Thomas M. Lauderdale on Pink Martini

By Jonathan McNamara

Take a listen to the three tracks on Pink Martini’s myspace page and you may find yourself confused. Is this in fact the same band? Believe it.

Since their debut in 1997 with Sympathique, Pink Martini has existed as a musical chameleon, choosing not only different styles, but different languages to create songs that come across more as incantations than radio hits.

Thomas M. Lauderdale, the band’s founder and pianist talked with New Times about the band’s latest album Hey Eugene! and their upcoming performance at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall Amphitheater on May 13.

New Times: Have you played Phoenix before?

Thomas M. Lauderdale: [Checks with the rest of the band] Have we played in Phoenix before? I don’t think we’ve played Phoenix before. First time! We hope people come.

NT: What were you up to before the release of Hey Eugene!?

TL: We did a lot of touring, spending a lot of time in Europe. We love playing everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to Istanbul.

NT: How does Hey Eugene! differ from Hang on Little Tomato?

TL: I would say that it’s a little poppier in a way. It’s definitely different from the majority of the material the band has written or played. It may be the poppiest we’ve ever been, but there are still songs in different languages: Portuguese, French, Arabic, Japanese Spanish. They’re [the Pink Martini albums] are like jazz albums in that hopefully they don’t have a shelf life. We try to make them almost as if they’re rollicking adventures around the world.

NT: Can we expect most of your performance in Scottsdale to center around Hey Eugene! or will you be throwing a few classics in there as well?

TL: We’ll perform unreleased material and brand new songs; a big combination of all three albums. Some of it will probably never be released on an album. It’s too fast. Some songs work really well live, but I can’t necessarily envision them being on an album.

NT: I’ve heard Pink Martini’s music described as “vintage music” How do you feel about that?

TL: I think it’s definitely old-fashioned and romantic in that sense of old Hollywood. It’s modern in a sense that it is all over the map. I would say that there is a romance and a sweeping Hollywood of the 40s kind of vibe to it.

NT: Pink Martini’s songs come in a multitude of languages. How important do you think the ability to understand the lyrics is in terms of the music’s impact on the audience?

TL: Not important because we always sort of introduce the foreign language material and say a few words about what’s being sung or what’s being said. For us it’s about the beautiful melodies and the essence of the song. It’s almost like a language lesson along the way to.

NT: Do you feel that the multitude of languages you use has made it possible for Pink Martini to gain popularity outside of the U.S.?

TL: I think it certainly has helped. I think that in many ways the band represents the diversity of what it means to be American. Americans are always sort of comprised of every language, every land, every country and I think that it celebrates that diversity. And I think that it’s unusual for an American band to be singing songs in Arabic or Portuguese. All in all, China (Forbes, the lead singer) sings songs in 14 different languages. Both China and I grew up in multicultural households. So the idea of writing and performing songs in different languages goes hand in hand with our upbringing.

NT: Is there anything you’d like to tell your audience here in Phoenix?

TL: We just hope everybody dances.

-Photos courtesy of Sherry Diteman

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan McNamara