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May 2013

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Joe Henry's interview in Le Parisien

I've translated Joe Henry's interview in Le Parisien. Enjoy!

Producer Joe Henry: “Hugh Laurie is a remarkable man.”
On the eve of our meeting in Pasadena, we had a brief encounter on the Queen Mary –no less- a breathtaking liner moored in Long Beach near Los Angeles. This former sea glory is now used as a hotel, a museum and more rarely as a concert hall. Hugh Laurie –Joe Henry’s protégé played the first concert of his world tour in a place steeped in history where one of his heroes, Professor Longhair, gave a mythical performance 40 years ago. Joe Henry was among the 200 or so lucky members of the audience, accompanied by his lovely wife Melanie (who also happens to be Madonna’s sister) and Van Dyke Parks, a venerable 70-year-old who is famous for his contribution to several Beach Boys albums, including cult record “Smile”.
On the next day, neither of them were there but Joe Henry accepted to welcome us in his house full of original photographs of Bob Dylan and other mythical bluesmen to talk about his work with a world-famous blues fan. Over a cup of divinely good old-style espresso he prepared with a traditional coffee urn, I was lucky enough to have a chat with this charming man who speaks very highly of Hugh Laurie (he produced his first two cover albums “Let Them Talk” and the newly-released “Didn’t it Rain”).

How did you two meet each other? You’re an American musician and he’s an English actor…
He contacted me. He knew some of my albums and he drove to my house in the afternoon. He was shy at first. We had a long conversation over coffee. I knew he was an excellent musician, thanks particularly to his career as an actor but I also discovered that he genuinely loved classic blues and jazz and I do too. I work with him because he’s a great musician and a really sweet man, not because he’s a famous actor. I would have turned down the job if he hadn’t been a great musician.

So far, 1 million copies of Let Them Talk have been sold worldwide, including more than 200,000 in France. This is quite exceptional for a blues album.

We were all really surprised by the success of the album. It’s true that the fact that Hugh Laurie is an extremely popular actor worldwide allowed us to get a lot of attention but it was no guarantee that people would actually buy the album. We were surprised to see how much people liked it, especially in France where blues and jazz are held in high esteem.

How did you envision « Didn’t it rain » after the success of the first album?

My goal for the second album, but it is the case for all my albums, was for it to hold the distance, to be better and deeper than the first. I worked like a casting director, I tried to find the right musicians and then I became more of a stage director.

How did you choose the songs? You were spoilt for choice.

That’s for sure! (He laughs) We spent months with Hugh, no matter where he was, listening to things together and choosing dozens of songs we wanted to cover, extravagantly brutal and beautiful songs. We recorded 12 songs, more than we needed on a possible list of 32. But we couldn’t keep everything. We wanted to create an identity for the record. We wanted a really unique sound.

Was it long to record the album?

For me it was, yes. (He smiles) We recorded the album in only 8 days but most of the records I produce are made in only 4 days as this allows to keep the right energy, to preserve the initial spirit.

How is Hugh Laurie in a recording studio?

He’s a remarkable man, unbelievably humble and a soulful musician. There’s a great sincerity in everything he does. He’s always full of doubt, he was afraid people would resent him for being a famous actor embarking on a musical career. But for him, singing is very similar to acting. Whether it be in the studio or on stage, he proved that he was a great musician and he worked hard for that. He deserves his success.

For the time being, Hugh Laurie confined himself to covering existing songs but can he write his own songs?
I know he writes, I know he’ll make an album with his own songs, maybe the next one. He’s embracing a new career as a musician; music is not just a hobby for him. It is part of his artistic life, it is a part of him. But for the time being, he’s entirely dedicated to paying a tribute to all these great artists who have sometimes been forgotten, Bessie Smith, Professor Longhair. It’s a sort of mission for him. He turned down some very interesting offers to be able to make this album and go on tour.