Producer Sam Spiegel On Trusting Karen O's Vision... And Planking
A Virgen planking on Sam Spiegel. Graphics by Lucasfilm.
You might know Sam Spiegel, aka Squeak E. Clean, as one half of the duo behind N.A.S.A., his collaborative music project with DJ Zegon that was responsible for bringing Spank Rock, M.I.A., Santigold, and Nick Zinner together in 2009’s “Whachadoin?” off N.A.S.A.’s debut album The Spirit of Apollo.
He also scores video games and movies, including two of his brother Spike Jonze‘s recent short films I’m Here and Mourir Auprès De Toi, and has been working on N.A.S.A.’s sophomore album, as well as cooking up a new musical collaboration called Maximum Hedrum with Derrick Green, front man of the Brazilian metal band Sepultura.
As one of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ longtime friends and collaborators, Spiegel acted as co-musical director (along with Zinner) on Karen O’s radical performance piece Stop the Virgens. We caught up with him over Skype while he was in Europe to talk Virgens, his hate of theater, and what we might expect from him in 2012. He also was kind enough to share some pretty priceless behind-the-scenes photos of the Stop the Virgens cast goofing around.
The Creators Project: You mentioned in the documentary that you started working on the music for Stop the Virgens in 2004, and Karen said it spilled out in a two week period. Can you tell us about that time and how that process went?
Sam Spiegel: Karen and I had been hanging out and talking about making some music forever. She came over and the first song we made was “Get ‘Em On The Run,” the first song on the album and in the show. It totally flowed, and so she invited her friends over and I invited my friends over. We had this revolving door of collaborators.
It’s been a very joyous and full-of-love kind of project. Everyone believes in it, everyone stands up for the cause. That’s the type of stuff you want to be involved in. You believe in something, and everyone around you believes in something, and it becomes a creation through pure joy. That’s the best.
Patrick Keeler, Nick Zinner, and Jack Lawrence. Graphics by Lucasfilm.
You also said you kept coming back to it. Why do you think it sat undone for so long?
I think Karen is a real perfectionist. It was really her baby, her pet project. She cares about it more than anything in the world. I think she wanted to be really careful and cautious, making sure when we put it out, it was the right way to do it. That’s why she was doing all this thinking and planning. She wanted to make sure it was right, that we were putting our best foot forward.
What other ideas were you guys jumping back and forth between?
We talked about doing a film. Slowly, it turned into this crazy live presentation—opera, musical—it’s hard to explain. But it ended up morphing into this idea of a live performance.
Money Mark getting fresh.
And you don’t really like theater or musicals, is that right?
I’m not big into theater or musicals, no. I’m not a big theater guy.
Why do you think you could get on board with this particular project?
Well, because I love Karen, and I’ll follow her anywhere because she has such a great vision. I really trust her vision, always. That’s one thing I learned to do—trust Karen’s vision.
You do a lot of scores for video games and films. What’s different about writing music for a live performance?
This was less of a score and more of just putting a show together, which I do throughout various projects like N.A.S.A. It’s very similar to putting a DJ set together. It’s about creating an emotional arc—how to build the ups and downs, the emotional moments, what will make people feel something. I’ve had some experience with putting together live shows, from Kanye West’s Glow In The Dark Tour to my own shows.
How was working with Nick Zinner as co-musical director?
It was great. Nick is one of my best friends. I love him dearly. He is a great guy. We’ve done a lot of different stuff together over the years. We always have fun when we’re collaborating.
Nick Zinner with Gilbert: “the STV mascot, spiritual guru, and creative mastermind.”
Do you guys have a particular routine when you get together to work or get inspired?
Nick and I started every day with a deep yoga meditation. After our meditation we would submerge into a chemical bio-coordination bath, and end with some serious spiritual chanting. We found this really helpful to get our spiritual center before setting off on the creative journey that was every day working on Stop the Virgens.
What is your process like? Do you split up different tasks or work together on everything? Who makes the calls and decisions?
We both do. It was easier for me to have an overview—a bigger picture of the project—because he was also playing an instrument. [I was responsible for] the details, making sure parts are as they should be. I’m putting the show together more while he’s running the show as it goes.
It’s hard to say, but lately “Calm” has been my favorite song.
Do you think you guys will ever release the music?
Yeah, I do think we will. It’s so great, the world deserves to hear it.
Spiegel and Lili Taylor sharing a moment.
All images courtesy of Sam Spiegel.