There are better places to eat in California. But on a humid, overcast day in June, Elijah Wood has chosen the leafy patio of a non-descript café in Venice to meet. He’s presumably not here for the food – the coffee is lukewarm and the sandwiches are neither savory nor bourgeois enough to justify the “French” label they’ve been given on the menu – nor is he here for the attention. The café doesn’t exactly scream “Hollywood hotspot” and the only cameras in sight are from the cell phones of the other diners, who are too busy texting and eating to notice the A-list actor among them. As he tucks into his not-quite-French panini, Wood rattles off a familiar truism in regards to his new music label venture, though it can also easily apply to his choice of meeting place: “My friends told me that once you figure out what you want, you should just go for it,” he says. “Just do what you want to do and go where you want to go.” Sounds like a plan.
In person, Wood is boyish and handsome. He’s as short as you’d think, though skinnier that you remember, with a hint of scruff hiding his pallor, which seems particularly remarkable in Southern California. The elfin qualities that endeared him to millions of teenage girls in the 90s and made him especially believable as a hobbit in the Lord of the Rings trilogy have now been replaced with a weary disposition and cautious smile that never quite moves past a grin. If Wood was riding that fine line between teen idol and serious adult actor a few years ago, it’s clear he’s now firmly seated in that compelling Leonardo DiCaprio arena of the latter.
Wood isn’t particularly chatty and his stories come in spurts. He opens with a couple lines about the gloomy weather, then waxes on about missing New York (he spent a few years there before making the move to L.A.) and the freedom of having a bike in the city instead of driving a car. Neither topic goes on for long; he’s just making small talk after all. But when the conversation turns to music, Wood lights up.
A self-professed “music buff” who reportedly owns a record collection numbering into the thousands, Wood launched his own record label a few years ago out of frustration with not being able to access music from artists he loved. The independent venture, called “Simian Records” (“It’s a name that doesn’t automatically reveal how the music’s going to sound,” Wood explains) now has a handful of artists under its wing, most notably ebullient indie rockers Apples in Stereos, and electro-punk outfit Heloise and the Savoir Faire.
“With the record label, I went in naively,” says Wood, in between drags of a cigarette (a habit he admits he’s trying to break). “All I knew was that I love music and I could rely on my tastes, and everything else has sort of been flying by the seat of my pants.”
Wood’s musical tastes run the gamut from folk and jazz to more adventurous fare like metal rockers Black Sabbath and indie-band-of-the-moment Gogol Bordello (drummer Pamela Racine is Wood’s long-time girlfriend). Once asked to name his ten favorite albums, Wood wrote down 137. The list ranged from The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream,” to “Midnight Marauders” by A Tribe Called Quest.
While Wood briefly took piano lessons as a kid, he confesses to not being very good with instruments. Still, he’s dropped money on a Fender Rhodes piano, along with a substantial guitar collection, a 1970s Minimoog synthesizer and — most recently — a small drum kit that he keeps in his backhouse, just steps from his modest 20s era bachelor pad in Venice. The house also serves as an unofficial office for the label, which is still primarily run and funded by Wood. “It’s not at all built up to a place where there’s a staff and things like that,” Wood admits. “I’m sort of taking it record by record. Eventually I’d like to build it up to where it has its own home, has a staff and its own autonomy. But I’ve just been busy with so many other things.”
Because in case you forgot, being a big-time movie star can be somewhat time consuming.
– To read the rest of this article, pick up Issue 6 of Corduroy.
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