Margaret Cho Talks New Album, Working With Jon Brion and Andrew Bird
Margaret Cho didn’t really pick up a guitar and start playing music until about a year and a half ago, when she decided it would be a good idea to record an album. She was inspired by friend and collaborator Jon Brion’s shows in Los Angeles, which she attended with regularity, but aside from what had to be a genetic predisposition to music (both her parents play instruments) and a friendly acquaintance with musical practice and the six strings of a guitar, Cho didn’t really know what she was doing.
“I couldn’t do it on my own unless I had these great musicians to help me,” she says of striking the balance between her own funniness and a listenable musicality.
The album, Cho Dependent (previously titled Banjovi and Guitarded, but it didn’t have enough banjo and she didn’t want it to reflect on her musical ability), is dropping next week through a self-release, which is how Cho has released stand-up DVDs and other merchandise in the past. It was a collaborative effort with an impressive list of contributing talent including Jon Brion, Andrew Bird, A.C. Newman, Ani DiFranco and Tegan and Sara.
It’s a venture into new territory for the comedienne, who has conquered myriad disciplines previously: comedy, acting, stage musicals, book writing, fashion designing. She’s known for her vulgarity, her support of social issues and an impression of her Korean mother, but to hear her tell it, the leap from writing for the stage to writing a song wasn’t a large one. “The fewer words the better, which is the truth in stand-up comedy and also the truth in songwriting, you know, the more concise that you can be the brevity is so important,” Cho says. “The soul of what you’re trying to do is keeping it quick, a statement that has a bite. It’s a challenging thing, and also to make it funny adds another layer of challenge to it.”
But while the songs on Cho Dependent are funny, from the poppy “Intervention” to the alt-country murder ballad about loving someone so much that you feel the need to kill him and hide him in your attic (“I’m Sorry”), the talent involved and Cho’s desire to produce something musically sound resulted in an album that is listenable too. “My favorite songwriters often have humor throughout, people like Bob Dylan and Morrissey, their writing is really funny too. I think it’s underneath the musicality of it,” Cho says. “I wanted it to have both, and I think there are songs that are strictly pretty silly, I mean songs like ‘My Puss’ or ‘Your Dick,’ the fact that they’re so lavishly produced, that’s ridiculous also.”
An admitted music nerd, whose current musical rotation is a line-up of Canadian super-groups including the New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene, for Cho, working with impressive talent, whether they were friends before the album or signed on when she contacted them about it, was like taking a master class in playing music.
Her current tour showcases the result of the last year and a half. Peppered throughout what will mostly be a stand-up routine, Cho plans to pull out her guitar and sing a few songs live. To maintain the integrity of the other artists’ work, she plans to use backing tracks or have artists join her on special dates.
Cho also has several unreleased songs, not to mention a bevy of Liam Sullivan-directed (he of “Shoes” fame) music videos. All of which is to say, we may get to see more surprising cameos like a corpsified Andrew Bird, and that’s just fine by us.