With three successful records under their belt, eclectic lounge-pop act Pink Martini will return October 13 with "Splendor in the Grass" on the band's own label, Heinz Records. Pink Martini's founder and director Thomas Lauderdale tells Billboard.com the album is "all over the map, but hopefully more cohesive than the last one ['Hey Eugene!']." A final track listing is currently being worked on as Lauderdale hopes to get back into the studio and record guest vocals from 90 year old Mexican rancheras singer Chavela Vargas and NPR correspondent Ari Shapiro.
Whether more recording happens or not, Lauderdale is quite excited about the group's new work. "Sometimes with these albums, the danger is everything becoming too random. With this one, I think it has the energy of the first album ['Sympathique']," he said.
Pink Martini is known for mixing a wide variety of contemporary pop influences, classical, and world arrangements and, from Lauderdale's descriptions, "Splendor in the Grass" continues in this tradition. "Tuca Tuca," a popular Italian song from 1970, is augmented with the use of a sitar (the actual instrument used by Peter Sellers in the 1968 film "The Party") and vocalist China Forbes teams with Sesame Street's Emilio Delgado for a bilingual version of "Sing" (a song originally composed for the popular kids program and covered by the Carpenters). For the title track, the group drew inspiration from poets William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman and "a little bit of Tchaikovsky." "I think this is very different than anything we've ever released," he says of the song "Splendor in the Grass." "It's more like an early 70's pop ballad."
Although remaining relatively under the radar this decade, Pink Martini has become quite successful in both selling records, selling out prestigious concert halls and licensing their music in many major film and television placements (i.e. "Desperate Housewives," "Weeds," "CSI New York"). The first three records have combined for a total of 750,000 sales, according to Nielson SoundScan. Lauderdale says the band feels very fortunate for this and credits Pink Martini's fans as "one of the few populations that are still buying albums." Support from NPR and Pink Martini's work with symphony orchestras have also boosted their exposure to audiences that might not initially gravitate towards an a popular music act.
"Thomas is such a perfectionist, which is such a luxury for the audience," says Johanna Rees, Senior Programming Manager of presentations and special concerts for the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. "He's so inclusive, that when you're watching him put a show together, you realize why it has such a great spirit. He's open to suggestions and eager to make it as good as he possibly can." Dating back to 2000, Pink Martini has played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and on their own; Rees has booked them at both the Hollywood Bowl and the LA Philharmonic's downtown venue, Walt Disney Concert Hall.
"They have such a widespread appeal," she says. "The musicianship is so good, but they don't take themselves too seriously."
Pink Martini will follow "Splendor in the Grass" with a live album recently recorded with the Oregon Symphony, tentatively due in spring 2010. "I've done various classical things with them since I was 13," Lauderdale recalls. "I made the decision we should champion them; it would've been cheaper if we had assembled our own orchestra, but I really believe in them."
But for now, the focus remains on getting "Splendor in the Grass" out there. "It's really a fun record, I really love it," he says.