THERE are obvious reasons why Reeve Carney has been cast in Mystery White Boy, the ‘official’ biopic of the singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, who drowned in 1997. Both grew up in California; guitarist Buckley played in his school’s jazz band; Carney majored in studio jazz guitar; and Carney’s a dead ringer for Buckley.
But Carney makes a distinction between their personalities. “It seemed that he almost didn’t have protective mechanisms in place,” he says. “If you’re able to live your life without guarding yourself, without putting up walls, I think that makes for the most beautiful type of person, but the problem is it also makes you the most vulnerable type of person. That kind of explains Jeff. He didn’t have any walls up, for the most part. He kinda lived life where it would take him. That’s how we’re different — I’m a bit more protective of myself.”
Their singing style is different, too. Carney does vocal warm-ups by singing along to Buckley’s videos on YouTube. “It’s a different approach to the way I sing. I occasionally sing the way he does, in that general style, but a lot of what I do is different. It’s a good stretch for my vocal chords to sing his songs. I sing with proper technique — I’ve had training — but I like to sing more on the edge, vocally, and sing more dangerously. But it’s good to have the training. It’s necessary for a singer like me, who likes to live on the edge,” Carney says.
“Singing is like the balance between air and muscle. My singing style is slightly more muscular than Jeff’s. Jeff’s is more air than muscle. It’s helpful for somebody like me to be practicing that... He was a brilliant singer, but he chose to sing in a way that was less gritty.”
Carney compares his singing style to U2 frontman Bono’s. Carney performed with Bono on American Idol. “Those have been some of the biggest thrills of my life — sitting next to Bono and having him pass me the microphone. The way I approach the voice is a lot more similar to Bono than Jeff. One thing I love about Bono’s voice is his sense of abandon when he sings. He’s not too precious about it. He has this natural freeness of tone,” Carney says.
Mystery White Boy is being executive-produced by Buckley’s mother, Mary Guibert. It has yet to start filming, but Carney, who will perform a live gig at The Workman’s Club in Dublin, next Saturday (March 1), has researched Buckley, by traipsing around the avant-garde music clubs in New York, where Buckley sang.
“I was always aware of his love for singers like Musrat Ali Fateh Ali Khan, but, to me, Jeff’s two secret weapons, as a musician, were his love for Quwwali music blended in with his love for classical music and opera. Those two elements, from far extremes, created his style of singing.
“Sadly, some of the venues he played in, in New York, are gone. The most famous one, readers of the Irish Examiner would know, had an Irish name. It was called Sin-é. He played there every Monday night, I think, for maybe a year. That’s how he got his record deal.
“That place is gone. It’s two places now — there’s a nightclub with a bar, and a kosher deli... And there was the Sidewalk Café, which he used to play occasionally. They’ve redone that, and I’ve been there. I like trying to retrace someone’s footsteps, if that’s a possible thing to do, which isn’t quite as easy with Dorian Gray.”
Carney is referring to his role in the new Showtime TV series, Penny Dreadful, a romp through Victorian London, in which characters from literary history, like Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and Dorian Gray, come to life. The show, which also stars Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale, former James Bond Timothy Dalton, and a former Bond girl, Eva Green, is being filmed in Ireland at present.
Carney has Irish roots and his father’s uncle, actor Art Carney, won an Oscar for the 1974 road movie, Harry and Tonto. He was a Second World War veteran and walked with a limp from his wounds. His star still burns around Broadway, where his grandnephew played the lead role in the hit Spider-Man musical for three years. “In New York City,” says Carney, “it almost makes you royalty to be related to Art. When I was doing Spider-Man, all the stagehands were like: ‘you’re related to Art Carney?’ They flip out because they still watch him on TV — in New York, they still play The Honeymooners [which he starred in opposite Jackie Gleason] every night. According to my parents, he was the first person to make me laugh uncontrollably, when I was three months old.”
Reeve Carney will perform at 8pm, Saturday, March 1, at The Workman’s Club, 10 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2. Further information: theworkmansclub.com.