Last year Scarlett Johansson and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek took a road trip from Los Angeles to Lafayette, Louisiana with a unique mission: to record an entire album of Tom Waits covers. Actress Johansson, who has been singing since she was little but doesn’t consider herself a songwriter, was offered a record deal a while back — but delayed recording until she could come up with the right songs to cover. “I wanted to do ‘Never Talk To Strangers,’ a duet between Bette Midler and Tom Waits,” Johansson said yesterday at a mid-town press conference. “People were like, ‘You’re going to do a Tom Waits song with a bunch of Cole Porter songs? That’s kind of strange.’ It turned into ‘Hmm, maybe a few more Tom Waits songs. Actually, ‘ll do a whole album of Tom Waits songs.'”
Cut over five weeks at Dockside Studios in Maurice Louisiana, Anywhere I Lay My Head features ten Waits covers along with “Song For Jo,” an original composition by Johansson and Sitek. The vast majority of the songs comes from the later part of Waits’ career, with only two songs pre-dating 1985’s Rain Dogs. Sitek says his role in the process was to create what he calls “cough medicine tinker-bell vibe.” The Waits covers bear nearly no resemblance to the originals short of the lyrics. The ambient music Sitek created features a church organ, a brass section, drum machines, a musical box, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on guitar and even the sounds of the cicadas that infested the studio. Sitek comparted Johansson’s baritone voice to Debbie Harry.
Days before recording began, Johansson found herself sitting next to David Bowie at a party. “He said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re working with Dave Sitek,'” Johansson says. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’m super excited.’ In my mind I was thinking ‘If you get a chance come down to Louisiana, we’ll be down there for five weeks.'” Bowie never made it down, but while Scarlett was filming a movie in Spain Sitek called her to say Bowie had just dropped by during mixing and cut vocals for “Falling Down” and “Fannin’ Street.” “It was the best phone call I ever got,” Johansson says.
No live shows are planned to support the record, but Johansson hopes that will change. “It would be sad to not get everybody together, whether it’s at a festival or somewhere fun,” she says. “I think to be in a environment that’s user friendly and get everybody together and do some of the songs live would be great. There are no plans now, but it would be a shame not to.”
What does Tom Waits himself think of the record? “I’ve heard through friends that he’s very pleased with it and excited about it,” Jonansson says. “I didn’t want to go into it without his blessing. I sent him some of the early, early recordings that we did and he was like ‘Go ahead, go forth with it.'”
2. “Town With No Cheer”
3. “Falling Down”
4. “Anywhere I Lay My Head”
5. “Fannin’ Street”
6. “Song for Jo”
7. “Green Grass”
8. “I Wish I Was in New Orleans”
9. “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”
10. “No One Knows I’m Gone”
11. “Who Are You?”