Actor Martin Starr got his start in the cult comedies Freaks and Geeks and Party Down and currently stars in the acclaimed HBO series Silicon Valley. From a Mariachi cover of the Eagles to the political activism of Brother Ali and blatant sexuality of Led Zeppelin, he takes us on a genre-hopping ride through his musical favorites.
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- Led Zeppelin - "Lemon Song"
- Gipsy Kings - "Hotel California"
- Tom Petty - "Free Fallin'"
- Eagles of Death Metal - "Midnight Creeper"
- Brother Ali - "Letter to My Countrymen"
Dan Wilcox: Hey, this is Dan Wilcox from KCRW and I’m here with actor Martin Starr. He got his start in the cult comedies Freaks and Geeks and Party Down and currently stars in the acclaimed HBO series Silicon Valley. We’re here today to dig into some of the songs that have inspired him along the way as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome, Martin.
Martin Starr: Hey, thank you for having me.
DW: Yeah, no worries. So what do you have for us today, what’s the first song you want to share?
MS: I love Led Zeppelin, I always have, especially around the time that we were doing Freaks and Geeks. That era of music was a big part of the show and so I became really familiar with a lot of different bands and Zeppelin easily trumped everything that I had heard at that point.
So I love all of Led Zeppelin’s catalogue, but I really love "Lemon Song." like this odd sexual song that’s like not in any way hidden by any means. He’s just like blatantly disgustingly beautifully sexual.
Song: “Lemon Song” – Led Zeppelin
DW: Is music a big part of preparing for a role that you are about to take on? You mentioned the Freaks and Geeks but what about some of the other roles you’ve done?
MS: I mean, it definitely can -- especially when you are talking about a time period. To understand what it was like in music, because a huge part of culture and has been for a long time so when you’re looking to envelop yourself in some time period that’s the easiest door to open first.
DW: So let’s give it a listen here this is the "Lemon Song" from Led Zeppelin.
DW: Okay we just heard the "Lemon Song," Led Zeppelin of course, as chosen by Martin Starr, and where are we going next?
MS: This is from one of my favorite movies of all time, The Big Lebowski. The Gipsy King’s rendition of "Hotel California" is just so fun to listen to.
DW: There’s a lot of renditions of "Hotel California" out there, what is it about this one?
MS: I love the rhythm they do. There’s like a rhythmic guitar, mariachi music, it kind of has a feel of that. I like that music, and that rendition of anything… They could cover any number of songs and I’d probably enjoy them much better than the original.
DW: Did you like The Eagles' version at all?
MS: I do like The Eagles' version. I don’t know why, it’s just kind of like more sad. And there’s an upbeat, uptempo-ness to this version of it that’s just so much more fun to listen to. It kind of gives it a different life than the original. The original is about heroin, and this kind of like drug-induced state of like sadness. This is what I understood to be the inspiration for that song.
DW: So this version’s kind of the opposite of that.
MS: Yeah, it’s a real pick me up.
DW: If you could go back in time and cast as any character in The Big Lebowski, do you have a favorite that you would want to play?
MS: The Dude, yeah, the Dude. I mean, what am I, an idiot?
MS: Yeah. (Laughs) I mean, I could never do what Jeff Bridges does but who wouldn’t want to be the Dude?
Song: Hotel California – “Gipsy Kings”
DW: So, what do you have next for us?
MS: Well, have you ever heard of Thomas Petty?
DW: I have – I’m a fan.
MS: “Free Fallin'” became one of my favorite songs a long time ago. I think when I was like 15.
DW: Now what is it about that song that kinda struck you?
MS: It embodies so much of just like letting go and enjoying the ride. I mean that’s what the chorus kinda means to me, but the story itself that he tells through it is more about a relationship about a guy and a girl and the guy not being the best at all times.
DW: So you were born in LA, grew up in LA, was there something about the song that’s very LA or maybe particularly the Valley that you related to hearing it as a kid?
MS: I grew up in Santa Monica and it does feel a bit beachy.
All Tom Petty’s songs feel like you play them out at the – have a little picnic out on the beach.
Santa Monica, play some Tom Petty.
Song: “Free Fallin’” – Tom Petty
DW: Okay, we just heard Tom Petty with the song "Free Fallin" as chosen by Martin Starr here on KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. This next one, "Midnight Creeper" from Eagles of Death Metal, this seems like an interesting choice. Why don’t you tell us about it?
Song: "Midnight Creeper" – Eagles of Death Metal
MS: My old roommate and one of my good buddies turned me onto this band and this song in particular just always stuck out and so I would play this one.
I’d listen to all the rest of the songs just to get to this song, so like I have a playlist of all Eagles of Death Metal and then I just kind of wait for "Midnight Creeper."
It’s just so fun and mellow and ridiculous. I like that kind of up-tempo. Clearly I’m, I like the positive – the fun, there’s just something fun about it too. And the fact that they can play that like loud more abrasive kind of music sounding music. Like, I wouldn’t be as into the band if it weren’t for this song. Where like you hear he has a fun voice and they can do the intricacies of a melody and stuff and it’s not just – I feel like a lot of the kind of music that I listen to isn’t as harsh and in your face and they can do both.
DW: That was Eagles of Death Metal with the song "Midnight Creeper." I’m sitting here with Martin Starr and why don’t you tell me about this last track you’ve got for us?
MS: Brother Ali.
I think he’s very coherent and aware and thoughtful about the way that he presents himself and presents his music. I find it really inspiring.
I could’ve picked any number of songs that he’s done, but this song, "Letter to My Countrymen," is really a vivid like contemporary political song, that if everyone could just read this on paper or listen to these words and be aware of what he’s trying to share and just kind of like evolve the awareness of Americans in general.
Song: “Letter to My Countrymen” – Brother Ali
I started off doing poetry and stuff, and it always ended up being either about a girl or about politics. And this is half of you know where my heart is in music, which is trying to evolve the general awareness because I think a lot of people are allowing themselves to be ignorant in our country.
DW: It almost seems to be a little bit of a rarity these days for an MC to be that politically involved where as you know maybe 25 years ago it was much more common place. Do you find that he’s kind of a throwback to reminding you of when you first discovered hip-hop?
MS: I can’t say that because when I first discovered hip-hop I was so young and so the things that were important to me then are very different from the things that are very important to me now.
The stuff I was listening to was Snoop Dogg and, certainly, Tupac had an awareness that I didn’t know at that point, I just really enjoyed the way that he presented his music and the way it all sounded.
But now, you know, from when I was 15, 16 and started to write on my own and work on my own poetry and music and stuff, and start writing for myself, my own thoughts that I needed to get out, it evolved the way that I viewed music and how I consumed it.
DW: Wow, let’s give this a listen, this is Brother Ali with the song "Letter to My Countrymen."
DW: Martin, thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com.
MS: Thank you for having me.