The comedienne gets Guitarded
BY RANDY HARWARD
Last March at South By Southwest, Blurt corralled Margaret Cho on the back patio of the comedy club
Esther’s Follies. Although she was part of a bill that included ten other
comics, Cho strolled in with a guitar case. The night, at least for Cho, was
about the music – namely the songs that will comprise her musical debut, Guitarded. Although not due until next
year, some songs, such “I Cho Am A Woman” and her duet with Grant-Lee Phillips
“Eat Shit & Die,” are available on iTunes and MargaretCho.com,
BLURT: Where do your
musical aspirations come from?
CHO: I’ve been doing my own comedy/music stuff since 2003… I
went on a couple rock tours and I really felt like I wanted to play [instead
of] sing to tracks. There’s something that’s not that gratifying about singing
along to a CD, you know? It’s really exciting to play your own music. So I
thought, I’m gonna do that. Now I’m
learning, trying to figure it all out.
So all this time
you’ve harbored a latent singer/songwriter?
That’s the kind of music that I like, like the people I’m
writing with on the circuit are Patty Griffin, Jill Sobule… That’s who you
think of when you think of singer/songwriter, so this is really exciting. And
then I’m writing with some different people like John Wesley Harding, Jon Brion…
It’s really an amazing list of people. I don’t know enough about music to be
able to compose it, so I always ask people who really do understand it to help
and teach me, so, it’s really wonderful.
I read that you
exchanged MP3s with your collaborators.
Usually they’ll send me an MP3 with their idea of what the
song should be and then I’ll learn it [on guitar], and then I’ll send an MP3
back and I’ll go, “You mean like this?” And sometimes they’ll send like chord
diagrams, ‘cause I don’t know the chord. So I can totally learn at least two or
three new chords from everybody. I love it.
Do they leave your
I kind of understand rhythm, so it’s usually very minor
changes, like, it’s just like an “and” or a “the.”
Was your first song
the Prop 8 protest song?
Yeah… I wanted to write – it was kind of like what really
got me playing, the thing that kind of pushed me in that direction. I was very
upset about Prop 8 passing in California, which is the outlawing of gay
marriage, so I wanted to do a protest song ‘cause there were all these rallies
going on. And I wanted to sing; I thought it would be cool if I could sing – and
“I can’t play guitar but I’m gonna.” So two days before, my brother-in-law
helped me [write and learn to play] the song: “Well, you do this chord and this
chord. If you know this chord and this chord, then you can make the song.” He
taught me C. That was the big chord that I learned. ‘Cause I already knew like
G and A and D. He taught me C and that was like the key to the song, so that
was really cool.
How has your playing
I’ve gradually gotten better at guitar. It’s still a
challenge but I want it so bad. I have a callus builder in my purse. It’s like
this grip thing; I do it all the time, trying to strengthen my fingers. And I
have an amazing guitar teacher who is like my guitar God. So she – her name is
Vicky Genfan. I worship her. She lives in New York and I live in LA, so we have
kind of a long-distance, like, teacher thing. And then I get a lesson from
everybody I work with.
What was your first
My first guitar was a 1963 Hofner, beautiful, red paisley,
like, just badass, gorgeous vintage electric. I played that a lot when I first
got it but then I started feeling like I started to get more of an acoustic
kind of vibe.
Do you still get the
urge to dial up the volume and rock out?
Yeah, wailing on it super-loud was really fun. It’s such a beautiful
– it’s like an orchestra in your hands, you know? The power of it is undeniable.
Would you like to be
able to play widdly-widdly-woo solos?
Oh, I’d love to. I need to learn all that, but I need to
learn finger-picking first. I’m not even there yet.
Are you gonna record
No. You know, I feel bad for Miley Cyrus now, especially
after the whole Radiohead thing. I felt bad. I really hope she doesn’t destroy
Radiohead ‘cause I really love them.
Who’s in your record
Well, I’m crazy about A.C. Newman’s new record. I’ll be
premiering a song tonight that I wrote with him. He’s such a Brian Wilson, you
know just like, pop [genius]. The song that I’m gonna do, it’s called “Your