[Q&A] Liam Hayes on working with Roman Coppola, translating music into film, and "...the Mind of Charles Swan"

Photo by Jim Newberry

You’ll see LIAM HAYES at the end of Roman Coppola’s new film A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan, but you probably won’t see him anywhere else. Hayes, who has released three records under the name Plush (his fourth, Korp Sole Roller, will just be released under the name Liam Hayes this spring), plays only the occasional rare concert. The songwriter prefers to focus on his uniquely well-produced 1970s-esque recordings rather than spoil on the road.

Hayes is the rare artist that manages to compare to how many of the greats of the past feel (Nyro, Chilton, Gaye, Lennon, King, etc.) while sounding unmistakably like himself. His new soundtrack for Charles Swan, released this week on CD/digital (yes, two new Hayes albums in the same year), is like a modern spin on what Simon & Garfunkle did with the Mike Nichols’ The Graduate 45 years-ago -- dominating the entire film with songs from their catalogue and rare instrumentals (but unlike S&G, Hayes also wrote a handful of new songs just for the Charles Swan score). The release of the soundtrack also provided The Phoenix with a rare chance to interview the mysterious Mr. Hayes, who opens up about a special victory in his almost-20 year musical career.

This Q&A is an extension of the print feature running in this week's magazine.

I get the sense that you had a little more input into how your music was used in the film than perhaps in High Fidelity (where Hayes plays piano in a lounge scene). Is that true?
Yes, that's true. My involvement with it began at the stage where it was still a script.

How did your previously-recorded songs get picked and placed in the movie?
Throughout the process I offered suggestions but the previously, recorded songs were chosen by Roman [Coppola].

Was your new record, Korp Sole Roller, completed prior to this process?
My new record was actually still in the process of being recorded while I was working on the film.

Did you do any writing specifically for the film aside from "Kirby's Song," and if so, what inspired you (i.e. the characters, the visuals)?
Yes, I did most of what you would call the score/underscore. Writing for a movie is a very different process from song-writing. You have to step out of your world and into the world of the movie and then respond to what's happening in it.

What were you going for with the off-the-cuff and slightly strange “Kirby's Song?” (sung in dead-pan by Jason Schwartzman’s silly narcissistic country-singing character, Kirby). Was that serious or a joke?
“Kirby's Song” was something very different for me and happened very quickly. I wrote that on the set just prior to the scene being shot.

Having been around the block with the music world — good and bad — how did the film-world compare? Were you overwhelmed?
My experience working in film has been extremely positive. There are a lot more moving parts, more things happening and more people creating something all at once. I found it to be very exciting, intensive and rewarding. I got a lot of support and appreciation throughout the process as well, which contrasts my experience in the music world.

I am going to assume that you would not have wanted to get so involved in this film without really being behind it. What was it that hooked you in the film, personally? How did feel going into this about Charlie Sheen — with his persona that has been so magnified by the media? Did you come away feeling a lot differently about him -- and if you don't have any strong feelings about that, maybe you could tell me how you feel about his character, Charles Swan III?
As Roman and I talked about the movie and I read the script, a picture emerged of what he was looking to create. I thought it was great and I was very excited to be involved. Charles Swan is creative, doesn't have all the answers and even though he's heartbroken, he's going to keep dreaming his dream. I can certainly appreciate that.

I liked how your music was used in the film, especially in the car scenes. It was almost like you were on the car radio — like you were just a popular artist of the times. Do you think that the character of the film is altered by having one artist do almost all the music?
The most common examples of film music are scores comprised of primarily instrumental music composed by one artist. The difference in this case, is that in addition to the instrumental underscore, I also contributed quite a few songs. It was a unique and wonderful opportunity for me.

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