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Interview with Harry Shearer and Michael McKean

Two of "A Mighty Wind's" 'Folksmen'

By Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

A Mighty Wind

Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest in "A Mighty Wind"

Warner Bros. Pictures

Along with frequent collaborator Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer bring the folk group, The Folksmen, to the big screen in "A Mighty Wind." The talented group of actors who gave us "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show" deliver another solid offering with this comedic tribute to folk music, and folk musicians from the late 1960s.

In this interview, McKean and Shearer talk about the origin of The Folksmen, working off of each other, and the lasting popularity of "This is Spinal Tap."

How long did it take to write the music for this movie?
MICHAEL McKEAN: It took varying degrees of time. Harry and I got together and wrote [some of the] songs in one afternoon. We wrote "Wanderin'" and "The Good Book Song," which will be on the DVD, it's not in the film. The songs were written in so many different ways. My wife, Annette [O'Toole], and I wrote three of the songs in there. One was music by CJ Vance, and that was "The Sea Shanty." And then, Annette and I wrote "Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" and "Potatoes in the Paddy Wagon," and those just happened because we write together. Actually, we started writing songs together with "Potatoes in the Paddy Wagon." It still sounds odd to be saying that. [Laughs] And then, I did one song with Chris, "Just that Kind of Day." We wrote that in a day. Eugene brought his song in and we kind of reworked that. He wrote the lyrics and we all reworked the music. There were all different kinds of collaboration. The Folksmen stuff was mostly written by all of us together, except for "Loco Man," which Harry wrote. It's just all various combinations.

How were you approached with the idea of this film?
McKEAN: We're pretty much in contact all the time. We were rehearsing for some "Spinal Tap" concerts and Chris came to rehearsal and said, "We've got an idea about doing this movie." We had talked about doing a longer form thing with The Folksmen because they had pre-existed for quite a number of years. That's kind of how we first knew about that. We thought, "Well, we need this kind of song and this kind of song. We don't have a 'Wanderin' song." We just basically got to work.

When did the Folksmen start?
McKEAN: In '84, these two guys (Christopher Guest & Harry Shearer) were doing "SNL" as regulars. I came and hosted a show, and in lieu of another "Tap" piece, we did these guys.

HARRY SHEARER: The concept pre-dated that, we are bound to say. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Michael blurted out, "Maybe we'll do a folk band next."

How much earlier was that?
McKEAN: That was '84.

SHEARER: That was when the "Spinal Tap" movie came out. Later that year, we did the "SNL"' thing, and then we did them occasionally at fundraisers and stuff like that.

And you've opened for yourself, right?
McKEAN: Eventually, we got to that point, yes. In 2001, I guess.

SHEARER: We did Carnegie Hall, the Greek Theater, the Warfield in San Francisco and the House of Blues in Vegas, with The Folksmen opening for Spinal Tap. And, we thought we had made music business history. We didn't think anybody else had ever opened for themselves, and I discovered in a Washington Post article earlier this month that we share the honor. The same individual opened for himself - he was both C.W. McCall and Manheim Steamroller. He did some gigs where he opened for Manheim Steamroller as C.W. McCall.

Do you make each other laugh?
SHEARER: That's why we do this.

McKEAN: I've been working with Harry for 33 years and I've been working with Chris for 35 years. Why work with somebody who is going to bore you to death? If you have a choice about things like that, no one's going to choose the guy that puts you to sleep.

NEXT PAGE: McKean and Shearer on "Spinal Tap" and What Makes Them Laugh

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