In addition to his breakout role as beloved S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Clark Gregg is an acclaimed screenwriter and director. His tastes vary from funk to ska to the smooth sounds of Frank Ocean and he takes us on a journey through his life in his song picks. His latest film, Trust Me, is out now.
For more: https://www.facebook.com/TrustMe2014
Banner Image Credit: Larry Hirshowitz
1. Parliament-Funkadelic - Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)
2. The Specials - Concrete Jungle
3. Public Enemy - Caught, Can We Get A Witness
4. Radiohead - Go To Sleep
5. Frank Ocean - We All Try
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with actor Clark Gregg.
In addition to his breakout role as beloved S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as in The Avengers and Agents of Shield, he’s also an acclaimed screenwriter and director whose latest film is called Trust Me. Today, we’re here to talk about some songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project.
Clark, thank you so much for coming down.
Clark Gregg: Thank you so much.
EJL: Well, what’s the first track you got for us?
CG: Okay so, my family moved around a lot, my father was a professor. And we moved from Chicago where I had just become a “devotee” of Soul Train and thought I really knew what was up with my Stevie Wonder and some OJ’s stuff and then I walked into the lunch room in our new town, the public high school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and heard Parliament-Funkadelic “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” on a Victrola, essentially.
It so changed my world, and took me into a land of funk, I was never the same.
Just cause it was a whole different level of kind of innovation and creativity. And, you know, it was a time when there was a lot of Southern Rock being played there and I was new to that part of the country and I found it caused me some rifts, some rifts with some people.
But I found myself much more interested in trying to get to… I think my first concert might have been the Mothership Tour.
Song: Parliament Funkadelic - "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)"
EJL: That was Parliament with “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)”. Clark, what’s your next track?
CG: Okay, so it cuts to me several years later playing college soccer at a school in Ohio, Ohio Wesleyan University, and suddenly all these kids from the Northeast were playing stuff I’d never heard – Joe Jackson, The Gang of Four, Talking Heads – blew my mind.
But there was this specific ska invasion, the second wave ska invasion, and The Specials. The fact that it was kind of political, outraged really kind of lo-fi produced by Elvis Costello, another hero of mine, and that album, you could dance to. And we did.
And, in fact, I danced so much that I dropped out of that college and moved to New York City so that I could live on the lower Eastside and starve and go see any of those bands, but especially the ska bands with my crew of rude boys in our shark skin thrift shop suits.
Song: The Specials – “Concrete Jungle”
CG: I was just so swept away with going to hear this music, at that time from the Sex Pistols, to Blondie and Television, and The Ramones, there was just such an exciting music scene. You could see these people, you know, you’d hear the Talking Heads sing about the Mud Club and then you’d be there a few nights later seeing like Roland Alphonso and the original ska guys from Jamaica. And we were young and we wanted to dance until we sweated through out suits.
EJL: That was “Concrete Jungle” from The Specials, selected by our guest Clark Gregg.
CG: So good! I’ve been skanking here the whole time.
What’s the next record you got for us?
CG: So, my friends and I spent several years in New York checking out all the different kind of flavors of music – that Bad Brains kind of hard core reggae, a lot of reggae, some really kind of hardcore itself, a lot of interesting bands.
And then, it’s funny, some kids who hung out this bar that we hung out at who were a little younger stopped playing hardcore and started rapping. They went on to form a little group called The Beastie Boys.
But, like them, we were obsessed with the music that we heard coming out of the jeeps and playing in some of the local Avenue D clubs.
And one band I went to see was a prophet – Chuck D and Public Enemy. And the kind of outrage that they had and the beats that they had, it really turned us around. Suddenly, we went from our shark skin suits to Puma’s with really fat laces and kind of b-boys, we were all of a sudden.
Song: Public Enemy – “Caught (Can We Get a Witness)”
EJL: That was Public Enemy with the song “Caught (Can We Get a Witness)”. What’s your next song choice?
CG: So, years later, I’m out in Los Angeles and I’ve still been kind of clinging to a lot of my 80’s and 90’s music. I guess it was the very beginning of the 90’s and someone handed me a copy of OK Computer. I had somehow missed the albums before that and I became an obsessed Radiohead and Thom Yorke fan.
This particular Radiohead track, “Go to Sleep”, to me is a movie. It kind of got my mind thinking in cinematic ways.
I go to see every concert they do here, mostly because I love to watch Thom Yorke dance. In fact, I just recently went to see Atoms for Peace because I had a feeling that Thom Yorke and Flea dancing together to some kind of tribal riffs might be worth seeing and I was absolutely correct!
EJL: A lot of actors talk about using music to inspire them for their roles. Do you do that yourself?
CG: I do in two ways.
Certainly, there’s music that I play while I’m writing because I feel like it kind of puts me in the atmosphere and I'm dying someday to write something that just is these kind of almost neo-apocalyptic soulful Thom Yorke riffs made into a film.
I also, I find that when I have powerful or emotional scenes, that really the kind of doorway into that stuff is a playlist. And I have one called “Dropping In" on my phone that I have to get some headphones that really feel my ears and blast some stuff, but there’s a really eclectic mix.
When we were shooting The Avengers and poor Coulson was being killed off I was such a blubbering mess. Joss Whedon came over and he said, “I got to know what’s on that playlist,” and I said “sorry, it’s completely confidential.”
Song: Radiohead – "Go To Sleep"
EJL: That was Radiohead with their song “Go To Sleep”. Clark, what’s your final song choice?
CG: Taking me down the chronology, the next thing that happened was I met a wonderful woman, Jennifer Grey. We had a daughter Stella. I guess this is more recent, Frank Ocean has just blown me away, and I love his album Channel Orange, but someone turned me on to this mixtape Nostalgia Ultra. The songs are so beautiful, this one in particular, I love and listen to all the time. And I just think he’s got a kind of raw clarity, it just feels like a window into his soul that really kind of captures the depth of what’s going on in my life now.
EJL: Well, Clark thank you so much for coming down and joining us here at KCRW.com.CG: Thanks so much for having me.