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Actor and Saturday Night Live cast member Jason Sudeikis talks about the songs that shaped him through his suburban Kansas upbringing, from West Coast gangsta rap and piano ballads to Broadway musicals. He’s currently in his 8th season of SNL and voices a character in the upcoming animated adventure-comedy film Epic, out in 3D on May 24.
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1. Guitar Town - Steve Earle
2. Heaven On Their Minds - Andrew Lloyd Webber (sung by Murray Head)
3. Gangsta Gangsta - N.W.A.
4. The Bare Necessities - Harry Connick, J.R.
5. Evaporated - Ben Folds Five
Dan Wilcox: This is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I am here with actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis He is on his eighth season as a cast member on Saturday Night Live and has voiced a character in the upcoming 3D animated, fantasy feature Epic. Today we are going to be talking about songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome Jason.
Jason: Thanks for having me, Dan.
Dan: Sure, so what do you got for us today?
Jason: This would be five songs that I liked before I was 21, but that I can draw definite lines back towards how I am and who I am now. The first one I have is a song called "Guitar Town" by Steve Earle. As a kid you don't drive anywhere, your folk's drive you everywhere, and I had two great parents that had very different musical styles, or taste that is. My father, I never remembered it him listening to the radio, but he was a guy that would buy a full album for one song and yeah it was a lot of rock n’ roll or country rock or things along those lines.
Nowadays, I’m the one that is returning the favor and got him into Wilco, and Mumford and Sons but before that it started "Guitar Town". This is a song that I will, on occasion and have recently, sing at karaoke, it's just a good two and a half minute karaoke song. When you hear a good song and you don't know it but then someone sings it well at karaoke, it's as good as anything because you're actually in the room. You know? It's like “oh my gosh I forgot about this little nugget, this little diamond.”
Dan: Nice, well let's give this little diamond a spin. This is "Guitar Town" from Steve Earle here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
Song: Steve Earle -- "Guitar Town"
Dan: Jason, what else do we have?
Jason: That represents my father's car, that's me being driven to basketball practice, or being picked up from school after detention.
My Mom was all Broadway, my mom was like Broadway songs all the time, and a lot times original cast stuff. This one is from "Jesus Christ Superstar" By Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice. And this song “Heaven On Their Minds” is the very first song by Judas. This, I would say, I didn't realize how much I love this story -- even though I went to Catholic school and then I went to like a Judgewood High School for a couple of years -- I don't think I realized how much of an impression the story of Jesus, that struggle that is the story, what an impression it made on me, until later in life. Because then, you listen to this song I kind of think that having a buddy like Judas. Having a buddy trying to keep you in check, which is what the story line of the musical is 00 not necessarily what everyone believes -- you know, keep the message more important than the messenger. I find it to be profound in this modern day in age.
But then this is my favorite version, this is from the concept album from 1970 and it's sung by Murray Head. Who was the same guy who sang "One Night in Bangkok", from the 80's, and you don't know it from "One Night in Bangkok" but this guy, the pipes this guy has. And this is also, again, another song I would do at karaoke and mean every word from it in attempt to be as tortured as Judas is during this song.
Song: Murray Head – “Heaven on Their Minds”
Dan: "Heaven on their Minds" a song by Murray Head from "Jesus Christ Super Star" as chosen by Jason Sudeikis here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
What's next for us?
Jason: Then at some point, in the Midwest, in the suburban Midwest, in Overland Park, Kansas. That's when the world kind of changed for myself. At that point I started to play a lot of basketball, Eddie Murphy was the funniest man in America, and I was certain I was certain that I was a black kid.
I was just absolutely certain. I had no proof otherwise than a mirror. Nothing signified more the difference between where I was and the rap group NWA from Compton, California – very, very different from Overland Park, Kansas. And this song that I chose is "Gangsta Gangsta" from their beloved album "Straight out of Compton".
Before the Internet when you wanted to memorize lyrics and they weren't in the liner notes on either the cassette or the album, I used to write them all down. I use to write everything out. So like the Beastie Boys I'd listen to, I would have a different colored pen or maker for each Beastie Boy -- like blue for Ad-Rock and all the way down and black when they all did it together.
That was the way I would sort of memorize these lyrics. This album, one of my dear friends Terry, his older brother Brian had it, and the language and content was so foreign to us, that we just fell in love with it, so I wrote out all the lyrics.
So, I'm showing it to Terry, we’re in 6th grade science c lass, the teacher comes walking in, and sure enough the teacher immediately is like “Jason bring it to me, give it to me”. She puts it on her desk. We then start to take a test. She leaves the room. And now I'm like “we have to get that, if she sees all those lyrics with all the F's and all the S and all the N words, everything, what it’s about and all that, we are going to get in a lot of trouble in this Catholic school.”
We devise a plan. I write up a fake thing on a sheet of paper, and fold it up and crumble all up and put it on her desk and took the other one. She comes back into the room. She looks at the paper on her desk and she goes "What is this? Where is the other thing?" She already taken it somewhere, I didn't realize that, and showed it to people, like laughed with the school nurse, and be like "look what these guys are writing". It all rhymed, so she thinks it was a poem we wrote.
So now we go into the principal’s office, she thinks we’re racist, she thinks we’re violent. I mean, back then, it was just scandal at the highest degree.
Dan Wilcox: What do you think it was about relating and getting into hardcore hip-hop guys from Compton?
Jason: You know, no different than as a kid wanting to feel like you’ve discovered something that no one else knows. Well, certainly anti-authority. And I think while it was, some would say, an irresponsible view of black culture, it felt very real.
Song: NWA – “Gangtsa Gangsta”
Dan Wilcox: This is ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ from NWA, as chosen by Jason Sudeikis, here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
KCRW’s Guest DJ Project sitting here with Jason Sudeikis and we are gonna go from the very natural transition from NWA to Harry Connick Jr. How do we do this, Jason?
Jason: Well the way I did it in 1992 was that I found a girl that I took a fancy towards and went ahead and fell in love with her. I mean, that’s no joke. That literally was the transition.
Now the first thing that happened was it was Christmas of I guess, ’91 when Harry Connick Jr.’s album “We Are In Love” came out. My cousin in Chicago, where we would go every Christmas, she got that album and I remember her playing it and me making fun of her relentlessly. Like, ‘What is this corny-ass stuff you’re listening to, how old are you, 40?” Making a joke about that. Just really making fun of her cause I only listened to hip-hop and R&B.
I get home and I have that song, the song ‘We Are in Love’ stuck in my head, and I tape it onto a cassette 10 times in a row, over and over because we didn’t have CDs back then so you couldn’t just hit the track back, so I would just tape it over and over. I had just fallen in love with it while it was going on and while I was making fun of it, and then in its absence I wanted it around.
And, it’s one of my favorite versions of his song because he turns the song on its ear and makes it what I did not know, like New Orleans jazz, call and response with him and the band, it’s got a sense of humor, it’s got the swagger that I still love about Harry Connick Jr. The song’s just got a lot of soul to begin with and he just puts a little more on it. That again, it was like that perfect little bridge between a suburban white kid who wanted to be Eddy Murphy and then you sort of find, you know, New Orleans jazz and it all sort of made sense to me.
It was a combination of so many different things that I had liked before, and it was about a month difference between listening to hip-hop exclusively and then the next thing you know I’m blasting the Harry Connick Jr. in the exact same car with a pile driver speakers.
Song: The Bare Necessities- Harry Connick, J.R.
Dan Wilcox: That was Harry Connick Jr. with the song “The Bare Necessities” as chosen by Jason Sudeikis and Jason, what’s the last song we’re going to get into today?
Jason: I’m the oldest of three, I have two younger sisters, and I’ve always been in search for a mentor, for an older brother. You know, some people have that relationship with their parents, uncle, priest, or whatever you have. I feel like Ben Folds, I’ve referred to him in the past few years as like being a musical older brother.
I didn’t get the songs when I first heard them a lot of times you know? It would be like 3 years later where I would go back and listen to the album and I would be like “Oh!”
A recorded track, or a film, or a piece of art always stays the same, but we get to change around it and I find that to be comforting because you could always look back on it, you know, if you’re love it’s the happiest song in the world, if she just broke up with you it’s the saddest thing on Earth.
This song, this was right before I moved to Chicago before I decided to become an actor. It represents a culmination of all these other 4 songs to me.
Dan Wilcox: Very cool, well let’s give this track a listen here this is from Ben Folds five it’s called “Evaporated” here on KCRW’s Guest DJ project.
Jason thank you so much for joining here on KCRW.com
Jason: Absolutely thank you again for having me. It was very, very fun to look back down this rabbit hole.
So for a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.