To celebrate the release of Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated ‘Elvis’ film and soundtrack releasing tomorrow, the acclaimed director joins Dave Cobb on the latest episode of Southern Accents Radio on Apple Music Country to discuss working together on the film's soundtrack at RCA Studio A in Nashville. They discuss the process of selecting the music for the film, the importance and influence of Black music on Elvis's career, being allowed access into Elvis’s untouched bedroom, Austin Butler’s portrayal of Elvis, recording with Steve Nicks and Chris Isaak, and more.
Baz Luhrmann Tells Apple Music About The Process of Selecting Music For ‘Elvis’ and The Importance and Influence of Black Music on Elvis’s Career...
It's not that I said I must do a biopic. I don't think the film is a biopic, but I've always thought that Elvis... If you want to know America and American music, or American pop culture in the '50s, the '60s and the '70s, Elvis was the good, the bad, and the ugly of it is at the center of that. The other thing I got to say, and you've touched on it, is that you can't explore America in those periods without looking at the issue of race. Elvis, again, is somewhat the good, the bad, and the ugly at the center of those issues.
What I discovered by being in Memphis, the space in Graceland. I live my movies, but what was really blew my mind was when I discovered Sam Bell, who was an African American gent, he’s just passes last year. You know this, Elvis is in one of the few white designated houses for a period of time in the Black community. And Sam, whose probably known Elvis since little kids. There was that young little African American kids, a gang of which Elvis was part of. So they’d go into juke joints and gospel tents. You know it because it’s in the movie. And he loves country music too. And he also loves opera, actually.
There's '50s Elvis, the rebel. There's '60s Elvis, the highest paid actor in the Hollywood bubble. And then there's '70s, Elvis. He is, as a person, the periods you're talking about musically, but also in terms of his symbology. So the process was one of incredible investigation. You know my label is House of Iona with RCA. You know that RCA owns thousands of recordings of Elvis, 900 songs he recorded with hundreds of takes. I mean, going through the archives was mind blowing.
Baz Luhrmann Tells Apple Music About Being Allowed Access To Elvis’s Untouched Bedroom...
Now, I have to be a bit cautious here because I consider it a great privilege, but almost no one's been allowed upstairs into the bedroom of Elvis's and he has a sitting room next to the bedroom. There's a big white organ in it. I had to see it. I mean, the Japanese prime minister came and he couldn't go up there. Understandably. And I really respect this. Lisa Marie protects it because of what occurred up there. But, I did go in and without giving away too much, nothing's been touched. The clothes have been removed, but nothing's been touched. But I noted, because I had to remember everything in 20 minutes, I wasn't allowed to take a camera or anything. I had to remember everything to reproduce it for the set. There was a spiritual book open on a coffee table, sitting next to where the guitar was. And I think his search for spirituality, and that's why he wore all those religious signs around his neck. I just think... That's what I mean when he was spiritual, he didn't particularly prescribe to any religious system so much, as he knew then, there was a higher force on all of us, and he was able to connect to it through music. I just think that's when he felt at peace and outside of that, he felt very, very tortured actually. Searching, always.
Baz Luhrmann and Dave Cobb Tell Apple Music About Austin Butler’s Portrayal of Elvis…
Dave Cobb: Well, I think in the film, you had Austin Butler actually singing the track for this and we recut it. Hearing him sing, he became Elvis. It was unreal how he really worked and he nails every single facet of Elvis.
Baz Luhrmann: He's the young Elvis. We have a lot of the older Elvis, the real Elvis doing older. He does young Elvis. And we have a lot of guest artists, but I mean, he just lived Elvis for three years. He just never broke character, day and night.
Baz Luhrmann and Dave Cobb Tell Apple Music About Recording “Cotton Candy Land” with Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak...
Baz Luhrmann: The whole idea of Stevie [Nicks] and Chris [Isaak], and I just, by the way, there's a kind of Easter egg in there, in that the Colonel's favorite film was Nightmare Alley, recently made by my friend Guillermo del Toro. He loved it. And there's a character called Madame Zeena, and Stevie is the voice of Madame Zeena in our movie.
Dave Cobb: Well, doing that song, cutting that with her vocal. I'll never forget. Listen, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Nicks is one of the best singers ever to walk the planet. And she heard... She'd seen a little clip of the film and she was going to sing the character. And I remember her going, "I know this character, I know this person. I can be this person," and she became a character. So in the film, Stevie Nicks is singing a character.
Baz Luhrmann: There's a young actor called Angie. Angie, a friend of mine, who's representing... There's this character on screen, but it's Stevie's voice. I think we termed it carnival goth. Right? She's kind of got this tiny goth sound that Stevie came up with. I mean, it's her voice. I don't know. There's something just so perfect about it. She's such a great artist too. And Chris [Isaak], kind of like contemporary Elvis, Roy Orbison too. It's a great cut, by the way. I think it's... You and I talked about it, but you really bought that bang, bang flavor to it.
Baz Luhrmann Tells Apple Music About Striving To Make Southern Church Music The “Spine of the Move”…
Dave Cobb: Well, probably the last thing to acknowledge in the film, there's a lot of orchestration with voices in the film. And we had the brilliant Shannon Sanders and Elliot Wheeler who works in your team, just really putting a lot of things together. I think it's going to be a really special thing for people to hear. In my opinion, growing up in the south, you're hearing the Southern church all through this film. It sounds like home.
Baz Luhrmann: Elliott was brilliant. You guys were all great together and Jamison… on supervision. But great team. One thing I wanted to do was to make Southern church music the spine of the movie. You'll hear it right throughout. And because I think it's actually the soul of Elvis. It's his inner thoughts. He was not a particularly verbose person. But when he sang, he spoke.