So what is Punk Standards?
For me, this is a complete departure.
Before I decided to focus on raising a family more than a decade ago, I was a full-time professional actress and classically trained legit soprano with credits worldwide. I starred as Christine in "The Phantom of the Opera" on London's West End at Her Majesty's Theater and more recently at the Royal Albert Hall in its 25th Anniversary celebration. I was the original Cosette in "Les Misérables" in Germany and also in Belgium. I can be heard on both the Flemish and German original cast albums. The closest I came to doing anything rock, let alone punk, was when I toured Europe as Priscilla Presley in "Elvis, The Musical" in the very beginning of my career.
Fast forward to 2013. I hadn’t performed regularly for years, so when I was offered a chance to do a couple of songs during a Sinatra tribute concert at a theater near my home on the Jersey Shore, I jumped at it. It was then that I realized how much I had missed the stage. My husband Donovan Mannato, along with many friends and colleagues, encouraged me to look for a way to get back to doing what I love.
Enter our friend Phil Kuntz, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and punk rock aficionado. He was humming a Ramones song to himself on the beach we all frequent on summer weekends and had an epiphany. He immediately ran up to Donovan, who happens to be a Broadway producer and the producer of Prey For Rock and Roll, a punk rock movie. Phil gave him the elevator pitch:
"Classic punk rock songs reimagined as jazz standards – Punk Standards."
Donovan loved the idea, but I was dubious. I didn't know a lot about punk music. And many of the song themes conflicted with my ideas of who I am. As far as I knew, these guys wanted me to suddenly start singing about drug addiction and anarchy.
Phil and Donovan persisted. After much searching, Phil finally found a lyric that opened the doors of my mind to the idea. In retrospect, that's probably because the song, by the Buzzcocks, was inspired by a scene from a musical, Guys and Dolls.
You spurn my natural emotions
You make me feel I'm dirt and I'm hurt
And if I start a commotion
I run the risk of losing you and that's worse
Ever fallen in love with someone
You shouldn't have fallen in love with?
That was all I needed. I knew we had found something that we could translate into a standard.
So we pitched the idea to my friend Mike Woolmans, an award-winning London-based composer. We found more punk classics that Mike re-arranged with clever stylings so we could turn them inside out and on their heads. We blended two polar-opposite styles of music together into something completely new, neither punk nor jazz. We married the edgiest of lyrics with soothing melodies that retain the flavor but not the tempo of the originals.
The very idea itself was fun, cheeky and well, punk.
As we went through the process of deciding which songs to tackle, I came to realize that their main themes are as relevant today as they were four decades ago. Slowing the material down offered me a chance to truly dive into the lyrics and explore them in a more expressive way. Taking the anger out of the music exposed the soft underbelly, the vulnerability and sadness that often lies at the heart of anger, frustration and helplessness.
While working on these songs, I came to love them as much as any I performed on stage earlier in my career.
Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” envelops the listener with its cinematic presentation: the long shot of a neon sign, the visible shivers running up someone’s spine, a girl filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake. That’s not punk – it’s film noir.
I'm awed by the timelessness of “Life During Wartime” by Talking Heads. I had in my mind an image of a dimly lit basement piano bar filled with smoke and burgundy velvet in London during the Blitz.
“Lost in the Supermarket” by the Clash brings to mind the loneliest times of despair when you want the world to just stop -- but you still need to buy milk, so you are forced to carry your very private feelings into a very public place.
And on the lighter side of the album, we have Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plan Pour Moi," a song comprised of perfectly nonsense French, through which I got to explore my inner Marilyn.
If you have found your way here because you are a punk fan, I hope you will enjoy rediscovering these songs in a fresh new way. I hope you can hear the new found love I have for this genre of music I have only just begun to discover. And to those of you who know me from my past life, I hope you enjoy the theatricality of this little experiment of ours.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and getting to know you all.