About a girl

About a girl

About a girl

First published in Music

hen news emerges of an actor releasing an album, it's hard to stifle the groans.

After all, who really needs another collection of music as grim as those released by the likes of Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, Lindsay Lohan, Vanessa Hudgens or maybe the worst of all, David Hasselhoff?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead's new album, I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now, however, is a very different kettle of fish - perhaps helped by the fact that she's not as famous as the aforementioned thespians, so expectations are lower. And seeing her operating in a different field isn't quite as jarring as watching, say, the man who played Die Hard's John McClane suddenly trying to pretend he's a soul singer.

Winstead has teamed up Dan The Automator (real name Dan Nakamura), whose also worked with the likes of Cornershop, DJ Shadow and Kasabian, as well collaborating with fellow hip hop producer Prince Paul on Handsome Boy Modeling School and making his own original music as part of hip hop supergroup Deltron 3030. In musical circles, he's regarded as royalty.

The pair met on the set of 2010 film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, the movie Winstead's best known for; Nakamura was working on the score.

"We all went out for dinner; me, the director and all these other people from the film," the 29-year-old actress explains. "I didn't really talk at all at the dinner, I was nervous, but before I left I had to tell [Nakamura] I was a huge fan. I loved the record he produced for Lovage, and the music he'd made with Gorillaz and as Handsome Boy Modeling School."

It wasn't until a year or so later, however, that the idea of working together came up, at the film's premier. In the time in between, Nakamura had seen a YouTube video of Winstead singing a song she'd written.

The pair discovered that they shared a love of Sixties French pop, or 'ye-ye' music as it's known; Nakamura revealed he'd recently been listening to a lot of the genre. "I couldn't believe it, because at the same time, that was my obsession," says Winstead. "I was only really listening to Francoise Hardy, France Gall and Chantal Goya and that was it."

Afterwards, Nakamura sent her the bare bones of Did We Live Too Fast - a song that would, almost four years later, become their debut single - and asked her to write some lyrics for it.

"I wasn't sure how to go about it," she admits. "I had no idea how to write a song, and we had no idea if the music would go anywhere. There was no pressure, apart from me wanting to write something good for Dan."

As it turned out, she could write lyrics, and one song eventually turned into two, then three and then four and, two years on, they'd given their project a name - Got A Girl - and recorded enough material for an album.

"Dan gave me some tips," Winstead says. "He basically said the best thing was to write a story first. No lyrics, but a story, and then write a song about that story. It was a really helpful way of getting into the album, although I didn't do it for every song.

"It was really helpful to think of this girl, who she is, what her life's about and so on. It was a great way of breaking it open."

Winstead says she is playing the album's central character on the album, to a certain extent, but automatically got more personally involved as she went on.

"It's very similar to acting in that way. Just as you might bring a bit of yourself to a role, I definitely influence the album's point of view. It's very tongue-in-cheek too, we're doing this melancholy, Sixties French thing, and we really wanted to go out there with it, but it's not as though we're that serious. It's not a big confessional record."

Winstead, who first trained as a ballet dancer before moving into more mainstream theatre work, has always been able to sing, but, initially, only ever thought she'd flex her vocal muscles in public in the context of a musical.

She didn't sing on screen until she appeared in Quentin Tarantino's 2007 grindhouse film Death Proof - there's a scene where she's singing along to The Shirelles' Baby It's You while listening to her iPod; a short scene, but it clearly demonstrated that she had a good voice.

"I sing differently on this album to how I've ever sung before, it's a very different style," she says now. "That was one of the things that was interesting about working with Dan; it was a specific idea we had, and it took me outside of myself a little. It was something we wanted to create together, rather than what I would do on my own without a partner."

When the subject of other actors-turned-singers comes up, Winstead is well aware that she may be in line for some criticism.

"I was very cautious," she says of the decision to step into music. "But once I hooked up with Dan, I didn't have any fears.

"I admired him so much musically, that working with him was great. And it was such a good opportunity for me personally, just as a fan of his, that I would never worry about what anyone else would think.

"You know, screw anyone else, it was fun for me," she adds happily.

She'd been approached about singing before, she reveals, but nothing ever " struck me as a good idea, because it was just uninteresting pop that tried to cash in on whatever name value I might have as an actor".

"That's not something I ever wanted to do," Winstead continues.

She's currently re-learning to play the piano, having previously had lessons throughout her teens, and has carried on writing songs since she and Nakamura completed their album, hopeful that there might a second.

But, she points out, this isn't just about making herself more famous.

"You get people who are actors slash models slash singers slash whatever, just because it gets their name out there some more," Winstead muses. "I'm not interested in that at all."

EXTRA TIME - MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD

:: Mary Elizabeth Winstead was born on November 28, 1984, in North Carolina, USA.

:: Her most notable acting roles include Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, Final Destination 3 and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

:: She originally trained to be a ballet dancer but became too tall by age 13, so pursued an acting career instead.

:: She married film director and writer Riley Stearns in 2010.

:: She is currently in Vancouver filming a US reworking of supernatural French drama The Returned.

:: Got A Girl's album I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now is available now

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