Actress and filmmaker Lena Dunham exposes her heart in her work and seeks the same confessional and personal approach in her music selections, from Ryan Adams to the pop songcraft of Taylor Swift. The second season of her HBO series, Girls, starts on January 13.For More: www.lenadunham.com
Note: This interview originally aired on December 22, 2010
1. Cold Cold Water / Mirah
2. Hey Stephen / Taylor Swift
3. Sylvia Plath / Ryan Adams
4. Show Me Love / Robyn
5. DJ Got Us Falling in Love / Sam Tsui
Chris Douridas: Hi I'm Chris Douridas, I'm here with filmmaker Lena Dunham who has created a sensation with her critically-acclaimed film "Tiny Furniture." Which she wrote, directed, and starred in. Welcome Lena.
Lena Dunham: Hi, thanks for having me.
CD: Thanks so much for joining us. Now I know we're going to play excerpts of songs you have selected that have inspired you over the years. It's all part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Looking over the list here, which is the first one you want to play for us, Lena?
LD: A lot of my friends describe my musical taste as "bad," "awful," "terrible," other adjectives you might find near those. I feel like I actually have really good taste in music and diverse and interesting taste in music. I will say that I lean in the female artist direction. Often in the female singer/songwriter direction, and that's sort of the jumping off point for this list. Songs that make me feel like I'm in a movie about a girl.
LD: The first song I chose is by an artist I really like called Mirah. The song is called "Cold Cold Water." I listened to it a lot when I was writing my first feature, which is called "Creative Nonfiction."
It's a small, personal song about unrequited love but the way that she arranges it, it sort of has this almost epic feeling.
I'm really interested in the way the content of the song and the scope of the song feel different than each other. When you're listening to it, you can imagine that your boyfriend isn't being nice to you, you can imagine that you're riding a horse and saving slaves on the underground railroad. You can think of all different kinds of things and I find the lyrics really beautiful and really resonate with me. And I really love her voice.
Song: Mirah - Cold Cold Water
CD: When you are attracted to a piece of music can you describe something that all of the pieces of music you respond to have in common? Is there something you have to relate to in the song?
LD: I think I like music that is really confessional, just like I like work that's really confessional. I think I like music that makes me feel like I'm being given an honest representation of the singer or songwriter's internal state.
That's the same thing I respond to in literature, and the same thing I respond to in movies. Also, I'm just a sucker for a good hook. I'm not the right audience for an atonal piece of music. I'm a lover of a good pop song.
CD: The song is called "Cold Cold Water" from Mirah. It's part of Lena Dunham's Guest DJ Project here on KCRW. I see Taylor Swift on the list here.
LD: I feel like she and I are artistic kindred spirits. She may not know it yet…I'd love to tell her. I feel like the way she uses autobiography in her work and the way she calls out guys who have, you know, fronted on her before. But at the same time there is something sort of affectionate and non-judgmental about her music that I appreciate.
This song, "Hey Steven" is a lesser known Taylor Swift song. I listened to it a lot when I had a crush on a guy named "Steven," so that's pretty one to one. I love the song. It makes me want to dance around and move my feet. Her music has a real range and scope and it's very wise beyond its years. Her new song, in which she gives John Mayer a piece of her mind…I'm not taking sides in their relationship issue, I'm just saying it's just that it's a beautiful song. But this song "Hey Steven" is off of her last album. I don't think things worked out for her, or for me, but it really captures that sort of "first crush" moment in a pretty addictive way.
Song: Taylor Swift -- Hey Steven
CD: Taylor Swift; "Hey Steven." It's all part of Lena Dunham's Guest DJ Project here at KCRW. Well, you can hardly be more confessional than Ryan Adams with "Sylvia Plath".
LD: I love this song because I feel like it's so interesting. It's a singer I love, singing a song that's making reference to a poet I love. I'm also so intrigued by how he uses Sylvia Plath as an archetype of the kind of woman he could fall for. So it's not really about Sylvia Plath, it's more about the women that read Sylvia Plath and what they represent. He kind of specializes in melancholy but danceable for me. They're so melancholy but they make me want to move and bob my head. I find these lyrics and his voice combined are quite haunting to me. I've always wanted to use this song in a movie.
Song: Ryan Adams - Sylvia Plath
CD: That's "Sylvia Plath," from Ryan Adams. So how about Robyn?
LD: It's funny because I was really into Robyn in, like, 6th grade. This song I'm about to play for you is "Show Me Love." Which is a song that I loved then, I had the cassette tape. Then she sort of dropped off of my radar. I kind of thought she had gone the way of many one hit teen wonders. And then I was travelling in Sweden during my sophomore or junior year of college and I saw she had a new album. It was out and just sitting in a record store in Sweden.
It was an album where no song was bad; it was an incredible, abrasive, aggressive, complicated pop album. It wasn't aggro or transgressive in the same way her new work is. It was amazing to see this person's work that I liked so much when I was younger had undergone this big artistic transformation.
CD: Swedish singer Robin with "Show Me Love."
Song: Robyn - Show Me Love
CD: And you're introducing us to an artist as well, because I didn't know Sam Tsui.
LD: I was introduced to him, he’s a YouTube sensation. And I should reveal that I have some, not first degree connection but a second degree personal connection to Sam Tsui. He is a classmate and collaborator of a girl called Allison Williams who is a wonderful actress who is acting in an HBO pilot I'm working on. She's also a wonderful singer. She and Sam Tsui, there are a number of videos of them together on YouTube. There's a mysterious character at Yale called Kurt Hugo Schneider who is producing these awesome covers.
Song: Sam Tsui - DJ Got Us Fallin in Love
So, the song I'm going to have you listen to is Sam Tsui's cover of Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin in Love." I love The Ush, but I feel like this cover makes me want to dance and/or fall in love even more than Usher's does. I'm also fascinated by who this Kurt Schneider is, and the kind of Machiavellian pop song thing he's doing at Yale.
CD: I'm Chris Douridas with Lena Dunham. We just heard from Sam Tsui's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love." It's an Usher cover, part of Lena Dunham's Guest DJ Project here on KCRW. Lena, now this was a cover, and I wonder if as a filmmaker you look at a classic film from your background that you can imagine sort of "covering" or redoing in the future?
LD: I've been obsessed with the idea--I love “Ishtar,” which is a movie that I know not everybody loves. Again, like some of my musical choices, Ishtar is a movie that people debate about. I've always had a fantasy about making a version of Ishtar with female singer/songwriters going to the Middle East. The reason I was upset about “Sex and the City 2” was not because of the filmmaking but because it stepped on the toes of my ability to make an all-female version of Ishtar. I was like "Now no one is really going to want to fund my movie about two Fiona Apple wannabes going to the desert"
CD: Oh my God that's amazing! (laughs)
LD: Thanks! I'm glad! Do you feel like you would watch it?
LD: Okay good! So maybe if we can find a couple more like you then maybe we can convince people.
CD: Lena, thank you so much for joining us.
LD: Thank you for having me! It was a complete blast! Thanks for giving me this chance at self expression.
CD: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to kcrw.com/guestdjproject.