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Rogue's Gallery

Rogue's Gallery

Film director GORE VERBINSKI, actor JOHNNY DEPP and music producer HAL WILLNER have joined forces with ANTI RECORDS for the truly extraordinary two-CD set ROGUE'S GALLERY: PIRATE BALLADS, SEA SONGS & CHANTEYS. Due out August 22, the collection is filled with contemporary reinterpretations of songs from a genre of music that has all but disappeared. BONO, STING, NICK CAVE, BRYAN FERRY, LOU REED, LUCINDA WILLIAMS, LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III, RICHARD THOMPSON, GAVIN FRIDAY, VAN DYKE PARKS, ANDREA CORR and RUFUS WAINWRIGHT are only a few of the distinguished artists who turn in uncompromising and honest performances that illuminate the power of traditional sea songs.

The idea for ROGUE'S GALLERY originated when Verbinski and Depp were working on their second film together, the upcoming Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. "I slowly became fascinated by the idea of a contemporary reinterpretation of the sea chantey," explains Verbinski. "I imagined the artists that I listen to and respect doing their take on this age-old music: the song of the sea."

Verbinski then "described the project in detail to my old friend Brett Gurewitz (owner of Epitaph and Anti) who immediately understood its wondrous and strange potential. I also asked Johnny Depp if it might be something that he would like to be involved with. He has a great musical aesthetic, and as my partner in the films, his opinion is one I value. I've always believed Johnny is a musician first and the actor thing is just his day job. We met with Brett and put together a list of artists that we intended to go after, but were immediately confounded with the question: who would produce? Who would be mad enough to take this on?"

The project took shape when Hal Willner became "the captain of this vessel," says Verbinski. "From that germinating withering pubic hair of an idea, Hal set sail and returned with what you hear today. He did everything." Willner brought his knack for matching maverick musicians with extraordinary material to the project, as shown on his best-selling Disney tribute album Stay Awake and his acclaimed tributes to Kurt Weill, Charles Mingus, Nino Rota and others.

"When I was asked to do the album, I went into a world I didn't know--which is what appealed to me," says Willner. Immersing himself in antique bookstores, eBay, old record stores, and the Internet for hours and hours, Willner collected some 600 songs and then went about narrowing the song selection down for the album. In March 2006, the recordings began--and the process was joyously freewheeling.

"We were just crawling around, just seeing who was around," he explains. "The Akron/Family was rehearsing, so we recorded them. And then we found Baby Gramps. And that's kind of how we worked all over. We'd go up to London or Dublin or to New York and L.A., with just a sketch and one or two things planned. And then we got on the phone. Most of the time people just came into the studio. We picked a song, and they went for it. Basically there were a number of house bands: one in London, one in Dublin, one in New York, two separate ones in L.A., one in Seattle. We would camp and people would come in and leave or join in for the whole day. One day we did eight songs with eight different artists. Two of those artists didn't know they were going to be in the studio that day. I just loved working this way because you wouldn't do that with an artist normally."

Asked about the Sting contribution "Blood Red Roses," Willner says, "He was totally natural for this subject. He comes from Newcastle. He grew up hearing these things--it's interesting how you hear a lot of little Beatles melodies in these songs. You know, Liverpool was a big port, and Australia and Maui and Cape Cod. Sting grew up with a lot of these songs, as did John C. Reilly. So he just came over to the studio, I gave him some songs and he just jumped into the process."

60 songs were recorded for ROGUE'S GALLERY; 43 appear on the album. "Hopefully, there will be a volume two. I have half of it recorded already." Willner says: "I came to age in the late sixties and early seventies of variety shows and concept records. I look at these records like you're eating a full meal. There's always your entrée, your vegetable that you don't like but it's good for you. And you want to cover it all. You need to establish the unknown, the famous, the obscure. Usually in the past I've always found that the secret weapons on these records are any new artists because you're coming at it without expectations. And there's other people that you've heard for years--but on that side it goes to another level."

Willner is now anxious for others to discover the enchanting mystery of ROGUE'S GALLERY. "Obviously I want people to love it the way I do," he says. "I would hope that it works on a level where they just want to go and close their eyes and have an experience--and come out of it the same way I came out of it, wanting to hear more. Put this record in your collection as a classic--that was Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp's idea."

Proud of what all of the artists have brought to the album, Verbinski says that the "recordings are vibrant, inspired, rough hewn, and imperfect in that way that only perfection achieves."

ROGUE'S GALLERY has a perfect home on Anti, the Epitaph Record-affiliated label known for releasing albums by classic renegade artists like Merle Haggard, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Says Willner: "I think this was the original punk music in an odd way. You can hear it in songs like 'Bully in the Alley' and 'A Drop of Nelson's Blood.' It's there."