Topher Grace of "Take Me Home Tonight" and Luke White of Atomic Tom Go '80s for "Rogue on Rogue"
Fri, 25 Feb 2011 09:54:49
"I finally have a taste of what it's like to be a musician, and I don't like it," chuckles Topher Grace while on a promotional tour for Relativity Media's Take Me Home Tonight in Boston.
Even though life on the road might not be Topher's calling, he's got a lot in common with Atomic Tom singer Luke White. The two met when Atomic Tom created a fast, fun, and fiery cover of Human League's "Don't You Want Me" for Topher's hilarious and heartfelt new '80s comedy, Take Me Home Tonight. At the song's music video shoot [watch the video here], the two instantly connected. Both artists share a dedication to their respective crafts that's both infectious and inspiring. Luke's careful attention to the detail of the song's recording mirrored Topher's involvement in every aspect of Take Me Home Tonight from starring in the film to his role as a producer. Both of these guys care about every little thing, and that's why Atomic Tom's debut album The Moment and Take Me Home Tonight are both modern classics.
For this exclusive ARTISTdirect.com "Rogue On Rogue" interview, Topher Grace of Relativity Media's Take Me Home Tonight and Luke White of Atomic Tom spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about Take Me Home Tonight, optimism in '80s pop culture, party nights, their similarities, and so much more.
Don't miss Relativity Media's Take Me Home Tonight when it hits theaters March 4, 2011! Also, pick up Atomic Tom's debut album The Moment now! Pick up Take Me Home Tonight's soundtrack March 29, 2011!
What was your initial reaction to meeting each other?
Topher Grace: I haven't met a lot of bands. I've got to say Atomic Tom are the nicest band though! Everyone was so cool when we did the music video for "Don't You Want Me." I guess I was nervous; I didn't know if you guys were going to come in and throw shit and piss all over stuff [Laughs]. You were nicer than actors though!
Luke White: We considered it [Laughs].
Topher Grace: Certainly, I could tell that something was brewing underneath everything. Everyone was awesome though.
When did you both discover your respective art forms? What spoke to you when you were young?
Luke White: Let's see! My dad forced me to play piano at four, which I'm so very thankful he did. At about 12-years-old, I started writing music. I was like, "Oh, this is cool. I love music and I'm writing these hilarious songs which I hope will never see the light of day." [Laughs] I was in various garage bands in my teen years through high school. Then I went to college. I was studying management and marketing and never going to class. I was actually sneaking off to the jazz department instead. That was the point where I realized I'm wasting my money going to school when I want to play music and I know I want to play music. I ended up moving to Boston, and I started my first band where I was singing and writing all of the material. That was the trial by fire for me. Boston's such a great music town. It's intimate, and you get to know every working part of the industry there. When you get to a certain point, you realize you want more, and that's when you have to leave Boston.
Topher Grace: That's interesting…
Luke White: I'd always wanted to move to New York City. So I moved to New York and I started Atomic Tom there. That's basically where the real shit happened.
Topher Grace: I have the opposite story. I was not passionate about acting or even really that into it. I was in a play during high school. I actually wasn't in many plays. I had just sprained my ankle playing tennis so I couldn't play that year and I joined the spring musical. The parents of the girl who did the sets saw me. They were big time producers and they said, "Can we call you because we know you're going to USC in L.A.?" I was a real jerk. I said, "Sure, babe, have your people call my people. We'll do lunch." [Laughs] I thought they meant for me to be a PA or something. I had no idea what they were talking about. They called me about a year later, and my first audition ever was for That '70s Show (TV Series). I'm lucky that I like acting because I signed a six-year contract to do it [Laughs]. I actually saw a lot of similarities between myself and Luke. They don't arise from how we started, because I don't think our beginnings could be anymore different. When we were doing the music video, Luke said, "Wow, you really got focused there!" Then Luke really got focused. I saw you in the studio. You were a part of every single thing! I was the same way in that I produced the film and the music video. I really wanted to be a part of every little thing about it. I don't know how you feel, but the genesis of that for me is once I started acting on That '70s Show, I loved it. I'm not the kind of person who needs to know how stuff works. I don't look at a lawnmower and go, "How does that work?" I don't care. If it mows the lawn, I'm good [Laughs]. About filmmaking, I wanted to learn everything though. That's what the Take Me Home Tonight experience was about to me even down to the marketing, doing this music video and choosing Atomic Tom as the band. Luke did absolutely everything with the song.
Luke White: I think that's pretty accurate in terms of what you were doing, Topher. You definitely took this, ran with it, and made it happen. That's how we were involved. I respected what I saw when I came on the set because you were intense and focused. As a band, we had absolutely no clue what it would be like coming into this project. They flew us out after we did the demo of "Don't You Want Me," and we had no idea what anything would be like. We were very pleasantly surprised, and it was great to see. Everything was set up as it should've been. I respected watching Topher orchestrate the whole things with the strings on his fingers [Laughs].
Do you feel like you both strike some of the same emotional chords with Take Me Home Tonight and The Moment? There's a lot of heart inherent in both.
Topher Grace: Luke, I don't know if you know this, but a friend played me your "Take Me Out" video that went viral. Obviously, it was really cool idea. I also thought the song was great. Then Kathy Nelson, who's the real hero of our soundtrack, brought Atomic Tom up. For me, there's something about "Take Me Out" and "Maybe I'm Wrong." There's an eternal quality in some music that makes you say, "This song's going to be as good as it is now in 20 years." There's some chord that it strikes. We wanted to do that the way that John Hughes movies did that. That was our mission with the film. You're right…people have been saying there's a surprising amount of heart in the movie. We wanted to do all of the party and raunchy stuff. Movies like Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti had a lot of heart and that made them different from other time-specific movies or party-all-in-one-night movies. They strike a chord. I knew that Luke wasn't going to shy away from that, and it was going to be something new. I like the original "Don't You Want" me a lot, but I wanted more of that timeless feel. If Luke had done a cover of this song five years ago or five years from now, I think it still would've been as big of a hit.
Luke White: We got to screen the movie right after recording the song, and we didn't know what to expect. We found ourselves laughing throughout the whole thing. At the end of the movie, we all agreed it was genuinely funny. It's not funny in any sort of spoof sense, but it felt like a real measurement of the '80s in a great way. I was born in 1980. From 1985 I was cognizant of everything. For the rest of my life, I've been revisiting the '80s. For whatever reason, it always struck a big chord in me, especially the culture and music of that decade. All of my favorite bands from that era are people that I continue to listen to. In a huge way musically, Atomic Tom is influenced by the synth elements of the '80s and the guitar elements. Eric's [Espiritu, guitarist] favorite artist is Eddie Van Halen. Those elements are constantly in rotation in our heads. They're fun, interesting, and influential. It's fun to have that influence. To be honest, the '90s weren't as much of an influence. I wasn't huge into the grunge era at all. It wasn't really until the pop elements returned at the end of the '90s that I started to get excited about music again.
There's a strange optimism to '80s pop culture. There some happy songs and movies that came out of that era.
Topher Grace: That was something we really wanted to do. Luke hit on it. We wanted to be the first movie about the '80s to not spoof the '80s. It's funny because our video is a total spoof. It was our moment where we said, "This is where we have the cast." Clearly, Anna Faris is really great spoof. Arguably, she's the best performer besides Leslie Nielsen ever to be in that genre. Dan Fogler is really hilarious at it. We were psyched to use that as our opportunity to spoof it. For the movie itself and the song, we wanted to have no elements of spoof. We just took a time machine back to the '80s and made a movie there. You're right there was a lot of celebration in that time that has never been addressed in films. It's always making fun of it or getting really down on the '80s. We wanted to get more real about the characters.
Luke White: To a certain degree, I feel like a lot of the songs from the '80s were reactive to the optimism that people wanted to have.
Topher Grace: Plus, they were all making a lot of cash and doing a lot of cocaine. So that made it very easy to be optimistic [Laughs].
Have either of you had a crazy night like the one in the film?
Topher Grace: I'm going to let the rock star answer this…
Luke White: To be honest, we're not the biggest partiers as a band, which I hope will reflect on us putting albums out for the next twenty years if we can [Laughs].
Topher Grace: Because if not you're going to wish you partied harder, right?
Luke White: Exactly! [Laughs] When I moved to Boston, that was a huge, freeing moment for me to step out on my own and figure out what I was about. There were definitely few nights that carried on to the morning. There was never this huge debaucherous element or anything like that. It was a fun, exciting, and figuring-out-myself kind of night alongside other people. There's a bonding to those kinds of nights and a memory that everybody has. It's worth writing songs about. There's one song called "We Were Never Meant To Be," and it's about finals week and staying up all night, not studying at all, carrying your friends up the stairs, and doing chair-racing down the halls. It's just good fun times.
Watching Take Me Home Tonight, did you guys see pieces of yourselves in Topher's character Matt?
Topher Grace: It wasn't based on me when we made it. Then you go, "Alright, I have a 'story by' credit on the movie. I did work at Suncoast Video. It's probably going to surprise you; I wasn't the biggest winner with girls in high school." It makes you think if it's totally autobiographical. I had a very different mid-20s than Matt did. I knew that I was doing because I was on the show. I'm lucky. Before I got that call to audition, I had no idea what I was doing. I was totally undecided in my major. I think it's like an alternate universe version of me. I'm not as bright as Matt. We wanted to make him hyper intelligent, and he's over-thinking everything. He could easily work anywhere, and he's protesting by having the Suncoast Video job whereas I probably would've been working there for real [Laughs].
Luke White: Matt is where I was in my teenage years. I had coke bottle glasses from about eight to sixteen. I was a total geek. I spent more time with computers. Matt was definitely not a geek. I felt the same kind of inability to commit and go after what I wanted. Matt goes through that transformation where he does know what he wants and he commits and it's an awesome night.
Would you two want to collaborate again?
Topher Grace: Yeah! I'm not going to speak for Luke, but I would love to! It was the easiest part of the entire movie. The best part was when they were finalizing the song, I was allowed to go in and ask Luke a couple questions. I probably have to work with Luke again because I've been spoiled as far as rock stars go [Laughs]. I'm pretty sure I've heard a lot of them are difficult and maybe I'm ruining some kind of rock 'n' roll image…
Luke White: Not at all!
Topher Grace: But it was so easy and great! I'm so happy with it. The video was incredible. You guys are the first band I know!
Luke White: One of our motifs as a band is "It doesn't pay to be an asshole." I know you know this, Topher. It's so hard to find people who you feel like you can genuinely work with more than once in this industry. There are a lot of egos out there. When egos and talent don't match, it's like, "Okay, why do we want to do this?" We have absolutely no reason to be assholes especially when we're in a van [Laughs]. Hopefully, that won't change when we're making money!
Topher Grace: You guys could be a little bit meaner [Laughs].
Luke White: Topher was super easy to work with because he was intense and focused. He knew what he wanted and that kind of resolve gets shit done. That was fun to watch and be a part of.
Topher Grace: I love it dude!
Will you be seeing Relativity Media's Take Me Home Tonight when it hits theaters March 4, 2011?
For more "Rogue On Rogue" interviews check out Michelle Rodriguez of Avatar, Machete, and Battle: Los Angeles and James "Munky" Shaffer of Korn here!
Check out legendary director Wes Craven [My Soul to Take, Scream] and Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour here!