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Mae Whitman plays a rebellious teenager on NBC’s TV series Parenthood, but the actress is thoughtful, sentimental and surprisingly nostalgic in her Guest DJ set -- from her reflections on youth via the Replacements to her selection of “Shenandoah” by Jazz guitar great, Johnny Smith.
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1.) This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)- Talking Heads
2.) Mean- Taylor Swift
3.) Can't Hardly Wait- The Replacements
4.) Shenandoah- Johnny Smith
5.) Telepathy- Landon Pigg
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I am in the studio with actress Mae Whitman from the shows Arrested Development, Parenthood, as well as the voice of Tinkerbell in a series of Disney films. Today, we're going to talk about some songs she's selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ project. Mae, thanks for coming down.
Mae Whitman: Yes, I'm so excited to be here.
EJL: What's the first track you've got?
MW: A friend of mine was like ‘hey, have you seen this movie Stop Making Sense?’ and I hadn’t even been that familiar with the Talking Heads which is like insane to me and I remember it was the first song of theirs that I heard and saw visually at the same time. That number, it just blew me away. I couldn’t believe that they had visuals like that, first of all, and mostly just that music could sound like that. I mean it was like genre-less and just interesting sounds. I couldn’t even really put any kind of label on it at all except that it really made me feel good. Like it’s the perfect vibe, I can put it on any time. You know, it's sad and happy and it's just great. I love it so much. It's so great; it's one of my favorite songs ever.
EL: Here it is a classic from the Talking Heads, “This Must Be the Place”.
Song: Talking Heads - This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody).
EL: Talking Heads, This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody). That was a song that was recently cited somewhere as one of the greatest love songs of all time. Have you thought about it from that particular perspective?
MW: You know, I have thought about it from the perspective of it being a love song, Especially, there's a couple lyrics in there that, to me, feel like the most beautiful way of loving someone -- about being open and the sort of the way they are behind their eyes. It's all in there, but to me that’s sort of what makes it special, that it's not pinpointed in any direction it really feels like a song of love for yourself, for others, for the world. I mean it's just great, it’s the best.
EL: Well, what's the next song you got for us?
MW: The next song I have is actually from by a new up and coming artist, you probably haven't heard of her yet. But she's going to be famous I can feel it.
MW: Her name is Taylor Swift.
EL: You know I've heard of her!
MW: You're kidding! That's just 'cause you work in the music library.
EL: Maybe so, Maybe so.
MW: You have a leg-up.
With this song in particular, there's no undertones and there's no manipulation of feelings, it's just how she feels and it's fine. The thing of mean and people sort of saying, you know, mean things or slanderous things or whatever, I think it's something that just people in general have to deal with, like boys and girls at every age at any time. And I legitimately think it's nice to hear a happy song about getting made fun of, it's kind of easier to let go of.
Song: Taylor Swift - Mean
EL: That was Taylor Swift with Mean, as selected by our guest Mae Whitman.
Taylor Swift, pretty big time artist, do you think of these things as guilty pleasures or does music not have to be an issue of commercial or non-commercial.
MW: I think that’s a really great and important question and something that I think, living in Silverlake, and being a Eastside hipster for life, I've had to struggle with letting go of in general. You know, its sort of easy to be pretentious about that, and not even give it a chance because it's commercial and blah blah blah.
But the facts are, you know, sure there's a level of media promotion or whatever but there's something in it that really sounds good. So I think once you let go of that and at least be open to it, you might end up finding something you really like… like me and Taylor. So Taylor if you're listening I think you and I could do really great things together
EL: So what's the next track you got for us?
MW: The next track is a song called "Can't Hardly Wait" by the Replacements. And this song I think is important to me especially right now. I'm 23 and I sort of have this core group of friends and for the past few years it's just been us all the time. There was a time where we were hanging out every day, every night, just like binges of sleeping at each others house for days on end and just being in that state of being young and not having responsibilities.
But there is definitely a heaviness to it because you can sort of feel how it shifts and how it changes. And you'll sort of always love all those people no matter what, no matter how the dynamic shifts, but this song to me encompasses that feeling of loving it and being in it and sort of that encapsulated youth, but still being aware of the sad changes that nothing gold can stay and sort of letting that go, but still being positive about it.
EL: Well, here it is The Replacements with “Can't Hardly Wait”.
Song: The Replacements - Can't Hardly Wait
EL: You're fairly young to have discovered The Replacements. Where did you happen upon that?
MW: I think the first time I actually heard The Replacements was on a road trip to San Diego. I had never heard of the Replacements and I'd always loved punk music - I love The Misfits and sort of the punk music that there's something dull and aching about it underneath -- and I remember hearing that song and just driving and it was by the ocean and the sun was setting and I just was like ‘Oh boy this is gonna be a big one.’
EL: Well, what's the next song you got for us?
MW: The next song I have is a real switch up here. This is a song, “Shenandoah”, and it's played by Johnny Smith. My dad plays Jazz guitar and who he learned jazz guitar from is this guy Barry Zweig, who's an amazing jazz guitar player, and he sort of learned everything he knows from Johnny Smith.
So, this side really represents the importance of jazz to me growing up, and the sentimentality of my childhood. I'm extremely sentimental and nostalgic, so this to me feels wintery and cold and cozy and really reminds me of my family and being little. And also the first time I really began to appreciate guitar tones. I think this song really represents how meaningful that is to me.
EL: Well, here's a Jazz guitar great, Johnny Smith, with “Shenandoah”.
Song: Johnny Smith – “Shenandoah”
EL: That was Johnny Smith, performing Shenandoah, selected by our guest Mae Whitman. What's the next song you've got for us?
MW: The next song I have I saved for the end because it's my favorite. I guess I'm a little bit biased because I do happen to be dating the artist. His name is Landon Pigg,
When I first heard his music, and, I'd never really seen someone that, or been so close in person to someone that you can tell really has it. Like, is a real true musician. You know, can play any instrument, and has an incredible voice and writes amazing songs. And it just comes out of him, out of every pore, and it's been a real pleasure to just be around it. And now that I'm starting to make music WITH him, it's like, a huge honor, and really important for me because I've always been really shy about music and really vulnerable about singing, and my presentation of being a musician. It's just very hard for me and he sort of given me the confidence and support to sing with him and write music with him, and it's just been one of my great pleasures. Just in general, I think it's a beautiful love song and emotional song that I think will connect with a lot of people on a lot of different levels. So it's an unreleased special treat for everybody!
EL: An early look at the song from Landon Pigg, it's “Telepathy”.
Song: Landon Pigg – Telepathy
EL: That was Landon Pigg, with the song Telepathy, selected by out guest, Mae Whitman. There has been released material of you singing with Landon on some Christmas songs.
EL: How was that experience?
MW: We sort of did it as a project on the ukulele just to send out to our family and friends for the holidays. We did it randomly at my parent's house, and it has a really organic, kind of raw quality, which I think is really nice. We did write some music for Parenthood, and that was really great. So, I think we're working on some more stuff. It's great, I'm hoping we can release the Christmas music, and actully have a lot more stuff out sooner rather that later. We're still working on band names, so if anybody has any ideas…
EL: Man, that's the hardest thing of all, coming up with a band name!
MW: It's true, there's almost no good ones.
EL: Well Mae, I want to thank you for coming down and sharing some music with us.
MW: Thank you so much! This is the coolest thing. I'm a huge, huge KCRW fan, and to be able to kind of talk about music is a real exciting dream for me. So, thanks for having me.
EL: Our pleasure. For a complete track listing, and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject, and subscribe to the podcast through Itunes.