30 Things That Gave Me Goosebumps: Questlove, Marilyn McCoo, and Billy Davis, Jr. on Summer of Soul | Interviews

Why choose Beatles songs for Blackbird, your first studio album in 35 years?

BILLY DAVIS, JR.: Those are songs you can take and interpret them in different ways, because of the way they write. You can’t bring your own interpretation to everyone’s songs. It’s such a strong catalogue that you can take it and make it your own, while other artists can take it and bring their experiences. That’s the way they write.

What did you learn from your first time directing?

QUESTLOVE: Without being all touchy-feely with it, this project more than anything has helped me develop as a human being. Sometimes artists can be really neurotic, living inside our heads. I will not hesitate to admit that of all the things that I’ve done creatively, this is the one that I was really, really nervous about. And by nervous, I mean scared. Partly because I’m a perfectionist. And what I will say is that this film has really brought out an awareness and a confidence in me that I never knew that I ever had. A lot of the time, everything that I do creatively is behind a shield, behind the drum set, behind my Dad, behind Black Thought, behind Jimmy Fallon, behind turntables. With the exception of teaching at NYU, you guys have never experienced me one-on-one. I have the safety of Instagram or a book. There’s always a barrier that keeps you from getting in there and that’s how I thought I liked it. 

So, I will say that the amount of confidence that I got as a human being this was a game-changer for me. Not saying that I’m going to go through life without fear, and do Will Smith’s Grand Canyon jump or something like that. But on a technical side of thing, I also learned the power of editing. Most Roots albums are these gargantuan everything, but the kitchen sink is what I’m bringing to the table. My first draft of this film was 3 hours and 35 minutes. And this is where I really learned that less is more and less is impactful. The 3 hour and 35-minute version of the film probably wouldn’t have hit you in the gut more than a very succinct 2 hours. 

For five months, I just kept it on 24-hour loop, no matter where I was, in the house or in the world. And if anything gave me goosebumps, then I took a note of it. And I felt like if there were at least 30 things that gave me goosebumps, we could have a foundation.

In the very beginning when I was showing drafts to people, a lot of the complaints I got were like, “Well, wait, you’re not in this. We need to hear your voice.” And so, I begrudgingly put my voice in the very beginning of the film asking the first question. And that candid moment that I had with [festival audience member] Musa Jackson at the end—we yelled, “Cut,” but I didn’t realize that they kept the tape rolling. So that was the actual real conversation that we were having. That was such a game-changer, icebreaking moment, where we realized that not only is this a movie, but we got to hand him his history back to him. 

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