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

Continued from Part Two

With such a large and versatile group, you seem capable of taking on most any style or genre to which you set yourselves. Is there a style of music that Pink Martini has experimented with, only to find that it didn’t suit the group?

We haven’t tried rap. People have remixed Pink Martini into electronic or techno with mixed success. There’s a really great DJ, Johnny Dynell, who I love, and he’s done some of that, and I find it really fun. But other times I have come across samples of Pink Martini in techno and not found it to be delightful.

What’s the most challenging part of leading Pink Martini?

Probably being on the road and away from home as much as we are. And having so many people’s livelihoods that depend on our success. We’re not a small operation. It’s 12 people on stage, a crew of four, and four people in the office to make this work. So there is some pressure there, for sure.

What do you find most rewarding about the group?

The opportunities that it has given me to see the world, to meet incredible and interesting people, and to do something that I love. I respect and love everybody in the group; their contributions are amazing as well.

Political advocacy has always been a part of what Pink Martini does. What form does that take at present, and what plans if any do you have with regard to the upcoming 2024 election season?

We’ll just play beautiful music to keep everybody sane. If the news now is any indication, it’s only going to be crazier by election season 2024.

Does the group tailor its performances – e.g. change the set list, etc. – to specific countries or regions?

We have been on tour in Europe several times this year, in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and France. And those audiences absolutely go wild for hearings songs in their languages, songs that they can sing along with. And they do! This past week we definitely played more of our songs in French.

I will often look up a song in the language where we are touring, usually an old song or a well-known classic. When we traveled to South Korea in 2011, China learned “Sang Gaak,” a popular Korean song. Earlier this year we were in Alaska, where our PR and Marketing director was born and raised. We opened up our concert with the Alaska State Flag song, and the whole crowd stood and sang it with the band. That’s not something we would do at any other concert. Things like that are really fun, and local audiences really appreciate them. So sometimes it’s a new or different song just for that concert, like in Alaska.

And sometimes a new song can end up in the Pink Martini repertoire, which is what happened in South Korea, or learning “Askim Bahardi” in Turkish, which we then recorded on Je dis oui!

What’s something special about the group that you think might not get the recognition that it deserves?

Each of the individual musicians in Pink Martini is pretty amazing. They each have their own style and background and training; that certainly contributes to Pink Martini and to what people see and hear on stage. And it’s blended in on purpose.

As an example, Nicholas Crosa is a classically trained virtuoso violinist. Dan Faehnle is an incredible guitarist; he’s one of the most technically proficient guitarists I know of, and he has his own blues and jazz concerts when we’re not touring. The same goes for Phil Baker, our bassist. Miguel Burnell is an Afro-Cuban drummer, so he brings that style and that background to the stage. He still spends a lot of time in Cuba when he’s not on tour with the band. So people have these foundations that I blend on purpose. I don’t want them to stick out, but they’re there making the sound better.

Do you find that Pink Martini is better-received in some places than in others?

There are certainly places that we go back to again and again and again, places that always sell out. You can tell audiences really love us there. And then there are other places that we don’t go very often because how hard it is to travel there, like Australia.

As a general rule, it seems to be larger cities, more cosmopolitan places, where we’re most well received. But we’ve had some incredible shows in really remote places in other countries, and in small towns across America. Some of those are places that I wouldn’t expect to have been so excited about Pink Martini, or even know of the band. And that can be pretty surprising and delightful.

If you could go back in time and give some advice to the 1990s version of yourself, what would you say?

I’m not sure. I never thought I was going to be in a band, much less the leader and founder of a group that toured for almost 30 years. I wanted to be the mayor of Portland! This is such an unlikely and improbable path, and it’s worked out. So I don’t think I could warn my past self towards or away from it. I think it just had to happen, and here we are!