ABOVE: ADAM GREEN AND BINKI SHAPIRO
The West Coast gal/East Coast guy dichotomy that's at least as old as Annie Hall gets a new and rumpled indie iteration with Adam Green & Binki Shapiro, a duets album that brings together a native New Yorker/one-time Moldy Peach/perpetually ironic visual artist and filmmaker (the batshit, ketamine-fueled The Wrong Ferrari) and an angel-voiced Angeleno whose 2008 album with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti and singer Rodrigo Amarante as Little Joy was an alt-pop gem.
Green and Shapiro's record is profoundly bicoastal: written in both cities, recorded in the Valley, and sporting a first video, "Just To Make Me Feel Good," with a split-screen, ships-passing, LA-to-NYC theme. The song's reverbed jangle, as well as the lovely "Casanova" and the semi-waltz-tempoed "Here I Am" have some observers citing certain iconic M/F pairings from the era of miniskirts and Nehru jackets. But where these two part company with the likes of Serge and Jane or Nancy and Lee is in their mostly dispassionate delivery. This is a record built from breakups that is neither mopey nor pissed-off, just matter-of-fact, reflective and sublime. We spoke to the duo recently in midtown Manhattan.
JOHN NORRIS: Even though this record is just now coming out, you started playing shows together as far back as—was it 2010?
ADAM GREEN: Yeah. I was on the Little Joy tour of Brazil. In 2010. And you know, Binki is in Little Joy. I was the support act on their tour of Brazil, where they are really huge. That was really fun. To go to Brazil, for me, and we got to hang out.
NORRIS: And so that was the first time you had met, was on that tour?
BINKI SHAPIRO: No, we met before that. I don't know when it was, but we were touring and Adam ended up on the bill, and it turned out to be a super fun, rad time. But no, we had met before. We have many mutual friends. Adam used to tour with The Strokes a long time ago, and Fab was in Little Joy...
NORRIS: Of course. So you were the two non-Brazilians of that trip down there?
SHAPIRO: Yeah and boy did we feel it. [laughs]
NORRIS: So were you even talking back then about possibly doing something together at some point? Or had that even occurred to you?
GREEN: No, I think we just got a feeling that we could do that collaborative thing, that we vibed off each other. We made each other laugh and stuff. And also, talking.
SHAPIRO: Oh right!
GREEN: Wait, let's not forget about talking! But there is a concept where you have a sort of neverending conversation with somebody. You know, and you don't have that with many people. And I think me and Binki had this sort of like neverending conversation going on. And when you feel that, you can turn that into something. Anyway, then later I was looking for a project to go into, asked Binki, she said yes and then I switched gears immediately into working on this record and stuff. The first song we wrote together was "Just To Make You Feel Good," and "Pity Love," and "Pleasantries." That was our early set.
NORRIS: You had said something that I think is really spot-on, that this is not so much a romantic record as a reflective record. It's pretty apparent in a lot of the lyrics that it comes from busted relationships. I know that you guys separately had each gone through breakups. But they didn't happen at exactly the same time, right?
GREEN: Yeah. When we started writing the record, I was very, very single.
NORRIS: The last time I saw you, in the fall of '08, in LA, you said you were either in the process of getting a divorce...
NORRIS: Or had just split up.
GREEN: Exactly. So I went to Los Angeles, the land of cocaine and hookers. [laughs]
NORRIS: Not that those things had anything to do with where I saw him! But, anyway, go on.
GREEN: Yeah, but like the thing of going to Los Angeles, that's a classically messed-up move.
NORRIS: And that was your striped sailor shirt phase. I liked that.
GREEN: Yes, I was modeling myself after a Bulgarian sailor. Because I had just come from—when I saw you, I had just come from Budapest. I had literally just flown from Budapest to LA.
NORRIS: What, for work?
GREEN: No, because I split up. So I had all these sailor shirts I got in Eastern Europe. And they never ran out! It was like a bottomless supply. I had just got divorced, I had a couple suitcases filled with sailor shirts, and I just went out into the world! [laughs]
NORRIS: All right. So anyway, he was quite single when you guys began working on this, and Binki, you were in a relationship. But in the course of working on this that kind of... ended.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, that kind of stopped being the case. [laughs]
NORRIS: And did that change what you were bringing to the table in terms of the writing?
SHAPIRO: I mean, yes I'm sure. But I don't know, especially doing these interviews and stuff, people like to really guide it toward Adam and I having these breakups, and being, "Let's write a record." [laughs]
NORRIS: A breakup record. But it wasn't quite like that?
SHAPIRO: It wasn't that. You write about life, and what's happening. And we're good friends, and our writing sort of became extensions of our conversations and us just spending time together.
NORRIS: So a lot of the narrative so far about the whole album involves comparisons to certain reverb-soaked '60s acts.
SHAPIRO: Yes, they love to do that.
GREEN: We planned it.
NORRIS: It on some songs, I think "Casanova" has some of that feel to it. But there's others are more straightforward, even rock-y tracks as well. How much—whether it's Nancy and Lee or Serge and Jane—were those records even in your heads when working on this, if at all?
SHAPIRO: No comment. [laughs] I don't know. It was kind of the only way that this record was gonna go, because we both are singers and songwriters. So we didn't really have a choice but to make duets. But we've never really been fans of duets.
NORRIS: Or of that era?
GREEN: Well I'm definitely a fan of that era, and we know about all that stuff. But I think all of the duets that are popular and that people play on the radio were, for us, a little more bubble-gummy than what we wanted to make together. So I guess we wanted to make our own version of a duets situation, something that we thought would be artistic. So I guess it just ended up coming out like something that I don't think really sounds like a lot of those things.
NORRIS: So it wasn't going for some kind of revivalist thing?
GREEN: No, I think we kind of took this clinical approach to analyzing a relationship. I just think it's very much me and Binki's aesthetic. And I was never like, "Damn, I'm gonna sing like Lee Hazlewood," or something. [laughs] It's just what happened because me and Binki, we like to try to sing what we thought were pretty songs together. This is just the result of that.
NORRIS: You guys would do justice to "Summer Wine," though.
GREEN: It's such a good song. I sang it in karaoke one time.
NORRIS: Binki, I feel like a lot of people, as they discover this record, may be saying, "Wow, what an awesome voice she has, and what haven't I heard more since Little Joy?" Is there any one reason? Before you guys started working on this, had you been planning to do your own stuff?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, I've been working on my own stuff for a while. I think the thing that I like about working with Adam is that he makes me much less precious about everything. Which is something that I definitely need.
NORRIS: And Adam, had you in general been looking to do something other than just another solo record?
GREEN: Yeah. I don't know why I felt the need to do this at that moment. It sounds silly but, I was just stoned on my couch, and I was writing a bunch of stuff to myself, and I wrote in big bold letters, "Make album with Binki." And I followed up on that idea, because I wrote it in big letters like "remember this, dude." I think maybe I was looking to get grounded a little bit. To help give me focus, and to bring female energy into what I do. Maybe because I had become very callous in my single life!
NORRIS: I know you've been focusing a lot on visual art the last couple of years. And there was your film The Wrong Ferrari in 2010. A classic, as far as I'm concerned.
GREEN: Really? Thank God.
NORRIS: So many people I know have loved it. Are there any other film projects on the horizon at all?
GREEN: Yes! I want to make a film version of Aladdin, where I play Aladdin. So, I'm writing music for it right now.
NORRIS: Shot in a way similar to Wrong Ferrari?
GREEN: Well not on iPhone. You know, Wrong Ferrari is shot all on iPhone. I don't think it has to be, but yeah. And I want Benicio Del Toro to play the genie. It's gonna take me like a year to figure out how to get him to do it. I've got some actors already who are gonna play in it, I think Macaulay Culkin will be in it. I'm gonna have him play a rebel leader.
NORRIS: And what about, as far as art goes this year? Will there be more shows?
GREEN: Yeah I think I'm gonna have a show in Paris, in March. Of new stuff. So I've been drawing a lot.
NORRIS: Do you do it all the time? If you guys are out doing promo and stuff? Can you still draw, or...
SHAPIRO: He's got a briefcase full of crayons.
GREEN: It's true. I'm a grown man who has a briefcase full of crayons.
ADAM GREEN AND BINKI SHAPIRO'S SELF-TITLED ALBUM IS OUT NOW. TO ORDER IT, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.