Music Interviews
12:03 am
Mon November 25, 2013

'Foreverly' Yours: Billie Joe Armstrong And Norah Jones Get Close

Originally published on Mon November 25, 2013 11:11 am

Think of the album Foreverly as a musical equation. You start with Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day. Then you add Norah Jones. Then, you get these two very different musicians thinking about doing duets of music from a totally unexpected source: The Everly Brothers. Finally, substitute the hits that made those iconic siblings famous with something a touch more obscure.

"I'm a big vinyl collector, so I was just flipping through the bins," Armstrong says of discovering Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a lesser-known album of traditional tunes recorded by The Everly Brothers. "I thought it would be cool to remake the record. But I thought it would be cool to do it with a woman."

Norah Jones was game for the challenge, if a little unsure how their voices would sound together — especially, she says, attempting the close two-part harmonies that are the Everlys' trademark. Once she and Armstrong got to the studio, one rule made all the difference.

"I said, 'You have to look at me to sing close harmonies. We can't not look at each other; it doesn't work,' " Jones says. "I was just staring at his lips the whole time to make sure that we breathe at the same time and that it all is cohesive."

Jones and Armstrong spoke about the making of Foreverly with NPR's Steve Inskeep. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Think of this next story as a musical equation. You know, A plus B plus C equals D.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN IDIOT")

GREEN DAY: (Singing) Don't want to be an American idiot...

INSKEEP: You start with Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer of the rock group Green Day. Then you add Norah Jones.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONESTAR")

NORAH JONES: (Singing) Lonestar, where are you out tonight...

INSKEEP: Then you get these two very different musicians thinking about doing duets of some music from a totally unexpected source: The Everly Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAKE UP LITTLE SUZIE")

THE EVERLY BROTHERS: (Singing) Wake up, little Suzie, wake up...

INSKEEP: And not just any Everly Brothers music - in fact, not any of their hits like this one from the early days of rock and roll. Billie Joe Armstrong came across something more obscure.

BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG: I'm a big vinyl collector, so I was just flipping through the bins and stuff like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT SILVER HAIRED DADDY OF MINE")

BROTHERS: (Singing) In a vine covered shack in the mountains...

INSKEEP: And he says he listened again and again to an album of traditional tunes recorded by The Everlys, called "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us."

ARMSTRONG: I thought it would be cool to remake the record. But I thought it would be cool to do it with a woman.

JONES: I was completely unsure of how we would sound together. And I didn't know what to expect working with him on these kinds of songs.

INSKEEP: Now we know because the new album by Norah Jones and Billie Joel Armstrong is out. It's called "Foreverly."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT SILVER HAIRED DADDY OF MINE")

BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG AND NORAH JONES: (Singing) In a vine covered shack in the mountains, bravely fighting the battle of time. There's a dear one who's wept through life's sorrows. It's that silver daddy of mine.

ARMSTRONG: It sounded like the songs that they grew up on. And that was what was so cool. I mean even with the title, the record, it sounds obvious that's its part of a family tradition.

INSKEEP: This is a personal question, Mr. Armstrong, but your fans will know that you had some public issues with alcohol last year, and that you've tried to deal with that. Was doing this kind of a record an effort to get to a different place in your life?

ARMSTRONG: No, I don't think so. You know, I love projects. I like to work hard. And I don't really want to think of it as any sort of cathartic experience.

INSKEEP: Although, let's remember when you're singing traditional songs like this they often are about difficulty; they're about loss. They very frequently do go into difficult, personal subjects.

JONES: Yeah. Well, this record is especially dark. There's a lot of dead children...

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...and dead wives and a lot of stories, really dark stories.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. I think of it as being - this record is a lot about family.

JONES: Yeah, it actually is - dead family, but...

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...it's the family nevertheless.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHTNING EXPRESS")

JONES: (Singing) The Lightning Express from the depot so grand had started out on its way...

ARMSTRONG: "Lightning Express" is just this little boy's trying to get to his mother and he doesn't have enough money to pay the fare for the train.

INSKEEP: And she's dying. He's trying to get there.

JONES: Yeah.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, so...

JONES: Got the consumption.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, something is going on.

JONES: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIGHTNING EXPRESS")

JONES: (Singing) Please, Mr. Conductor, don't put me off of this train. The best friend I have in this world, sir, is waiting for me in pain...

INSKEEP: Would you explain, for the layman, how the harmonies work in these songs, and how you made them work for you?

JONES: Well, I mean the coolest thing about The Everly Brothers is that close two-part harmony. Its way different from, you know, when you hear three-part harmony, because there's a lot more movement. And sometimes there's some dissonance, which is my favorite part about it.

INSKEEP: Dissonance meaning two notes that, by design, don't...

JONES: Kind of rub...

INSKEEP: ...quite go together right.

JONES: Well, they go together but they don't. Yeah, they kind of rub and make you go: Ooh. And they kind of make you sit up straight. Yeah, I don't know how to explain it...

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...to the layman very well. But...

ARMSTRONG: It's kind of like two people singing lead at the same time...

JONES: Yeah.

ARMSTRONG: ...but and it all comes out as sort of one instrument. And that's what I always got from The Everly Brothers, where it just wasn't like a choir singing or something like that. It was just guys carrying two different melodies together, And it comes out just so powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG TIME GONE")

JONES: (Singing) You cheated me and made me lonely. I tried to be your very own...

INSKEEP: How long did it take you to learn to sing together?

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

ARMSTRONG: We hit the ground running. When it really hit, I think "Long Time Gone," when we were like, hey, this is actually working...

JONES: This is going to work. But that was our first day of recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG TIME GONE")

JONES: (Singing) Baby, there'll be no tomorrow 'cause when I leave, I'll be a long time gone...

ARMSTRONG: It came out really beautiful.

JONES: Once he started looking at me.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

JONES: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: 'Cause you...

ARMSTRONG: Look at my lips.

JONES: I said you have to look at me to sing close harmonies.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

JONES: We can't not look at each other - it doesn't work.

INSKEEP: Oh, now that is a very revealing thing. The eye contact actually changed your voice, you're saying.

JONES: Well, more like the eye-to-lip contact.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

JONES: So that we phrase it together, you know what I mean? For me, I was just staring at his lips the whole time to make sure that we breathe at the same time and that it all is cohesive.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that this album, because of the title, seem to be songs that The Everly Brothers had in their family that they grew up with. Did this music put you in a mind of things you had learned from your own parents?

JONES: Well, this album definitely reminded me of my grandparents from Oklahoma. I grew up loving country music because of that part of my family.

INSKEEP: What about you, Billie Joel?

ARMSTRONG: Well, it's funny. My mom is from Oklahoma also, hence the double name...

(LAUGHTER)

JONES: Oh, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMSTRONG: I remember my mom just told me recently, she's like: Do you like your name. And I was like, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMSTRONG: It's cool. I'm stuck with it now. And go why. And she's like: Oh, I thought - I always thought it may have been too southern 'cause you, you know, growing up in California...

JONES: So that's what makes it cool.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. And so, I remember hearing a lot of country radio. And I remember my mother singing around the house. And it was funny 'cause I had this experience when I put the record on, I played it for my mom. She started to two step around the house and it was just kind of a nice moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH SO MANY YEARS")

JONES: (Singing) All these many years I've loved you, no one has ever known...

INSKEEP: Well, Billie Joel Armstrong and Norah Jones, thanks to you both.

JONES: Thank you so much.

ARMSTRONG: Thanks for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH SO MANY YEARS")

JONES: (Singing) I loved you alone...

INSKEEP: Their album is called "Foreverly."

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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