Pink Martini: A Toast to the World’s Rich Musical Variety (Part 2 of 3)

Continued from Part One

Other than personnel changes, how has Pink Martini changed in the years since you began?

Well, we’ve grown bigger, so it’s been less about personnel changes and more about additions. As noted earlier, we have two regular guest singers, Jimmie Herrod and Edna Vazquez. And we usually travel with a total of three percussionists at a time. Four, if you count Timothy Nishimoto, who also does percussion in addition to vocals; he has been with the band for almost 20 years now. So the stage is more crowded, and our sound is fuller, than it was in the early years of the band.

In some ways now we are getting back to one of the roots of band. I originally envisioned Pink Martini as a sort of variety show inspired by the brilliant Paul Reubens, who passed away recently. I absolutely loved Peewee Herman’s Holiday Special. It was a total variety show of various characters, and that was something that I wanted to emulate in Pink Martini. In fact I got the Del Rubio triplets, who were in Pee Wee’s special, to join for some of those very first thrown-together Pink Martini shows. The band moved away from that as we became more professional and developed our own repertoire and style, but I’ve brought just a bit of that variety show feel to certain shows in recent years. And that’s been really fun for me.

Pink Martini’s music has been placed in many films and television programs. How important is sync licensing in terms of its role in the group’s long-term success?

I have to admit that I’m sometimes really disconnected with how important it is to our long-term success. Basically, I don’t watch TV at all. But during the Pandemic, I did get really into Schitt’s Creek; I’ve watched the whole thing a few times. It’s an amazing program. And there are occasionally movies or shows that catch my attention, but really nothing contemporary.

That said, I’ve been really grateful for our success in sync licensing. We’ve had some pretty amazing opportunities recently. I have to admit that I don’t really keep up on all of them, but I try at least to watch the episodes that Pink Martini is in.

It’s cool to travel around and have people say, “Oh, I heard Pink Martini in The White Lotus, or in this movie.” Certainly it gives us some exposure beyond people who already know the band. And it’s fun for those who are already fans of Pink Martini to see the music placed in shows and films.

Hopefully that [doesn’t represent the majority of] our long-term success, but it’s still something that we appreciate and benefit from. And I hope it continues. I hope people continue to hear Pink Martini in their favorite shows along with seeing us onstage.

Between 1997 and 2019 the group released a steady stream of albums. From 2020 onward there have been a handful of singles. Does this change reflect a realignment in terms of your approach toward releasing new music, or something else?

I don’t know if there’s really been a deliberate change so much as that I’m interested in a lot of different projects. My label Heinz Records just released a full album this year, Thomas Lauderdale Meets the Pilgrims. That was a culmination of a decades-long project of collaboration with a Portland surf music band called Satan’s Pilgrims, who are not at all satanic, I should say! They are some of the most lovely, talented, kind and gracious guys you’ll ever meet.

I first met them in Portland in the mid ‘90s, and I absolutely fell in love. I had a total crush on the lead guitarist and thought, “How can I get closer to these guys and hang out with them?” And I ended up deciding that it would be amazing to have a surf rock version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which we played and then shelved for over a decade. In 2011, we went back to the studio to try to finish that album, and then it went another decade. During the pandemic when nobody was touring – Pink Martini didn’t tour for almost 16 months – I went back in the studio and finished the project on my own.

That’s a long way of saying I have a lot of things that interest me, a lot of projects. In terms of Pink Martini, when we’re touring, we’re doing that half of the year, so that doesn’t allow a lot of time in the studio. But that’s something we have to get back to in the next year.

Are your albums and singles a teaser to get people to shows, or do they serve more as souvenirs for concert attendees?

Maybe both. If you listen to Pink Martini albums and you have your favorites, they’re probably a lot of people’s favorites, and we play a lot of them at the shows. Sometimes when we have new material that also comes out in the concerts, you’ll get a little bit of what you’re going to see.

Physical music isn’t dead. You should get our albums and singles from the merch table, because that’s definitely the best way to financially support us. And that’s true for any band.

In your experience, when people come to a Pink Martini show, what surprises them the most?

I think the incredible Edna Vazquez and Jimmie Herrod consistently blow people away. The fantastic China Forbes is still our lead singer, and she’s the main draw for a lot of people, as she absolutely should be. As is the whole Pink Martini experience.

I think the other thing that people consistently say is that while few of the songs are in a language they speak or understand, they still love it. A lot of audiences – particularly in America – are not exposed to music in other languages. But they’re always surprised how much they still enjoy it. Even if you don’t speak French, Farsi, Hebrew or Arabic, it’s there for you. The music is truly a universal language, and people come away from concerts feeling that.

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