When Actors Make Music

Oliver Lunn

Everyone needs a side project. And since no actor longs to ‘make it’ as a car salesman or an osteopath for the stars, chances are, they’ll be looking to pick up a paintbrush, camera, pen or guitar.

Yesterday, Michael Cera dropped his debut album True That. Yes, he’s a DIY musician now apparently. The record itself is a meandering, 18-track lo-fi curiosity, which, in its more melodic moments, is actually kind of good. Which is surprising because, as we know, some actors were just never meant to share their other ‘talent’ with the world. Here are some of the stars' fails and makes.

Zooey Deschanel

When she’s not doing her ‘adorable’ Manic Pixie Dream Girl shtick in New Girl, Deschanel is the ‘she’ in She and Him (with M. Ward being the 'him'). Her vocals here are basically the same as you heard them in Elf. They’re a little try-hard, sometimes charming, but mostly irksome and overcooked, especially when she grabs the mic from M. Ward. Which is a LOT of the time. Notably, the actress was responsible for that awful, reverb-heavy, romance-free Christmas album entitled A Very She & Him Christmas.

Vincent Gallo

Everyone knows that Gallo – like the equally self-indulgent James Franco – has his dainty fingers in many pies. As a greedy auteur, he’s taken the role of director, actor, camera operator, editor, composer and probably runner. But outside of his movies, he’s released some pretty remarkable music. His album When showcases his fragile, Chet Baker-inspired vocals and his moody, languid guitar strumming. Just listen to the achingly beautiful “So Sad” right now as you weep over your keyboard. 

Scarlett Johansson

Sometimes it’s hard to link a voice to a vocal. But in Scarlett’s case, her familiarly smoky, sexy voice is right there in the music. Songs like “Before My Time” have an old school vibe that’s emphatically romantic, like the soundtrack to an old Cadburys Milk Tray ad. Her sound isn’t original but it is perfectly listenable. From her collaborations with Pete Yorn to her almost unrecognizable cover of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry”, hers is a side project that isn’t a fail. But it is vanilla.

John C. Reilly

During that scene in Magnolia where all the characters sing Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”, John C. Reilly’s cop was probably the only one who made you think, OK, that guy could put out a half-decent folk record. Over a decade later, with the help of Jack White’s record label, John did just that. Have a listen.

Giuseppe Andrews

Just this week we wrote a piece about Giuesppe Andrews, the kid from Independence Day who went on to become a trailer park auteur. When he’s not making bizarre low-budget movies with his fellow trailer park residents, however, he’s making the musical equivalent. That is, super lo-fi, homemade recordings which sound like they’re aping Daniel Johnston just a bit too much. 

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen is a gentle, sensitive man who makes gentle, sensitive music. Now it makes sense: you can see why Peter Jackson cast Mortensen as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. (FYI, he's also a painter and a poet.)

Robert Pattinson

As if he couldn’t melt the hearts of 12-year-old girls any more. Here he is singing his sappy Damien Rice-esque songs, complete with lines like “I’m so alone”, all in a curious American accent. Why do I suddenly feel like I’m at an ‘unplugged’ Pearl Jam-on-a-bad-night concert?  

Jared Leto

I don’t really want to waste any more words on Jared Leto’s crappy band, 30 Seconds To Mars, which he made a crappy documentary about. 

Nat Wolff

Nat Wolff’s name has become synonymous with ‘rising star’ this year. He was in The Fault in Our Stars (meh), New Year’s Eve (yuck) and Palo Alto (bangin’). It was in the latter that Wolff actually got to prove his chops as a musician on screen – although he’d been playing gigs for a few years. Have a listen to the seven-minute "Rockstar" from Palo Alto's soundtrack. 

Zosia Mamet (from Girls)

Oh and here’s Shoshanna from Girls who, as it turns out, is in a banjo-wielding folk band called Cabin Sisters. 

Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn

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