On Saturday evening, Hollywood's Space 15 Twenty celebrates the opening of its Planet White T-Shirt exhibition, conceived by L.A. arts organizer Triple-Major and benefiting Designers Against AIDS.
The T-shirt reborn.
The installation, which runs through April 18, promises to re-imagine and transform the plain white T-shirt with the help of 31 designers from around the world, whose takes on the medium run the gamut from shredded couture versions thereof to a framed pile of cotton-derived ash.
But what pricked the collective ear of West Coast Sound was this: The opening event, which runs from 7 to 9 p.m., includes a rare in-person performance from enigmatic YouTube piano phenom Napkin Holder.
For just over a year, Napkin Holder has been banging out his barroom-friendly, 88-keys versions of some of the biggest pop singles to grace the charts. No, that's nothing new in and of itself, but Napkin has got two things going for him: how damn good his covers sound, and how weirdly they're often executed.
His take on Lil Wayne's "Lollipop," for instance, sees him using an actual lollipop (held in his right hand) to play. Following the Kanye West, Taylor Swift kerfuffle, he created a mashup between the two artists' contemporary hits, with West's "Heartless" repeatedly butting rudely in on Swift's "You Belong With Me." And he scored his biggest viewership to date with an 8-minute medley spanning the Daft Punk oeuvre.
Napkin Holder grants WCS his first interview after the jump. And, of course, it's interspersed with a few must-see videos from the man's body of work.
The Napkin vs. Daft Punk:
West Coast Sound: Let's start with the obvious. Why "Napkin Holder"?
Napkin Holder: Musicians or bands are often named after something serious. I started this project as a hobby with no serious intentions, so I named it after a random object I saw on the table when I was thinking about a name.
WCS: What attracts you to the songs that you cover?
NH: I never really plan which songs I'm going to play. I listen to the radio or a CD when I am driving, and if the songs are catchy I'll go home and play it on my piano. If it sounds good I'll go record it.
WCS: What do you like to listen to, for fun?
NH: Mostly electronic music. Ironically a lot of the songs I like can't be played on piano because they don't have much melody. I guess that's why people find my Daft Punk medley interesting -- because they don't expect songs like "Human After All" to exist as a piano version.
WCS: You played little Wayne's "Lollipop" using an actual lollipop and Rihanna's "Umbrella" using an umbrella. Is there a point that you're trying to make here?
NH: Not exactly. You could say it challenges the traditional way to play piano but, after all, it's an expression of humor. It's just a series where I play with objects that are related to the title of the song. I also did [T-Pain's] "Buy You a Drink" with a bottle, [Beyonce's] "Single Ladies" with a Barbie, and Lil Wayne's "Mrs. Officer" with a toy cop car.
WCS: Each of your clips advises that you "play all songs by ear," which seems like quite a feat. What's your history with the piano?
NH: I started learning classical piano when I was five, but then figured out that I learn music by listening instead of by reading sheet music. That was when I was in high school. I had to do a medley of cartoon theme songs that weren't available already transcribed. That's when I started to play popular music by ear.
WCS: How old are you?
NH: It's more fun not knowing my age.
WCS: How much prep goes into doing one of these pieces -- for instance, the Justice medley?
NH: If I'm doing something like that, it probably takes about one full day to figure out every song and compile them. Some single songs can take me half a day. [Jay-Z's] "Empire State of Mind" took probably an hour. It depends on how complex the song is and how much I want to develop it. The nice thing about YouTube is that I have no obligation to make a song. I just record when I feel like it.
WCS: The room that you're seen playing in is all-white, with what looks like a tiny window in the door, which means one of two things: penitentiary or rehearsal room? Surely the Napkin Holder has a piano of his own?
NH: I do record in a rehearsal room. I take whatever's available at a nearby university -- that's why I use different piano every time. I actually only have a keyboard.
WCS: You're playing in public this weekend. Will you hide your face? If so, how?
NH:It's not a very serious disguise, like Batman or anything. It's not like if I show my face people are going to know who I am. But, yeah, I'll still wear some kind of mask related to the event to be fun.
WCS: Are we correct in assuming you'll be performign a set of pop covers on Saturday night?
NH: Yeah, much like an abridged DJ set, but on piano.
WCS: What are Napkin Holder's future plans with music? Is there an end game? Will he/does he play in a band?
NH: Well, I used to be a pianist at the USC bookstore. I was expected to play classical, but I just played pop songs. I've played at some small concerts and parties, but for the most part it's just a hobby. I don't think the kind of music I play would fit into a band setting, but I might do some collaborations with other musicians down the line