and interesting career so far and I can't wait to see what's ahead.
 
Q: Which do you write first, music or lyrics?
 
LAVIN: Music. At least in the beginning; the real message of the song has to come from the music. The lyrics are just there to "translate" it into language. They usually start happening once I've got the body of the song constructed. I also think it's very important that a song be "singable." Just because the lyrics look good on paper doesn't mean they actually work well when sung. After I write it, I sing it, and I invariably find that a certain cluster of words is too much of a mouthful to enunciate well, or that a certain vowel just doesn't sound right being held out at that particular part of the song. Adjustments have to be made. That comes from being a singer. I can always tell when a lyricist isn't a singer.
 
Q: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a musician?
 
LAVIN: My ability to play by ear, to pick up different instruments quickly, and to work in diverse mediums are definitely strengths that have served me well over the years. I'm also great at hearing potential harmonies, sometimes to the point that when I'm listening to a song on the radio, I hear notes they're not even playing or singing. Weaknesses? My sight-reading ability--for piano--is deplorable. I've always envied pianists who can play anything you plunk down in front of them. I'm also terrible at playing in difficult keys; I've never mastered that skill. I think and compose in the key of C, even if I eventually have the song done in another key.
 
Q: What are your musical influences?
 
LAVIN: My piano teacher was very old-school and refused to let me study anything even remotely modern. Letting me play Joplin was a stretch for her--you have to understand, she seriously believed it was immoral; that the road to hell was paved with syncopation. So basically, I didn't get to experience much of anything written after 1773 during my youth. Around the time MTV came out in the 1980s, I was just starting to listen to popular music for the first time in my life. That's when my world really opened up, in terms of rhythm. I remember the first time I heard Sting's "Straight To My Heart," I got a pot and spoon from the kitchen and tried to figure out the time signature by banging away with the spoon while I listened to it. I discovered it's in 7/4. I'd never heard anything like it. During those years I also played a lot of piano and organ in church, and hymns are excellent chord studies, so that gave me a very solid foundation in chords. I gravitated toward folk music after that, which I love for its simplicity. It taught me that a song has to be good on its own--without bells and whistles--there has to be someting solid about it. I'd always been interested in jazz, and finally began working with it about four years ago. It was very interesting. I found that once you make that transition, it comes up in everything you do; in other words, it's much harder for me to play "clean" chords now--my hands want to add something to the sound, put a little twist on it. But I'm always learning something new; you have to keep growing as an artist. 
 
Q: What kind of music are you studying now?
 
LAVIN: Well, for one thing, I'm trying to diversify my chord progressions. So much of my music is very straightforward, again, because of having such a background in folk music and hymns. I'd like to be able to create more clever, unpredictable chord structures. Stephen Tyler's "What It Takes" is an excellent example of what I'm talking about--his chord progressions in that song are incredible. It's simple and it weaves together very seamlessly, but it's really quite intricate. I'm also trying to expand my musical vocabulary. Every musician has their own "voice," just like prose writers, and while there are some sounds that are going to come up invariably again and again, I want to have a little more breadth in what I can "say" musically.
 
Q: Which of your works are most special to you?
 
LAVIN: The song "On This River" is very special. For some reason, I'd always wanted to write a great "river" song, like "Ol' Man River" from Showboat, or Peter Gabriel's "Washing of the Water." I'd completed the entire score for the musical On This River--which at the time didn't even have a working title--and suddenly this song came to me out of nowhere. I loved it and called it "On This River" and the show eventually took its name from that. Another piece I'm particularly fond of is something called "Reverie." I'd heard Hoagie Carmichael wrote "Stardust" while reminiscing about a woman down at the "Spooning Wall" at Indiana University. One night this summer a gentleman friend and I were strolling around Harvard; it was my first time there. This song drifted into my mind--it was so lovely and so serene, and it just appeared--and it wouldn't go away, so I wrote it out the next day and there it was--my own "Stardust." I'm currently doing the instrumental arrangement for it and it should be out soon. I've always wanted to write a Mass, so maybe someday that'll happen--I should be so lucky that it comes to me all of a sudden. Seriously, when I listen to great Masses, I wonder how I could ever do an equally magnificent version. The "Quia fecit" from Glenn McClure's Guadalupe Magnificat is my gold standard on that one.
 
Q: What do you have planned for the future?
 
LAVIN: I'm currently working on a musical about the famous lifesaver Joshua James and it's coming along wonderfully. The show will open next year. I'm also working on another musical that's still a bit under wraps at the moment, and coordinating with the local elementary school in Hull, Massachusetts, which is hoping to have "Underneath A Hullonian Sky"--the official town song, which I wrote--taught as part of their music curriculum. I'm hoping to have some of my choral works performed and published this year as well. Lots of good things are in the making. That's the great thing about this business--you're busy working hard and planting seeds and one day you look up and find your work blossoming all around you.

September 2009 

 

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2010 INTERVIEW:

Ted Parker, guitarist and songwriter formerly of the San Francisco indie band LoveLikeFire, had these questions for Cinzi:

 

Q: You are one of the most energetic, motivated, positive-minded artists I have met. Where does that energy come from? 

LAVIN: Some of my ancestors came from the Po River Valley in northwestern Italy. According to legend, the unusually high mineral content in the soil in this valley gives the inhabitants vast amounts of energy. So maybe it's just good minerals in my genes. Overall, though, I love the projects I work with--I do things that interest me and I'm just as excited as anyone else to see how they'll turn out, so that's incredibly motivating. 
  
Q: You recently became a certified yoga instructor; the next step in your seemingly constant cycle of self-reinvention. What drew you to yoga and does it affect you as an artist?

LAVIN: I was drawn to yoga because I desperately needed balance in my life. After taking yoga classes for two years, I realized what a profound effect it had on me--remaining calm, centered, and focused became much easier. There is a Chinese saying, "Stress is who you think you are; relaxation is who you are." I had fallen into the trap of thinking that if I weren't running in circles, somehow I wasn't productive, or that if I were calm, I wouldn't be interesting. I used to joke that if I weren't neurotic, I'd have no personality at all. [Laughs] In fact, I've discovered the opposite: that I'm more myself, both as a person and an artist, when I'm serene. Eventually, I decided to share this gift of healing with other people, which motivated me to become a yoga teacher. I only teach a few classes a week, but it's a very special time for me, and I'm honored to work with my students, helping them find their own inner calm, seeing them overcome their own obstacles. The yoga mat is a great place to work out the stuff that gets in the way of the artistic process. If I can go and try a difficult pose and fail to achieve it and then come to a place of humility, accepting my level of mastery, I'm going to be much more patient with myself when I encounter a challenge as I'm composing something. And if I surprise myself and am successful doing a pose I didn't believe I could, that gives me a boost of confidence and faith that I can also carry into my work. More than anything, it gives me perspective, something an artist always needs.   
 
Q: You are a writer, a songwriter, a composer, a musician, an educator, an artists' model and probably some things that I don't even know about! Which is your first love and how would you list these roles hierarchically, if that is possible?

LAVIN: I love being an entertainer; that's at the root of my performing music or acting, composing musical dramas, writing songs, and writing humorous articles for various publications. In my nature, there is also a very strong instinct to teach, and over the years I've taught everything from English literature to music, and now to yoga. Being a teacher is very creative work and requires you to be an entertainer of sorts as well: I want to tell you a story in so compelling (or amusing) a way that you will always remember it, whether it's about what Hamlet is about or what Beethoven is trying to say in one of his piano sonatas. On the other hand, education involves drawing out--helping the student find their own inner wisdom, and that certainly applies to yoga. Inspiring others has been another ongoing facet in my career; while this comes out in teaching and working with the artists that act in my musical dramas, it also involves my audiences. And a lot of my art is meant to teach--to create awareness or educate by bringing light to a person or thing or idea that they're unfamiliar with. And as a model working for visual artists and painters, I get to inspire them in their creative process, which, even though the medium is completely different, the process is exactly the same as that of a musician. So I suppose it's all interwoven--even looking at it now, it's too closely connected to separate the strands, but they involve entertaining, teaching, and inspiring others.  

Q: What time of day are you most inspired/productive?

LAVIN: God knows it's not first thing in the morning. [Laughs] Seriously, I do my best work after dark. There's more magic at night; more possibility. In the daytime, everything is clear and plainly visible. It's a busy time and the sense of time is ever-present. Night is different; there are less demands, it's unstructured and more open to creative energy flowing freely. There‚Äôs more mystery; more fantasy.  Ancient people who looked at the night sky dreamt up magnificent legends to explain the mysteries of the heavens. Sometimes I even wake up in the middle of the night with a song in my mind. I always keep a pen and paper in my bedside table drawer.    

Q: In the past year, what new (new to you) artists have you discovered/fallen in love with?

LAVIN: Oh, I found some wonderful artists this year. Idan Raichel is an Israeli singer-songwriter who incorporates various Middle Eastern and Ethiopian influences into his music. His songs feature lyrics in several different languages, from Hebrew to Hindi. His "Mi'ma'amakim" is a really gorgeous song. I'm impressed by how he blends the different cultural elements so seamlessly. Then there's the British hip hop artist Tricky, who I'm convinced is a lyrical genius. The poetry of his work is just astounding--so powerful and so, so carefully crafted, and beyond that, it still manages to get to a place in your consciousness that is beyond linguistics and hits you with an emotional impression. Even the way the lyrics sound in your mouth when you say them--like "Lick a rock on foil" from "Hell Is Around the Corner"--that's brilliant; absolutely brilliant. He made me think a lot about that line between words and meanings; I had already appreciated its existence, but it made me aware of how I could play with it--he showed me how far you can actually go; it's a much broader line than I thought. From what I've read, he had a very hard life growing up, which is why I think his approach is so unconventional. I think when an artist has had a lot of tragedy in their early lives, to the point that life becomes surreal, they aren't afraid of anything anymore; they don't worry about taking risks or what people will think. So in that way, he used his misfortunes to craft some really stunning art, and I admire that. As far as performers, I recently became aware of an Irish singer/songwriter named Colm O'Donnell. The first time I heard him, I just melted. What a voice! He sings like an angel. I was so moved I wanted to contact him but it turns out he's a shepherd in County Sligo; I couldn't find a website or e-mail address for him or anything. I wonder if he sings to his sheep all day; those are some lucky sheep. [Laughs] On YouTube you can listen to his "The Boys from the County Mayo." The first time I heard it, I realized in a flash I was listening to the finest Irish tenor I'd ever heard. As for artists I'm revisiting, I listened to a lot of George Michael this year. I'd grown up with his music as a teenager but never gave it much thought. I enjoyed his stuff but I guess I didn't take him very seriously as a musician. But I was in a grocery store one day and heard "A Different Corner," which I hadn't heard in a million years, and it struck me what a truly beautiful song that is. Then I went back and listened to a lot of his other songs and really paid attention to them as though I were hearing them for the first time. It gave me a fresh appreciation of his music.  
 
Q: What drew you to the township of Hull where you now live and work?

LAVIN: I arrived in Massachusetts completely by accident. The year before I got here, I'd moved to Providence, Rhode Island, thinking that was going to be where I'd settle down for good. I loved it there. Unfortunately, it just didn't seem it was meant to be; a relationship I was in ended and I needed to start over somewhere new. I also wanted access to a broader arts scene. People said Boston would be the place to go. I quickly discovered I didn't want to live in Boston and I didn't want to live in the suburbs around it. Then one day a friend said, "Have you ever been to Hull? It's on the ocean--it's very beautiful." That was all I needed to hear. I jumped in my car and came straight up here and fell in love with it. It was exactly what I'd always wanted. I like that it's a small town. It also has an incredibly active arts community that only keeps growing with time. The location has long been an inspiration for artists, which is why so many are drawn here.     
 
Q: This past summer you completed the production of your second musical for Hull Performing Arts, Toilers of the Sea.  What did you learn from last year's On This River that you brought to the writing and production of Toilers?
 
LAVIN: If anything, it strengthened my faith in the theatrical process--trusting the director, trusting the actors. Learning that sometimes my most important role in the production is to stay out of everyone else's way. [Laughs] I knew instinctively during On This River that I had to keep my fingers out of the pie sometimes, but I learned that the result was very worth it. I was amazed by the creativity and vision that others brought to my work, so it was easier sitting tight during Toilers.
 
Q: What have you learned from Toilers that will inform your next HPA musical about Paragon Park?
 
LAVIN: Two very important lessons. First, that I need to take more care in considering the logistics of a show. During the dress rehearsal for Toilers, we discovered that one of the actors who appeared in two back-to-back scenes had to do a significant costume-change between them. There simply wasn't time. And here we were about to open in less than 48 hours. One of the characters who was moving scenery between scenes said, "If you can write something for me to sing, I'll do that while I'm moving things around on stage and if I do it slowly, it'll buy us a little more time." Within five minutes I'd written the tune for "Sailor's Song" there on the spot. Rehearsal was over and I drove home, which was a short trip from the rehearsal hall; words were flying through my head the whole way. I remember that by the time my key went into the lock of my front door, I knew I had the lyrics. I rushed inside and wrote them down. Then I called the actor and sang it to him over the phone. I followed that up with an MP3 recording I e-mailed to him around midnight. He had the song down by rehearsal the next day. Ironically, many, many people commented that that was by far their favorite song in the show. They had no idea that I'd written it so close to opening that it didn't even make it into the program! I thought to myself, "I don't think this is how Andrew Lloyd-Weber does it." The song is really special, though, from a creative standpoint. Unlike the rest of the music, I wrote "Sailor's Song" when I was completely drained, both physically and emotionally. I think coming from that kind of tiredness, I could quickly crystallize the most important elements I wanted to convey, and I also think it expressed a lot of the wrenching emotions I was feeling. There was melancholy because the rehearsal process was over and soon the show would be, too. You can hear it in the song. But even deeper was the impact of Joshua James' life on the sea. Just because I'd written this musical, I hadn't seen it and heard it yet, if that makes sense. During a dress rehearsal, it gets pretty real. I had a striking impression of what it means to be a sailor--literally, a toiler of the sea. And I had this overpowering sense that it is a life of hard work and courage and ultimately, humility in the face of such vastness, but that there is something unspeakably beautiful about it, which is why I think there is so much romanticism connected with the life of a sailor. So that's why I closed the song with the lines, "I'm no more than a pebble on the shore, but the sea will still remember me." The other thing I learned during Toilers is that no matter how heartfelt a script you write, no matter how moving the lines may be, you still have to find a way to make it meaningful to the actors speaking those lines--kind of a connect-the-dots, if you will. That's how to bring out the best in an actor if they're just not reaching their full potential. During Toilers, one of the main characters had a soliloquy that was falling flat in one important spot. It was a challenging set of lines and the guy was an outstanding actor, but it just wasn't happening. During rehearsals when we'd be chatting about that part, I'd rattle off logical reasons why that line was important, reiterate how it related to the storyline, that it helped show the character's motivation, blah, blah, blah. Still wasn't happening. I took a gamble and waited until opening night. During intermission, I slipped into the dressing room backstage. I pulled him aside and in whispers, told him my reason for having his character say that particular line. It's something very personal which I've only ever shared with him and another cast member who appeared in the same scene. To my amazement, he said he'd always had the feeling there was something going on beneath the surface of that particular line--his instincts as an actor were that good--and he promised me that now that he understood the significance, he could really make it shine. A few minutes later, he was out on stage and he delivered a magnificent performance. His words electrified the audience. Having that intensely intimate understanding of the line--not written by me the playwright, but by me the person--was what I needed to offer him. And so I learned that sometimes it's okay to do that--sometimes you need to do that.                  
 
Q: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
 
LAVIN: Well, I'm really satisfied with the three musicals I've done about Hull--people now call them "The Nantasket Trilogy"--so I think that cycle is completed. However, I'd still like to continue generating art for the town. I'm thinking of doing a straight drama for the Hull Performing Arts, and a longtime dream is to start a local boys' choir; I've already written several songs for it. As for other major endeavors, I have five new musicals in the works--two are biographical, one is political, and the other two are fun and kind of unusual. I have some smaller projects too; I'm hoping to get the Niagara Parks Commission to consider a song I've written for them. I was at the falls last summer, and all I could think was, "This place needs a soundtrack." I'm also working on an album of jazz arrangements of songs performed by solo piano.  
        
Q: Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
 
LAVIN: Oh God, not the job interview question! [Laughs] Well, doing something on Broadway would be the most obvious answer. And, as I mentioned, I want to continue to remain active in Hull. I'd like to publish two books I've been working on, one is kind of a "how to" about managing one's life as an artist and the other is a book about teaching piano. I'd also like to do more lecturing about music in hopes of encouraging aspiring artists; I think it's each artist's responsibility to learn from those who came before us and to encourage those who come after us. We exist in the framework of a sacred tradition, and artists who fail invariably ignore that tradition--they're too proud to take guidance from the masters and too greedy to share success with the fledglings. One needs to do both. Mostly though, I'd like to continue discovering new projects to throw myself into. Someone once said that the point of life is to feel the kind of joy you feel as a kid when you jump into a pile of leaves. I can already see a lot of leaf-piles in my future. Here I come!         
 
October 2010

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2011 INTERVIEW:
 
Rocker Bill Bracken of Age Against the Machine did Cinzi the honor of conducting the following interview with her:
 
Q: Where are you from?
 
LAVIN: I was born in Manhattan. 
 
Q: When did you start playing piano?
 
LAVIN: When I was five. They couldn't tear me away from it.
 
Q: Who is your biggest musical influence?
 
LAVIN: Maybe the best way of answering that is to tell you who I think of when I'm composing something and I need inspiration, and it's invariably Paul Simon and Elvis Costello. Stephen Schwartz comes to mind a lot too. They're completely "outside the box" to me--they come up with things I'd never think of in a million years. I owe them a lot for setting the bar so high. 
 
Q: What is the most successful musical experience you've had so far?
 
LAVIN: Playing at the White House last year was fantastic, but a particular performance of my first musical, On This River, topped it. In the audience that night were the mother and sisters of a teenage girl who died as the result of a car accident here in Hull. When I found out about the girl, I was just finishing composing the musical and I asked their permission to dedicate the title song to her. They agreed and came to the show when it opened. Knowing they experienced some small consolation in the midst of such a devastating tragedy because of my music is about the greatest success I can imagine.
 
Q: What was your favorite musical experience?
 
LAVIN: There have been so, so many over the years, but probably my personal favorite happened at the White House. While Jennifer Love and I were there doing songs from our album of Stephen Foster music, we did perform some other pieces. I wanted very much to bring something special to Washington from Massachusetts, so I asked Jim Scott, one of our own composers, if I could perform his "The Oneness of Everything." He said yes. That's one of my very favorite songs--the tune and lyrics are just lovely--and singing it in the Grand Foyer of the White House was absolutely blissful.
 
Q: Who is the most famous person you have met?
 
LAVIN: Do dogs count? [Laughs] Because I met Bo, President Obama's dog. He's very sharp; he's got his act together. While we were bumbling around preparing for our photo op with him, he was in his place and all ready to go. Let's see . . . I met Van Cliburn years ago in Texas. Very gracious gentleman. Very tall. All famous people are tall. [Laughs] I'm serious. I met Carol Channing when I was in college and I swear she was over six feet.
 
Q: What do you see yourself doing in ten years?
 
LAVIN: Oh God, not the job interview question again! [Laughs] I think I always make fun of the "Where will you be in X years?" question because ten years ago I never could've predicted I'd be where I am now. My life is always unfolding in completely unexpected directions. Having said that, I definitely don't see myself sitting on a tropical beach sipping a drink. I can't think of anything more boring. Twenty minutes would go by and I'd be trying to make a musical instrument out of sand or writing a song about coconuts. In ten years, I hope I'm still writing musicals and entertaining people.
 
Q: What is the largest crowd you have performed in front of?
 
LAVIN: That's a tough question. I'm bad with numbers. Maybe Madison Square Garden? Then again, I've done a street festival here in Hull in front of a sea of people.
 
Q: What is the most difficult thing you have played on piano?
 
LAVIN: I can answer that a couple of different ways. As far as how long they take me to learn, Chopin's pieces are extremely challenging. The keys he wrote in drive me crazy. I think he owned a defective piano--it didn't have any white keys. As far as interpretive difficulty goes, I have never mastered Liszt's Consolation No. 3. I have no idea how to express the emotions in that piece--I have no idea what Liszt is saying with it. Is he melancholy? Is he resigned? I can't even find the crux of it. Maybe there isn't one. Who knows? But I think for all-out total frustration, the winner is "Edelweiss Glide" by Vanderbeck. My piano teacher kind of used that as the benchmark of when you knew everything you had to know to play the piano. If you could nail that piece, you'd reached the top. Technically speaking, it's nowhere near being the hardest piece on earth, but it uses a ridiculously overblown amount of fancy moves, so bottom line, it's a royal pain in the neck to play. I can't stand that stupid piece.
 
Q: What is your favorite piano?
 
LAVIN: This is going to get controversial. But I'll be honest. I think old Steinways, especially ones made in the 1920s, were truly great pianos. As a class, that was it. The modern ones, like any new pianos, I don't have much use for. Beyond that, I think the Steinway company has become shockingly snobbish, so I can't in good conscience publically endorse their pianos. Arrogance isn't a quality I look for in a piano manufacturer. [Laughs] I've tried several prestigious European brands which didn't impress me as much as they probably should have, although I am partial to Petrofs. In the American pianos, I really love Everett and Steinert. The most magnificent piano I ever played was a restored 1929 Steinert seven-foot concert grand.
 
Q: If you never had to worry about money again, what would you do with your time?
 
LAVIN: Exactly what I do now. It might be nice to have more time for vacations and to do more nonprofit work, though. That's about all I'd change.
 
Q: Who is your favorite band or singer right now?
 
LAVIN: Since her death this summer, I've been listening to a lot of Amy Winehouse's music. Of course, I'd known of her before, but I wanted to hear more of her old stuff and it's really beautiful. She had an incredible talent and a very sharp wit that came through in her lyrics. For instance, in "I Heard Love Is Blind," she's comparing her boyfriend to another man. She sings, "He's not as tall but I couldn't tell. It was dark and I was lying down." Now that's funny. I laughed out loud the first time I heard that. Amy died the day my musical Where the Fun Begins opened. I came home and read the news online. I just sat there and cried. I had so hoped she would recover from her addiction. I think people were so caught up in following the chaos of her personal life that they forgot what a rare gift she had for singing a song with all her soul. I think she'll eventually be remembered as one of the greatest singers ever. I've also been listening to Cake. They have such a distinct sound. I'm not sure if I'm enjoying them or simply studying them. Sometimes I listen to things just to figure out how they work, like when little kids pull apart a toaster to see what's inside. I'm enjoying it, but probably not for the reason most people do. I've been thinking a lot lately about orchestration--how it's traditionally done the same way, and that's for a reason--it works; it sounds good. However, bands like Cake can get away with doing nontraditional stuff and they make it fly. That's avant garde. I hope I learn enough from them to keep my own music moving into the future.
 
September 2011               

 

 

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