Last Friday, Adam Green brought the magic of his Aladdin re-imagining to New York City’s Gramercy Theatre. The full-length feature film was released this past summer and it is currently being screened on every stop of Green’s world tour. The show opened with an intimate set by NYC native Frankie Cosmos, formerly of PORCHES. Shortly after, Green performed tunes from the original soundtrack (“Never Lift a Finger”) as well as a wide range of his solo work (“Emily,” “Gemstones”), his most recent collaboration with Binki Shapiro (“Here I Am”), and a much-appreciated cover of “All Star” by iconic early 90’s band Smash Mouth.
I couldn’t have been the only one to sense the magnetic feeling in the air that night, perhaps for reasons beyond explanation. Maybe because only two hours prior to doors opening I was on a plane, getting to the venue right on time and instantly feeling at home, because it’s important to do the things you love while you’re still around to do them. Art is a powerful thing; this is a fact not lost on any of us, much less Green, who reconstructed the world inside of him and invited us in without hesitation.
Senior Editor E.R. and I were able to catch up with Green on the inspiration behind his take on the classic Arabian Nights tale, his songwriting process, and what comes next.
Additional reporting and concert photography by E.R. Pulgar.
ADAM GREEN INTERVIEW
E.R. (HIGHLARK) || Vanessa’s seen you live quite a few times, but it was my first time seeing you, and I was really taken by how you were taking requests and interacting with the audience—then, when we met in person, you seemed kind of shy. What about performing takes you out of your shell?
When I get requests, it’s kind of funny because I think of requests as something people associate a lot with seeing a concert, you know? It’s not something musicians usually still do. I just wanted to bring it back, and I’ve really been enjoying it. I think a quarter of my shows are now requests.
VANESSA (HIGHLARK) || What was it about the mythology of Aladdin that attracted you the most?
When you first read the story, the idea of having unlimited material wealth really sticks out to you. I wanted to repurpose the [Genie’s] lamp in a modern-day way. I’ve been thinking a lot about materialism in this day and age, as well as environmental concerns—limited spaces, limited resources— the whole unlimited, “everything-for-free” desire, and not knowing if we can evolve past that ego-based living. I wanted to shatter the ego of that myth a little bit.
You know, something I really love about the story of Aladdin—I play this up a lot in the movie—is that it’s a love story. I just wanted to show a story about love triumphing material wealth, ultimately, and that’s how I interpreted it. I tried to make it about the “mythological myth” of my own life experience, trying to do the script in a sort of lyrical way, as a writer trying to find a story and evolve. I see it as the landscape of my soul inside, the landscape that I constructed for the movie—a chance for people to see what the world that my music exists in looks like.
VANESSA ||That actually brings me to my next question: there’s a big contradiction in the film. It touches on modern technology, but everything is handmade through paper mâché—what was your intention with that choice?
Well, I did think there was a contrast meant to be shown in a movie about modern technology with cardboard and paper mâché. I think that maybe the idea of the vitality of the human hand and the “unpredictableness” of paper mâché—the building material warps and bends, it’s very inexact. Almost in the same way that people’s personalities are kind of blurry, I wanted to have the world look like how it feels to be a person.
You know, in a way I got started out with being exposed to Dogme 95 films. With those films, the emphasis was on instilling vitality in the movie through all these different rules, and a lot of the rules were based on making the film appear to be real in some sort of unnerving way. So in a way, I think this story is the opposite of that: there’s just as many rules, but the rule is basically nothing in the movie is a real object (everything is drawn, painted, built), so it’s almost an inverse of a Dogme 95 film in that aspect.
No offense, because I love those movies a lot, but even the dialogue; I wanted it to appear like a porn film to English-speakers. I wanted it to exist in another world or dimension. I wanted everything to seem like it was made, not documented.
E.R. ||It absolutely felt like that. Speaking of the things that made up your world, another big part were the actors themselves. You got a lot of interesting people to star (Natasha Lyonne, Macaulay Culkin, Devendra Banhart, etc.). How did this cast come together?
Anyone would want the cast that I got—it’s one of the best indie movie casts ever. Yeah, I don’t know. Everyone did it because they’re my friends; they like me, they like what I’m doing. Everyone knew about it because they saw me develop that world. All the people in the movie I’ve made art with or had art shows with, so they’re all really in on the world I was making.
It was an extension of my friendship with them that they did it. I wasn’t seen as a director with a script trying to do a movie. I’m not really inside the film world at all or know the people in it. I think in a way it is sort of a “musician movie,” because I wrote the script with the same technique as I do with song lyrics. I only really know how to write lyrics, so I twisted it into the lines the characters were saying. It’s almost an excuse to get people to listen to an hour-long song.
VANESSA ||Since you approached writing the script the same way you approach songwriting, would you say it was more of a stream-of-consciousness thing, or was it much more constructed?
Yeah, exactly. Well, I think I always extract little nuggets from them—I have little pieces of paper and cards and stuff lying around my studio. That’s sort of how I write songs anyway. I have lots of things I’ve written down. I look at them and just lay them out on the floor, look at how they could fit together, and it’s almost like a tarot card map of my brain. It’s its own labyrinth, like a memory saying to your mind “I’ve been here before, I was here, I thought that one time.”
The characters in the movie are really extensions of myself: all of them are just different parts of my superego. I almost feel like I have my own platform to work from, and I’m sort of just picking and choosing the “Sultan” lines, the “Princess” lines, the “Aladdin” lines. Some of them are inspired by real life; the wedding vows at the end are actually my wife and I’s real wedding vows.
E.R. ||Did you write the soundtrack before you wrote the script or was it the other way around?
I wrote them at the same time. I had a lyrical pool I was using to write both the movie and the songs – that’s why you’ll notice that there are repeated lines in the film and the songs because I couldn’t figure out where they went. I wanted the character to say this, I wanted to say this too.
Aladdin is kind of a landscape–the lines and lyrics are like monuments for their totems–and I think that you can see what’s on my mind by hearing it, so I didn’t consciously try to connect the music to the movie that literally because I didn’t have to. I just wanted it to be the same mood.
As I was making the movie, I was having everyone wear bellbottoms. I wanted the album to feel like it was a bubblegum psychedelic album made by Aladdin. I wanted it to be like the music in it’s world, this is what Zintendo Records puts out: this is what he is. After my Minor Love album, I did find myself dropped by my old label at one point. I was really writing it from a real life experience.
VANESSA ||On a final note, what’s next for you? I really loved Adam Green & Binki Shapiro; are you two planning on collaborating again?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it. I’d love to make another movie–I’ve been thinking about it, but I want to wait until this tour is over so I can decompress a little bit. I don’t want to oversaturate myself with ideas. I can really get ahead of myself, and you know, I also had a baby, so I really want to make sure I can put a lot of the focus on being a parent. I’ve had to tour all year, so I’m planning on focusing on just being a father next year.
I’d love to write another movie script. I also do a lot of artwork. I’m trying to draw a new world for this new idea I’m excited to work on–sort of like a paper mâché war film. I’m not exactly sure what it’ll be just yet.