1. Joanna Newsom - "A Pinlight Bent"
2. Mavis Staples - "Can You Get to That"
3. Jimmy Campbell - "That's Right, That's Me"
4. Merle Haggard - "Mama Tried"
5. Paul Simon - "That was Your Mother"
Aaron Byrd: Hey there, I’m Aaron Byrd and I’m here with actress Gillian Jacobs. She starred in a TV show Community which developed a cult following over its six seasons. She also had a notable role in the series Girls. And now you can catch her starring in the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix comedy, Love. So today we’re here with Gillian to talk about some of the songs that have inspired her throughout her life as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Gillian, welcome.
Gillian Jacobs: Thank you for having me.
AB: Up first, I see you have something from Miss Joanna Newsom "A Pin-light Bent."
AB: Tell us about this song.
GJ: This is off of her latest album Divers. I’ve always loved Joanna and I wanted to pick something from this new album because I think it’s so beautiful and I think this song is reflective of her work in that you can either take it on the surface level and assign your own sort of meaning to the lyrics or you can do like a deep dive and see all the things she’s referencing and making illusions to and then the song takes on a greater meaning.
Sometimes I like to make myself sad with songs and I feel like this one really touches a chord with me and makes me feel very melancholy. Sometimes I like to have a good self-indulgent cry for whatever reason. It has been my recent go-to as a drive and cry song because either you can see it as about how wonderfully small we are in the universe or how terribly small we are in the universe. So, I guess depending on my mood it either uplifts me or makes me feel really fatalistic.
AB: Alright, let’s take a listen to Joanna Newsom, ”A Pin-Light Bent.”
Song: Joanna Newsom -- ”A Pin-Light Bent”
AB: Alright, so moving forward, a classic voice in Americana I would say. This is Mavis Staples with “Can You Get to That”, her version of the Funkadelic classic.
AB: Yeah. So what is it about this song?
GJ: I try to have it as an anthem for my life. I really feel like when I’m trying to psyche myself up, I’m trying to feel good about myself, and I’m trying to feel positive about life, I like to listen to this song. I’ve always loved Mavis Staples, my mom loves Mavis Staples. Her dad, her whole family, I feel like that was the kind of music my mom played when I was growing up, and it’s definitely a song that my mom and I have shout and sang along to in the car together.
AB: Is it something particular about this song, or is it more that it reminds you about growing up with family?
GJ: I think it’s both. I used to feel this way but now I feel this way, I used to feel small and down low but now I feel great -- you know? I feel like that’s the drive to work. Sometimes I need that sort of anthem. And I think that’s why, for whatever reason, I keep coming back to this song in particular just when I need to psyche myself up.
AB: Let’s check out Mavis Staples with her version of the Funkadelic classic "Can You Get to That."
Song: Mavis Staples – “Can You Get to That”
AB: Alright, looking at your third pick, who do you have for us?
GJ: Jimmy Campbell “That’s Right, That’s Me.”
GJ: I think the theme of my playlist is songs I listen to in the car in LA. A lot of times when I work a really long day and I’m very tired driving home and I’m feeling like it’s not very safe for me to be driving I’ll put on a song like this just to wake myself up. I sing along to it, I know about the quarter of the lyrics, but it sounds really good.
AB: Do you sing?
GJ: No! I’m a terrible singer. If you’ve seen the show Community you’ll know that I can’t sing and they made episodes around the fact that I can’t sing. I used to do musicals when I was a kid, but only until the point where you didn’t actually have to be able to sing. Like, I could be in the children’s choir of Evita or I could play an orphan in Oliver but once you actually had to have a solo then they stopped casting me in the musicals.
AB: Let’s take a listen to Jimmy Campbell “That’s Right, That’s Me.”
Song: Jimmy Campbell -- “That’s Right, That’s Me.”
AB: Alright, so let’s take a listen to Merle Haggard. This is “Mama Tried.”
GJ: I love Merle Haggard. I didn’t grow up listening to country music or country and western, but once I moved to California I went to see Merle Haggard play in Bakersfield and ever since then I’ve been really fascinated by him. Sort of his lore, his place in country and western. I wasn’t very a badly behaved kid, but I guess everybody can relate to “Mama Tried.”
AB: Some people may wanna know…
GJ: Oh gosh.
AB: Is Gillian an outlaw?
GJ: No! If I tell you what I got in trouble for you’re gonna say “what a lame ass.” I, with my friends, decided I had to go see this museum show before it closed so I cut school. It was my senior year, I had already been accepted to college, it was at that ‘it was really pointless to keep going” period of your senior year and I thought I could call the home answering machine and erase the message from the school before my mom heard it and she would be none the wiser, but she beat me to it. For whatever reason. I was going to my mom’s office that day after school. I showed up at her office. She was sobbing. I told her I went to a museum, she did not believe me, I guess with good reason. My mom told me I had to apologize to all my teachers for disappointing them. So I went into school the next day. I went to the English department where I was a work-study and I told the secretary, “My mom says I’m supposed to apologize to you for cutting school” and she’s like, “You’re such an uptight kid, good for you.” And I was like yeah I’m not apologizing to anybody else. So that was my high school rebellion.
AB: Was your college experience anything like Community at all?
GJ: It’s so funny that we’re at SMC. Because actually a lot of actors I went to Julliard with had studied at SMC before they went to Julliard. In one way yes because at Julliard our class was very small and we were sort of stuck together for four years and we really didn’t take classes with anybody else. So it kind of had that claustrophobic, codependent vibe that the cast of Community, the characters on Community had. Yeah. It was similar to Community.
AB: Let’s take a listen to Merle Haggard. This is “Mama Tried.”
Song: Merle Haggard – “Mama Tried”
AB: And that was “Mama Tried,” the classic vocals of Merle Haggard. Last we have Paul Simon, “That Was Your Mother.”
GJ: Paul Simon, “Graceland”, all those albums I feel like I still know them backwards and forwards. I still love them as much as I did then. And you know, as you get to be a teenager, you start to disagree with your parents about music more and more, but I always felt like this was something that we still both liked that we would both still listen to. And after my mom got sick of listening to Bjork a lot in the car we would put on some Paul Simon and be in agreement.
AB: And is it anything, any lyric that stands out from “That Was Your Mother?”
GJ: Well, I think probably as I look back on it now with adult eyes, being a child of divorced parents…I feel like this album and this song was, I think, him talking about the divorce and his child and whatever that divorced parents relationship is to their child. I don’t know if it was very conscious for me at the time but, as I was picking these songs, I was like “that’s why I liked that song so much.” Yeah, my parents got divorced when I was young and you have that different sort of relationship to your parents when they are living separately and you’re a kid and you’re going back and forth. Your parents are sort of different versions of their relationship and each other. I think that’s why I’ve always related to this song.
Song: Paul Simon -- “That Was Your Mother”
AB: And of course from Graceland, that was Paul Simon “That Was Your Mother.” Alright Gillian, this has been fun. Thank you so much for joining us at kcrw.com.
GJ: Thank you for having me! I love KCRW.
AB: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject. Subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.