Mark Pellington

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Director Mark Pellington, also known as the “godfather of music videos,” explores the most intimate moments of his life from behind the mic instead of the lens with host Liza Richardson. He gives a touching tribute to his family via Nada Surf, discusses his personal associations with one of the biggest bands in the world and picks a local L.A. band he loves to blast in his car.

His latest directorial project is Henry Poole is Here, in theaters on August 15.

Find out more:


The Cars, Just What I Needed
The Smiths, How Soon is Now
Nada Surf, Inside of Love
Sea Wolf, You're a Wolf
U2, New Year's Day


Liza Richardson: Hi, I'm Liza Richardson from KCRW and I am here with director Mark Pellington, who is recently behind U2's 3D concert film. Mark Pellington is also known as the "Godfather of Music Videos," *laughs* featuring a lot of the MTV hey-day from the '90's, including “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam -- you're famous for that -- continue to make a lot of music videos, and we've worked together on “Arlington Road,” and “Mothman Prophecies”.

Mark Pellington: Yes.

Liza Richardson: And “United States of Poetry.”

Mark Pellington: “United States of Poetry,” yes.

Liza Richardson: That's how we met. Today we are going to talk about the music that Mark has been inspired by, things that have maybe changed your life or what you are listening to right now. What songs do you want to share with us today?

Mark Pellington: You know, to go back to the song that I think kind of changed me -- growing up, I had an older brother and sister and would basically listen to their records. This was Baltimore in the '70's, and it was Heart and Marshall Tucker and the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac -- which were all great artists -- but I remember being on the beach on the Jersey shore in 1978 and I heard The Cars.

Mark Pellington: I heard the "dun dun dun dun," I was like, ‘What is this? Oh this sounds different. This kind of captures something I feel.’ And it was The Cars' "Just What I Needed." It was unlike anything I'd ever heard before, just the tone and the feeling of it. It captured a nervousness maybe that I felt as a 15 year old.

Song: "Just What I Needed," by The Cars.

It was melodic but it had just a different sound and feel to it and that ushered me into a love of Punk and New Wave music- Blondie, Police, The Clash. So then I got turned on to this really obscure Sunday night import show, WCVT, Townsend State University and I still have cassettes that I would tape off the radio that would have the Buzzcocks and the Clash. And The Cars' "Just What I Needed" ushered me into the music that spoke to me as a middle aged teenager.

Liza Richardson: "Just What I Needed," it's by The Cars of course, the choice of our guest, director Mark Pellington. So that was a defining moment in your teenage years. Then what happened?

Mark Pellington: Then I got to college and I was a huge music fan and I would write record reviews for the college paper and DJ at a small station there. I had a show, god, I'm embarrassed, it was called Positive Noise…

Liza Richardson: *laughs*

Mark Pellington: …Which I thought was such a great title at the time. And there was a band called Positive Noise and I would read Trouser Press -- that was my Bible. I would read anything that Trouser Press would write about - The Bongos, Pollyrock, The Feelies. And I remembered reading something about a band called The Smiths and I drove to D.C. and I bought the single of "This Charming Man," and I was like, ‘Wow.’ But, the Smiths' song that I think, then out of college and through my '20's in New York, where I was working for MTV, again exposed all sorts of things…I think "How Soon is Now?" Probably, if I had to encapsulate my '20's and insecurity and yearning and romanticism and pain and darkness and beauty, The Smiths "How Soon is Now?" would sum it up for me.

Song: "How Soon is Now?" by The Smiths.

Liza Richardson: That is "How Soon is Now?" a defining song for our guest here, Mark Pellington, that's by The Smiths.

Mark Pellington: I fell out of music for a while when I started getting into movies. I stopped buying pop music, I stopped following, being the rabid follower of new bands and stuff like that. And maybe that was a phase.

Liza Richardson: When I met you, my take on your taste was like weird music.

Mark Pellington: Yeah, it was.

Liza Richardson: Mark Pellington is into weird sounds.

Mark Pellington: I think I had been disillusioned with pop music at the time or, you know, whatever, I just, I was going through other changes in my life. My father passed away and going through an internal place, so it was a little more soul searching and maybe wasn't finding pop music that was speaking to me like that.

Shortly after that, I got married and then after I had a child, a young girl, I remember sitting in my bedroom and the feeling of warmth, safety and a song that captured the way I felt about the world was "Inside of Love," by Nada Surf and I remember hearing that song and holding my daughter and breaking down in the most beautiful tears and it wasn't tears of pain it was just tears of feeling so alive and so in the moment. I remember my wife came up and I never felt safer, EVER in my life, than in that moment.

Song: "Inside of Love," by Nada Surf.

Mark Pellington: And cut to four years later, unfortunately my wife passed away. It was just horrible. But I remember at the funeral, with all your friends and all the people that loved her, how do I crystallize that? And I just asked everyone to close their eyes and I played her last answering machine message to me and this song. And the lyrics were relevant almost to her speaking to me, a beautiful, profound, lovely, lovely song that's like embedded in my DNA.

Liza Richardson: That's Mark Pellington's choice today, it's "Inside of Love," by Nada Surf. Mark, thanks, that's a beautiful song.

Mark Pellington: I mean, everybody has bad cards dealt to them and I think as I've come out of a dark place, music has been first a crutch, and then something to hold on to and now a source of uplift.

The videos that I've done in the last three and a half years -- did several for Keane, People in Planes, Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen, Natasha Beddingfield, Soul Mate -- I look back and I call them "the grief works," because I was able to actually put a lot of what I was processing emotionally and found I was just grateful for that music being there as a source of catharsis for me.

Each song I would just gravitate towards and be able to say ‘Wow, that's where I was at that point of my recovery,’ where you could start to get more and more power and strength in the transformation that you go through when you come out of the dark side and start to say ‘Wow there is life, there is love, there is music.’ And so I started just finding, in the last couple of years, revisiting my love for just finding bands. My assistant would say, ‘Here, I burned you this thing,’ or ‘Go to iTunes!" and just like, ‘Oh my god, The Editors, oh my god Album Leaf, oh boy, have you ever heard this? Or the new Interpol record?’ So, I was like, I was almost going back to my '20's of just being this ravenous consumer of, kind of melodic but off beat pop songs, and friends would give me compilation CDs and one that I heard that just was like, that would probably crystallize what I've always loved and still do is Sea Wolf, "You're a Wolf." Reminds me of early XTC and it's melodic and it's one of those things I could just blast in my car.

Song: "You're a Wolf," by Sea Wolf.

Liza Richardson: So that's Sea Wolf, "You're a Wolf," and it's the choice for our guest DJ, Mark Pellington and I think we have time for one more, Mark, so what's next?

Mark Pellington: This is actually a song that brings the past and present together. A seminal love of mine has been U2. When I saw them in 1983, when I was interning at MTV, I saw them at The Pier, ten rows back, and it just changed my life. Heard "New Year's Day," and was I was like "Oh my god."

Song: "New Year's Day," By U2

Mark Pellington: Then in college, I had the 12" of that song and that kind of would capture my good feelings of my friends and college life. And then years later, would get to work with them on Zoo TV and just recently co-directed the 3D film. So when they were playing it in Buenos Aires, you know you're hearing those opening chords and Edge playing the piano, and it takes you back, it transports you yet still, as strong and vital and yearning and beautiful as ever. So I would say "New Year's Day" -- always looking forward to optimism.

Liza Richardson: So that’s "New Year's Day," and it's by U2, of course, and it's the choice of our guest DJ today, Mark Pellington. Thank you so much for coming by KCRW.

Mark Pellington: Oh, my pleasure.

Liza Richardson: And putting so much thought into it and having so much to say about music.

Mark Pellington: Oh, I might have more to say than you have time for.

Liza Richardson: I'm sure we can go on forever. Thank you Mark, we really appreciate it.