Can you talk about collaborating with T-Bone Burnett, what you learned from him, what you got just from watching this maestro at work?
Yeah, that, everything, he completely changed the way not only that I listen to music, but the way that I play music. The first thing we did I we went out to Tarzana to Norm’s Rare Guitars and we found Llewyn’s guitar, which is this guitar from 1924, this little L-1, which is what rock and roll was invented on, that’s the Robert Johnson an the crossroads guitar, and we joked that I made a deal with T-Bone, made a very special deal, and then he took me back to his studio, his home studio, and the first thing he did was put on Tom Waits new record and then he left the room for an hour. He was like the musical Mr. Miyagi. He was an invisible hand that was guiding me, never telling me what to sound like, just stripping away any artifice.
What was your musical experience prior to working on this and how did it change the way that you play music?
It, well, you know, I’ve been playing for a long time. I’ve been playing guitar for a very long time, but I never played to particular style of picking, called Travis picking, which is very much like stride piano or ragtime, where the bass is constantly going and the right hand is doing all sorts of crazy stuff, but basically you’re doing it with these three fingers. The thumb is the bass and these two fingers are doing all of the syncopated melodies and that took a real rewiring of the brain to figure out, but yeah, I just obsessed over it.
Did you like folk music going in, and now that you’ve recorded some, do you have a better appreciation for it?
Well, I grew up listening to Dylan, but this was obviously the time before, and I’d heard some Woody Guthrie and a little Pete Seeger, but this particular time, I wasn’t aware of and as soon as I dove into it, I’ve been obsessed with it ever since and I found Karen Dalton, who I wasn’t aware of and now I’m such a huge fan of her music and what a tragic story, but other, Dave Van Ronk’s repertoire, which really was my lifeline for this movie, I just clung to that very early on and it wasn’t dictated that I was supposed to sound like him. Obviously I’m not playing Dave Van Ronk, but his music just spoke to me in a very particular way and so I learned a large amount of his repertoire.
What is the appeal of working with the Coen brothers and this script for you?
They’re my favorite filmmakers. They have been since I saw Raising Arizona. I remember seeing that movie as a little kid and it just blew my little kid mind. It was so funny, but it also made me feel so sad and weird, and I think that’s what it is. They do two things. One, it’s theater about the common man. Barton Fink said it, John Turturro says it, "I want to make theater of the common man." That’s what they’ve always done, but not only that, it’s the common man dangling in existence. It’s an investigation of existence and existence is both desperate and completely absurd and it’s mysterious, and dark as well, and joyful and painful, and those things are constantly happening, sometimes right on top of each other, and it is very much like Chekhov. When I was at school, I hadn’t read any Chekhov and suddenly I got to drama school and I found this thing and I was like This is amazing. This is what it feels like. Coen brothers’ movies, it’s not always what life looks like, but it’s definitely what life feels like.