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Italian-Made Western Music, Five Years In The Making

Left to right: Danger Mouse, Norah Jones, Daniele Luppi and Jack White, whose collaborative Western album is titled <em>Rome</em>.
Frank Ockenfels
Courtesy of the artist
Left to right: Danger Mouse, Norah Jones, Daniele Luppi and Jack White, whose collaborative Western album is titled Rome.

Super-producer Danger Mouse is perhaps best known for creating the mega-hit "Crazy" as part of the duo Gnarls Barkley.

Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Burton, is one of the most sought-after producers in music. He's worked with some of the industry's biggest names: U2, Gorillaz, Beck and Cee-Lo Green. Yet all the while, in the back of his mind, he wanted to make a record that sounded like a Western.

Danger Mouse isn't just a fan of old Spaghetti Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — he's obsessed with the music of those films, as composed by the likes of Ennio Morricone.

Five years ago, he teamed up with the acclaimed Italian composer and arranger Daniele Luppi to write and craft some new Spaghetti Western music. The result of that collaboration, titled Rome, will finally see release this coming week.

"We met about seven years ago, about 2004. We got together based on our mutual love of this music," Burton tells Weekend All Things Consideredhost Guy Raz. "The idea for this actual album came while we were working on some of the Gnarls Barkley stuff. I thought, 'Why don't we make an album using this sound as a foundation?' We talked about it for a year before we bought tickets to Rome."

Burton and Luppi wrote and recorded the album in the Italian capital, and brought in some of the actual musicians who played for Morricone and other composers of Spaghetti Western scores. While it's inspired by those films, Rome doesn't have a specific narrative, according to Burton and Luppi.

"There is not a singular story," Burton says. "But it is its own love story that has songs about love, pain, loss and everything else."

Finding The Voices Of 'Rome'

Burton and Luppi also brought in two better-known musicians: Jack White and Norah Jones, who contributed guest vocals.

"We sat on the album for a long time before we moved forward, because we really needed to find who the right singers would be," Burton says. "As Jack was finishing his [vocals], I had already started to finish the female vocals. At the time, we didn't know it was going to be Norah, but I think once we had the finished female part, it was easier to see who would do it well. ... She was on board pretty quickly."

From the genesis of the idea through last year, Burton and Luppi traveled back and forth between Italy and the U.S., creating the album piecemeal between other projects.

"We went back every year," Burton says. "First to do the backing tracks, then to do the choirs, then the vocal parts from Norah and Jack. Once we got Norah and Jack done, we had to go back to record the strings."

As for the question of whether they'd write a script to match the music on the record, Burton says it's fine with them provided they don't have to write it.

"We're a little battle fatigued. It took five years for this to come out," Burton says. "If somebody else wants to do this, that's great."

While there might not be a film to accompany the music, visual artist Chris Milk ( The Wilderness Downtown, The Johnny Cash Project) is working with Burton and Luppi to create a Rome visual experience, including a possible large-scale concert component.

"This is definitely not something we'd want to skimp on live, so it may take a little bit of time. I think that'd be for the better, though," Burton says. "If it were to come out right now, people would just kind of stare. It'll take its time, but it'll be worth it if we can pull it off."

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