Colleen Atwood

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Academy Award-winning costume designer and frequent Tim Burton collaborator Colleen Atwood takes us from her first musical memory to the song that gets her going on early morning film sets in far away locations. From Jeff Buckley to Kanye West, her workshop is alive with music. Colleen is nominated for an Oscar this year for her work on Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.  
For More:

1. The Sons of the Pioneers - Cool Water
2. Jimi Hendrix - The Wind Cries Mary
3. Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
4. Kanye West - Everything I Am
5. U2 - Beautiful Day


Marion Hodges: Hi. I’m Marion Hodges and I’m here with Academy Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, nominated this year for her work in “Alice in Wonderland”. Today, we’ll be playing excerpts of songs she selected that have inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. First of all, Colleen, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us here on  

Colleen Atwood: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here. I’m a big fan of KCRW, so it’s an honor to be here.

MH: Excellent. Well, we definitely like to hear that. So, what did you bring for us today?

CA: Well, I brought a very eclectic mix of songs, which is much like the work that we end up doing in costume design, but my first select, a song called “Cool Water” by The Sons of the Pioneers, which is one of my first memories of music.  
This song sort of explains my father and his friend, who was an old cowboy named Cactus. They’d get together every year in the holiday season and they’d play all these country tunes. I grew up in a place where these cowboys had become farmers to survive and raise families and they loved to play the old cowboy music still and they were cowboys at heart, so it always effects me when I hear this song and I think of the sentiment of the song goes with the heart of those farmers and cowboys out there that we all know and love.

1sonsof.jpgSong:The Sons of the Pioneers — Cool Water

I think that living in that arid environment, without a lot, always made me want to see beautiful things. I’d go to Seattle with my family and come home with a box of moss because of the color. I wanted to be an artist and I didn’t exactly know it would end up being costumes. I actually wanted to be a painter and that was kind of the beginning of my dream.

MH: We have just heard “Cool Water” by Sons of the Pioneers. What are we going to hear next, Colleen?

CA: We’re going to hear a song by the great Jimi Hendrix, called “The Wind Cried Mary”. I went through a phase of my life with Jimi, where I listened to his music every day, probably for five or six years of my life. I can always listen to Jimi Hendrix. It never grows old with me.  
I think that he represents the next phase of my life, which was — I got pregnant in high school and had a baby and I raised the child, but, I got pregnant during the time of the flower children in the late ‘60s. And all my friends went away to school and they were listening to all this great music and taking drugs and experimenting with psychedelics and doing all this stuff, but I was a Mom with a kid and so my great escape to all that wasn’t really those options. It was music and the music side of it was important to me.  
I was still in eastern Washington, so I was driving around in cars a lot because that’s what you do when you have a lot of spare time. One day, my daughter was in the back of the car and I was playing an old tape of Jimi Hendrix and she started singing along with this song, so it’s kind of dedicated to her, my daughter, Tracy, and her memory in my life, which was very —is still — very important .

1jimi.jpgSong: Jimi Hendrix — The Wind Cried Mary

MH: We’ve just been listening to Jimi Hendrix doing “The Wind Cried Mary”. We’re here with Colleen Atwood. It’s KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. So Colleen — what are we going to hear next?

CA: Well, we’re switching to a song called “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. In my work, I travel a lot. I’ve been from China to Mexico to Europe — many places in the world for different reasons. But this song, I first heard when I was working on a movie called “The Mexican”.  
Our workroom shop was sort of in this abandoned adobe structure in the middle of a town that was a silver mining town, so it was a colonial town that had a resurgence in the 1800’s and so it was built by the Swiss, who were silver miners. It was kind of this queer combination of colonial architecture and then, kind of Swiss architecture, like little stone things, so it was a very odd pocket of Mexico. It was a three hour drive from the nearest big town, which was on the plateau of Mexico, and you pass through a mile-long tunnel to get into the town. But anyway, I was working in my workshop one morning and I heard this song come drifting through the rafters at sunrise and it was just such an amazing experience that I always carried it with me in my life, and every time I hear the song, I sort of have that great, almost spiritual experience with it, so I really love it.  

1jeffbuck.jpgSong: Jeff Buckley — Hallelujah

MH: We’ve just heard Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah”. What’s up next for us?

CA: Well, really switching gears to a Kanye West tune, called “Everything I Am” which I dedicate to everyone out there who’s made their life what it is, which I think is what living life is about. When I first heard this song, I loved it, ‘cause I thought it was so about people, like myself, that maybe didn’t do everything right at one point in their life, but you just kind of soldier through it and get on with it. And so, I played it for my daughters, because I thought they would love it and they both connected with it, too, so it’s a family anthem, but I think it’s a great song.

1kanye.jpgSong: Kanye West — Everything I Am

MH: Do you ever create soundtracks or mixes for the films that you’re working on when you’re starting to put together the world of the film through the costumes?

CA: Not a soundtrack for the movie, but we always do music that we play for fittings. So, when you’re in a fitting, and there’s a lot of dead time when you’re pinning and stuff, there’s always a song going on, so it’s kind of like, the vibe of the movie, without daring to do a soundtrack for the movie, but it’s fun. Sometimes the music for films is already in place when you start them, a lot — or at least, a lot of theme songs. I’ve done a couple of musicals so, needless to say, when you’re doing that, you listen to it over and over and over again for inspiration. For instance, “Chicago”… Sometimes you get tired of some of the songs, but you can go back to them and you’re always like, “Wow — that’s really a great song.” And it really helps you design and gives you inspiration for ideas.

MH: We’ve just heard “Everything I Am” by Kanye West. Colleen Atwood,what are we going to hear now?

CA: We’re going to hear a song called “Beautiful Day” by U2, a fantastic band that’s been around for a long time. Almost as long as me… And I always have loved them, but this particular song is close to my hear because in my business, a lot of times, we start the day at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning and we get in our cars and we drive up to an hour, hour and a half sometimes, to locations for work, and as we’re driving, we listen to a lot of music. The first time I heard this song, I was just coming over a hill going to Trona Pinnacles when I was doing a movie called “Planet of the Apes” and it came on the radio and the sun just came up over the mountains and it was so true to the song and such a visual for me that every time I hear the song, I kind of think, ‘Okay, it’s a morning song. We’re going to get up and we’re going to go to work and it’s going to be a fantastic day.’ It’s a great energy song to play.

1U2.jpgSong: U2 — Beautiful Day

MH: Colleen — thank you so much for joining us on

CA: Thank you for having me.

MH: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to