American roots rock grabbed Minnie Driver's attention when she was a school girl and never let go. The Emmy and Academy Award-nominated actress chooses some overlooked gems and songs that taught her the fundamentals of songwriting at an early age. Surprisingly, it was an Americana legend that made her feel at home while at a UK boarding school and a blond blues singer that is her epitome of cool. Driver most recently starred in the FX series The Riches and has released two albums of her music.
For more: http://www.minniedriver.com
1. Wilco - Jesus, etc
2. Rickie Lee Jones - Night Train
3. Neil Young - See the Sky about to Rain
4. Bob Dylan - You're a Big Girl Now
5. Elton John - Love Song
Jason Bentley: This is Jason Bentley from KCRW. I’m here with actress Minnie Driver. So we’re here to invite you as our guest DJ – so you’re DJ Minnie Driver right now. (Minnie giggles) We’re going to talk about 5 songs that have influenced you over the years. I just had a chance to glance at your list and your picks and my initial reaction was, wow you chose some of the great singer songwriters. Is the song something that’s kind of important to you?
Minnie Driver: Yeah, definitely. I think in the same…it’s like the script, if that isn’t there…there’s merit, there’s interesting sort of exploration, but the kind of fundament of your enjoyment, to me, is either there in the script -- and in the song -- and I’m fascinated by the construction of both things and how…I really feel like that all of these songs I’ve picked are sort of almost perfect in my understanding of the singer songwriter genre.
JB: Your first choice is from the band Wilco and the song is “Jesus, Etc.” Tell us about this one.
MD: Well, I was mad about Uncle Tupelo and was devastated when they broke up. I was a huge Jay Farrar fan and a huge Jeff Tweedy fan and I was like, ‘who am I going to love more? who am I going to follow?’ I was like, I can follow both. And I love Son Volt and I love Wilco. It’s funny because this record, everything around this record -- them getting dropped, and then Yankee Hotel Foxtrot being the biggest selling record that they’d had. I don’t know, there’s something about this song. It’s extraordinarily well crafted. This, to me, is where they were going to go. This song, to me, spoke of what was coming years down the line.
I absolutely love it unreservedly. I think it’s one of the most beautiful melodies and the most beautiful string parts in a modern pop-ish song.
Song: Wilco’s Jesus Etc…
JB: Next up it’s Rickie Lee Jones with the song “Night Train.” Tell us about this song.
MD: This record was given to me by a teacher at my school. And she’s smoking on the cover. Well, she’s lighting a cigarette and sort of looking down. I didn’t have straight blond hair -- I had this crazy sort of Slash-type afro when I was in school -- and she looked exactly how I wanted to look. And the fact that she’s smoking and this teacher gave me this record, I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. But the songs, every single one of them, is evocative of this particular summer when I was about 14. And Night Train, these songs, like full blues, like blues rock Americana style. And no other woman was doing what she did. And the sound of her voice and what she’d do, she’d just let rip. She taught me a lot about vocalizing.
Song: Rickie Lee Jones’ “Night Train”
JB: The next selection by Neil Young it’s a song entitled “See the Sky About to Rain.” Tell us about this. Tell us the story about how you came upon this one.
MD: Again, another kid at school gave me this record. Maybe it’s because it’s always about to rain in England, like it really is ‘oh, he’s been around where I live.’ It’s always labored just how haunting he is. And when you’re locked away at boarding school and your parents are about 7,000 miles away, there was always something incredibly comforting about his level of moroseness and belief in life. And I think I connected with that when I was a kid quite a lot. He wasn’t a push over. He was hard to connect with sometimes. And he felt as angry as I was, but also as happy and celebratory and, I don’t know, I just always had a wicked crush on him. But this live version as well, you just hear a master doing his thing live and the fact that this is a pretty seminal record, Live at Massey Hall. Every version of every song, it’s pretty fantastic.
Song: Neil Young’s “See the Sky About to Rain”
JB: Minnie Driver is our Guest DJ on KCRW.com. Seems like there’s an American roots, sort of an Americana theme with some of the songs you chose and the artists that you chose. Is that true? Have you always loved American roots rock?
MD: Yeah, definitely. I went to a pretty progressive school in England and that was the music that was passed down by the older kids. We weren’t really being given Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. We were being handed down The River and early Springsteen and The Band and Rickie Lee Jones and Neil Young and Dylan.
I actually, I remember I had this pinup of James Taylor from the cover of “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” on my wall and I was absolutely gutted when I found out he didn’t look like that anymore. That it was actually like 20 years old, the picture. I was gutted, I was like, ‘but he’s dreamy, I love him.’ They’re like, no he’s old and married to Carly Simon. But it was strange, it was like a time warp, the school I went to. But I’m so glad, that all the music that I really connected with as a teenager was Americana.
JB: It seems like it’s made a huge, profound impression on you that today, you’re still saying that these songs are so important to you.
MD: Definitely. And they taught me to write music. They taught me how to sort of construct. And you know I just lifted…that’s how I began when I was 17, I just lifted chord progressions from Dylan.
JB: The Dylan song you chose is “You’re a Big Girl Now.” Tell us about this. Why is this important to you?
MD: I taught myself to play the guitar about five years ago. I play really badly, but really enough to write, which was the point, and my band’s very forgiving. But this was the first song I taught myself to play because there’s a canny, easy way of playing B minor without barring the 3rd fret so, once I figured it out, you just get rid of a couple of…there’s some weird chords at the end of the verse, but you don’t have to play them, you can just go straight to the chorus. This was the first time I got to sing along properly with him. I was doing what you are supposed to be doing at 14, but when I was 32. And I think also, lyrically, the cork screw to my heart line, the last verse, is one of the most beautifully constructed verses of all time.
Song: Bob Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now”
JB: Elton John, your final selection. And the song is a “Love Song.”
MD: Yeah, I don’t know. People don’t really know about Tumbleweed Connection. It was like this funny little -- well it’s not that little - but this kind of country-ish record that he did. And the production is so beautiful on it. And this particular song is properly brilliant. It’s really reduced in terms of both what Bernie Taupin and he did which was always kind of overblown, like these insane hooky melodies and very wordy versus and choruses. And this is so stripped down. It’s so simple. There’s always kind of a Beatles quality to it for me. It was very straight to the point, like they weren’t messing around. It’s an absolutely beautiful love song.
JB: Elton John as selected. Our selector is Minnie Driver. Our Guest DJ on KCRW.com. Thank you Minnie.
MD: Thanks very much Jason.
[PLAYLIST GOES HERE]