Billie Joe Armstrong has a future in sales if the music thing doesn't work out. Just ask Norah Jones, who had every intention of turning down an interesting but odd pitch from the Green Day frontman because of tour exhaustion when she got on the phone with him.
Twenty minutes later, she'd agreed to an unlikely partnership that produced Foreverly, a loving recreation of an all-but-forgotten Everly Brothers album out this week.
"He just seemed so excited about the project and just kind of open to making music," Jones, 34, said. "He didn't really have an agenda other than he wanted to sing these songs with someone, so it sounded really fun. We kind of made an agreement to try a few days in the studio and see how it went ...
"So that was nice for me to not feel a lot of pressure. We kind of eased in. Honestly, it happened so fast. All of a sudden we were making the record, and five days later we had most of the songs."
The project is the first for Armstrong since he entered rehab for substance abuse last year during the release of an ambitious trilogy of albums. Talking from California, the 41-year-old singer-guitarist says he's feeling great: "It's a very cloudy and rainy day right now, but for me the sun is still shining."
The Foreverly project taps into those sunny feelings and is a rare venture away from his Green Day bandmates. A fan of early rock 'n' roll, his first record buy was a compilation of Elvis Presley's Sun Records work. Armstrong stumbled on an old scratchy copy of The Everly Brothers' Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.
He was transfixed by the pioneering rock and country duo's harmonies, something his band always incorporated in their music through their love of Husker Du and the dark subject matter lurking in the lyrics, yet obscured by the beauty of the Everlys' simple arrangements. He could see parallels between the music of Don and Phil Everly and the more modern music he was also into.
"If you listen to a Joy Division record, it's really dark," Armstrong said. "And when you listen to the Everly Brothers' Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, there's so much darkness in those old songs. I think that's just how people communicated when it came to mourning and loss. Then with the Everly Brothers it sounds like these two little angels that sing."
Armstrong's wife suggested Jones. The two had met briefly 10 years earlier at the Grammy Awards and were struck by how nice each seemed. Once she signed on, Jones says she took over a little bit. She uses the word "bossy".
Armstrong didn't mind. "She was kind of in the driver's seat, to be honest with you ... I had no idea we were making a country record until after it turned out and she said, 'I bet you didn't know you were making a country record'. I had no idea, but I sure as hell liked it."
Who: Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong
What: The album Foreverly, out now