Interview: Pink Martini

Thomas Lauderdale discusses the band's past, present and future

Pink Martini, the genre-defying “little orchestra” from Portland, is coming to Prague’s Lucerna Music Bar on Wednesday, October 2nd, and Fource Entertainment‘s Dominika Janigová recently had the chance to sit down with the band’s lead artist, Thomas Lauderdale.

Dominika Janigová: Pink Martini is a huge band. That must be hard to organize! 🙂 How many of you are touring?

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Thomas Lauderdale: It is hard to organize! And it’s expensive to travel with eleven musicians (sometimes more!) and our crew. We are all in one tour bus, so we spend a LOT of time together on tour. We started as a four-piece but just kept growing. And I love the sounds we can create with so many musicians on stage. I prefer to call us a “little orchestra”. It allows a richness that really enhances the beautiful melodies of the music.
DJ: What’s new for Pink Martini this year?

TL: This has kind of been a year of upheaval for us; the world seems like such a complicated and heavy place right now. We started making our new album Get Happy back in early 2012, because we wanted to make an earnest old-fashioned record that could take people away from the heaviness of the world. But then many of the songs we wanted to record had an inner sadness. I wish the album was slightly giddier than it is. Hopefully it is happy enough to live up to the title! At one point, I thought we should just call it “Get Happy, Damn It”. 

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DJ: I read that you decided to put the band together since you were not satisfied with the quality of the bands playing at fundraisers. Is that true? Can you bring forward the actual story how did you get together?

TL: Yes, it’s true, I have always been politically active and was a bit dismayed at the quality of the music as these fund-raising events. I was volunteered to book music for a “NO ON 13” benefit, which was a campaign working against an initiative to illegalize homosexuality in the state of Oregon. And I brought in the Del Rubio Triplets, who I had first seen on Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas Special. But the opening band I wanted didn’t return my calls, so I just decided to put together my own little band, invented the name Pink Martini on a whim, and intended it to be a one-time effort. But it just took off from there, and we found ourselves as the house band for politically progressive causes. I was supposed to go into politics at that time, but it soon became clear to me this was even a more fabulous career – playing music and running around the world having fun.

DJ: How would you describe music to someone (e.g. an alien from Mars) that has never heard of it?

TL:  I would say that we are like a Hollywood musical crossed with global pop. It’s like old-fashioned pop the way it was in the 1940s, with the beautiful melodies. It’s like Breakfast at Tiffany’s crossed with the United Nations. I like to say that if the United Nations had a house band in 1963, hopefully we would be that band!

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DJ: Describe the process when you have an idea for a song – how do you make it come to life?

TL: Well, for this recent album there is only one original song, and that song is by China (with Philippe Katerine, the eccentric French singer). For Get Happy I went back to making a record in a process similar to our debut album Sympathique where the only goal was to find the most beautiful music I could find, the kind of music I would want to hear over and over myself, with great melodies, and put those songs side by side on an album. So the process of arranging older songs is very different of course than the process of writing new songs. If it is a song with many previous verions, like “Sway” or “Quizas quizas quizas” I really have to believe that I am going to find a way to make the most ideal version, or why bother to record it again? So I spend lots of time listening to all of the classic recordings of the song, and isolating what I find most successful and most beautiful about these versions. And then I try to marry all of those ingredients together in our arrangement, and hopefully it is successful.

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DJ: Has anyone of you been previously to Prague? What are your expectations?

TL: It’s kind of amazing that we have never performed in Prague before! We have performed all over Eastern Europe, in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, the Baltics, Hungary… but never in Prague. I am sure some of the band members have visited Prague before on their own, but this is our first official visit. The whole band is very excited about it! We know it is a legendary city, with a rich history, an incredible musical life, a rich history of art and film and political activism. I hope we have some time to explore. I know we are playing in a smaller venue for us than usual, too, which should make for an exciting and intimate show.

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DJ: Do you have anything special prepared for the Prague show? Anything you would like to say to Czech fans?

TL: We’re just happy to play in your city finally! We’ve been so busy with our new album that we haven’t had a chance to prepare anything unusual for this tour. If anyone has a suggestion of a great Czech song we should cover, they should come to meet us after the show and let us know!

DJ: How do you see future of Pink Martini?

TL: We’re so lucky to have this almost preposterous, implausible life, to run around and actually  make a living playing music with ten to twelve full time musicians! So hopefully our future is just to keep working! To be able to squeeze a few more years out of our good fortune. And to continue collaborating, and making friendships, with so many gifted and amazing musicians and colleagues.

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