Get the First Listen to 'The Train,' Common and Sara Bareilles' Duet from New Film 'All About Nina': Exclusive
The uplifting tune, which premieres below, serves as a perfect send off to the Eva Vives-directed film about up-and-coming caustic comedian Nina Geld, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who moves to Los Angeles and ends up confronting her demons as she reveals a history of abuse during a breakdown during a routine. Common plays her new boyfriend, Rafe, in The Orchard-distributed film, which opens Sept. 28 in select theaters.
Oscar-winner Common talked to Billboard about creating the song, working with Bareilles and how artists can protect their own mental health.
Billboard: Is there a different energy when you work with a female artist?
Common: I love working with women. The creativity and the inspiration that women bring to our work is that it always can go deeper. Women take it to different levels than men. That’s why women are so appreciated and valued as far as a lot of us artists who recognize the beauty of what women bring to our art form, music, and in life. Sara really came in with this bright and lovely spirit. I called her to ask her if she would check the song out and if she’d want to perform on it and she called me right back and she was like “l love the song.” We recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York, which was Jimi Hendrix’s studio. I used to work there so much with D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and the Roots and Bilal in the early 2000s. When she came in, you could feel the joy she felt in doing the song and she really just wanted to light it up and make it be as powerful and beautiful as possible. I really enjoyed that experience with her.
How did writing the song unfold?
I co-wrote the song with Samora Pinderhughes. He’s an incredible songwriter and artist himself. He saw the movie and we both thought about moving forward in life. Nina and so many our survivors now, there’s some strength in what they’re doing that we can be inspired [by]. Every woman that I know that’s a survivor, they’re like, “I don’t want people to be sad for me.” There’s a strength in it and we wanted the strength to come through in the song. That song is part of Nina’s story: “I’m moving forward. I’ve been through this, but I’m going forward.”
Since the film is primarily from a female point of view, did you feel you needed to have a female voice on it? Did you think that maybe a female should write the song?
Yeah. We were open to having a female writer, but I’ve been doing so much work with Samora, when he created it, he came up with the ideas right there and I was like, “This it is, right here.” We knew we had to have a female sing it.
The train imagery is used in so many ways in the song. There’s the notion of forward movement, you talk about train of thought in one of your verses, and even the piano has a chugging quality, all pointing to a forward momentum.
Yes. So many of our survivors and people in life, we go through our struggles and we’ve got to move forward. We do move forward and that’s the power and strength as human beings, as children of God, and that’s what we’ve been seeing a lot now with women in our society.
How is it different when you’re starring in the movie as well as writing a song for it?
It’s a different feeling of emotion because I’ve lived with the film so much and I know all these different intricacies about the story and each character. It’s like cooking with a lot of ingredients. I have so much to cook with because I give my whole soul. When I become a character, I want to live in that character. You’ve worked with the other characters in the film and the director has told you certain things. Man, it just gives you so much to work with.
Was it hard to get into Nina’s head for the verses or were you also writing them from the perspective of Rafe? Both of you have lost your fathers.
It’s funny in that I sang as Nina, as Rafe, I sang as me. I had all those elements going on. It was a little difficult to think about all of Nina’s dynamics because we’d filmed the movie a year ago, so I had to revisit, but the first things that jumped off of what I knew about Nina and what she’d been through were the things that I wrote about, like some of her struggles and the strength she found within herself. I knew telling some of Rafe’s story would be important. I feel when you create these songs, when you find the real truth and humanity in it, it hits a universal note. You and I didn’t have to grow up in the same neighborhood or with the same parents. There are things we will connect with as human beings because we are people.
The film deals with Nina’s mental health. You recently did a podcast about taking care of your own mental health. We’ve seen a lot of artists who are struggling or who, unfortunately, didn’t make it, like Mac Miller. What is your best advice for artists on how to take care of themselves?
God bless his soul. I think to first find a spirituality that you can use as your foundation. I’m not one to say that you should use this religion or that religion. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I’ve been with Muslim brothers whom I’ve prayed with. I’ve been to Buddhist experiences and know we’re connecting with God. Spirituality is one of those things that I really believe is important when it comes to dealing with all of those things we deal with in society, especially as entertainers because that spirituality is bigger than any of the material things we can gain or lose. Also, having therapists and having mental health support systems, meaning going and talking to individuals who don’t even know you but are professionals and can take in your information and give you real feedback and tools on how to heal and deal with these things. And then supporting yourself with individuals who are part of your life who can understand and not judge what you may be going through and can understand it and know how to help. Those are some of the things I’ve found helpful. And I also believe how we treat ourselves and our bodies, remembering to love ourselves. I went to a mindfulness retreat with my team and it was amazing just to remember that “Oh, you’ve got to love yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”