|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS DONOVAN LEiTCH
THE ROOT OF iT ALLIt was a bit difficult to pin DONOVAN LEITCH down for an interview but with his musical THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM just days away from itís premiere at the LARGO AT THE CORONET THEATRE in Los Angeles (Saturday, June 6th at 8PM), it is easy to understand that things may be a little hectic. LEITCH Ė the lead singer of the all-star cover band CAMP FREDDY and the son of the shirtless, sixties troubadour DONOVAN Ė had blended his respective passions for Glam Rock, literature and theater into an intriguing rock musical detailing the life of a frock star named MISTER E Ė the fictional son of the tormented poet VIRGINIA WOOLF. Serving as the musical background for MISTER Eís descent into madness are the exotic sounds of THE FISHTANK ENSEMBLE and direction by KEN ROHT. For LEITCH Ė who also starred in an Off-Broadway production of HEDWIG Ė the staging of THE DREAM is a personal journey for him as well. ďFor me, the connection really was growing up being the son of a musician who I wasnít raised withĒ says LEITCH ď[I was] trying to understand who my dad was so I kind of listened to music and sort of imagined what a relationship would be like. That is kind of how the connection between MISTER E, VIRGINIA WOOLF, and myself and my dad started to unfold.Ē
DONOVAN LEiTCH TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS MUSiCAL THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM
WORKiNG WiTH THE FiSHTANK ENSEMBLE
AND FEELiNG EXPOSED ON STAGE
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with DONOVAN LEITCH over the phone. Here is how it went.
THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM is just a few days away from being in front of an audience. Whatís all going through your head?
Just raw nerves! (Laughs) No, Iím just really excited. Itís a showcase. Itís a workshop. This will be the first time that this work will be up there in front of an audience but it has been something that Iíve been working on for a couple of years now. I feel pretty confident about the music and I think that the story is a really a great story too. It takes a little while to kind of get peoples heads around it but itís not a straight-forward deal.
You say that the play is being workshopped. What all does that mean? Limited sets?
When I first wrote it with LANNY, we had sort of elaborate staging and costumes in mind and I think what I usually do Ė because Iíve done some theater pieces before Ė is you kind of go ďThat is where Iím trying to get to! Now, Letís just pull back and do the bare bones.Ē Weíve stripped a lot of it away. I donít know if youíve ever been to the LARGO AT THE CORONET. Itís really an amazing theater in L.A. Its 280 seats and it just feels like an old throw-back, Vaudevillean-type of space. Itís just really unique. There is not another place like it in Los Angeles. That is pretty much the set for us. A workshop means that we are going to begin and then when we do some performances at the coronet Ė we are going to be performing as resident artists Ė then what Iím hoping weíll do is take it to the next level and take it to a theater space where we can actually do sets and costumes. That is the workshop element right now.
How was the seed planted for this play and the music and everything. How did all of that begin?
Iím in this band called CAMP FREDDY, which is an all-star cover band. MATT SORUM (VELVET REVOLVER) is the drummer. MATT is from Orange County and his good friend LANNY CORDOLA, whom he had grown up with had seen me perform a few times and he wanted to get together with me and wanted to write a SCOTT WALKER record. That was the original inspiration. SCOTT WALKER was this American that moved to Britain and did these sort of bombastic big brass-sounding , theatrical kind of sound. We started going in that route and as we would sit down in the afternoon and chat, LANNY would bring over NIETZCHE and EDGAR ALLEN POE novels and OSCAR WILDE and we were sort of delving into these deep esoteric writers and we came up with this idea for THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM which is about this character MISTER E, who is the tormented fictional son of the poet VIRGINIA WOOLF. The idea is that this great writer dies at a very early age and leaves him. As a young child, he is very guilt-ridden over her death because as a child you would think that somehow it was your fault. He ends up being raised by this band of nomadic gypsies and in order to better understand who is mother was, he studies all of the great tortured and tormented artists and he grows to be this megalomaniac rock star. For me, the connection really was growing up being the son of a musician who I wasnít raised with and me trying to understand who my dad was so I kind of listened to music and sort of imagined what a relationship would be like. That is kind of how the connection between MISTER E, VIRGINIA WOOLF, and myself and my dad started to unfold. We decided pretty much early on that the music needed to pretty much have some kind of a gypsy quality to it. LANNY had written most of the songs and a friend of mine turned me on to this Gypsy group called THE FISHTANK ENSEMBLE and when I heard them, I thought they were perfect. Itís a six-piece band. They have a musical saw, trombone, stand up bass, violin, and accordion so they became the sound of MISTER E. We pretty much wrote the story around the music and no the other way around.
Describe working with LANNY in terms of the songwriting? What was that like?
It was great because LANNY is a really talented guy and I sort of felt like I was really out of my element in a way because my musical choices are very specific. I grew up listening to T-REX, DAVID BOWIE, and THE BEATLES and the WHO. I grew up with these sort of classic rock musicians and LANNY was introducing me to a lot of really far out sounds and the MYSTERY VOICES OF BULGARIA and LEONARD COHEN and music that I had never really tapped into. He really opened another avenue of music for me and it was exciting. I felt like I was out of my zone but I want to go with this. I never thought that I would be performing with a bunch of gypsy musicians and LANNY has pushed me in that direction. So, It has been a good experience.
What is you attraction to the stage? You were in HEDWIG and youíve done a few other projects on stage. Why that medium?
For me, I really love the process of theater. Iíve done movies and television and everything is very fragmented and broken up. When You are shooting a movie, you are shooting a scene and the first scene you are shooting might be the last scene in the movie. The thing about theater is that itís a real process. You are working on the beats of the script and blocking and choreography. Itís a very complete process and once you are ready to put it up on stage, you just get an instant reaction. When you are on stage you feel completely naked and completely exposed. In a way Ė for me Ė itís a very freeing experience. Itís something where I feel like I can open up emotionally. I just feel like itís the worst thing in the world and the best thing in the world. Itís a cathartic experience for me. I learned a lot during HEDWIG and the material in THE DARK ROOT is very personal. I just like the process. As a musician, I almost prefer doing musicals to doing rocks shows.
Describe working with director KEN ROHT.
KEN is amazing. He is a choreographer and a director. I worked with him as a choreographer before but not as a director. He is immensely talented. Like today for instance, We just spent couple of hours going over the emotional beats because he really is able to pull this whole thing apart and go Ďlook, youíve got to give these little moments space.í If you just kind of read the lines and rush over these important transitional moments, then the audience isnít going to feel it. You have to come from a very human, emotional level. Itís not about how great the writing is or how great the blocking is. Itís about how much you believe in what you are saying. He is a gentle director. He doesnít scream and yell and say Ďdo thisí and Ďdo thatí. He knows how to really open up dialogue in a scene and I just think that he is immensely talented and I think heís going to be a realy big director. He does a show in LA called the 99 CENT ONLY SHOW where every single prop used in the show comes out of a ninety-nine cent store.
In a lot of musical theater pieces, there are moments. The musical CATS has MEMORIES and LES MISERABLES has THE DREAM I HAVE DREAMED (FANTINEíS SONG). What do you think are the moments in THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM?
There is always a song that kind of pops out and for us we have two. One is called SINISTER FUN. In that song MISTER E decides that he is going to end his own life because heís lost his mother, heís lost his lover and heís lost his mind and he feels that his only way out is to just end it all. He sings this song called SINISTER FUN where he says Ďbefore I go, letís party!í Iím actually getting pushed around stage in a bathtub and itís this very ceremonial, ritualistic kind of thing but the song has this upbeat vibe to it. It kind of reminds me of a song that would be sung in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Itís got a very lively, upbeat feel to it, but the material is very dark. I kind of like the dichotomy in that song. There is another great song called HARLOTíS HOUSE that is actually an OSCAR WILDE poem of the same name. We took the poem and set it to music and its; also a really fast and frenetic gypsy. These are the two songs that really stick out and that people have latched onto.
Talk a little more about this FISHTANK ENSEMBLE that will be providing the music for this performance.
The FISHTANK ENSEMBLE are a husband and wife that are the leaders of the group His name is FABRICE and her name is URSULA. FABRICE is French and URSULA is American. She plays the musical saw and he plays the violin and they live the gypsy life. Theyíve got a gypsy caravan parked right in front of their house in L.A. They are constantly on the road and all they do is play music and Iím just really lucky to have them. I canít believe that I scored such great musicians and every time I get nervous about the show, I just go ĎIíve got THE FISHTANK ENSEMBLE with me so itís all going to be okay!í.
You were with this work from the beginning. How do you feel that things have come along from paper and song ideas to having it staged before an audience?
Iím not sure. I think itís going to be well-received but sometimes because the material is so out there, that either people will think itís brilliant or they are just going to think that Iím completely out of my mind but that is probably a good place to be.
Iíve got an idea of how music began for you but I think it is best to simply come out and ask you. How did it begin?
I really didnít embrace being a musician until I was older. Even in my early twenties I had never thought about being in a band or anything but then I was listening to HUNKY DORY by DAVID BOWIE and that whole album just did it for me. After listening to that album, I figured that I wanted to be a musician too. In the beginning I think I wanted to rebel against want my dad did. My dad wasnít an accountant or anything but I did think that it was a little too much to want to follow in my fatherís footsteps and beings a musician. My father is very supportive of what I am doing. If I wanted to be a top forty kind of guy, I wouldnít be doing gypsy glam musicals. Iím just following the music and following the sound wherever it leads. For me, itís just about tapping into the music and that is kind of what this show is about.
So the lineage is merely coincidental.
I wasnít primed to be a musician. I didnít have JOSEPH JACKSON that was cracking the whip six hours a day going ĎYouíre going to be in the JACKSON FIVE or Iíll beat you down!í. Music was something that I stumbled upon in my own time.
What would you like an audience member to come away with after they saw this production?
I want them to not necessarily get it but Iíd like for them to have the whole experience stuck in their head and go Ď I saw this show and I donít quite know what it all really meant but Iím just gonna think about it for a while.í Itís called THE DARK ROOT OF THE DREAM for a specific reason. All of these emotional issues that MISTER E is going through are very deeply rooted in his psyche and I feel that it is a universal feeling that we all have Ė the connection to out parents and what was psychically imprinted on us when we were very young. MISTER E has this signature. Heís got this emotional DNA that he has grown up with and itís kind of fucked with him a bit and heís got to find himself. The musical is about a journey of finding your true self and your true voice. Weíre all trying to find our voice but we all make mistakes. Great things happen and terrible things happen but the thing is you have to embrace all of it. He has to embrace the fact that his mother committed suicide and embrace that he is a rock star. When these feeling stop running and you and you learn to run them, then life becomes a lot more bearable.
Did your DNA ever fuck with you?
DNA fucks with everyone a little bit. Weíre born into circumstance and situations and it takes the first half of your life to sort of come to and go ĎWow! Why do I keep repeating that pattern over and over again? Why do I keep choosing this person to date and why do I keep taking this job or taking this drug?í I think it takes a long time to sort through the DNA and find a little breathing space. I was reading MOBY DICK when we were writing this and I was thinking about being in the belly of the whale and all and that is kind of where MISTER E is. All around him is certain death and yet heís got this one flicker of light. No matter how much the odds are stacked against you, youíve always got that flicker of hope.
SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2009
LARGO AT THE CORONET THEATRE
366 N.LA CIENEGA BLVD
LOS ANGELES, CA 90048
TICKET PRICE: $25.00