The music producer known as Danger Mouse has come a long way since his 2004 breakout project, “The Grey Album” — a mashup of The Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album.”
His career so far has earned him six Grammy awards, collaborations with artists including Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, and producing credits for The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Adele.
Lately, he formed 30th Century Records, an imprint label of Columbia Records. He’s also been tasked with producing an accompanying soundtrack for Amazon’s dystopian World War II series, “The Man In The High Castle.”
With covers by artists including Beck, James Mercer and Sharon Van Etten, "Resistance Radio” is an imaginary playlist made up of pre-1962 popular music that matches the bleak mood of the show.
When Danger Mouse visited The Frame studios recently, he started by explaining when and how he got his name.
On choosing the name Danger Mouse:
It was just a thing in college — a DJ name. People used to take cartoons and weird names for DJ names. I never thought it would stick. But then when I put out my first album, it was either do characters or do myself on the artwork, and I didn't want to do that so I just stayed with the cartoon thing.
On founding 30th Century Records:
It was a way for me to start listening to and hearing younger bands and music. I thought if nobody's putting out their records, I could put out their records in the meantime and eventually work with some of them. Eventually I would like it to be a big place for people to come put records out. A lot of times when you put out an album, you're asked to do a lot of things you don't want to do. I'm usually really good at saying no, even though I still wind up doing things I don't want to do sometimes. There's kind of a myth that you have to have big hit songs to maintain or to have a career. But I think there are ways of doing things as long as you have the right expectation and you work really hard. You can do the music you want to do, it's just more difficult. I just wanted to show some bands and some people who are making certain types of music, that are not ever going to be on charts or be hugely popular, that it's still worth doing and that you can still get by doing it.
On producing for "The Man In The High Castle" accompanying soundtrack, "Resistance Radio":
I got with Sam Cohen who I've been working with a lot and there was this idea of: What if we did the whole album and we produced it like a couple of old school producers, and we just got the session musicians in, made the songs and got the artists that we wanted to sing on them and did it all really quickly. The only thing is, we only had about three-and-a-half weeks to do it. So we did three songs in just a few hours one night and it sounded great. Then I took one of those songs,"A Taste of Honey," and emailed it over to James Mercer from The Shins, who I work with in Broken Bells. I said, Hey I'm doing this thing. We thought about you on this song. He sent it back in a day and I had a demo right there that you could see was going to completely work. We went back to [the series producers] and said, We can do this. And we did about 15 more songs in about four days — just the backing tracks.
On choosing the songs for "Resistance Radio":
We were looking for darker, sadder songs. We didn't think there would be a lot of happy rock 'n' roll or anything like that. This was 1962 and before — that was our limitation. So it was all pre-Beatles and a lot of the bigger stuff that people know of. None of these people — we didn't ask them which songs they wanted to do. We just did them and thought, Let's send it to this person, let's send it to that person, and really hoped they were into it and would do it. We really lucked out that people did it so quickly.
On hearing new artists sing in an old way:
Beck singing "Can't Help Falling In Love With You" — we've heard him do so many albums and sing different styles singing and rapping and everything. His vocal on that was really special. Sharon Van Etten was to me the centerpiece of the album. That's why we started it with ["The End of the World"]. The way she sings on that song — a lot of these singers could have been real big vocalists if they [had been] around at that time. It's just interesting to see them in this context and see that it's not that singers got worse, it's just that the music is different. If this was the chosen type of music, this is what could be done.