Jeff Bridges :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

"The world is filled with too many restless people in need of rest–that's why I filled my sleeping tapes with intriguing sounds, noises and other things to help you get a good night's rest…Sit back, close your eyes, and nod off."

That’s how Jeff Bridges, the Dude himself, pitches Sleeping Tapes on Dreaming With Jeff, the site dedicated to the musical project which unites the actor/musician/activist with Keefus Ciancia, a composer known for his work on True Detective and Nashville. Ostensibly, the idea is to create an atmosphere for relaxation, but in true Dude form, it’s more peculiar than that. Sure, Bridges’ stories, word paintings, and gentle murmurs are soothing and warm, but the recordings that accompany his voice are often haunting, veering into strange and uncanny territory.

Bridges was keen to discuss the project with AD by phone, as well as the national No Kid Hungry campaign. Proceeds from Sleeping Tapes downloads, vinyl, and cassette sales benefit the organization, which is dedicated to fighting hunger.

Aquarium Drunkard: Sleeping Tapes is a really enjoyable album. Your affirmations, conversations, and musings are indeed very soothing.

Jeff Bridges: Alright, good! [Laughs]

AD: That’s what you were going for, after all.

Jeff Bridges: Sure! [Laughs] Ah, I kind of didn’t really know what I was going for. I sort of let it do itself, you know? I was given that assignment, to make these “sleeping tapes,” and I was encouraged by the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy and Squarespace to kind of do my thing, you know? I got very excited by the absurdity of it and the openness of it, about the idea of engaging my friends, Keefus Ciancia and my buddy Lou Beach, who wrote some of those stories and designed the cover. I looked at it as a fun creative project, and I had just a ball doing it.

AD: You’ve made a few records now and really started performing a lot of music in conjunction with Crazy Heart, but I imagine that this projected presented an opportunity to experiment much more.

Jeff Bridges: One of the exciting things about it was that it really kind of created a new genre for me. It was opening the “genre” box. In the opening, the introduction, I talk about how the word “sleeping” implies “waking up,” and of course sleeping implies “dreaming,” and those three words kind of imply the whole kit and caboodle. You can put anything into those things -- write lullabies, and stories, and all kinds of different things. It just set my imagination going. It was really freeing that way, and I’m hoping to continue with the website and make different installments to this thing, more albums with the same team and same kind of ideas.

AD: At various points I’ve listened to records or sounds to fall asleep, and while this definitely shares some commonality with the ambient or new age things I’ve employed as sleeping aids, Ciancia came up with things that are more intriguing sounding than I’m used to falling asleep to. It’s not all major key stuff. There’s some dissonance, even some eerie or spooky sounds on this record.

Jeff Bridges: [Laughs] Well, like I said, it’s such a broad spectrum. I say in the introduction “everything implies everything else,” which is a psychedelic thing, but sleeping, you know, you got good dreams, you got bad dreams. It kind of opens the whole thing up about bad dreams. We go to scary movies. We like that kinda shit, you know? It makes it interesting. I love to make and watch movies that are surprising, where you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, and that’s what we were happy to see was happening with this album.

AD: I’ve listened a number of times, but last night I decided to put it to the test and listen to it while going to sleep, and I found myself a little too drawn in -- it sort of required an active listen for me. But you acknowledge that with the closing song, “Goodnight (We’re All In This Together),” when you say, “You’re not asleep yet? Well hell, fire this thing up again.” You can just give it another go and maybe fall asleep that time.

Jeff Bridges: Yeah! And I don’t know if this is how you did it, but the best way to listen is to download it and burn it to a CD in iTunes, so you can set it to burn with no space between songs. We really designed it to be seamless. I’ve noticed with the website between each track is a small little space. You can get the record, or the cassette -- those would be seamless too, I imagine, [but] for that seamless listening, you have to go through that process.

AD: Some very interesting things happen listening to this in that state between being awake and asleep, that hypnogogic space. It was enjoyable, even if I didn’t fall straight asleep.

Jeff Bridges: You mention that last track, which is the most important really. All of the sales from the downloads of the album go toward Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. I’ve been the national spokesperson for them for about five years now. That’s really important to me that that’s being funded. And it’s been funded to the extent of something like $200,000 dollars with the sales from this project. As you know, that’s all donations. People can pick it up for free, but the fact that people are inspired by what it’s really for and what it’s championing, that’s a great sign that our hearts are in the right place.

AD: You open with the statement “Everything implies everything,” and close with the statement “We’re all in this together.” It really brings things around, and speaks to the interesting relationship with this project and the No Kid Hungry campaign.

Jeff Bridges: I’ve been involved in ending hunger for about 30 years now. It started out being concerned about world hunger, and we formed an organization called the End Hunger Network, which was made up of folks in the entertainment industry and folks that were involved in the media. Once I learned that what was keeping hunger in place wasn’t that we didn’t have enough food or money or not even that we didn’t know how to end it — everybody knows how to end it — but what’s missing is the political will to do it. Making it a priority.

In democratic societies our politicians are supposed to represent us, the individuals so it finally gets down to “What am I willing to do?” Now that I know the facts, am I going to ignore those and just go about my business, or am I gonna look into my own life and see what part I might play in turning that around? [I wanted to do that] rather than just making a gesture, like giving a few bucks to something and scratching my guilt itch, you know? That could actually be part of the problem, because the individual feels like they’re off the hook now, they’ve done their part, and the problem persists.

So I wondered, “What could I do that I could keep doing until the problem is solved?” The most natural thing seemed to be doing something like what I’m doing with you now, spreading the word. That’s what I do making movies: tell stories and spread the word about those stories.

Then about 20 years ago the End Hunger Network shifted its focus from world hunger to hunger here in the United States, because some of the programs that were [combating hunger] weren’t being properly funded. We couldn’t be telling other countries how to do it when we have one in five of our kids struggling with hunger. Then about five years ago I got in cahoots with Share Our Strength and their No Kid Hungry campaign.

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