"This would have come a lot sooner, but I had a baby, and I wanted to focus on being a mum for awhile," Minnie Driver says of Ask Me to Dance, her third Rounder/Zöe album, and her first new release since 2007.
In a musical career that's run concurrently with her endeavors as one of her generation's most acclaimed and in-demand actresses, Minnie Driver has consistently demonstrated an organic, distinctive set of talents that have been honed through a lifetime of music-making.
Ask Me to Dance marks another notable landmark in Driver's creative evolution. Where her first two albums, 2004's Everything I've Got In My Pocket and 2007's Seastories, focused on her own vivid songwriting, Ask Me to Dance finds the artist interpreting a selection of compositions by some of her favorite songwriters, demonstrating the breadth of her musical interests while showcasing her substantial interpretive skills.
Driver lends her warmly expressive voice to an impressively diverse set of songs, underlining her talent as a song stylist as well as her deeply personal engagement with the material. She submerges herself in the bittersweet vibe of "Waltz #2" by Elliott Smith, whom Driver befriended when both were in the early stages of their respective careers, and brings a jazzy lilt to The Cure's "Close To Me." While her readings of Neil Young's "Tell Me Why," John Prine's "Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness," and Neil Finn's "Better Be Home Soon" cut straight to the emotional heart of those songs, she reinvents the Killers' "Human" as an affecting country ballad, reworks the swinging Sinatra standard "Fly Me To The Moon" as a stark, moody ballad, and recasts Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" as a pensive, introspective mood piece.
"This is something that I've always wanted to do," Driver says of the covers project. "Every single song on it has enormous resonance for me, for one reason or another. It's called Ask Me to Dance because a lot of it is my entire teenage experience of standing at the side of a dark dance hall, just willing someone to ask me to dance. Some of these songs are the ones that helped me through being a teenager.
"But it wasn't just about going back to the past," she continues. "The point was to choose songs that I felt a real connection to, and then metabolizing the song and seeing how I could bring something new to it. It was much harder than I thought it would be, and it was quite a challenge to try to turn these songs into something new, and to find myself in them in a way that would also be meaningful to other people."
London-born Amelia Fiona Driver spent much of her early childhood in Barbados, until her parents separated and sent her back to England to attend boarding school. As a teenager, she began singing and playing guitar in London jazz clubs, while earning her degree in drama from the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. By the time she reached her 20s, she was acting regularly on British TV, while singing with the jazz group Puff, Rocks and Brown.
"I don't know if I actually did the whole Malcolm Gladwell thing of playing for 10,000 hours, but I felt like I did," Driver recalls. "I had planned to make music my primary thing, but then I got offered a film and it all went off in a different direction. At the time, I thought that I was ready to take on the music industry, but I don't think that I really was. I had to grow up enough to have something to say."
Although her band won a development deal with Island Records, Driver temporarily put her musical passions on hold when her acting career took off, first with her breakout role in Circle of Friends in 1995, and subsequently with high-profile turns in such films as GoldenEye, Big Night, Grosse Pointe Blank, Sleepers and Good Will Hunting. Her work in the latter film earned Driver her first Academy Award nomination, along with a London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Supporting Actress of the Year.
As her acting career gained momentum, Driver found time to continue writing songs, gravitating towards a rootsy folk-pop sound that she unveiled with the release of 2004's Everything I've Got in My Pocket and refined on 2007's Seastories. Both albums received considerable critical acclaim and won Driver a substantial fan base.
Driver was hardly idle in the seven years separating Seastories and Ask Me to Dance. In addition to raising her now-five-year-old son, she won wide acclaim for the FX TV series The Riches, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award as Best Lead Actress. She also starred in the 2010 BBC series The Deep, and appeared in the feature films Conviction and Barney's Version, for which she won a Genie Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Most recently, Driver starred in the television movie “Return to Zero,” a devastating true story of a couple’s attempts to navigate their way through a pregnancy filled with doubt, grief and trepidation. Driver was nominated for a 2014 Critics’ Choice Television Award, as well as a 2014 Primetime Emmy Award on behalf of her performance in the film. She's also currently one of the stars of the NBC series About A Boy, which will premiere its Second Season on Tuesday, October 14th at 9:30PM.
Driver recorded Ask Me to Dance with noted producer Marc "Doc" Dauer, who also produced her first two albums, and legendary engineer Jim Scott, who worked on Seastories, along with many of the same musicians who played on her prior releases.
"I really like the continuity of working with the same people," Driver states. "To me, that's a lot more interesting to me than the idea of going to France to make a record with Phoenix or going to North Africa to work on some world beats. I'm more interested in finding my own groove, and I like where I'm at with these guys, because there's a shorthand and a communication that's developed over time. This time, we were all in the room together, and it just felt so good and so positive. I gave a little speech every time we started a new song, letting them know what the song meant to me, and they got it."
Having ended her extended recording hiatus, Minnie Driver is returning to music with a renewed passion. She's also looking forward to return to playing live, and planning to work around About A Boy's shooting schedule to bring Ask Me to Dance to life on stage.
"Everyone's journey is different, and there's a million different ways of doing it," she reflects. "With my first record, because I had been waiting for such a long time to do it, I felt such a need to prove myself. And then people actually listened and realized that it wasn't a self-aggrandizing trainwreck, so now I don't feel like I have quite so much to prove. But music is still very important to me, and I feel like I'm still learning and still growing.
"You can't talk people into believing that you're good at something," Driver concludes. "You just have to show them, and then you just have to keep doing it and keep getting better at it, and let the work speak for itself."
Ask Me To Dance will be released on October 7, 2014.