Diana Krall on Glad Rag Doll, Being a “Victim” to Her Own Creativity & How She Used to be Kristen Wiig’s Character from Bridesmaids - Q&A with Vanity Fair
Jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall has sold more than six million albums in the United States, won two Grammys, and headlined wildly popular tours. She’s so devoted to her craft, in fact, she tells Vanity Fair that if she doesn’t force herself to stop and take time out for her kids and her husband, fellow musician Elvis Costello, she’ll be a “victim” to her own creativity. As her new album, Glad Rag Doll,climbs the charts and her star continues to rise, Krall took time to speak with V.F. senior West Coast editor Krista Smith.
Krista Smith: Ah, this is so exciting. So, what’s going on right now?
Diana Krall: I’ve got a new stage set. And then a new band. I’ve been in rehearsals all day long, nonstop. I got myself into a much more ambitious project than I ever imagined. It’s good, but it’s likewow, you know, I could use another three weeks.
This album seems exceptionally personal in a different kind of way. I was so moved when I saw the show. I loved the story—the fact that the conductor used to be your teacher, and how this album really came from your childhood.
I don’t think you realize until those shows that I had to learn the quote-unquote Great American Songbook—like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter—when I was in high school learning jazz standards. Before that I was listening to this music that was not from that group. A lot of them were just unknown, like songs sung by Annette Hanshaw. They were songs that were, I guess, closer to my heart and songs that I learned before the songbook stuff—the ones a lot of the repertoire bands sing now. It’s different.
I’ve been having this discussion a lot lately about how our generation is kind of the last generation that went through record players and the whole 70s age. That was public—family would all hear it. I look at my brother and my nieces and everyone has earphones on. We went from the record player, the family credenza, to a Walkman, and then a DVD or CD player, and then it goes on now with iPhones, etc.
Well, you can create that. I went home to visit my dad for one day. I just was by myself and what we did was, I sat on the couch in his living room and spent about six hours where we just hung out and played records. And he has the family credenza and the gramophone that you wind up. [In the show] I have footage that I’m using of family sing-a-longs. They were really poor—they’re coal miners—but they had a piano, so everybody played and I think my dad started taking some of the collection money on the way to church, and buying 78s. That music was what they listened to, and people came over because they couldn’t afford to go out. Everyone came to their house and brought bottles—whatever they had. I have tapes of it too, recordings of us all singing together. It’s really interesting to hear that big mass of people talking and singing and playing and going from one song to the next. That was the party. It’s like the green chip-and-dipper on the table. I can still see it. I miss that day. It was always kind of like that at my Nana’s house.
That organic, organic time.
My drummer that I’m working with—he’s so great, Jay Bellerose—he left rehearsal and he was carrying a suitcase, a small suitcase, and a huge messenger bag. And I said, “What’s that?,” and he said, “That’s my iPod.” And he’s carrying … He travels with a record player and a bag of vinyl.
Most kids are in their own world. Growing up, obviously you were somewhat a prodigy. I know you’re going to be uncomfortable with that word, but when did you decide that this was going to be your career?
Well, when I was 15, I went down to the local restaurant, which was owned by Roy Gilmore, a former NHL hockey referee. He had this restaurant called the NHL and it was all NHL-themed and the waiters all wore referee shirts. And they needed them, because the people in the bar needed calming down. They were really kind, and they hired me when I was 16. I was not even legal to be in there, because it was a restaurant with a liquor license, so it was like I could kind of play half in the bar, and half in the restaurant. I started playing there for extra money on the weekend—that was my job. Everybody was getting jobs at schools, so I guess it just started there and I just didn’t look back.
That’s just amazing. And this is your eleventh studio album, and you’ve won Grammy Awards and had a very big, great, amazing career. How did T Bone Burnett come to produce this album?
I started with the intention of doing a solo album and a solo tour. And then I started listening to it a little more and was like, Well, I don’t know. T Bone has been a friend for many years, and I thought maybe that’s too close—too risky because he’s such a good friend and he’s close to Elvis, and if we didn’t get along that would be upsetting. But I called him and he was really into it, and it was the best decision I could have ever made. I knew I wanted [guitarist] Marc Ribot, and I didn’t want it to be a jazz record at all. He suggested maybe having a jazz element to it. The first day we played “Ain’t No Sweet Man” and I heard Ribot playing that guitar and was like, Ohhh, this isn’t my dad’s 78 record collection and it’s not about my dad, it’s about how I’m hearing things and how I want to reimagine these songs so they don’t sound like period pieces.
It was totally modern to me. I mean, that’s what I love about it. I have it on loop in my car. I feel very connected to it and the amount of nostalgia.
Well thank you. I always look at things like there’s a certain amount of nostalgia in it for me because it’s coming from people like Annette Hanshaw and Gene Austin. But it’s not from Frank Sinatra. This one feels more vaudeville. Like a modern vaudeville thing, I guess.
When you start on the album, is there a story that you see cinematically that ends up being told with each album?
For sure. I was looking at all the pictures of the Ziegfeld Follies and [thinking about] how a lot of those girls perished, really. That’s why I didn’t want to just do this kind of flapper, get your ukulele thing, because there’s a darkness to it, a tragic element.
A working-mom-to-working-mom question: are you ever not in the mood to go and perform and make music?
This is the most intense, intense, intensely intense time I can remember in my life, creatively. And I said to Elvis today, “You know what, I’m going to have to stop.” Because I just get on a creative riff and just keep going and coming up with ideas and ideas and ideas. I just have to stop myself or else I’ll be the victim of my own overwhelming desire to be creative. I know, that sounds kind of dramatic. Right now, I’ve got too much stuff, so I sort of have to wheel back. And Elvis does the same thing. There has to be a point where you go, O.K., I’m going to be O.K. with this right now, and then I’m going to let it evolve.
I like my kids too, I want to follow them, I want to be right there. I love the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It so much because I’m an involved parent and I don’t want to tap my kids on the head and send them off. I need to show up, and I want to be there and I want to come home and read books even though I’m totally fried. That’s my safe, happy place, is my children.
Obviously the boys are surrounded by so much music—do you think that any of them will have the desire to do more?
I’m thinking about that, because I’m waiting for when they say, “I want to play this” or “I’d like to try this.” Right now we don’t even have a piano. We’ve moved houses, we’re in a temporary apartment.
How was the tribute for Neil Armstrong?
Oh, incredible. We all want to be astronauts or rock stars when we grow up, right? I mean, I always wanted to be an astronaut. My Confirmation day was spent building a rocket. I built it out of the kit and read Carrying the Fire. I had a chance to meet [Armstrong] and his family at the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing. And then I met a couple other guys, astronauts, I became really good friends with. And nerd alert: I went to the last shuttle launch in Cape Canaveral.
Your stories are so good. I just keep thinking about that story when you were a student and Sarah Vaughn came on, pulled up in her Pontiac and went on stage, did her whole thing…
She pulled in in a Mercedes and played at the Hollywood Bowl and walked out with her fishing cap on and her regular clothes, played, and got in her Mercedes and drove away. I was like, wow that’s the way to do it. And I was studying in L.A. then. I was exactly Kristen Wiig inBridesmaids. I had a Toyota Tercel, it was broken down and I would always have to go play those parties in the Sherwood Country Club, that’s where they filmed that movie. I would always pull up in my crap car and play my piano gig for the wedding or whatever I was playing reception. I did a lot of people watching at that time. When you’re playing solo piano in bars for hours on end, you have a lot of time to people watch.
Read the article on VanityFair.com here