Michael Cera & Alden Penner: 'He could have held a grudge against that cat, but he was very zen about it'

The Canadian actor and the co-founder of Canadian rock band the Unicorns met when they worked on Cera's film Paper Heart

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Michael Cera, 27

A Canadian actor, Cera (left in picture) got his break as George-Michael Bluth in the TV series 'Arrested Development'. He has since starred in films including 'Superbad', 'Juno' and 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World'. Also an accomplished musician, he has contributed to the soundtracks of a number of his films, and his debut, solo album, 'True That', was released last year. He lives in Brooklyn, New York

I reached out to Alden as a fan, as I wanted to work with him on some original music for my film Paper Heart, in 2008. It was really just an excuse to work with a person I admire. I loved his music as it was completely unlike anything else, so I thought I could hang out with him and see if I could learn anything.

He came down from Montreal to Echo Park in LA, where I was living at the time, and we had lunch together. I was pretty nervous, as Alden is a couple of years older than me and I looked up to him. I didn't want him to think, "Man, what am I doing with this loser?"

We hung out the next afternoon and my producer and I were not sure how to go about working with him. Alden sensed that we needed to do nothing that day, just goof around. So he said, "Why don't we just play music together?" So we went to another producer's house where there was a ton of stuff to play on: Alden played the drums, I grabbed a keyboard – it was a huge relief.

After two weeks the recording was finished, but we stayed in touch and a year later, I went to see him perform in Toronto. Alden invited me to come play music with him, but I was locked into a job and couldn't do it.

We talked a lot online after that, about his music, what he was up to and songs that I was working on. And, several years later, we finally managed to arrange to do a tour together. I stayed in his home in Montreal for a few weeks to talk about songs for the tour I was working on. I had four, but was nervous on the drive up – I felt vulnerable sharing my music. But it felt great to leave Brooklyn to work on something else and be consumed by it.

We're very different people. I think Alden is a more disciplined person than me: he's very serious about his art; I'm a little more haphazard in the way I go about things.

He's a cat man, and he's got three great cats at his house. One afternoon, as we sat talking music, one cat lunged at another, and Alden jumped in between them – he got badly scratched. He could have held a grudge against that cat, but he was very zen about it.

Alden says that he couldn't handle it if he had strangers coming up to him as I do, but I think he could, as he's so laid-back.

We're all heading off on tour tomorrow for two weeks – and I'm not organising anything; it's so nice just to be asked along. I really like playing music with Alden, and it's an amazing opportunity to do that. I'm so excited: I've wanted to be in a band since I was 14.

 

Alden Penner, 32

Penner is the co-founder of Canadian rock band the Unicorns, a group that has amassed a significant following with its blend of lo-fi indie-rock. He has also released a number of solo EPs, and last year put out his debut solo album, 'Exegesis'. He lives in Montreal, Canada

I didn't know who Michael was when I first got emails from him, in 2008. But he was friends with the other two members of the Unicorns and he was a fan, and he was trying to get me on board with a film he was working on.

After we agreed that I'd work on the project, we met in LA and I helped out with the musical arrangements, and we even co-wrote some songs for the film. It was fun, as he's straightforward, kind and funny and he allows you to be funny, too. How he comes across on screen is an amplified version of himself.

He wrote me a letter during a period I was not so active in music and was considering not pursuing it. It said, "Take your time, music needs you – but not in a way that's rushed." It was simple and very loving support.

It's not so well known that he's talented musically and he's got his own voice, so it's been interesting to see that develop.

In November, Michael invited me to a play he was doing on Broadway, and afterwards I invited him back to the hotel room to play music. I took him into the bathroom, with cables for the microphones trailing in, and he sat on the toilet and did some vocal takes [for their new single "Meditate"]. It was very back-to-basics, but a lot of Smithsonian [Institute] recordings and early blues stuff were done that way, with the recordist inviting well-known musicians to record at a hotel room in a more comfortable atmosphere than a studio: you can get things done more genuinely.

He came to visit me in Montreal recently, and he stayed for two weeks. It was a pretty tight schedule, working on the upcoming tour, but we found time to watch classic Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin films and I got to show him Montreal's culinary secrets.

Michael has a very utilitarian view of technology: he has the same car he did back in 2008 – a Toyota, I think. It's a renunciation of luxury, which I share with him – we both have older keyboards and guitars.

One night I took him to a Greek restaurant and we ended up having an epic evening dancing. He said I dance like an Indian man, not like a white guy. He dances in a very interesting, rigid, kind of way.

I've not met anyone in the music community so in love with the idea of touring as Michael. He relishes being able to go on a trip and play music and not have any attachments or investment. I think he just wants to retain that part of life free from the considerations of acting.

Cera will be joining the Unicorns on a European tour from Tuesday. The EP 'Canada In Space', featuring their collaborative track 'Meditate', is out on 29 June (aldenpenner.bandcamp.com)

Comments