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Shudder Settle the Score

July 30, 1998 12:00 AM ET

Now that studios have discovered the commercial potential of moviesoundtracks, scores that actually complement films have become a rarity. It'seasier, after all, to slap together a couple of surefire radio hits and a feworiginal tracks from hot mainstream acts than to actually use the soundtrackto enhance a film's atmosphere or further its plot and thematic scope. Withmovie albums virtually guaranteeing profits on even less-than-successfulfilms, a director is taking a risk by assigning a score to a single band orcomposer, regardless of the final quality. Especially when that band is theradio-unfriendly Shudder To Think.

"It's peculiar music that we make, even though the songs are very mainstream,"opines Craig Wedren, the smooth-scalped frontman for punk-rock-turned-avant-garde-composer-group Shudder To Think. "And after 50,000 B.C. [their1997 Epic release], everything went wrong. I had just recovered from cancer,our friend Tim Taylor from Brainiac, who we had toured with, had died, therecord tanked. So we said, 'let's take this somewhere else, let's do amovie.'"

They were first commissioned to create -- of all things -- a slew of Fiftiesand Sixties-inspired pop songs for director Jesse Peretz's First Love, LastRites, a tale of teen love set on the bayou that comes out next week. "Wehad sort of icons that we wanted to emulate," explains Wedren. "Otis Reddingon 'I Want Someone Badly,' the Zombies on 'Automatic Soup,' Johnny Cash on'Lonesome Dove.' And we just made lists of everybody we wanted to work with,starting with people we knew."

Listen to the album, and you'll be surprised to hear Jeff Buckley (whorecorded the song "I Want Someone Badly" just prior to his death -- his lasttruly-produced song), Billy Corgan, Cheap Trick's Robin Zander, the Cardigans'Nina Persson, Liz Phair, and John Doe perfecting pop gems written by Shudder."Somehow the drama and things that people perceive as pretentious,melodramatic and overwrought worked on the film," comments Wedren. "There'sthis synergy."

That synergy was something that Wedren and bandmates Stuart Hill (bass) andNathan Larsson (guitar) didn't anticipate, though it wasn't entirelyunfamiliar. They had cut their mixed-media teeth on the theme song to ComedyCentral's Viva Variety, and had perfomed numerous musical tasks onThe State, but STT had always focused -- stressed out, even -- on theiralbums, which lost and gained fans and threatened their security as a unit,each time around. Their eclectic, theatric, textured songs were out of reachto most alternative/punk-tuned ears, and their stage shows were at times evenless accessible (Wedren has been known to perform in his birthday suit). Butthe STT drama, sound and scope lent itself perfectly to moving images on ascreen.

"With film, you're encouraged to try as many different types of music as ittakes, from jazz to classical to pop to experimental to ambient toelectronic," says Wedren. "You've just got to do it, to crank it out, and youdon't spend a year polishing it in the studio. It's ironic, but despite thefact that you're anchored or limited by what's on the screen, it's much freer.We get to play roles for two months, and then it's done. We don't have to goout and peddle our music, we can just make it."

After First Love, STT stuck to the scoring, but in another directionaltogether. The music for the Ally Sheedy lesbian flick High Art is"strictly ambient," and their contribution to Todd Haynes' much-anticipatedVelvet Goldmine is all "Bowie-esque/Ziggy Stardust originals." Now thatthey've explored, branched out and discovered hidden talents, the band isready to go back to the studio for another shot at polished popularity.

"We were obsessed for a long time with being popular and being huge and beingembraced and accepted. But it comes with too much heartbreak," admits Wedren."I love to perform, but I don't like touring. The grind -- the spin cycle ofwrite, record, tour, write, record, tour -- doesn't lend itself to thecreative process. And there's just less pressure now that we don't have all ofour eggs in one basket. We're not going to live or die with the next record wemake. We have other exciting things going on."

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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