Los Angeles is a transient town. More so than other major urban areas due to the fact that it hosts the entertainment industry – or just “the industry” as those of us in “the industry” call it. Hollywood and a shot at fame and fortune lure most folks out here. Then “the industry” chews up most and spits ’em out unceremoniously like chewing tobacco at a rodeo. Consequently, what I’ve come to embrace and relish more than anything else from my 23 plus years in Tinseltown is the lasting relationships I have with some of the survivors of the attrition guillotine.
Molly Bryant left the northern Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois and moved to Los Angeles in 1985 to attend UCLA. I came to Hollywood in ’87, and after a few years of sitcoms and tv commercial work found myself fortunate enough to be invited to work with the prestigious Actor’s Gang, a troupe made up of mostly UCLA theatre grads (including Molly) with considerable celebrity status in the L.A. theatre scene. It was in the 1995 Actor’s Gang production of Asylum where we met. My lasting memory of that bittersweet Judy Garland inspired satire (written by Mitch Watson) is that of Molly’s character making her final entrance, doing her nurse’s rounds in the mental ward to the sweet piano intro and opening lyric of Chicago’s “Color My World.”
“As time goes on, I realize – just what you mean – to me.”
So, no surprise then that it is music that brings us together this many years later. Molly and I sat down at a crowded Hollywood corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and talked about her wonderfully melodic new album Be Brave.
LB: Here we are, Molly. You are the first exclusive Lars Beckerman interview. So…hey, Molly.
MB: Hey Lars.
LB: Let’s talk about the title of your new album.
MB: Yeah. Be Brave.
LB: Love the title. And as an actor myself, I get it. Right before the first track we hear you say softly “We can do this.”
MB: Yeah. I didn’t know if we should leave that it in there, but…it’s just such a great message. The title for the album is from a poem I wrote: “Be brave, be strong, sing the special song, while you have the breath to breathe in and out.” As artists we all have to be brave to put it out there. You know when you’re acting and up on stage, I used to get really nervous and start shaking. But when you sing you can’t fake it.
LB: My introduction to you as an artist was as an actor, when did you transition to singing?
MB: Singing came first, actually. I used to sing in church as a kid, in the choir, so singing was first in my life.
LB: Who did you listen to?
MB: Oh, God. Olivia Newton John, The Carpenters, the Beach Boys – Barry Manilow! You know, when you’re a kid you’re subjected to whatever your parents are listening to, so…my dad just loved George Carlin. He would sit there and cackle. I would just put my ears to the speakers and listen to Karen Carpenter. It was like crack.
LB: I love the way Be Brave opens, the song “Careful” is very sweet and really pulls the listener in. With all the downloads and itunes and YouTubing of music, are kids today, or music consumers in general today, missing out on something by not hearing the entire album and how the artist sequentially assembles the songs?
MB: Oh yeah, I think so, don’t you? I used to love having the album to hold, and the lyric sheets and the artwork to stare at while I listened to the songs. And oh my God, if there were liner notes, even more groovy! But I’m guilty of it too. I want things faster faster faster.
LB: I guess we’re all guilty then. You write all of your own songs. You have a song on this record titled “Inspiration.” There’s a line about “…inspiration nobody knows where it comes from, you just pray that it come.”
LB: Where do your find most of your inspiration, is there a method, do you have a place you go to tap in to it?
MB: No, not really. You just don’t know where it’s gonna come from. I had months and months where I just stared at the guitar. But, really, on a good day I just let my imagination go. I can be any character, any thing. But a lot of times, like anything else, it’s just about, you know, showing up. Even when nothing’s happening, cuz most times nothing is happening. Or there’s a lot of white noise going on. But you know, you just hang in there cuz you just don’t know when it comes – you just pray that it comes. But like any other writer, I write about what I know. So while I may write a totally imaginary love song, other times I write exactly what is on my mind at that moment.
LB: But a song like “Moon in the Morning Sky” is obviously inspired by ‘Luke Skywalker.’ I noticed a lot of elements of the classic hero’s journey in your lyrics. Are you a Joseph Campbell fan?
MB: Yes! Bob (Molly’s husband, R.A.White) turned me on to him years ago. Bill Moyers did a series of interviews with Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) and we watched them over and over on VHS in our little teeny hut – when we were first falling in love – our little bungalow off of Melrose. Such great memories. I think we are all wondering “Why the hell are we here?” and “Am I the hero of my own story?” Who doesn’t love the journey of ‘Luke’? Finding your ‘Obi Wan’ – come on, aren’t we all looking for our ‘Obi Wan’?
LB: You mentioned your husband, Bob. Did you two meet at UCLA?
MB: No, we actually met through Jack Black. The famous Jack Black. Jack was at UCLA the same time I was – in the theatre department. Whole bunch of us – JR (Jason Reed), Michael Rivkin, Ria Pavia. Bob went to UCLA too but we didn’t know each other, he’s a little older than me (she laughs). But Bob and Jack were best buds. Bob actually taught Jack technical theatre at Crossroads (elite private high school in Santa Monica). So Jack invited Bob to come see “World Of Wrestling” at Royce Hall (UCLA) – that’s how I met Bob, dressed up as this crazy wrestling character. He was kind of in awe, all freaked out that I played these two different characters. Now 17 years married.
Molly and I both suddenly make mention of a strange energy permeating the bustling corner we’ve chosen for our chat. It’s one of those unavoidable urban corners that has been totally engulfed by corporate consumer chain entities (Starbucks, Supercuts, T-Mobile, AT&T, Panda Express, Payless Shoes, Target). But like so many parts of Los Angeles, the spit shine doesn’t erase the local flavor, and as in most parts of Hollywood there is no shortage of desperate wanderers bumping around, mumbling to themselves.
Which leads me to my next question.
LB: Tell me about your fascination with Crispin Glover? In your song “Crispin Glover” you refer to “A Crispin Glover kind of day.” Explain.
MB: Oh, yeah. Crispin Glover.
LB: Don’t get me wrong. I love Crispin Glover too. But you wrote a song.
MB: A “Crispin Glover kind of day” means it’s usually a quirky kind of day, and it’s funny because we just seem to be on the same grid (lyric from “Crispin Glover” – “He’s crossing my path, as we drive our cars, in the city like math, it’s an equation I’m trying to figure out. A glitch in the Matrix.”) – I see him all over town, in his fancy maroon Checker (defunct 1960s American car, Checker Superba). And you know what’s amazing is that the day before I debuted that song at Highland Grounds (Hollywood music venue) I was at a roller skating party of John Reilly’s (as in John C.) and suddenly Crispin showed up – everybody was in roller skates that they rented, and he’s like wearing this suit and he has his roller blades and he’s skating around really fast, being so weird, not talking to anybody – just totally random – it was the universe trying to tell me something. So, I don’t know what it is but I just seem destined to cross his path forever. I love him. I know he’s so weird, but I just think he’s amazing. So I had to write him a song.
LB: I’m gonna be on the lookout for that maroon Checker (she laughs). You have a song called “Trapped.” It really speaks to the here and now, where we are with technology, the internet being so omnipresent. Here I am interviewing you for a blog and you’re promoting your music on Facebook, so we’re both very much integrated, I guess there’s no point in resisting it, right?
MB: Like the song says, “Take my photograph” – I can’t help it – I find myself just sitting inside all day, when I could be going for a walk or out enjoying the day. It’s insane.
LB: It is insane. All of the “free” media that is available to us through the internet, especially social networks like Facebook – for promotional purposes it has a massive upside.
MB: With Facebook I had to go through kind of a withdrawal because I went a little crazy with it for a while. But now I’m like “Hell yeah!” I’m gonna use it to promote the shit out of my music. Right? I love finding out about other people’s stuff on there. Somebody in Japan can listen to my album – immediately – that’s amazing to me.
Unlike so many Angelinos who are not natives – which is most of us – Molly and I share a love for the Los Angeles Lakers. She could very easily be a Chicago Bulls fan, like most Windy City transplants, but she bleeds purple & gold. Molly’s first album, Take It Easy (2003), featured a song declaring her ‘love’ for superstar Laker forward Kobe Bryant – putting herself out on the front line for scrutiny with Kobe being one of those “you either love him or hate him” athletes. Molly was unapologetic in her confession that she flat-out loved “the Kobes.” But then Eagle Rock landed on Laker Nation (2003), and we were all put in the uncomfortable position of defending our guy in a classic “he said-she said” infidelity dilemma. This many years later, whatever happened in that hotel room in Colorado is still a mystery, but Molly wasn’t about to let her hero off the hook.
LB: Let’s talk about Kobe Bryant, shall we? A lyric from your new Kobe song, “Ode To Kobes,” or your Kobe sequel if you will, points to “Too much pressure, too much privilege, too much available to take.” Why did you feel the need to revisit the topic?
MB: I had just written the first ‘Kobe’ song and everybody was really jazzed about it. I loved that song too. I just said I’m gonna sit down and write about Kobe. People loved it cuz I was just talkin’ shit about what I really felt. The white black thing. It almost wrote itself. It was a miracle. But the rape incident happened not long after that song – and it was like, shit – I had to have a response to it. My first Kobe song was a triumphant song – and now everybody, my friends especially, were all over me saying “How dare you” – like I was defending a rapist – so I wrote “Ode to Kobes” to, I guess, discuss it with myself – I was defending him in some respects – cuz we don’t know what happened. And I guess even if it did happen, I forgive him. I had to address it.
LB: We do have to separate the art from the artist.
MB: We put these people on pedestals. Everybody saying “yes” to them all the time. It must be creepy as shit. The money people, the agents. It must be so hard.
LB: You mentioned your relationship with Jack Black. His band, Tenacious D, has been instrumental in your career. Tell me about that influence.
MB: We used to all write songs together. Me, Bob, Jack, Kyle Gass, Michael Rivkin – and I think Tenacious D has been an inspiration to me because of, you know, the way they could just tell a weird ass story. I remember when they first came on the scene and people just ate them up with a spoon. Very theatrical.
LB: My favorite song on Be Brave is “Sock It To Me.” Such a great tune, love the harmonica on it. What’s your favorite song on the album?
MB: I have to say, I am so in love with “Can I Kiss You Tonight?” That solo that John Spiker does on the guitar. I love that it’s rockin’ – it’s just a rockin’ song. And that’s Jason Keene on the harmonica in “Sock It To Me.” He’s great, an old buddy of Kyle Gass’ (Tenacious D). And that chord progression is one that Kyle taught me. Really proud of that song.
LB: John Spiker was big on this album.
MB: My producer – the reason why this is so awesome. Met him through Kyle Gass when Kyle was on tour with Trainwreck (part of the Tenacious D family). Talk about being brave. Such a lesson of life – Bob and I were poor as shit, we had some nest egg money that we weren’t gonna touch, and we were thinking about making a video, but then Bob said “why don’t we take that money and make another album.” I was scared as hell! And I thought, oh my God, I wanna get John Spiker before he’s like the biggest thing going in music – he was working with the Dust Brothers, Steve Earle, The Beastie Boys – not yet as a producer, but it was so obvious to us that he was gonna blow up. So I was kind of afraid but I asked him and he said “Yes!” He is the reason this album sounds so great to your ears. He always bows back humbly, and says it’s the songs, but he is the reason. It was just a good marriage. I call him “The Maestro.” And he told me it was the best experience he’s had making an album. And the most fun. And to think I was afraid to ask him.
LB: Nice. So what’s next?
MB: I’d like to travel around and sing. We don’t have kids. Bob’s a writer, so… ya know, he can bring his laptop.
LB: Sounds brave.
MB: This is saving my life in this town. Acting I don’t have any control over. But I can play songs whenever I want. It’s keeping the artist inside me alive.
LB: Thanks, Molly. This has been great getting caught up.
MB: Thank you, Lars.