Author Seth Grahame Smith penned the best-selling novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and wrote the script for Tim Burton's upcoming film Dark Shadows. Music fuels his writing process and he chooses a slate of songs that affect him on an emotional level for his Guest DJ set, from Louis Armstrong to My Bloody Valentine. Smith's latest book, Unholy Night, is out now.
For more: http://sethgrahamesmith.com/
"Only Shallow" by My Bloody Valentine
"Help" The Carpenters
"Electric Relaxation" by A Tribe Called Quest
"Dirty Boots" by Sonic Youth"We Have All the Time in the World" by Louis Armstrong
Dan Wilcox: Hi, this is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I am sitting here with author Seth Grahame-Smith, whose best selling novels Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter are being adapted as feature films. Today we are going to dig into his musical inspirations and hear a few of the songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Welcome Seth.
Seth: Thanks for having me.
Dan: Yeah, so what did you bring for us here today?
Seth: One of the things that I do when I write all the time is that I write to music. That tends to be film scores, trance, or stuff like Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss or these sorts of mood-scapes. I have to have that kind of music when I write and I tend to make playlists depending on what I am writing.
Seth: The first song is called "Only Shallow" by My Bloody Valentine.
I grew up in Connecticut and there was a little station, part of Western Connecticut State University, called WXEI that played the weirdest…alternative music, is what I guess you would call it now. It was a college station.
I don't know what I was doing that night, but I had the radio on and I heard this song come on and I must have been 16 years old. Halfway through the song I am scrambling to press record on my tape deck and praying that the DJ announces who it is at the end so I can go and find it. Lo and behold the DJ announced that it was My Bloody Valentine.
Song: My Bloody Valentine – "Only Shallow"
Seth: I don't know what it is about this song, but it is my favorite piece of art on the planet. You take any painting, any movie, any song, any book or anything. Any piece of art that any artist has ever created, if you had to say this is the one you want on your epitaph, this is the song.
I don't know what it is about it. Some people are going to listen to this song and they're going to think right off the bat that I'm absolutely out of my mind because it just sounds like a bunch of disconnected noise. It's just one of those things that really got under my skin and really sort of evokes an emotion from me. It evokes this really grand, dreamy, emotional state. I can't think of a better way to describe it.
Dan: Okay that was My Bloody Valentine with the song, "Only Shallow." Sitting here with Seth Grahame-Smith. Seth, what is next for us?
Seth: Next is a cover of a Beatles song. The song "Help", but it's a cover by The Carpenters.
I was working on cutting up a trailer for the first season of my MTV show, "The Hard Times of RJ Berger" and we had to go to New York to do this upfront presentation to all the ad buyers and "Help" just seemed to be an appropriate place to start. I listened to it and it just knocked me out. The arrangement of it is so different, in a way, from the original song -- just the way that their voices blend in the song and sort of the counter-melodies being sung behind Karen Carpenter. I picture her playing the drums because she does play drums on this track. It struck me as like the perfect trailer song in a way. I'm shocked that Paul Thomas Anderson has never used this song to cut a trailer because when people hear it, it's literally like the perfect trailer song.
Dan: "Help" as done by The Carpenters here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
Song: The Carpenters – "Help"
Dan: Seth, where are we going to go next?
Seth: To A Tribe Called Quest. It's weird because the mood of the song and the lyrics of the song could not be more different. It has got the smoothest, jazziest hook, loop, whatever, I've ever heard in any hip hop song ever and incredibly beautiful. It works so perfectly with the beats, that lay down on it. One of the first times I remember being a teenager and saying, ‘wow you know, hip hop doesn't have to be you know, here we go yo so what's so what's so what's the scenario’ all the time. It could be something very sort of smooth and evocative and emotional too. On the other hand, Phife and Q-Tip spend the entire song, as you will hear, talking about the various ways they are about to deflower various women of various nationalities. At one point, I believe, Phife says bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman’s furniture.
Dan: That's right.
Seth: It could be a challenging one for the standards department at KCRW, but what you're about to hear might have a plethora of radio edits in it.
Dan: We'll figure it out.
Song: A Tribe Called Quest – "Electric Relaxation"
Dan: Okay, we just heard A Tribe Called Quest, "Electric Relaxation" sitting here with Seth Graham Smith. Seth, where are we going to go next?
Seth: We are going to the world of post-punk or punk or whatever people call Sonic Youth. I still don't know what to call Sonic Youth but this is off the album "Goo" …or the cassette, in my life. It's a song called "Dirty Boots."
Seth: I don't know if it's my favorite Sonic Youth song, but it's the first one that sort of really hooked me into what Sonic Youth was doing in the early 90's.
For me, the sort of mood of the music, the feeling, the soundscape, the vision that the music conjures from your mind is the most important thing. The drone at the beginning of the song just evokes images of the night time woods from when I was a kid.
In Connecticut, you spend a lot of time in the suburbs in the woods, sitting there perhaps sneaking a drink or something when your parents aren't looking. You spend a lot of time when you're a teenager sort of sitting out in the woods getting into trouble. A lot of nights lit only by the headlights of whoever's car you were able to scrounge up and drive out into the middle of nowhere to go and do whatever you were doing. Whether it being skinny dipping in a reservoir or sneaking a cigarette or something. It's a very sort of romantic image to me and this song is from that time period of my life, especially the first part of the song as it builds. I don't know. I'm transported back to that time.
Dan: This is a song from Sonic Youth it's called "Dirty Boots" here on KCRW's Guest DJ Project.
Song: Sonic Youth – "Dirty Boots"
Dan: Okay Seth, what is the last song you have for us?
Seth: We're going to end with Louis Armstrong. It's a song that was recorded for a James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, again one of the cassettes that I had as a kid, weirdly. I don't know why, but it was a collection of all the James Bond themes up to that point.
What strikes me about it every time and gets me emotional about it is you're hearing a man essentially at the end of his life singing about a man at the beginning of his life and looking forward to, literally, we have all the time in the world. All we need is love and we're going to have this wonderful, you know, you picture these two people as the song goes on having this wonderful rich roller coaster ride through life together. He's singing it from the standpoint of being at the end of his journey essentially.
It's always a one of my favorite conceits in literature or in movies or in any kind of writing or storytelling. Whether it be Amadeus with Salieri looking back and telling the story of his life from boyhood on or Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman started telling the story of his life. It's very romantic to me and it always gets me. It's a song that always kind of reminds me to stop and smell the roses because before we all know it; we're all going to be Louis Armstrong. We’re all going to be old people looking back so enjoy it while it lasts.
Dan: Did you understand all of this as the kid with the cassette tape?
Seth: Not at all, no. I've discovered these themes as I've gotten older and these songs have stayed relevant to me emotionally because they actually have something to say, whether it's musically or lyrically. They actually do evoke this emotion in me every time I hear them. It's all about our individual backgrounds, experiences and all those things. Whatever the sum total, my individual experience or background in life, these are five songs of many that have continued to speak to me on some kind of emotional level.
Song: Louis Armstrong - "We Have All the Time in the World"
Dan: Okay that was Louis Armstrong with the song, "We Have All the Time in the World" from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ironic that we're ending with that one, we are out of time.
Seth: Another lesson from Louis. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Dan: Well, I have enjoyed it very much. Thank you for coming down here.
Seth: Me too. Thank you for having me.
Dan: Yeah definitely.
Dan: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online. Go to KCRW.com/ /GuestDJProject.