Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales first met when Gonzales was the opening act at a Pulp concert at the Eden Project in Cornwall in July 2002. When Cocker curated the Meltdown festival at London’s South Bank Centre in 2007 he invited Gonzales to perform at the Purcell Rooms. The two next met on a Paris Metro platform & realised that they were both living in the same city. They exchanged numbers & began to work together more frequently. In 2012 they collaborated on a version of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” which featured in a short film by Todd Haynes (“Velvet Goldmine”, “I’m Not There”, “Far From Heaven”) : a sequence in the movie “Six by Sondheim”. The success of this project encouraged them to seek a larger work to devise together. Later that same year Cocker stayed at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, California whilst on tour with Pulp.
Standing at the west end of Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, the Chateau Marmont hotel has seen many a famous and infamous guest pass through its doors since it opened in 1929. “If you must get in trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont,” noted Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, in 1939. On arrival Jarvis discovered that he had been upgraded to a bigger room due to the hotel being over-booked. The first thing he saw upon entering the room was a baby-grand piano in the corner. What if it could “sing” of the life stories and events it had witnessed? Jarvis was intrigued by the hotel’s links to the history of the film industry. He excitedly phoned Gonzales & told him that he had found the “star” of their next project. Work on Room 29, a 21st-century song cycle, began soon after Cocker’s return from the USA. They embarked on a three-year journey of artistic discovery, unearthing details about guests such as Jean Harlow, Mark Twain’s daughter Clara, and Los Angeles mobster Meyer Cohen, alias “Mickey the Haberdasher”. As well as dramatising some of those stories, their songs capture both the essential loneliness of the hotel room and the ways in which moving images have “moved” people in ways they don’t quite understand. Gonzales’ score and Cocker’s lyrics conjure up the lives of some of Room 29’s previous occupants, as well as shining a light on the glittering fantasy and often bleak reality of Hollywood. They have drawn on the 19th-century model of the song cycle for a structure capable of containing the broad sweep of emotions and states of mind elicited by the real and imaginary dramas of one unusual hotel suite. Room 29 emerges as metaphor for a place within each of us, home to our deepest desires and fantasies.
The album was recorded by long-term Gonzales collaborator Renaud Letang at the legendary Ferber Studios in Paris. Virtually all the songs on the album are live takes: an exhilarating yet technically challenging working method. Sessions were arranged for when the two musicians knew that they would both be in town (Gonzales having moved to Cologne, Germany by this time – Cocker actually lives in his former Parisian apartment!). The basic instrumentation of the album is piano & voice but sessions recorded during Gonzales’ tour in support of the “Chambers” record in 2015 meant that the Kaiser Quartett were able to contribute strings to several tracks. Towards the end of the recording sessions in 2016 FAME’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra Macedonia were added to the finale of the track “Trick of the Light”. Other musicians featured on the record are flautist Nathalie Hauptman, French horn player Hasko Kroeger & soprano singer Maud Techa. The other male voice heard on the record belongs to David Thomson, a film historian originally from the UK but now resident in San Francisco. His contributions to the record are taken from an interview conducted by Jarvis at the Chateau Marmont in May 2014.
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