(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Q: When I hear a song that you write with somebody, I know it's your song. It's unmistakable — whether it's Daniel Tashian or Hal David or Elvis Costello. How does it start? Does someone say, "Hey, I've got a line for you? What do you think of this?"
A: It happens in different ways with different writers. Say, “Alfie,” [in the 1966 movie of the same name starring Michael Caine]. Those lyrics were going to have to say what was going on in that motion picture, without giving everything away. So Hal David wrote all the lyrics first, and then I wrote the music. It was a very difficult song to write: Six-bar phrase. Eight-bar phrase. Twelve-bar phrase and all rules are off. You know, you just follow where those words take you. So it took me three weeks of writing the melody on that. I am very hard on myself when I’m working because it’s inch by inch.
In those days I was living in New York and would go to the theater, see a musical or play. There was a play with Henry Fonda, and I was trying to get into the play, but in my head, I’m thinking about what music I would put with it. Where do the drums come in? Do they come in there?
Q: "The Look of Love." Who did your favorite version of that song?
A: I have to lean a little toward Dusty Springfield because I was scoring the picture [the 1967 James Bond spoof “Casino Royale”]. And what we did was up to Dusty. I loved Dusty. I loved her voice. I miss her very much. She recorded a lot of my songs, and you know, you hear certain singers and Dusty, you knew immediately, everything. Dionne [Warwick], too. I put Gladys Knight in there, too.
Dusty was very hard on herself when we went in the studio, made the record and made it for the film. And she wouldn’t listen to her playback. She’d have to go into another control room.
Q: Was she insecure about hearing it?
A: Yeah. She didn’t want anyone in the room. I said, “Dusty, it’s great.” The song became a great hit. And Diana Krall also did a beautiful version.
Q: Also, she's Elvis Costello's wife. Do you think you guys might work with him again?
A: Yeah, we talked about it. I’m very proud of the album we did [“Painted From Memory”]. That was a real collaboration.
Q: I don't know how easy the album was for you both, but it felt like you got the best of each other.
A: We did. I am totally proud of the work that we did. I’m totally proud of the work that I did. I like the orchestrations that I wrote. And it’s brilliant. It was a record that just came out at the wrong time. As the record came out, the record company went under.
Q: You're working with Daniel Tashian now and writing new songs. Tell me about that.
A: It’s a very interesting process because he’s in Nashville and I’m in Los Angeles. We write something that we like, then I work by phone with Tim Lauer, who is the keyboard player in the nucleus of the band that Daniel will use. I’ll write out a framework for where this could go. Then Tim puts down a keyboard part and I get a temporary vocal from Daniel. Now you have a piano and a vocal and you start adding things. You send it to the drummer, maybe bass or guitar, and they hear what the two other people are playing. The orchestration is kind of laid out where the strings are going to come in. And then my part is done.