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Grammy's RE:GENERATION Music Project: Q&A With The Cast

Tanaya Ghosh |
February 12, 2012 | 11:24 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

GENERATION Music Project)
GENERATION Music Project)
What do Skrillex, LeAnn Rimes, DJ Premier, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Nas, and The Doors have in common, besides being top-notch musical talent? They are all part of an unprecedented musical project matching 5 electronic DJs with musical legends from 5 different genres to collaborate and bring forth 5 original, genre-defying tracks.

Each DJ was paired with a genre, then chose the artists they wanted to work with. The creative process was a trying one at times, often causing tension and initial pre-judgment. However, they all found ways to bring forth their unique creative visions, and developed an appreciation for other genres along the way. The best part is that the entire process was captured on film, and gives a firsthand account of what the collaborative and creative process is like among diverse musical minds.

The revolutionary documentary, RE:GENERATION MUSIC PROJECT, will be screened nationwide on only two nights: February 16th and 23rd. After the opportunity to attend a preview screening and speak with the artists, I'm here to report on whether or not it's worth seeing.

The five esteemed DJs/producers tapped for the project came from various sub-genres of electronic and hip hop music. Each given three days to collaborate and create an original track, The GRAMMY-nominated Skrillex worked with the remaining members of the legendary rock band The Doors in Los Angeles to create "Breakin' A Sweat." John Densmore asked to be excused from the cameras to speak with Skrillex because he didn't expect to like the music. At first The Doors' drummer is extremely skeptical, as he asks to go off-camera so he wouldn't have to say he "didn't like his music." He tells Skrillex upon meeting him, "I don't know who you are, but my son wants your autograph." But when Skrillex plays his music for The Doors, the look on his, and the other band members, is priceless.

Sitting down to chat in Hollywood before the premiere of the film, Densmore explained, "This RE:GENERATION is combining electronics and musicians, which I think is quite cool. It brings the human into the techno and you get the best of both."

The scene of The Doors and Skrillex walking down Venice Beach is a personal favorite scene from the documentary. Densmore expressed a desire to play the drums with Skrillex at one of his shows, and also reminisced about memories with his late Doors bandmate and lead singer, Jim Morrison: "Jim would probably have jumped right onstage and grabbed the mic and started singing with Sonny (Skrillex's real name)." In fact, they ended up vibing so well and created such a seamless track that Skrillex still plays it at his shows, and gets a rave response from the sold-out crowd each time.

In New Orleans, Mark Ronson worked to create a steaming pot of musical gumbo with a legendary collection of jazz artists: Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Trombone Shorty, Zigaboo Modeliste, and members of The Dap Kings. The final product was a song called, “A La Modeliste.” When asked about age differences, the elder Modeliste explained that he thought that this time in music is "exciting; the music business has changed quite a lot. It doesn't matter about the age group, it's only about your contribution."

Erykah Badu also shared some gems of advice for fans: "Don't let anybody infiltrate your dream... be fearless." The soulful spirit added, "Don't expect anything, but give it your all every time, and build success from there. Don't be scared of your own wings." Ronson added, "You use all the parts you have to make something that's your own, and call it your own sound... you beat your own drum."

In an intriguing collaboration with classical music, DJ Premier worked with the exceptionally talented Berklee Symphony Orchestra in Boston. He even got the chance to conduct the orchestra, and learned how to appreciate the trajectory of a classical music number while creating the "Regeneration" original track.

He and Berklee College of Music Professor Stephen Webber also sat down to speak with us.

"Hopefully stuff like the collaboration we did is going to get a younger audience to get their head around what classical music is and that it's not just old, stodgy music, and that it's vital and very much alive," said Webber.

DJ Premier agreed, "Now, I understand two whole different worlds and I'm putting them in my world." He continued, "I definitely want to go to an opera, and I won't snore or fall asleep now (laughs). I still have Vivaldi blasting. Yeah, man, he was hot." He said he also learned from the project that "the integrity of good music will never die."

The two also had words of advice for budding musicians. Webber said, "Man, follow your heart. There's no such thing as the wrong kind of music. I took up playing turntables in the late 90's, in my early 40's and that's led me to working with DJ Premier." He advised, "Learn everything you can about music. Don't worry about genres. We need genres because we need to know what to Google, and we need to have some sort of title for what we do."

Premier added, "Always be original. They may laugh at you in the beginning, but they'll love you in the end."

Pretty Lights went to Nashville to work with Dr. Ralph Stanley, whom he has probably the toughest time collaborating with. He then turns to a more open-minded LeAnn Rimes for vocals to create the newest version of "Wayfaring Stranger."

Although he was unenthusiastic at first about being assigned to country music, he learned a lot from his mistakes along the way. "I was nervous to meet Dr. Stanley, I won't deny that. The moment he walked in the door had a presence about him and he's a bit of a shorter guy, and I'm obviously an extremely tall guy, and it was very awkward for me where he was looking up and I'm looking down, and we had a limited time to work together." he continued, "(Dr. Ralph Stanley) was like, 'I'm just going to do it my way' and I learned to adapt."

When asked what he learned from country music, he said, "I realized that there was a huge similarity between what I do as a modern-day hip hop electronic producer and what people were doing with country music and bluegrass a hundred years ago despite the technology that didn't exist then. People were then taking old music and reinventing it, just because they had heard it from their grandfather." Pretty Lights, whose real name is Derek Vincent Smith, continued, "Today the technology allows you to go back and reinvent the music in a completely new and original way. I realize that despite the technology, despite the genres, despite the era, artists and musicians are striving for the same thing which is to evolve music and push the envelope and create something new."

Regarding what has changed the most in music since when LeAnn Rimes started in the industry 18 years ago, she said, "Originality. I miss the truth and the soulfulness." The singer continued, "When music is made these days, people focus a lot on making it a hit and making it work on radio instead of making it real and unique, and taking a chance and doing something outside of the box and not following in someone else's footsteps." Many other artists agreed as well, and for good reason.

Smith also stated that "The GRAMMY's connection gives it a legitimacy. (RE:GENERATION) is a brilliant idea to reach a massive audience of people who will be exposed to new songs and old songs." Pretty Lights: "songs that will live on through a new generation and I think that's a massive, important part of what this film's about." LeAnn "new artists that they would never listen to"

Rimes revealed, "To me, there's no genres. When we're speaking music, we're speaking a universal language."

To create an original R&B track, The Crystal Method went to Detroit to witness the state of the city and work with Martha Reeves of The Vandellas and The Funk Brothers. Although there were struggles with songwriting, they ultimately were able to create the track, “I’m Not Leaving.”

The eagerly-anticipated documentary's award-winning director Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, My Kid Could Paint That) states, "Right from the get-go, we had a look in mind for the film that would marry spontaneity and the dynamic nature of documentaries with that lustrous, larger-than-life sense of reality that comes from commercials and music videos."

RE:GENERATION MUSIC PROJECT has brilliant camera work and editing that effectively follow five different storylines in one film. The angles show the raw emotion the artists felt as they went through the ups and downs of the music writing process, and every stage is captured in an intimate way, putting the viewer in the studio with the legends. Each collaboration had its own peaks and valleys; moments where creating a first-of-its-kind track seem near impossible, and moments of clarity and vision, allowing them to go where music has yet to delve into.

The artists ventured out to explore the intersections of music, the parts left untouched between the exclusive categories we assign to music. After witnessing the remarkable process of creating unique works, two things are certain: music, regardless of the label we put on it, has the power to move people in ways nothing else can; and second, RE:GENERATION is a must-see for any music lover.

More information and free downloads of each track can be found here.


You can reach reporter Tanaya Ghosh here or follow her on Twitter.



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