Danger Mouse in Rome

Brian Burton and Composer Daniele Luppi Reinvent the Spaghetti Western Soundtrack.

For his latest album, super-producer Danger Mouse (AKA Brian Burton) joined forces with LA-based composer and frequent collaborator Daniele Luppi for Rome, a spaghetti western-inspired tour de force. Referencing Ennio Morricone, legendary composer of soundtracks for A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Luppi and Burton went to great lengths to keep things authentic: they hired the same Italian musicians who played on Il Maestro’s original scores, used vintage instruments and recorded on analog tape in Morricone’s onetime studio, underneath a church in central Rome.

The LP reinterprets the 60s genre as bittersweet pop, with Jack White and Norah Jones taking on sultry lead vocal duties. Luppi and Burton, whose collaborative CV includes Gnarls Barkley’s platinum-selling St. Elsewhere and the James Mercer-fronted electro-pop band Broken Bells, recently discussed Rome.

Jack White has said he drove around Nashville with a tape recorder brainstorming ideas for lyrics. Did you give him or Norah Jones much direction for the lyrics, or were they free to experiment?

Brian Burton: Doing music first and lyrics and melodies later is how I always work, but I don’t think Jack ever works that way. When I asked him to be a part of this, I knew it would be different for him, so he went driving, that was his way. The female part I wrote myself, and the part was done initially with my bad singing; I played it for Daniele and said “trust me.” And then Norah came in and sang and suddenly the whole thing came to life.

What is it about the music of 60s Italian film scores that captivates?

Brian Burton: For me, it was the melancholy nature of the music, the guitars and the psychedelic instruments. I was 18 when I first heard it. It was like a lot of different genres put together in a really amazing way, a very visual music that changed the way I looked at music in general. But having a well-versed knowledge of Italian film music is not vital or necessary to enjoy Rome. It’s like listening to the Beatles—you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of their music to enjoy it. These are just interesting songs with Jack and Norah.

You were obviously familiar with the work of the Italian sessions musicians you enlisted for the project. Did they know your material?

Brian Burton: When we were there in 2006, “Crazy” was one of the biggest songs out, but I don’t think they were in the store buying Gnarls Barkley albums or really caring about that. I was the American guy, and [Luppi] was the Italian guy living in America, and we were there making an album. We ate lunch with them every day, we got along. They asked me about girls.

Daniele Luppi: Yeah, and we talked a lot about music. I got the sense they did appreciate having two somewhat younger guys seeking out their services.

Brian Burton: We didn’t know at the time we were going to get Jack White and Norah Jones, and even if we did, I don’t know if they would have known them anyway.

Daniele Luppi: What was special was that they were playing together again with their old pals, and people that they had become friends with, and it was intimate. It was a major point for them to play together again, in the same fashion that they used to play, all together, on tape.

Brian Burton: We needed the players and the instruments to get the sound we wanted. We didn’t do it to say we did it, or to pay tribute, but to do a new album that had this as a backdrop, that would be something interesting and special or different. That’s what we wanted to do.

My full interview is at NOWNESS.

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