Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi are at home with ‘Rome’
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Pop producer Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi collaborate on an album inspired by spaghetti westerns.
A shared passion can often spawn a friendship, but in the case of pop producer Danger Mouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi, their mutual love of classic ’60s and ’70s Ennio Morricone scores and spaghetti westerns spawned that and much more. What began with pals swapping favorite rare records and vintage films became a five-year musical collaboration culminating in “Rome,” an ambitious album named after the Italian capital where they did most of the recording.
The acclaimed 15-track record, which has received praise from Entertainment Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and others, features several musicians who performed on Morricone’s most famous scores, including “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West,” as well as distinct vocal turns by Jack White and Norah Jones. It showcases an unexpected side of Danger Mouse, the Grammy-winning producer and composer (born Brian Burton) whose credits include the soulful pop stylings of Gnarls Barkley and the jangly indie pop of Broken Bells. The L.A.-based Burton, however, says the process it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
“It’s actually really close to how I started (making music),” he explains. “The first music I ever really did was instrumental music in college film classes, and I decided I wanted to make music based on film scores, especially a lot of spaghetti westerns. So the first thing I did was a mock soundtrack in my dorm room with guitars and keyboards and live instruments as much as I could get my hands on.”
It was also a natural fit for Luppi, the Venice, Italy-born composer whose credits include contributing music to films such as “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “Nine,” and whose 2004 album, “An Italian Story,” pays tribute to the swinging Italian films of the ’60s and ’70s. It was this unique album that caught Burton’s ear, and led to an introduction by a friend who knew of their mutual admiration for each other’s work.
“We hung out as friends for a year or two and that’s when we started to talk about the idea of doing something together,” Luppi recalls. “Brian called me to work on the Gnarls Barkley album, and at that point we knew we worked really well together and the prospect of doing something on our own was even more feasible. So we bought [tickets] for Rome.”
Flash forward five years, and the pair has logged many frequent flyer miles traveling from their homes in Los Angeles to Morricone’s Rome studio. There they gathered a cast of renowned Italian musicians — many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s — to lay down the tracks. They recorded everything in an analog fashion, straight to tape, to give it an authentic, retro feel.
“Daniele and I wanted it to be unique, not just a throw back or a retro record,” Burton explains. “We wanted to do something modern but using older instruments and players as the basis for it. And we wanted it to be beautiful.”
The result is a collection of haunting, cinematic pieces featuring distinctive, orchestral arrangements alongside contemporary flourishes— think sweeping strings and majestic choirs juxtaposed with twangy guitars. Smattered among the more classic instrumentals are six tracks with vocals — three featuring White’s trademark rocker wail and three showcasing Jones’ soothing, sultry delivery. Burton said he didn’t have a particular singer in mind when he originally wrote the female vocal parts, but it quickly became obvious later in the process. “Once it was finished, it was easier to tell what kind of voice would be best, and Norah fit perfectly,” he says.
Luppi and Burton Danger Mouse had no trouble agreeing that the former White Stripes frontman would thrive amid the sounds. “We both thought independently that Jack’s modern voice could be an amazing twist to this old-sounding music played in a very elegant way,” Luppi says. Whereas Jones sang vocals written by Burton, White penned his own lyrics, singing whatever came to mind into a tape recorder while driving around listening to the instrumentals.
In order to maintain creative control of the process, Burton— who’s currently at work producing U2’s next album — funded the entire project himself. “It’s definitely not a profitable way to make records, doing it the long way and using all the players, the old studio and the tape,” he confesses. “This probably isn’t going to end up being a big pop record or anything like that, but hopefully we’ll at least break even.”
Luppi says they’re all excited by the prospect of playing “Rome” live. “We’re talking about it,” he says. “Everybody wants to do it — me, Brian, Jack and Norah. We spent so much time doing exactly what we wanted with the record, the live show has to respect that.”