Shudder To Think Scores...and Wins, with "High Art", "First
Love, Last Rites", and "Velvet Goldmine"
by Amanda N. Nanawa
Its so simple to label bands nowadays. But Craig Wedren, Nathan Larson,
and Stuart Hill of Shudder To Think are an exception to the rule. In the
past, you would find the band’s name listed on some arena marquis with
the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins or R.E.M. But the latest release of
Lisa Cholodenko’s “High Art” has anointed Wedren and Larson into the
realm of film scoring. It is no fluke to find the band’s name listed in
the beginning credits. Get used to it.
“We decided we wanted to somehow capitalize on the whole soundtrack
madness that’s been happening in this decade, but without slapping
together another lame-o, alterna-electro whatever kinda soundtrack,” says
lead vocalist Craig Wedren.
It all started with a phone call to music supervisor and friend Tracy
McKnight of Good Machine Music. The two collaborated on Frank Grow’s
“Love God” but due to political differences with the record label, the
band’s music was scratched from the film.
That mishap set the wheels in motion for Shudder To Think to take up
another project, this time in Writer/Director Jesse Peretz’ “First Love,
Last Rites,” opening in theaters Aug. 7th. “I was living with Jesse a
number of years ago,” recalls Wedren, “and he was in the middle of
adapting it to a screenplay. Of course, we would discuss how we’re doing
the music. He was a fan, he had directed some of our videos; we were
very close — it’s all in the family.”
Wendren continues, “‘First Love, Last Rites’ was our first feature. And
it was just like (this) enormously languid, gorgeous, and sensual event.
And to make every choice about what sound, what song, what vibe, what
genre, it’s like being the backup band to the actors.”
“There’s very little score; its mostly the music that Sissel (Natasha
Gregson Wagner) plays on her turntable,” says Wedren. So he and Larson
wrote about 20 pro-oldies in different genres from all different eras;
and stayed true to the writing styles and production styles of the era.
“Working with just singers for ‘First Love’ is probably the most
exciting thing,” says Wedren. “We decided we should get other singers to
sing the songs because we needed to sound like all different artists. So
we started calling our friends, some of our real true heroes who lead us
down the fucking Devil’s path of music.” With help from the likes of
Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins), the late Jeff Buckley, Robin
Zander (Cheap Trick), and Liz Phair, you too would want to grin at that
sort of compliment. “That was how that came to fruition and lead to just
doors, windows, verandas, French windows opening, opening, opening for
more film,” says Wedren.
Despite the discouraging outcome of “Love God”, Wedren touched base with
McKnight. She was working on a project called “High Art” which had no
composers attached and she invited them to check out the film,
describing it to them as an atmospheric, beautiful film.
“Once we saw ‘High Art‘ there was no question. I mean, it was like a
desperate compulsion to make it ours,” says Wedren. “‘High Art’ as
opposed to ‘First Love’ was almost entirely score, although we did the
source music. On so many levels, we wanted (the score) to be kinda
ambiguous. We wanted it to be subliminal. It’s the type of music that
when you’re tuned into it, you can really listen to it at the same time.
We come from a pop, for lack of a better word, background, but our heads
are in a zillion different places and we want to do classical, ambient,
jazz — something that sounds like nothing that’s ever been made
“And then for the source music that we did,” continues Wedren, “we
wanted to give the vibe of lots of different things that, oh a group of
hipper than thou drugged-out lesbians might do in their apartment. So,
we abide by the parameters of the film as decided by us with the
director. Anything goes, explore. And that’s really what we did with
Don’t think for a minute that the meeting between Director Lisa
Cholodenko and Shudder To Think went off without a hitch. Their
collaboration was unique, but she was very unsure about what Shudder To
Think was capable of doing.
“The first thing that we played was the thing that made (it into) ‘High
Art’,” professes Wedren. “I mean, basically, we talked a lot and had to
convince her that we could do it. . . We played to her some television
and commercial stuff that we’ve done. I did music for a television show
called “The State” which was on MTV and Nathan did some Nike
(commercials) but, they didn’t even really apply.”
Wedren continues, “We were sent three scenes and one was the opening
scene with Radha [Mitchell] looking through the magnifying thing. During
one of our talks I said, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Crystal glasses!” And
then we just rocked a couple sketches of themes and one of them was
basically what got used in the film and became the theme for Syd’s
character — the crystal glass tones. Fortunately, thank God, that was
like the first thing we did so it wasn’t as much of a struggle as it
might have been.”
McKnight had a different perspective, confiding that they had it all
along. “[The band] brought everything to the film that was of
independence. They had that hunger.” She goes on to say that it was the
band’s personality and their edgy charm that helped them land the job.
They were the best of both worlds — one, with the ability to score and
two, with the ability to write original songs. In other words, director
and band clicked.
“We have never scored a full length feature before. We did all these
songs for Jesse’s film and did a couple pieces of score. But, we started
trying to make completely different music for every single scene, like
completely different instrumentation, arrangement, everything. It was so
funny when we got the job — I had to go figure out how to score music,”
says Wedren. Nathan Larson, the band’s guitarist and film scoring
partner, confessed to have bought a book called “How to Score Movies,
but said, “This doesn’t tell me anything.”
After a week of being in retail stores, the soundtrack has so far sold
over 400 copies across the U.S. Not bad for a movie that’s primarily
being shown in arthouse theaters and in major cities. Could it be
because soundtrack music is the hottest trend?
“Music is coming up disparate right now,” continues Wedren. “Assuming
what’s going on in independent or left of center music is a little bit
harder to (put a) finger on. Like what’s happening in independent film
now is like what was happening in independent music.”
Larson concurs, reminiscing toa time six years ago when independent bands
were swallowed by larger labels. Shudder To Think was a part of that
frenzy; and like all things mentioned as the infamous “next big thing,”
they ultimately came up short, disappointing their label execs and some
rock critics in their wake.
“Basically what we’re gonna do is start doing Steven Seagal movies,”
laughs Wedren. The band has a lot to be happy about. With a notable
mention in the “25 New Indie Faces” issue of Filmmaker Magazine, and the
much anticipated Todd Haynes film “Velvet Goldmine”, featuring original
Bowie-influenced music, its a safe bet to call them the next hot thing.
The band is currently in the studio writing new material for their
upcoming untitled effort. Their last album “50,000 B.C.” (Epic) was
released in February 1997. When asked whether they’ll tour or continue
staying in the studio composing film scores, they promptly opted for the
latter. Larson concludes, “For film geeks like us to be able to help
shape the movie is so fucking. . . it’s a really powerful tool.”