Joaquin Phoenix Interview – He talks about Quitting Acting to Focus on Music – Part 1

     February 3, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Today was an interesting day. Not only did I get to participate in a roundtable interview with Joaquin Phoenix about his new movie “Two Lovers”, but I got to be apart of the documentary that’s being made about his transition to music. The reason….the entire interview was filmed by Casey Affleck – the director of the documentary.

In case you didn’t know, Joaquin Phoenix has apparently quit acting and is trying to become a rapper. While the entire venture is still coming together and Joaquin is still writing and producing his first album, he seemed very serious about making this music thing work. And even though he says he’s finished with acting, after speaking with him today, I’m still unsure if this new career is real, or if it’s just another part in a long line of movies.

But I do think he’s really trying to make an album. The big question is…will it be any good.

Anyway, since the interview went on for over thirty minutes, I’ve decided to post the first half tonight and the second half tomorrow night. That way you don’t have to read eight pages of transcript at once. Some of the highlights are Joaquin telling us that Diddy might be producing the album (or part of it), he tells us some of the song titles, and he says he’d like the album to be his version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the interview by clicking here. This is one of those I suggest listening to….

Question: So is this the last time we’re gonna see you like this? In this setting? How does it feel?

Joaquin Phoenix: Great, yeah, it ain’t nothing personal. No, but honestly today I was getting dressed for hours, prepping, and I was just really satisfied that I wasn’t gonna have to do this again.

But James was saying that you actually were talking to hima little bit towards the end of making this film about kind of being a little bit burned out on that and you weren’t sure of what you wanted to do next. And so I mean did it kind of start while you were making this film or had you thought about changing?

Joaquin: Well, I think that you know, I threatened myself with quitting after every movie. But I think everybody does that, right? And I mean it’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time and I’ve been working on my music and doing all sorts of different kinds of music and stuff and I don’t know…In some ways I kind of felt like I needed to make a statement really for myself in terms of like quitting, in some ways I kind of regret, I didn’t realize it was going to be such a big deal. I thought nobody would give a fuck to be to be frank. And I was pretty surprised. I guess no one does except for maybe like a couple people that are blogging or whatever. But but I felt that I had to do it, I had to do like something extreme to get out of it because it’s like really hard for me to go into music ’cause the first thing anyone like says is “Johnny Cash”, so I really had to do something extreme to get away from that.

You’ve done a few shows now, how do you feel the hip hop career is going so far?

Joaquin: Uh, terrible. No, it’s kind of weird. I haven’t done a bunch of shows, I did like a lot of free styling around the studio I’ve gone to, like little small places and I guess some people there filmed it and shit and put it out there,which was really nerve wracking ’cause there’s literally people there like heckling you and saying “Johnny Cash” and saying this stuff, so it was really difficult. I got really nervous. But the show in Vegas—I just don’t think you could tell on the on the video that’s out there—but I think it was a lot better than people than peoplethink or what’s been said because of how it appears in the video in that quality and stuff. But it’s still quite a process like mic control and stuff, and I have to say I’m not really, I’m not really there yet. I realized that stuff ’cause I’ve watched footage that we shot and I realized all the times when I had the mic away from my mouth, that I didn’t realize, and that was probably from “Walk the Line” where I was doing the play back and shit so you could get away from the mic; it didn’t matter. But I just figure: put yourself out there and crash, and then you rebuild yourself and you find your way into it. I didn’t really want to with—I found out like all these dudes, all these hip-hop dudes work with like vocal coaches, they do training, they do the whole thing, and I never knew that. And I didn’t want to do that; I didn’t want to just start out and hire a producer and get someone to write stuff for me and do all that. I really wanted to do it myself and feel what it was like and if I didn’t have I guess some celebrity (or whatever that it is that I have) I think that, it wouldn’t matter and then people wouldn’t really be aware of me but just the first thing I do gets thrust into the spotlight, and I knew that, but I just said fuck it.

You talk about wanting to do something different than the Johnny Cash-thing. Was hip-hop something you grew up with? I think you did some break dancing in the movie.

Joaquin: Break dancing—that’s actually James [Gray, director] (Not). Actually the thing is I don’t think there’s many people my age that didn’t grow up listening to hip-hop. It kind of was like, when I was fifteen, sixteen—that was it for me. I loved hip-hop. The first stuff I heard was Public Enemy, and I couldn’t believe it. It was amazing, and I’ve always loved hip-hop.

So for you is it the old school stuff or do you like stuff now like Kanye?

Joaquin: I’m not that familiar with some new stuff. I couldn’t believe some of the difference. You know what’s amazing also is the mastering that they do know, I was listening to B.I.G’s “Juicy” and I remember when it chewed up and it seemed like that was the most crisp pop sound when it came out. Part of that like Black Moon and cats like that—it was a real kind of like underground-New York-gritty-Wu-Tang-kind of sound, and then there came like this really pop sound, and then I put on like TI and Young Jeezy and shit, and then I went back to “Juicy”. I couldn’t believe the difference. It’s unbelievable the production now. It’s overproduced absolutely.

You talk about crashing into this hip-hop career. In one of these YouTube videos we see you take quite a spill off the stage. What happened there?

Joaquin: I didn’t fucking—what happened is first of all, it’s not a stage, it’s about this wide, you’re up on this little platform, there’s fucking lights everywhere right, in your eyes, flashing at you like that, and everything is dark, and I literally just went to step off the thing and misjudged and slipped down, I wasn’t fucked up and fell down, I jumped down and I literally jumped back up without harm and said I’m fine. But, it was honestly, I was so nervous that it’s all kind of a blur. I don’t feel like I really was aware of what was happening until it was like half-way through the second song.

You are a very private person but you’re being followed by a camera crew. Why did you agree to let this happen and be so public with everything?

Joaquin: Well, we don’t necessarily know it’s gonna be public. I mean, I’m just doing something for myself, I mean, that’s my friend for fuck sake, so it’s not like I hired this professional doc crew to do what I’m doing—a documentary of myself as you point out.

What would you say to the people that are saying this is bogus?

Joaquin: I would say to the people, whoever said that it’s a hoax, is clearly somebody who is an old friend, or somebody that I worked with on music. I’ve worked with a lot of people on music and often times those things don’t work out. Sometimes you have some bad blood between people and that’s all that I imagine where it comes from, and that’s all that I know it is, but part of me, I realize that part of it might seem ridiculous to other people, but I can’t concern myself with that. I’m not gonna be worried about what people think that my life is and what people think has never affected my decisions in anything I’ve done and I’m not gonna let that start now.

Why have you decided acting is not for you? Doesn’t rapping make you more vulnerable because you are by yourself?

Joaquin: I don’t care but my dissatisfaction with acting has nothing to do with being uncomfortable or vulnerable or feeling like people are gonna criticize me. That’s not that’s not the problem.

What is the problem?

Joaquin: I don’t think this is a problem. I just I don’t feel challenged by acting anymore. I don’t enjoy the process anymore. I’ve enjoyed it very much at times, I’m very thankful for the people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I’ve had a good life, its been amazing, I’m not complaining, its not like acting just ruined me so I just have to leave—it’s not that. I’m just done with it.

“Two Lovers” is quite a good performance to end on, are you able to see that about yourself?

Joaquin: I don’t know. I won’t see it. But it certainly, it certainly wasn’t a plan, it certainly wasn’t like “Oh well, let’s go out on this one.” Though when I was doing the plans in San Francisco, I saw Danny DeVito’s stand-in and I told the dude I was retiring, and he was like “This is your last thing?” and I said “Yeah,” and he said “Don’t go out on this,” It was the first time I thought about that. It hadn’t even occurred to me. And then Terry George called me and said “You couldn’t retire after Reservation Road? We might have been able to sell more tickets!”

There is a rumor that Diddy is producing your album, any truth to that

Joaquin: I don’t know how much I can say. I’ll just say that we are going to work together shortly. As to whether that will be a complete album or not, I don’t know, but I’m doing a lot of the music and production. I love doing the music, I love programming beats and kind of working on the music, as much if not more, than the actual rapping. I mean, I hate fucking saying “rapping,” It just sounds ridiculous. I wish there was another fucking word for it, for what I do, because I don’t think of myself as a rapper, but I do enjoy the writing process, like I enjoy writing rhymes and sitting alone listening to beats doing it, its pretty amazing. I guess you enjoy doing it as well.

Can you give us a sneak into any of your rhymes?

Joaquin: You know, I’ve thought about that coming in—no no no and then they are gonna write it down and split it into pieces.

How would you describe your sound?

Joaquin: Um, under construction? Um, it’s a sound. I don’t know. Ultimately the record is not going to be a rap record. I mean its hip-hop, there’s like rap in it, but there’s singing. What I wanna do, (Ugh, I sound like such a fucking dick), but what I wanna do is make The Wall, you know?

You want to do the hip-hop Floyd.

No, it’s hard, because I’m an actor so I’m theatrical so I want things to be great. I’m not “What am I gonna do? I’m gonna do a hardcore song!” No, it’s gonna be something big. I have one track right now that’s five minutes that I’m trying to make seven. It might just be seven minutes of pure misery but hopefully it’s seven minutes.

What is the message behind your album?

Joaquin: I don’t have a message.

When will your album be released to the public?

Joaquin: I don’t know. I have ten songs now and three of them I think are really good and the others I think are pretty crap but I’ll work on them and I don’t know. I don’t really feel this pressure to get it out and I think that also things are different now, like you don’t have to necessarily release a record. You have a website, you sell, you do a couple singles, you do an EP, then let it grow. So I’m not really sure. I’ve gone back and forth between going “I want to make a double record”, “I’m just gonna do an EP to start with.” So I’m just amassing songs and I think you just kind of boil it down to the best, what you think is the best.

Could you tell us the names of the three songs you like?

Joaquin: One is called “Can I Get a Refund?,” one is called “If You’re Going to San Francisco,” and one is called “Daddy Dum Dum?”

Are there people you want to collaborate with?

Joaquin: I want, you know that actor…um, he is an amazing cellist, I’ve know him for years, and he’s played uh a couple things on some older stuff—I’d like to work with him some more. I’d love to get Flea. Flea did the bass for Young MC just way back in the day so that would be kind of genius to get Flea. I saw Meth recently at House of Blues perform with Redman, so he said he wanted to come in and do a verse and we’ll see. Also Diddy knows a lot of great people and stuff, so we’ll see. I mean who I would really, who I’d really love to fuckin’ produce a track is, my dream, my dream would be to have DJ Premiere produce a track, and have Chuck D do it, but Chuck D never would do it.

To read part two, click here

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