Actress Olivia Wilde’s love affair with music started with soul and moved on to hip hop and beyond. She calls the Rolling Stones the constant soundtrack to her life and says actors should strive to put the passion and energy of an artist like Paul Simon into their performances. Her latest film Drinking Buddies is now streaming on iTunes and will be in theaters August 23.
1. Al Green - Love And Happiness
2. Salt-n-Pepa - Push It
3. Paul Simon - Graceland
4. The Rolling Stones - Miss You
5. Alexander - In the Twilight
Anne Litt: Hi I'm Anne Litt and I'm here with actress Olivia Wilde and today we're playing excerpts of songs she's selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Welcome!
Olivia Wilde: Thank you for having me. This is such a dream come true!
AL: Well I see you picked Al Green, “Love and Happiness”, as your first choice.
AL: So why don't you tell me about that.
OW: When I was ten years old, I was at a Christmas party and the band was covering Al Green and I remember watching the drummer and becoming totally hypnotized by it and thinking ‘This is my music. This is what I want to hear all the time.’ And I walked up to him and said ‘Who is that?’ and he said, ‘Oh, that's the Reverend Al.’
And from that point on I had such a love affair, and I continue to have it, with the Reverend Al. It was the first vinyl I bought, it was the first poster I had in my room - that awesome shirtless picture of Al that people know well -- and it started this love affair with soul music and 70’s R&B. I was really influenced by an uncle of mine, Alexander Colburn, who is no longer with us but he loved Al Green and we use to sit in his kitchen in Northern California and put on the record and it was a soundtrack to a wonderful time in my life.
I don’t know if “Love and Happiness” is my favorite Al Green song, but it was the first one that really touched me. And that intro, I think, is one of the best intros in music and it continues to really get at the core of me when I hear it, probably because it brings me back to that beginning of understanding how music would really affect me in my life.
Song: Al Green – “Love and Happiness”
AL: So we just listened to Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” let’s move on to your next selection, which is a favorite of mine: “Push It” by Salt-n-Pepa. Now, I guess you evolved from Al Green to Salt-n-Pepa?
OW: Yeah, yeah! I think I – you know – as I started to learn a little bit more about soul music that brought me to hip hop in a very logical way and hip hop really played an important part in my young life and continues to.
It was hard for me to pick which song to bring today but “Push It” is one that, obviously, everyone still loves, is so good, and represents the female presence of hip hop that is so important. And, you know, Salt-n-Pepa are just one of the groups that really brought that powerful, female, badass presence into hip hop music and really inspired me with their dancing, with their fashion, with their message of empowerment.
I did not, at that time, understand a lot of what they were talking about (laughs), but it didn’t matter, the music affected me and now when I see really young girls dancing to hip hop that they don’t understand I think, it’s just the beat and the energy that’s getting to them and inspiring them to move.
I mean, this was a period of time during which I was banned from dancing at weddings because I had watched a few too many of these videos. (laughs)
AL: Oh my gosh.
OW: So, I used to go and try to emulate as many of these badass women as I could, but I never really came close. I still try. But “Push It” still gets me going.
Song: Salt-n-Pepa – Push It
AL: I love it. That was Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It.” It’s one of Olivia Wilde’s picks, she’s our guest DJ today on KCRW. Now, shifting gears massively for your next choice which is Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” talk about that.
OW: Yeah, totally different. This song is the soundtrack to my family road trips and I think that may be true for a lot of people and I specifically remember being in the car in Ireland – because my dad’s from Ireland, and so we’d spend summers there – being in the car on the way to the stable that my sister and I worked at every day, in order to get lessons, and we would listen to this album over and over and over again
And “Graceland”, the song specifically, really introduced me to African music for the first time and made me begin this love affair with traveling to Africa. And I think it all started with “Graceland.” I think it was this album that just opened my eyes to the way that different genres could come together in music and really just made me fall in love with Paul Simon.
Song: Paul Simon -- Graceland
OW: “Graceland” is such a personal song that reads and sounds like an anthem and that’s why it can become so personal for so many of us, even though it really is very specific about Paul Simon’s life, about his journey, about his family, and yet it feels like it’s about each and every one of us. And it seems to be the mark of a great song, a really well-written song.
I always think about these artists in music when acting. I think about, if we put in the same amount of passion into a performance that a great musical artist puts into a performance, you can’t fail to connect with an audience, because it’s just that amount of passion, energy, and effort into a song, rarely is seen in an acting performance, I think.
AL: Paul Simon singing “Graceland.” So, what’s the next song you have for us?
OW: I knew I was going to put a Rolling Stones song on this list and I don’t think there’s a Stones song I don’t know really well and I know someone might call “bull s***” on that, but I really know the band well and that’s a credit to my father – who’s a huge fan – and I’ve been to probably six live Stones shows because I started early with my family.
I consider the Rolling Stones the constant soundtrack to my life, and there are so many great ones that I could have put on here, “Miss You” is probably the first song that I sang into the mirror and fanaticized that I was a rock star, that I was Mick Jagger.
Occasionally I switched over to being Keith just for the accessories, but usually Mick.
And “Miss You” is a song that when they play live, now, really gets me going and it is so complex, it’s so dark, it’s so naughty, it’s got such a great kind of sexy vibe to it.
And, again that intro – a lot like Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” – is so recognizable immediately and I just think it’s one of their best and probably one that Stones fans don’t hear enough of.
You know, whenever they get to that point, you know, “What’s a matter with you, boy?” You hear that and you just feel that this is when Mick Jagger is a king because he’s doing voices he shouldn’t do, he’s painting pictures he shouldn’t, you know, it’s all so theatrical. I don’t know, I could go on and on. I LOVE this song.
Song: The Rolling Stones – “Miss You”
AL: That was the Rolling Stones with, “Miss You.” All right Olivia, I want you to introduce the last song that you have.
OW: This is a wonderful song by one of my favorite artists, Alexander – who is Alex Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and a few other bands – and he is, I think, one of the most exciting artists working today.
I’m really just a huge fan and this song is from his solo album and it’s called “In the Twilight.” There are so many great songs on this album, “Truth” is one that KCRW played first that is brilliant and a lot of people really dig it. “In the Twilight” is one of those songs that gets to you for very personal reasons. I think it is a beautiful song on its own, but for me, it struck me as one of the only songs about leaving a relationship. There are so many love songs about being left and very few about leaving and this one is clearly told from the point of, from a place of experience and wisdom and yet, maybe I’m just the weird guy who showed up on John Lennon’s doorstep and thought all the songs were about him. Like, this could mean that Alex was singing about something completely different, but for me, hearing this song – at a very specific, difficult time in my life really made me feel stronger and made me smile and I embraced it and it became kind of an anthem for me.
AL: Olivia, thank you so much for joining us on KCRW.com.
OW: Thank you for having me. What a thrill!
AL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.